Vanishing Jumper: Part 3

Hey, it’s Claire. I’ve been here all week, waiting for the mysterious bridge jumper. Yesterday I met him.

Recap: Mystery man appears on an abandoned train trestle several times a month, leaps two-hundred feet into a rocky gorge, and promptly vanishes until his next jump. Locals don’t recognize him. I saw him make the jump myself last week.

There’s no road that leads directly to the trestle, so I’ve had to leave my car behind and wait on the trestle itself, with coffee and smokes and egg croissandwiches, huddled with a book and a lawnchair in this godawful neverending cold mist that’s apparently the only weather Depressingly-Nowhere, PA ever gets. Seriously, is spring even happening this year?

Here’s the big scene. Four days into my wait, I’m about to shiver-swear back to my hotel for a loooong hot shower when the guy appears.

Same as before, walking from the woods on the eastern end of the trestle. I’m on the western end. He’s wearing the same gray sweatsuit and blue sneaks, and I start walking out to meet him in the middle at the spot he always jumps from.

My legs are numb and I’m walking off-balance. I stumble once and my arm goes right through a gap between the crossties, and this chunk of something rusty tumbles down into the gorge, and it’s like something out of an old jungle movie with an ancient bridge suspended over Certain Death, etc.

But I’ve got to meet this guy before he swan dives again, and so I’m up and almost jogging to meet him in time. He sees me coming but doesn’t break stride. He reaches his jumping spot before I do, takes his hood off, and shakes out his curly hair, and even thirty feet away I can tell he’s hot as ffffff.

I have this vision of tackling him and rolling on the tracks in order to save his life. Not even kidding. The entire scene comes to me in seconds. How he’d struggle but then surrender, and he’d be so amazed by this sexy Samaritan who finally saved his life, he’d just stare at my face until I kissed him on the mouth, and then we’d make out on the trestle for a while, and I’d take him back to my hotel for that warm-up shower and we’d eat each other up like near-death survivors. And then instead of appearing at the trestle, he’d be this mysterious phantom guy who kept appearing at the local hotel for months, pining for me after I was gone.

So I envision all that and then I’m suddenly at his side, close enough to tackle him for real. He’s turned away from me and faced north, gazing into the distance like he’s totally alone. I’m panting from adrenaline and my vapory breath goes right in his face.

“Thanks for trying to help,” he says. “I don’t mean to freak anyone out.”

“Who are you?” I ask.

He says, “I wanted to kill myself and did, right here, just like this. And it’s exactly like people say—at the last second, you regret it. You wish you hadn’t jumped. I don’t remember hitting the rocks. I jumped, and fell, and then I was home again. I was positive I’d dreamt it all. I’d never been more relieved.”

The whole time he’s telling me this, he’s inching closer to the trestle’s edge.

“Then what are you doing here again?” I ask.

“I get this feeling in my body like I’m already dead,” he says. “It goes away for a while but it always comes back.”

I still can’t tell if I’m talking to a person or a phantom. But I worry if I touch him and he’s real, he’ll take his header into the gorge before we finish talking.

“Everybody feels dead sometimes,” I say.

“Not like this.”

“So you come here every week to kill yourself?”

“I come here every week to resurrect myself,” he says.

Which is either corny as hell or a pretty good line. I decide it’s corny as hell, but what am I supposed to do? Snort and roll my eyes at someone about to kill himself for the umpteenth time?

I get what he’s talking about—a jump that makes him feel immortal, or super-awesomely mortal, or whatever you call the rush he’s desperately pursuing. I’ve heard about it with crash survivors, PTSD soldiers, addicts. They get a death-defying high and everything’s so alive, but then their regular lives are horrifyingly dull.

I want to tell him to come back to my hotel so we can tie one on and roll around like good old-fashioned debaucherous escape artists.

Instead I say, “Well you are freaking people out. You’ve got teens watching sometimes. You’ll give them bad ideas, like they should jump, too.”

