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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Transportation · #1686336
a story about people who like to skydive at night
Skydiving at Night

By Stephen Lipe

The atmosphere inside the plane was less than desirable.

The soft plastic coated seats against the wall were mostly torn. The air smelled like fuel and oil. The engine, though a soothing hum, was so loud Kevin could not hear what his friends were saying, though it looked like they were having a good time. He chose a seat on account of it being only scratched, not torn wide open, which separated him from the rest of the group. Kevin was in a thinking mood regardless and sat staring at the opposite wall, pretending he was alone.

Occasionally, Katie would steal a quick glance at Kevin. She did this without smiling and with a subtle practical grace that suggested a covert guilty pleasure . Then she would turn her head back and reenter the conversation, smiling. Kevin did not notice, and wouldn’t have, most likely, even if he were looking in her direction.

The cockpit door opened and the greasy haired pilot yelled something. Kevin could hear the man’s voice slightly but did not make out the words. He saw everyone stand up stoically and begin putting on their chutes. Kevin did the same and joined them.

-------

Aside from the two already mentioned, the group was composed of Max, John and Rebecca. Max was Kevin’s best friend, and together they composed the original night jump. Max’s dad was a pilot, and had laughed at the idea.

“How are you gonna know when to pull the chute?” he had asked with a mouth full of Pop Tart. They had caught him at a disadvantage, at 8am, during his breakfast, which was intentional. They wanted him to be the pilot, and figured he would be weak, or at least weaker willed that way. They stood on either side while he sat in hopes of creating a stronger sense of upper hand.

“We’ll time it. Pull the chute before thirty seconds pass no matter what. Its all about timing. Time stays the same at night.”

“Ok,” Said Max’s dad, swallowing. “How are you gonna know you won’t land on a cactus, or the middle of a lake or a highway, right? The whole steering function is useless in the dark, isn’t it?”

“One word dad: Flashlight.”

“That won’t be enough.”

“Oh, I think it will.”

“No it won’t!”

Kevin, who was present at the time and knew Max was kidding, stepped in:

“We’re gonna buy these glow in the dark altimeters. They have those for this kind of thing. Also, the place we chose is Copper Field. 20 miles out of town. A square mile of nothing but grass. Hard to miss a square mile, right?”

“From a couple miles up in pitch black? Sure.”

Max and Kevin were both feeling confident, but were now experiencing the slight notion that they had underestimated Max’s dad. Both pushed back the idea in their minds at the same time, feeling it would only slow them down.

“Look, I know it seems like its all figured out.” continued Max’s dad. “Its easy to believe in: I can’t off the top of my head think of any insurmountable risk. Even finding the location in pitch black can be guaranteed with one of those gps things. But….I mean, c’mon. Just come on. Its stupid! What if some unforeseen thing happens and you get killed. You’re gonna feel pretty stupid, right?”

Max, who had been standing along with Kevin on either side of his dad, sat down next to him and gave a sullen expression.

“So,” said Max. “what you’re saying is we’re stupid then. Is that it.”

Max was in full manipulation mode this morning. Even the hurt feelings were merely another attempt to undermine his fathers convictions. However, this was a more desperate attempt, and Kevin began to feel the first pangs of remorse that they would not be getting a pilot soon. He looked away to hide his disappointment.

“Don’t give me that.” Max’s dad replied. “You know exactly what I mean.”

Several days later, after spending a day at the long slab of cement with a hut nearby that their town referred to as an airport, Max found Bill, a Vietnam veteran who smoked meth and who knows what else he did while flying and seemed to care more about trying something new and interesting than not dying.

Bill looked probably like you imagine: disheveled hair, eyes open too wide, always covered in dirt and grease for whatever reason. He looked as if he’d spent the last 40 years flying his plane from the outside of it.

He brought Bill to Kevin’s apartment like a surprise present. When Kevin opened the door Max pointed to him proudly and said: “Found one.”

“Barp.” said Bill calmly, which evidently was an attempt at a real word. “Mall fly thar plane fer ye.”

“Is he…retarded?” asked Kevin, who was worried and confused.

“No!” replied Max with an air of indignation. “He’s just seen a lot in his years at war. YOU try to talk after something like that.”

Apparently Kevin had hurt Bill’s feelings, who was now looking sadly at the ground.

“Um…” said Kevin.

“You’d probably better apologize.” urged Max.

“Sorry about that Bill.” said Kevin, though he could not help feeling like they were talking to a wall.

“Marp. Mas’ ashay.”

Kevin looked at Max: “What?”

“Let’s get out of here Bill.” Max remarked, indignant, pulling Bill from the door. Kevin could hear Max as they walked away: “Kevin’s an ass, but he’s alright deep down. You won’t have to talk to him. Just talk to me.”

