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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Seven-Year-Old Fetus: The Interview

[Read previous report here]

Hey, it’s Claire. Here are the highlights of my interview with Melissa _________, the woman who’s been pregnant with a male fetus for twenty-six trimesters.

ME: Congratulations, I guess!

HER: Thank you. I feel very blessed.

ME: What’s your son’s name?

HER: Timothy.

ME: Most mothers I’ve known start to feel very “get this baby out of me” by the end of the third trimester. How’re you feeling after seven years of pregnancy?

HER: I worried a lot in the first year, but once I understood he was healthy and safe, I made peace with him staying inside. My hormones reached a wonderful balance. I have a permanent pregnancy glow. I’m not in any discomfort. I think a lot of mothers would love this experience. I’m always with my baby. He doesn’t get sick, he’s never alone. He’s growing up in a perfect environment.

ME: He’s not really growing up, though, is he?

HER: He isn’t physically growing but he’s happy and alive. He’s always growing closer to me.

ME: I want to ask some challenging questions if that’s OK.

HER: Go ahead.

ME: Have you considered a C-section?

HER: God, no! It’d be extremely dangerous for him at his stage of development.

ME: You’ll never get to see him or hold him. You’ll never talk to him.

HER: I talk to him all the time. I’m holding him all the time.

ME: Are you concerned he’s missing out? Totally arrested development? He’ll never ride a bike, or see the ocean, or make out with a prom date. He’ll never have a life of his own.

HER: He’ll never get hooked on drugs or have his heart broken, either. He’ll never have to worry about the news or feel alone.

ME: This takes helicopter parenting to a new level, though. You’ve locked him in the cockpit.

HER: I didn’t ask for this. If I suddenly went into labor, I wouldn’t try to fight that. I’m making the best of a unique situation, which is what every good parent does with every individual child.

ME: Why do you think this is happening to you and Timothy?

HER: I have no idea. Why can some woman get pregnant while others can’t no matter what? Why do some babies have disabilities and others have amazing natural gifts?

ME: But this isn’t like, “Geez, my baby has a harelip.” This is one in a billion. Unprecedented, far as we know. You’ve got to have some theory.

HER: I’ve had lots. Proof that God has a plan. Proof there isn’t any God. Mutation. A leap in evolution. Somebody slipped me an experimental drug. Alien pregnancy. But I don’t believe in most of those crazy ideas. I’m a very normal woman, very grounded. I think theorizing is less important than simply enjoying what I’ve got. We’re happy. We have a good life.

ME: That’s super zen. I don’t personally roll that way, but I appreciate how you’re just like, “I love my permanently unborn baby Tim and I’m awesome at my payroll job.”

HER: Thanks.

ME: May I ask you one more question? It’s a tough one.

HER: OK.

ME: He’s snug as a bug in there. Not really aging. There’s no indication that’ll change. What if this goes on for decades and he finally outlives you?

HER: I guess they’ll cut him out. Maybe that’ll be his time.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

Seven-Year-Old Fetus

Hey, it’s Claire. Here’s a weird one. By “weird” I mean creepy AF and just the kind of thing that makes me dread-love my job.

I met a woman named Melissa who’s been pregnant for seven years. Twenty-six trimesters to be exact. I heard about her from an anonymous tip on The Blackboard and drove out to meet her in an office park where she works payroll.

She’s unmarried and wouldn’t talk about the father except to say he was a full-time fantasy footballer and no love lost on either side. She’s 49% pretty and looks right at the tipping point of “don’t ask about her due date in case she isn’t actually pregnant”. Picture a mousy thirty-year-old woman with a shopping-mall haircut and the beer belly of a middle-age man.

Little backstory here. Her coworkers like her OK and she’s a payroll whiz, no professional complaints whatsoever, but everybody thinks she’s crackers. Not dangerous crackers but sad crackers. Because she announced her pregnancy to everybody twenty-five trimesters ago, and there was an office baby shower and everything, and then no baby. She grew a paunch and then nada.

People assume she miscarried and traumatically fooled herself into believing she’s still pregnant, because she’s been talking about her unborn baby ever since. Not excessively, just casual references like, “I can’t drink alcohol because…,” or, “He kept me up all night with his kicks.”

So yeah, chances were good that she was very sad crackers. Except I felt the kicks. She let me put my hand on her womb and let me tell you, that was one real kick. I felt the little thing’s heel.

And then Melissa tells me her cousin is an obstetrician who gives her regular checkups and even ultrasounds, and there’s a fetus all right. She (the cousin, I talked to her in person) keeps it hush because she’s afraid Melissa’ll get boxed into a lab somewhere and experimented on, etc., and while I’m not a big gov’t-science-conspiracy theorist, I’d err on the side of hush-hush, too.

The fetus doesn’t grow or develop anymore. It just floats around in there, kicking and sucking up nutrients and dreaming whatever bizarro stuff fetuses dream. It’s like her amniotic fluid’s the fountain of youth, and there’s a human fetus bathing in the goo and never aging and man oh man, if she could bottle it she’d be a trillionaire.

I interviewed her. I’ll send you the highlights soon. Just give me a trimester to type it up j/k.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

Ouija Trolling

Hey, it’s Claire. So last night I drank half a bottle of Citadel gin, painted my toenails black, and broke out the Ouija board.

