See A Man Die

Every August the city of Edinburgh played host to, amongst a throng of various other festivals, the Fringe – a cocktail of arts, theatre and comedy that seemed to swell even bigger each year, drawing in tourists and entertainers by the thousands. The hills and closes transformed into a bustling hub as venues sprung up everywhere from clubs to abandonded cinemas to huge marquees and between all of these a sea of B&Bs and beer gardens to support the suddenly doubled population of the wee ‘Athens of the North’.

And of course with so many acts desperately vying for attention and a shot at fame, any available wall space or store window was soon smothered with several layers of posters advertising shows. The bigger, well known acts, usually of the telly, always had the biggest, most professional fliers but for everyone of these there were tenfold smaller, hand made posters for various student comedy troupes or local musical acts.

In the summer of 2010 though, one particular poster stood out from the rest. It was dominantly a sickly orange colour and so immediately caught the eyes of passers by like a rusty hook. The top part of the poster proclaimed ‘See A Man Die’ and below that a mock up of a man standing, arms outstretched atop one side of the North Bridge. An infamous suicide spot, the Bridge had once connected the Old Town with the New Town, spanning what had once been boggy marsh. Now it just carried traffic above the unmistakeable glass rooftops of Waverley train station and the quieter criss cross of streets below. The only details on the poster were a date, the penultimate day of the festival, and the time 6:00pm. There were no mention of ticket prices, what the show entailed or who was organising it.

The poster rapidly became a hot topic, being debated in many a post-show pub. Some thought it would be some sort of a dark comedy, others another pretentious bit of performance art or even some sort a hoax – some local, tired of having their neighbourhood invaded every year and so decided to see how many gullible foreigners they could fool into turning up.

Harriet and Rachel didn’t know what to make of it but whatever it was they didn’t like the sound of it. They hadn’t sat on two trains and four buses all the way up from Exeter and shared a miniscule but overpriced bedsit to go and see something so grotesque. It was completely by chance that, on their way from an operatic rendition of the music of Guns n Roses to go see Jimmy Carr that they passed the North Bridge at the allotted hour.

A huge crowd had gathered midway along, usually a sign of a good street performer like the beatboxing pair of magicians they’d seen the previous night. Intrigued the two friends made a detour to join the group of bodies just in time to see a man at the front jump up and clamber onto the thick wall that ran along the edge of the bridge, balancing himself against the nearby statue of a group of Napoleonic soldiers. He was young, in his 20s or 30s, olive skinned with ratty dreadlocks. Aware that he now had the full attention of his audience he gave an overly elaborate bow

“Oh no – this it isn’t it?” said Rachel.

“So!?” hollered the man, a Meditteranean slant to his accent. “Who wants to see a man die?”

The response was immediate and profound – whoops and cheers, even some applause. The majority of the audience would already have been tempered the barrage of shock humour and experimental theatre that ran throughout the Fringe. This was obviously something new, pushing that envelope just a little further.

Satisfied with this response he turned away from them and stretched his arms out from his sides as wide as he could muster, recreating the image from the poster. Outlined against the evening sky, composed of a dozen different blues and then dusted with light clouds, there was something almost martyrish about him.

“Come on, let’s go” whispered Harriet.

“Yeah” agreed Rachel but neither of them actually made any movement, entraced by the uneasy spectacle before them.

They could hear others murmuring around them, wondering what he was going to do, why he was just standing there. Harriet was wondering why the police weren’t here – even if this guy wasn’t going to do anything dangerous himself, the crowds had continued to gather around them and were now blocking both directions of traffic on the road.

Somewhere a horn honked. And then another.

“Come on!” some shouted from the crowd, the warble of booze in their voice.

More shouts echoed about them now: “Do it, do it!”

A chant started up, spreading throughout the onlookers like an infection. This was sick. From a nearby double-decker bus, twenty odd faces peered out the glass.

Rachel definitely did want to go now but when she turned to move she found herself walled in by other onlookers. As she tried frantically to squeeze her way through she heard the sudden intaking of breath from all around her and knew instantly what had happened. When she turned back the figure was gone from the wall. She wanted to believe he had climbed back down, was now hidden out of sight once more behind the rows of heads but the look on Harriet’s drained face told her this wasn’t so.

“Jesus – he just stepped off the edge” commented someone.

“So what happened” a dumpy American woman asked out loud. “Did he have a bungee cord or what?”

At the front of the gathering, next to the wall a handful of teenagers had pushed forward and were heaving one of their number up onto the edge. Once he was up far enough to see over the side the boy quickly signalled to his friends to bring him back down. He didn’t need to say what he had seen, the way he clamped his hand over his mouth and fell to his knees said it all. One by one, people began to scream and cry as they realised they just seen exactly what they had been promised all along.

Title image courtesy riggott

Published in: on June 18, 2010 at 7:00 PM  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That was disturbing. The first part reads like a news story, and at first I thought it was real. The rest of it, though, I can see playing out exactly as you portrayed. Well written. Dark.

  2. Dark and telling. What more could a reader want? Thanks.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, glad you both enjoyed it. Not long till the real Fringe kicks off so I might find inspiration to write something less macabre about it! (although you do get some pretty messed up shows at the Fringe btw)

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