Can You Keep A Secret?

Walton had done the calculations. The building stood twenty-two stories tall which was approximately two hundred and forty feet and his freefall wouldn’t last longer than four seconds, reaching seventy-five miles per hour on impact.

That should do the trick, he thought as he closed his eyes, held his breath, and stepped off the building ledge.

A hand caught the crook of his arm in a vise-like grip and yanked Walton violently back onto the roof. He was confused when he opened his eyes and saw…

A ghost?

No. Although she was so pale she almost looked faded and thin to the point of anorexia, skin stretched over bones, the woman standing over him was definitely corporeal. Walton wasn’t one to judge a person’s appearance but she wasn’t attractive. Her hair was baby-fine and lifeless and it collapsed onto her shoulders. He was in midair when she grabbed him but there was no way this frail, bony woman could have yanked him back onto the roof.

“I didn’t mean to manhandle you like that. I just didn’t know your story,” the woman said. Her voice was mousy but her tone was strong.

“Are you insane? What are you talking about?”

“I wasn’t the one about to swan dive into concrete, so let’s not judge anyone’s sanity here, okay? And I’m talking about your story. Everybody’s got one and it would be a shame if you did what you were about to do and nobody knew your story.”

“Wait, you stopped me because you wanted to know my story? Not because I was going to kill myself?”

“Let’s be honest here, if you aim to top yourself, you’ll find a way to do it, and there’s nothing that I or anybody else can do to stop you. I’m just curious to know who you were.”

“You mean are.”

“I mean were. You’re going to kill yourself after all.”

“You really are crazy.”

“There you go again, with that label. Hello, pot, meet kettle.”

“What are you doing up here anyway?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

Walton pointed toward the building ledge. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Oh yeah, right.”

“Look, I don’t have time to waste talking nonsense with a stranger,” Walton said, rising to his feet and dusting himself off.

“Vonda Darleen Honeycutt,” Vonda said, extending her hand.

“What?”

“My name. We’re not strangers anymore. And you are…?”

“Not interested.” Walton walked past her to the roof’s edge.

“I’m just going to go downstairs and rummage through your gunky remains until I find your ID, so why not save me the trouble?”

He let out a sigh of exasperation. “Walton.”

“Got a last name there, Walton?”

“Summers, all right? Walton Mayson Summers, are you happy now?”

“Hey, we got something in common, you’re a three-namer like me. Ever wonder why middle names went out of fashion?”

“No, now if you’ll excuse me…”

“Uh-uh, not so fast. I still don’t know your story. It must’ve wrapped up in a shitty day to bring you to this.”

“How about a lifetime of shitty days?”

“That would certainly do it. Wanna get it off your chest? You may not know it to look at me but I’m a helluva listener. Besides, I’m only gonna keep snatching you off the ledge until you tell me.”

“Then I’ll take you with me,” Walton said.

“Are you a murderer?”

He wasn’t. Walton sat on the ledge and asked, “If I tell you my story, will you let me do what I came here to do?”

Vonda made the sign of a cross over her left breast. “Cross my heart and hope to…well, you know.”

And with that, Walton told her the story of an unsuccessful author whose work failed to connect with an audience of any kind, who turned to alcohol, an addiction that chased away his wife, his family, and his friends, relationships he wasn’t able to repair even though he had been sober for almost five years.

“Not exactly a life worth living,” Walton concluded.

“What if I could show you something?” Vonda asked.

“Let me stop you right there, I’m not religious, never have been, never will be.”

“I’m not proselytizing, not trying to sell you on a cult, but what I have to show you will damn sure feel like you’re having a religious experience.”

“What have I got to lose? This will all be over in a minute, anyway, so go on, show me.”

Vonda began feeling the air. looking like a mime trapped in a box. Walton rolled his eyes and was about to swing his legs off the side of the building when the odd woman found what she was looking for. She traced her fingers down an invisible seam in the air and dug her fingers into it. With a bit of effort, the bony woman pulled back a piece of reality.

Walton’s eyes grew wide as saucers as he looked upon a sight that altered his perception of himself, his life, everything. It was similar to the overview effect reported by astronauts who viewed the Earth from outer space. What stared back at Walton from the rift in the space/time continuum allowed him to see, for the first time with his mere mortal eyes, the big picture: his life in relation to the universe at large.

Vonda closed the rift, making sure it was sealed tight. Walton walked to where the rift had opened and felt around. He had to see it again but his hand touched nothing except air.

“I never knew,” he said.

“And now you do,” Vonda said. “But there’s a catch.”

“What sort of catch?”

“What you just witnessed has to remain a secret.”

