This story originally appeared in Black Sheep #60, August-September 2004
© F. P. Dorchak, 2004
“Crazy my ass,” Ronny Flynn hissed, as he hurtled his body out the Beech 18, at 20,000 feet. The day was gorgeous, with puffy, billowy cumulus clouds set against an intense, deep blue sky. Skipping the standard arch, Ronny set himself rigid as a board and angled his head downward, trying to escape the other jumpers as quickly as possible.
I’ll show them who’s crazy!
Ronny, arms tucked tight against his body and legs together, shot like a bullet for the ground. Just because his wife had perished in a skydiving accident on this date last year and that he swore he kept hearing her voice since then didn’t mean he was crazy. Just because he kept having dreams about her did not mean he was insane. Just because—several times—he’d remarked to others how he couldn’t always tell fantasy from reality…tell real life from a dream…did not mean he had to be locked up. Many times he’d swore he was dreaming, but was actually awake…or thought Angela was still alive, because—in his dreams—she was. It was other people who kept bringing him down, bursting his bubbles. People dreamed about their dear departed all the time and were never declared crazy. Why was he any different?
Oh, right…something about his friends meeting him in a restaurant while he kept insisting Angela was just visiting the Ladies Room and would be returning any time now….
Well, what did they know.
Why, they’d seen her auger in, is what; they all had.
Angela wasn’t in the Ladies Room and she wasn’t ever coming back, and he’d better seek help or they’d be forced to take more drastic measures.
No, he would not allow himself to be locked up. Would not.
But he kept insisting that he saw her everywhere…and that had led to the intervention…the psychiatrist. Those words—not from the doc, that wouldn’t have been professional—but he knew he was thinking them. Of course he was, or else he wouldn’t have had to come back. Again and again and
He’s show them!
Glancing to his altimeter, Ronny angled toward a bank of clouds. Sport rules declared skydivers had to be able to see their dropzone and had to avoid jumping through clouds.
But he tired of rules.
Ronny disappeared into the cloud.
Whether because he was lost in his thoughts…or the pleasantly vertigo-inducing complete whiteness enveloping him…Ronnie lost track of exactly when he was promptly smacked—hard—in the gut…and bounced off something that couldn’t—mustn’t be—solid.
Not once…but twice.
Ronny abruptly found himself sliding down the length of the inside of the cloud’s bright white, homogenous interior, his hands and arms up and out before him like he was still falling. He slid for what seemed an eternity before coming to
Either out of the fear–response habit, or reflex, he jerked his ripcord. The parachute popped out of his rig, then gently fell into a pile on the cloud beside him. He watched as cloud fog calmly swirled around the deflated chute.
Ronny lay there on his stomach, arms outstretched before him, mouth open and eyes wide. His senses told him he’d stopped moving…but his mind, his inner equilibrium told him he had to still be falling.
He was (again, looking to his altimeter) still at 15,000 feet, but was, indeed, no longer moving. He should be screaming earthward at 120 miles an hour. Should still hear the howl of the wind in his ears, feel it against his body. Should feel his face contorted by the pummeling airspeed. He flicked his altimeter several times, but nothing changed, and realized that though he was as if lying on his stomach, he was still able to reach beneath himself as if he weren’t. Frantic, Ronny shot his arms beside him, sending more puffs of cloud vapor dancing around him.
He yelled out.
Nervously shot up to a one–knee kneeling position.
Confused, he mentally tried to retrace his actions and mentally reach out to the exterior of the cloud—to what he knew existed out there, outside all of this blinding white that surrounded (and now, somehow, supported) him. His surroundings looked exactly like common ground fog, key word ground. Solidity was now where it should never be. He should still be hurtling earthward by force of gravity, dammit, not suspended in the stuff of dreams and insanity.
He again smacked his gloved hands down beside him, but they still did not pass through the vaporous moisture, hitting soft, enigmatic solidity. More swirls of cloud vapor puffed up around him.
“No–no–no–no–no. This can’t be….”
Ronny shot to both feet—cautiously crouched—hands out before him like a blind man.
Any moment, now, any moment and he would continue on his downward journey.
He glanced warily about him. Felt the sweat, cold and copious, begin to pour out of him like a squeezed sponge.
This was scary.
Jumping out of a plane with a parachute was nothing. His entire body trembled, and he took several furtive steps about his position, circling and staring down at the damned white “surface” he stood upon.
“Oh, my God….”
