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Fearless by Ashley Lister

This is how the story begins:


The Randolph Carter Memorial Tower stood 200 feet tall overlooking the university quadrangle. Moonlight from a midnight sky illuminated its smooth, bleached stonework. The shape of the tower, combined with the pillared columns of the rotunda at its base, looked vaguely like a huge skeleton’s hand flipping a defiant finger at the night.

“He’s doing it,” Graham muttered.

Robert grinned. “I told you he’d do it.”

“He’s fucking doing it,” Graham insisted. His voice was breathless with incredulity. His eyes were wide with disbelief. He shook his head, stared up at the faraway full-length windows above the memorial tower’s eastern clock-face, and watched intently as a scrawny figure stepped out onto the thin ledge that circumnavigated the tower. “We should stop him,” Graham decided.

Robert placed a hand on his shoulder before Graham could hurry to the compromised door of the rotunda. “We’re not going anywhere. We have a bet.”

Graham shook his head. “He’s going to kill himself.”

“He’s going to walk on the ledge,” Robert corrected. “If he fails to do that, you win the bet. If he achieves that, I win and-”

“Fuck the bet,” Graham broke in. Anger made his tone brittle. “If he dies there’ll be repercussions and I’m not getting expelled from another uni. Not because of some dumbass bet.”

Robert continued to hold onto Graham’s shoulder as they both glanced up at the figure so close to the top of the Memorial Tower. He was wearing Converse, skinny jeans, and a loose T – hardly the most appropriate gear for such daredevil antics. The night was chilly and a sharp breeze tugged at his shirt and toyed playfully with his long hair. Seeming unmindful of the elements, the figure pressed his back against the wall and, with both heels firmly on the ledge, he began to inch around the building.

“That’s insane,” Graham whispered.

Robert nodded silent agreement. He had no idea about the most efficient way to walk on a decorative cornice but, on an instinctive level, he felt sure that back-to-the-wall and facing out-into-the-night was the wrong way to do it. As he watched, the scrawny figure waved down at him and shouted something. The wind made his words meaningless and only allowed his cheery tone to reach them.

“We’ve got to stop him.”

Robert shook his head. “It’s too late.”

“He’s going to fall.”

Robert shrugged. “He might.”

Graham wrested his arm from Robert’s grip and glared at him with sullen fury. “I’m not getting expelled for this shit.”

Robert glanced at him and said, “If you go into that building, you’ll almost certainly get expelled from Innsmouth University. There’s CCTV pointing at the rotunda doors. There’s camera coverage up the staircase and all the way to the top of the tower. Campus Security will see you and, even if they don’t recognise you immediately, they’ll know that someone was with that dumb fucker.” He nodded in the direction of the man creeping around the thin ledge. In a solemn voice he said, “I don’t think either of us wants Campus Security digging into this, do we?”

Graham hesitated and Robert watched the indecision flutter across his features.

“Go in there,” Robert said quietly. “And all three of us will be expelled. He’ll be expelled for his act of dangerous stupidity. We’ll be expelled for being accomplices. Stay out here, away from the cameras, and they won’t expel any of us.”

Graham rolled his eyes and nodded at the figure atop the tower. “Except for him?” he suggested. “They’ll only expel him, right?”

“No,” Robert said coolly. “If he makes it all the way around the tower, the administration here will not want to kick up a fuss about his achievement because they’ll be scared it will start some lemming-like trend of copycat daredevils. They’ll tell him he can keep his place here on the condition he doesn’t tell anyone what he did.”

“And if he falls off and dies?” Graham asked.

Robert’s shrug was a model of indifference. When he spoke, his tone was oily with disdain. “If that happens, the idea of his expulsion becomes somewhat redundant.”

For the briefest moment he thought Graham was going to punch him. The man’s right hand tightened into a fist and his shoulder pulled back a little as though he was going to deliver a fierce blow of retribution.

Robert stood calm, unmoved by the threat of violence.

“If you’re thinking of striking me,” Robert began, “please remember you now owe me five thousand pounds. Right now, I’m prepared to be lenient about the payment terms, but I’m unlikely to be so generous if you lay a single finger on me.”

