This story is by Stanley R. Teater and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jason Gateside was driving when he made the decision. Once he had made up his mind he felt a surge of inner peace, as though his dark cloud of misery had been lifted away at last, carried off on the wings of expectant angels. There was a piece of paper, wadded up on the seat beside him. He glanced over at it, wondering if his decision would have been different if he hadn’t found it. It was a note from his ex-wife Judith. She had scribbled it on the back of a Macy’s receipt and slipped it under the windshield wiper of his car. The note read: “Happier than I ever thought possible. Don’t contact me again. I’m sure you understand. – J.” One of his chief complaints during their marriage had been the fact that she was never brief and to-the-point about anything, certainly none of her countless complaints about life, droning on and on and on about how badly she was treated at work, something unkind her mother had said, or why she was justified in resenting her younger, prettier sister. Jason sighed. Well, he thought, at least she’s mastered brevity at last. He winced. Those strange sourceless sounds had risen in volume until his ears ached and his soul screamed out for silence. Please! Silence. Just for a few seconds. Is it too much to ask?
Two things were still left to decide: when and how. As far as when goes he certainly wouldn’t do it at night. He didn’t like the darkness, it was oppressive and foreboding, a bitter reminder of a childhood littered with nightmares. According to the weatherman on the radio sunset was going to be at 7:12pm, so Jason decided that 7 o’clock sharp would be the moment. He would say goodbye during the day’s last gasp, while the world was bathed in the golden light of a setting sun. The how was easy, a simple step off of a tall building, falling into eternity with his arms outstretched like an eagle’s wings, the wind caressing his face. Yes, Jason thought, that would be the perfect end to an imperfect life. But would the sounds end?
The sounds had started years before. They were usually just a mixture of odd mechanical clicks and beeps and whirs, but from time to time there were voices, sometimes distant, sometimes loud, always annoying. At first he was intrigued and looked around trying to find out were they were coming from. But there was no source for the sounds. It was as though there was another world that existed only in his brain, hidden away amid the flotsam of his life. People working and loving and laughing and crying and dying, all in the cramped space of his skull.
6:49pm. Jason drove into a downtown parking garage. He parked carelessly, taking up two spaces. A driver behind him honked angrily. Jason ignored him and walked to the elevator. He stepped out of the elevator onto the sidewalk, turned right and started walking toward the Wheeler Building, the tallest in town. There was a homeless man on the corner, sitting on the pavement, holding up a piece of cardboard with “Thirsty” scrawled on it. Jason tossed him his car keys. “Brown Mustang, level 4,” he said. “It’s all yours.”
6:51pm. The voices in his brain were hushed, conspiratorial. Do they know what I’m going to do? Will they die too? As he walked Jason studied the faces of the people he passed on the sidewalk. He was looking for – what? Some sign of tenderness or humanity perhaps. But they reminded him of robots, emotionless, in too much of a hurry to look back at him, to make note of his pain. He felt as alone as it was possible to be.
6:55pm. When Jason reached the Wheeler the voices and mechanical sounds blended together into a kind of static, getting louder and louder. He craned his neck and looked up at the building. My launching platform, he thought. With a sigh, he entered.
6:57pm. Jason and two other people got on the elevator. He pushed the top button labeled Observation Deck. The three of them stood silently. On the panel in front of him the floor lights blinked on and off as the elevator climbed steadily upward. First one of his fellow passengers got off. Three floors later the other one left. Jason was alone.
6:59pm. Jason stepped off the elevator. He was the only one on the Observation Deck. There was a five-foot wall circling it, short enough to see over but tall enough to discourage jumpers. Jason dragged a trash can over, upended it and stood on it, then stepped up onto the ledge. He looked down. He studied the scene below, the tiny people and toy cars, they didn’t seem real. The setting sun hit him full in the face. Jason took a deep breath. One by one the sounds in his brain went away until there was only one sound left. A voice. Her voice. Oh, my God. It’s Judith. All at once he knew. There was no reason to jump. Then the sounds were all gone. There was just sweet, blissful silence. –
The nurse, Judith Owens, reached down and removed the mask from her patient’s face. The hospital room was quiet. The click, whoosh of the respirator and the heart monitor beeps had been stilled at last. She reached down and ran a comb through Jason’s hair. “Doctor,” he’s been here in the hospital, in this room, for such a long time.”
“Yes,” said the doctor. “Over two years. If it hadn’t been for the court order he’d still be alive. From the neck down anyway.”
“I don’t know,” said Judith. “I used to talk to him. I liked to imagine there was a piece of his mind still alive enough to listen. I’d tell him about my love life, my hopes and dreams, my problems. I know he didn’t hear any of it, but maybe, in some small way, having someone talk to him helped.” She turned to the doctor. “Does that make any sense?”
The doctor shrugged. “Not likely. He was totally brain dead from the car accident. He didn’t hear a thing. His relatives refused to let us pull life support, but I don’t remember any of them visiting him, do you?”
“Thank God the hospital finally took the matter to court. It was so stupid to waste a bed for all that time.”
Judith reached down and covered Jason’s head with the sheet. “Do you ever get used to it?” she asked.
The doctor, who was looking at a computer screen just shrugged. “Let’s see,” he said, his fingers clicking away on the keyboard. “Patient’s name…Jason Gateside. Tell me, nurse, did you notice the time of death?”
“Yes,” said Judith. “7 o’clock. Sharp.”