On Edge

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

On Edge

Charles felt his feet slipping along the narrow ledge and stared down at the street far below.  His legs waivered and trembled, but he continued to scoot his feet farther and farther away from his hotel room’s window.  He stopped, tore his gaze away from the steep drop, and looked to a stone gargoyle perched on a building across the street.  The gargoyle, a cold gray fixture on the business-filled skyscraper offered no words of sympathy.  It had undergone years of bitter cold, birds, snow, and smog.  Its mouth was open with four fangs circling the tongue that stuck out, but no inspirational encouragement sprang forth.  It almost seemed to be leaning towards Charles.  With its beady eyes and its sharp ears that were slicked back, the gargoyle looked expectantly to the despondent youth.  “Now what?” it seemed to goad.

Charles sneered at the gargoyle and looked at the world around him.  It was five in the evening and the commuters were bustling with activity.  All the office windows seemed to be turning off.  The people in the other buildings were happy.  They got to go out and have fun, they had loved ones that they could take solace in.  They didn’t know what it was like to be a loser.  They didn’t know how it felt to be Charles.  Those other people, the lucky ones, they couldn’t understand what Charles had been through.  How could they appreciate what it was like to give your heart and soul, only to have it all come crashing down?

Charles felt his knees starting to give out and knelt down.  His shoes eked over the building’s edge.  He was forty-two floors up.  He had asked for the floor specifically.  Part of him wanted to believe that if he picked the forty-second floor that he would be presented with answers.  Some sort of miracle would occur and Megan would find them in this hotel room.  Maybe a bellhop would say just the right thing to make him believe that she would come back.  But that hadn’t happened.

Charles ended up appreciating the second reason why he had chosen the forty-second floor.  There was no way his jump would end any way except how he wanted.  It would be an assured way to end his misery.  He knew some people survived with broken legs or a shattered spinal column.  Charles had even researched the matter online.  Terminal velocity seemed to be possible around ninety-six floors, but the hotel didn’t go that high.  He felt sure that he would at least approach a hundred miles per hour.  He reasoned that a four hundred foot drop, including a sudden stop on concrete, would do the job rather decisively.

Charles felt that diving off of the building like some high-diving swimmer was not true to his style.  If he was going to do away with himself, he was going to do it standing.  He would step off, one foot in front of the other, with as much dignity as he could muster.  Megan had not left him with much dignity, so he wanted to go out with whatever little self-respect he could grab.  He stood up, feeling the wind push against his side as the smells of the city rushed up to him.  He took a whiff of the fumes emanating off of the garbage trucks and gave the happy people and their far-better lives a final send off.  Charles closed his eyes.

“Hey Charles.”

Charles’ eyes shot open.  He could have sworn he had heard something.  He decided that his subconscious was trying to distract him and he got ready to take one more last breath.

“Charles.  Over here, bucko.”

Charles knew he couldn’t have misheard that.  He turned, and to his left, sitting between his perch and his hotel window was a man.  He was average enough.  The person was obviously middle-aged, had an average build, average height, and even had an average amount of grey in his temples.  The only word Charles could use to describe him was average.  In any other setting this would have been a completely normal person.  However, this man was sitting on the ledge, his feet merrily dangling and kicking over the city while he leaned back and rested his head against the concrete brick wall.

“Charles, you look like you could use a friend.”

“Who are you?”

“Is that really the first question you want to ask?  Don’t you really want to know what I’m doing here?  I mean, you could slip and fall at any time now, Charles.  I should think you would want to prioritize your questions.  A strong updraft could end this conversation before you get all your queries addressed.”

“Fine”, Charles said feeling annoyed at the intrusion to his final send off.  “What are you doing here?”

“I think I should introduce myself first”, the man said.  He winked, pulled his feet underneath him, and stood up.  As the man approached Charles, he offered his hand.  “I’m just trying to keep the conversation light, Charles.  You know, I don’t want our little talk to go crashing to the ground quite yet.”

Charles stared at the hand in front of him and shook it as an automated response.  A sense of shock had set in and he still couldn’t believe how calm this person was at such a great height.  “Who are you?” Charles asked again.

