Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the seventy-third piece in this series. This week’s is a 1,000-worder by multi-genre author and interviewee Salvatore Buttaci. This story will be podcasted in episode 25 (with two other stories) on Sunday 19th May.
End It All! End It All!
Long before the leapers brought to our state bridges international prominence, they served only to provide over-the-water transportation and perhaps a scenic bird’s-eye view for leisure travelers of what lay below. But that was before the leapers. Now, drivers traversing from landed point A to landed point B maintained a kind of tunnel vision, looking neither right nor left nor down but straight ahead.
Leaping demonstrations almost overnight had become the new rite of passage; this one from desperation and despair to the liberation promised by death as thousands of leapers, then millions, trekked to bridges, lifting themselves over steel railings, then plummeting seaward to cold wet graves.
A boy of twelve in 2013 when this madness began, I knew next to nothing about life, let alone this lemming-like compulsion to end it. Nor had anyone explained it to me, even if I had been inclined back then to boldly ask. It was the hush-hush sin no one cared to question. Like a sorcerer’s incantation, it enticed both my grandfathers to take the plunge. Then my mother left her whirring washing machine in mid-rinse and drove to Clay’s Ferry Bridge a half an hour’s drive from our Kentucky home, parked her blue Hyundai in a no-parking zone, walked towards the bridge, and––at least that’s how I imagined it because she never came home again. Dad drove searching, his first inclination to find her car near the closest bridge, which he did. I sat beside him and marveled how he could, without so much as a whimper, let tears fall. Then he turned to me. “Your mom’s gone, Travis. It’s just you and me now.”
Little truth in that. A bit beyond a month, so clouded by sorrow and some unnamed angst that drove leapers to suicide, he followed her and left me pretty much a boy of the streets, alone to fend for myself, breaking into recent leapers’ homes and taking the spoils of unspoiled refrigerated foods, even sleeping in their warm beds at night where nightmares chased me through dark forests where bridges abounded and ogres chanted litanies to some demon god. And chanted to me the mantra, “End it all! End it all!” but year after year I managed to distance myself from the call of dream monsters and bridges. I did my best to keep the hope alive that one day someone somewhere would find the proverbial key to unlock the mystery, lay it out like something finally dead, and with mental scalpel cut away the evil, dig deeply into the why and how, destroy whatever drew leapers to their deaths.
As was their usual response to crises, the political parties in Washington blamed each other for its inability to find solutions. Democrats promised they would save the people. Republicans refused to call on those millionaires and billionaires to finance a multi-faceted study of environment, chemistry, and all those areas that might harbor the answers we desperately needed. A stalemate was what they offered us, so the leapers multiplied and bridges continued to carry them from where they did not want to be anymore to where they hoped another life would be kinder.
Meanwhile America had degenerated into a ghost of its former days. Those who had not yet leaped, begged on the empty streets. The economy was a shriveled balloon, its air completely gone, which meant currency held no value and survivors without need of purchasing what they needed and wanted, looted from dawn to sundown.
The churches deemed it all “The End Days”. No one denied it. The churches said God was angry with us and this was our punishment, but some of us shook our heads. God who created lives would not command those lives to destroy themselves. No, we could not accept that. Others claimed the destroyer was Satan. And so the debate raged on and solved nothing. People went on seeking out bridges and diving to their deaths. Those who remained could only pray God would save them and many at some point in their day or night, almost like sleepwalkers, marched out of their homes, got into their cars, and drove dazedly to their end time.
Without fanfare of drum or horn, the new year of 2033 took its initial steps as 2032, the most brutal year, did a leaping of its own––into the burning barrel of history. The curse of the bridges had now entered its 20th year. Absent the descending Times Square ball, the singing, the gaiety, the cheering crowds.
January’s first day began with an ascending orange sun, one of those sunrises you used to see in photographs, snapped by nature lovers sitting on a hillside. Into the previous night’s darkness this new sun had injected color and light. Nothing eventful. Nothing that did not occur at the start of all days since time began. Nothing anywhere to hint that this day would be the start of something grand!
Who could fathom why the leaping had begun and why it finally ended on the first day of 2033? The politicians, of course, took credit. A top-secret document claimed those scientists who figured it out would remain classified forever. Church leaders announced in their pulpits God had taken pity on us and lifted his wrath. Only a handful of us in our cities and towns were still living.
New Year’s Day we celebrated a new start. Perhaps only the spirits of the drowned hovered over the nation’s bridges, but no leapers climbed over the steel railings. The madness that had begun without reason ended in that same way. And if the first 2033 day was a fluke, we waited out the subsequent days with bated breath, but good times remained.
Now an old man, sometimes in dreams I see that ugly ogre in the far-off woods, but I close my ears to his entreaties. I turn and walk the other way towards the little children playing in the rose gardens.
Far from bridges the little ones leap for joy.
I asked Salvatore what prompted this piece and he said…
What inspired “End It All! End It All!” was a newspaper article I recently read about the accelerated number of American soldiers committing suicide in Afghanistan and on their return from combat duty. What if Post-traumatic Stress Disorder were to also affect civilians fed up with a never-ending war?
I loved it. Thank you, Salvatore.
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widely. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times,
U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Poetic Bloomings, and A Word with You Press. He was an English instructor at a local community college and middle-school teacher in New Jersey before he retired in 2007 to commit himself to full-time writing.
- Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, are available in book and Kindle editions at http://www.kindlegraph.com/authors/sambpoet
- His two chapbooks: Boy on a Swing… http://tinyurl.com/6qmkdy4
- And What I Learned from the Spaniard… http://tinyurl.com/7apsk6s
- His new book, If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems (Cyber-Wit Publications) is available at http://tinyurl.com/7ssnzg4
- A great seller since 1998, his book A Family of Sicilians is available at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia, USA.
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