John Stanten stopped his walk to work after a body splattered at his feet. The man’s skin, blood, tendons, and bones turned ballistic, spraying John’s face. So, John only heard nearby onlookers descend into hysteria. He hadn’t even seen what, exactly, it was that fell at his feet. He flicked some dangling flesh off of his sweaty hands to wipe his face. Then John opened his eyes to a world tinted red, and looked upward at the fifty four story building from which the poor soul at his feet had plunged.
Then John looked down the sidewalk, and saw an elderly woman many steps away who stared at the body and said, "not again." John smiled at the old woman, revealing skin that had flossed itself between the small gap of his two front teeth. She ran from his sight. But John stood still, overcome with some antonym to survivor's guilt. Then his eyes widened. Because at that moment he knew that soon he’d be debt free.
Soon, ambulances arrived. As did the police. And a mortician. And the journalists. And a few town officials. Paramedics sanitized John as he watched a press conference commence.
Dallas Trenton, a journalist with the Daily Times, asked, "Mr. Vellar, is this related to the ongoing investigation of the previous jumps?"
Victor Vellar, a dapper, dimpled, police chief, said, "we don't yet have enough evidence to connect this incident to any of the previous jumps."
"Do we have any updates to the previous jumps? Are these incidents at all connected?"
"As far as we understand," Victor contined, "each of the five prior incidents are being treated as suicides. There is no evidence of foul play."
Dallas's counterpart, Julie Meday, asked, "when will your office release the names of the previous victims?"
"As you know, suicide identifications are at the discretion of surviving families."
Julie responded, "is it true, chief, the rumors - that the DNA matches no known individual?"
Victor wiped sweat from his brow, and speaking over the mumblings, said, "I cannot speak of ongoing investigations. Thank you." He then exited the podium, and journalists erupted into a barrage of inaudible questions. As Victor exited the podium, he crossed the mayor, who was next to speak, and whispered to him, "it's time they know."
"Mayor Taylor," Julie asked, "should the people be worried?"
Colin Taylor, city mayor, stood before hundreds of worried civilians and journalists. He did not perspire or fidget. His gaze was as steady as the onlooking cameras. He, for a moment, stood in silence. Then, Mayor Talor's voice dropped, and he said, "I'll tell you everything I know."
Journalists unbuttoned their tops. Business men and women placed their briefcases before their feet. After taking a swig of nearby water, Mayor Taylor continued, "for the last five - now six - weeks at 8:43 AM on Friday a person has jumped from The Curio tower. The Curio staff, working in full cooperation with police, have confirmed that none of the victims are residents. In fact, the DNA matches no known person."
The crowd roared. Above the chaos, Julie shouted, "is this a supernatural incident?"
Mayor Taylor stepped away from the mic until the crowd quieted. Once it hushed, he returned to the microphone, and said, "What I said wasn't entirely true. Their DNA matches one person - itself. There haven't been people jumping from this building, only one. So, we believe that’s what we're witnessing…" The mayor paused in disbelief that an official brief from his office would conclude that the victim of these suicides was, "some kind of ghost."
The crowd gasped. Journalists shouted. Mayor Taylor departed the podium. This was, in the end, all he knew. But the people were now confused.
While the press conference had been underway, John walked into The Curio tower to meet Amy Atlison, the tower’s General Manager for the last three years. Under her direction the residences gained a Michelin star restaurant on the ground floor. She upgraded the building’s design and technology, and trained the staff in superior customer care. Changes which made The Curio the most expensive residences in the city. Amy's rise heralded her across the industry as the most desirable GM in hospitality. For everything she touched metamorphosed.
Well, until now. Residences, citing clauses in their leases that permitted termination under fear of life and safety, fled. After the fifth jump the occupancy rate of the building, which once had a years-long waitlist, dropped to below 30%. But even at what seemed like the height of this crisis, Amy had a plan.
John made his way to the amenity spaces on the top floor of The Curio, where he sat alone. The spaces closed after the fourth jump in an attempt to prevent a fifth. But, the closures were futile. Now, it was just another abandoned space in the escape from The Curio.
Amy approached John, and when she was a few steps away, he said,“you were right.”
Amy sat on a nearby chair next to John and, pointing to the blood stains smeared across his shirt, said, “you’ve the marks to prove it.”
“How did you know?” John asked.
“It’s been happening at the same time each -”
“No, not the timing. How did you know how it would feel, to stand at the edge of death?”
“Wild bets are good business,” Amy said, draping herself across the chair, concreting her comfort. “Now, look John, there will be a seventh jump. And an eighth. And as far as we can tell, hundreds of more bodies will drop from this tower. And I can’t let another one drop without making a dime.”
Amy stood from her chair and walked to a set of floor to ceiling windows. She peered down to the street fifty four floors below, and said, “this is how you’ll pay me back.”
