Chapter One: The Flying Man
The building towered above the city, flames bursting out of it’s windows like the mouth of a dragon. The crack of an inner beam threw the crowd evacuating the area into a quickening step, and those who were wounded hobbled with a new found strength. It was going to collapse… soon.
Fire ripped apart the glass of every window. The hopeless prisoners of the higher floors stood on their window-cills and prayed to their gods before throwing themselves into the ashy clouds below; hoping there was some other body on the ground that would save their crushing introduction to the ground. The scene was heartbreaking… and the witnesses turned their heads.
Warped and twisted under the heat, the steel braces holding the tower together started to snap. Inside, the colors of death were scattered everywhere. Blackening smoke consumed everything. Time was running out.
A single man stood on the crest of the tower, arms spread-eagled, with one last wish to fly. His feet teetered on the edge of the stone wall that surrounded the tower’s tip, and he could keep still no longer. The building cracked one final time, and slid down into the crust of the earth. The man thought no longer about fear and stepped off of the slipping ledge, into most certain death… by scientific terms.
As the men and women and children below ran in terror, chased by the doom of possible death… history was repeated. Only once before had this miracle occurred… in this form.
Voices. Voices- all around. Someone was talking to him… telling him to wake up. Wake up from where? Ever since that terrible dream last night about the fire, and the people, and the building- flying. That was when he knew it was a dream. Who can fly?
He threw more water on his face and looked at his reflection. The voices dimmed, and stopped. “Maybe this is still a dream. Maybe this is still my dream- maybe I still havent waken up.” He wondered to himself, touching his face with his wet fingertips again. His unshaven chin felt rough under his thumb. His lips were moist… his eyes puffy and pink like he had just awaken from a sleep. He squinted at himself and pursed his lips. “Why does this feel so real… if it’s all a dream?”
“Because its not a dream.”
He turned his head around rapidly… but no one had entered the bathroom. “Wha- what?”
“It’s not a dream.”
There was the woman’s voice again. He threw his eyes around the room, then back on the mirror in front of him. She sounded so close… right there standing next to him. But there was no one there. Was he going mad? He poured more water over his head and went for the towel. After rubbing his face vigorously with it for a couple moments, he pulled it away from his eyes slowly, as if expecting to see someone from his dream-life to appear before him. But the bearer of the voice was still not there.
“I am in a dream. This is just a really life-like, kind of scary, creepy dream.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, its not a dream.”
“Who are you? Why are you talking to me… and where are you?” He clasped his towel between his fingers with such force that his knuckles were white. “Why cant I see you?”
“I am Neima… and I am here to help you.”
“I don’t need help…”
“Yes you do… you need help understanding. And that is why I am here. I don’t do anything I am not told, and I have been told to help you. Others may come to warn you- but I am only here to help you.”
“Warn me? Warn me of what?” He yelled… as if the form of the speaker would become revealed if he strengthened his sound waves. “Help me? Why? I don’t understand. Go away…”
“Do not be afraid, Michael. I am here to help. I have been sent here to help you understand, not to harm you, but to help you. Go, look at the tv, and you will find that the world you are in right now is not that of the dream world, but the real, live, physical world.”
“If this is not a dream, then who are you? How can I not see you? And how do you know my name?”
“Many questions… but I have no time to answer anything right now. Go, see what it is that I am saying- that I am telling the truth, and I will return again to explain more better your destiny. The Father has much for you to do, and it is time for you to choose.”
“Choose? Choose what?” His voice faltered.
The whining blur of the television screen bore into his brain. The building had fallen. People had died. It was all true. If it were a dream the tears wouldn’t shake his body, wouldn’t sting the cuts on his hands, wouldn’t drip from his face and fall into his lap. Emotion finally hit him- fear, grief, disbelief. He couldn’t explain the feelings, only knew that they existed.
He wasn’t a very emotional guy every day. He lived a normal life, with a normal job… but what of this remarkable, insane thing? Did he fly off of that tower? He remembered the feeling- weightlessness, his strength lifting him out of the reaches of gravity and throwing him into the sky. Some hidden force holding his muscles horizontal to the ground, and the wind sifting through his hair and beating at his face as if in protest at the seemingly impossible intrusion. If he hadn’t flown… then how did he know so well the sights of a bird over the city? He had never flown in an airplane… he had never ridden in a helicopter. What was happening to him? Was he turning delusional?
