The ringing phone woke me from sleep. Grumbling, I reached for it and in my nicest, 'no you didn't wake me up' fake voice said hello.
“You up yet?” barked the voice on the other end.
“Up?” I asked looking at the clock on my end table. “Man, it is 4:30 in the morning. I was sleeping.”
“Well get your ass up, we're leaving in an hour,” came the clipped reply. “We'll be waiting downstairs for you.”
“Brian, seriously, how did you...” I started to say, then heard nothing but the dial tone.
I hung up and threw my legs over the edge of my bed. Then I gave a quick stretch as I yawned. Looking at the clock again 4:33, it was way too early for this.
“How did I let him talk me into going?” I asked my empty room. Gasping as my bare feet hit the cold, tile floor. “Cripes, it's cold.”
Standing, I gave myself a good scratch through my boxers, as I headed to the bathroom.
“It is too damn early,” I muttered as I walked through the door.
Considering it was a bachelor apartment, the bathroom was small. I was rarely ever home so I didn't care much, but this morning it would have been nice to have some space. I was feeling slightly claustrophobic and I knew why. It was all because of what's going to happen in an hour. Mumbling, I put my hands on the sides of the sink and leaned in check tomyself in the mirror.
Quickly I finished with my morning routine of teeth brushing, and styling my hair. All the usual crap a guy goes through before heading out, then did a quick muscle man pose as I admired my non-existent 6-pack. It wasn't that Iwas unattractive. My short black hair and muscular arms were nice, but I wasn't the ladies man that Brian was. I did have height on my side. I was over 6 feet while he was just about 5'10. I smiled as I headed back to the bedroom to get ready.
Tomorrow your life will change, Brian's words rang in my head.
Yeah, I thought. Today is going to be the last day of my life, with my luck.
Brian was always looking for the next thrill, he was one of those guys that lived life on the edge and didn't care about the danger. I was the complete opposite. I thought through every detail, several times. Sometimes, I'd even make a list of the pros and cons of what I was going to do. Not this time. This time I was flying by the seat of my pants, and now I was second guessing it.
Brian's latest challenge was learning to parachute. He got hooked on it when another friend of ours, Jim, had started doing it. Then it was the two of them trying to convince me to join them on a jump. It took them about a week, but in the end I gave in, like I always did.
I changed my boxers into ones I had bought the previous day, just for this actually. They had little planes on them. I thought the irony of it was funny so I couldn't resist. Just as I finished getting on my boots, the phone rang.
“Yeah?” I said as I picked up the receiver.
“Let's go!” Brian's voice came booming through.
“Alright just let me get the chute and I'll be down. Don't get your panties in a twist,” I said, then hung up.
I took one last look around my apartment, which was scarcely decorated. When I was satisfied everything looked alright, I grabbed the parachute that I had packed the night before and headed down to the lobby.
As I headed to the elevator, I couldn't shake the feeling of dread. I pushed the button for it to take me downstairs. Listening, I heard it climbing from somewhere below me, until it finally gave it's little ring that it was on my floor. Hitching the chute on my back, I walked in and pushed the button for the lobby.
“What am I doing?” I asked the empty elevator. “This isn't me. I could just go back upstairs, climb into bed, tell Brian and Jim I'm not going and go back to sleep.”
I realized I was talking to myself so I quickly shut up. It was only a moment later when I reached the lobby and stepped out of the elevator. I looked out the window and saw that Brian was pacing back and forth.
Never a good sign, I thought. Sighing, I headed for the door and walked out into the cool morning air.
“It's about time Geoff,” Brian said when he saw me. “Thought you had changed your mind.”
I almost did, I thought, but instead said, “What? Never. Let's go man. It's cold.”
We climbed into Jim's little red,two doorHonda civic. Brian pulled the seat forward so thatI was able to squeeze into the back. Theseats looked like they had been through a world warand the floor looked to be falling apart.The entire carlooked like it should have been taken to a junk yard, but Jim couldn't seem to part with it.
