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The sky was a misty gray when Jerry stepped out in his in his flannel running suit onto the silent pavement. The crisp morning air lashed viciously at his face but he smiled anyway. He liked the cold.
With his steady heartbeat drumming in his ears, Jerry ran towards the bridge he always crossed, the end now faded by a blinding fog.
A blurry clot of darkness began to form slowly in the dense clouds, along the side railing. The clot grew arms and a head and as Jerry jogged closer he realized he was looking at the back of a woman, her raven black hair draped loosely over her shoulders.
He saw her muscles stiffen when she heard his footsteps but he didn’t hesitate until she turned towards him, the void in her eyes knocking the wind out of him.
“Hi,” uttered Jerry politely.
Raven Hair seemed to stare through him for a moment and then turned her attention back to the view of nothingness across the bridge.
“Go away,” she said quietly, though her voice held as little substance as her gaze.
Jerry was tempted, he really was; the pallor of her skin frighteningly resembled ghosts he’d seen in movies as a child but he remained motionless in his place. Panic boiled feverishly in his stomach and bewilderment joined when he heard himself say, "What’s your name?”
Raven Hair didn’t face him but with the same robotic tone she retorted, “Why should you care?”
Jerry looked down and thought for a moment. Why did he care?
“What’s your name?” he repeated and could not understand why he was asking her a second time.
“What’s yours?” she said accusingly.
Jerry sighed in frustration. It seemed that she wasn’t going to give him any information until he did so first.
“It’s Jerry,” he answered and felt a childish urge to cross his arms defensively over his chest.
Raven Hair turned to look through him and said simply, “You don’t have a name.”
“I don’t have a name?” Chills shot through Jerry’s arms like pins and needles.
“You don’t have a name,” she chanted again and then stepped over the railing. “None of us have names.”
Jerry felt as if he had been punched in the stomach when he realized what she was saying and what she was going to do. The fall to the water below wasn’t enough to kill but she’d have to fight the sea’s fierce tides to reach the shore. Jerry looked at her with frantic eyes. She didn’t appear to have any fight left.
“Hey wait,” he said desperately, searching for anything to stall her. “You don’t want to do this.”
He actually had no idea what she did or didn’t want to do but when he thought of watching helplessly as a woman dived head first into suicide right before his eyes, he felt his knees go weak.
Raven Hair was fully over the railing now and she didn’t make an attempt to climb back when he said this… But she didn’t jump either.
“I don’t want to do this?” she echoed passively.
He knew she was talking to herself more than him but Jerry answered anyway, “No, you don’t.”
“Why?” The sudden pleading in her voice stunned him.
“Well,” he stammered and searched quickly through his thoughts for a file labeled “Reasons Not to Kill yourself”. When that didn’t work he said, “It’s quite a cliché, you know.” He paused, hoping he would be rewarded with a laugh but got none. “I mean, jumping off a bridge? Your plan lacks originality,” he finished with feigned satisfaction.
For a moment Jerry thought she hadn’t heard what he said but then he noticed her hands latched to the pole, their tightening grip making her knuckles white.
“I read a story once,” she whispered to the air. Jerry stood paralyzed and tried to think of something that could possibly be more unexpected than standing on a bridge next to a suicidal woman while she told him a story.
“I was in sixth grade when Mrs. Rain assigned it. The kid in the book, his name was Roy, wanted to kill himself. He just didn’t feel like being here, didn’t want to try. So Roy woke up early one morning, walked to a bridge near his house and jumped. Just jumped. Floated like a leaf through the clear sky and dropped with a “Doink” into the water below.”
Jerry didn’t move when she paused for air. He couldn’t have moved if he tried.
“A few weeks after I finished reading the book I went over to my teacher and asked her why everyone didn’t just do what Roy did. ‘It just sounds so easy,’ I told her.
Mrs. Rain looked lost for a moment but then answered plainly, ‘Because we don’t want to.’
“That answer haunted me for years. We don’t want to? Why the hell not? Life is so pointless, so meaningless. You occupy a millisecond of time and then you’re forgotten, whether you stick it out and suffer through the whole damn thing or give up early and take a shortcut.”
Jerry looked down at his feet and mumbled, “Life’s not all bad.”
“Oh yeah? What about it? What’s not so bad?” She had whipped around to face him now and in her black eyes he saw the tips of an icy fire.
“Success. Fun.” Jerry returned his gaze to the floor. “Love.”
Raven Hair smiled at him mockingly. “Interesting,” she said. “How funny that every good thing you mentioned ends up disappointing a person at one point or another in their life. Success ends. Fun ends. As for love, oh that’s just a distraction that some moron came up with to blind the human race into thinking life is worthwhile.”
Jerry found himself speechless. He didn’t like where this was going.
“Maybe,” she began with a taunting note, “You’d like to jump with me.”
Perhaps it was the reflection of the fog or his imagination playing tricks on him but Jerry was sure at that moment that he saw the devil in her eyes.
“Please,” he begged, mostly because he was too scared to say anything else. “Don’t jump. Let me help you.”
Jerry was horrified to hear her laugh a cackle so terrible that he thought if Hell had a doorbell, it would play that sound. Terror rose in his throat at that moment but he could not run, could not scream.
“Jerry,” she said. The sound of his name on her tongue sliced through Jerry like the blade of a butcher knife. “You know why you’re here now? It’s not because you care or because you feel guilty. It’s because, like all people, you’re subconsciously drawn to the deliciousness of death. You see, Jerry, I’m trying to help you listen to your inner Roy.” Raven Hair offered a crooked smile. “Your morals are not easily wavered, yours or anyone else’s, but sooner or later you all learn to answer the craving bubbling inside you and chose to join the march of the devil.”
“So,” she said and flashed a row of decaying teeth. “I guess I’ll see you then.”
She turned towards the water once more but before she jumped, Jerry heard her say, “Oh, and thank you for the name. I like Raven Hair very much.”
She gave him half a smile and then vanished into the fog.