WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft
Ugly Duck 2 was written in 45 minutes, about 24 hours after Ugly Duck 1. The reason it took me a day between drafts? I was finishing up with revisions on the fourth draft of Tree Gods. Priorities!
Waiting to Jump
By R. Lee Fryar
Kenny was waiting on Batlady to jump. When she did, he’d jump too.
He leaned back in his desk chair, staring across the open office to the wall where she hung, poised on top of the world, torch held high, balancing on her toes in her picture frame. She had the grace and poise of a ballerina, but the cut of her mouth, the grim determination in her eyes, and the strain evident in her calves and arms told a different story. It was story Kenny knew all too well. It was his own.
He glanced down at the open email on his computer. That look on Batlady’s face reflected back at him. He’d been copied on by accident—something that would surely be noticed and properly punished—but he’d never felt more like jumping today. After all he’d done for this company, after every crime he’d committed, every fraud he’d covered up, every book he’d cooked, they were letting him go. Only letting him go wasn’t like getting a pink slip and a letter of recommendation. People that were let go just disappeared.
He closed out the email and opened his desk, rooting frantically through paperclips, pens, and files for a thumb drive. There was a small chance that the man who sent that email hadn’t seen his name on the list, that he could still access his confidential files. No. Locked out. He gripped the last precious evidence he had and pocketed it, looking around surreptitiously at his fellow accountants. No one looked at him. They never looked at him. The only people that ever looked at him were in pictures on the wall.
The office was full of these motivational posters. From where he sat, he could see three. On the west wall, a climber hung off the side of Everest, daring others to die with him. To the east, a peloton of grim-faced bikers bore down on him if he dared to think about taking a coffee break. And on the north wall, Batlady staged her lone protest, staring out into the abyss like she’d jump one day, whenever she pulled her feet loose from the nails holding her to her post. There were nails through her feet, although he couldn’t see the blood. But he could see the tears in her eyes that were not the reflection of the narrow swatch of sunlight coming through the south wall. He’d cry himself if he wasn’t afraid someone would see.
Shaking, he stood and walked down the hall to get himself a cup of poisonous coffee. Whether he was ready to jump or not, it would be tonight. He’d come back after work on a pretense of getting his stuff, and burn the building down. He’d go with it. He’d not give his employers the satisfaction of killing him.
When Kenny returned that night, he carried a large box with him for his things. He explained to the security guard that he’d left some important documents in his desk that he needed to work at home. The guy believed him. Made Kenny feel bad. He hated the people he worked for, not the people he worked with. Most of them probably didn’t know what went on. They just got their checks and lived their lives. But the smoke alarms would go off when the office burned. He’d be killing no one but himself and the lies he’d been a part of for so long that they’d driven nails through his soul like the nails through Batlady’s feet.
In the box, he carried a plastic gas can, tightly sealed. He only had one chance at this, little as it was. He was an accountant after all, not a domestic terrorist. The office was dark when he unlocked it and walked in. On the wall, Batlady stared out into her doom, the way he stared into his. He’d have to soak all the recycle bins in the office, and the trashcans too, after he filled them with paper from the copier.
He took the gas can out of his box and set it on his desk, opening the cap. The fumes wafted out like the stench of death from a rotting corpse. That’s all this was, really. Cremating himself along with the ruin of his life. He reached into his pocket and took out a matchbook, tore out a match, and held it up like Batlady’s torch.
He didn’t have time to ponder how or why, or what he would do. Maybe something in him had always known. In seconds he dropped his unlit match, sprang across the office, smashed both fists through the glass and grabbed for the falling woman.
“Reach for me!” he called.
She did. And caught him by his arm as she fell through. He cried out as her weight swung from his shoulder like a pendulum.
Her faint voice sounded weaker than the wind. “Don’t drop me. Don’t let go.”
“I won’t,” he panted. “Can you climb?”
Some of the weight slackened. “If you hold me.” Cold hands gripped his arms, and slowly, she hauled herself up and over the picture frame. But she fell with a cry when he set her on the ground. Her feet were militated. She’d torn the nails free when she jumped.
“Why’d you do it?” he asked, helping her into his chair.
She pulled her batwings around herself. “You jumped,” she said, teeth chattering. “I was waiting for you.”
He took her with him when he left. She hobbled next to him, wounded feet in his oversized shoes, leaning on his arm. He carried his box with the gas can in it. No need to blow himself or the building up. In his pocket he carried everything he needed to blow the corporation up. For a poster girl, she knew a lot about the office, and in minutes, he had everything he needed on his thumb drive.
At the trial, no one convicted knew who Batlady was. Some secretary perhaps, fired long ago. Only Kenny knew the truth, and they all knew him. His testimony convicted them all.
Kenny lives on a farm in Oregon now. He’s an old man, but he still grows his organic vegetables and helps his wife with her hair sheep. She spins her own thread and weaves on the loom that was always her business, long before she wove a new story out of the ruins of his life. She says it’s because he saved her. Kenny just laughs and says it’s the other way around. She saved him.
A theme has emerged. Two people both waited to act because they were waiting on the other to make the first move. Batlady is something like the personification of fate. She can’t act until Kenny reaches the place in his life where he wants to do something, but he’s waited too late to do the right thing. Just in time, he does the right thing, and changes his own fate. Theme statement—Nothing moves until pushed.
The title, Waiting to Jump, is exactly what I wanted.
This version came out at 1104 words, and 21 paragraphs. I think some dialogue will be staying, and I’ll need to break down those paragraphs into the words I want for each act of the story. At this point, Act 1 and Act 2 are pretty even, with the resolution and final image making the Act 3, which is all told for the purpose of this story. I deem it unnecessary to show the court scene or anything on the farm, because they don’t change Kenny’s life, but are the result of his choice to save someone else rather than give up on his own. Act I needs to be shortened. There’s too much backstory here, and it will weigh down the pacing if I’m not careful.
Overall, I like this, but it’s too slow, and there is too much melodrama in adding in the idea of Kenny being actually killed if he reveals information.