“Glad to see you made it,” Jim said, turning to look at me.
“Yeah, wouldn't miss it for anything,” I said trying to keep my voice light. Inside I was a jumble of nerves. What the hell was I thinking? Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane?Better question. What the hell am I doing going up in a plane? I hated heights. Not just hate, loathe would be a better word.
“You'll see, it'll be kick ass!” Brian said.
“Don't go freaking him out,” Jim said, looking reassuringly at me in the rear view mirror. “It's okay, really. I've been doing this for close to a year now and Brian's been doing it for almost 6 months. I wanted to make sure that he knew what he was doing before bringing you along.”
“I appreciate that,” I said, and surprisingly I meant it.
Jim was an alright guy, kind of a mix between Brian and me. He liked living on the edge but he thought things through too. So if he said it was okay then it was.
He pulled away from the curb, and the three of us headed towards the airport. They had picked me up last since I lived the closest. Jim had hired a private plane. Something I had found out earlier that week, he did often.
“A friend of mine is flying the plane,” Jim said, over the music.
Brian had stuck some... God knows what music on the stereo and turned it up. He was bouncing away to the bass.
“A friend?” I asked, unable to keep the panic out of my voice that time. Turning to Brian, “Would you turn that crap down?”
Brian quickly turned the volume button and cursed to himself.
“You've done this before, I haven't. I want to know what I'm in for,” I said getting angry. “Or we could turn around and you guys can go without me?” Inwardly I kind of wished that they would have taken me up on it but somehow I doubted it.
“I turned it down didn't I?” Brian said.
“Chill out you two,” Jim said. “Geoff is right. We've done this dozens of times. I was terrified and asking hundreds of questions my first time. Plus, if you remember correctly, Brian, you nearly shit yourself the first time out.” He laughed heartily at that.
“He what?” I exclaimed, unable to stop myself from laughing.
“I did not!” Brian sulked deep into his seat.
“You didn't actually do it but you came close,” Jim said as he turned a corner. “We're almost there.”
“Whatever, shut the hell up,” Brian said, now pissed off.
“Will you check my chute when we get there?” I asked Jim. “I want to make sure I packed it right.”
“Not a problem. You followed the directions in the manual right?” he asked.
“To the letter, then I double checked it,” I said.
“You should be good to go then,” Jim said. “If it will make you feel better, then I'll check it. I have a chute there already for you. We both know you have to be certified before you can use a chute you pack yourself. Until you are, then I'll get you to keep practicing but I'll pack the ones you use.”
“Thanks, it will,” I said.
Jim kept driving and answering all my questions, which made me feel better,a little bit. I still had that nagging feeling that something was wrong but I pushed it aside.
“Not far now,” Jim said, as he turned yet another corner.
I could feel my stomach knot up, as we continued down the street. We were getting closer, and I clutched my chute to my chest. Suddenly I felt like a girlie man, so I put it down on the seat beside me.
“What's the best part of jumping for you?” I asked, trying to ease my nerves.
“That's easy,” Brian said. “The rush!”
“Nah, I think it's the freedom that I feel when I'm free falling,” Jim said.
“Free falling?” I gulped.
“It's not as bad as it seems. The air floating around you makes you feel alive. It's a rush like nothing anyone has ever felt before,” he replied, as he turned into the airport parking lot. “We're here, finally.”
“I'm glad I didn't have breakfast,” I mumbled, as I got out of the car.
“Pardon?” Brian asked, as I walked by him. He slammed the door, and turned to me.
“Nothing, let's just go,” I said.
“We don't have to go through the terminal, we can just go around the side. My friend should be there waiting,” Jim said, as he checked his watch.
“Let's go,” Brian said, heading off in the direction of the tarmac.
Shaking my head, I watched as he practically ran to the fence. Never looking before he leaps, I thought. He's bound to get himself killed if he isn't careful.
