Mike tumbled headlong for the ground. Below him, all that was visible were layers and layers of thick white clouds. He had long ago given up on screaming. In fact, it had been several years since his last cry for help. There was nobody to hear him scream. And even if they could hear him, they would probably ignore his cries.
The wind tore at his face, making breathing a terribly difficult task. Over the past few years, Mike had gotten used to it. He even found ways to sleep comfortably, well close to comfortably at least, in the free fall. He would roll over on his back, roll up into a ball and close his eyes. Sleep would come in little pieces but it was much better than no sleep at all.
Mike closed his eyes and remembered life before the fall.
He had been a relatively normal guy. His wife had been beautiful, his kids had been adorable. He even had a desk job. Did things get any better than that? Certainly not, he knew that for sure now. Things could never have gotten any better than that. He briefly wondered whether his wife was still beautiful, whether his children were still adorable… How much had they grown over the past few years? Had his wife remarried? Or was she trapped in mourning? He began to wonder exactly how many years he’d been gone.
He broke through another layer of cumulous clouds. Each time he passed through a layer, he feared that he would see the ground below. Yet he never did. Each layer of clouds lead to another layer, sometimes the clouds were thick with angry lightning and pelting rain, yet sometimes they were peaceful and serene. He figured that he was pretty lucky, it had been quite a while since he had hit a bad patch of weather. Perhaps a month. There was really no way of knowing for sure.
Below him there was a slight flash of lightning. It emanated from a thick layer of clouds far below, it would probably be a few hours before he hit it. Yet the sight of a storm sent a wave of sadness through his body. It reminded him of that night so long ago…
It was a terrible night. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring down without a hint of mercy. Mike had just gotten news of a horrible accident. His younger brother Aaron had been shot twice through the head. It was a miracle, but he was still alive. Mike had told Aaron not to join the force, that it was a foolish move. Cops died. They always did.
Yet Aaron was still alive, hanging by a thread, but still alive.
Mike had left work the minute he heard the news. He drove as fast as he could, blowing through red lights and stop signs without a hint of hesitation. He arrived at the hospital and plowed up the stairs to where Aaron lay.
There were tears in Mike’s eyes, he wasn’t sure if they came from the memories or from the wind whipping by at such a tremendous speed. The storm below inched a little closer. The clouds were black and angry, ready and willing to toss Mike about like a rag doll. These storms were dangerous, but not lethal. You didn’t die until you hit the ground. Nobody got out that easy.
Aaron’s wife had been waiting for him in the hall. She was weeping like a child, through the tears she managed to tell Mike what the doctors had told her. Aaron’s brain was not functioning. The only thing keeping him alive was the respirator. If he were to awaken, he would be severely impaired for the rest of his life.
Mike went to his brother and knelt by the bedside for hours. Listening to the mechanical beeping of the respirator. Hoping that Aaron would show some sign of life. There was none. Not even the slightest sign.
Mike left the room to use the restroom. He paid no heed to what he saw in the hall. Aaron’s wife was signing something. A smiling doctor reassured her that it was the right thing to do. Mike walked by without saying a word. It was not until he reached the bathroom doors that he realized what he had just seen.
They were going to pull the plug.
Lightning flashed below. Mike tumbled into the storm cloud, shivering the moment the first drops of rain struck him. He briefly wished that lightning would strike him and end it all. He no longer had the patience to wait for the ground to come. It had been too long already…
He wondered if Aaron felt the same way, as he lay trapped in his mindless coma.
"No." He told himself. Aaron would have survived, he would have been back to his old self in a matter of hours…
If only he could have saved him.
He remembered running down the hallway, back to Aaron’s room. He had skidded into the room just as the respirator gave its final beep. Everything after that was a blur. He did not remember whether he had shouted at or just attacked the doctor. But he remembered one thing as clear as day. The wicked deaths head grin that was spread across the doctor’s face. A grin of victory. The grin abruptly vanished when Mike entered the room.
He watched in horror as his brother heaved his last breath. And for a brief moment, everything was silent.
"He was already gone." Assured the doctor. "I’m sorry…"
The doctor never uttered another word.
Mike lashed out, striking the fool across the throat with all his might. When the doctor hit the ground, Mike continued his assault, kicking the man until he stopped moving. Until he was dead. It had been justice.
The doctor had murdered his brother in order to save money and time. And to make it worse, he had convinced Aaron’s poor broken wife to sign the death warrant.
The wind tore at him as he fell. The rain struck him from all directions, everything became a blur of mindless struggling. The thunder shook him to the very core, and the lightning blinded him with each flash.
Justice had been swift for the doctor.
But for Mike, justice would take it’s sweet time.
He had been sentenced to life in The Chamber.
The Chamber was a large underground complex, loaded with millions of coffin sized rooms. Each tiny room encased a prisoner like himself. Locked in a virtual hell, with no way out. Your body was connected to the system, fed intravenously and drained of wastes via filtration tubes. Each sector in The Chamber was for a different crime. A different simulation inhabited the minds of each prisoner type. Mike had been placed in the Free Fall sector. Where he would tumble down through cloud after cloud until his execution papers went through and the ground rushed up to meet him.
It wasn’t a terrible way to go.
Some prisoners were forced to endure years of utter torture within The Chamber. At least Mike’s was painless… It was simply long and lonely. Trapped in a tiny box with his own memories…
Mike broke through the last of the storm clouds. His eyes grew wide with horror. Below him, stretched a wide expanse of rolling hills and rugged mountains. His horror turned into resignation. The end had finally come. It had taken it’s sweet time, yet here it was, beckoning to him. He would be free at last. I’m coming home, Aaron. He thought to himself.
The ground grew nearer with each second. Each tiny detail grew a little clearer. He could see a house, a flock of sheep… A tiny automobile trucking down a dirt road.
Mike closed his eyes and smiled. He was going home…
He rushed closer and closer to the ground until it was a mere stones throw away. And then the world went black with an abrupt thud.
And they were right, it was perfectly painless.
As a michigan college student, David Allen finds that writing is the best way to evade reality. His other works have been seen in Aphelion, Titan, Dementia and the Writers Hood. Currently David works as the action page editor for the Hood. Also, his first book "The Collection" has just reached print. If you'd like a copy, email David for details.
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