Are they voices of reason or justified lunacy? You decide. Round 2 WYRM's Gauntlet 2011
Other Side of the Edge
An eagle’s screech rippled through the thin air of Idaho’s rugged wilderness. A warbled warning or an exclamation of ecstasy, though, no living animal could discern. Far below, a bald man with a goatee chucked a compression pump into the back of his open-air Jeep as his pear-shaped girlfriend clamored, with no measure of grace, onto the passenger seat. He waved good-bye to Bradley Lesser before hoisting himself behind the wheel.
“Out here’s no place for a slow leak, kid," the man said. "Get that inner tube patched, or better, replaced, soon as you can.” He smiled and cranked the Jeep.
“Will do!” Bradley shouted. “Thanks again for the fill, dude!”
The dense forest inhaled, swallowing the Jeep whole and belching out a cloud of sun-sparkled dust. The sound of the engine evaporated; and like a window had been thrown open, nature’s cacophony rushed in to challenge the silence the couple left behind.
Turning away from the dirt road, Bradley put his hands on his hips and took in the panoramic view from the scenic lookout point. Deep gorges fell from the cliff’s lip before him. The low-hung sun was a brilliant bubble, destined to burst on the jagged peaks it drifted toward.
Bradley kicked the ground, pelting his mountain bike with a wave of gravel. “Shit!” he said. “Only damn car in three hours. That was probably it for the day.” Few people braved the rocky roads at this elevation. “I ain’t staying here when it’s dark. Ya hear!” He kneeled before the rear tire and unscrewed the plastic cap protecting the air valve. A breeze rustled nearby leaves, and Bradley’s head snapped in their direction.
Relax. They were all wrong for you; you know that. Another car will come along. Chose this place because it’s so secluded. Don’t want a fucking audience, do you?
“No,” Bradley grumbled. He pressed his thumb nail against the valve pin. A hiss rose as the back end of the bike sagged. “I’m just sick of waiting. I’m bored.”
Quit your whining; you’re making me sick. And give me some fucking air. It smells like poached sewage in here.
Bradley clenched his jaw and straightened his legs. He willed his upper lip to press into a line against the bottom one, masking the sneer that threatened to brandish his teeth. Reaching into the saddle bag, past the coil of coarse rope and mindful not to slide a finger along the butcher knife blade, Bradley’s fingers found the stiff, ovate object they sought. He closed his hand around Foist, pulled him out and thwacked him down on the bike seat.
Hey! Easy, bruiser. Whatch’ya all riled up for?
Foist, a hard plastic toy in the shape of a hedge hog, ridiculously dressed in painted-on green shorts and suspenders, stared into space. Bradley stared back at him; neither said a word. Minutes ticked by. Slowly, the unrelenting breeze dried Bradley’s eyes until they stung, forcing him to blink. Foist never blinked. He never moved. He started laughing.
Is Bradley Boo Boo cryyying? Agaiiiin?
“Shut it, Foist!” Bradley snarled, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. He wanted to swat Foist’s happy little face, send his three-inch synthetic body to the ground. Stomp on his stupid prickly hair until he squeaked for mercy. But he couldn’t. Foist called the shots, had since the day muddle-minded Bradley found him behind a dumpster near Venice Beach. He gave Bradley direction; helped him figure shit out he couldn’t puzzle through on his own. Still, too much time was passing between “events” lately, and it was all Foist’s fault. His schemes had become more elaborate, the places he chose more remote. Bradley ached for relief from the anxious need that tugged at the pit of his soul. Foist promised relief. And Foist never disappointed.
Hey, asshole. Memory lane is a dead-end street. Get your head back to the here-and-now.
Foist’s kindly eyes continued to stare, the cheerful, air-brushed smile on his piked face never faltering.
Something’s coming. Grab your camera. Show time.
On the spot, Bradley’s pulse went from zero to sixty, like when smoke-fingers from the first hit of a pipe claw their way through the lungs and snake into the bloodstream. Better. Yes, calm was spreading. He pulled the camera cord loop off the handlebar and slipped it onto his wrist. Squinting down the road that led to the scenic outlook, he cocked his head, listening. The wind sighed through the lofty hardwoods. Then, six heart beats later, floating on the breeze, the distant hum of a car engine reached his ears. In his athletic shorts, his dick stiffened.