Jim and I walked slowly behind Brian. At almost 5 am, I wasn't about to be running anywhere, let alone to an airplane.
“Scared?” Jim asked, breaking the silence.
“Should I be?” I asked, answering his question with a question.
“We're probably going to be above 10,000 feet, it would be normal to be a little afraid,” he said.
“If I'm completely honest, Jim, I'm scared shitless,” I confided.
We got to the fence and saw that Brian had already passed through. He had left the gate open for us, which made it easier.
“Nothing really to be scared about. Let's get to the plane, I'll check your chute, and we'll go over everything before take-off,” he said, leading the way.
“Sounds good,” I said, hoping to sound more confident than I felt.
We walked towardstheplane. I was almost certain itwas built in the first world war and looked very well used. The numbers on the back ofit looked freshly painted. I wasn't sure if that should worry me or not.
I froze and just stared. Jim must have sensed my hesitation.
“It flies well. I've been using this plane since I started jumping,” he said, with a smile and clapped me on the back.
“It's not the flying I'm worried about. It's the getting into the air,” I said quietly.
“Would you guys come on already?” Brian called from the door of the plane.
If I didn't know better I'd have sworn he was a kid with a new toy or something. He was more excited than I had ever seen him, and I lived through his scuba diving and his bungee jumping phases. The guy had rarely stuck to any extreme sport for long.If he would have showed more interest in the other stuff, I might not have worried as much over this.
We approached the plane and the closer we got the more apprehensive I became. Jim climbed on first and took his seat. I walked up the steel stairs with dismay. With one final look back, I walked inside and took my seat.
“Oh, shit! I was going to check your chute,” Jim said. “I'll look while we're in the air. He wants to take off and already has all the preflight stuff done.”
I wasn't sure what to say so I just nodded and strapped myself into the seat. I felt the plane jerk to life as it started moving down the runway.
Jim pointed at me, then to the headset on the seat beside me. I looked from him to them then put them on. They were really uncomfortable and I was still adjusting them when I heard Jim talking.
“We'll be up in the air soon enough,” he said, his voice coming in spurts through static on the earphones. “We're staying pretty close to the airport. The field there is perfect for jumping, and this time of day the only planes taking off or landing are the private jets.”
“Won't there be any other traffic?” I asked, the worry crept into my voice. I kept looking out the window at the main terminal trying to show that I wasn't too worried.
“Not at this hour. We book it so there's plenty of time between flights,” Jim said. “Charlie's good for that. He knows the best days to go for a jump. He's been flying this plane a lot longer than I've been jumping.”
“Pre-dawn is the best time to jump. The sun is just coming up and it gives a really cool glow to everything when you're falling,” Brian said, interrupting.
“I'm sure it is,” I mumbled, still looking out the window. I must have gotten lost in thought because I heard yelling in my ears.
“Geoff!” Jim was saying. “We're going to be taking off in a minute. Charlie won't let us drop, you've got my word okay?”
“Yeah? Okay,” I said, coming back to the conversation. I was trying to ignore the fact that the inside of the plane looked worse than the outside. It felt like it was ready to fall apart and the jerking movements were turning my stomach inside out.
The plane continued it's jittery motion as it made it's way to the runway. I could hear the pilot, Charlie, talking to the tower. I just wanted to jump out of the plane, and we hadn't even left the ground yet.
I could feel the vibrations as we went down and waited for our turn to take off. I could hear what Charlieand the tower were saying to each other, but it all meant very little to me. Especially since I had never flown before.
The three of us were sitting on a long bench that went along one side of the cabin. The rest was open space, it felt empty. too empty. There was a rough jerk as the plane began it's run and started to climb into the sky.
I watched out the window for a moment as we left the ground. Then, I realized my stomach was probably left back at the airport. I was feeling very ill all of a sudden and most definitely did not want to make this jump.
“It won't take long to get to the altitude we're needing, so let me look at your chute,” Jim said, cutting through my thoughts.