Then I get this sense that I’ve been talking to myself to whole time. Other people have seen him, but maybe he’s a mass delusion, like when those Belgian schoolkids all got sick after drinking ordinary Coke because one of the kids thought the Coke smelled funny.

“You can’t be real,” I say.

He doesn’t answer so I poke his arm. His sweatshirt’s damp, his shoulder’s solid, and I’m about to say, “Huh,” when he steps off the trestle. My “huh” comes out like “ho!”—kinda like a breathy “huh-no!” combo.

I watch him drop, feet-first but slowly tipping forward as he falls. It’s like my heart falls with him. I don’t mean that sentimentally—I mean my shock and vertigo are so intense, I have a physical sensation that my heart’s dropped out of my chest and I’m going to collapse and die the second he hits the rocks.

And I guess I flutter out. I blink or almost faint. Because he’s falling, falling, falling… then he’s gone. Not a trace. I can still feel the moisture from his sweatshirt on my fingertip, and I remember what his voice was like, and I can even smell a hint of something he was wearing. His body wash, maybe, or a sport-scent deodorant.

I stare a while at the rocks below, and then I back away and sit on the crossties until my breathing calms down and I have balance when I stand again. There’s nothing else to do at that point but walk back, grab my lawnchair and thermos, and drive back to the hotel.

I get back to my room and belt a five-finger gin. I turn the TV on so there’s background noise. Then I take a thirty-minute shower, and as much as I’m dying for a ____ or at least some ordinary conversation to get the cold, lonely week entirely behind me, the gin and hot water bring me back to life just fine.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

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Vanishing Jumper: Part 2

Hey, it’s Claire. I’m in Depressingly-Nowhere County, PA investigating that mysterious bridge jumper Hank emailed me about.

The bridge is a train trestle, built in 1911, that runs a nauseating two hundred feet over a weedy, rocky gorge that’s impossible to easily access unless you’re one of those weirdoes who loves hiking into weedy, rocky gorges full ancient Genesee Cream Ale cans. The trestle’s been closed to all traffic for over a decade. It’s basically the kind of rusty old death structure you’d associate with dangerous teenage dares and mid-Pennsylvania industrial decay.

A massive graffiti tag on the northern side reads—I kid you not—“HEAVY METAL HEART”. Which is my favorite Sky Ferreira song. But the tag is 80s-old and must date back to some boombox-carrying Dio fan. I’m filled with dreadlove-nostalgia by how much this entire place reminds me of my childhood hometown.

I spent three mornings and afternoons sitting in my car with a thermos of coffee, smokes, and protein bars, watching the trestle from the muddy P.O.S. road on the west side of the gorge. Locals told me the mystery jumper appears about once a month, falls to his death, leaves no trace in the gorge, and reappears weeks later. Assuming the sightings are only once a month, I hoped his actual appearance was a lot more frequent—that sometimes he appeared and jumped and there was simply nobody there to see him.

I got lucky. The man came jogging out of the woods on the far side of the trestle at 1:21 P.M. on the third day of my watch. I followed him with binoculars and he was exactly like the description in Hank’s report. Thirtysomething years old, six feet tall, and fit. Gray sweatsuit with the hood up, bright blue sneakers. Dark Irish handsome. And yeah, when he stopped in the middle of the trestle and pulled back his hood, his curly black hair was marvelous. It’s hair I can imagine grabbing onto, hard.

He looked physical. Not a ghost, in other words. He expelled vapor when he breathed like a real warm body. If his hair was a wig, as Hank suggested, it was a damn good wig. There was light, cold rain and I watched his hair dampen and sag as he was standing on the trestle’s edge, staring off to the north.

My heart was pounding for the guy. He looked confident and calm, but there was something sad and spacey about him. Not hypnotized or drugged. Just resigned to what he was doing, as if he had, in fact, made his death jump dozens of times before and there he was again. That there was meaning in the act, or some necessity that drove it, but it would never be a thing he wanted or enjoyed.