He reached for the remote and switched off of the television. The images of the fire, the collapse of the building, remained playing in his mind’s eye in defiance of the blank screen before him. He had worked in that building. He knew those people. He was just an ordinary mail-man… yet he survived. He had gone to work that morning… he had done his duties just as before. Like any other day. Except this day was different. There was an explosion, and he was on the top floor, about to descend. He was about to step into the service elevator when the whole building shook. He remembered. His feet trembled under him, and the tremor brought the packages in his arms tumbling onto the floor. The elevator doors closed, and he bent over to pick up the fallen packages… but some one shouted. Said something about a bomb… or an explosion.
“I walked to the window… with the others.” He murmured to himself. “The building was clearly on fire, but we couldn’t see anything from standing inside. People around were panicking. They started making for the elevator. The alarm went off.” He recited the scene in his mind. He had raced to the stairs, but down was impossible. Within the few short minutes of confusion, the explosive bursts of fire had reached the stairs… no one could go down from above, or up from below. They were trapped.
“I didn’t feel anything. I saw the others holding each other and screaming and crying. One man bashed open the window and started yelling for help, but no one could hear us. We were too high up.” He clutched the arm of the chair with his burnt hand, knuckles white. The lady, Suzi- she was the receptionist- yelled that they had to try to get down somehow. She and the others went down the stairs. The elevator wasn’t safe. The man shouting out of the window ran to the phone. Tried to call someone- his wife… his children. Told them that he was stuck, that it was going to be okay, that he loved them. That he would see them in heaven.
Michael let out a shattering cry. The words of this man echoing in his mind broke his heart. He had stood close to him, listening to his every word.
“What is your name?” He had said.
“Ted… Ted Beckett.” The man replied, setting down the phone. “Here- you can use it now.”
“Michael. Michael Smithers. No… thanks. I- I have no one to call.”
Ted held his breath. Smoke was starting to lift up outside. He looked out into the sky and followed the clouds with his eyes. “How did this happen?”
“I don’t know.” Michael shook. They stayed together until the fire reached the top of the stairs. Then they went up to the roof. There was no escape, unless some miracle came and rescued them. They didn’t speak for a long time. The tower started cracking, started shifting. It was going to fall.
“We have to get off of this roof.” Ted murmured. “I don’t want to die up here and get buried under this, maybe never get found. My family- I want them to have my body.”
“We get buried sooner or later, Ted.” Michael threw an arm around his shoulders, in attempt of some comfort. But Ted was impatient. He had paced long enough on top, the smoke blowing over them and filling their lungs, the wind only occasionally ceasing to provide enough fresh air to torture them. He had gritted his teeth and given Michael a firm hug. Then after a sprint and a full leap, he descended into the blackness. Michael had gripped the stone edge, heart pounding out of his jacket. The mail bag was still slung over his shoulder. He dipped his hand in, and pulled out a handful of envelopes, letting them go in the wind. The tower let out another crack, and a sigh. It tipped.
“God… God. Help me. If you’re real… save me from this!” Michael had thought. He dropped the bag over the ledge, and took a step onto the stone wall that divided him from the ground and death. His heart was screaming to his brain- THIS IS CRAZY! Every instinct in his body shook in protest. He spread his arms like the wingspan of an eagle, and let out a shuddering breath.
The feeling was slowly returning to his fingertips. He stood shakily from the arm-chair in the middle of his living room, and looked around him, unsure of what to do next. There was no work to go to, but he had no desire to stay around his apartment doing nothing.
What do I do with this? Michael dragged a jacket over his plaid, fleece shirt, and pulled a baseball cap over his black short hair. His brilliant blue eyes filled with unexpected tears. The lone picture sitting next to the stack of mail and cordless phone struck him in his heart like every time he looked at it. He picked it up gingerly and gazed into the pair of eyes he had lost a long time ago.
It was a picture of a boy and a girl. The girl had long, black hair, gorgeous green eyes, a beautiful beaming pink smile, and fair vanilla skin. She was seventeen years old.
Michael spoke to his younger self, the tousle-haired, sky-eyed teenager who appeared to have less cares then he had now as a man. 'Mike, you should have taken care of her better. I need her right now.' A single crystalline tear coursed down his cheek and found itself on the chin of the girl in the picture.
He set it down and pulled open the creaky door of the apartment and closed it firmly behind him. The yellowing wallpaper of the hallway lead out to a staircase of deep, dark, wood that creaked at every shift of weight. It twisted to the rows of doors on the first floor, and then opened out a glass door into the chilling breeze of the city.
Sirens, thousands it sounded like, still filled the air somewhere in the city, the echoes jumping back and forth between the buildings like double-dutch. This part of the world was overcast, and the tower of ash rising from the fallen tower blanketed the whole city in grey. The street was mildly populated. Authorities on the t.v. and radio had already cleared this area, saying that based on the wind direction and the size of the cloud of smoke and soot wouldn’t affect it. Michael was glad. He had no where to go if he had to evacuate.