Later that evening Max had lost Bill temporarily while wandering together from one dive bar to a different dive bar, and he called Kevin to enlighten him slightly further on Bill’s inner workings.

“Oh, man! Was he mad at you! He told me he was about to punch you right in the face if it weren’t for me there.”

“Really?” Kevin could not believe that.

“Oh yeah! You better learn to be more respectful, or you’ll see his bad side.”

“Hmm.” Kevin let out, annoyed that Max and Bill were now apparently best friends.

“So what are you guys best friends now?”

“He’s a nice guy, and if you can‘t appreciate that I feel sorry for you.”

Two weeks later and the three of them were sailing a mile over copper field at one in the morning. Kevin would never learn to get along with Bill, mainly because he never felt the need or interest to, but Max took care of the politics and everything worked fine. The first jump was an amazing success: nothing went wrong whatsoever. A gps was employed, as well as a couple of old flashlights the two of them eventually switched on to see when they were about to land. The only major fluke in the plan, if you could call it that, was they had to walk all the way back to their car, which was at the airport five miles down the road. However they were so excited they had pulled off such an amazing thing that the walk went by very fast.

A year and several jumps later, and the two of them had finally convinced a few friends, John and Rebecca, as well as a girl they met at a bar a few nights before, Katie, to join them for one.

-------

Max watched Kevin approach with a big smile and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Enjoy yourself over there?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

Max turned his head and looked down smiling.

“I was just thinking.” Kevin added placidly, not knowing if further explanation was needed.

“What were you thinking about?” asked Katie. Max had not been listening.

“I don’t know. Just anything. Not really all that much.”

“Thinking about your brother?”

“What?”

“Sorry…I um..” She reached up behind her shoulder, ran her hand through her dark hair and tightened her grip on some, which was a drive at cuteness she always fell into while nervous. “You said your brother was sick the other night.”

“Oh. Yeah. Nah, he has cancer, but I wasn’t thinking about that really.”

“…Sorry for bringing it up.”

“No, that’s okay. I don’t mind talking about it. Either way is fine.”

She looked at him, still gripping her bit of hair. He looked down at his buckles in order to avoid her gaze. He had hoped to find a problem to fix but, finding none, he ran his hands down the front of his jumpsuit, smoothing out the wrinkles.

“Are you nervous about the jump?” she asked after a few seconds. He looked back up. Kevin felt calm, but awkward, and hoped that if there was no escaping this conversation, there would somehow be no more gaps at least.

“No, I’m not nervous.” he replied, feeling strained. “I’m fine actually. I’ve done it before.”

She leaned in toward Kevin with a grin and an affected air of a child, telling an important secret.

“I’m extremely nervous.” she said quietly, and pulled back with a shrug.

Kevin smiled back, and wished he could have thought of an interesting comment.

“That’s natural.” he said. “The next time, you’ll feel great about it.”

“If there is a next time.” she said half smiling, and turned her head toward Max and their other two friends.

Kevin did the same, and immediately came to the conclusion that he must have been too boring and blown it. They stood together in silence, listening to Max explain the dark zone.

“The way it works,” Max explained. “is as you’re falling you can see the ground pretty well. Doesn’t matter how dark it seems, there’s still enough ambient light for you to see it. But, and this is kinda weird I guess, once you get a hundred feet or so from the ground, the ground seems to disappear. That’s when you’re in the dark zone, and you gotta pay attention. Use the altimeters, and you have those flashlights.”

“Why does the ground disappear when you get closer? That’s weird.” said Rebecca, echoing Max.

“Nobody knows, but it’s the reason only half of night jumpers survive their first jump. Just kidding, but yeah watch out for it.” answered Max.

Rebecca and John laughed. “I was gonna say!” Rebecca exclaimed.

“Yeah. Definitely don’t wanna die.” John laughingly added.

The warning buzzer started going and the large door slid open all by itself. Kevin was always amazed by these moments of competence on Bill’s part. It wasn’t that Kevin really thought Bill was helpless, but he had yet to hear Bill utter a sentence that he understood, and on top of that Kevin tended to instinctively forget that the plane was flying on account of him. The plane was up there, simple as that. The reasons for it were behind a closed door and didn’t concern him.

All five were suddenly face to face with, as it seemed, absolutely nothing. A massive dark square, and they would jump into it. All conversation stopped, mid sentence even, and they took a moment to stare at the night. There was no moon, there were clouds blocking all stars, and it was three minutes to midnight.

The pilot stuck his head out again.

“Barg!!” said the pilot.

Max threw him a funny look with a smile and a thumbs up.

“What’d he say?” Katie asked to no one specific.

Max answered. “Its this word he made up that he’s trying to make catch on. Its supposed to mean ‘three minutes til jump time’.”

