Only one thing kept the bile from racing up my throat to spew, all acrid and bitter, from my mouth: knowing that the sheer force of it would surely have me kiss the pavement 50 some stories below.
One look down.
I suppressed the urge to wretch on the barely recognizable people and cars.
My eyes sealed.
If this was my fate, at least I could control whether or not I watched. Curse my butter fingers, slipping against stone worn from so many years of rain and wind. Thunder summoned lightening, and I felt precipitation smack my cheek, sharp yet warm, carving its way down to my trembling mouth, growing hotter and hotter, seeping between my quivering lips, salty.
“What are you waiting for?” frustration and impatience bellowed below, way below. What sort of spirit was this? “Jump!” Ah, the voice, it pierced the distance, irritable, nagging in my ear. What demon? From what circle of hell?
Laughter rose from somewhere down there, shredding through my belly, eliciting more anxiety to complement my fear. How did I come to this place? Ah, right. By choice (kind of). Fuck corporate-drone-producing, team-building exercises! Fuck base-jumping! FML!
“Look!” there came that voice again, now completely pissed. “Do you need me to come get you?”
Ah, the shame…mhmmm, as if going into the office didn’t suck enough already. I wondered if they could see me nodding from this far up. If they couldn’t, I was sure that everyone in a thousand mile radius could hear my mind screaming, “Get me down from here!”
“Alright,” frustration and impatience managed to yell and heave a sigh all at once, “I’m coming up!”
I told them that I was afraid of heights…real afraid. Like, shove me in front of a rolling, demolition ball of death a la Indiana Jones and I’d stand my ground rather than do this. Like, throw me into a pit of adders instead of this…or, even toss me overboard in the middle of the Atlantic…well, maybe not that. I can’t swim. Anyway…
Why, I wondered, while waiting for that imbecile of a base-jumping instructor, recreation enthusiast or whatever she was, woman to come up and get me, did it only occur to me now that I should have taken one of my sick days today. Oh yeah, that’s right, we don’t get sick days—just PTO, “paid time off.” You get sick, too bad, take it out of your vacation days. Oh but wait, you weren’t actually going to go on vacation were you? What could be more enjoyable than slaving away for the man? I began to wonder if that woman was taking her time in getting to me on purpose. As if I wasn’t suffering enough.
A shadow falls across my face. “Okay…what’s your name?”
First, I forgot that I had to open my mouth. “Ummm…ur…” Then, I forgot my name. “Lyndzi.”
“Okay, Lyndzi, you can open your eyes now…”
Right, open…eyes. Surely, if I concentrated hard enough, I could get my nerves to stop spit firing and follow some straight commands. I wasn’t sure that I had the will power to keep anything down, should I feel the urge to puke once again. I tilted my head up to the waiting storm clouds above only to open lifted eyes to poufy, cotton-candy clouds in a storybook-blue sky. The things an overactive imagination can conjure up, huh? Still, I was pretty sure that the cement below, and the crunching of bones, mangled remnants of self and D-rated horror film gore would all be real enough, should I fall.
Careful, lest I angle my head in such a way as to greet my probable death, I turned my eyes towards the agent of corporate evil. Her outstretched arm waited for me, jerking to the rhythm of her tapping foot, looking remarkably unsteady to me. But, hey, what choice did I have? Gingerly, I peeled back one finger then two.
“You know,” the woman said as I reached to grasp her arm, which she appeared to retract ever so slightly, “even if you fell, you’ve got a harness on so…”
Ah ha! Suspicion roared in me, and I made to cling to the now significantly more trustworthy stone block. At the last second, I am convinced, that woman would have had me take the plunge, unwitting, into oblivion! Anyway, I’d never find out because just as I would have gripped the ledge, my butterfingers slipped, grazing the surface of the stone. Not a real problem, right? Wrong.
I’m not sure if I heard it or saw it, but the rope snapped—not even one of those slow, fraying, dramatic breaks. Nope. A sudden, catastrophic “crack!” sent me into freefall. And then I saw it, a dark flash, slipping in and out of the very extremities of my peripheral vision. A burst of feathers, all gunmetal gray and scintillating in the sun. Well, that’s the last thing I saw.
Dr. Argo looked up from the open journal lain against her desk, to peer over the rims of her thick framed glasses at Lyndzi, who sat shoulders hunched and tense like a cat just out of an impromptu bath. Smoothing inexistent wrinkles in her shirt, Lyndzi waited.
“You didn’t fall, Lyndzi,” began the doctor, lips pursed. “I’ve already had a word with your supervisor and Janine….”
“Who’s Janine?” stammered Lydnzi, bewildered.
“Janine, whom you kindly refer to as…one moment,” the doctor paused to scan through the fresh pages of the journal. “Ah, yes, as ‘that agent of corporate evil.’ Well, Janine assures me that you passed out and that she had to carry or drag you for 50 stories.”
“I am telling you that I fell!” asserted Lyndzi, gesturing towards her journal, limbs flailing just within the bounds of control. Argo’s expression colored even the drab beige upholstery, glass desk and white walls with vivid and blatant disbelief. “It’s all there.”