I handed him my pack and watched as he looked it over carefully. I thought I had done it right but there was a chance I had messed up. Last thing I wanted was to go on a jump and have the chute not open.
“You did a good job,” Jim said, passing the pack back to me. “Not bad for a new jumper. How many times did you pack it?”
“A couple,” I said, honestly. “I wanted to make sure it was right.”
“We're getting close to 10,000 feet,” came a deep voice over the radio. “Might as well start your pre-jump there Jim.”
“Thanks Charlie,” Jim said. He turned to Brian and I. Then he explained all about how we exit the plane, what we could and couldn't do during the freefall and about landing techniques.
This was all stuff I had seen when I had taken the course last week. Who knew they had a course in it? Jim and Brian had both suggested I take it so that I knew what I was getting into. It was alright as long as I was on the ground but being up in the air... that is a completely different story.
“7,500 feet, Jim,” came Charlie's voice through the headset.
“Did he say...” I couldn't even finish what I heard.
“Yes,” Jim nodded. “We're going to 13,000 feet. It'll give us a greater freefall distance.”
I looked at him stunned. I couldn't believe he was serious. There was no way we were jumping from that height.
“Put your chute on. Brian's going to jump first, then you, then me,” Jim said. “I can make sure you're safe that way because I can speed up my descent.”
I remembered from the class how that was done but I didn't think I was experienced enough for that, not yet anyway. I looked from Jim and what he was saying to the door that I would soon be exiting.
I could hear Charlie letting the tower know that we were about to jump. I didn't know if that was normal or not but I wasn't about to say anything. My mind blanked when I tried to recall everything that I was going to have to remember. I looked at the needle of the gage I had on my arm, tapping it to make sure it was still working.
God, what had I gotten myself into? I wondered.
Brian got up and headed to the door. I stood up but couldn't stop shaking. Jim got up and tossed his headset on the bench. He indicated that I should do the same.
He walked up behind me, holding onto the side of the plane to stabilize himself. I looked at him. The fear in my eyes was more than I think he was prepared for, because he put his hand on my shoulder and smiled reassuringly.
“You'll do fine!” he yelled over the sound of the airplane's engine.
I merely nodded and watched as the door opened. Then I watched as Brian grabbed the frame, turned, smiled at usand hurled himself out into the morning sky. I thought what was left of my insides was going to shrivel and die right there.
I shook my head, my feet were frozen to the floor of the plane. There was no way in hell I was jumping out. Then, as if my body had taken on a mind of its own I watched in disbelief as, step by step, I inched closer to the door.
Betrayer! I screamed inwardly. What are you doing? My hands reached for the frame and I could feel myself rocking back and forth, anticipating when to jump. With one last look at Jim, I threw myself out of the plane and screamed.
My eyes were shut tight and I could feel the air brushing past my face with massive speed. 120 miles per hour, I recalled the class instructor telling us. We would reach upwards if not more than that. I gulped and dared to open my eyes.
My chute was firmly attached to my back. I felt safe, as if I could accomplish anything. I spread my arms wide and let my body be carried by the wind.
I found if you don't actually look down, but look across the horizonthen you don't feel like you were about to lose 6 years worth of meals. I looked around for Brian and found him slightly below me. He was doing some kind of roll and apparently having a blast.
Then I looked for Jim. At first, I didn't see him but when I turned and laid on my back, he was not much higher than I was. I quickly gave him a thumbs up with a huge grin. They were right. This was probably the best thing I had ever done.
While I was on my back, I saw the plane circle before leaving. I wasn't sure where it was going, so I pointed up past Jim. He apparently understood and pointed back to the airport. I nodded and rolled back to my stomach.
Moments later, Jim was beside me. He had this grin like there was nothing better in the world and he was right where he belonged. I could understand it. Even knowing, subconsciously, that my body was plummeting to the earth, I felt more alive than I had in my last 26 years. Which I supposed, said a lot.