“I’ve just had a cognitive shift in awareness, how can I not scream this from the mountaintops?”

“Them’s the rules,” Vonda shrugged. “In exchange for this experience, you can never tell anyone about what you’ve seen. You can’t even write about it, not in a story, journal entry, email, or text. You are forbidden to utter or issue a single word referring to it.”

“Then why show it to me?”

“You’re about to kill yourself, who are you going to tell?”

“Well, I don’t want to kill myself now, do I?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“You know damn well I don’t, which is why you showed it to me!”

Vonda shrugged again and held out her pinky. “So, do you promise to keep this a secret?”

“You want me to put it on a pinky swear?”

“It’s universally accepted as a binding contract,” she smiled.

Walton locked his pinky with hers and agreed to keep the secret.

Then something occurred to Walton. “Wait, if this is such a big secret, how were you able to tell me?”

“I have special dispensation, you should have been able to work that out on your own by my ability to peel back reality. Besides, I didn’t tell you anything, I showed you. Big difference.”

“Will I be able to do that, too?”

“Learn to crawl before you walk, pal.”

It turned out that Vonda had been sleeping on the roof since she had no place to live. How could Walton not allow her to crash at his rundown apartment? She was the keeper of the greatest secret unknown to mankind, after all.

Sheer proximity to one another and the sharing of a perception-altering experience led them to become involved in a serious relationship and through her encouragement, he sold his first short story. Vonda turned out to be his good luck charm because published short stories turned into published novellas and Walton’s life soon improved as his struggling writing career became wildly successful.

The couple eventually married and had two beautiful children. The years rolled by as years were wont to do and Walton’s career continued to blossom, however, he had written so many books that he exhausted all of his ideas. Yes, he had earned enough money and invested wisely enough for him and his family to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, and if he needed to work there was always the lecture circuit or he could have sculpted aspiring author minds by teaching a masterclass, but a writer in the pit of their soul wanted to write, wanted to be read, and if he was being honest with himself, fame was a difficult thing to let go of.

Walton had written forty novels at a rate of four books a year and on the tenth anniversary with his publisher, his agent thought it would be a spectacular idea to mark the occasion with a new release. He agreed, even though his new idea well had run dry, because he felt he owed it to his fans to attempt to put out at least one final book before announcing his retirement.

The road to hell was always paved with good intentions.

He wrote in secret, and Walton’s conscience should have plagued him to no end but he somehow convinced himself that what he was doing wasn’t a breach of his promise because he wasn’t detailing the wonders his wife showed him ten years ago. He wrote a fable in allegory and metaphor, craftily altering elements and tweaking details until they in no way resembled the precise details of the truth. But the moment he put the finishing touches on his manuscript, Vonda and the children appeared in the doorway of his study.

“All you had to do was keep one secret and the world would have been yours,” Vonda sighed heavily, letting her head drop. Her teardrops beat patterns on the hardwood floor.

Vonda held out her pinky, a reminder of the vow he made, and Walton watched her pinky fade into nothingness. She screamed and clutched her two daughters tight, who emitted a heartbreaking wail as they began to unravel corporeally and dispersed into so much stardust.

And after they were gone, his current reality followed suit. Films and television programs based on his books became unmade, audiobooks were unspoken, novels melted away from bookshelves, his words vanished from the minds of fans and his publishing company, deals were unsigned, his house unbought, all the positive things that paved the path to his success were undone and time reversed on itself, speeding faster and faster until he was back on the ledge of the building again taking that first big step off.

But this time there was no hand to pull him back onto the roof and gravity did what it was designed to do.

33 responses to “Can You Keep A Secret?

  1. This may get long so let’s organise what I want to say into points:
    1. Your style of writing is just PHENOMENAL and you have that rare ability to hold the reader’s attention tightly.
    2. I really love the humour you incorporate in all you write. The dialogues, the characters, etc.. All so well thought out and designed!
    3. This story is just an excellent mix of fantasy and reality. The ending is when gravity does what it’s supposed to is extremely thought provoking. I loved the character of Vonda and the fact that she melted into stardust is sad.
    4. Such a bittersweet yet powerful story! Brilliantly penned. Truly enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks for this treat!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This story can’t end this way! Vonda knew the secret, she had special dispensation! It’s not fair that Walton’s stupid inability to make good on his promise affected her existence and the children as well! You can’t let her end that way. No seriously, what’s going on with Vonda and the kids?!
    The flow of your writing takes the reader on what on the surface appears to be a happy road trip with humorous sign posts along the way and then it makes an unexpected detour into tragedy.
    Bravo. You’ve put together another damn good story. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re quite right, Suranne, Vonda did have special dispensation but she also revealed that which was never meant to be known to a man who broke the only rule of possessing the secret…and a price must be paid. Cheers for the read and compliment as usual!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A gem of a story. Secrets are the bane of many an existence and sometimes it’s a Herculean effort to keep them. I’ve found myself in situations where I struggled with the decision of serving the greater good by either keeping or revealing something told to me in confidence. And even though I knew Walton was going to spill the beans eventually, it was done in the right tone and setting. Well written! Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some secrets are a bastard to keep, aren’t they, Grey? And Walton was going to go back on his word, naturally, otherwise, where’s the drama? Too bad Vonda and the kids had to pay the price for it, but rules are rules. Cheers for the compliment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m going to piggyback off another person’s comment and say this story does have an It’s A Wonderful Life feel to it but in an opposite way. This could have been a story that dealt with what it feels like to hit the end of road and the scary proposition of taking one’s life but you deftly turned it into a tale of the ramifications of breaking a vow.
    There’s a powerful lesson in the line, “All you had to do was keep one secret and the world would have been yours.” I think you did an excellent job here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t catch the “Wonderful Life” similarity until it was pointed out to me, Peri (’tis the season, so I guess it was in the back of my mind). The story was fueled by that old saying, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose it all because he’s a loose-lipped, fame-hungry blabbermouth?” Cheers for the read and compliment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Women know best! When a woman, especially your wife, tells you to keep a secret you should damn well keep it! What an idiot for trading his happy life for a little bit of extra fame and attention. When will men ever learn?
    Ok, rant over. Your ideas and implementation are very diverse and wonderful. Please keep them coming. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, Cuca, it’s only “men” who can’t keep secrets. But you are correct that Walton was indeed a moron for 1) not being a man of his word, and 2) not remembering what his life was like before and cherishing all that he had gained in his ten-year new lease on life. I sincerely appreciate the read and your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. No! Walton! Ahh, I feel bad Vonda, their daughters, and that everything good is gone. Just one mistake can shut everything down. “But this time there was no hand to pull him back onto the roof and gravity did what it was designed to do.” Haunting. Love this story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If peering into the unknowable had given Walton the foresight to see what he stood to lose for reneging on his pinky swear, I wonder if he still would have reached a point in his career where he’d be willing to risk it? What person, especially a successful one, wouldn’t be tempted to find a loophole in an unbreakable rule? It’s what sets pioneers apart from dreamers. Cheers for the read and comment, Kirsten, very much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. There’s always a lesson or two to be learnt from your stories, Rhyan. I was hoping that this one would be ending on a positive note. But I guess greed and insecurity let promises crumble to dust just like Vonda and her children. If only Walton had appreciated and been satisfied with what he had. Wants and desires are limitless and they often rob us of the best things in life. He should’ve just walked off that ledge in the first place. You stories are captivating. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like I’ve left this same reply before on another story so if it was to you then I apologize for repeating myself and if not, then ignore this sentence entirely.

      I am a dyed-in-the-wool pantser so I never know how the stories will end when I begin them. Happy ending or tragic comeuppance is always a coin toss with me.

      I’d go so far as to say that this story has both. It starts out with Walton getting a happy ending to an unsatisfying life, but some people are simply never satisfied until they see the flipside of the positive outcome fate coin.

      Cheers for the read and compliment, Terveen.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This certainly brings to mind the biblical proverb “Pride goeth…before a fall,” and in this case, the fall was quite literal. I concur with the consensus here that it was unfortunate Vonda and the kids had to pay the price for Walton’s pride/obsession/selfishness, but what can you do? So many folks never learn that their behavior affects all those around them. As for that ending, you know what they say about gravity: “It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law…” You’ve got the golden touch, good sir, and I always look forward to your new releases. So glad you allow us to tag along for the ride. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • When we first meet Walton he’s in the middle of the act of committing suicide, not contemplating it but actually doing it. I don’t believe that urge ever went away. Sure, it got placed on the back burner for a number of years, but just like the line from that Florence + the Machine song, “Did I build this ship to wreck?” some people live to tear down what they’ve built because their purpose comes from the building, not the having built, which is a long-winded way of saying that Walton was always going to find a way to end it all. And since no good deed goes unpunished, Vonda and through her, the children, paid for the sins of her husband.

      Cheers for the compliment, Mike.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think this piece is a good exploration of the psychology behind enjoying something and turning it into a profession. When you no longer do it for the enjoyment of doing and it becomes an obligation to agents, publishers and fans, it stops being enjoyable and now you’re just feeding material into the public consumption machine. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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