Katie smiled. “Weird! What’s his word for ‘two minutes’?”

“What?”

“…I just… if he has a word for ‘three minutes’, does he have one for other minutes?”

Max looked at her blankly. “What are you talking about?”

“Never mind.”

Max was satisfied with this and turned back to John and Rebecca. Katie was half embarrassed and half annoyed.

Kevin thought of something to say!:

“Don’t worry. Max was just messing with you. We don’t actually understand what our pilot says half the time.” This was simply the truth.

“Oh okay!” Katie exclaimed, and let out a small relief laugh. “Good! I was starting to wonder what I said wrong.”

“Yeah, nothing. He’s just dumb. So…..good job.”

“Thanks for that.” she said, and put her arm around his arm.

Kevin was all turned around now and decided he was wrong before, but wanted more than ever for the jump to happen. This was the first high note in his conversation and he wanted it to end immediately. Luck smiled on him as Rebecca yelled: “Alright! Are we ready?”

They all got in a line in front of the door. Kevin took the spot second from last and Katie stood in the back.

Rebecca, who was first in line, turned to John with a smile.

“Shove me out, like you’re trying to murder me. That’ll be hilarious.“ she said, and her back was to the door. John placed his hands on her hips, kissed her passionately and removed her from the plane. He then did a cannonball after her. “Aaaaaaah!” said John.

Kevin turned to Katie one last time. “Ready?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Sure. I’m pretty terrified actually.”

“Don’t worry. Remember: Thirty seconds of falling, then pull the chute. No more, but less if you want. Once you pull it, that’s the best part. Its gonna be really fun.”

“Good.” She remarked. It seemed like her head was somewhere else. She reached up to scratch her cheek and Kevin saw that her hand was shaking.

Kevin looked forward again and saw that Max was gone.

“See you down there.” Kevin said, and jumped out.

That went well at the end, he thought while beginning to pick up speed. Quickly, though, those thoughts were blown away and replaced with something more pure.

In the dark, all these sensations (weightlessness, wind blasting against you, etc.), mixed in with all the emotions (terror, excitement, etc. that kind of thing) seemed to be enhanced many times over. For the primary stage of the jump, the main attraction, which was the free fall before the apprehension of when to pull the chord, Kevin felt as if he were absolutely nowhere. That he had slipped through the cracks of reality and were curled up comfortably, free of anything at all, the universe, for a moment before climbing back out and returning to himself.

Of course the downside was that it threw all reality off perspective and anything else, no matter how comfortable it seemed under normal circumstances, would right after feel hard, cold and altogether awkward. He would have a headache, a dry mouth, and the day ahead of him seemed like walking through half dried glue. Even the bed he would fall into would feel like cement, with the soft linen scratching against his skin. The fall though, was a separate life altogether. One that began and ended within a minute or two, but carried as much collective fulfillment it seemed as the regular kind.

Once the chute was pulled, all of Kevin’s thoughts began very slowly to reboot themselves. He quickly found himself in the so called “dark zone”, and knew the ground was coming soon but wished it wasn’t and was glad he couldn’t see it on the way. At this point him and Max had timed it so well that he knew in 28 seconds he would switch on the flash light and see individual blades of grass. He had stopped using his altimeter after the first time, preferring the far more exciting count-down/flash light routine.

Kevin took large breaths as if he were desperately trying to take in the last bits of pleasure before it went rotten. Then he let out what he decided would be his last portion of free air and pressed the “on“ button. Suddenly, there was Earth, at the terrifyingly close distance of ten feet coming at him at twenty miles an hour!

A different kind of adrenaline smacked Kevin and he dropped the flash light, bent his knees and closed his eyes. Sight was not necessary at the exact moment of landing, provided you knew where everything was, and he did it seeing only the back of his eyelids. On his back, Kevin decided not to get up and instead rolled over a few times onto his chute. He rested his head, and would stay there until someone found him, or until he was ready. He sighed. “The World.” he reflected out loud, and looked up trying to keep only the sky in his vision.

It suddenly occurred to him that he could’ve easily broken his legs with the landing there and wondered if not getting worked up about it at the moment helped him land alright.

“Anybody?” he hear a nearby female voice call out.

Oh. Yes. Katie. I forgot about her.

“Over here!” Kevin called out, and sat up cross legged on the fabric. He almost got up but decided to remain seated, hoping she might sit down next to him and they could talk, which would be better than trying to find the others. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone else. Maybe, he suddenly hoped, they would just leave him and her out here to find their own way back. That would be the best outcome. Whatever happened from there it would still be cool.

“Oh thank God.” said Katie walking up, her flashlight in Kevin‘s eyes. “I was worried I was in another time zone or something.”

“Nah, its pretty well calculated. The others are probably really close by.” Kevin immediately regretted mentioning them.

