|Thomas keeps his eyes closed. Just like two locked windows, shutters closed, curtains drawn, with nothing but unrelenting darkness in the hallways of his mind. When the world was pitch black, with the whistling wind through the eaves of his ears bringing the only sounds of life, things finally felt calm to him.
He greases the straps up and down with his sweaty palms, lets them become slick, then grips them tight and begins to tilt backward.
He feels the breeze rustle his hair.
He smells that soupy aroma of summer climb up his nostrils.
He feels heartbeat cannonade firing against his chest.
One deep breath. Then the world slips away and Thomas disappears into the oblivion as he waits for the scales to finish to tip. “Up” to finish its seesaw duel with “down”.
On the count of three, open your eyes…
No matter how vast the blue. No matter how painful the jolt that surges through your body. Everything will be alright.
Everything will be alright, Thomas keeps telling himself. Everything will be alright. These words are not just spoken today with his head mere centimeters from the ground, but also late in the night, while he lies flat on his bed staring up at the ceiling and knowing that just beyond, so close that it might as well be touching his face, is a dark canvas festooned with stars and infinite space. Everything will be alright. It is the song he sings as the roller coaster flies up the loop-dee-loop. It is the prayer he mumbles beneath his breath on the turbulent airplane before it performs its tailspin. Everything will be alright.
Ground and sky can’t trade places. His earth-and-space science teacher Mr. Sanders once delivered a long-winded lecture concerning this subject matter, which Thomas now conjures against the blackboard of his mind. Mr. Sanders told him that the world couldn’t flip upside down because of gravity. And in order for there to be a deficit of gravity the Earth would have to have a deficit of mass, but if the planet didn’t have mass it wouldn’t exist. And in the extreme unlikelihood of such a scenario occurring you wouldn’t just fly away like a punctured balloon, Mr. Sanders pointed out as he adjusted his large paisley tie. You would only need a minimal exertion of force upon an object with a minor amount of purchase, such as a blade of grass, to stay tethered to the Earth.
“But, once again…it’s next to impossible.”
But how can it be impossible? Thomas argues with his mental Mr. Sanders. How can this fear be a lie when there’s so much sweat on my brow? How can this be a mere childish fantasy when it causes my heart to beat so rapidly?
His eyes flutter open as the table is overturned, the hourglass flipped, the stalagmite transformed into the stalactite. His feet slip through the monkey bars and seemingly land upon two large nimbuses floating on the surface of the sky. His shaggy hair almost touches the ground. Every ounce of strength Thomas possesses is channeled into his hands as he clenches the swing straps.
And there is the vast net of blue streaked with reptilian-like tails and claws. Thomas can sense that it has managed to shatter the invisible barrier that once kept the two realities from converging upon one another. It’s crawling steadily closer now, crawling with those sharp cloud-claws, coming for Thomas, its next victim, and prepared to decimate all the forces that have kept him standing up and tied down to the face of the planet his entire life.
Thomas’s heart is held hostage by the sky. This is only the calm before the storm, the ascent of the roller coaster before it takes its abysmal plunge into nothingness. He can feel it coming. The deadly drop. Everything will be alright, everything will be alright, everything wi—
The cart descends as the steel force of freefalling seizes his body. No, oh no, all the pieces are falling! The swing leaps beneath the monkey bars and Thomas’s feet plunge even deeper into the sapphire mouth, this time without any nimbus pads to keep them safe. His head now lies against the seat of the swing. Screams and barks erupt from somewhere nearby. Next, Thomas watches as a deluge of plastic dogs, human action figures and even matchbox cars rains down into the blue abyss like toys dumped from a box, the surrealism of it all causing Thomas to reevaluate whether or not he’s actually dreaming. Then his hands slip along the sweaty swing straps, on the edge of losing his purchase, and Thomas realizes that he is very much awake.
The force now pulling him down—or is it up?—is not as powerful as the firm grip that always grasped him in his nightmares. Surprisingly it’s a minor yank, inexplicable, but certainly not a force incapable of being resisted. He realizes that gravity is draining gradually, like a leak in the bottom of a ship. Thomas can already feel the vacuum tugging him. A minute later he is only hanging onto the swing straps by the prongs of his fingers.
What was it that Mr. Sanders said? In the unlikelihood of gravity ever ceasing to exist, you would only need a minimal exertion of force upon an object with a minor amount of purchase, such as a blade of grass, to stay tethered to the Earth. A minimal exertion of force. It should be enough to climb up the swing, at least while gravity is slowly draining.
