Free Fall – Part 1
Winmalee, New South Wales
The rope swung back and forth with a creak. David Henderson stared at the back wall with glassy eyes, his neck cinched tight by the crushing force of the noose. He dangled a metre above the ground, swaying from a wooden beam on the ceiling. To the left, then to the right, and back again. Below him, a chair lay lopsided on the kitchen floor. The kitchen was silent.
Charlie watched him swing, sitting back in a fold-up chair propped in the doorway. This close up, David’s cold dead stare left him feeling queasy. He propped a handheld camera on his knee, tilting the side screen to watch the body swing in the monitor. Every now and then, he peered at his wrist watch, counting the minutes.
David’s eyes seemed to follow him. He suppressed a shudder. He couldn’t say he was comfortable having his friend hanging in the kitchen. He checked his watch (for the twentieth time) and wished he hadn’t agreed to this. It was wrong. It was sick. Maybe he could blame it on curiosity. Some sick, twisted curiosity. Oh God, what the fuck was he doing?
After a quick glance at his watch, he shifted to his feet, pacing the floor. Waiting was the worst part. Seconds turned to minutes, hours to days. Why did he keep waiting? He could be at the pub now, getting smashed with his other friends. He could walk out right now. Forget this shit. Like it never happened. No. He couldn’t leave. Wait it out. Just wait it out.
The digital watch on his wrist beeped, flashing neon. 12 am. It was time. He placed the camera on the chair, turning it so the camera kept a constant eye on the body. Grabbing a knife on the counter, he propped the downturned chair upright, hoisting himself up. He cut the rope. The body dropped like a sack of potatoes, collapsing in a tangled heap. He loosened the knot around David’s throat, slipping it off. He backed off, watching and waiting.
David lay sprawled on the floor, his neck twisted at an odd angle. Charlie could still make out the red marks pressed tight into the skin. He gave the body a tentative nudge with his foot. The body rocked backwards, but slumped back into place. Charlie swallowed down the hot panic rising in his throat. He breathed deep. Calm down. It’s cool.
A finger twitched. A foot stirred. Colour and warmth flushed to the skin. David jolted to life in a heartbeat. He wheezed, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps. He clutched his neck, raking his fingers down his throat as if to pry loose a tight cord. Charlie released his baited breath in a gust. He knelt down by David’s side, shaking his shoulder.
‘Hey Dave. You alright?’
A click sounded deep in David’s throat. His windpipe opened again. The corpse sucked in a grateful breath. He peered up at him from the floor, face beaded with sweat. Exhausted, he slumped on the floorboards, releasing a moan.
David downed a shot of vodka, cringing as it seared a path down his throat. The warmth loosened his muscles, but every shot was another fire blazing in his crushed windpipe. After a few of these little babies, he’d forget the dull ache. Couldn’t say the same for the marks on his neck though. He massaged his throat, pouring himself another helping.
He had relocated to Charlie’s lounge room, a tiny, dungeon-like room smelling strongly of dust and stale beer. The plushy three seater was a thousand times better than hanging from the ceiling. He lounged back, closing his eyes. A thunderstorm pounded in his head, his breath catching every now and then as his windpipe kinked back into shape. He needed a long sleep. Dying really took it out if you.
‘I thought you’d never wake up,’ Charlie muttered dryly, twisting his shot glass on the coffee table. ‘A day. A whole day.’
‘A new record,’ David croaked, clearing his throat.
Charlie grimaced. He refilled his shot glass. He threw back his head, downing it whole. Something was wrong. David knew it. Charlie, the sensitive, shy kinda guy, never drank very much unless he had a grudge, or some kind of trouble he couldn’t fix with words.
Charlie was a little younger than David. He was lightly built, but strong for someone who never lifted weights. But up until David had stepped in in fifth grade, Charlie had always been the school bully’s favourite punching bag.
Charlie poured himself another, contemplating a crack in the plaster wall.
‘A full day. You haven’t done that since … uh …’
David filled in the blanks.
Charlie held a long pause.‘Uh huh.’
A heavy silence stewed. David waited it out.
What had just happened in the kitchen had been no magic trick. No Abracadabra or Alakazam! David had been clinically dead for 24 hours. It had been one of the longest days in his life. The drag and crush of the nylon rope, the splinch of his windpipe, the gag and splutter … pure heaven.
David was like any other teenager. He liked girls, spirits and clubbing. He got laid every now and then, and he worked a dead end job at Maccas serving hamburgers and soft serve cones. Like everyone else his age, he thought he was invincible. But unlike him, they were bullshitting themselves.
David on the other hand, was dead right.
When he broke a bone, it healed up like it’d never happened. Cuts and bruises disappeared in minutes. Charlie called it a miracle. David called it a blessing. Every ounce of pain he received was an adrenaline burst of pure ecstasy. Better than sex, better than anything good in Bog’s divine world.
The only problem was, the pleasure wore off. There had been times when he had been left high and dry, bleeding out, left with a dull, throbbing ache. Like today. Twenty minutes gone, and he had felt every tug and drag on his broken neck.
