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Jump! — a short story

A utility worker trying to restore power in a storm works in a high bucket in the gusting wind.

By C. L. NicholsPublished about a month ago 9 min read
1

Stinging rain pelted Tanner Sage and streamed down his vinyl raincoat, falling thirty feet to the ground below. The two-by-three bucket he clung to swayed on its long metal arm in the gusting wind. Lightning arced across the sky then thunder shook the night.

Tanner had worked many emergencies in his six years with Hadley Electric, but he still struggled to control his fear, high in the air during a big storm.

While straining forward against the steel cable to his safety harness, he opened the junction box. The powerful flashlight mounted in his helmet spotlit the transformer’s innards, revealed a writhing mass of coils and wiring.

Already twenty minutes on the scene, he realized this was going to take some time to set right. Hundreds of homes were without electricity so he needed to restore power as quickly as possible, but Tanner knew to carefully think through each move before making it. Mistakes here could prove disastrous.

He wished to be already home in his recliner. Maybe a Miller Lite in one hand and the remote in the other, watching the radar go round and round on his big screen.

All by his lonesome, ever since the divorce. Single life sometimes left him bemused.

A ball of lightning surged around the bucket’s metal rails, shearing his safety line in a shower of sparks. An explosion like a shotgun blast in his face deafened him. Paralyzing numbness coursed through his body and deadened his senses. He tipped backward then fell from the gondola. Was he flying?

As his back struck the ground, his breath exploded violently. Barely conscious, he faced the sky, frozen in shock.

Rain slapped his cheeks, puddled in his eyes. Smoke drifted from blackened fingertips.

Feeling returned, and intense pain rippled throughout his body. Violent cramps grabbed and squeezed, curling him into a fetal ball.

Tanner lay in a hollow filled with rainwater, jittering and cold and wet

And jumped!

#

The sun beamed brilliantly. His pain had left.

Tanner stood in a meadow looking down a grassy slope at a primitive cabin about fifty yards away. Tall spruces on each side, the cabin faced him. Heavier woods filled the background.

Peaceful as any painting. He still lay on the wet ground, he knew, a random victim of the lightning strike. The scene before him now couldn’t be real.

The trees swayed in a gentle breeze, and Tanner realized this was no still-life photograph. He took a step forward, surprised to learn that it was even possible.

Why not? he asked himself, then headed down the incline. Dragging his feet through luxuriantly tangled growth, he watched the cabin. Its windows were raised, and he could see curtains moving. A screen door above a single-step porch beckoned.

Was anyone home? He recognized how ridiculous it was to ask such a question and smiled to himself. This was more enjoyable than lying dazed in reality’s rain puddle.

Everything was so lush, so green. Tree branches tossed in a breath of wind, as if alive. Even the cabin seemed to grow as he approached.

When he reached the small porch, he squinted through the mesh of the screen. A woman’s face gradually materialized.

“Yes?” she said.

Tanner stared at her. Did she look familiar, like someone he’d known? He didn’t think so.

She watched him standing there. He was sure his face made plain his confusion.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Tanner,” he said. “Tanner Sage.”

“At least you didn’t claim to be James Bond.”

He raised his hands then let them drop.

“Where am I?”

She watched his face for a moment, then she opened the screen door and held it open.

“Come in,” she said.

Tanner looked back where he’d been and saw no one. Where else would he go?

He put one foot on the step and reached for the door. She backed up as he entered.

In the cabin’s only room, one side had a couch and coffee table, and on the other side there was a small kitchen with a stove and dining set. At the rear of the space, a stairwell led up to a small loft, where he was sure there would be an overhead bed.

Tanner stared at the woman. Shiny black hair. A little of what might be called full-figured. A pretty face.

“I told you my name. What’s yours?”

“Alyssia.” He noted without surprise that she’d been examining him just as he’d been her. “Call me Alice.”

He nodded, turned toward the stove. Rising steam had caught his attention. He walked over and looked into a shallow pot. A thick stew, bubbling and meaty.

“Sit down,” she said. “I’ll give you some.”

Tanner paused, could see no reason why not. You couldn’t be poisoned in a dream, or whatever you called what was happening to him.