“Good. Let’s go find ‘em.”

“Okay.” Kevin replied in a completely emotionless voice. He hoped he’d hid his disappointment, but wasn’t trying too hard on account of it. Rolling over onto his knees, he began gathering the chute from the ground. She got down next to him to help.

“So how did you like the jump?” Kevin asked passively, still wanting to know.

“It was crazy!” she exclaimed, looking at him. In her eyes he could see a significant spark of life all of a sudden and knew she had been as taken aback by the experience as he always had been. “It was…wow. I can’t believe it. Its like I was somewhere else, like I was in heaven or something! I mean it was just really terrifying for a few seconds and I was, like, sure I was gonna die but that went away really quick and it was just….I don’t know.”

Kevin grinned. They had shared an amazing experience. He looked at her. “Yeah I know what you mean.”

They looked at each other and her eyes glazed over into kiss mode. She quickly grabbed him by the back of his neck and pressed her mouth against his, so hard that it felt like their teeth were touching.

Oh good thought Kevin. Though at the same time, he felt as if something were missing. Usually in moments like this Kevin would experience what he felt was total fulfillment, but at the moment he felt almost distracted. It occurred to him that even a first kiss, after a night jump, could feel cold and awkward, if only a tiny bit.

After a few seconds she pulled away. “Okay” she commented, then went back to rolling the chute, as did Kevin.

“That was nice but it was about one tenth as cool as the jump was.” she said, looking away. “No offense. I don’t mean it that way. Its not you, it’s the jump. I mean like… how do you compare to that, right?”

“Right.” said Kevin. He was having trouble deciding how to feel, but he knew she was right. Not to appear desperate, he agreed aloud. “Yeah, you’re right. Kissing is awesome, but right after something like that, its almost like…is it even worth it?”

“Okay.” she replied, in a tone that suggested offence. Didn’t she just say the same thing? “It was worth it,” she continued, “but it was weird. Not your fault. Not mine, just a weird comparison of emotions. It was way better than rolling up a parachute.”

He reached over and ran a hand through her hair and they kissed again for a few more seconds. Then she pulled away.

“Satisfied?”

“Sure.”

“Good, cause we have to find everybody else.”

“Ugh.”

“I know, I know. But its just how it goes. We can‘t live out here…” she gave a look around at the barely visible waving grass. “…after all.”

Kevin said nothing as they finished up and began to walk. Katie held her flashlight, as Kevin had dropped his mid-air and did not care to find it. They had all been purchased together on the very cheap by Max. The field they were in was composed of very tall grass. Most of it had fallen over on its side, but walking through it was an arduous experience. Kevin wished he was home. The air was very quiet and, despite their knowledge of the area, and also their very recent conquest over the dangers of gravity, they couldn’t escape the instinctive feeling of uneasiness at being completely in the dark in the middle of nowhere. On top of that, the only thing keeping them functional was a cheap flashlight that held questionable battery life for the trip back to the car. Of which Max had the key, and where was he? They heard no sound anywhere. Where was anybody?

Soon that question was answered by the sound of quiet footsteps behind them. Katie turned the flashlight the other way to reveal Max, about five feet behind.

“RAAAAAR!” yelled Max, jumping forward.

“Eh.” said Kevin.

“Aw, you fucked it up.” said Rebecca, laughing.

“Yeah, I know.” said Max. “We’ve been following you for a while and thought we’d try to freak you out.”

“Right.” said Kevin, and added sarcastically: “Yeah, that would’ve been really fun.”

“So what’ve YOU two lovebirds been up to, huh?” said Max, putting his arms around both of them. “Haven’t seen you for a while. What’s goin on with that?”

“Yeah, we were looking for you.” said Kevin, sad to have been successful.

“Well, you found us. How was it?”

“Pretty good. I turned on the flashlight too late though.” said Kevin.

“Was your altimeter working?”

“Probably.”

“It was amazing.” Katie said, not meaning to interrupt.

“I bet! Ah, its never quite like your first time…” said Max wistfully, looking up at the sky. “Hey Katie, I hate to do this to you right now, but I need an ass massage. I think I sprained something on the landing. Pleeeeaaaazzzzeee!!”

“Uh, no.” said Katie, smiling. “Ask Kevin.”

“Kevin! Please give me an ass massage!”

“Ok sure.” said Kevin, not intending to.

“Ah, I’m alright.” Max decided. He started skipping in between Kevin and Katie. “I’m just so fucking excited!! We just survived that! We jumped out of a fucking plane!! Gah!”

Max wrapped his arms around Katie’s legs and lifted her up in the air, then spun her around in circles. Katie laughed in shock. “Jesus!”

“Let‘s dance! Mm, very romantic out here tonight.”

