I wrote this in 2003, and it was originally published in Flash Me magazine that year. It also appears in my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures, and is probably the only serious story in the book. I thought it would be appropriate to run today because of Felix Baumgartner’s feat yesterday.
He was falling.
Once he’d stopped screaming like a fool, he’d spent at least a few seconds trying to figure out how much time he had. He couldn’t really breath. And it was cold. Without a computer it was hard to calculate, but he had at least a few minutes ”˜till the end. None of that was too awful.
He was never going to be near her again. Hear her laugh. Feel her hand caress his cheek. This was his pain. The image of her was in his mind as he fell.
The other end of the wormhole had appeared somewhere in the lower stratosphere. Not high enough that the low pressure killed him instantly, but high enough that it was lethally cold. When he had appeared, the earth looked distant below. Colors instead of shapes. He had no sensation of his increasing speed. It took some time falling before he started to hear the wind whistle around his outspread limbs; he was in the classic skydiver’s pose, even though he’d never participated in the sport. The more surface area he could flatten against the air, the lower his terminal velocity. It could buy him seconds. Precious seconds to remember.
Thoughts of her warmed him, though the air was so bitter. His fingers felt like they might be frozen solid – he couldn’t move them without terrible stabs of pain shooting up his arms. He let them be, and tried to keep his body level. It was hard to tell how fast he was going, but the clouds below rushed up so chillingly he had to remind himself they were made of water vapor, not solid earth.
That would come later.
The sound of the wind, louder now. He could breath again. His mind filled with images, memories, a rapid-fire flickering that would shame even the most crazed music video director. She was there in many of them. There were so many days that were warm, and honest, and tinged with joy. It was beautiful.
He blasted through the top layer of cloud, thin cirrus that would look like mare’s tails from the ground. Then he was through, and he could see the ground, still far below. At least a minute. He felt it now, the rush of heaven downward.
He supposed that he should feel foolish. After all the tests, there was really no guarantee that the wormhole would continue to open to safety. A least he hadn’t appeared somewhere that ended it instantly. He had some time yet.
To spend with her.
His breathing was comfortable now, and his eyes started to stream with tears. It wasn’t just the wind. He could make out formations on the ground now – someplace with hills, forests, and what looked like lakes. That was good. He’d grown up around the lake country; they had a cottage there, where they canoed and swam, and played like children in the water. The fast approach made him feel that he was coming home.
Time accelerated. He didn’t.
As it turned out, time was relative. Other clichÃ©s were true too: his life did flash before him. There were some regrets – a few wasted years in his mid-twenties when he didn’t do much but feel sorry for himself – but on the whole, he had good memories. Perhaps this was the meaning of heaven and hell.
Hell was living these final moments, and having to look back at a life filled with the pain he’d caused others and himself. The torments, the recriminations.
Heaven was being able to think about the sun slanting from under the clouds. Green fields dotted with buttercups. Being near the lake. Being with her, lying on a blanket after a picnic.
The ground rushed. It would be soon. It looked like he might land in one of those lakes. He waited until he was closer and changed his position so that he might fall feet first into the water, as streamlined as a loon diving for a fish. He used to jump off cliffs like this when he was a kid.
But he knew it wasn’t likely he’d live. It was a last affirmation. Of his love for her.
Then he wasn’t falling.
–The End —
Originally published in Flash Me Magazine, October 2003
Photo by ulybug.