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Living_Hellfire
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**Content Warning - This story contains elements of suicidal ideation - Please see the author's note at the end**

 

Circa Spring 2022

 

The boy stood at the edge of the building, just him and four hundred feet of open space to the sidewalk. He stood, in the cool May evening, staring down wondering what he was waiting for and finding no answer. He stepped up onto the eight inch ledge, the toes of his sneakers above the sidewalk and then stepped back and down again, cursing himself for his cowardice. He wiped another tear from his cheek, cursing himself again, this time for weakness.

 

He screamed his rage into the dark sky, hunched over, fists clenched, eyes closed. His cry flew into the night without even so much as an echo. He approached the ledge again, this time with determination. His fists still clenched, his cheeks wet. His Misfits t-shirt fluttering slightly in the sudden breeze.

 

"Alright, mate?"

 

The boy spun around at the sound. In the shadow of taller buildings, up against the structure housing the HVAC installation was a shadow. The cherry of a cigar burning brightly in the dark.

 

"Who's there?! What do you want?!"

 

Three clicks of hard-soled leather loafers later a man emerged from the shadow and into the light. A fedora atop his head, a burning cigar jammed between his teeth, shirt, pocket square and opaque shades to match the burnt orange pin-stripes of his flat black suit. He jutted his chin out as he straightened his tie, the blue smoke from the cigar hanging above his head like a halo.

 

"I asked if'n ye were alright." Silence. "So? Alright, then, lad?"

 

"You think I won't jump?"

 

The Man in Black puffed his cigar. Thunder rolled in the distance. "Ach, I think ye may very well jump, lad." He strolled past the boy to the edge of the building, looking down at the street below "Indeed that's me concern."

 

The boy stared at the man, looking at him side-on. Between the edge of his sunglasses and his temple, where one might be able to see the gap between a person's eye and the inside of the lens was a jaunty flame, all reds and whites and burnt oranges. It capered against the inside of the shades, malevolently, as though pressing against them to escape.

 

The boy gasped and staggered back and away from the ledge and the stranger. "Who are you? Are you The Devil?!"

 

The Man in Black straightened and turned to his left, taking in the boy in full. Grey Misfits t-shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers, his arms now wrapped instinctively around himself in fear. He took the cigar from his mouth, letting it dangle between first and second finger at the length of his arm, a friendly grin on his face.

 

"Nay, lad, I'm nae The Devil. I reckon Ol' Scratch has far larger fish tae fry than ye." He held up in hands in a placating gesture "Nae offense meant, o'course, it's jes' that ye've nae e'en been alive long enough tae catch his attention. He's a busy bastard, that one. I should well know."

 

"So, then what, a demon? Are you here to make sure I jump so you can take me to Hell?"

 

The Man's brow furrowed in concern, his hands now slightly outstretched, palms to the sky, the blue smoke from his cigar coiling around his arm like a serpent. "Nay, lad, I'm nae a demon either, although I've been called that an' worse. Nay... I'm here tae help." His posture relaxed as he stood still in the cool night air.

 

"I don't need your help!" The boy cried, raising his voice at the stranger. "I'm fine!" The Man in Black waited, silent. "It's just... " tears welled in the boy's eyes, cracks forming in his bravado. He mastered himself and straightened in defiance, all passion and bluster. "What do you care, anyway? You don't know me! You don't know my life, why should I even trust you, I don't even know your name! You just appeared out of nowhere in that fancy suit with your eyes on fire!"

 

The Man in Black waggled his head slowly back and forth, considering this encounter for the first time from the boy's point of view. "Aye... yer quite right. Truth is that once upon a time I was a teacher, here in this very city, but that was a long time ago an' I'm retired now." He paused slightly, as though considering and then deciding "Ye may call me Mr. McRae."

 

"You don't look that old."

 

"Appearances are often deceivin', lad."

 

"So... why are you here? Why are you bothering me?"

 

"It's nae me intent tae bother, mate, I'm here tae help, as I mentioned. I'm here tae make the attempt at convicin' ye that temporary problems, as weighty an' oppressive an' enormous as they may seem in the moment do nae warrant permanent solutions." He shrugged "But I cannae do aught but make the attempt fer at the end o'the day the choice is yers."

 

"So, you're not going to try to stop me?"