“Stop flirting with Katie.” said Kevin in a wry ‘you kids knock it off’ kind of tone. He looked away as he said it.

Max put her down, smiling. “I’m not flirting with her, I’m just messing around. Don’t be so sensitive.”

Kevin didn’t say anything in reply, and instead looked forward and continued ahead. Silence except for John and Rebecca bantering about twenty feet behind them, who were ignoring everyone else.

“Oh, c’mon! Don’t be like that!” Max continued. “Look, we can all see that you like Katie. Its cool, I don’t mind. I mean, its not like I’m the one who did most of the work getting her to come with us, but its cool. Not a problem. I’m sure she likes you as much as you like her. Right Katie?”

“I don’t know.” said Katie. “This is weird and I don‘t like it. How about you shut the fuck up and let us walk.”

Max sighed deeply.

“Whoa, you guys are both a couple of buzz kills. What, did you already hook up or something?”

Again, silence. It seemed as if Max had suddenly become self conscious, because for the rest of the five miles to the car he didn’t speak. Neither did Kevin and Katie. The only exception came about halfway through the walk when Rebecca called to them, saying: “You guys are so quiet up there!”

In response, Max said: “Yep.”

He walked between them the whole time.

-------

Two and a half days earlier, Katie stared at her cell phone, thinking things over. After five minutes her hand started shaking, and she quickly put the phone on the table and ran her hands through her hair.

“Ugh.” she said out loud, then looked at her cat. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I decide?”

The cat shrugged and walked off.

Katie picked up her phone again and looked at the message she had typed to Max:

“Hey, this is Katie from last night. Looks like I won‘t be able to make it. I was drunk and forgot I had plans. Sorry have a great time. Sounds amazing J!”

Max had been very intense the night before, and very convincing. He had said there was an opening, that skydiving at night is easy, possibly even easier than the day kind, and he came on very strong about how much great it was. By the time he had finished his pitch her ear hurt from him yelling into it over the music.

She could not, however, think of any reason not to say yes at the moment. A life experience, something to brag about to people, a massive adrenaline rush, Max was probably right: it sounded really great. And to top it off, Max declared he would pay all expenses.

“Yeah, alright, if you‘re paying.” she had said nodding, playing it cool.

“Give me your number and I’ll give you mine! So we can keep in touch!”

They traded numbers. But then as the conversation between them moved on to other subjects, she began to lose interest in him. Katie wasn’t sure if it was because the skydiving conversation couldn’t be topped, or if it was the only thing keeping her interested in the first place. No telling, but she began to feel awkward.

Suddenly she realized that she hadn’t been listening to the last thing he said. Now he had stopped and was waiting for a response.

“I don’t know.” said Katie, smiling, which seemed like a solid universal way to respond to something, and turned to Max’s silent friend.

“So what’s your story?”

“Oh, Nothin.” replied Kevin, taken off guard.

“Nothing?”

“Yeah.”

Katie shook her head half-smiling.

“That’s the worst reply I’ve ever gotten to that question.”

“Sorry about that.”

“You oughta be. You should definitely be ashamed of yourself.”

“Well, I guess I am a little.”

“So what‘s your story then?” Katie repeated.

“Nothing much.”

This continued until Max declared that they had to leave.

Now, the day after, Katie didn’t know what she was doing.

Aside from the freak out she would receive from her parents and possibly friends, depending on the friend, and the serious risk of death….Who were these people, anyway? She decided not to tell her parents…

All that led way to another distressing thought:

“If I go, I’m not going to sleep with Max.” she said aloud. “I should not let him pay for me. That’s a bad idea. Alright. I’ll go, but I’ll pay for myself. Yes, there we go.”

Satisfied with this thought, and considering it the final word on the whole matter, she deleted the text composed earlier and typed in a new one:

“Hey, its Katie from last night. Thank you so much for the offer to pay but I can‘t accept. Its too much. Let me know the cost and I will pay you when I see you.”

-------

Kevin woke up the day after the jump feeling pretty shitty. Headache, dry mouth, bed sheets feeling like sandpaper. Also the alarm clock had been buzzing at him for quite some time, and while he was happy to have solved the mystery of the buzzing sound in all his dreams, it still made the unpleasantness of the moment all the more powerful. Everything felt evil and wrong. There was some kind of drama the night before…

Oh fuck, that’s right. Fucking Max. Ugh, he probably fucked that up completely.

Kevin grabbed his forehead in pain, half physical, and fell back onto his pillow, which did nothing for him. So he decided to make some cereal.

To say he was in a haze of anxiety would be an understatement. It was much thicker than a haze. It was a soup. But this was the norm for a morning after a jump. Actual badness helped give it a face, but the anxiety was always full force anyway, as if the pleasure of the jump itself left a debt payable immediately.

