From the Prison Writing Project
Crash, boom, clang!
It wasn’t the normal alarm clock sound, but it reached inside the vacant space where my mind sleeps.
Jolted awake, like racing into daylight from the darkness of a cave. The brightness blinding my consciousness.
Instantly I’m reminded of where I’m at. My eyelids are the only thing that has moved so far. My head is heavy, molded into that comfy spot of my pillow.
My brain realizes that the sounds I heard came from just outside our open cell door. The janitor’s closet is right next to us. I lay there wondering why, whoever it is, why they can’t move the cleaning supplies in a more respectful and quiet manner. After all, it’s 5 a.m. and people are still sleeping.
Are they just clumsy, or do they do it on purpose? Maybe they don’t have any consideration for others. If that’s the case, haven’t they realized that being a selfish person is largely why we are all here to begin with? My eyes began drifting shut, so I could return to the darkness. But I can still hear them fumbling around over there. I briefly wondered why I couldn’t shut my ears, just like I did my eyes.
I had to let all that go, it was too much to contemplate right now. So I rolled over and snuggled my blankets up under my chin. The warmth and comfort was incredible. I dragged the sleeve of my sweatshirt over my eyes to darken my view to black. Took in a deep breath then exhaled slowly, and as I did, my thoughts relaxed into the nothingness that was before. I could sleep for at least another hour.
As the petals of my consciousness closed in on my mind, I found myself clinging to a massive rock wall like a tiny bug. I was in the middle of an endless vertical cliff; glancing down I could see the valley floor some thousand feet below me. Looking up the wall extended at least that far in that direction. Terrified, I began shaking. I saw no safety ropes or lifelines and didn’t understand how I got here. My fingertips and toes were beginning to cramp as I fought to hold myself steady against the powers of gravity. Right now, all that gravity wants to do is to destroy me, and pull me down into its eternal grip. Death would be certain.
From what I could see, I was all alone on this wall. The valley below stretched on for miles into the abyss of the distant horizon on both my left and my right. I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation, so extreme it was, that it felt like I was on a different planet. No one can help me now. I felt the heaviness of hopelessness creeping in on me. Desolate and desperate I was, but was I damned?
The blue sky stretched its canopy above me. The sun was way over on my right side. It illuminated the lush green textures of the valley floor below and cast shadows sideways across the stone wall of which I now clung. The wall had a darkness about it that disturbed my concentration.
My muscles were burning and I realized that my tremors were coming from my fear of plummeting to my death at the slightest wrong move.
Here I am, without a parachute. How handy would one of those be at this very moment? I’ve never used a parachute before, why am I thinking about that? It couldn’t be that hard. What am I doing here? I’m not making any sense. I must be oxygen deprived, or something, at this elevation. I need to stay focused on surviving and figure a way out of this predicament.
Slowly I inched my way upward, looking and feeling for each little handhold. My body was so close to the rock that I felt like a snake crawling up a vertical wall, sweat was pouring down my face, burning my eyes. I carefully turned my head to wipe it away with my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large yellow bird. It had big cartoon eyes which were peering through an even bigger pair of black frame glasses. He was casually flapping his wings, barely remaining in flight. That’s absurd, I thought, but somehow it all seemed to fit the huge pelican-type beak it had. There was something hanging around his neck. It looked like a key of some sort. As it dangled and moved around, rays of sunlight flashed off its surface and into my eyes. I held on tight as I studied this unlikely creature. Then it happened, as if in slow motion: that yellow bird turned its head and looked at me. We made eye contact for only a second before it was directly behind me, out of sight. That’s when I heard a cackling laughter that echoed down the valley. I think he just laughed at me. I spun my head around and watched him fly away. Not giving me another thought. I guess my precarious position probably looked pretty funny to him. Turning back to the darkness in front of me I whispered the words, “if only I had wings…that would be the key…to get my life back.”
Breathe, I told myself. I need oxygen. Regaining my focus, I looked up at my seemingly impossible task. It was exhausting.
As I climbed ever so slowly, I kept feeling a tug on my shoulders. Downward it pulled, first on my left, then on my right. Finally, I glanced down and could see there were two straps, one going under each arm.
Apparently I had some kind of pack on my back. Somehow I was sure that before—it wasn’t there. I’m almost certain of it.
All of a sudden, I found myself standing on the safety of a small ledge. It was just big enough to allow me to slide that pack off my shoulders and check what was inside of it. What I found was a small dome tent. What the hell am I doing with a tent? I held it up by the corners, then unzipped the curved doorway.
A little 2-man tent it seemed.
A crazy idea was beginning to form in my mind as I glanced up at the cliff wall above me. Impossible looking, probably another thousand feet to the top. I was literally in the middle of nowhere. A fly on the wall, but I had no wings. Unless…
Looking at the tent, I knew the floor had 4 corners. So I carefully held it up by the front 2 corners, letting the back of the tent fall down to the ground by my feet. Judging it to be about the right size, I stepped into its arched doorway. I was now standing inside the tent with only my head sticking out the doorway. The floor of the tent was standing up vertically right in front of me.
Looking out over the thousand foot drop, I became dizzy and felt a little crazy with the idea that was growing inside of me, out of desperation.
I raised my hands and arms inside the tent, stretching them outward to their fullest extent. They found the 2 front corners of the floor, creating a tight edge that stretched across my chest, just like I’d hoped.
Keeping my head outside the opening, this tent was just the right size.