Pinecone perfume and sun-warmed earth wafted on the air that flowed through the open windows of Daphne Maddox’s beat up ’86 Pontiac Firefly. The fragrant draft stirred her long blonde ponytail as she pressed harder on the gas pedal, urging the old hatchback up the steep grade. She sang the words to the last song she’d heard on the radio before losing the station signal over an hour ago.
This was living. This was freedom! Look at the size of this place. The trees soared higher than any building she’d seen, and still their topmost branches couldn’t tickle the vast arc of ocean overhead. Pink-tinged mountain peaks played peek-a-boo with her windshield as she navigated the twisty road. Who knew places like this existed? She creased her brow. If only Daddy had let up on the reins a bit, this show pony would have broken free of the corral long before now. And, as if that thought had summoning powers, Daddy’s premonitions began echoing again in her head:
You can’t trust people. Everyone’s got an agenda. Keep your eyes open and protect yourself. Strike first or you lose everything. Don’t be a victim!
Daphne tried to sing, drown out the warnings, but the lyrics left her. She slammed her hand down on the dashboard, toppling the little Dalmatian figurine that rode on the dash. Reaching over to stand it back up, she glanced through the windshield just as the Firefly shot around the last curve before what looked like the edge of the earth. She slammed her feet on the brake and clutch, stalling out the engine as the tires skidded to a halt thirty feet from the drop-off. The scenery before her was so vast and breathtaking, that it was a moment before she noticed the man next to his bicycle, coughing in her dust.
Daphne jumped out of her car, shoving the Dalmatian into her pants pocket. She swung the door shut with the opposite hip, that pocket clunking against the metal. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I totally didn’t see you there. I’m so glad I didn’t run you over!”
“Yeah.” Bradley laughed, pinching the corners of his smarting eyes. “I’m glad too.”
Daphne extended a manicured hand. “Hi. I’m Daphne.”
Bradley took her hand. It was really soft. “Pleasure to meet you, Daphne. I’m Brad.”
Daphne took in Bradley’s lanky build. He stood with the awkwardness of someone who could use a restroom break. She glanced at his bike. “Cute toy. That your good luck charm?”
“Something like that.” Bradley shifted his weight to his toes.
“Wow, so you rode all the way up here?”
“Yes, I love biking these parts.” His voice was wooden, rehearsed. “I had hoped to make it to Grizzly Point and back before sundown, but,” he motioned to his bike, “then I got this flat.”
“Oh shoot. Bummer.” Daphne’s eyes went from the flat tire to the saddle bags mounted on either side of it. She tilted her head. “You go on long bike rides often?”
Bradley’s heart banged in his chest. “Pretty often, yeah. I mean, not in winter. Of course.” He gasped a chuckle.
What the fuck is wrong with you? Grab a hold of this bitch and work your magic. Daylight’s wasting and it’s not going to get better than this today.
Daphne tried to smile, but the little hairs at the nape of her neck prickled. She pointed at the bags. “So, you don’t carry a tire repair kit? Or a pump?”
Life’s nothing but a string of survival tests, kiddo. You think you got what it takes to make it out here? En garde!
Bradley lowered his chin. Through a tangle of overgrown bangs, he gazed up at Daphne. She was paler than a moment ago, and her skin stretched across her forehead as if it’d suddenly shrunk a size. Bradley’s erection throbbed. “Here,” Bradley growled. “I’ll show you what I do carry on my trips.”
He plunged his hand into the bag and yanked out the knife. The 12-inch steel blade caught a blinding shard of sunlight as he spun toward Daphne. But she was closer than he anticipated, larger-than-life, right in his face. Her hair smelled fruity, like grape soda.
Bradley took an involuntary step back as Daphne lunged. And then his body went stiff, an effigy of burning currents racing up and down his central nervous system, short-circuiting his muscles and disabling all deliberate movement. He went down like felled timber.
Daphne’s breath came in gulps, like she’d sprinted a mile. The Taser she’d pulled from her pants pocket warmed her hand. She stood over Bradley who lay rigid and motionless, watching his open eyes struggle to focus. Her body tingled down to her toes.
Get up, goddamn it! Don’t let this bitch take control of the situation. Get up!
