Blood-Stained Precipice

This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s challenge at http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/09/05/flash-fiction-challenge-the-first-half-of-a-story-only/ where you write the first half of a story and theoretically someone else will finish it. As it happens, I had been meaning to do his previous title challenge, so it’s a combo pack. 


Sam looked up, squinting against the sun. They did the executions at night, just as the sun painted the sky red. Only they could turn beauty into terror. Only they could take a sight enjoyed by billions, since the very dawn of time, and turn it into pure horror. The French had their guillotine. They had their blood-stained precipice.

There were exactly two ways to get to the top. The first involved an elevator and a long fall to the bottom. It was never taken willingly. Even the guards who dragged the victim – the condemned – to the top, even the guards went with hesitation. It was a punishment detail, the modern equivalent to cleaning out latrines. Except latrines didn’t scream and beg and weep on their way down. Their blood-slicked fingers didn’t cling desperately to the platform.

It smelled nauseating enough to be a latrine, if rumors were to be trusted. It was said in hushed voices that the bowels tended to let go as the condemned reached the top. Supposedly some of the guards had fallen prey to the same foul terror. They liked this rumor, encouraged it. Such whispers only added to their power, fed into the fear that stalked the people, day and night. Ceaseless, unrelenting.

The other way up was better and worse. Better because it was taken freely. Worse because death was just as likely.

It was oddly permitted to climb to the top of the precipice. Family members, journalists, curious onlookers – they all had the right to scale the beast, and an equal right to climb back down again. The condemned had no such hope to cling to. Of course, it was a slim hope. The structure was just too high. The color of desert cliffs, it towered over the courtyard. Red ochre, that’s what his mother would have called it. Others were put in mind of another substance.

The climb taught Sam how it had come by it’s moniker: the way up was nearly as bloody as the way down. The metal sliced into his hands, drawing blood from the first grasp. He hopped back down, dug in his backpack, and pulled out thick leather gloves. He’d been prepared for the possibility. He just hadn’t expected to need them so soon. He wrapped his hands in blindingly white bandages, then dragged the gloves on over them. They wouldn’t last, not the whole way. He had two sets of replacements in his bag. He wondered if he should have brought more. He wondered if he would have the courage to change gloves part way up.

Likely, it wouldn’t matter. The precipice was more than a thousand vertical feet. He’d never make it. But the greater the risk, the greater the reward. That’s what they always said. And with this particular reward on the horizon, Sam had no intention of surrendering to his fear. He reached up and gripped the metal.

Wincing at the pain, he began to climb.

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Such Supervised Luck

Tommy wasn’t known for his short temper. He’d once run the numbers on a dockworker with a penchant for . . . well, lets just say the porpoise, the seaweed, and that really unfortunate tarp would all rather forget that particular day. PETA rally within sight and the sonofabitch walks away with a spring in his step. Fucking 26 with a plus 20 back and doubles for three. And he didn’t even have the foresight to play the goddamn lottery.

Then there was the nun. That poor nun. Just an innocent little six with a minus three, and a half chance at losing before she even started. The third time – the third time – she broke her leg while sleeping, that was almost enough to break Tommy right along with it. And when she tried to stop and smell the roses and ended up snorting up two separate bumblebees, well, at least that had been comical. Tragic that they stung her every time she sneezed, but Tommy couldn’t resist irony. Or coincidence. Or whatever the fuck it is when someone tries for sweet and simple and gets a big fat boot to the ass for their trouble.

Bad luck. That’s what that is.

But this was worse. Worse than the shitbags with loaded dice or the sweethearts without a die to roll. This was the slow, mad torture of a water faucet drip, drip, dripping in the background. This was the low hum of electronics that would never go away. This was a gum-smacking, pen-clicking, baby-crying, nails-on-a-chalkboard, Janis-laughing, spittle-flying, mosquito-bite sort of torment. If the mosquitos bit you over, and over, and over again.

Because it just. kept. happening.

 

Username: JacobSilver651@mymail.com

Password: 12inche$offun

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

Good old Jacob was remarkably calm for having already reset his password six times. Each time he tried to log in and got, ‘The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect,’  he scrunched up his face, double-checked his password, and tried again.

At the moment, he was studying the powerball ticket, with it’s array of scribbled and crossed-out password scrawling haphazardly across the back of it. Five scratched out, one still standing. Lips pursed in concentration, he read it over, giving each character a serious look. He started again, this time forming each one with his mouth. One. Two. I. N. C. H. E. S – Damn. He frowned and began again. One. Two. I. N. C. H. E. Money sign. Dollar sign? He nodded to himself. Dollar sign. O. F. F. U. N. Twelve – the number 12 – inches (money sign) of fun.

He typed it in, each keystroke precise. Insecure, he erased it and typed it all again. Tommy, watching carefully, knew perfectly well the poor bastard had done it right both times.

He ran the numbers.

 

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

“Motherfucker.” Jacob shoved away from the table, refusing to look at the offer to reset the password again. He paced the room, hands dragging at his hair.

He snatched up the powerball ticket and tore it up. “Fucking piece of shit password. Goddammit.” He threw the ticket away, while Tommy quietly sighed. If that wasn’t a winner, Tommy didn’t know his luck. And Tommy knew his luck. Tommy was a luck runner.

“Ok. Ok. One more time.” Jacob breathed out carefully. “One more time. None of this strong password bullshit.”

 

Enter new password: 1

Confirm new password: 1

Your password must be at least eight characters long.

 

“Fuck you. Eight characters long my ass. Dozen different long-ass passwords and none of those fucking worked.” He closed his eyes. “I just want to see if they’ve e-mailed.”

They hadn’t. Short odds hadn’t skewed for Jacob today. It was just the long odds. The billion-to-one odds. The minuscule chance of server-side error preventing Jacob from logging in. The comparatively better chance of winning the lottery.

“Fine. Fine. Eight characters.”

 

Enter new password: 12345678

Confirm new password: 12345678

Your password must contain a combination of letters and numbers.

 

“Godfuckingdammit. Ok. Ok.” Another calming breath. Jacob didn’t know it, but he was actually holding it together remarkably well. The odds of throwing his computer out the window at this point were about ten-to-one.

 

Enter new password: 1a2b3c4d

Confirm new password 1a2b3c4d

Passwords do not match

 

“Son of a fucking fucking piss-soaked apple cobblers whore dick of a mother.”

 

Tommy choked out a laugh. The poor, poor bastard.

 

Enter new password. 1234abcd

Confirm new password: 1234abcd

Your password has been changed. Log in here.

 

Username: JacobSilver651@mymail.com

Password: 1234abcd

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

The laptop crashed into the wall. To add insult to injury, the battery popped out as it hit the floor. Crash. Snap.Thump, thump . . . thump.  It was like a prolonged death scene at the community theater. Jacob threw himself onto the couch, fingers digging into his face so hard they left marks.

Tommy watched the powerball guys come on the muted TV. Casually, he walked over and looked in the garbage. The pieces of the shredded lottery ticket had fallen into a half-filled 44-oz soda cup. They were unreadable. Useless.

He kicked the cord out of the wall as he strolled by the TV, hands in his pockets. Tommy didn’t need to see the numbers to know who’d won. And Jacob would be better off never knowing what might have been.

Fucking skewed odds, man.

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