 

"Nae by force, but I am concerned yer about tae make a decision that ye'll regret fer the rest o'yer life, all 5 seconds of it should ye choose the path yer considerin'."

 

The boy hadn't considered that possibility, the idea that he might jump and then wish he hadn't all the way down.

 

"Tommy, I can spend the entire rest o'the night, haulin' ye physically away from that ledge, but I cannae do it tommorrae, ye unnerstand? If'n yer determined tae do this, then there's naught I er anyone can do tae prevent it forever. At some point ye'll find the right proper opportunity an' there'll be no-one here tae stop it. Keepin' ye from that ledge this evenin' by force would only be a temporary delay tae addressin' a larger problem."

 

The boy stared at The Man in Black, who simply shrugged sadly, almost in surrender.

 

"It pains me tae say that, lad, but it's the truth, but enough about that fer the moment, why dinnae ye jes' tell me what's got ye so upset, an' p'raps we can go from there?"

 

The fight seemed to go out of the boy as his shoulders dropped. His eyes welling, he began to pace, the words began to fall "I just... I don't feel like I belong anywhere." The words came faster now, tumbling out as though a dam broke within him "My parents are divorcing and they hate each other, all they do is fight about money and who gets to see who when and how. They fight about everything and it's all they talk about, even to me and my brother. All we hear from our mom and dad is all about how much they hate each other and all about all the nasty shit they accuse each other of doing while they were married." He stops pacing, turning abruptly, the tears flowing freely down his cheeks. "As if any of that matters anymore!! It's done! It's over, but neither of them can let anything go!" His voice hitched as he wiped away tears, slowly taking the burnt orange pocket square offered.

 

"And, I get so angry about it that it's all I can think about! I can't concentrate in school, my friends don't understand, they just don't want to be around me because I'm so fucking mad all the FUCKING TIME!!" The last words screamed at the sky were followed by sobs.

 

The Man in Black waited patiently as Tommy had a good cry, wishing desperately he could hug the boy and comfort him.

 

"And my brother has it just as bad, maybe worse. He's graduating this spring from High School and he didn't get into any of the colleges he applied to because his grades are so bad, when they never were! He always got good grades but now... " Tommy sighed "He got arrested last week on account of him and his friends spray painted the side of a store and then robbed it. Not with, like a gun or anything, they just shop-lifted some beer and stuff, but... Greg would NEVER have done that a few years ago. Now he's going to miss his own graduation, not that he even cares anymore."

 

The boy slowed down, inspecting the pocket square for the first time. It felt odd and strangely warm in the chill night air and every time he turned it over it seemed dry. "Wait... " he looked up slowly, somewhat suspicious "How did you know my name?"

 

The Man in Black reached into his breast pocket, producing a small, alabaster business card. Tommy could see four words scrawled on it in black, but couldn't make them out. "Because a long time ago I gave yer mum this card an' told her that tae use it if'n she e'er needed me, an' tonight I heard that call." He replaced the card. "I ken yer name, Tommy because when I heard the call an' arrived both yer mum an' da were there. Supportin' each other, distraught at the disappearance o'their son. They tol' me yer name an' how tae find ye. Yer parents luv ye, mate, dearly. As much as any parents e'er luved their bairns. An' that luv is so strong that it eclipsed e'en the anger they feel t'wards each other."

 

The tears flowed fresh as Tommy sobbed softly into the pocket square.

 

"Mate, I must tell ye that it'll nae last. In a day er two, p'raps a week they'll return tae squabblin', but fer now, fer tonight they are united in their luv fer their boy, but this isnae about them, it's about ye. They've got tae solve their own problems, but do remember that they're mortals as well, an' jes' as flawed as anyone. They're in pain as well, but that's nae yer concern. They're the grown-ups, it's nae yer responsibility tae act on their behalf, it's theirs tae act on yers."

 

The boy nodded, still looking at the burnt orange fabric in his hands.

 

"Y'see, m'boy, troubles come in all shapes an' sizes. Some are large, some are small, but no matter how large they are they often get smaller on their own giv'n enough time. Tommy, ye've got quite a large trouble at the moment, an' at yer age as a result of yer experience an' the boundaries of the world ye live in at this moment, at this young age, your "space" as it were is small. Ye've got a large problem in a small space. Yer trouble is so large an' yer space is so small that the trouble fills every corner an' hides behind every shadow. Ye cannae escape it, it's always there, in yer noggin', eatin' away at ye an' that's nae yer fault, but that doesnae mean that ye cannae do summat about it, if'n ye choose tae."

