A Bonus Cut Short Story: The Last View From the Top

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By: Daniel Hodgman

He walked methodically, yet it was hurried, and like many times before, he was caught in the violent scuffle of the city streets along with the other millions trying to get from one point to the next. The buildings that surrounded invaded his mind with frothy shadows, as if he was caught in a never-ending abyss, an abyss that pierced the soul just as much as the howling winter winds pierced his skin. The street intersections would tease him, emitting sunlight through the narrow wind tunnels of the city, but as soon as he crossed, the abyss would take him over again and his mind would decay. He pulled his coat up to his chin. Winter was here early this year.

Nine more blocks

Easing into his walk now, the man glanced ahead. The street he was on shot forward until the horizon overtook it, and the buildings that shouldered each side continually grew until the tallest ones on the horizon were covered in a thin layer of winter clouds. Hiding under the carpet of clouds were large billboard signs on the buildings that advertised even the densest material:

“Get Your Coffee At Moes! It’ll Warm Your Toes!

“Ask Q: Any Question, Every Answer!”

“Bad Cataracts? WE GIVE YOU EYES.”

“Have a Hungry Heart? Hungry Heart Song Productions Will Win You Any Heart!”

Under the glittered signs were ever-present corporations and shops. On one street corner stood a sandwich shop that claimed to have saved a woman from undergoing triple bypass surgery. Its main feature however wasn’t the story of the woman, but rather the sandwich they claim saved her life. It was a shaved turkey on wheat concoction with sprouts, spinach, tomatoes and an avocado spread. Next to the sandwich were a large bag of homemade oven-baked chips and a 16oz glass of diet soda.

On another corner there was a hi-tech computer store run by one of the nation’s biggest corporations. The special feature behind this store was that it sold the newest computers, phones, televisions and accessories at a great low price. Moreover, if another business offered a price on an item, they would match it and give the customer a discount. Everyday, people would stream in and out of this store, with bags full of electronics and smiles on their faces. Their robotic-like movements ran in unison with each other as they approached the store, and like the customers, the employees worked on an invisible conveyor belt as well.

The registered door-greeter would greet each and every customer the same.

“Welcome to Tall Tech! How are you?” They would say. “Welcome to Tall Tech, and how are you doing miss? Welcome to Tall Tech sir!”

This went on and on until they were off of the clock and the next door-greeter punched in for their shift.

From across the street, the folks of Gale’s Great Computer Store—a store that was built from the ground-up in 1964 by Gale Anderson and her family—could see all of the happenings at Tall Tech. People swarmed in and out, like furious army ants on a mission to satisfy the Queen, and at the heart of the store the manager stood behind the counter helping each and every customer and ordering employees to specific spots and locations. During the nighttime rush, it became even clearer to the employees at Gale’s that things were going to tank. From 8pm to midnight, Tall Tech saw its daily surge of customers: those who wanted a taste of technology while between shows, out-of-towners looking to pass time or teenagers who commanded their parents to get them accessories for their new laptops and phones. And as Tall Tech stretched its hours to 24, the folks behind Gale’s saw theirs go from 10am-9pm, to 10am-7pm and eventually 11am-6pm. After four months on the 11am-6pm work schedule, the owners behind Gale’s, for the first time since opening, decided to shut its doors for good.

Seven more blocks…

As the man passed into another realm of block, he glided past an abandoned unit. The door was sealed and it stood modestly behind a metal gate with a government sign sprawled across the center. The windows were intact, and inside the remnants of a former company could be seen. In one corner there were files and papers swimming on the dark blue carpet of the building until they hit a tiny wooden desk, drowning under the legs and resurfacing on the other side. On top of the desk was a computer, and next to the computer there was a printer and stack of books just waiting to be toppled. Near the front of the store was another desk, but this time there was no computer or stack of books. The only thing present on it was a cash register with a sign on the front that read: “Sale. All things must go. 70% off.”

Even though this abandoned unit didn’t halt the man in his path, or deter him from his route, he took notice. As he passed by the last dirt stained window of the unit he couldn’t help but mutter a low, yet undeniably audible hum. “They took another. Goddamn they took another.”

When the man reached the next unit, a bustling workout center for businessmen and businesswomen, he actually stopped and took a glance back at the abandoned unit he had just passed. From thirty feet away his eyes gave him trouble, but the still prominent sign on the window was big enough to read. “Gale’s Great Computer Store: A family owned computer shop that can fill any computer need!”

Three more blocks…

With three more blocks to go the man reached an intersection he was most familiar with. Every time he approached this junction, he would crane his neck to the right, looking down towards the water and the neighborhood that banked on it. The apartments were tall and mighty, but the windows were crammed together and reminded the man of prison. The people of this community were only a mere few blocks from the bustling corporate business sector, but they were trapped, like rats in a cage with only one block of cheese.

At times, the man would walk down towards the neighborhood and the water, looking out over the winter whitecaps in the river and past the shopping malls and clinics that lined the opposing shore. He would walk to the park adjacent to the beach and sit while listening to the city: cars, birds, horns, boats, screams, laughing, shots and more. He would visit some friends he knew in some of the apartments and sometimes spend a day catching up. And sometimes, when he felt eager and sad, he would walk past The Elements, building 5, apartment 5710, his former home.