John clenched his hands between his thighs, but they still trembled. His whole body vibrated. His breaths struck him like hiccups, sudden and uncontrollable. All signs of fading adrenaline. Yet still, he managed to say, “this is going to work, I - kn - know it.”
Amy’s lips curled when she stared at John. Then she crossed her arms, fixating on John’s tremoring. She stood above him and stared, like he was some old jacket in the closet better left to consignment. But, he wasn’t even worth the drive. Then Amy began to leave.
“Amy,” John said, planting his feet at the base of the couch, “thank you - for the second chance.” Amy’s stride never slowed. She made no other sounds, but of her heels tapping against the hardwood floors. The steady clicking crescendoed into the distance, until John was again alone.
From that couch, John began to work. He called a few contacts to run logistics, pricing, conveniences. But John knew that for this event to succeed it needed a story. A harrowing mystery, at the center which was a trapped soul. The body falling from atop the skyscraper couldn't be a stranger. The moment of his jump needed not to bring the audience to shock, but tears.
For that, John hired Shad Maqtif. Shad was an amateur medium, who’d capitalized on the recent jumps and made himself the de facto voice of analyzing the recent events. His deadbeat blog had now become a centerpiece to dinner conversations around town. Yet, he’d never even been inside The Curio. John would change that.
Shad sat in The Curio’s lobby, a once bustling, airy, entryway which was now lifeless. Even the lamp beside Shad's chair was inoperable. But Shad’s occupation was preoccupied with the dead. So he sat unbothered by his surroundings. But when Shad saw Amy walk across the lobby, he shuddered.
"Cold?" John asked, approaching from behind Shad.
“Huh?” Shad asked, “Oh, no. Just, just thought of an idea.”
“Love those moments,” John said, sitting next to Shad. “Let’s get right to business. I didn’t bring you here with no strings attached. I need the story of this man. Who or what he is. Why is he jumping? What caused him to jump six weeks ago? I want everyone watching to feel like this is their own son jumping from the top."
"You're disgusting.” Shad peered behind his shoulder, he eased at the sight of the empty lobby. “What if I say no?
"A story will be told either way. And believe it or not, I actually care about the truth."
"Fine," Shad broke, "I'll do it. But for free."
"No. I pay you. Or, I find another."
Shad sat upright, stared at John, and said, "fine, but I'm not keeping it."
"That's the point of cash," John laughed, "you're not supposed to keep it."
John escorted Shad to the forty-second floor, for no other reason than because Shad had an intuition that is where the spirit lived. The halls were damp with silence. The space was still as a photograph. Nothing commanded their attention. Until Shad, inhaling quickly, pointed to room 4207 and said, "someone in there wants to speak to me."
“O.K.” John said, jamming his hands into his pocket to fetch the keys.
“Wait,” Shad said, “knock first.”
“No one lives on this entire floor,” John said, placing the key into the lock.
“Are you sure?” Shad asked, his eyes now bulging.
John swung the door swung open. Shad shivered, and asked, “do you feel that?”
“Nope,” John said, walking into the space, “get to talking.”
4207 was accented at the floors and ceilings with mahogany woods. The palette of the space was dark, save for the floral printed couches. Even the lampshades dispersed rays of dingy light. Unseen was a soothing aura, one carved by thousands of nights accompanied with easy jazz and splendid wines, as the former-owner painted birds seen at the nearby gorge. All that had been gone for some time, as indicated by the surrounding, towering dust. Which John went to wipe from atop a decorative vase, but stopped at the sensation of a strong cool breeze.
John looked to Shad. But Shad stood with his eyes shut. Shad’s breath slowed to a halt as his lips began to tremble. John rolled his eyes at this performance. But disdain turned to worry, as even John began to shiver.
"Yes, spirit. Yes," Shad said, nodding his head. "Spirit, what is your name?"
"Yes, spirit. I understand. Tell me, what is your business here? Why have you come to us at this time, and why do you continue to return?"
Again there was silence.
John was about done with the whole fiasco when Shad said, "of course I know Amy. Who is she to you?" And then the words exchanged became none. Shad whispered to himself the rest of the conversation. Each mumble ratcheted John’s interest, drawing him nearer. "Yes, spirit," Shad said, "I will tell him." Shad opened his eyes, and in that instant the room warmed again.
"It’s a tetular spirit,” Shad said, looking around the room, “he said that something evil lives here now and that he’s not leaving until it’s gone - until Amy leaves.”
John, completely ignoring Shad's statement said, "well, did you figure out who he is?”
“His name is Paul. Said he used to live in this exact unit.” Shad leaned against the back of the floral printed couch and crossed his arms. “John, he’s not leaving.”
“If this show works out, I doubt Amy will care.”
“No, the hauntings will become far worse and more damaging.” Shad opened his arms toward John and asked, “don't you want to know why he wants Amy gone?"