Jim dipped a little to the left letting me have my space. As he was gliding, he tapped his wrist to tell me that I should watch my altitude. I nodded and looked out at the morning sky.
The sun was just coming up over the mountains, and the clouds had taken on a reddish hue. I think if I were an artist, I'd have loved to have painted that morning sky. I swore I had never seen anything so amazing. It was as if even the sun was giving it's blessing for a wonderful jump.
I looked at my watch, just under 4,000 feet. It would soon betime to pull the cord. I could barely hear anything, there was a popping in my ears. I tried shaking my head but it didn't help. I looked for Jim or Brian but they were off playing their air acrobatics. I didn't want to look like a sissy so I went to join them
I knew to move faster, I had toput my arms to my sides and face the direction I wanted to go in, so I did. I could feel the air rushing around me. I cheered and lost my breath for a moment. When I got close enough to them, I started to slow down by moving my arms away from my body.
I looked from Jim to Brian. They were doing tricks I'd never dream about doing my first time up. I checked my wrist again, close to 2,500 feet.
I reached around and pulled the cord. Nothing. I started to panic and tried again. Nothing. I looked to Jim, who had pulled his cord and toBrian, whohad his chute out now. I tried the reserve cord, again there was nothing. Panic was everywhere now.
I screamed again and looked up to Jim. He was making movements for me to pull the cord, and I tried to show him that nothing was happening. I felt weightless. He was trying to get to me but his chute was slowing him down.
I looked out at the morning sky, so devious in its beauty. Perhaps it knew my fate and wanted to give me something to remember. I looked down, the ground was fast approaching. I couldn't resist pulling the cord repeatedly. Something would give, it had to! My mind screamed in protest.
I could see the airport from where we were. I watched in fascination as one of the planes left the ground minutes before and was headed straight for us. I knew I was going to die, the chute was useless. I was lower than Jim and Brian were, but they were right in the plane's path.
I watched in disbelief as Brian tried helplessly to move out of the way. Just as he was pulled by the suction, I saw his hand grabbing the side of the engine, before his fingers finally gave way and he disappeared inside. There was blood flying out of the back of the engine and little pieces of... well I assumed it was Brian.
There were rope splices and pieces of polyester floating down on and around me. One piece of his chute landed on my shoulder. I looked and it appeared to have piece of his finger attached to it. The blood was soaked right in, turning it a dark maroon color. I couldn't help but gag at the site ofall that blood.
At that moment, it seemed fate had a change of heart, my chute opened. The harness pulled the canopy from it's, and it billowed wide into the sky. I was pulled back up into the air with more force than I was expecting. I think I passed out for a moment.
When I came to, I saw Jim's face was a pasty white, as I crashed down to the ground. I heard a terrifying snap as my leg buckled underneath me. Moments later, I watched as Jim landed flawlessly on the ground. Disentangling himself from his chute and he ran to me.
I was lying unceremoniously on the ground, my leg apparently shattered. I couldn't help myself, I felt my gaze go back to the plane and I couldn't take my eyes from it. The engine that Brian was pulled into was smoking. It looked to be on fire. The plane was trying to ease itself back down to the ground. Even Jim turned to watch as it made a wide turn and headed back to the airport.
It felt like time was standing still, but I knew logically it kept moving. The plane was low enough we could see in the windows of the cabin. People were looking out at us panicked.
We knew it wasn't going to make it back to the tarmac, but we felt safe that it would pass over us and crash some distance away. I felt horrible for wishing it wouldn't crash on me. My mind was going in so many directions that I couldn't think straight.
I watched as the plane nosedived. I could see one of the other engines had cut out. There was no power in the plane and it was heading toward us.
I screamed and I think I shit my new boxers. Brian probably would have found that ironic. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Moments ago I thought I was going to die because of a malfunctioning chute, only to have it open and crash to the ground. Then have a plane I thought was going to miss us completely, head straight for us. The last thing I remember is the world erupted into a giant fireball.