As the sleepiness faded away, Kevin dressed and picked up the phone to call his brother, Chris.

“Hello?” said Chris, which was the expected thing to hear upon calling someone.

“Hey, its me. So how’s the cancer thing?”

“Oh, its there.”

“Aw, that sucks.”

“Yeah, definitely. What’s up with you?”

“Oh, just annoying stuff. Nothing like cancer though, I’m sure.”

“Yeah probably not. Cancer is very annoying.”

“Oh, I bet! So yeah I um…I made out with a girl last night and I think my friend Max is mad about it.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“But I’m mad at him too because he said all this stupid stuff in front of both of us, and it kind of ruined the night a little. Oh, we did a jump. Hey you should jump with us sometime.”

“Nah, I better not.”

“Oh, because of the thing?”

“Yeah, the cancer thing. I have to be careful about what I eat and stuff, and there’s lots of medication, so jumping out of a moving plane would probably be a bad idea. Sounds like you’re having fun though.”

“I’m not, I’m really pretty pissed off. But like I said, its nothing compared to your thing I guess. So, what um….you know…what are your chances, um…currently. Like what are they saying?”

“They‘re not too bad. They just need to remove the one ball and I should be out of the jungle. That’s in a couple of weeks. I get to keep it, so it’ll be in my freezer then, if you wanna check it out.”

“Poor little guy. Well, hey you know what’s cool though?”

“What?”

“From here on out, if you live, and it sounds like you will, then you’re always gonna be one of those cancer guys. One of those people who is like an uplifting story because they survived cancer and all that. That’s you pretty soon. So that’s pretty cool.”

“Definitely cool.”

“Alright well I guess I’ll let you go. Just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Thank you for that. I’m alright.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

Kevin hung up. I wish I was better at talking to cancer people. And girls too.

His phone rang. It was Max calling. Kevin braced himself and answered:

“Hello?” which was the natural thing to say.

“So, um…we’re jumping again next week for the Fourth of July“ Max spoke with a low, worn out tone. “I was thinking we’d do it and land on this one beach this time, cause there’s a fireworks show nearby. Gonna be pretty awesome. You should invite Katie, since she likes you and everything.”

“That sounds great. I won’t make any plans for that night.”

“Yeah don’t. So yeah, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Wait.” said Kevin. “Are you mad?”

“About what?”

“You seemed pretty mad last night.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“The Katie thing.”

“What about her?”

“Oh, c’mon. So you’re not mad at all? That’s what you’re saying.”

Silence, then:

“I’m not mad.”

“Well, okay, but you are.”

“I’m not, and I gotta go.”

“You are. Goodbye.”

“Whatever. Bye.”

Kevin leaned back in his chair, annoyed. He’s mad.

Another thing that bothered Kevin was that he had no certainty whatsoever that Katie was interested in him. The kiss proved nothing, really. They were alone together in the dark after having just jumped out of a plane. An amazing adrenaline rush, worth remembering for a life time. Of course they’re going to kiss. If it had been…God forbid. If it had been Max there instead, Kevin figured things would have gone the same way…maybe. Who knows. And he had been boring, hadn’t he? He’d been too nervous and he had blown it.

It wasn’t charm that caused what happened. The circumstances, the environment delivered her to him. It was baseless, this attraction. Lasting only as long as the surrounding elements were in place, and they could never be recreated. Even if she went along a second time, it would be different. The second time is different.

Kevin couldn’t decide what to do with himself. He had a million thoughts at once, and wished he could be up in the sky again. He imagined a life where you could constantly be falling towards Earth. Impossible, he thought. Where would you end up? You have to climb to fall, and it has to be executed very, very carefully. Real life is a mixture of either climbing or not moving. Barely any time can be spent in a free fall because you eat through your hard work so quickly.

Finally, Kevin picked the phone back up and called Katie. He felt weird about it, but he had a reason to fall back on: The Fourth of July.

“Hello?” natural.

“Hey, its Kevin.”

“Oh, hey! Ah, what a night last night! I’m so tired but it was worth it! How are you!”

“I feel like crap.” Kevin said. He’d meant to come up with something better, but he really did feel like crap and it just came out.

“Me too!” she agreed enthusiastically. “I woke up and it was like my whole room was moving. Like, in a bad way, obviously. I thought I was gonna throw up, but then I was like, ‘hey I didn’t throw up last night, I’m gonna get sick now?’ and then I didn’t get sick. I’m watching tv now. I’m glad you called!”

“Yeah, I’m glad I did too. Hey, so we’re gonna jump again next week on the Fourth of July, and land on a beach I guess. Do you wanna come?”

“Yes! I’d love to.”

“It won’t be as cool the second time, I’m sure, but it’ll still be fun.”

“It’ll be amazing.”

