The Taste of Bourbon

by Mark Towse

This page may contain affiliate links, for which we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps support Love Letters to Poe

Trigger warning: Self-harm

There are fewer things I can imagine would be crueller in life than launching yourself from a structure with the intent of death but only succeeding in a debilitating injury. As if one wasn’t broken enough already.

You’re eighty floors high, Frank. Stop the crap.

As I stand perched on the edge of the building, I can only just make out the streets below through the eerie coverage of morning mist. Blood pounds in my ears, and I feel nothing from the waist up. I’ve got to jump before I chicken out.

I close my eyes. This is it.

The wind wraps around me, and suddenly I’m falling, stomach tumbling and braced for an impact I can’t imagine I’ll feel.

“Gets windy up here.”

Startled, I snap my head towards the voice. A burly man dressed in a fine three-piece suit boasts a smile that is almost disguised by his thick turned-down moustache. In contrast, there’s not a hair on his head. I can imagine this man ushering lions into a cage.

“Name’s John. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he offers.

My stomach still lurches as I take a small step back on wobbly legs. There’s a passing thought that this man has been sent to talk me down, but the suit implies he’s dressed for a different type of negotiation.

“I didn’t mean to alarm you, my friend. I’ve been there, though, standing on that same edge. I know what you are going through.”

“What are you doing up here?” I ask.

“Again, apologies for catching you at a bad time,” he replies with a wink. “I often come here—to think, clear my head. I’ve seen you here before, too.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but will you please fuck off.” I’m taken aback by my abruptness.

“Divorce? Ex-wife and kids want nothing to do with you? Retrenched? Money problems?”

“I didn’t come here to make friends,” I assert.

“Me neither. But we’re here now. What’s your name?”

I think about lying, but there seems little point. “Frank.”

“You drink, Frank?”

“Yeah, but not before 8 a.m.”

He laughs. “I wasn’t inviting you. Double malt Scottish whisky—ah, I can taste it now. I went there once, The Highlands—beautiful, so full of history and culture, not like this Godforsaken place.”

This is insane, and I’m not going to be dissuaded. I edge across, so my shoes are once again poking over the edge.

The occasional honk of a car punctures the monotonous thrum of traffic below, and the faint sound of music adds to the haunting effect of the now-thinning mist. Tyres squeal on tarmac, and from somewhere not too far away, sirens ring out. These city notes will be a fitting soundtrack for my death.

“What was she like? Your wife, I mean—when you first met.”

We danced and howled with laughter. By the end of the night, her mascara left a stream of black that ran down to her chin. She was stunning, still is. We were so bloody free back then, ready for anything. We made a deal that we would always be open and honest, cleaning wounds before allowing them to heal. How did we let ourselves get so shackled, buried alive in the concrete jungle? I was going to be a writer. Amy had dreams of opening her own interior design business.

“How many kids? One? Two? Three?”

We had a boy and a girl together. Tom and Jenna. They’re adults now, of course. Both hate me. We were such a close family, sticklers for traditions—game night, movie night, even the bake-off and God-awful talent nights that Jenna used to organise. Christ. I’m thinking about the house now, the one we swore we’d never leave. Full of happiness and warmth in the earlier years, but a battleground of disappointment and resentment as our dreams were eroded by the inevitable wave of conformity. Sadness washes over me as I grieve for those lost days.

Fuck! Come on, Frank. Get a grip.

“What are your favourite smells?”

Forests. The smell of pine, petrichor, and adventure. We used to go with the kids—had a favourite spot off the trail where we often would hide, spying on people as they walked by, making loud farting noises that Tom thought was hysterical. The smells of Sunday afternoon baking, too, that filled every room of the house with wholesomeness. You could smell it for days afterwards. Tears form, but I refuse to let them roll.

Come on, Frank!

“Three,” I say out loud.

“Favourite food?”

Steak with mushroom sauce. “Two.”

“Can you remember the first time you made love?”

Vanessa Adams. Her parents were out of town for the weekend. “One.”

“What will you miss most, Frank?” he asks.

I can’t do it. I don’t want to die.

As I take a step back and double over, a million thoughts and memories invade my head. Filling me with hope this time rather than emptiness, I sit down on the ground and contemplate the future.

“I mean aside from your estranged family. Will it be the smells? The feel of the wind? The taste of bourbon?”

I’ll make changes. I’ll make it work.

The last wisps of mist float across, but I can no longer feel the breeze that escorts them. There’s a small crowd of ant-sized people gathering around red flashing lights.

I turn back to the circus master, and he offers the same smile as before.

“It’s a strange feeling for sure,” he says nonchalantly. “A kind of disconnect.”

“Did I—jump?”

“It wasn’t much of a jump. Two out of ten from me.”  

“No, that can’t be! Please, I—”

“Tad late for regrets, my new friend.”

I feel dizzy, light-headed. “So, I’m—”

“Part of the gang now, Frank.”

I turn my attention back to the streets below where life carries on, and its music still plays. There’s an overwhelming urge to hug my children.

“There are six of us sorry souls, and you’ll meet them all soon. We spend a lot of time here with our thoughts, chewing the fat, talking through old memories.”

©️ 2021 by Mark Towse

“The Taste of Bourbon,” by Mark Towse, was first published on March 18, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.

Interview with Mark Towse, Author of “The Taste of Bourbon”

What inspired your story?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve written over a hundred shorts, and there’s likely only a handful that I started with intent, with a fixed endpoint in mind. I’m a big fan of old-school style psychological horror, and I think many of my inspirations stem from childhood – Hitchcock and TV shows such as Tales of the Unexpected. A well-delivered twist still puts a big old smile on my face!

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for just over two years now, between work and family commitments, that is. Writing lifted me out of a bit of a life slump, call it salvation if you like, and I haven’t looked back since. When I’m in my flow, in that zone, I’m a child again, lost in a world where anything can happen. It’s magical.

Do you have a theme you return to time and again?

Stories based on reality with mildly speculative elements are my go-to. Psychological horror makes for an uneasy ride, and it’s something people can resonate with, rather than scary monsters with two heads. That said, I do have fun creating the odd neighbourhood monster.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I’m nearing the completion of a five-part series for a certain podcast that I love. It’s a commissioned piece, so I’m nervous about making sure it hits the right notes.

This year is busy. I have four novellas set for release, including my debut ‘Nana’ in March from D&T Publishing. I can’t wait for readers to meet the residents of Newhaven Crescent!

What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?

There’s lots of stuff happening this year. You can check out my Amazon page, and on there, you will find some beauties such as the recently released ‘Midnight in the Pentagram’ from Silver Shamrock, featuring my story, ‘Devil’s Ink.’ You can also check out my story ‘Old Times’ in ‘The Half That You See’ from Dark Ink Publishing and my gnarly tale ‘A Sense of Belonging’ in ‘Spawn’ from IFWG. I also have stories on The No Sleep Podcast, The Grey Rooms, The Other Stories, The Dread Machine, and many other exceptional podcasts.

Feel free to follow my webpage and Insta and Twitter for updates.

Mark Towse is an Englishman living in Australia. He would sell his soul to the devil or anyone buying if it meant he could write full-time. Alas, he left it very late to begin this journey, penning his first story since primary school at the ripe old age of 45. Since then, he’s been published in the likes of Flash Fiction Magazine, Cosmic Horror, Suspense Magazine, ParABnormal, Raconteur, and his work has also appeared three times on The No Sleep Podcast and many other excellent productions. His first collection, ‘Face the Music,’ has just been released by All Things That Matter Press and is available via Amazon, Dymocks, B&N, etc.