Graham’s shoulders slumped. The tension in his fist relaxed and he scowled at Robert with deep-set disdain. “How did you do it?” he asked.

Robert raised an eyebrow. “Do what?”

Graham pointed toward the top of the tower. “That cowardly bastard was scared of his own shadow when we made this bet. I’ve seen him shudder at the top of stairs because he was uneasy with the height. I’ve seen him stay in a library all night because he was scared he’d have to walk past the mime artists from creative arts on his way back to his dorm. And yet, once you and I have agreed on a bet, he’s suddenly stepping out of tower windows and trotting along a six-inch ledge two-hundred foot above the quadrangle.”

“I’d hardly call it trotting,” Robert corrected. “It’s more like a slow shuffle.”

“How did you do it?” Graham repeated.

Robert shook his head. “We’re all entitled to our professional secrets, aren’t we?” he began. “I have no desire to know how you intend to raise the five thousand pounds you’ve wagered on this bet. And I see no reason to divulge how I influenced an inveterate physical and emotional coward so that he has the courage to perform death-defying acts at the top of the Randolph Carter Memorial Tower.”

“It can’t be bribery,” Graham muttered. “He looks too confident to be a man who’s been bribed to be up there. Is it drugs?”

Robert raised an eyebrow. “Does he look like he’s on drugs?”

“Well, something’s happened to him.”

Robert glanced upward to watch the figure approaching the corner of the tower. Even at such a distance, with shadows and the night obscuring the clarity of his vision, he could see the broad grin on the figure’s face. The smile looked like an expression of achievement and it was accompanied by a wave.

  It was whilst he was waving that he seemed to lose his footing.

“Shit,” Graham gasped.

“Shit indeed,” agreed Robert.

If the figure made any sound as it fell – fell too quickly down the side of the tower – neither Graham nor Robert heard it. There was no cry for help. No wail of impending death, destruction or doom. All they heard was the crumpled thud of a body connecting with the roof of the rotunda.

Robert resumed his grip on Graham’s shoulder.

“Get off me,” Graham said, trying to pull free. “I’ve got to go to him and see if-”

“He’s dead,” Robert growled. “If you go there now, you might as well be dead too.” Speaking quickly, before Graham could argue or protest, Robert said, “From an outsider’s perspective, you’re not involved in this yet. No one knows you were standing here. No one knows you suggested him as our mark for this wager. You go over there and look at his corpse and they’ll tie you to him and your future will be over.”

“Do you think I care about that?” Graham asked.

“You cared about it two minutes ago when that consideration stopped you from running up the tower to talk him down whilst he was still alive.”

Graham paused for an instant.

Then he slammed the punch into Robert’s face.

The blow was neither hard, nor powerful but it was sufficiently unexpected to make Robert lose his hold on Graham’s shoulder. He staggered back a couple of paces and blinked his eyes in surprise.

“You’re a piece of shit,” Graham told him.

“That is probably a correct assessment,” Robert admitted, rubbing his nose and making sure nothing was broken. “But please remember I’m the piece of shit to whom you now owe five thousand pounds.”

Graham scowled.

“I was prepared to give you a month to get the money to me,” Robert informed him. “But now I’m not feeling so generous. I’ll expect full payment within a week.”

“And if I refuse to pay you?” Graham demanded. His hands were still balled into fists and he looked ready to attack. His jaw was thrust up with defiance. “What are you going to do about it if I say I’m not paying?”

Robert’s expression was cool with indifference. “In the past you’ve watched me organise illicit fights in the heart of the campus. You’ve seen me bending staff and students to my way of thinking. And I’m sure you’ve heard rumours about me being responsible for a handful of missing persons.”

“They’re just rumours,” Graham said. He was trying to sound confident but his tone wavered with uncertainty.

Robert continued as though Graham hadn’t spoken.

“Tonight, you’ve watched me transform a cowardly nerd into someone willing to walk around the outside of the Memorial Tower. Admittedly, he wasn’t very good at it. But that’s immaterial. I made him do it. Renege on our agreement and you’ll discover that, when I’m angered, I have the resources and ability to make the repercussions very unpleasant.”

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