I got out of my car and yelled, “Hey!” as loud as I could. It took a few seconds for my voice to reach his ears. Incredible timing—he heard me the instant he started to jump and looked in my direction. I met his eyes through my binoculars for one quick second, and let me tell you, it was like a thousand volts: connecting with someone who’s just about to fall two hundred feet to his death.

It was one of those time-warp moments. He fell in slow motion, it was over in a blink, etc. If I watched him do it fifty times, I don’t think I’d ever NOT have the gut-punch feeling that his body just watermeloned open on the rocks.

From my vantage point, I couldn’t see the spot where he must have landed in the gorge, so I drove a ways along the road, got out of my car, and climbed a wooded hill to the western end of the trestle. Then I walked across the trestle itself. The structure was semi-frozen and exposed, and there were gaps and breaks and “holy hell I’m not the daredevil I used to be” sections every few steps, and I reached the middle of the trestle and got down on my hands and knees to look over the edge.

No body. No trace. I couldn’t find a single scuff mark on the trestle itself. If I hadn’t been trembling and trying not to lose my s____ from vertigo, I’d have been as relieved and amazed as anybody who’d just witnessed a resurrection-grade magic trick.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to wait on the trestle itself. I’ve got to meet this guy.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

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Vanishing Jumper

I’ve received word of a man who leaps to his death from a train trestle in rural New Jersey at least once a month.

The man has been seen taking his suicide dive—a two-hundred-foot drop into a rocky gorge—by more than a dozen witnesses in the last year.

He is currently unidentified. Witnesses describe him as approximately thirty years old and six feet tall. He’s Caucasian with curly black hair that three people have independently referred to as “marvelous”. He wears a gray sweatsuit and blue sneakers.

He’s been seen at different times of the day—never at night—running east from a heavily wooded section of the tracks. He stops, facing north, in the middle of the trestle. He stands for several minutes, staring into the distance, before removing his sweatshirt’s hood and shaking out his curly hair. He then hops off the trestle, without drama or panache, and falls two hundred feet to his death.

Depending on the witness’s vantage point, his body can sometimes be seen on the rocks below, but by the time anyone is able to descend into the gorge, no trace of him remains. Search teams combed the area after the first few sightings but no one in town bothers anymore.

Every witness has seen him from a distance, usually from a narrow road that runs along the western side of the gorge. The site has become a popular macabre attraction, and local high-schoolers frequent the site to drink and wait for the spectacle to reoccur, but the jumper has yet to appear when anyone was in a position to approach or speak to him. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones, he has not yet been photographed.

The most recent incident happened last Thursday, at 9:45 A.M., during a cold drizzle. The woman who saw him jump had seen him once before, last May, and became the first person to witness his suicide twice.

She noticed an additional detail the second time. When the man removed his hood, his curly hair appeared to slide backward on his skull. He mussed it up, as people often do after removing a hood, and his hair looked normal again. A wig, perhaps? Might the jumper be different people wearing identical costumes? But how do they survive and vanish, and what is the purpose?

I understand Claire Maple is currently in New Jersey. I’ve sent her the details and the location of the trestle and hope she’s able to investigate. This is right up her alley.

— Report filed by Hank Ridley

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The Mushroom Girl

The “Old Woman” sent another letter. The envelope was again marked with esoteric runes that few outside the society would recognize. This woman is unknown to me and my colleagues. I find myself unreasonably disquieted by these letters, as if my subconscious is detecting a dangerous subtext I can’t put my finger on.

—————

Dear Mr. Mahoney,

After telling my granddaughter how I was discovered as an infant, in a hive of violent bees, she mulled the story for a day and asked the inevitable question.

Had she herself been found under remarkable circumstances?

My granddaughter’s name is Lil. She is a precocious seven-year-old with short black hair, black eyes, and a mouth I can only describe as candied. Her lips have the pink, thick fullness of fresh bubblegum. Her teeth are like Chiclets. She speaks with a slight lisp, as if she can’t help licking her own delicious words.