“Charles, I’m you.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I know.  I’ve been thinking about this for the last twenty-five years.  I still haven’t thought of any better way to say it.  I am you.  Charles Densville.  We are the same person.  Well, okay, if I was a quarter of a century earlier, I’d be you.  I’m you with more mileage.”  The man winked and waited for Charles’ response.

“What?”

“I know.  Man, I wish I was still that thin.  You know, they tell you your metabolism hits a wall around thirty?  I won’t tell you exactly when, but they’re more or less right.  You can probably still eat; what, five doughnuts?  An entire pizza goes in your gut without exercising?  Man I miss that.”

“Are you serious with this?”

“I know we can be a bit stubborn, but I’d like to end this as fast as possible.”

“You’re saying that you’re me?  That you’re Charles Densville.”

“Actually, I tend to go by Chuck these days.”

“See, now I know you’re crazy”, Charles said as he edged away further.  “I hate being called Chuck.”

“It used to bug me to”, Chuck replied.  “You get used to it.  Getting remarks about Chuck Jones and Chuck Norris is a lot better than being asked if you’re ‘in charge’ over and over.”

“I don’t buy it.  Go away.”

“Oh don’t be like that.  Ugh, you’re so young.  Look, if I told you that I liked being called Charlie, then that would be unbelievable.  This is simply, well, let’s file it under ‘very much surprising and unexpected.’”

“Why should I believe that you’re me?”

“You can’t accept it, can you?  All those science-fiction books that you’re read and you can’t just go with the flow on the whole time travel thing?  Asimov would be ashamed.”

“Is this some kind of joke to you?”

“Ya know Charles; I didn’t think it would be.  But standing here?  It’s actually quite amusing.  You’re so panicky and scared.  I’m a little off put by the whole thing.  It all works out in the end though.”

“How do you know it will all work out?”  Charles shouted.  “My life is over.  I’m done.  I’m jumping.”

“See, that’s the ‘what’ part.”

“What?”

“The ‘what’.  You asked me what I’m doing here.  I’m here to keep you from jumping.  I’m here to get you back on track.  We all get derailed Charles.  I know that more than anyone.  I get it.  I’m just here to nudge you back on course.”

“What if I jump right this second?  What if you fail?”

“I won’t”, Chuck said confidently.  “Would you like to be in on my little secret to confidence?”

“Sure”, Charles said as he felt himself getting annoyed.  “Why don’t you share with me, oh-great swami; how you’ve found the secret to self-confidence?  Or maybe I’ll just jump and prove you wrong.”

“You won’t.”

“Stop saying that!  Stop calling me a coward!”

“Now Charles, I never said that.  I’m only saying that you won’t jump.  You don’t die today.  You don’t die anytime soon.”

“And why not?” Charles yelled.

“Because I’m still here.”  Chuck put out his hands, held them for Charles to see, and patted his belly.  “If you died, I wouldn’t be alive.  Me standing here in front of you is proof that you aren’t going anywhere.  Everything that’s happened to you has happened to me.  I remember this conversation, and all of your arguments, as if they happened to me.  I know it all because I was there.  I was you.  So you don’t die today.  You don’t jump.”

Charles tried to wrap his head around the line of reasoning he had been served.  “Even if your logic is sound…”

“Which it is”, Chuck interrupted.

“This all assumes that I believe you are me.  Why would I believe that?  Would you believe that?”

“I do.  And I did.”  Chuck beamed.  “C’mon, this is fun.  Admit it.”

“Stop it!”

Chuck sighed.  “Okay, look.  I didn’t want to go through the list, but if that’s really how you want to play it.”  He held up his fingers and started counting down digits for each fact he recited.  “You were born March fifth.  Your parents are Robert and Carol.  Your dad doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but he likes pipes.  He thinks your mom doesn’t know about them but she does.  Your mom bets on the horses.  Never the sure bet, usually the one with the jockey that’s wearing the most green.  ‘Luck of the Irish’, she calls it.  You like science; probably a little too much.  You’d think that having that chemistry kit set your eyebrows on fire would have kept your curiosity at bay, but we’re a little too stubborn to be smart sometimes, am I right?  Still, it has its perks.  The way Julie kissed us when we made her that perfume from scratch?  I mean, let’s face it Charles, the stuff smelled a little funky.  She sure did thank us pretty well though, didn’t she?”