He sunk his hands into the deep pockets of his jacket and rattled the change, wads of receipts and keys that live there. The three blocks to the subway was trudged in silence, just the thoughts between his ears loud enough for only him to hear disrupted the silence of the late winter afternoon. Small buds on the few trees scattered down the blocks suggested incoming spring, but the temperature still spoke of dwindling March weather.
Flashes of Ted, the fire, and the fear rampaged his mind as he thought. He couldn’t explain the flying. He couldn’t explain any of it how did the building start burning anyway? Did something hit it, like, an airplane or helecopter? Was it a bomb? Was it a gas explosion? How many people had died?
“He jumped. He jumped over the ledge, off of the roof, and died.” Michael shook. Being so close to death had sparked him with emotions he couldn’t deal with. If he had truly flown, why hadnt he flown back and helped the people trapped in the building… did he truly fly? He could hardly believe it, but if he was alive now, then he must have. Was he mad? Why did he fly? How?
His face contorted under the shadow cast by the brim of the hat. And what of the voice? The voice telling him it wasn’t a dream; the woman’s voice. Who was it? Where did it come from? Why wasn’t he afraid of it? Michael stopped for a moment. Ahh, he wasn’t afraid of it… of her. Strange.
Too many unanswerable questions.
The subway cars rattled down the tracks, squealing to their kingdom of tunnels like children. The people inside clutched their seats with their lives; mothers onto their children and students onto their backpacks. The women whispered loudly to each other, the worlds “burning building” and “How many dead so far” clearly heard over the squealing sub-cars.
Michael jumped off the train a couple minutes later, and took the steps to the surface two-at-a-time.
The outskirts of the city had more trees, and the buildings were farther apart. More people were out walking around, as if a thousand people hadnt died just a little ways away. The wind blew through the trees softly, pushing any soot that might have reached here away in the opposite direction.
Liset was safe.
Michael by-passed the steps and walked up the ramp of the “Home for the Psychologically and Physically Dependant” building. Today was Thursday, and he always went to see her every weekday, after work. And since there was no work today, he was there early.
The receptionist, Latonya, looked up and smiled. “Hey Michael, you’re early.” She hesitated. “I was wondering if you were going to come- because of the –“ She pointed to the little television hanging off the wall next to a picture of a vase of flowers in the waiting room. It squawked and resumed reporting about the burning devastation that was left of his workplace just a few hours before.
Michael nodded and showed her his hands. They were mottled red, scabs already forming on the tops of his wrists where a part of burning ceiling plaster fell. He had lifted his arms to sheild his head and it had hit them before dropping to the ground.
“Oh, my, Michael!” Latonya gasped. “Did you do anything for those? You need to go to the emergency room.”
Michael shook his head. “I’m fine… I put some slave on them… I can hardly feel any pain. Besides, there are so many more people who need help more than I. I’m just glad I got out…”
Latonya nodded and switched off the little squawking tv, as if sensing the pain it was causing him to hear it. “Well, hunny, she should be ready to see you. And if you give me a second, Ill see if I cant find some burn ointment and gauze to treat those hands.” She smiled her well-known sparkling teeth and ushered him down the hallway.
White as if bleached and smelling like rubbing alcohol and latex, the rooms and hallways of the P&PD building reminded Michael of a slightly less formal hospital. The residents occupying the rooms of these corridors had the same expressions as patients in a hospital; forlorn, vacant, silent. Their eyes said nothing, as if their souls had been taken from them and left just an empty, helpless shell.
Liset sat in her rocking chair in room 385. Michael always knocked before entering, even though she never acknowledged his presence. Sometimes he brought a book or a game, and read to her, or played against himself, playing both himself and her in the game. She sat quiet and just watched the Christmas lights he had long ago hung from the ceiling of her room twinkle.
She had ragged, unbrushed strands of black hair that lay to her chest and about her face and ears. Sometimes, if she let him, he would brush her hair and put it into a braid or a bow. The few strands of grey on the top of her head were gradually multiplying these last few years. Her green eyes were lost and dull, only sparkling from the twinkling reflection of the Christmas lights.
Michael knocked quietly and after a few moments, walked in.