John, hunched over the kitchen counter, said, "no, she's my business partner."
"In a way," Shad reasoned, "he is too."
"Just get the story ready by Friday.” Then John left.
Little could John predict that he did not need a harrowing story to attract a crowd. Once news broke that next week’s jump would be a ticketed show, John received dozens of unsolicited requests for “the best seat in the house.” He sent four tickets to auction. Each sold for fifteen thousand dollars.
On the morning of the seventh jump, spectators gathered in such numbers that from above the street had disappeared. The only visible slab of concrete and asphalt was within a fifteen square foot cordon built from a thick, towering wall of clear acrylic. Inside this segment sat the four VIPs, one per side. They awaited a fifth, who would soon join them from fifty four floors above.
On the other side of the barrier were fanatics. Those too poor to enter the splash zone - yet just as eager. Each person had their reasons. Some desired to unfasten their moods from another prescription. Others, to reverse a numbing to global woes, fueled by a relentless feeds of bad news. Others, to contest various dispossessions: stemming from divorces, abuses, and addictions. A few were ill-minded, epicures of violence. But at large, each attendee had been seeking a release from their deprived days. Journalists sauntered among the crowd, capturing these stories.
Julie was prowling the edges of the crowd when she witnessed John entering The Curio.
"Mr. Stanten," Julie said, running in his direction, pocketbook in hand. John turned toward Julie, crossed his hands at his waist, and smiled. Which faded when Julie asked, "how does it feel, to capitalize on a man’s death?"
John shrugged his shoulders and said, “If he wanted to die in private he would have put a gun to his head at the foot of his bed. But he didn’t. He wanted a show. So, let’s give him just that.”
"But, don’t you think the show is too violent?"
"A better question, Julie, is why do so many people want to see this moment of despair? I can’t speak for everyone. But I'll tell you why I want to watch. When I see that man drop from the edge, I see a man possessed with conviction. And that makes me jealous. I live my whole life tepid; hell, most days I find choosing a meal difficult. I feel like I’m this machine stuck in a program I want to, but can’t, change. I think a lot of people feel that way. And I think a lot of people want fixed. So, we don’t gather in the name of a cheap thrill. We’re here to be moved to our core. To witness that even if our lives possess no meaning, maybe it can be found in our deaths.”
“Did you feel that way Mr. Stanten, moved after you witnessed last week's fall?”
“Of course,” John said, pointing to the crowd, “look around.”
“Sure,” Julie said, staring at her notebook, “but this idea wasn’t yours. Isn’t it true that all this is the work of Amy Atlison and you’re just - just her deputy?”
“I would not say that’s accurate. I’ve had --”
But Julie continued, “and isn't it true that you’ve failed to pay back Amy Atlison for your last failed venture and that --”
“Who told you this?” John barked, clenching his fists by his side.
“I don’t reveal sources.”
“It was Amy, wasn’t it?” John stared at Julie. But her eyes revealed no hints. “I’ll tell you what you should know,” John said, pointing to the top of the tower, “I was with the medium - Shad - when he first encountered that spirit. And that thing said he’s not leaving until Amy does.” John inched toward Julie, and grimaced through his teeth, “this thing will haunt us until Amy leaves.”
“Will Shad go on record confirming these details?”
“I’ll tell him it’s fine,” John said, entering The Curio.
“Where are you going? The show’s out here.”
“A few matters of business.”
Outside the tower at 8:42, a minute before showtime, the crowd quieted. The collective hush happened in anticipation of the jump, as attendees contemplated how they’d process the pending doom. Inside the splash zone, one VIP began pacing the square. Some in the crowd whispered that he planned to intercept the falling body with his own. His intentions were not clear. What was certain, among this unnerved VIP, and those in proximity, was that the crowd revved with an uncontainable excitement. Those conscious enough to think ahead, raised their cameras in anticipation of his descent.
But this wasn’t a one trick show. This event was a three part act: the jump, the fall, the impact. In that sense, this show was a lot like life. No matter how you live, you land somewhere. And along the way down you just hope for a few pretty pictures.
A voice boomed from over the PA system, “Ladies and gentleman!” Every eyeball and camera below The Curio looked up to its rooftop. “What you are about to witness is the great last act of Paul Similano. He called The Curio home long before any of us were born. He’s returned in a most merciless manner. For his return means the presence of another - an evil he’s come to ward off. Now gaze high, and watch closely. The show is about to begin.”
Camera shutters sliced each second into hundreds of distinct moments. But after long they stopped. The crowd stood silent. Bystanders shifted their gaze from the tower to another, then to their feet. Many began clutching their jackets or pockets. Some smiled, brandishing a facade of alright. Anxiousness eclipsed anticipation. Their stomachs churned, then dropped. How sickening it was to wade in their own intentions.