Story of the Fall

Great roaring, the world spinning. A bad dream, maybe from a fever, nothing making sense, just noise and chaos and overwhelming fear.

But it wasn’t a dream. There was a sky, bright and blue, flashing by, short intense bursts of direct sun stinging his eyes, the earth brown and green, in and out of his view, and he suddenly realized.

He was falling. Plummeting through the sky. A scream burst forth from him, shocking him with its primal sound, only to be smothered by a blasting of air into his mouth.

In a desperate measure to gain his faculties, Andy spread out his limbs, straining to stop his tumbling and keep himself in a semblance of a static position. The world smoothed out, stretches of hilly forests, dotted with rocks, brown-green meadows, and blue ponds, a panorama beneath him, the air blasting and ruffling his clothes around him.

Memories trickled back, ignorant of his desperate need to remember everything now. He had been in a plane. A private plane. Dan. Dan was the pilot. Dan, Andy’s boss and friend. Dan owned the company and the plane. He liked to fly and skydive, and Andy had even tried skydiving once, which was quite enough, thank you. He and Dan were flying out, going on a fishing trip. To… Montana? Canada? Somewhere remote.

Andy furiously shouldered through his slow-moving memories. Linda, his wife. She had been encouraging about the trip, surprisingly so. Dan had suggested it, told him not to tell the other employees because he didn’t want to give the impression of special treatment. Andy had replied that he’d have to run it by Linda, and then Andy had waited a little, waiting until the time was right, if it ever would be, because he just knew she’d say no. But when he’d finally broached the subject with her, she had been surprisingly accommodating. It sounds nice, honey. You deserve some time to yourself. It sounds fun for you and Dan. I think you should go.

Andy looked down, cold air pummeling his face, making his eyes tear up. He was seized with the terror-stricken revelation that he would be dead soon, splattered into the forested landscape, lost and forgotten.

Cerulean lakes dotted stretches of dark green landscape. If only he could land in one of those. He’d still be dead, but he might have a one-in-a-thousand chance of making it. Falling straight to the ground was certain death.

In an instant, his mind flashed to a story of a parachutist whose equipment had failed and had survived by falling to a snow-covered slope. Well… there was no snow here in June. But still. His mind jumped again to various odd bits he’d read and heard through his life. Gravity would increase the speed of the fall until the end, but air pressure kept a falling man’s terminal velocity to 120-something miles an hour, and the more wind resistance, the slower it might be. A skydiver could direct himself a little in the way he positioned his body while falling.

Andy fixed his gaze forward on a blue patch of water. It wasn’t directly beneath him, and he tried to tilt his body toward it. He didn’t think there would be an effect, until he shifted his focus directly beneath him, and indeed, he seemed to be inching that way, but very slowly. It wouldn’t matter. He would die when he hit, whatever the surface. And that reality was suddenly and completely terrifying. He opened his mouth to scream again, and the wind tore in again and took his breath away.

He closed his mouth, shocked to clarity. He thought back. Linda. She was okay with him going on this trip. Dan. Dan had the plane. He and Andy were flying out for fishing.

Now in what he knew were the closing moments of his life, hitting full wakefulness, the memories suddenly flooded back. Friendship with Dan, his boss. Dan’s girlfriends that had cycled through over time. Andy’s marriage with Linda, which had grown a little stale over the last year or so, especially with the times away from the office that Dan had sent him on, but the relationship was still vibrant, he thought. Dan had been over to their house more lately, and Andy had enjoyed having his friend over and his wife around, and being drinking buddies with the owner of the company didn’t hurt. Linda hadn’t approved of many of his guy friends, but over time, she had warmed up to Dan, had even sat in on some of their bull sessions, joking with them.

Andy focused his gaze down once again, eyes slitted against the wind. He seemed to be moving ever so slowly over to an irregular, elongated patch of blue lake. If he made it over the water, he’d have to position himself to fall straight down, straight as he could. He tried adjusting his sprawled-out body to fix the direction of his fall left, right, forward, rear, as best as he possibly could, knowing all the while that it was useless, but with a relentless need to try to do everything he could nonetheless.

Linda. She’d had trouble sleeping. She hadn’t been very interested in sex lately, and rather chauvinistically, he figured those two factors were tied together. He’d suggested half-jokingly, “If you got more, maybe you’d sleep better,” and she’d dismissed him. She had gotten a prescription of Ambien from the doctor, which she used sparingly. Now and then he had checked the bottle when she wasn’t around, gauging how fast it was declining, while shamefully estimating, based on her usage, how much she might be interested in lovemaking at a given time.

Last night, the bottle had been noticeably diminished. He’d assumed that she’d had real problems going to sleep lately and had increased her dose.

The ground was still a ways away, but rushing up. He was still plunging down to the blue surface, now making out the blue-brown tendrils out to the side from the lake’s drainage. What was he supposed to do when hitting the water? He couldn’t belly-flop onto the surface and expect to live. He’d have to straighten out and dive or something at the last moment.

But that was silly, his head hitting the water at that speed. He might as well swan-dive onto a street. He was doomed, however he looked at it.

He and Linda had driven out to the city airport where Dan had his plane.

“I made some iced tea for you, just like you like it,” Linda had said. “With mint and just a little sweet.” And she had handed him his travel mug. He’d been immensely pleased, thanked her, and kissed her just as Dan strode up. She’d seemed a little reluctant with the kiss, which was offputting, but then had returned it, which was reassuring.

These thoughts flashed through even as he kept falling, the lake expanding in his view. He was aware now of a house at the edge of the lake and a little dock that extended out over the water. He concentrated on falling into the center, more or less, of the irregular blue shape, but directing his fall was so difficult, so unpredictable, with the wind tearing at him, his vision blurred, the roar of the rushing air.

