Gravity – A Short Story

I am unable to climb the ladder to the window, because a small Chinese woman is right above me, and she has stopped to remove her shoes. She is moving so slowly and tentatively, I become exasperated. She inches up onto the windowsill and turns to retrieve her shoes, which she has set beside her. I move up next to her, and she is taking an interminable time to transit to the ladder on the exterior of the building. My normal rhythm of climbing up, going out, then down and across is broken, and I cannot fathom how to do it slowly.

A few rungs below me is a Chinese man, urging her on. She either does not hear him or his directions do not help. Her pace remains glacial.

About ten feet beneath me, the retaurant inside is raucous. Outside, the parking lot is quiet and cars are parked five deep in some spots. It would be a hard place to retrive a body from.

Finally, she is on the up ladder and I attempt to do my maneuver to the down ladder, but I cannot. I don’t know how to do it. I’ve done it so many times without thinking, that I’ve forgotten how to do it. Now that I try and think about it, terror of falling fills me. I consider going down and starting over in order to execute the moves quickly, but the man below me starts to chide me and I see that a line has formed for the ladder. Any chances for a swift retry are dashed.

Suddenly angry, I decide to bag it for the day. I didn’t want to go to work today anyway.

I climb down past the now angry man. Now I’m the one slowing everyone down.

Reaching the floor, I adjust my backpack and head for the door but it’s slow going. The place is packed. It’s jammed with college kids drinking, eating, shouting, laughing, high-fiving, ignorning, and flirting.

I have to push my way through a phalanx of them perched on tall stools. Dirty looks rain down upon me and it enrages me. I just want out! It’s so loud in here, I can’t think. I must get out. I begin to shove my way through and the girls yelp and the boys begin to puff up.

I laugh, thinking about one of them coming down from their perches to confront an angry, determined, old man, and I smile a wicked smile to each that threatens me. None come down.

At last, freedom!

The sun is shining and the streets quickly swallow the sound of the crowd behind me until an almost desolate stillness settles in. I head vaguely uphill, thinking I might meander my way to work the long way about until I chance upon a vegetated alleyway with brick steps leading upwards.

Guarded by slowly crumbling brick buildings I see the pathway switchback, and near the top, dozens of yards away, what looks like scree. Some sort of optical illusion makes the rock look like a running river of avalanche as I pass by, but when I stop, it stops. I take a few steps back and the flow moves uphill.

Intrigued, I take my phone from my pocket to film this strange phenomena. I stand still and pan my camera back and forth across the scene and on the screen watch the rock tumble down the hill and then reverse course over and over. It reminds of a composite 3-D picture.

Intrigued, I put my phone away and head up.

It’s quiet here. I hear the crunching of small stones beneath my feet, the wind rustling through the bushes, and my breathing. But no birdsong. No buzzing insects.

The last switchback takes me up and around a building that is more a mass of tumbled brick and bramble than a man-made object. Coming round into a grassy clearing above, there is a large rock wall maybe ten feet tall that looks hewn away. A planked, wooden door is set in the middle of it, and irregular flagstones lead to the door.

The closer I move to it, the further it seems to receede into a stone alcove. I could have sworn the door was in sunlight back when I stood where the trail ended, but now it’s in cool shade. Shrugging, I open the rusty latch and push it open with a creak.

On the other side of the threshold is a rock ledge, maybe fifty feet deep, that I walk out onto. To my left is a chasm, but looming in the distance is some sort of plateau. To my right is a sheer cliff rising hundreds of feet. The ledge ends in a point next to the cliff. At the end is an intricate carved stone railing at a dais or altar.

Suddenly afraid of the height and exposure, I cautiously shuffle my way up, looking at my feet the whole way. Tentatively grasping for the railing, I observe that it’s dark marble. A piece of the handrail comes off in my hand. I stare at it, broken and crumbled, in my hand. The whole place feels of rotting decay.

Glancing up, I see that the plateau is not a plateau. It is a double-stacked, cantilevered, hanging ossuary. The bottom level displays a haphazard, crooked line of deeply crowded tombstones in soil, many resting at an angle of dangling repose over the abyss below. There are only inches between the tops of the tombstones and the level above it. It looks like a dark line of marching death.

The edge of the top level is similar in jumble, but it contains a mobbed menagerie of statues and symbology too tall for the lower level. It’s riotous horizon line casts crazy, jagged shadows on the wall behind me.

Looking down, there’s a black plain littered with an ages worth of tumbled stone and soil. Nothing is growing down there. I fling the marble in my hand over the edge, and I see it sail down, down, down and eventually lose its shape amongst the others.

I never hear it land.

Light catches the corner of my left eye and I turn around in wonderment. A huge glass window is embedded in the rock wall and behind it is a long living room, looking neatly appointed from the mid-1960’s. The walls are rock. Above the window is a rock overhang of maybe twenty feet.

It looks like a glassed-in rock burrow.

Is this is the sexton’s quarters? From where I stand, it appears to be a collossal diorama. The window must be thrity feet tall. Does a giant live there?

Light on the window ripples like water. There must be a pool below.

I walk back down and towards the edge. I see the door I came through. It looks very far away.

Coming to the spot where I expect to be able to see the pool, I look down. There is only the lifeless charnel field.

I’m having a hard time breathing. The light ripples more brightly. I notice gigantic bubbles, large as cars, forming at the top edge of the window and then slowly rolling up the ledge like through molasses.

What the? I can’t breathe. I’m drowning, hundreds of feet underwater.

Light rainbows through the bubbles, and I’m swimming and drowning in prismatic color. I thrash towards the door. I fear the ocean behind me will launch me like a hydraulic rocket once it’s open but it’s my only hope.

I manage to yank it open and stumble out onto a warm, dry flagstone in a sun-dappled alleyway.

I blink in the sunlight.

A woman in a sundress and floppy hat is just coming around the corner of a building and spies me and the door. Stunned, I stagger down. She looks at me with concern.

“You don’t want to go in there,” I tell her as I pass by on my way home.

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