“Hey, Liset. I’m here. Sorry I’m a little early, but I don’t have work today.” He sat on the couch next to her rocking chair. “This week has been so hectic, Lis. Today was the strangest. The Calvin Hosthen Building I work in blew up, Lis. I was on my route and was on the top floor when the whole building shook and… I was so scared, Liset. All I could think of was that if I died, who would come and take care of you? Who would visit you and play Parcheesi and Monopoly with you… I would never leave you, Lis.” He took a couple breaths to catch up to his thoughts.
“We, me and this other guy, Ted, went up to the roof. The smoke was so thick and we could hardly see, but there was no fire, so it was better. Ted jumped off of the ledge, because he didn’t want to die on the roof. I didn’t either, Lis, but I was going to jump, too It was too hard to breathe up there… but I flew, Lis! I jumped, and spread my arms, and I cant explain why or how, but I soared over the buildings, out of the smoke, and home to my apartment. It was crazy.”
Liset rocked back and forth slowly in her rocking-chair, always the same rhythm, head tilted towards the white lights, ears deaf to his story.
“You’re all I have, Liset. I would never leave you, I promise.” Michael concluded. A couple minutes of silence filled the space in the room, then he began again. “Remember when that girl Katelyn stole your painting of the flower garden behind the orphanage? You painted those pink and white peonies so beautifully- she stole it and tried to pass if off as her own, but the Teacher… Ms Keenhyn… knew it was your because you were the only one who was that good. Katelyn fumed for days and threw it away. You cried because you wanted it back…” Michael breathed quietly. “And I went and dove into all of the school’s dumpsters to find it and get it back for you. I was covered in every kind of junk and garbage-goo you could think of when I finally found it.”
He chuckled. “You kissed me Liset. How old were we? I was 9… you were 6? 7?” The smile on his face only appeared during the stories he told about her. The sparkle in his eye as he remembered.
The woman’s small lips remained pursed, eyes remained an expressionless sea of green.
Michael held his breath, and lifted his hand over her head, longing to touch a strand of hair, but he let it drop back onto his lap.
He sighed and sat back against the cushion. Quiet, dim polka music made its way from down the hall. He smiled feebily and went on again.
“I miss you, Lis. I really , really miss you. I told myself Id never talk like this, only happy stuff, but today… Today’s different. I really need you here today, but I cant have that, I know.” He swallowed. “Today’s the day we met, Liset, thirty-five years ago. You were five, and you had just started kindergarten. Paulie Martin was making fun of your short hair, remember? It was really short, like a boy’s. But you were wearing this little yellow jumper that was too small, and huge boots on your feet. I pushed him down at recess. We were friends ever since, despite the age difference.”
Latonya came in at that moment, holding ointment and gauze. “Okay, Michael, lets look at them hands of yours; see what the damage is.” She took his hands in her own dark, soft, slightly-wrinkled ones and looked them over carefully. After wrapping them up snugly, she patted them and stood up. “You’ll live, hun. You’re lucky to come out with your life.”
“Do you know how the fire started?” Michael whispered, though no one but Liset was within earshot.
Latonya nodded. “Plane. The tv said it was an accident. The flight had called twenty minutes prior about engine trouble and were attempting a crash landing when the wind blew them in the course of the tower.”
Michael nodded slowly. “Accident?”
Latonya nodded. “I’m really, really sorry Michael.” She patted his back sympathetically and departed, stopping at the doorway. “Did you know many people who also worked there?” She asked, looking over her shoulder.
Michael shook his head. “Not really. I knew the receptionists names, but I didn’t have any friends. But regardless if I knew them, they were still people.”
Latonya pursed her lips into a empathetic smile. “If you need anything, you just ask, ok, dear?”
Michael nodded and looked back to Liset. She was still focusing unblinkingly on the lights dangling from the ceiling. He sighed, his thoughts still lingering on the far away memories of long ago.
The next couple of hours sifted through time as he read the next chapter in the book “From the Other Side of the Fence”, a book Liset long ago once read to him. It was set in World War 2… and though the words rolling off of his tongue was not in her voice, he couldn’t help but remember the smooth, lively laugh she used to give when she heard something funny, or was stumbling over a word while reading out-loud, or a cricket had tickled her palm when she held it… Tears fought his eyes as he finished the chapter, and closed the cover, leaving the old, faded marker in the spot. On the inside cover held a scribble in ink- To Liset, from Mike; Happy Birthday, August 28th 1989. She was turning seventeen. It was arguably her favorite book, and he had found it at a used book store. Saved it ever since… the accident.
It was dark and threatening to rain when Latonya returned to let him know visiting hours were over. Michael nodded and shook his head. “Thirty-five years, Latonya. We met thirty-five years today.” He looked at her with an expression of pain and hurt.