She is the adopted child of my son and his wife. I loved my son but he was, all his life, an unexceptional male who pursued disappointing goals with disappointing results. As for my daughter-in-law—I will not say I despised her, but I will not say I liked her, either. Imagine, if you will, a preadolescent Christian virgin persisting in the body of a middle-aged woman.

(Please understand I admire the depth and force of the true Christian faith. I merely subscribe to other depths and powers, and I cannot abide naïveté of any kind.)

My daughter-in-law seemed incapable of digesting any perspective, complexity, or fact she hadn’t encountered in grade school. I don’t believe she was mentally deficient. I believe she lived in fear. She covered her eyes during explicit scenes in movies, was disturbed by “sinister” Halloween costumes, and dismissed troubling news stories as if they’d remedy themselves if only she ignored them.

One day in early autumn, when she was forty-five, she noticed an enormous puffball mushroom had sprouted in her backyard garden. She asked my son to remove it. When they approached it together with a shovel and a garbage bag, the mushroom burst and they were surrounded by a cloud of dusty brown spores. When the cloud dissipated, a newborn girl was writhing in the dirt.

My daughter-in-law took the baby inside and refused to put her down. My son insisted on calling 911 but she was adamantly against it, believing the baby was a miracle, and she opposed her husband so hysterically that he finally called me to help calm her down.

I arrived soon after and, for the first time ever, I sided with my daughter-in-law.

“Keep the baby,” I said. “She came to you and no one else can have her. No one else can ever know the truth.”

Despite profound reservations, my son temporarily deferred to my opinion.

I stayed with them all that week, as my daughter-in-law obsessively held the baby, whom she absurdly named “Lil” in reference to her size. She fed Lil goat milk, which I procured from a local farm.

Both my son and my daughter-in-law soon developed a respiratory ailment, presumably from the mushroom spores they had inhaled. They coughed and weakened, and I cared for them in their home until they died of suffocation a week after the baby’s appearance.

Naturally I grieved. It was all nature’s way.

Although I hadn’t told my son or daughter-in-law the truth, I knew the baby hadn’t come to them. Lil had come to me. She was the daughter I had craved for half a century. I kept her as my own.

I told Lil this story two days ago. She immediately locked herself in her bedroom, where she has remained ever since. I will give her one more day to mull before opening her door.

Sincerely,
An Old Woman

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The Equinox Society Report

Today is the equinox. Night and day are equal, like your shadow and your self.

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Hovering Body, Part 3

An update about the two ethereal bodies floating in my house, dear strangers.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

The first body’s face, looking upward, could be seen through the hole I’d cut in the hallway floor. The second body, looking downward, was mostly hidden directly overhead in the ceiling. Only its ghostly nose protruded.

I Sawzalled a new hole, cutting a wide oval and revealing the second face. It was a woman this time. Like the man below, she was bald and lacked both eyebrows and eyelashes, and even if they hadn’t shared their strange hairlessness, they resembled each other enough to be relatives.

Once the plaster dust settled and my eyes felt clear, I stood on my stepladder, craned back so I could look straight up, and examined the woman’s face.

Her expression was neutral. She stared without blinking and seemed not to notice me, as if she were waiting for something else and wouldn’t react until she saw it. I realized I was blocking her view of the man’s face below and so I climbed down, moved the ladder, and let the two mysterious faces see each other at last.

I stood aside and waited, standing as close to the floor and ceiling holes as possible without obstructing the way. Since the man’s head was recessed a foot below me in the floor, only part of his face was visible to me, but I saw that he immediately stopped mouthing his silent words, and that his expression grew pregnant with emotion. Was it amazement, fear, or hope? His opportunity had come to tell the woman something critical—a secret he had kept and needed to convey.