 

"Yeah? What, Mr. McRae? What can I do about this, I'm just a kid, I can't solve an adult's problems, even if those adults are my own parents."

 

"That's nae what I meant. I meant that ye can act tae make the space larger. Yer allowin' yerself tae go through this trouble all by yer lonesome. As is yer brother. If'n ye talk tae Greg, remind him that he's nae alone, be honest with him about how ye feel an' ye may find that he feels the same, an' in doin' that ye may find that ye can support each other through this. That makes the space a wee bit larger. Ye can talk tae yer mates, tell'em why ye've been so cross, ask their forgiveness fer treatin' 'em so and ask fer their support. I think ye'll find that they're all too eager tae aid ye. That makes the space a wee bit larger, still. Talk tae yer parents, p'referably with Greg, both of ye supportin' each other, an' tell'em how ye feel. How they've made ye feel an' ask'em tae be aware of it an' how they carry on movin' forward. That might make the space e'en larger."

 

The Man in Black placed the cigar back into his mouth, gripping it between his teeth, speaking around it as he accepted his pocket square back. Tommy's face was splotchy, his eyes bloodshot, but he seemed to have stopped crying and therefore didn't need the patch of cloth.

 

"Ye cannae make the problem smaller, that'll happen on their own time, but fer now, mate... ye must find ways tae make bigger spaces."

 

The boy nodded, looking away thoughtfully.

 

"I've two gifts, lad. The first is that I've a mate who's a family therapist. She's quite good an' she owes me a favour. I'll put her in touch with yer folks."

 

Tommy sniffed "My parents make good money, but they spend it all on lawyers, there's almost nothing left, we can't afford a therapist."

 

"Dinnae fret, mate, as I said she owes me a favour. I'll make sure any cost is billed tae yers truly. The second gift is this." The Man in Black snapped his fingers, and with a flash of flame and smoke produced another alabaster business card. He looked down at it for a moment and made a face, placing it with the other in his breast pocket "That'll nae do..." He snapped his fingers again, once more looking down at the card, smiling in satisfaction. He handed it to the boy.

 

Tommy looked down at the card, white as the pure driven snow and, again oddly warm. Upon it were scorched the words 'Mr. McRae'.

 

"Jes' toss it intae the nearest open flame an' I'll hear ye, whene'er ye've need."

 

More nodding.

 

"Now... " Said The Man, straightening and pulling at the his immaculate suit "Pardon me fer sayin' so, but ye look like a wee lad what's in awful need of a hug er three, an' I happen tae ken jes' precisely where ye may be able tae find such a thing." He motioned to the stairwell leading to the top floor elevator bank. "Shall we?"

 

Tommy looked from The Man in Black to the ledge, then back to The Man and then he and his new friend, Mr. McRae strolled casually towards the stairwell.

 

***

 

Author's note - Most of the time I bang out these stories in a few hours. This one took me days. I have suffered from suicidal ideation and have obviously gotten through those times, but I have friends who haven't and I miss them dearly. I wish most days I had been there for them, the way Liv was there for Tommy, but I wasn't and I have to live with that, despite the fact that I just simply didn't even know until it was too late.

 

I wrote this very genuinely, taking the subject matter as seriously as possible because to me, it is serious and very personal. Liv's advice to Tommy is how I've come to approach my own ideation when it happens from time to time. I realize that some of you may disagree with the advice or my approach to this subject, some of  you may even disagree to the point where you think that writing about this is offensive or insensitive. Please know that that was never my intent. I'm not a therapist, I'm just a man struggling with an ugly reality and doing my best to approach it as honestly, sincerely and empathetically as possible.

 

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please talk to someone you care about. A friend, a teacher, a colleague, family member... whoever. As long as you know it's someone who cares about you. Failing that, you can always talk to me, my inbox is open and I always have time for a friend in need.

 

Below is a link to a list of most if not all regional suicide hotlines.

 

https://blog.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines/

 

I remain yours and in your service;

 

-Will

Edited by Living_Hellfire
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-The Legendary Living Hellfire

"The newest person in the room is always the most important person in the room"

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