Linda. His travel mug. He was in the back of Dan’s plane, talking about how she’d made the tea for him. Dan said, “Drink up, man. Enjoy. We got water and beer packed up.”

His disparate memories came together in a rush. The increasing familiarity between Dan and Linda as the friendship grew, fueled by Andy’s own goals, and Dan coming over more often. The decrease in sex life. The increasing number of times that Dan sent him out on business trips. When he’d come back to town and his house early one day, and he thought he’d seen Dan’s Mercedes driving out of the neighborhood. The insistence Dan had for this fishing trip and Linda’s acquiescence.

Oh.
My.
God.

The trees, the water, were rushing up. Andy moved his body, trying to direct himself to the center of the lake, vaguely aware of a speck of a man on the dock, a boat, varying shades of blue on the water…

If he made it to the water, he had to go in more straight up-and-down. Feet first, that was it. No way would he dive and survive, his head smacking into the water like an overripe honeydew, and

Shut. Up.

Linda’s Ambien bottle, light on the pills. He had chugged down the tea she had given him. Dan wanting him to go on the trip. Linda, so uncharacteristically enthusiastic. Dan having him in the back of his plane in which he’d taken skydivers. Linda’s increased affection with Dan, even as work – as Dan – took Andy away from home more often.

Oh, no. No, no, no. Sharp fury mixed with his overwhelming fear. They had killed him, Linda knocking him out and Dan dumping him into this trackless forest, and no one would ever know. Dan would say that he left on his own to go fishing. Linda would say that her husband had simply left and had never come back.

The earth was rushing up now, and it almost seemed like he would be plunging right to the water, but he was going to crash into it at racetrack speed. He had a bitter thought, I’m not centered in the water, and I am going to die, and he suddenly remembered some survival training he’d had and how he’d been taught to jump into a pool. The water was rushing up terrifyingly fast now, no time left, and Andy straightened his body up, plunging down feet-first, crossing his feet, wondering if he should point his toes or not, but it didn’t matter because he couldn’t point them in his heavy boots anyway, crossing his arms over his chest, holding his nose and mouth shut with one hand, his jacket billowing and noisily flapping up, beating his back and head, which didn’t matter because he was as good as dead.

Andy had a brief, fleeting image of the man standing on the dock, a lake lightly ruffled with geese paddling about, a stream of smoke coming from the log house’s chimney, before he closed his eyes, held his breath, and hit the water, and in the split second that he had before awareness left him, he felt bones in his legs breaking, just not feeling the pain at first, and then lightning-bolt fiery shots bursting through his lower legs, combined with the shock of frigid water enveloping his body and head.

And then all was gone.

Andy woke up slowly, his eyes still closed. He was warm and dry. Was this heaven? He sensed sheets around him, a pillow under his head.

No. It had all been a dream. A horrifying, terrible dream. He never wanted another dream like that. Whenever he’d tell it to Linda, he’d have to leave out the parts about her.

He opened his eyes to bright light. He was on his back, and he didn’t usually sleep on his back. He tried to turn over, but his legs wouldn’t move, and a wave of pain surged in his lower back.

“Easy,” he heard from a woman, felt her hand on his shoulder, but it wasn’t Linda’s voice, and the woman swam into focus. A lady, older and kind of pretty, short brown hair, in blue scrubs. Not Linda.

“You need to stay on your back for now,” she said in soothing tones. “Your legs are casted up, and we have some light traction on your back. With just a few broken bones and compressed disks, you came out pretty lucky.”

Casted up? Traction? Lucky? Andy lifted his head. His chest was wrapped, straps coming up past his head, and his legs indeed had casts on them, from under his knees down to his toes. His entire body had a mild dull ache, the feeling of pain suppressed by drugs.

He looked around. He was in a room. There was the nurse who had spoken to him, a man in a police uniform, and another man, older and bearded, in a green flannel shirt.

The man in uniform came up to bedside. “Sir, I’m Deputy Hoffman. Can you hear me okay? Can you talk?”

Andy nodded, realized he hadn’t said anything, and replied, “Yes.” It came out as a hoarse croak.

“Good,” said Hoffman. “First, I want to introduce you to Gabe Wicker. He has a house on the lake that you fell into. You sure startled him, but he took his boat out to you and brought you back. He saved your life, sir.”

Andy looked at Wicker, nodded, his eyes tearing up, remembering the terror of the fall, the house and dock on the lake, the man standing on the dock. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice clearing a little.

Wicker nodded back. “You’re very welcome, son.”

Hoffman continued. “I have to ask you, sir. Can I get your name? Do you remember how this happened? How you just came to fall out of the sky without a parachute, into country that no one should be jumping into anyway?” He held up his hand. “I’m asking too many questions. First off, what’s your name? You didn’t have ID on you.”

“Lanz, L-a-n-z,” Andy replied. No ID? He felt at his left ring finger with this thumb. His wedding ring was gone. He closed his eyes against the sudden furious realization that Dan had stripped him of all identification before pushing him out of the plane.

“What’s your address?”

Andy didn’t answer right away. His thoughts went back to his fall through the sky. How could he ever prove what happened? Dan’s plane could be accounted for flying over the area and blame placed there easily enough. But Linda? Ah. The Ambien. He’d have to have a blood test done before his body absorbed the Ambien. He thought with some dark cheer that if they’d worked on him here at this hospital, maybe they already had his blood samples.

He opened his eyes and looked up to Hoffman’s face, stern and lined, but not unkind.

Andy spoke, voice low but determined.

“I want to tell you a story.”

— Grandpa

Comments

  1. Anne Vosburgh says:

    Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Visceral images. So real I can taste it. Poetry with a purpose. This is the best thing I’ve read in a very long time!

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