Crushed In Flight
( the complaint of an angry ghost )
Dedicated to Neil Christiansen
Tony Joneston, he always wanted to jump out a flying plane. Falling is the only thing he ever talked about. And people soon remember something about the man's obsession as the last thing he said. And thoughts of his plane ride are the last uninterrupted electrical current running through his mind. Tony thinks the take-off was smooth, the blue-striped biplane is cool and his jump impends.
At thirteen thousand feet, the man launches himself into blue air. Peace ensues a whole sixty seconds. The whole while, Tony falls. He feels free. He feels unburdened for the rest of eternity. Past halfway the distance of all time, his ripcord won't pull. There is no parachute to open. His brain then becomes nonconductive.
The man's neurons do make a connection when he reaches terminal velocity. Falling fifty-six feet per second, thirty seven miles per hour – and when Tony can't possibly check his math – his body smacks a bird. He knows that moment it's small. Whether it was white or brown, he can't recall. Tony can't remember anything, not even the ground.
Witnesses spot a luckless skydiver plummet to earth. There, Tony Joneston explodes. Dirt and dust fly up everywhere and fall over Santa Fe, New Mexico. And everyone says the explosion was, “Much too big.”
The detonation was much too large and the human figure should have hit the ground with a puff. No man nor woman nor living beast may live through said descent. Nothing less then dynamite might make so big of a cloud. All the same, the town of Santa Fe sends rescue workers. Police, firemen and an ambulance go dispatched to a desert field in the east where a tragedy occurs.
There, Tony Joneston rises to his feet, The man gets up and he starts walking away. A curious boy on a bicycle stops and asks him, “Are you okay?”
Tony doesn't know. The man is dizzy and confused. He appears bruised and no more wounded nor impaired. Tony babbles nonsense. The kid can't understand his words more than anything else adults say to him, so he pedals away. An ordinary dust trail follows him into Santa Fe. Tony turns around and he follows the dissipating debris.
Two uncounted steps closer the municipality, rescue workers find him wearing his torn yellow jumpsuit. He wanders toward them. A police offer asks out his car window, “Are you all right? Did you see what happened?”
A nearby EMS worker says, “I think this is him.”
The officer replies, “Impossible. What did he hit that slowed him down? There's nothing out here he could land on.”
The policeman asks Tony, “Did you see the explosion?”
“Are you that guy?” the EMT wonders aloud. “Do you need help?”
Tony mumbles, “No,” but he can't know. His brain is shut off. He's thought his last thought.
“I'm a ghost,” rescue workers think he tells them.
“What kind of bullshit...” complains the police officer.
The EMT mentions, “Trauma.”
A fireman says off a hook and ladder, “This is the spot.”
This is where the police officer tells the fireman, “Hello, Roger. I'm glad you made it.”
Roger jokes. “We were right on your butt.”
The officer speaks ill of the EMS worker. “This rookie thinks this is the guy who fell to earth.”
“Could it be?” Roger asks the officer.
“Nah,” he replies.
The EMT is emphatic. “This is him!”
The confusion further whirls Tony Joneston. If the man could think, he might claim he is an angry ghost. He does not wonder if anyone understand him. People seem unimportant, shadows of important things. They are traces of things Tony does not think about.
In fact, the man hardly acknowledges emergency workers get out of their vehicles and surround him. Their movement baffles Tony and the insubstantial figures make him mad. Hypocritical his professed substance, he lashes out with his arms and legs. His limbs fly.
All the while, Tony Joneston cries, “Squawk, squawk.”
And he is tackled, tazed and shot. The man attacks his rescue workers back. These shadows suffer his insensible blows. They bear the physical suffering Tony has been spare. They bleed and suffer the death denied Mr. Joneston.
When this flight ends, because what Tony does to these people is not a fight, when his flight is done, he crows. Tony takes no satisfaction in the death he's dealt, his sounds are simply the reverberations of his subconscious.
Driven by a force beneath his awareness, the man resumes walking the direction he's eventually pointed. Santa Fe is at his back. Tony doesn't know what lies ahead because he gazes only into the sky. He looks up and dreams about falling.
A dozen feet from the carnage he leaves at his crash site, Tony Joneston finds a dead bird. And he knows it is what remains of the creature his unfortunate accident crushed when he fell. He tells the feathered carcass “I'm falling.”
Tony is conscious of these words. He looks at the dead bird and says “We're falling.”
Sometime in a life he's lost, Tony learned the name of this two-tone gray bird. He sees a giveaway patch of red velvet on its back between its wings – the animal apparently wore a small shawl to cover cold shoulders while wintering in North America. Tony was never much of an ornithologist, but he knows this bird.
He knows who he is. And he knows the corpse in the sand is called a dark-eyed junco. He wishes he was in this body even now. Instead, he roams the scrubland of the Santa Fe National Forest. In his inert heart, he knows he is insubstantial and he hates the shadows who are alive. He is the ghost of Tony Joneston. The living call him the Junco and his angry spirit comes out in wintertime.
-- End --
– Matthew Sawyer