Friday, June 24, 2011

The Skydiver

I originally conceived of and wrote this story in 1997, but then I was unable to find it and presumed that it was lost. So I rewrote this version in 2006 so that I could share it with the BYU 38th Ward Book Club. Later I rediscovered the original version of the story on an old floppy disk.[1] Here is the more recent version, which was essentially rewritten from scratch.

The skydiver peered nervously down as the wind tore at him. Below, he could see the ground—it was hard to make out anything that far away. Fear crept into him and settled into a knot of emotions. The thought of throwing himself out into the air made his senses reel. Perhaps this isn’t such a good idea, he thought nervously. How can this end except with me plummeting to my death?

But he wasn’t the only one up here. There were several others preparing to make the jump…and none of them seemed unnerved. The skydiver had always struggled with issues of self-esteem. He’d been the last one to fully develop, he didn’t perform as well as the others, and he was a different color than the rest. All of this gave the others plenty of material for teasing and poking fun. If he didn’t jump now, he would only be justifying their low opinions of him.

As he stared down he could see skydivers from some of the other groups already falling towards the ground. They seemed to drop like burning tears, flaming through the atmosphere like meteors. Their unity almost seemed to compel him to join them, as though it were a force greater than the gravity he would soon abandon himself to.

“You ready?” asked a skydiver in orange.

“Yes,” he responded quietly.

“Good. ’Cause it’s almost time,” said another, this one in red.

He looked down at himself. He was in yellow. Why did I pick yellow? he mourned. This has to be the worst color for skydiving. Why is it I do everything wrong? Waves of mortification washed over the skydiver. He could already sense the humiliation that he would feel when he lost his nerve and decided not to jump. He could already hear their derisive laughter. But the skydiver had waited his whole life for this opportunity. He couldn’t just throw it away, now—he’d never forgive himself.

“All right,” called out the group leader.

He was in red, too, the skydiver observed bitterly. But now that the moment had finally come, he felt a deep calm. Suddenly the fear was gone. A steel resolution came over him.

“Everyone get ready…three…two…one…Now!!!

With a leap he seemed to tear free of everything and suddenly the wind was blowing harder. Only now instead of blowing past him it seemed to blow right into him. It probed every nook and crevice of his body, pummeling him until it seemed that it would flatten him like a piece of steel on an anvil. It seemed to peel the individuality from him and pare away his personality, until nothing was left. Even his fear and uncertainty seem to strip away under the constant force of the wind.

The skydiver felt strange inside, but not uncomfortable. He could feel himself falling faster and faster. And yet the world around him seemed to stay eerily still. The wind roared, but everything seemed much quieter. This struck the skydiver as odd, since he’d always thought that falling from such a great height would make the world seem to streak past him until he collided with the ground. But this, in spite of the violence of the wind, was strangely peaceful. And yet it was exhilarating, too!

Quickly, the skydiver figured out that he could make himself veer one way and then another; how to go faster or slower; how to wheel and spin. He zipped past a few of the other skydivers. They called out gleefully to each other. But suddenly they and their opinions meant nothing. He didn’t even care anymore that he was in yellow, that he was different. Now all that mattered was the freedom of free fall, the triumph of terminal velocity. The sun gently kissed his back while the rushing air washed over him, cleansing him of his uncertainties and insecurities.

But soon the earth below started to grow larger and did so exponentially. The skydiver wheeled around and around, unable to stop. He was losing control! The horizon disappeared; the grass rushed up to meet him. But instead of crashing into the ground and entering the darkness of oblivion, as he had so often feared, the landing was gentle. The grass cushioned him like a loving mother, receiving back her son after a long trip away from home. But as the elation of the jump died, the skydiver realized that something was wrong. He was immobile. He just lay there on the grass, unmoving. What’s going on?!!

Soon the other skydivers, both those he knew and those from other groups began landing in the grass around him. They, too, were unable to move. Some of them landed next to him; others landed on top of him. Bewildered, they all stared up towards the cloudy sky. They began screaming at each other angrily, terrified. The skydiver felt more isolated and alone than he ever had before.

Then they heard footsteps and fell silent. Soon a huge face, with a two-day beard appeared over them, blotting out the sky. “I don’t know why I always have to do this,” the face grumbled. “We’ve got three children that are perfectly capable of doing it. But do they listen? No!”

The skydivers began screaming again, but the owner of the face didn’t seem to hear them. He used a long pole with multiple prongs at the end to drag the skydiver and all the others off the grass and onto a patch of bare dirt. He arranged them into a large pile, unheeding of their pain-filled cries. Some of them he tore open with the tool. When he’d finally collected them all, leaving the field of grass empty, he threw down the pole and left. When he came back he was carrying a large, red container. He opened it up and threw a nasty-smelling liquid all over them.

“Next year, I’ll just cut down the tree.”

Then, before he walked away, he lit a match and tossed it onto the pile.


[1] To read the original, see here.

Image attributions:

Autumn Norway Maple Leaf is by Ninjatacoshell, available at Norway Maple Leaf.jpg. 

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