Latonya nodded. “I know, hun. You told me about it thirteen years ago, when you brought her in. I haven’t forgotten.”
Michael shook, putting his hand to his forehead. “It was all my fault, Latonya.”
Latonya took a seat next to him on the couch. “Don’t you say that, Michael, don’t you even say that! It wasn’t your fault that bus crashed… it wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t do anything about it, darling… don’t blame yourself for that.”
Michael finally let the tears flow. His body wracked with sobs. “I told her to go… It was my idea to go to that church that day. It was my idea to stay later, to go to that kids meeting. We stayed to hear the guy speak… I thought it was going to be interesting. She wanted to leave… said we were going to get into trouble if we stayed any loner. But she stayed for me. I thought things were going to get better… the guy said believing would make everything better.”
“What guy, Michael?” She was confused.
“The guy at the church. He wasn’t the leader, just some guy from the church. There were other kids our age there, a bunch of kids from our highschool even. We stood at the back… so we could leave without disturbing anyone whenever we wanted.” Michael sat up and looked at the lights along with Liset. “The guy said a lot of wonderful things. About how we don’t have to live with pain in our life… and how he knew someone who could take the pain away. I thought it was a good idea to listen to him… but nothing happened. I didn’t know what to expect. We left, and took the next bus back home, and… well it all got worse. Liset got really hurt. Nothing got better. The pain- it didn’t go away.”
Tears started forming in Latonya’s eyes, too. Although Liset’s file had mentioned a bus crash, she had never heard the whole story from anyone, let alone Michael. Her hand laid on her shoulder, she felt helpless against his pain.
“He was supposed to fix things. He was supposed to make things better. He was supposed to be the Father of a family I could finally belong to. That’s what the guy said. But the only thing He did for me was take away from me the only person I ever belonged to. Liset was my only friend, she was like my sister… I loved her. I love her.”
“He?” Latonya asked.
“God.” Michael took a deep breath and stood up, wiping the tears from his eyes with his wrapped hands. He looked at Liset one last time, letting his fingertips touch her cheek. “God, God, why did you do this to us? Why don’t you love her? If you loved her, you would heal her.” He whispered, too quiet for Latonya to overhear. And then turned and left the room.
The walk home was cold and wet. He slopped through the puddles, huddled against the wind and rain with the thickness of his only jacket protecting him. The neon lights of the street shops illuminated a watery path for him as he made his way home. The drops of precipitation on his face mingled with the tears, and no one could tell the difference.
Michael sat up in bed and looked over the sheets in bleary delirium. “What?”
“Wake up, Michael. Its I, Neima. Wake up.”
Again, the voice bore no body, but it came from just beyond his nightstand. He looked around, instantly awake. “Who are you? Why do you keep coming here?”
“I am here to help you understand. But now, it is time for you to wake up and check your phone. You will understand. Get up!”
Michael rolled out of bed and stretched, his back cracking in protest. He dragged his feet out to the living room, where the small table holding the mail and the picture also carried the phone. The voicemail light was flashing, and he picked it up to listen to them.
“Michael, its Latonya, from the Home? You just left, and I know you wont get this until you get home, but you’ve got to get back here! Ill explain when you get here… just hurry.”
“Michael, its Latonya again… if you havent gotten my previous message yet, just come tomorrow… I don’t understand what’s happening, but Liset wanted- well just come in as soon as you can. Call me when you get this… have a good night.”
“Hey, Michael, its Latonya again… Im just calling to tell you to not panic… its not a bad thing-“ Latonya was crying. “It’s a miracle, Michael. It was right after you touched her, Michael- I cant explain it, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t think it was something terrible… call me when you get this. Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Michael, goodmorning, and I hope to see you here this morning. I don’t know what to do, here… Just come on over, even if its not visiting hours yet. Bye-bye.”
Michael started to tremble. What was the meaning of these messages? What was Latonya talking about? Why didn’t she elaborate? But before he could dial the phone number of the home, the phone rang in his hands. He pressed the pick-up button quickly.
“Latonya? Whats going on? I am so confused-“
Michael gasped, almost dropping the phone. His hands shook, and he swallowed his emotion. “Lis?”
“Mike, I don’t know what’s going on… this woman Latonya told me you were going to come soon to get me… what happened? All I remember is the bus…”
Michael choked back a sob. “Ill be right there, Liset. Ill explain everything. The bus crashed… what happened? How did you get back from… the way you were? Nevermind, Lis, Ill be there right away.”
Within minutes later he was dressed and throwing himself out the door. The rain had turned to snow overnight and flakes were floating all around him, whirling around his legs as he ran.