| Catapult Alumni
Blue. A vast expanse of faded denim dotted with cotton-ball white plumes. Will drew a breath. And it was agony, a red flash of burning that felt like an anvil had been dropped upon his chest. He tried again, just a small gulp of air this time. The pain was still there, but deep orange […]
Blue. A vast expanse of faded denim dotted with cotton-ball white plumes. Will drew a breath. And it was agony, a red flash of burning that felt like an anvil had been dropped upon his chest. He tried again, just a small gulp of air this time. The pain was still there, but deep orange like the soft lick of a flame rather than an inferno. Another gulp. More orange. Okay then, he thought. Shallow breaths. Small, shallow breaths and you’ll be fine.
He lay there for a moment, taking in those careful, tiny sips of air and looking up at the sky. His vision cleared as the oxygen made its way into his brain. He could see the treetops now, along the edges of his sight, their evergreen tips swaying in the light breeze.
Went off the trail? He wondered. Idiot. What was I thinking, closing my eyes?
He tried to evaluate what had happened, where his injuries might be. Fingers? Stiff but mobile. Toes? Hard to tell with them still encased in his ski boots. Will strained to move his legs, to bend a knee or even and ankle, anything that might help him get to his feet. Frustration rising, he jerked one knee to a forty-five degree angle, the resultant pain crashed through his torso like a rampaging bull. The world slid sideways and a black fog crept over his vision, as though dusk had come without warning.
Nope nope, stay awake. Stay awake.
Will waited a few minutes, taking his small sips of air, then slowly, glacially slowly, straightened his leg. Okay. The good news is you didn’t break your back. Or your neck. No way you can be paralyzed and feel this much pain, right?
He rested. Then, in tiny increments, Will was able to get his arms moving. He managed to get his left hand to his face, feeling for any broken bones or injuries. His head was throbbing like the morning after a good bender but his gloves came away clean – no sign of blood.
Taking as deep a breath as his battered body would allow, Will gathered his strength to call out for help. He couldn’t be very far off the trail. He could see where the treeline ended so the ski slope had to be nearby. He would call for help and help would come and all would be well. Yes. He slowly filled his lungs and opened his mouth.
The only thing coming from his throat was pain and fire. The smallest wheeze slipped out of him, followed by a fit of coughing. Fuzzy grey dots swam before his eyes, the sky and trees faded slightly. He waited, waited for the darkness to abate, for the pain to subside. Small sips of air.
Waiting didn’t help. Whatever the impact had done to him, it had taken his voice. His chest, back, and throat were the main sources of the excruciating pain and, with each attempt at a shout or a scream, the sensation grew worse.
Was this what it was like for April? he thought. Locked inside her own head without any way to be heard? No. It was different with her, it had to have been. She was brain dead and my brain is very much alive, thank you.
He thought of his wife, six months in her grave now. Her smile, how it had charmed him. Her laugh, how it had always eased his sorrows. Her grating tone when she nagged him about why they never took vacations anymore and why he didn’t want to have children and and and… a million other complaints.
But April was gone and he was not. Will drew in a breath and pushed it out of his ruined larynx with all his might. His primal scream came out but a whisper lost in the breeze, borne away with no one to hear it. Painful sobs racked his body and the tears tracked warm trails down his chilled skin. He was tired, so very tired.
No. I won’t die like this. No.
Solitude. Just what he needed. A fresh fall of late season powder meant a chance to squeeze in a few more trips down the slope. He was in a rage. Fucking Alex. He could kill him. Murder not being an option, Will took his aggression out on the slopes instead. He had never taken the double diamond run before but knew he had the skills to handle it, whatever the lodge pro might have had to say about it. The challenge would help him focus, as well as take his mind off the coming fallout from work.
The grade was steep, steeper than he was used to, and fast. Will leaned to one side, then the other, awkwardly skidding his way down the grueling run. He glanced back over his shoulder, hoping he wasn’t making a spectacle of himself in front of anyone he might want to hit up at the bar later. The track of the slope took a sharp turn to the right. Will didn’t.
“Will? Wake up. It’s time.”
The voice startled Will. Had he been dreaming? He wasn’t flying down the slope – he was lying in the snow, a tangle of limbs and skis.
“Will?” the voice came again, singsonging his name. Her voice.
“Hello?” he whispered, struggling to make his vocal cords function. “Who’s there? Help.”
“It’s just you and me, babe.”
He turned his head to the left and saw here there, sitting in the snow. April. His dead wife was sitting cross-legged in the snow wearing her favorite pair of old jeans, the ones with the worn spot at the knee, and a green blouse with flowing, lace-trimmed sleeves. The green popped against the white, so bright it almost hurt. It was the blouse he had bought for her at the Scottish Heritage Festival back when they were still dating. She’d had such long hair back then, a fiery cascade of heavy waves, not short like it was now. And she had smiled back then, all long hair and engaging laughter. Over the years her smile had worn away, keeping pace with the trimming away of her locks, both eroded by the ebb and flow of their tumultuous marriage.