I made a real scene of it, lighting candles and listening to Bathory on my phone. I drew that vile symbol on the floor (not the *really* vile one I learned from that maniac I dated last June; I mean the lesser vile symbol) and sat in the middle with the board.

I don’t remember what I asked to make contact but a malevolent entity showed up fast and laid it on thick. He said his name was James, and that he was all alone and “scared of the red sound”, and then he got slippery with answers and started twisting the questions back toward me.

Was I hiding any pain? I told him yes. Was there a special pain I’d never shared with anyone before? Yes, I said. Would I trust him with the secret and allow him to help? I hesitated and let myself tear up before pausing the music on my phone and telling him my story.

I shared a long, detailed incident from my second failed marriage. About discovering that my husband had been having an affair. About the baby he’d secretly fathered with his lover. And then—and this was hard to say—about breaking into his lover’s house at night, and standing over the baby’s crib, and really, really considering…

Of course I made the whole thing up. “James” was obviously a newb and not too bright, and I let him relish my sham vulnerability for a while. He asked me to let him into my heart, “to soothe and warm the injury inside” me. (His actual words, spelled out with the planchette, I sh__ you not.)

I laughed and couldn’t stop. He was furious and started tossing lightweight objects around the room. A lit candle hit me in the chin, and the wax splattered on my tee, and it only made me laugh harder. Eventually he quit his tantrum and disappeared to sulk wherever he came from. I spent the rest of the night watching porn and feeling weirdly depressed, but that was probably just the gin.

I know you’ve told me not to play around with Ouija like this, but I’ve got to get my occult kicks where I find them. I kind of regret maybe teaching “James” a new degree of savvy he’ll use against others. I should probably feel guiltier than I do.

— report filed by Claire Maple

Evil Neon: 2nd Report

I experimented with the insanity-inducing neon.
 
It took some doing. The motel manager had unplugged the “FREE COFFEE” sign, which had already affected three people, and wouldn’t let me plug it back in. He wouldn’t sell it to me, either, but he finally let me take it to my room so I could view it without him.
 
He tripled my deposit in case I broke the sign or went crazy. I assured him I had plenty of experience with malevolent objects. “No worry tripling your deposit, then,” he said. Fair enough.
 
I detached the sign from his office window and carried it to my room. This was around 9:30 P.M. I closed the room’s blinds and put on only the bathroom light, with the bathroom door mostly closed, so there was just enough illumination to find an outlet and power up the sign.
 
I sat a long time, enjoying the spectral warmth I always feel around neon—a flush I associate with being buzzed but not yet drunk, or half-undressed with a stranger—and experienced no peculiar effects from the sign’s green glow. I must have fallen asleep.
 
How I ended up in the manager’s private room is beyond me. I was standing in his shower, fully dressed and soaked with hot water. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I saw the manager hogtied on the bed. He was unconscious.
 
He was also soaked in gasoline from a can on the floor. When I reached into my jeans for my pocketknife to cut his bonds, I found a Zippo lighter that didn’t belong to me.
 
I cut the manager loose, checked his vitals, and anonymously called an ambulance from his room phone. Then I got the hell out of there. Back in my own room, I changed out of my wet clothes and watched through the blinds as the ambulance arrived. I saw the manager walk out with the medics, looking dazed but OK.
 
The neon sign was missing from my room.
 
I spent the night expecting police to come but none did. In the morning, I couldn’t resist going to the motel office to see what the manager remembered.
 
The neon sign was back in the window it had come from. It was lit. The manager greeted me cheerfully, as if I were a stranger. He didn’t remember us meeting and had no record of me checking into the motel. When I asked about the neon sign and the incidents surrounding it, he had no idea what I was talking about.
 
I don’t either, anymore.
 
— report filed by Claire Maple
 

Neon Sign Causes Insanity

A neon sign at the ________ Motel has caused at least three cases of temporary insanity.

I’m withholding the motel’s name to deter occult-tourist nutjobs who will either disrupt my investigation or stare at the sign until they’re clinical nutjobs.

The sign is pale green and reads “FREE COFFEE”. It’s placed in the office’s front window and is visible from the road, which is the kind of treeless, strip-malled road that makes you want to avoid whatever urban center it leads to.

The motel owner describes the following pattern: a guest checks in, behaves normally, and asks about the free coffee. Each guest seems less interested in the coffee itself than in the “FREE COFFEE” sign. The guest then stands outside to stare at the sign and starts behaving erratically.

GUEST A: Male, middle-aged. Stared at the sign for three minutes before completely undressing, running into the road, and attempting to swim in oncoming traffic. Arrested. Believed to be under the influence and later released.

GUEST B: Female, adolescent, traveling with her mother. Stared at the sign so long her exasperated mother left her there to unpack the car alone, at which time the girl wrote in lipstick, in perfect backwards script on the office window so the manager could read it: “You will beg me to swallow your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver…,” etc. She listed seventeen organs before her lipstick ran out. Her mortified mother paid the manager for the cleanup expense and drove her daughter away without spending the night.

GUEST C: Male, elderly. Stared at the sign for less than a minute before removing his false teeth and using them, like a bad ventriloquist, to recite pornographic terms and definitions until the manager called the police. When the officers tried to calm the old man, he clutched his genitals, wept, and dropped dead in the parking lot. Autopsy results are pending.

The sign is currently unplugged.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

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