The Ledge by Stephen King, 1976
The magic trick:
Starting the story after the action has started; ending the story before the action has ended
Truth be told, this isn’t really a scary story, per se. Suspenseful? Yeah. Intense? A little, sure. But really, it’s not the most suspenseful story about acrophobia that I’ve reviewed on the blog (that honor goes to William Sansom’s “The Ladder”). Hell, it’s not even the most suspenseful story called “The Ledge” that I’ve written about for SSMT. It is a fun piece of pulp, though.
The most interesting magic trick to note is the entry and exit points. The story begins after the action has started. The reader is playing catchup immediately, trying to sort out what is happening in this penthouse suite. Even cooler: the story ends in much the same way, with the action left to be resolved. The narrator closes by explaining what he might do in a few minutes. It’s a neat effect. And that’s quite a trick on King’s part.
It’s not really an exercise at all but a form of self-hypnosis. With every inhale-exhale, you ~row a distraction out of your mind, until there’s nothing left but the match ahead of you. I got rid of the money with one breath and Cressner himself with two. Marcia took longer – her face kept rising in my mind, telling me not to be stupid, not to play his game, that maybe Cressner never welshed, but he always hedged his bets. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t afford to. If I lost this match, I wouldn’t have to buy the beers and take the ribbing; I’d be so much scarlet sludge splattered for a block of Deakman Street in both directions.
When I thought I had it, I looked down.
The building sloped away like a smooth chalk cliff to the street far below. The cars parked there looked like those matchbox models you can buy in the five-and-dime. The ones driving by the building were just tiny pinpoints of light. If you fell that far, you would have plenty of time to realize just what was happening, to see the wind blowing your clothes as the earth pulled you back faster and faster. You’d have time to scream a long, long scream. And the sound you’d made when you hit the pavement would be like the sound of an overripe watermelon.