The Ledge (short story)

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"The Ledge"
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story
Published in Night Shift
Publisher Doubleday
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1976

"The Ledge" is a short story by Stephen King, first published in the July 1976 issue of Penthouse, and later collected in King's 1978 collection Night Shift.

Plot summary[edit]

King employs a first person narrator and opens with the protagonist, Stan Norris, in the clutches of Cressner, a wealthy, cruel criminal overlord. Cressner intends to get revenge on Norris, who has been having an affair with his wife. Instead of killing him outright, Cressner reveals his penchant for striking wagers, and offers a chilling ultimatum: if Norris is able to circumnavigate the 5-inch ledge surrounding the multi-story building where Cressner live in his penthouse, he can have his wife and $20,000. If Norris refuses, he'll be framed for heroin possession and never see his lover again. Cressner also reveals that he has done this to six others, three professional athletes who crossed his path and three ordinary people who got into serious debt with Cressner. Not once has Cressner lost the wager.

Seemingly without any other choice, Norris accepts the wager and proceeds to make his way carefully around the building's cold, windswept exterior. Norris encounters multiple obstacles, particularly from the wind and an obstinate pigeon. Norris completes the harrowing ordeal, only to discover that Cressner had already murdered his wife. Cressner slyly claims that he never welshes on his bets and that, while the heroin has been removed from Norris' car and the money is his for the taking, his wife's fate was sealed before the wager was even made. Enraged, Norris overpowers Cressner's bodyguard and obtains his gun. When Cressner pleads for his life, Norris proposes to spare him if only he is able to complete a trip around the ledge. However, while waiting for Cressner to circumnavigate the building, Norris reveals to the reader that, unlike Cressner, he does sometimes welsh on bets, implying that he will kill Cressner, regardless of his potential success on the ledge.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

It was dramatized as a section of the film Cat's Eye, starring Robert Hays as Norris and Kenneth McMillan as Cressner. Unlike the story, where Cressner leaves Norris mostly alone on the ledge, Cressner resorts to tricks, ranging from childish pranks using a toot horn to blasting the protagonist with a fire hose should he linger around a roomier sector of the ledge. One notable scene in the film version is when Cressner's bodyguard is killed and Cressner is overpowered; he is seen stumbling by an issue of Penthouse, the magazine in which the story was first published. The film did give a decisive ending for Cressner, as the implied one from the story would not have been as satisfying to theatrical audiences. Norris did not need to welsh on his bet, as a frightened Cressner is knocked off balance by the pigeon. He falls off the ledge and lands on the same toot horn he used to tease the protagonist.

See also[edit]