Heaving a sigh, the doctor reclined backwards in her leather chair, which creaked ever so softly with the rocking motion that kept time with the drumming of Argo’s fingers and the blinking of Lyndzi’s wide, hazel eyes. “Yes, Lyndzi, I see that it’s all here. You know, you weren’t base-jumping by the way. You were supposed to rappel down the side of the building. If you fell, why aren’t you dead or at least hospitalized?”
“Maybe I do need to be hospitalized,” muttered Lyndzi. They’d been here before, at this exact spot…arguing over and over about what was and wasn’t real in Lyndzi’s world. Breathing deeply, Lyndzi decided to test the waters again, “Just before I…fell…I saw something…”
“Right,” interjected the doctor. “This burst of feathers? Surely, Lyndzi, a bird did not flap down and save you. Plus, according to what you’ve written here, it’s uncertain whether your eyes were even open at the time. You were most likely unconscious.”
“The storm at the beginning of this entry, was that real?”
“But you felt so at the time?”
“Lyndzi, you have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is your mere imaginings. It all started in your second tour of duty, remember? After that incident…”
The upward lilt in Dr. Argo’s voice told Lyndzi that she’d ended on a question, but Lyndzi hadn’t the foggiest clue what the doctor was talking about. “Incident?”
For the millionth time, Argo sighed, “Which you can’t remember. That’s why we started this journal keeping exercise for you—to help you, to help me help you. Now, Lyndzi, I assure you that you did not fall. Thank goodness, right?” Argo snapped upright in her chair, folding her arms against the desk as she leaned forward towards her patient. “What you experienced,” continued the doctor with the force of mounting certainty, “was extreme anxiety over the height and the nature of the exercise...”
As her aural faculties checked out, Lyndzi began to wonder whether this—the rapid-fire motions of Dr. Argo’s jaw and gesticulating hands—could be real...again. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” asked Dr. Argo looking pleased and anything but expectant.
There was one more thing, but Lyndzi decided to drop it. “No, nothing else,” replied the patient extending her hand to receive the journal.
“Okay,” nodded Dr. Argo patting the leather cover of the journal before passing it back to the waiting patient. “Keep up with the journal. No matter how mundane, crazy or trivial it may seem, put it in here, okay? It’s the only way that you can help me help you.”
Nodding acquiescence, I excused myself and stumbled out into an empty, quiet hallway. Rubbing my shirt, I scanned the hallway for the closest restroom. All the way at one end stood a men’s room. What architectural genius figured it was a brilliant idea to put men’s and women’s restrooms on alternating floors? Grumbling I shoved open the door to the stairwell with enough force to leave a metallic flaked dent in the cement wall. Up or down? In the name of energy efficiency, I chose down, taking the stairs one at a time, unaware of anything beyond each successive concrete step lit by the waning afternoon light slipping through barred windows. So, it came as no surprise that I ran headlong into some guy making his way up those same stairs. I can’t really take full blame for this. So maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but what was he doing with his eyeballs? Takes two to tangle, right? Right.
Besides, I was the one who ended up in an ungracious heap sprawled across 4 and half stairs. Snickering, I wondered if Dr. Argo would tell me that I’d fabricated this fall too. Blood welled up from a short cut across my arm—proof. Not even caring to ask if I was okay, he—that’s the guy I ran into…or who ran into me—waited with his hands in his pockets. I’m thinking, what are you standing there for, jerk? Anyway, I take my time in getting to my feet, waiting for him to mosey on. He doesn’t. Nope. Instead he “regards me coolly,” lips parting to ask, “which way to Dr. Argo’s office?”
“What?” I ask, brushing off my shirt. There’s a tingling on the flesh of my chest, and I’m reminded of my now interrupted bathroom search. “You a patient of hers?”
He looks at me. There’s something funny about his face. By funny I mean weird, and I realize he isn’t blinking. Weirdo. “You could say that,” answers The Fish. If his answer wasn’t cryptic, his tone was.
“Then her office is 10 floors down and past the receptionist’s desk,” I muttered, dragging myself away before he could spurt his next words. Oh, I suppose you’re wondering what he looked like. Taller than me. By how much, I can’t be sure seeing as he was standing a step or two above me. Anyway, I didn’t get too good of a look at him. He had gray eyes, I remember that. Mousy brown hair. Longish. Hmmm….that’s all I can really remember. That and he was annoying as hell. Something about his aura, I’d say. Or maybe I was just pissy….
Anyway, I continued my trek down to the next floor where I did finally find that bathroom I’d been looking for. It was empty, which was good, cause if it hadn’t been I’d have had to go two floors down again. Facing the mirror, I pulled up my shirt. Sure enough, against my cocoa skin shimmered handprints—two to be exact, on either side of my abdomen, just below my ribcage. It was almost as if someone had dipped their hands in glue and glitter and slapped them against my skin from behind. The tingling had died down a bit…to something of a dull, nagging sensation. Not like an itch. I can’t quite describe it…kind of like a million feathers per square centimeter brushing against my skin, but not ticklish.
Dr. Argo says I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. That Janine woman said I passed out. That much is true. I remember coming to, lain against the pavement, so I guess I must have lost consciousness at some point. But I KNOW I fell. I KNOW it. And this mark, already beginning to fade, yeah…it’s like something or someone swooped down and snatched me from the sky.
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