I took several deep breaths, contemplating what I was about to do. Not even sure that it will work, but I’ve seen it done many times on T.V., so it had to be possible, right? Well, I wasn’t so sure now, but there was no turning back. Too bad this will never make it on YouTube.
With my arms spread wide and my head sticking out of the opening, the dome sagged down behind me. All that was left for me to do was to spread my feet to stretch out the other 2 corners at the back of the tent. In theory, this should bring the bottom of the tent taut between all 4 corners.
As I stood there, telling myself this will work, I felt like one of those flying squirrels that spread their legs like wings when they jump from tree to tree. Nature gave them a membrane of furry skin to catch the air as they glide. Why wouldn’t it work for me?
I looked over my contraption and decided that it was now or never. Maybe with any luck, the dome part of the tent will inflate to slow me down even more. Yeah, I had to believe in it. I saw it as my only escape.
Before I was done convincing myself that I was ready, a gust of wind swept behind me and pushed me over the edge. I screamed in fear as I fell tumbling head over heels, forgetting my plan, fear had sucked the air out of my lungs. I swear I saw the devil with his evil grin opening up death’s door for me. I called out to God, “Please help me!” flipping end for end.
Then like some sort of superhero, I spread my arms and legs wide, bringing the bottom of the tent tight once again. My scream became the words of insanity as I blurted out as loud as I could, “I am the squirrel!” And at that moment my tumble stalled into a clumsy freefall as I struggled to gain control.
The air rushed under me with incredible force, causing a noisy undulation of the bottom material of the tent. I fought to keep all 4 corners tight. My muscles were on fire. Then the canopy of the dome made a loud popping noise as it filled with air and helped to slow my fall. I began breathing a little easier.
I couldn’t believe it, it was working. I seemed to be controlling my descent. Yes, I was flying! No, it was more like how Buzz Lightyear put it in that Toy Story movie. I was falling with style!
I was just beginning to wonder how I was going to land without breaking my neck, when I must’ve hit a thermal column rising up from the Earth’s surface. It lifted me up into a smooth soaring glide, just like when a hawk flies in those big circles without ever flapping its wings.
I used that brief moment to eye a spot to land. I needed to avoid a crash landing if it all possible. When it came into view I was relieved; I had spotted a river at the bottom of the valley. That made sense, but could I ever make it there in this flying squirrel tent?
I swooped back and forth, sort of like how a bat flies, but in a slower drifting motion. I was starting to enjoy this feeling of flying like a bird. Where was that big eyed laughing bird now? Looking around, I was shocked at what I saw coming over the far hills on the opposite side of the valley.
It had a fluctuating orange and pink iridescent glow about it. Electric colors moved over its surface in a pulsating rhythm. It was unbelievable huge. It had spider-type legs made of steel. It must’ve been 500 hundred feet tall. With its articulated mechanical movement, it stepped over the hills on the horizon, as easy as an ant crawls over an anthill. It covered a lot of ground in a hurry. Its eyes were fierce with rage and it had fangs that looked like huge daggers that were stabbing towards the ground.
My concentration faltered and I began to tumble once again, falling faster to my certain death.
No time to scream, no time to breathe, just a sheer panic as this new terror eyed me from across the way. If I didn’t die from the fall, I was sure this thing would eat me alive because it was now headed straight for me. I had no time left.
I regained some control over my flight then manifested a scream for help that came from deep within my soul. It was with such great force that it shook the entire world around me. Like an earthquake in fast forward spreading out in every direction.
That strangely colorful spider monster-thing was nearly upon me when it began to vibrate as my scream echoed back and forth with more intensity across the valley. The vibration became so severe that it stopped moving towards me and just stood there shaking violently. A loud hum arose from the vibrations and all my vision became blurred from the motion. Then a succession of thunderous crashes deafened my senses. The noise was caused by all of its joints in all of its legs snapping apart and falling to the ground in huge chunks of useless parts.
Even the body had broken in two. All that iridescence turned to a heap of rusted metal in an instant. The threat was gone. Silence returned, but out of the broken body came something towards me. I couldn’t believe it, it was that funny looking yellow bird with glasses. The closer he came to me, I could see what he held in his claws. It was the key that was hanging around his neck before. We were fast approaching each other on a collision course. He was heading straight for me. Right before impact he spread his wings and arched upward, covering my entire field of vision. He let go of the key and it fell over my head and around my neck. As he disappeared from view I could hear his distant words saying, “Go live your life.”
In a blink of an eye, it was like jumping to another part of a movie. I found myself gliding right over the river—which, just moments ago looked so far away.
Amazingly I coasted quite smoothly down into the slow moving current. As I sank into that cold water, I awoke in a shock!
Oddly, I found myself still in my bed once again with only my eyes open.
I had a new urgency now, I had to get up and head to the bathroom. I was about to wet my pants.
Thinking of that cold river and the way I was holding my sheets and blankets made me laugh a little as my memory of the flying squirrel tent started to fade away.
I shook my head, smiling at my silly tale of terror—probably brought on because nature was calling. I threw off my blanket, jumped out of bed and headed to the can.
As relief came to me I thought—a crazy, crazy dream. What does it all mean? Washing my hands I looked into the mirror and stood there dumbfounded. Staring at the key that was hanging around my neck, I picked it up. Inscribed on it was, “Go live your life.” Then like a vapor, the key disintegrated into thin air. Was I still in a dream? All the details began to rapidly fade into the ether. Tattered fragments are all that remain.
One thing is for sure, it’s the beginning of a brand new day. Time to go live my best life.