It’s a slightly longer one, just a heads up. I also have a note or two to share before we jump into the story.
Chuck Wendig this week is doing a two part challenge (well this week and next week). The first half this week is an opening line challenge. Yep, that’s it, just write an opening line as a comment on his blog. The second half will come next week when you pick a line and write a story from it.
I am not putting in a line this week. Main reason is the number of comments on the thread are huge already. So many choices for an opener for stories next week is good enough for me.
So, this week I did a search for a random title and came up with this one. The story itself seems a bit odd but not like that is the first time something like that has happened. Before I spend all my time getting super wordy and stuff let’s get into …
The Devil’s Vault
“You want to do what?” Sharon asked. “Are you fucking crazy? Wait, scratch that, I know you’re crazy. Everyone who’s tried that jump has died.”
“First, I am not everyone. Second, what’s it been, like three other people?” Tim watched the squirrels running through the tree in the back yard. “Listen, I know I’m not super human or anything. But I also know that I have been training for this jump for years now. Every little jump I have taken before this one has been a test and training leading into this one.”
“This is insane,” she said. “I can’t believe you’re even considering it.”
“We need the money. Even better if I don’t make it you still have my insurance,” he said. “No, I am not doing this to fail either. I’m not suicidal.” He paced around the dining room table. “You deserve better than this.”
Neither met the other’s eyes in the silence of their impasse. Tim fought against his own impotence. He had no other way to improve the situation, but why did he have to risk it to find the way free? The knock at the door shook the demons from his thoughts.
“I got it,” Sharon said. She pushed past him on the way to the front door. Her determination, one of his favorite qualities, scared off other men. She made up for her size (a good foot shorter than him) with her attitude.
He could not hear the exchange at the door, although he saw a manila envelope transfer into her hands. She ripped into the package after she closed the door. “You asshole! You did it anyway? When were you going to tell me?”
“Shit,” he mumbled. “I haven’t signed any papers yet. They were supposed to wait till after I talked to you.”
She returned to the kitchen and smacked the envelope and its papers onto the table. “Seriously,” she said. The Devil’s Vault logo and title were plastered across the envelope and the letter head on the papers. “I can’t believe you did all this. Fuck you.”
“Babe, I wasn’t going to commit to anything, especially without talking to you first. This is a huge decision and I wanted to include you in it,” he said. “But they pushed…” He took her hands in his and gave them a gentle squeeze, she didn’t pull away.
“You can’t let them push you around like that,” she said. “I don’t want to lose you, asshole.”
“You won’t. I know what I’m doing. It isn’t like this is my first jump.”
She pulled herself close into his arms. “You aren’t the one I am worried about.”
“Sign here, Mr. Grevan.” He pointed with a well-manicured index finger at a line with an X on the form. “I know we have gone over this a number of times but this is a formality we can’t skip out on.”
Tim looked up and down the document. When he realized that he had no clue what the document said, he wanted to back out of the deal. The words, he could tell they were words and they resembled English phrases and sentences but the longer he tried to understand them the less they made sense. The space that Jarome Knewl, the Devil’s Vault lawyer, indicated shifted and coalesced before Tim’s eyes.
“I don’t think I should be signing this,” Tim said. “I can’t even read it.”
“I understand completely Mr. Grevan,” he said. “But I assure you that the form is exactly what we discussed. His finger slid across the page. “This line here states how much you will be paid for the attempt at the jump. This next line shows how much you will be paid for completing the jump. And this last, well, this one is the just in case clause. Your family will be taken care of if you happen to fail.” He looked into Tim’s face and eyes with a smile that showed all of his teeth. Their white glow in the light was blinding.
“It’s just me and my wife, Sharon,” Tim said. “We have never been able to have kids.”
“Don’t worry, everything is covered within the clauses here, here and here.”
