Guest Short: “Freefall”


Sorry for the late posting today, I’ve been wrestling with the formatting and layout over at Thomas Bleakly PI.

I’ll be posting the opening to Chapter 3 late tonight.

In the mean time, guest writer Matthew Arth has submitted a great short entitled “Freefall.”

Hit the jump for Matthew Arth’s Freefall.

Free Fall

Matthew Arth

“Please raise your tray tables and put your seats in the upright position, thank you. Flight attendants prepare for departure.”

The voice of the captain crackled over the plane’s speakers in that smooth, midwestern drawl that, combined with the salt-and-pepper hair and knowing smile he was sure to be sporting, assured everyone onboard that they would reach their destination in perfect safety.

Jeffery Milgram was not convinced. He knew the statistics. Thirty-three percent of airline accidents were due to “Pilot Error.” Add in the complications of weather and mechanical, and that number rose to fifty-three percent. Two-point-three people die in plane crashes for every 100,000 flight hours. On average. Jeffery was sure that there were far more fatalities than that in a single plane crash. That was just the average. He adjusted his glasses and shrunk back into his seat.

Down the aisle, he could see a group of middle-eastern men taking their seats. Jeffery noticed the older-woman sitting next to him wince. Now, in most situations of this nature, Jeffery would usually just keep to himself and say nothing. He was generally pretty shy and wouldn’t even dare to correct the local Starbucks barista when she made his coffee with milk, which he was allergic to. Still, accident statistics was something Jeffery was very familiar with, and he took this opportunity to interject.

“Ma’am, I wouldn’t worry about them,” he said, referring to the men she kept glaring at. “Hijackings and explosive devices only account for maybe seven percent of all aviation-related accidents. Its much more likely that a bird will fly into an engine, or lightning will strike the fuselage, or something equally disastrous.”

The lady, who appeared to be in her late sixties, gave him an amused look.

“Is that right? I don’t know, I’ve seen my fair share of CNN lately, and it seems to me like its the other way around.”

Jeffery couldn’t tell if she was poking fun at him, or if she was serious. He opened his mouth but said nothing, unsure of how to respond.

“I’m sorry young man, I didn’t mean to be rude. I think old age just makes me cynical. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Dora Parkins.”

She held out her hand. Jeffery noticed with amusement that she had several rings on, as well as a whole menagerie of various silver bracelets dangling from her arm.

Ah, the elderly, he thought. Never in style, but always loaded. He remembered something his father once said to a friend: It’s a damn shame, God wasting wealth on the old. All the possibilities of the wide world, and no time to spend it!

“Pleasure,” Jeffery responded, giving her wrinkled hand a single, timid shake. And that was it. One might expect more of others, but to Jeffery, that ‘conversation’ was as lengthy as they came.

With a shudder and a jolt, the plane was off, hurtling above the earth at 20,000 feet. Everyone peered out the windows, straining their necks to find their homes or businesses. Jeffery squeezed his eyes shut and clenched the armrests till the blood drained from his knuckles. He suddenly felt quite nauseous and considered bolting for the ‘John.’ Sheer, agonizing terror kept him in his seat.

“Are you all right, deary?” inquired Mrs. Parkins.

“I’m fine, I’m like a fucking zen monk over here, calm as mutherfucking Snoop all doped up!” He did not say this, as much as he wanted to turn and scream it at her. He made a barely noticeable nod, indicating that his situation was positive.

Fucking people, he thought. Sure, I’m fine, just fine. Why do you ask, don’t I look fine?!

His heart rate accelerated like a race horse’s, and he was sweating profusely. His chest felt like it was about to explode. How could all these other people just sit in their seats and read magazines or talk to their newfound neighbors, and just act like they were sitting on the beach, safely ZERO feet from the ground?!

But then, everything stopped. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl. Jeremy opened his eyes. An older man, maybe in his mid-fifties, sporting a pure white blazer sauntered past him in the aisle. For just a moment, what would have been mere milliseconds, a fleeting instant in time, their eyes met. Deep, crystal blue eyes, the kind of blue that travel agencies always show of beach waters gently lapping against some remote Caribbean beach. It was rhythmic and soothing, like being rocked to sleep as a baby. A smile crept over his face, a knowing grin that said ‘I know things that I shouldn’t.’ He gave Jeremy a knowing wink.

And then the world gave out beneath him. A thunderous ripping sound shrieked across the delicate void. The lights in the airplane all went out, and the plane began to shake violently. A deafening klaxon could be heard blaring from the cockpit. Passengers screamed, and somewhere in the back, a child was wailing.

“This is your captain speaking, everyone please, make sure your seat-belts are fastened, we are experiencing a…”

The pilot’s announcement was cut short as static crackled out of the intercom.

In a daze, Jeremy glanced around the plane. The man in white was nowhere to be seen.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jeremy noticed smoke. He looked out the window and saw that one of the engines beneath the wing was shooting out flames. Jeremy watched as the wing wobbled intensely, about to break off at any second.

FUCK! His hands shook as he wrestled to unclasp his seat-belt. He stood up, and then remembered Mrs. Parkins. He looked over and saw that she wasn’t moving.

He tried to shake her awake. “Dora! Dora, we have to do something!” She simply sat there. He checked her pulse. Nothing. Gone. Heart attack, panic, whatever, she was dead.

He didn’t have any time to ponder it. All the other passengers were getting out of their seats now, and their screaming filled his ears. The floor began to decline as the plane slowly fell into a dive. Everyone was clawing like animals to get to the emergency exits at the rear of the plane. He fought through and over and under and around, catching kicks and scratches at every angle. The plane was shaking so hard that his vision wouldn’t focus.

Near the back, one of the flight attendants managed to open one of the big emergency doors. There was a whoosh, and the attendant made a terrifying gargle as she was sucked out of the opening. It suddenly occurred to Jeremy that the plane had all the floatation devices in the world, but not a single parachute onboard… He didn’t wonder why, or what idiot was responsible for such poor planning, but simply realized the inevitability of his death. That one thought, I am going to die, and there is no-one who can save me. That was all there was.

Jeremy finally reached the emergency exit, struggling to keep his feet and fighting for some clear solution to the situation. Then, like some horrible nightmare, he heard the wrenching of metal and the agonizing screech as the wing finally snapped off. That was Jeremy’s last clear image of the situation. His feet were sucked out from under him, and he clung to the side of the door for…well, not for dear life.

The image of that mysterious stranger’s mesmerizing blue eyes, and the curious wink, stuck in his mind. Again, that sudden calm, as if everything would be alright. Jeremy Milgram made his choice.

He let go of the plane, and felt his body flip and spin through the atmosphere. The wild wind rushed against his face and tore away his glasses. The flaming wreckage of the plane whistled by in his peripheral. He could see the green blur that must be the ground as the line of the horizon whirled in front of him, then behind, and beside, and below. The forces acting on his frail body were overwhelming, and he tumbled all over the sky.

He Who Fell From the Sky, he thought. That would be my Indian name. He laughed at the absurdity of his thoughts. The earth was flying towards him at hundreds of feet per minute, and all he could think of was Indian names.

Any person who has had a near-death experience will tell you that at that most crucial moment, their life flashed before their eyes. Well, Jeremy Milgram was a having a fucking here-and-now death experience, but his mind was as clear as a bright Missouri summer day.

He stretched out his arms, and felt his fingers stretch back. The gale of air tussled his hair, and the rushing noise of free-fall receded to the background. He finally understood.

Jeremy closed his eyes one last time. A smile crept over his face.

Now, I am.

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