Charles’ mouth was hanging open.  Part of his realization stemmed from this man’s intricate knowledge of his past.  However, the physical aspects of the man in front of him were changing his mind as well.  His eyebrows were rather thin, just like Charles’, since they had never grown back.  There was a bump in the man’s nose right where Charles had been punched by a school bully.  If Charles were asked to picture himself as older, bigger, and out of shape he would end up with a man that looked like Chuck.

“You… you really are me, aren’t you?”

“If I’m not, then there’s a really weird guy up here on the ledge with you.  And he’s wearing your shirt.  Well, my shirt.  You haven’t bought it yet.  But I bought you those shoes, if that makes it better.  You know; the ones that you bought.”  Chuck laughed.  “I’m telling you Charles, from where I’m sitting this whole conversation is playing out to be more fun than I would have expected.  Wait until you’re looking at the situation from my end.”

“Okay, so you’re me.  How does that work, exactly?

“Yes, the semantics.  Right; the short version is that time travel is possible.”

“I guessed that much.  Aren’t you risking some sort of butterfly-effect by coming here?  Doesn’t the whole thing risk undoing the past?”

“I can’t tell you too many details.  There are protocols to keep us from confusing ourselves.  But a lot of the complications that you think would occur are fixed by the fact that we can’t change the past.  We’re just observers.  We can see, we can interact, but things play out the way they’re supposed to.  If they didn’t, they would have locked down time travel long ago.  They did some testing which they increased bit by bit.  Finally, numerous reports from different countries’ scientists found that we don’t risk anything by traveling backwards.  We pause our moment in time, come back, and return from where our quantum markers were left.  It’s going forward that messes things up.  As long as we just visit backwards, then everything is fine.

“What happens if you go forward in time?” Charles asked.

“Trust me; you don’t have time for all that.  Heh, ‘time’.  I crack me up.  Anyways, content yourself that you’re getting visited by your future self and know that I’m using my one trip on you.”

“One trip?  What does that mean?”

“One shot”, Chuck said.  “Between the number of people that sign up and the government resources that are needed for these sort of things, each person gets one shot at time travel.  There are offers out there for millions of dollars if someone wants to give away their spot.  People don’t give it up though.  They may be starving, but they want to travel to their own little destination.  It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Besides, if anyone did sell their spot, the government would catch on and negate the whole deal.  My one trip was to see you.”

“But…” Charles was confused.  “Why me?  You could have seen history in the making.  You could have met Megan again and seen the look on her face.  Why waste it on me?”

“It isn’t a waste”, Chuck said with a suddenly serious tone.  “This is it.  This is your low point.  I’m not saying your life will be perfect after this.”  Chuck rubbed the back of his neck and looked down as the years became evident on his forehead.  “There will be worse days than this, much worse.”  A sad look came over his face as he cleared his throat and composed himself.  “However, this was the day you weren’t up to it.  This was the day that Megan got to you.”

Charles became deflated.  He leaned fully against the wall and let it support him.  His body began to sag like the flag five stories down.  He was limp and lifeless, the wind knocked out of him by just her name.  “So, you remember Megan.”

“Oh yeah”, Chuck replied.  “You don’t forget the wife that leaves you and runs off with her coworker.  Young love is hard enough, Charles.  Ended marriages are even harder.”

“It really is over?”  Charles looked down to the street below.  “She never comes back?  We never see her again?”

Chuck’s sad face still remained, but he a small laugh found its way out.  “Charles, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never say ‘never’.  In answer to what you’re asking, you two don’t get back together.  The marriage is done.  You two are done as a happily little couple that were going to buy that vineyard and raise three kids together.”

“Then what is there?” Charles raged.  “You told me not five minutes ago that things get even worse.  And I don’t have Megan.  Why should I stick around?”