Clumsily, he again spun around, got tangled in his deployed chute’s lines and looked to them. They didn’t dangle beneath him, but also appeared held up by whatever buoyed him. He checked his harness. All still good; nothing loose. He felt for his reserve chute; still there, of course, but, why wouldn’t it? The only thing missing from this equation was sanity. He slowly stood fully upright, lowered his arms, and again stomped about in a tight circle. Again, more puffs of vapor but still no falling. He was undeniably stopped dead in mid-air. It was all white, blinding white, and he could actually see the cloud particles drifting about before him. Feel their moisture kissing his face, even beginning to fog up his goggles—which he couldn’t quite bring himself to remove.
Tentatively, he stuck out his feet, one, then the other, and edged his way forward. Where, he had no idea, it was all white. All…eerily solid. Cushiony, but solid. He was expecting Rod Serling to step out before him any moment now, taking a puff on his cigarette as he introduced him to his world and welcome to it, with that sardonic smirk.
“This is stupid…this can’t be happening,” he said. “I have to be falling, have to still be in descent…this–this—it must be hypoxia, that’s all—”
But, he thought, if this is the case, then…then, what if I don’t open my chute? What if I don’t see the ground coming, because it’s one looow cloud…and I won’t break out til 500 feet? The automatic activation device…the AAD’ll open my chute at 1300. I’ll be fine. But what about…what about….
How could any of this be even remotely possible? Even clouds didn’t go on forever…he simply had to keep walking until he found the end of it, then, what…jump?
But if he found himself where he presently was, what made him think he’d ever find an end to this freaky affair?
Ronny popped the harness’s D–rings to his main chute and released it, then sprinted into an all–out run. He closed his eyes, held his breath—and leapt.
And once again landed hard on his stomach, again knocking the air out of him.
Maybe I’m just too messed up, maybe they were all right and I am crazy—and I’m actually still hurtling toward the ground right this second and just don’t realize it—
Ronny stared into the swirling cloud.
“This can’t be…it’s all got to be a dream, that’s all it is—I’m dreaming again….”
Ronny was not much of one to scare easily, but taking off his rig to repack his chute—here—gave him the heebie–jeebies like nobody’s business. He pictured himself still falling out of the sky, hypoxic, and those on the ground observing his flailing body as he tried to remove himself from his rig. It sent shivers all through him, made his palms sweat, and his gut clench. What if—
But, he’d decided, what difference would it make? If he really was crazy and he really was still falling, then he’d never know it, would he? He didn’t know it, now, did he? Well, there you go. And if he wasn’t hurtling earthward and really was…here…then he’d better either repack it or forget about it, and since he was fifteen grand into the air (or somewhere) why not at least go through the motions—even if it all turned out to be some hypoxic mental aberration…or all in the dreamworld.
Ronny took off his rig, lay it on the fluffy white firmament that appeared to be solid, and went about the task of collecting and repacking his chute.
The voice came soft and sweet…like it always did.
“What do you want,” he asked, continuing to pack his chute without looking up.
“This really is real, you know. All of it.”
“Yeah, right. I’m just having another dream. A nightmare, and you’re part of it. All in my head. Can’t tell reality from fantasy anymore. Have a history of it, you know.”
He carefully placed the chute back into the pack, avoiding to look the voice in its face.
“But, I’m real, too. And I’m right here.”
Ronny chuckled. “Now, tell me, how can I really believe that? I can’t believe anything anymore. I mean, look at me! I’m putzing around inside a frigging cloud, for chrissakes, my cheeks should be flapping in the breeze!”
“But I’m right here. Look at me. See me.”
Ronny looked up. Saw her. Or at least a shadowy outline of her obscured by the cloud. She came closer.
“This doesn’t mean anything, you know,” Ronny lied. He felt the tears. Always the tears. “I dream of you every night. See you every night.”
“But this is different, honey, this isn’t a dream.”
Ronny chuckled, just about to expel a sarcastic comeback, when he froze as Angela emerged from the cloud vapor to stand directly before him. She was as he always saw her—only better. Ronny came to his feet. He could smell that hint of Red she always wore when she wasn’t going gonzo. And she had that little scar she earned from rock climbing on her left eyebrow, which he never seemed to notice during his dreams. And—by God—her freckles, her cute little freckles were even there, another thing overlooked in his dreams.
Angela took his hand. Squeezed it.