They continued to talk for several more hours about themselves. The area between Kevin’s phone and his ear felt like a sauna, but it was alright. He told her about his life, including his brother and the balls thing, and she talked a lot about her life, and about how she punched a dog in the face once.

“What?” said Kevin.

“It was running at me barking and I was really scared, so I punched it. It ran away. I felt really good, but kinda guilty.”

“Wow.” said Kevin.

Finally they wrapped up, having made tentative plans to meet up on the fourth. They hung up.

She was just talking to me so long because she was bored. It doesn’t mean anything.

-------

The four of them: Kevin, Katie, Max and Bill, met at the airport the following week at nine in the evening. The occasional burst from an explosion sounded through the air.

“See that?” Max pointed into the distance where a tiny explosion in the sky had taken place. “That’s where we’re going. Only thing is it’s a small beach, and we’ll be jumping from a few miles up, so we all know how to swim just in case, right?”

Kevin and Katie nodded.

“Where’s John and Rebecca?” asked Kevin.

“They had a party to go to, so its just us.”

Kevin looked upwards: a perfect night. Cloudless, and a full moon among an almost unnaturally bright allotment of stars, the benefit of being so many miles out of town.

“Hey, Katie. I need to talk to you in private.” said Max.

Katie smiled at Kevin nervously. “What about?”

“I just have to talk to you. Its kind of important.”

“Um…okay.” she said, walking apprehensive towards Max, who put a hand on her upper back and led her about twenty feet away. Kevin could only see him whispering to her. Though the outcome of this was a mystery, Kevin could see it most likely as Max’s attempt to fuck with him. Oh man, please don’t be hitting on her. I knew he was mad.

Quickly his focus was shifted, as Max’s secret had resulted in Kevin having to stand face to face with Bill. This terrified Kevin, who now had to decide whether to finally talk to him or not. He knew it would go badly, but there was no escape, no reason not to say something. Bill was, after all, an integral part of Kevin’s favorite thing. Fine! Kevin thought.

Bill was staring awkwardly at the plane, as if he saw something that required immediate attention, but he didn’t.

“So how’s it going Bill? Keeping………………….…..keeping good?“

“Barg.”

“Oh, good…. I really like this plane. I’ve always liked it. Cool plane……Yeah I like that you can open up the big side door with just a button. That‘d be fun…to be a pilot probably.”

“Barg.” Bill nodded.

“The weather’s probably gonna be really nice tonight….for the jump.”

“Barg.”

Kevin looked away. He didn’t know how much longer those two would be, but he might have to tap out. Suddenly, he grabbed Bill by the shoulders and exploded:

“What does barg mean!!!”

“Barg?” asked Bill, taken aback.

“Whoa there. No yelling at the pilot.” Max interrupted. Kevin saw that they were returning. Katie looked annoyed.

“You alright Kevin?” said Max.

“Yes.” said Kevin, not feeling like he owed a further explanation to anyone.

“You sure about that? “

“Yes! Don’t ask me again, I‘m not kidding.” He had had it with Max.

“Alright fine. Its just I’m not sure if you should be doing a jump in the state you’re in.”

Full fuck-with-me mode tonight apparently.

“I’m not in a state. I’m fine.” Kevin said, lowering his voice. He didn’t want to call Max out on the Katie thing. Not in front of her. What he had was weird and fragile enough, and he realized then that maybe that was the point.

Its easier to destroy than to build. I wonder what he told her.

Max stood and stared into Kevin’s eyes for a good five seconds. Kevin raised his arms and let them fall in a ‘what do you want from me’ fashion.

“Alright then.” said Max. “Let’s plane up.”

Seething, Kevin followed along.

Perhaps in an attempt to cheer Kevin up, Katie jumped on him, piggy-back style. “Carry me!” she laughed.

He broke into a jog towards the ladder, and suddenly remembered how fun it is to give someone a piggy-back ride.

Once on the plane though, Kevin’s mood went right back dark. Katie sat next to him. Max walked by them, mulled it over for a minute, then patted Kevin on the shoulder.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” he said, smiled at Katie, and he sat a couple seats away from them.

Quickly enough they were in the air.

Kevin couldn’t stop being angry.

“Are you okay?” asked Katie, leaning in over the engine noise.

“Eh, I’m just really pissed off. At Max.” he said, relieved that she had asked.

“I know you are. You just…”

The buzzer next to their heads went off loudly and the side door slid open.

Damn!

All three stood up and walked toward the door. This time Kevin found himself first in line. The square was not pitch black. The full moon shone into the cabin, adding new light to the interior, and the stars seemed even brighter than when they were on the ground. Far below, Kevin saw two large explosions from the fireworks show on the beach. Kevin looked back to the other two.

“This is actually gonna be pretty dangerous!”