Like other teens, he liked extreme sports. He didn’t go skydiving, or surfing, or anything like that. He cheated death by embracing death. There was nothing like the adrenaline rush before pulling the trigger, or cutting the vein. Call him masochistic, or a bit unorthodox, but there was nothing like the flush of spilling blood.
The first death had been the hardest. Hell, it had scared him shitless. But boy, it had felt good. When David started taking his own death stunts seriously, he tried to forget the fear, to drown it out and work past it. But no matter how hard he tried, it always came back hot and stifling. But it was natural to feel fear. He wasn’t a coward. After all, most people felt some sort of fear before they died. He would just feel it more than others had to.
‘Dave? Did you hear me?’
‘Huh?’ Charlie handed him the camera, his grimace deepening.
‘The tape’s in there.’
David switched on the device, putting it on playback. On the screen, he watched himself slip the noose around his neck and kick the chair out beneath him. He dangled, gagging and wheezing.
Charlie shuddered, averting his eyes. ‘This is fucked up, man.’
David ignored him, watching the final jerk of his own body on the screen. In the footage, his eyes rolled back with ecstasy as the rope choked off his last breath. David reached into his pocket, slipping a cigarette out from a crushed carton. He lit it, the paper smouldering red as he sucked the paper.
Charlie continued. ‘It’s gone too far. I’ve been cleaning up your blood and guts for years man. It’s not like I’m squeamish. But, last Thursday, with that gun. Jesus man, I had to wipe the goo off the wall. I can’t—’Charlie paused, working his jaw.
David paid no attention. He had poured himself another drink, knocking back another shot.
Charlie raised his voice. ‘This is your thing. I get it—’
David cut him off with a barking laugh. On screen, Charlie tripped over the fallen chair, landing rear first on the floorboards. Charlie released a frustrated growl. He reached over, snatching the camera back. He slammed it down on the coffee table.
‘What the hell?’ David exclaimed indignantly, ‘I was watching that!’
‘David! Listen to me!’
David glared daggers, smoke drifting from his nostrils. Another lecture? Charlie could be a real dickhead when he wanted to be. Always so careful and cautious. Always lecturing. Nagging, whining, telling him what do. Why couldn’t he just leave things alone?
Charlie endured his stare, reaffirming himself. ‘I can’t do this anymore.’
David cocked an eyebrow. ‘Can’t do what?’
Charlie hesitated. ‘All this,’ Charlie said, spreading his hands, indicating nothing in particular. ‘Whatever you call this thing we do.’
David narrowed his eyes, sucking the paper between his pinched fingers. Charlie continued.
‘I keep thinking about the “free fall”. What if you never woke up that day? Even now, what if you do something stupid tomorrow and never wake up?’
David averted his gaze. ‘I always wake up,’ David snapped, knocking back another shot. He felt woozy and sluggish. The wonders of alcohol.
David was sick of explaining himself. He loved Charlie. And he was the only friend who knew he could heal up like Superman. But all he did was doubt him. How could David pluck up the courage for all his stunts when his friend treated him like a kid learning to ride a bike? Always hovering around, afraid David will fall down and scrape his knee. It was about time he proved to Charlie he wasn’t that vulnerable little kid anymore.
‘I’ll prove it,’ he announced. He snatched the bottle of vodka from the table, ‘I’ll do it. I’m gonna do the “free fall” on Saturday. For real this time.’ He shifted to his feet, bottle in hand.
‘The MLC Centre.’
Charlie’s jaw dropped. He scrambled to his feet. ‘Are you crazy!? That’s a fifty storey drop!’
David went to leave. Charlie yanked hard on his arm, pulling his back. David shook him off.
‘Charlie. My body, my gift. I’ll use it how I want.’
David gave him a cocky, two fingered salute, leaving for the door. He felt Charlie’s eyes on the back of his skull as he left. The “mummy’s boy” was speechless now, but wait ’til he saw David wake up from the cold, hard cement. After a good fifty foot drop, it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. All the blood, the tangled limbs, the mashed brain goo … not exactly a pretty picture. But it would prove a point. Yeah, it’d show him real good.
Charlie rummaged through a crammed wardrobe, shoving shoes and loose clothes to one side. He pulled out a large cardboard box, setting it down on the tousled sheets of his bed. He shook out a black garbage bag, laying it open on the bedspread. Opening the box, he shooed away a fluttering moth. Inside the box, CD’s and old video cassettes were stacked one on top of the other. He counted at least thirty there.
The stunt box made him shudder every time. All of David’s invincible stunts, both death and non-death related, ended up in the box, immortalised by camera. David always packed away his gruesome memories and kept them in Charlie’s rented house. It worked better that way. David still lived in his parent’s house. If they ever found the tapes, they would lock him away from the world. They’d put him in a bubble and spoon feed him. They were like that. conservative Christian folk, worrying about David 24/7. It’s what he got for being an only child.
Charlie knew him better than anyone else, even his parents. David was a stubborn son-of-a-bitch. When he said he was right, he was right. He never listened to anyone, not even before a death stunt. He’ll kill himself one day, and I won’t be able to do a thing about it, he thought, shaking the contents of the box into the garbage bag. Maybe after doing the “free fall”, his day might come.