“See, silly, I’m real. I’m really here, not like in your dreams—though, to tell the truth, they did keep me alive. This time this isn’t a dream…it isn’t all in your head—I really am standing before you, and I really am real.”
“I can’t explain it, honey, I only know I exist. Here, now. I don’t fight it and neither should you. Just give in to it—us—before whatever did this and put us together takes it away …okay?”
Those pleading eyes, that heart–wrenching voice….
Angela came in closer, bringing him to his feet and took both his hands into hers. She planted the softest, most loving kiss on his lips. He could smell her, dammit, smell her and feel her. And those sensations brought back all the longing and emotion that had been so severely cut off during that—that day….
Angela shook her head, placing a gentle hand to his. “Don’t think about that.”
“Honey…you know why…please, don’t make me talk about it. It doesn’t matter anymore. You’ve more than made up for it, now.”
“But, why did you have to kill yourself? We could have worked things out…gone back to therapy. If I’d known how badly it affected—”
Angela smiled quietly. “You know yourself better than anyone else. Would that have worked? Honestly? You’ve always philandered. Nothing made you stop—until that day. I was the closest thing that kept you even close to honest—and I cherished every moment of our time together—like I do, now. Please…all that’s over. You’re a new person, now. A better one.”
Ronny collapsed back to his knees, sobbing. Angela knelt down beside him and cradled him in her arms.
“I really don’t know what to tell you, honey. I’m also deeply sorry about what I did. If I had the chance to do things over, I’d do things differently. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But I loved you so much, so damned intensely that I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t have you totally, body and soul.
“Look, we’re here…now…please, let’s not waste this time by rehashing old wounds. I don’t know how else to impress this upon you. Look at me. Love me—now. Let’s no longer waste the time we now have together….”
Ronny and Angela walked hand in hand through the swirling cloud bank, Ronny, his rig now packed and slung carelessly over a shoulder.
“So, that’s all you’ve been doing since…?”
Angela nodded, guiltily. “Yes. I’ve been reliving our lives over and over; my death, over and over. Emotionally trying to will things differently. Like you are in your dreams. A couple times I found other threads…probabilities…in which I pulled that ripcord, but they still never turned out to change the past I had already created in that life. But your dreams…your emotion and love…keep pulling me back…to you. Sometimes your emotion is so strong I don’t even know where I am. It…clouds my mind, I guess you could say. And then…one moment—because there is no time where I am—I find myself here. You here.”
Ronny smiled, tears filling his eyes, his face red and hot. He squeezed her hand harder. Felt the warmth of her palms. “Good God, we humans create so many needless problems for ourselves, don’t we? I am so sorry for everything—everything—I’ve ever done. I am so sorry you’ve had to relive all those moments of ours—I don’t ever want to live without you again!”
“But you must. It isn’t your time yet. You have to continue on with your own life, with the past we’ve created, the both of us. When it is your time, I’ll be there, know this!”
“But, what about all this? If we can do this now, might it mean we’re meant to be together? That we can be together, again—forever?”
“But at what price? How long will it last? I feel…something strange…about everything…unfinished. Like I said, sometimes your emotion is so strong, I get confused about whether or not I’m really dead. You’re so strong and you don’t even realize it. But no emotion—none—can ever be maintained forever. Eventually, it tires, exhausts itself out, gets…diverted. Just like life everything dies. Sometimes I feel that maybe—maybe you should let me die—”
Angela choked off and stopped walking. Ronny stopped and turned to her, taking her sobbing form into his arms.
“How can something so real as this—even if so utterly unbelievable—not be true? Not be lasting? I can feel the hotness of your cheek, your tears, smell the sweetness of your breath. I may have been diverted before, but this…this is different. I refuse to believe that this cannot survive the moment. That we can’t make it survive forever. I refuse! I will not lose you again!”
Ronny buried his face into her neck and hair, his gear falling into the mist at their feet. Just before he closed his eyes he had an instant’s surge of panic—that his rig had actually, finally, fallen through the cloud and he was left without it, holding onto his dead wife, three miles into the air with nothing more than his imagination.
But did he really care?
If he couldn’t live with her why live at all? She had enough guts to at least do what she did—why couldn’t he?
He closed his eyes and let go…and all was right with the world. He once more held his loving, precious wife tightly in his arms. Felt their love for each other intertwine in ways he’d never felt before. If he truly had gone off the deep end, then he never wanted to know about it. Never wanted to wake up. Never wanted to leave this cloud—be it in his imagination …or reality.