“You’re not here. You’re dead.”
“Yeah,” April shrugged. “I know it. And yet…”
Will started to laugh and was racked by a spasm of coughing instead. The pain was enormous and he felt flecks of moisture spraying back into his face. Blood. Wonderful.
“I’m delusional,” he said to his dead wife.
“You’re here to gloat, I suppose. Is this payback? It’s not my fault you died, you know.”
“I don’t blame you for that. Well, not anymore. Not a whole lot of gloating and grudge holding in the afterlife. Finding out about your side piece may have been what pushed me out into that rainy night, but you weren’t the one who lost control and wrapped my car around a tree.”
“Your parents felt differently. Your bitch of a mother assaulted me at the funeral, for fuck’s sake.”
April laughed, a sweet and delicate sound he didn’t realized he had missed so deeply until he heard it. “Yes, my mother never liked you one bit. She wanted grandchildren, and you kept saying “next year, after I get this promotion, after we buy a bigger house”. Always later, later, later. All you did was, how did she put it? Turn her only daughter from teacher to turnip? Comatose or not, I heard that.”
Will turned away, eyes searching for the trail, any sign of other (living) humans nearby. Things were dimmer now, the shadows lengthening in a golden light.
“Not that it matters,” April said, “but how did this happen, Will? You’re not a champion skier but this?” she gestured at his broken body.
“This is Alex’s fault,” the words surprised him even as they came out of his own mouth.
April clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes – an unconscious gesture that used to make Will want to slap her smug face. “Alex? What, he pushed you off the trail into the trees?”
“He betrayed me. After all I’d done for him. He stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong and, instead of coming to me, he went to the board and had me fired. All his big talk about morals and ethics and what’s the first thing he does? Stabs me in the back. I would have paid the money back. It was as good as done before he let the cat out of the bag. Two, three weeks at most and all 50K would have been back where it came from. With a nice little profit in my pocket, of course, but no harm done.
April nodded knowingly. “So you came out here to blow off steam. Let me guess – you took on the double diamond? You were never good enough for that. Look what your pride and your anger got you.”
“Just let it go, April. What do you care? Why are you even here?”
“I’m here to lead you, Will. If you’ll follow.”
“Lead me? Where? No, what you need to do is lead someone here. Someone who can help me. You know, someone who’s alive.”
April shook her head. “Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. What is meant to be can’t be altered.”
“Pfft, since when did you become so philosophical? What? What’s meant to be?”
April inclined her head slightly, one eyebrow raised. That look. Her “you know what I mean” look.
“No. No, I am not dying.”
“You’re just a figment of my imagination. I’m delusional,” he repeated. “It’s the cold. Yeah. I’ll be okay as soon as someone realizes I’m missing.”
“Who? That woman you charmed at the bar last night? Just another in your line of forgettable conquests, I’m afraid. She’s not looking for you. She’s moved on to greener pastures. A free-spending investment banker with a Mercedes CL and she’s already forgotten all about you and your rented Lexus. You need to wake up, Will.”
“Delusional. Dreaming. Same difference”
“No, I don’t mean literally, you idiot. Wake up to your life! This is it. The End. Fin. Time to take stock.”
“Fuck you, April. You’re just my own subconscious trying to make me feel bad.”
Will stared up at the blue above him. The denim had given way to cerulean, and all the cotton balls had rolled away.
“Once upon a time,” April said softly. “you were happy. Can you get back to that place? Let go, Will. Remember who you were before you became so bitter.”
“Bitter? No. I’m realistic. I’m tough. If you’re not, people just walk all over you.”
“People like Alex?”
“Yes! You saw what he did. Well, maybe you were dead already.”
“Is that really what happened?”
Will turned his face away from April, who couldn’t-shouldn’t be there anyway.
“What?” Will barked.
“You really think you’re innocent in all this?”
“Innocent?” he laughed. “Me? No. Just a winner. You gotta break a few eggs, etc.”
He looked at April again. She looked… faded, the vibrant apple green of her blouse leeching to a pale sage color.
“I’ll have to leave soon. This is it, Will. Your last chance. Please, please. Look at your life and see it for what it really was. You can still ask for forgiveness.”
Will didn’t say anything. He just flapped his hand at his wife’s disappearing visage. When he looked again, she was gone.
Forgiveness? What do I need to be forgiven for? Life is about living, about winning – not losing.
Forgiveness? Atonement? What use… were…. they to… me…