Thomas shuts his eyes. Heart pounding. Mind racing. Needles puncturing his heart. Ignore it all. Everything will be alright.
Like the pull-up bar in gym class, Thomas exerts all the upper-body strength he can muster in his flabby arms. When he manages to pull his head above the seat, he switches his right hand so that it is grasping the same strap as his left. The swing slides sharply to the left and towards the clubhouse. Then, one hand over the other, Thomas makes his way slowly up the swing, fighting against the sweat coating his palms, as well as the ever-growing force pulling at his shoes. He begins to imagine his arms as rubber, grasping the straps as they begin to extend further and further down into the sky below (above?).
As he reaches the monkey bars and grabs a hold of a bar, a loud ripping sound is heard. It sounds like tearing paper. Thomas manages to steal a quick glance in the direction of the sound and his heart nearly sinks to his feet. He watches as his neighbor’s garden shed flies through the air a couple yards away wrapped in an ornate necklace of fence pickets.
Time’s almost up.
Thomas takes a moment to recompose his breath and take stock of what comes next. To make it to safety all he must do is climb down the swing set, grab a hold of a clump grass (Mr. S. assured him that it was possible!) and crawl his way across the yard until he reaches the back door. Then all he’d have to do is figure out a way to slide it open and climb in to safety.
That ripping sound again. The swingset tilts, this time to the right, rising this time and once again Thomas’s sense of direction shifts. Up is now left? Right? All he can latch onto in his disoriented mind is the fact that the clubhouse was just yanked out from the ground of his backyard. Dirt and pebbles flake Thomas’s hair. It won’t be long before the next section of the swingset is yanked into the sky, and Thomas along with it.
This fiery thought spurs him into action. No time to waste. He adjusts his hands on the bars and gets moving. To think, there was a time when he had difficulty making it across these things as a child—and that was without the added challenge of having to resist a gravity vacuum. It takes a few seconds to move across them, but it feels like hours. With the monkey bars now cleared, Thomas moves onto the ladder. One hand over the other. Breathing deeply. Ignoring the earthquake rattling inside his temples. He’s cleared three quarters and closing in on the top when the now familiar ripping sound begins again. He looks up. It’s the rest of the swingset. No matter how much he mentally wills it to stay rooted in the ground it continues to tear and before he knows it the swingset is completely free of the earth.
Without even thinking, Thomas jumps and flies through the air. He extends his arm, channeling Michelangelo’s Birth of Adam, wishing now that his arms really were made of rubber. He pushes all of his weight upward—downward?—imagining that he’s amassed imaginary pounds to resist the force tugging him down. Perhaps his mental willpower somehow translates into physical progression. Or maybe some magic force from his dreams finally seeps out into this strange reality and grants him the inexplicable power of elasticity. But something pushes him forward and in this world now devoid of practical logic, there seems to be no explanation for what happens next.
His arm grabs a hold of a tuft of grass.
Now he just has the backyard to clear. A field of green monkey bars.
But suddenly the blades of grass begin to snap beneath Thomas’s fingers and he realizes that gravity has all but been expelled. The likelihood of him making it across the yard, with only clumps of grass to grab a hold of, is as impossible as the thought of gravity giving out once was.
But he refuses to give in, forbids the thought from deterring him, doesn’t even allow it to place any of its ugly fingers upon his mind.
More blades snap.
He reaches out with his free hand to grab another clump of the grass-ceiling, but finds himself unable to move his arm. Not because it’s inert. It’s just…too heavy. Some invisible anchor has attached itself to his arm and is now tugging it down into the depths of the sky.
One by one the strands of grass snap off, each one taking away just a little bit more of Thomas’s desperate hope, until all that is left is one measly blade.
Mr. Sanders told him that this is all it would take to survive but as the yanking on his shoes intensifies, Thomas finally realizes that he was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Is this really what life comes down to—hanging on by a flimsy blade of grass? Is this truly the keyhole into The Great Beyond? A boy. A man. A corpse. Tied together by such a thin strand.
Thomas remembers the thousands of nights lying in bed, insomnia clenching down on his bones, feeling the Earth lowering like a drawbridge, telling himself it was all in his mind. Just a fantasy.
Everything will be alright.
He makes the futile wish one more time. Then something inexplicable makes him let go. The blade does not snap. In fact it continues to wave at him like a somber friend trying to calm him, telling him that there is beauty and wonder in the unknown, as he floats off into the sky, into the blue, into the up…