“Yeah, its awesome!” yelled Max.

“Should we not be doing this?” Katie yelled at either.

“Don’t worry! We’re supposed to land about a mile away from all the stuff! Oh, I almost forgot!!” Max reached into the pocket of his jumpsuit and pulled out three pairs of ear plugs. “Just in case!”

They all put them in. Kevin took one more look down then looked back at the other two.

“So its pretty well calculated then?! A mile of from all this!?”

Max walked up and leaned in very closely to Kevin‘s face. He spoke with a calm anger.

“What do you think? I’m trying to get us all killed? Or what?”

“No.”

“There you go then. Do you trust Bill? You probably don’t, but you have to, huh.”

“I guess so.”

“That’s all I can say to you.” Max shrugged at Kevin, and walked slowly behind Katie again. He watched Kevin from behind her, daring him with his eyes to change his mind. Katie looked uncomfortable.

Thoroughly creeped out, Kevin very seriously considered not jumping. There were bad vibes all over the place anyway, which on its own could prove to be a night-ruiner. Finally after what probably amounted to ten seconds or so, Kevin concluded that Max and Bill were not trying to get everyone killed. The idea was far too extreme. He was overreacting, flooding over with paranoia, and couldn’t let this ruin everyone’s night.

Bill might have gotten it wrong, but that was the absolute worst case scenario, and he knew that could happen going in. Besides, Bill always seemed to be more capable than Kevin imagined him to be. Alright then, Kevin decided, and looked back at the other two again.

“Alright then!”

Max waved goodbye.

Kevin jumped.

It had never been quite like this before. Looking up, Kevin felt as if he were in outer space, or something like it. In the intensity of the rushing wind and the feeling of picking up speed, the moon and stars held stubbornly rigid in the sky, causing Kevin to feel as if he were caught in a turbulent storm, with all of reality on the other side, beyond it. He looked the other direction and saw the ocean rippling with the moons image all through it. He could see it moving back and forth, onto the beach where there were many lights. A carnival or something. He saw a Ferris Wheel.

Wow.

And then…

BANG!!!!!

A massive explosion filled Kevin’s entire field of vision. He had ear plugs in but they did not at the moment feel to be enough. It was the loudest noise he had ever heard, and the brightest light he’d ever seen. He turned his head away, but was completely helpless.

In a panic, he pulled the chute. The wind gave him a strong pull and he was stable in the air. He couldn’t see or hear anything. Am I blind? Am I hurt?

Then, objects began to reappear. He felt his face and everything seemed in place. He felt a strong need to arrive at the ground. To get somewhere and talk to somebody. He looked over at the moon. The moon looked back as if to say ‘yeah, I’m stuck up here too’.

Then, the ground came. It was difficult for him to stand up, which he hoped was only on account of nerves. The sand felt amazing and he ran his hands through it before finally pushing himself up to a standing position. The explosions continued up above at a much less frightening strength. The wind very gently nudged at him, and he stood in place for a moment feeling it.

I’m alive, and I’m on the beach. I’ve always liked the beach. The air is so fresh.

“Hey!” a voice came from behind. Kevin looked.

Oh. Yes. Katie. I forgot about her.

Kevin walked and met her halfway. She surprised him by hugging him. He hugged her back, and it felt very good. Then he pulled back.

“Look at me.” he said. “Do I look fucked up at all? One of those things blew up right by me.”

“Yes, you’re fine!” she laughed. “I saw that happening and it was nowhere near you!”

“I don‘t think you saw that one then.”

“Well, it was kinda close, but you’re fine.” she slapped him on the shoulder.

“Huh.“ Kevin smiled and sat back down in the sand. Katie joined him.

“That was pretty amazing.” he said. “Too bad I got freaked out, cause really it was perfect, I guess.”

“That could go on your tombstone. Or…well, hopefully you won‘t have a distracting freak out problem by then.” she thought out loud. “So, hey: are you still mad at Max?”

“Ugh, I forgot about that. No I’m not the slightest bit mad anymore.”

“Good. He was fucking with you, though. What I was gonna say before, is that you shouldn’t get mad because it was stupid. That’s what that pulling me aside was all about.”

“What?”

“Do you wanna know what he told me? He just said ‘stay with me over here for a minute so Kevin gets freaked out it’ll be really funny‘. I said ‘no’ because that’s fucking stupid.”

“Oh. Huh. Where is that crazy guy by the way. Have you seen him?”

“Nope, not yet. He jumped after me.”

“We should join the people over there at that carnival thing.”

“I agree!” Katie stood up and offered Kevin a hand. “Let’s just go. Max can find us on his own. You’re my date tonight.”

And off they went.

A week later, Max’s charred corpse was found washed up on the beach nearby.

THE END

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