Cautiously, she bent down and poked Bradley’s fist with an index finger, quickly retracting her hand. Convinced he was immobilized, she moved more boldly, wrenching the knife free from his stiff fingers. Gripped the hilt between her thumb and forefinger, she watched the knife dangled a moment before she tossed it like a used condom. It clanked against a rock a few feet away. She stood, straddling his torso to get a better view inside the saddle bags. She pulled the rope out, cocked an accusatory eyebrow at Bradley, and threw it in the direction of the knife.
You see? This is what I’m always talking about. People are up to no good, and you have got to – GOT TO – take care of yourself. Whatever it takes.
The only other items in the bags were a couple granola bars and a bottle of water. Suddenly famished, Daphne pulled the wrapper off a bar and took a bite. As she chewed, she contemplated the rat-like toy staring at her from its perch on the bicycle seat. The way it was dressed, it could have had a supporting role in a Heidi reunion movie. Creepy.
Concentrate, you good-for-nothing idiot! Use your mind. Get control of yourself and GET UP. Finish this thing!
Daphne spied Bradley’s camera. She unthreaded the cord from his wrist and switched the power to On. Goosebumps rose along the flesh of her arms when she scrolled through the digital photos.
Every picture was of the weird hedge hog toy. It was placed in the center of every frame, and although the backgrounds appeared different, every picture was taken outdoors in a woodsy locale. There was blood on the ground around the toy in every shot.
Bradley’s leg jerked against her foot. Daphne shrieked and dropped the camera. Quick as a cat, she zapped him again with the Taser.
Brad, here, is a bad, bad guy. He’s a person no one can trust. He had an agenda. You kept your eyes open and protected yourself. You struck first and refused to be a victim!
Daphne retrieved the knife and stepped over Bradley. With delicate fingers, she plucked the toy from the bike seat and set it on the ground next to Bradley’s head. She squatted. The knife felt good, like it’d been ergonomically designed just for her. Intoxicating energy exploded through her, a flow of warmth that intensified between her legs. With both hands she lifted the knife high above her head and drove the blade through the toy’s happy face and into the ground beneath it. A tear rolled down Bradley’s frozen cheek.
Now, finish it.
Daphne sucked on her lower lip, and then ran her tongue along the top one. She pulled out the knife, examining the slit it made that nearly sliced the toy in two. Sneering down at Bradley, she waved the toy in his face. “You two belong together.” Pulling hard on his waistband, she shoved the mutilated figure down the front of Bradley’s undershorts.
Positioning herself between Bradley’s legs, she grasped a foot in each hand. With the strength befitting a woman of greater stature, she dragged Bradley across the gravel toward the drop-off. His lolling head banged repeatedly over larger stones. Daphne lined his body up with the rim of the cliff before stopping to catch her breath.
Rid the world of this filth.
She stared down at Bradley, her fists opening and closing at her sides.
He was going to kill you with that knife. Probably would have violated you too, beforehand and after. And then hunt for his next victim when he was done.
Daphne’s fingers stilled. She bent, slid her hands under Bradley, and rolled him over the edge.
He fell for a long time, his body doing lazy cartwheels through the air before landing in a silent cloud of grit. The sense of being alive, of feeling free, returned to Daphne ten-fold. She was a super hero.
You did good, kiddo. Real good. You’re going to be just fine. Time to pick up.
She walked back to Bradley’s bike. She slid the Taser into her right front pocket, and dropped the knife and rope back into the saddle bags. The camera dangled from her wrist and the tires tick-tick-ticked as she rolled the bike to the cliff’s edge. Unceremoniously, she shoved it into the chasm. The sky was ablaze with sunset’s fiery glow, but down in the shadowy purple-black gorges, there was no sign of Bradley or his bike.
No breeze stirred Daphne’s hair as she stood on the edge of the abyss. Working the buttons on Bradley’s camera, she deleted all files from the SD card, returned to picture-taking mode, and enabled the flash feature. From her left pocket she retrieved the small plastic Dalmatian. Setting the dog on a boulder at the cliff’s edge, she snapped a picture. Out of the heavens, an eagle’s shriek shattered the darkening sky.
All right, kiddo, let’s get out of here.
(WC = 2420)
Written for Round Two of: