14 Sep 2018

My name is Finn Jupiter – the Prologue

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PROLOGUE

“I’m going to have to call you back,” Finn Jupiter said as she crossed the school’s parking lot. “People who never run … are running.”
Living in Colorado, the first thing that came to her was a grainy news photo of Columbine High a day after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had made it the most infamous school on earth. But the image didn’t hold. If there was a shooter on the grounds, students would be streaming out into the parking lot, fleeing for their lives, not heading deeper into the school. This was something else. It was drawing people in.
Finn stabbed her phone into her pocket and hurried through the gate. Spotting one of her brother’s friends, she reached out an arm to stop him, almost knocking him off his feet.
“Whoa, Brian … what’s happening?”
The junior’s eyes darted sideways. “Senior— There’s a s—senior on the roof. They’re saying he’s going to jump.”
“Who, Brian? Who is it?”
“I—I’m not sure,” he choked, swallowed. “Somebody Davids. Peter or … Paul Davids. I dunno—”
And then he was gone, devoured by the surging crowd.
Finn felt a twinge in her chest. Paul Davids was one of those guys. Every high school had their share. Awkward. Uncoordinated. Socially inept. Hair and speech always two styles out of date. Like so many of his type, however, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with him. He was kind and smart. Maybe even leave a dent in the world smart. That is, Finn knew, if he didn’t leave an actual dent in the world first.
Finn straightened up and took a breath.
“Damn high-school,” she whispered.
And then she was running.

#

Wading out into the quad, Finn looked up and honed in on the oblong figure of Paul Davids teetering on top of Marlow’s main building, seven floors north. His face was turned up to the sun and, at first, Finn thought he was clutching a sweatshirt in his hand. She sighed when she realised what it was. As she tried to absorb as much information as possible, to construct the bigger picture in her mind, a voice called out to her.
Finn turned and spotted her best friend, Sam Harper, carving her way through the crowd. She was brimming with her usual savoir-faire. “Out of my way, asshats,” she snarled. When a junior had the audacity to complain about being elbowed in the back of the neck, Sam snapped at him. “I will bludgeon your family to death with your bony little head.”
Having cleared the mêlée, Sam reached out and wrapped her arms around Finn. “Tell me he’s just looking for attention.”
As Finn pulled out of their embrace, she shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Don’t give me that. What’ve you seen?”
“Look. I’ve only just got here—”
“Cut the shit,” Sam shot back. “You’ve already worked it out. I know you have.”
“Sam … give me a break.”
“Just tell me what you’ve seen.”
Knowing that Sam wasn’t about to let up, Finn took a breath and then looked up at Paul. “His left hand. Can you see it?”
Sam followed her gaze. “What is that? A scarf?”
“Pillowslip.”
“Okay? So … what? He spent the night up there?”
“He’s going to pull the pillowslip over his head before he jumps. Take a look at his jeans. I think that’s a roll of duct tape in his pocket. He’s going to use the tape to make a seal around his neck. So the pillowslip stays on.”
“What? Why?”
Finn hesitated. “Because heads burst, Sam.”
Sam’s left eye seemed to twitch at the comment.
“Look at the building. The entrance. The windows,” Finn continued.
Sam craned her neck to see beyond a crush of students.
“He’s chained up the doors. Put locks on the windows. You don’t do that if you’re looking for help.”
“Shit. So this is for real?”
“It’s looking that way.”
Sam shook her head, bit into her black lipstick. “Somebody’s got to do something.”
Before Finn could reply, a bullhorn crackled to life. She turned and spotted the perpetually harassed figure of Principal Michael Lamb climbing up onto a chair. Quite what difference a chair would make in this situation, Finn could only guess at. She shuddered at what Lamb was likely to say. He wasn’t equipped for this, she knew.
Taking a moment to scan the crowd, Finn guessed that at least half the students were filming Paul on their phones. She wondered how many of them were secretly hoping for him to jump. To be the first to upload his gruesome death. Maybe he was already being live-streamed? The thought made her stomach turn. Then she began to pick up on some of the voices around her. Most were urging Paul to back away from the edge, but a few were beckoning him forward. Taunting him. One such voice belonged to Troy Alexander. Marlow’s hockey captain and self-appointed ring-leader of assholes. He was practically begging Paul to jump.
“Listen to that shitbag,” Sam said, the loathing seeping through her voice. “It should be him up there.”
Finn nodded then watched as Principal Lamb lifted the bullhorn to his mouth.
“Please, Mr Davids, come down from there. Whatever your issue is, we can deal with it. Suicide is never the answer. You have my word as the leader of this school that we will get you through this. Whatever it takes. Raise your hand if you can hear me.”
Finn was studying Paul’s body language and could tell he wasn’t listening to Lamb’s platitudes. He had his mind set on oblivion and nothing said to him from the ground was going to make the slightest difference. The scenario needed to change. Something needed to impact on him. And fast.
“Look at him. He’s completely zoned out,” Sam said, her voice breaking. “It’s not going to work.”
“I need to get up there. He might listen to me.”
Sam began to nod but then checked herself. “Wait… How? You said it yourself. He’s locked up the place. He’s not going to open the—”
“I said up … not in.”
Sam glanced back at the building just long enough for her eyes to drift over the ivy-like array of pipes and drains that clung to its westerly wall. “Finn, no. No! That’s a terrible idea. Forget it.”
“It’s an easy climb.”
“Really? And if you slip? There’s no rope. You don’t have wings, Finn—”
“Sam, listen to me. Paul’s going to jump. I know he is. He’s going to die in front of you. You’re going to hear his body hit the ground and you’ll never get it out of your head.”
“Wait, shit … hold on. Please, Finn. Just think about it for a second. Let’s hang on for the cops to get here—”
“There isn’t time. I’ve got to do this. Right now.”
Before Sam could protest any further, Finn turned away and ran for the building.

#

Finn was barely a yard off the ground when a face in the crowd spotted her. “Jupiter’s climbing the building!”
At once, two hundred camera phones swung in her direction. They were followed swiftly by the sound of the bullhorn.
“Finn Jupiter, what do you think you’re doing? Get down from there! The situation is bad enough. We do not need you adding to it!”
Grateful that it was a dry morning, Finn wedged the fingers of her left hand into the narrow space between a row of bricks and then wrapped her right hand around a drainage pipe. Then she hoisted herself up towards the second floor. As she repeated the move to gain another yard, she glanced up and saw that Paul was now watching her as well.
Good, she thought. Keep your eyes on me. If you’re watching you’re not jumping.
Reaching a narrow ledge on the third floor, she peered down and noticed that the crowd’s energy had changed. Most of the comments and chants had stopped; people seemed to be holding their breath. A mosaic of mobile phones glinted up at her. Compared to Finn’s regular climbs in The Rockies, this was reasonably straightforward. The footholds and finger grips were all adequate and the pipes felt solidly attached to their brackets. Still, Finn knew only too well that in the world of free-climbing a single lapse in judgement could turn a straightforward ascent into a death plunge. And, in this case, ten million hits online.
Reaching up for the metal window frame on the fifth floor, she cocked her head up at Paul and decided to call out to him. “I’m not going to come near you. I just want to tell you about this amazing idea I’ve had. Okay?”
Paul seemed incapable of a response. Of all the permutations he had dreamed up in his planning, having the most beautiful senior in school climbing up the side of the building had clearly not occurred to him.
Back on the ground, Principal Lamb was growing increasingly desperate. “Just stay there, Finn! Please. Emergency services are on their way!”
Sam, in turn, could barely watch. Squinting through her fingers, her nails were digging into the side of her face.
Searching for her next grip, Finn realized it was well out of her grasp. A metal pipe jutted out from the building some twenty inches beyond her reach. Weighing her options, she knew that—slim as she was—she wouldn’t be able to fit through the small cottage pane windows beside her and there was no other way up to the sixth floor. There was simply nothing for it. If she wanted to get to the roof, she would have to leap off the narrow ledge and make the catch.
Feeling the sweat prickle her fingers, she took a moment to steady herself. The crowd murmur began to build as students worked out for themselves what she was about to attempt. The bullhorn wasn’t far behind. “No, Finn. No! Don’t even think about it!”
Wiping her hands on the back of her jeans, Finn slowed her breathing and willed an injection of strength into her shoulders. She focussed on the pipe and allowed all her other thoughts to fall away. Climbing was all about being in the moment; about trying to ignore the deathly chasm beneath you.
After visualizing the catch, she filled her lungs, bent her knees, and launched herself into the air.
Heading up and away from the building, her hands stretched out for the pipe. As the moment spread out in her mind, she could feel her body drifting over the crowd. She held her breath for what seemed an inordinately long time before her right hand wrapped around the pipe. Her left hand followed an instant later and she began to pull herself up.
The crowd cheered as Finn hauled her legs up onto the sixth-floor ledge. As the adrenaline surged through her, she lifted her foot onto a windowsill and stretched up for the lip of the roof.
Standing barely twenty feet from her, Paul Davids shook his head as Finn completed her climb. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
Finn sat down and allowed her legs to dangle over the crowd. She took a moment to catch her breath.
“Wasn’t so bad. Except for that dyno,” she began. “Sorry … jump. Not going to lie. That got my attention.”
“W—Why’d you come up here? I’m not changing my mind, Finn. I’m doing this. You can’t stop me.”
Finn considered his words. “Seeing that I’ve come all this way for you, Paul, can you at least tell me why?”
“Why?” he replied, shaking his head as if the reasons were written on his face. “Because I don’t belong here. In this school … in this world. I don’t have any friends. I get the shit beaten out of me most days. My own parents don’t care about me. It’s pointless. And I’m tired of it.”
“I care about you.”
Finn’s statement seemed to knock Paul back a fraction.
“No, you don’t. You’re just saying that.”
“Really? Then why’d I just risk my life to get up here?”
“Maybe … you’re looking for attention,” he began, but swallowed his words. He knew Finn well enough to know that she cared little of what other people thought. It was one of the many things he admired about her.
“You like computers don’t you, Paul? You’re always on that laptop of yours.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“What do you do when it freezes up?”
“I don’t get what this—”
“Humour me, Paul. Please. What do you do?”
He thought for a second. “I—I reboot it.”
“And then it works fine?”
Paul nodded, bemused.
“Exactly,” Finn replied, lifting to her feet. “So, instead of ending your life, why don’t you reboot it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s simple, really. You should leave Victory. Today. Catch the first bus out of here. You’ll have no problem finding another school. With your GPA they’ll roll out the red carpet for you. Once you’re settled, shave your head. Buy some clothes from a store that only stocks cool shit. Then find a gym. Take it seriously. And the first guy who gives you any shit, you put him down. Hit him in the head with a chair if you have to. Make sure everyone sees it. Let the world know that you won’t be pushed around anymore.”
Paul tried to reply, but Finn kept going.
“Because, Paul, here’s the thing. You’re so close to having an amazing life that you just can’t see it. If you can get through this year, everything’s going to change. You’re going to go to some shit-hot Ivy League university where nobody cares about your backstory. You’re going to land an amazing job and make tons of money. You’ll find a girl with great tits and who’s perfect for you … and you’ll never look back,” she said, then held up her hands. “But only if you’ve got the balls to step away from the edge. If anything’s going to die today, let it be your past. Toss it over. Reboot your life.”
“I … I’m sorry, but … I—I’ve made my decision. You can’t stop me.”
“Actually, Paul. I think I already have.”
“What?”
“You’re up here partly because you think nobody cares about you. I’ve proved that wrong. I also know you’re a good person. And I know you like me. Maybe more than a little bit.”
Paul considered denying it, but changed his mind. He’d never been much of a liar.
“But there’s something you don’t know about me. For whatever reason, I notice things. I pick them up at twice the speed of everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, it can be really annoying sometimes, but today it’s going to save your life. Both our lives, actually.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“So, here’s the endgame.” Finn looked down at her sneakers and then inched them over the edge of the building. “I’m betting that you won’t do anything to hurt me and I’ve decided that your death is unacceptable to me. So this is what it comes down to: I want you to imagine that there’s a rope between us. It’s tied around our waists. If you jump … you’ll take me with you.”
A bewildered look flashed across Paul’s face. “You’re bluffing.”
“How long have we known each other? You know me, Paul. And I’ve made a decision that either we both get out of this mess or neither of us do. We’re in this together now. And I really don’t want to die yet. I want to climb the Matterhorn. Have a daughter. You wouldn’t kill my unborn child, would you?” Finn asked and then inched her sneakers even further off the edge.
Paul felt his arms extend towards her. “Wait … no. Finn, hold on. You can’t do this. This is insane. You’re … you’re…”
“I’m kidnapping your suicide. I know. Take a moment to get it straight in your head.”
Finn shifted forward another fraction and could feel her balance pivoting on the edge of the building. She had to windmill her arms to stop from falling. The crowd screamed when they thought she was going over. “You have to rescue me, Paul.”
“Finn…”
“Come on, Paul. Now. Do it!”
Paul felt like he was standing outside his body. Nothing made sense anymore. He felt himself looking down for the rope around his waist.
“Paul, hurry. The wind’s picking up. Don’t let me fall. You’re not a murderer. I know you. You’re one of the good guys.”
Shaking his head, then nodding, then shaking his head again, Paul glanced at his legs and watched as his right foot stepped away from the edge.
“Keep going,” Finn called back. “More.”
Paul’s left foot pulled back. As if synchronized, now only the tips of Finn’s sneakers were over the edge.
“That’s it. Almost there.”
Back on the ground, Finn’s younger brother, Dylan, watched as Paul Davids stepped away from the edge of the roof and dropped to his knees. As Finn rushed over to him and wrapped him up in a hug, and as cheers and applause exploded from the crowd, Dylan felt a hand graze the back of his arm. He turned around to see Maya, a new girl in his class. She looked at him in a daze.
“W—Who … is that girl?”

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