Ronny sobbed uncontrollably into Angela’s shoulders.
“So…what do we do now?” he asked, as they both sat beside each other in the swirling vapors. “Do we know how long we’ve been here?”
“I don’t know, hon. I just know I’m happy to be with you, again. I love you so much. I was so lonely. So angry. Missed you like I’d never, ever missed you before, even though I know there’s this bright light out there waiting for me. I just can’t go to it, yet. I don’t know how long all this lasts, but I never want it to go away. I’d gladly wait an eternity, here, for you.”
“I’d rather die and be with you now then go back.”
“What? What’s this?” he asked, as he hit something in the vapor. “Oh, my God—my rig. How’d that get here? I left it way over—well, wherever.”
Angela looked to it. “You knooow…I always used to think you looked quite sexy in your gear.”
“You knew that. I told you all the time.”
Ronny smiled sweetly. “I’m just playing.”
“Hey, why don’t you put it on, again…one more time?”
“I don’t really care to.”
“Oh, come on…just once more. Then you can toss it over the side. Forever. You’ll never need it again, you know, if you stay here. Humor me. Goggles and all.”
“Could we, you know…if I do this?”
Angela, smiled coyly. “May-beee….”
Ronny found all his gear in a pile beside him. Something felt different about reaching for the equipment this time, but he did it anyway—for her.
He did it all for her, now. Everything.
He wished it hadn’t cost her her life for him to learn his lesson. He supposed if she wanted to see him one last time in his jumping rig he could certainly do that. After all, what else did they have to do…where else did they have to go?
Ronny put everything on, Angela assisting, and when he had one glove on, Angela stepped back, soaking in every last bit of him. Ronny, smiling, looked up just as he slid his hand into the last glove—but saw a suddenly sorrowful expression descend upon her face. She reached up a trembling hand to her quivering mouth.
“What is it? Honey? What’s the mat—”
No sooner had he put the glove all the way on than he fell through the cloud—all the air, all his will to live knocked out of him like a sucker punch.
He plummeted away…away…from his wife….
I love you, Ronny, forever….
Ronny hit quick and hard, landing with the wind at the airport’s dropzone. He (again) popped his D–rings and hurried toward the tarmac. Another plane was queuing up for another round of jumpers and he was going to be on it. The jumpers he’d jumped with were all around him, collecting their chutes, and also making their way toward the tarmac. No time had passed.
He’d landed with the same crew of jumpers with which he’d exited the plane.
Ronny was the furthest out of all of them and broke into a run, gruffly shouldering past those he used to include among his friends. Several heard him mutter about having to “get back up there.” Back to a cloud. To Angela. That’s when everyone tried to stop him, but Ronny wasn’t about to be stopped and swung out at the closest interlopers, knocking several to the ground. Then he all-out sprinted for the revving Beech that was making its turn onto the runway, with its new load of jumpers. Ronny reached the plane, leapt at the opening, and yanked out the jump instructor, who sat just inside the door. Wiping away tears, Ronny commanded the others to also get the hell out, then forced the surprised pilot to continue, his hook knife effectively placed against the woman’s throat. The crowd on the ground could only watch as the aircraft disappeared into the clouds….
* * *
Nothing came out of the sky, after that delivery, except for the Beech and pilot, and when the pilot landed she related the following:
Ronny had apologized for his actions, and said he wasn’t going to hurt her. He just wanted her to take him over to a particular cloud formation, that’s all, and quickly, before it dissipated. He was very specific about which cloud, the pilot added. He also kept mumbling Angela’s name…and how he was coming back so they could be together…forever. The pilot mentioned how she’d noticed that Ronny only wore half his rig—his emergency canopy—while his main chute’s compartment was empty. Once they got to the specific formation—Ronny calmed—appreciably—smiled…then leapt out of the Beech and disappeared into the cloud.
The pilot said his smile was the most peaceful, most serene (and unnerving) thing she’d ever seen on a man’s face.
She then circled around and under the cloud…but never found him.
“Did anyone see him land?” she asked. “Anyone?”
All shook their heads.
“Hey!” someone shouted out on the tarmac. “Come quick—look at this! Hurry!”
The crowd ran toward the field, looking skyward, when they saw it…tumbling, end over end—a parachute rig. No jumper in it…just an empty rig, falling dirtward. It had just appeared, suddenly out from underneath one of the fair–weather cumulus cloud formations that drifted lazily overhead….
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