“Because it gets so much better”, Chuck said.  The confidence was back in his tone and his chest was raised up, full of hope.  “There’re a vast number of things to live for besides Megan.  C’mon, you know she was always a little dark for us.  It was fun, man was it fun.  The weekend we had with her in The Bahamas?  Now that was a trip for the record books.”

Charles smiled at the warm memory.  He’d gotten over the sunburn, but he still let his mind drift to those wild nights in the sunny beach and all the trouble and romance he and Megan had gotten into.

“There’s more to life than Megan.  I don’t want you to know too much.  Still, you know that it’s true.”

“Really?”  Charles was perking up slowly.  “Like what?”

“Wow.  I was that impatient.  Dad said it, but I didn’t believe it.  I just told you, man.  I don’t want you to know too much.”

“Why can’t you just tell me her name?”  Charles walked up to Chuck and looked him in the eyes.  “There’s somebody else out there, right?”

“Yeah, you might say that.”

“Then what’s her name?”

“If I do that, we both know what will happen.”

“We’ll fall madly in love and I’ll be able to get past Megan”, Charles insisted.

“Oh stop.  You’re smarter than that.  It’s all about timing.  Chemical reactions, space travel, relationships; all these things depend on timing.  If you go and find this gal now, it won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“Charles, trust me on this.  You’re not ready for her yet.  Life’s a journey, enjoy the ride.”

“You would quote a Pixar film.”

“Steal from the best”, Chuck said with a shrug.  “Besides, you’d be missing out on all the people in between.”

“What makes you say that?”  Charles was curious at the insinuation.  “Why can’t I have the woman I’m supposed to be with and hang out with the people I’m going to meet later?”

“When would you have the time?  You and I both know that you would want to spend all your time with this new woman so you could fall in love as quickly as possible so you’d be over Megan.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There are plenty of people coming into your life.  They’re all quite different and they all have their different things to tell you.  I know it feels like you are all done growing up, but believe me, you’re not.  There’re a whole list of things you go through before it all clicks.  And the guy that clicks with this woman in your life?  You’re not him yet.”

“Why should I believe you?”

Charles held up his left hand.  A break in the clouds produced a beam of sun reflecting off the gold band on his finger.  “Trust me”, Chuck said.  “It’ll all work out.  I know the waiting is hard.  It really is.  This is the low point.  You do better after this.  Let the universe teach you a few things.  Eventually, it will all come…”

“Full circle”, both Charles’ said at once.  The lesson that their father had taught them all those years ago still rang in Charles’ mind.  “Okay”, Charles said.

“Okay?”

“Okay”, Charles said as he inched his way inside.  Chuck backed up past the window and gestured like a butler offering his master first entry to the grand manor.  Charles smiled and stepped back through the window.  “Any advice?”

“Maybe you should find a good friend to talk to.”

“Why not you?” Charles asked.

“I know a little too much”, Chuck said with a grin.  “Anyways, my time is almost up.”

“That’s it?  You get your one visit and you just spend it with me on a ledge in downtown?”

“Hey, the demand is high.  You only get so long.”

“That’s so sad”, Charles commented.  “All you got was this.”

“Bah”, Chuck said as he dismissed his younger self.  “I got a meaningful talk, I got to get some fresh air; I think it was all worthwhile.  Good company too.”

“So you don’t mind that I made you come here?”

“Charles, nobody makes you do anything.  I chose to do it in the past and I chose to do it now.  You chose to come off the ledge and you’ll give life another shot.”

“Still”, Charles replied.  “I would’ve liked for you to have cheerier company for your only time travel tip.”

Chuck put his hand on Charles’ shoulder as he faded away.  “Trust me, Charles.  You’re worth it.  Remember that, okay?”

“I’ll do my best”, Charles said to his now-departed self.  Charles looked out the window and saw the sun set in the skyscrapers’ windows.  Even the gargoyle seemed to have transformed from a symbol of mockery to a smiling creature of hope.  Charles watched the peaceful sunset and found that it was his turn to ask, “Now what?”

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

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