Tim looked around the lawyer’s office. The Devil’s Vault hired the best, they could afford it. In the private office, Mr. Knewl paid for the things that Tim had always wanted for Sharon. The real leather work on the chairs, the mahogany desk, and books, real books in the shelves, the place reeked of money Tim had never seen.
He placed the tip of his pen on the line and took a deep breath. “You’re sure this is the best way to do this?”
“Absolutely, we have you covered,” the lawyer said. “I’m on your side on this one.”
Tim released the air from his lungs and inhaled another large gulp. With the release of this one he scratched at the page with the pen. His full name and the date blazed onto the page with a deep red ink. When he finished, he felt, hollow, like he lost a piece of himself.
Mr. Knewl pulled the paper away in a flash and blew across the ink to dry it. “Well now that everything is in order, I believe it would be a good idea for you to return home. You will be contacted in a few days for the final preparations for the jump.”
“Thank you. Should I wait outside for the car to take me home?”
The look in Knewl’s eyes cut deep into Tim’s belly, a flash of something he could only describe as, disdain, there then gone again. “Yes, wait at the steps,” he said. “A car should be around to pick you up shortly.”
“Did he say when we would get the first installment?” Sharon asked. They sat on the couch together, her legs draped across his. “I got a couple collection calls today, but I couldn’t tell them anything.”
“The paperwork said I will get an installment just for signing. So should be here soon. Mr. Knewl said that I will be making my jump in just a few days. Once I make the jump we won’t have anything to worry about for a long time.”
She leaned forward, her forehead pressed against his. “I love you,” she said. “I know I haven’t been very supportive but I worry. Thank you for doing what you need to do anyway.”
Tim looked out over the river so very far below. He was ready, ‘chute packed, nerves solid. The banner would trail behind him when he leapt out into the blue sky. As an amateur base jumper, this was no different than other jumps he had made in the past. Well, at least until the banner was added in.
The Devil’s Vault sponsored the jump as long as he advertised for their company. The banner would stream out behind him as he drifted down to the river below.
Of course, this was his first jump from the top of a bridge. His other jumps had all been in the wilds. Cliffs were his specialty. His heart raced as he looked out at the open space around him beyond the river below. A helo with camera crew to capture the event hovered off to the side of his position at the apex of the bridge.
“Now or never,” he said as he drew in a deep breath. A quick release then another deep breath and he jumped. The banner unfurled behind him as he spread his body out into the rushing wind. After a few seconds of freefall he pulled the cord for his ‘chute.
The ‘chute shot from its pack but refused to unfurl. The river rushed ever closer. Tim worked through the different techniques he knew to fix this situation to no avail. The ‘chute ignored his best efforts as the river’s waves crested and rose to catch at his falling form.
The news copter caught it all as he fell. The banner trailed long and proud behind him but did little to slow his fall. Tim’s body crumpled when it hit the river below. Bones snapped and flesh tore with the impact. The river drug his body along its path, the banner pulled him under the water as it grew heavy.
His body washed to the west bank of the river several miles from where he crashed down, miles away from the bridge.
Sharon burst into tears when the man in the suit knocked on their door. She knew, knew before he said a word that the worst had happened. The footage from the tragic jump had not shown up on the TV yet. Still she knew.
“I am sorry that I have to bring this news today,” the man said. He stepped inside the house and offered her a shoulder to cry on.
She swore and cursed at the company, at Tim, at fate for the stupidity of it all. The bastard had to do it he said. It was the only way he said. Damn him, damn everything.
When she finally took a few moments to breathe the man directed her into the living room. “Your husband took a number of precautions in case this happened,” he said. “He wanted to ensure you were well cared for. We at the Devil’s Vault believe strongly in taking care of the whole family.”
“If that were the case,” she said. “The whole family would still be alive.” The soft click barely registered. Unsure of what she heard, she turned her head toward the man in the suit.
“We can’t leave any loose ends,” he said.
The flash from the .38 jarred her for an instant before she collapsed back into her chair. The man then turned around and left her home.
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