One more block…

The man could see his goal now, as it stood clear front and center with an overhang stretching far out over the walk and touching the street. Banners hung from the overhang and on them there was writing celebrating the city mayor’s second term. From the base of the overhang the building rose meticulously with fire exits at every other window on every story. It was an odd sight, with all of the red lined windows defacing the beautiful structure, especially since these windows didn’t serve a purpose. The only thing present on these windows was a small metal girder that stuck out over each window ledge. There were no stairs leading from these windows and girders, and the only way a person could escape from these windows was to jump.

As the shadow of the building enveloped the man, the cold shiver rose back into his spine. However, this time it wasn’t the cold winter wind or the shadow that the building cast dropping the temperature a few degrees more. Nor was it the stern looks people gave him as they passed his coat-shrouded face, or the insults vendors threw at him when he denied their food. It was the thought he had in his head walking through the buildings doors. I’m going to die today.

Yes, this man was headed to his doom, a self-sacrificing doom, but a doom nonetheless, and as he stood with other random beings in an elevator that was high and rising 97 stories to a restaurant and the top floor, there wasn’t a clear thought in his mind except for his death. Everything that he had contemplated and thought out rushed in and out of his head, but nothing stuck; death didn’t budge.

The city had taken him long before this day; the strain of his job, the never-ending rush and his recent move were the most damaging to his conscious, but the death of his daughter was too much to bare. And as he tried to seek help through the city, and even his own family, it became clear that he was seen not as a human being, but as a statistic. In a city where big was big, the small was most definitely the small. The buildings trapped him, the windows haunted him, the business sector angered him, his old community saddened him and the most important figures, at least in his eyes, did nothing. As the elevator doors opened to Sal’s: On Top of the World Eats, he was no longer in denial and no longer in pain, for he knew that it would be over soon.

A view from the top…

As he waded his way through the tables of families, business workers, couples, owners and everyday citizens, he kept his head up and his glare on the patio door. The give in the door was a bit strong, as if something was trying to stop him from committing such an act, but as soon as the give came, it went away, and the doors opened to a bitter bite of winter air.

The patio was empty, as with all patios during the dead of winter, and as quickly as the ravaging air sucked all of his energy from him, he made his way to the rail. He didn’t look down, nor did he look around, he simply stared straight into the distance, and as seconds turned to minutes a swift rush of thought filled his head. This rush wasn’t a calling or a quick come to, but it was an appreciation. He didn’t know what it was for, but for the first time in days the man smiled.

Mustering up the rest of the energy he had, the man climbed the three bar railing and sat for a second, contemplating his next move, and as he sat on the railing with his feet dangling nearly 100 stories above the city streets, he took in everything that was sprawled out in front of him.

In perhaps the only section of town, the building he was currently perched on top of had a clear view of the harbor and river a few blocks down. There were no tall corporate buildings blocking his view; there wasn’t anyone bumping into him or shouting obscenities; there were overdue bills on a desk in front of his face; there was no sadness; and there was no pain. Again, for the first time in days, the man continued to smile.

With one quick change of mind, it wasn’t his life that he wanted to throw away, but it was his problems, and whether it was the view from the top or this new mindset that now flooded his senses like rushing water from a broken damn, he decided that today he would change. Today he would see the world and life as it is and strive for something better. Today, he was not going to jump.

Carefully placing his hands behind him, gripping the railing like an uneasy taxi driver, the man cemented his feet on the bottom bar of the rail and attempted to switch positioning so that he was facing the patio from the outside. With a quick spin and plant, he did this successfully. Looking towards the door to Sal’s, he continued to grip the railing while carefully moving his feet up and around the railing. As he began to swing his right leg over the railing his left foot that was planted caught a slick spot on the bar. In less than a second it slipped from the bar, and with his left leg the man was now free from the railing and falling with his right leg hopelessly stretching to catch something. In what seemed like a few seconds, his body turned around and his feet were now below him pointing towards the streets. It was then when his back jolted with pain and his neck swung back, breaking in several places.

Something had caught him, or rather his jacket, and he was hanging on a steel girder that stretched from the building. The streets below were still too small to show detail, and within seconds pain was filling his whole body.

Despite the pain, the man wasn’t struggling or fighting, he was just hanging, trying to stare forward towards the harbor, the buildings below, the opposing shoreline, his old community and everything presenting itself as the winter clouds lifted. With this, the sun peeked through the grey and warmth spread through his body. As numbness started to tackle every inch of his body, a stabbing light hit his eyes and blinded his vision. The light continued to hit him and when he opened his eyes, all he could see was the light. A quick whirring noise came in and came out, but his hearing was soon shrouded by the numbness. With one last attempt to open his eyes to catch something, all he could see was the light and all he could hear were screams and a faint whirring noise that seemed to be getting louder. With one breath he went unconscious.

There was no perception of time, but the man woke up and opened his eyes. He was awake. The pain was gone.

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