This one is pretty dark, gang. Buckle up.
The last seconds had been a mess. A cacophony of screeching metal, screaming and sharp pain. None of it mattered.
The whole of her focus centered on her arm, her shoulder, her gripping hand that was the sole lifeline to her son. When the Ferris wheel broke, the whole thing came off its moorings. It dropped fifteen feet in a second. Her son bounced out of the seat across from her, and more on instinct than any conscious thought, she reached out and grab him by the wrist.
He was little for his age, only forty pounds or so, but his full weight tugged the shoulder. She was positive it was out of the socket, but she didn’t let go. She’d never let go.
She was suspended, facing the ground. The only thing stopping her from plummeting was the cross bar and the frayed leather belt.
Her other arm was pinned and couldn’t move. The free arm held her son.
Her son, who hung unconscious, fifty stories above the ground.
Her grip was everything. Her grip was the only thing. It was the reason he was alive. She dug her nails into his wrist, her nails she kept so neatly manicured. The blood trickled down his arm to his shoulder, and she wished she didn’t need to break his skin, but it was the only way to hold on.
Ten seconds had passed since the crash.
Ten seconds, but an eternity. She turned her head, rotating in slow motion, because she didn’t know if the movement would loosen her grip. The grip was everything.
Her neck cracked, and pain sprinted through the left side of her body, starting at the shoulder. Dislocated, for certain. But she managed to turn enough to see her husband.
His eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. A piece of metal jutted from his neck. Blood dripped down, far far down, to the earth below.
“You shouldn’t have metal in your neck.” She said. He was so absent minded, he’d forget to wear shoes out of the house if she didn’t remind him. He didn’t respond, and she wondered if he was angry with her.
“I don’t mean to criticize.” Still no answer, so she turned her attention back to her son who dangled at the end of the arm.
His soft blonde hair was streaked with blood, either from his wrist or somewhere else. It was going to stain his shirt, and he’d be sad if it was ruined. It was his favorite shirt, it had a picture of Lightning McQueen on it, from the movie Cars.
“Don’t worry baby, I’ll put soda on it.” He didn’t respond. A few more drops of blood landed on him, hitting her hand first and combining with her sweat to create a slippery lubricant.
Her grip. Shit. The grip was everything.
“Stop bleeding.” She snapped at her husband. He didn’t.
A gust of wind hit, and the arm swayed. The back to back motion worried at the shoulder and she screamed. Screaming felt good and distracted her from the pain, so she continued. Soon her screams took the form of words.
“Help!”. The screams cleared her head. She screamed her way to clarity.
The Ferris wheel had collapsed. Her husband was dead. Her son was unconscious, and was suspended two hundred feet above the ground by he single hand at the end of a dislocated shoulder. Her grip. The grip.
The grip was the only thing.
Her son was going to die. Even now, she could feel him slipping, the strength leaving the arm and her hand. Only forty pounds, but impossible to hold forever. The drop was straight down. Zero chance he would survive.
He slipped. Only a fraction, maybe less than a centimeter, but she felt it. She felt the slip.
“NO!” she yelled. Beside her, her other arm was pinned and useless. She couldn’t even make it respond to her struggles. It ignored her completely. All that was left was her, her son, the grip.
Her world broke into hundreds of moment, measured by seconds.
Hold on for two more seconds.
Hold on for three more seconds.
One. Two. Three. Done. Next.
Five more seconds.
She was crying now, the sobs causing more pain in her arm.
“Mommy’s sorry baby. I’m so sorry. I’m trying. I’m going to hold you forever, okay? I’ll hold you until help comes and we’ll be fine.” No answer. Her son dangled, pale and limp. Blood in his hair.
“I’ll fix your shirt.” She yelled. “I’m sorry. Don’t be mad at me. Please. Mommy’s here. It’s going to be fine. I won’t drop you. I’d never let you drop, I promise.”
Gravity laughed at her. The wind laughed at her. The shoulder laughed at her. On the ground below, people scurried like action figures, she could see them pointing. Distantly she heard sirens. It would take them at least half an hour to get up here. There was no way to keep holding on for that long.
Her son was going to fall. There was nothing she could do to stop it.
Her hand was slick with blood and she pushed her nails further into his wrist. She was all the way through the skin now, but it was the only thing that gave her grip and the grip was everything. It was the only thing.
Her son was going to die.
Her husband dead beside her.
Her shoulder in ruins.
He was going now. Her grip was going. Everything was going. The world blinked and she was on the verge of passing out. But she couldn’t do that. She only needed to hold on. It was so simple. There was nothing complicated about it. Why did she need to make it so hard? Ignore everything and focus on her grip.
Ten more seconds. She could certainly do ten more seconds. And then when those were over? Why, she’d only need to do another ten.
Five feet below her position, another of the cars was facing her. The seat was aligned upwards and there was no one in it. It was also about five feet behind him. Still, if she could make the arm rock back and forth, it was possible, maybe possible she could throw him into it.
She tried an experimental sway. Agony. She almost dropped him. And even that motion loosened her grip.
Hold him forever, drop him, throw him. Those were her options.
There wasn’t any time to think. Time would decide for her if she didn’t.
Another drop of blood dripped onto her hand and her grip loosened.
She was out of time.
Notes about this story and some techniques I was practicing
- I find myself attracted to stories about unavoidable loss and I don’t know why. The reader is meant to feel powerless along with the nameless narrator
- I left as much of this “blank” slate as possible. Minimum descriptions, no names.
- I tried to use short, urgent sentences and paragraphs to keep the reader uncomfortable and off balance.
- I made use of repetition in both subject (e.g. the grip) and sentence structure (Gravity laughed, the wind laughed, etc). The hope is to make the reader feel trapped in the moment. There is no forward progression to this story. It could almost be read in any order, the sequence of the paragraphs is nearly irrelevant.
- I intentionally used “the” when referring to her arm and “her” when referring to her grip. The intention is to create emotional distance between “the” arm (meant to be regarded as something separate from her that she can’t control) and “her” grip (immediate and in moment). I am not 100% convinced this technique worked and I’m not sure I care for it. Still, not a bad experiment.
- I didn’t end the story because I don’t care how it ends. For me, the story isn’t in the decision, the story is in the moment.