The woman’s face remained neutral as she stared at the man below. Eventually he mouthed new words, and while I couldn’t interpret his speech from my vantage point, he seemed to talk with urgency and passion. I was glad to have brought the two of them together in their afterlives, and I looked up at the woman, anticipating an expression of peace, epiphany, or marvelous relief from whatever the man was telling her.

I have never seen a more harrowing scream. The woman’s eyes widened and seemed to vibrate. Her nose crinkled at the bridge, and her entire head lengthened as her mouth stretched open. She bared her upper and lower teeth, all the way to her canines and gums. She made no sound. Her mouth was cavernous and grim, like the drain of an old metal slop sink, and her scream had the indrawn intensity of suction.

I felt my own breath being drawn from my body, and I forced myself to look down at the man’s face below. He had stopped mouthing words. His expression was aghast, as if he’d expected a different reaction from the woman he’d addressed. I was reminded of violent offenders apologizing in court, with carefully phrased remorse, and finding not forgiveness but the bloodthirsty, outraged fury of the victims.

I glanced up at the woman’s face in time to see her disappear in a bright scarlet flare. The light warmed my face and left behind a stench of burned insulation. It was glorious to see—a flash of power she had saved and finally unleashed.

I stood above the hole in the floor and looked down. The man’s stricken face stared a while longer, and then he flickered out and vanished like a pitiful illusion.

Look Beyond,
William Rook

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

 

 

 

 

Look Beyond,
William Rook

Hovering Body, Part 2

An update about the hovering body in my hallway, dear strangers.

(Read Part 1)

As I described in my earlier report, the body is nonphysical—I was able to reach my hand through his torso—and is pressed face-first against the ceiling, the way an ordinary body would lie facedown on a floor. Because he’s so close to the ceiling, I was initially unable to see his features.

My solution was to Sawzall a hole in the ceiling, cutting a circle around his head, so I could see him through the floor of the hallway above. This was messier and more challenging than expected, but after I cut a crude hole in the ceiling, I walked upstairs, coated in plaster dust, and finished the hole from the upper hallway.

It was psychologically difficult using a Sawzall in close proximity to what appeared to be a live human head. I was relieved to see that throughout the process, the man’s expression remained unperturbed. The sawdust and plaster drifted through his head to the hallway below, and I was left with a rough but sufficient portal.

The hovering man’s head was then visible eighteen inches below in the hole, separated from me by the joisted gap between the house’s two levels. The gap was dark. A flashlight would have been useless because he was non-corporeal; light would have simply passed through his head. Fortunately, he was faintly self-illuminating, and his pinkish-gray face glowed up at me with excellent clarity.

His eyes were open. They didn’t blink. He was bald and lacked stubble, eyebrows, and eyelashes, which gave his head and face an embryonic smoothness I found both repulsive and fascinatingly generic. I wondered why his hair had vanished in the afterlife.

As I had earlier suspected, he was silently mouthing words, and because he didn’t move his eyes left or right, his mysterious soliloquy seemed directed at me with unsettling intensity.

I have little experience with lip-reading, but by emptying my mind and allowing instinct to guide me, I started to interpret some of what he said. After many minutes of watching, I recognized the pattern of his mouth’s movements and determined that he was speaking a single repeated sentence:

“I never told you what happened that night.”

I sat away from the hole, with my back against the wall, and pondered his words. To whom was he attempting to speak? What had happened on the night in question? Such answers were impossible to guess, but I imagined the man speaking to his lover, or his child, about an incident in darkness—a night of so much meaning in the story of their lives that he’d persisted after death in order to express it.

As I daydreamed various scenarios—a fatal accident, murder, betrayal, maybe a missed opportunity of necessary love—I began to absentmindedly stare upward. My eyes zeroed in on a strange protrusion in the ceiling.

I stood for a closer look and discovered it was a nose and upper lip. They were the same pinkish gray as the man’s spectral form below, and I realized I was looking at parts of a second hovering body, nearly all of which was hidden in the space between the ceiling and the crawl-space attic above…

Look Beyond,
William Rook

(Read Part 1 and Part 3)