He sat in a chair facing her. Alice dished stew from the pot then set a ceramic bowl in front of him. Tanner saw that her wrists had been slashed, a clear fluid still oozing from the cuts. They were closed up but only beginning to heal. He glanced at her face. She’d seen him see.

Tanner picked up a heavy spoon, dipped it into the bowl, and drew it to his lips. It tasted different, unlike what he’d expected. A little gamy, but with excellent flavor.

As he took another spoonful, Tanner noticed that his own fingertips were blackened, and the ends of the nails were split.

Reality again. He remembered …

#

And looked up into a man’s face, inches from his own. He tried to lift himself onto his elbows then discovered that he was strapped onto a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

The siren wailed and gurney shook with the motion of the vehicle. The paramedic held him steady using one hand as he adjusted an IV drip with the other, then spoke. Tanner didn’t understand.

“What?” His ears buzzed. He was eating just a moment ago.

“Keep still. You’re being carried to University Hospital. Do you understand?”

Tanner blinked at him, still confused.

“Right,” the man said and grinned.

Tanner’s chest spasmed. The high-pitched squeal of a monitor erupted. His eyes shot wide in panic. He couldn’t breathe. His body went rigid as he tried to rise against the straps.

Then he jumped again.

#

“You disappeared,” Alice said.

“I’m back,” Tanner said,” But I don’’t think I can stay.”

He spooned more stew into his mouth. It was still hot.

“What happened?” she said.

Tanner told her. His job. The storm. An ambulance.

“That’s where I really am now. On my way to the hospital.”

“You’re having seizures. I’ve been a nurse’s aide.”

“Makes sense. I must be having one now.” He looked at her. She seemed even prettier. “So. I go back and forth. You’re still here.”

“I’m dreaming,” she said. “I can wake up anytime I want.” She sounded defensive.

“Are you dreaming me, or am I hallucinating you?”

“Neither,” she said. “An insect here stung me this morning, and it hurt.”

“Time’s not the same here, is it.”

She paused, thinking.

“No. I think you’re right. Time here doesn’t take away from time there. Not exactly.”

“So, a cabin in the woods. Is that all?”

“There’s a road a little ways back.”

“Where does it lead?”

“I haven’t gone down it.”

“Has anyone come up the road?”

“Not yet.” She smiled. “It’s nice here. The sun shines every day.”

“I like it to rain sometimes.” Her smile faltered. “You think this place has a future?” he asked.

“Depends.”

“On what?” Why was she making this so hard?

“On who lives here.”

“Why?”

“It’s lonely alone.”

“I’m here.”

“You’re going back.”

“You are, too. You said you’re only dreaming this.” She stared back at him. “You said that, right?”

“I can’t.” A tear formed. “I can’t leave.”

“Why not?”

“That’s my story. My husband beat me. A lot.”

Tanner looked at her wrists.

“So you tried to kill yourself.”

“Yeah, I nearly made it. Instead, I put myself in the hospital. On life support.”

“So you’re in the hospital, too.”

“No. My husband pulled the plug. I escaped in time.”

“You’re telling me you died?”

Alice nodded. “I must have.”

“Where are we?”

She shrugged. “What I think is, we’re nowhere on Earth.”

“The two of us.”

“I hear noises in the woods at night.”

“What’s there? Is it whatever meat I just ate?”

“Maybe. They sound bigger.”

“Where did the meat come from?”

“There’s a shed out back. Cured meat is hanging, but I don’t recognize the shapes.”

“Whose world is it, then?”

“Others must have lived here first.”

“But who owns it? How did we get here?”

“We’re under the Upper Hand.”

“You think God had a hand in this?”

She nodded. “In everything.”

“This is no Garden of Eden, I know that much.” She’d sounded so positive. “You’re not like my ex-wife.”

“Hopefully you’re not like my husband. What happened to your ex-wife?”

“Her boss gave her more things than I could afford to give.”

A noise sounded, grew louder.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Alice glanced out the window and smiled.

“It’s raining,” she said. Her smile became a grin.

“You’re beautiful,” he said. She seemed slimmer, somehow.

“I like you, too.” Her grin faded. “Don’t hurt me.”

Something tugged …

#

Deep within another seizure, Tanner’s mind repeatedly played his last conscious image: a blinding flash and a deafening blast then the weightlessness of space ended by the breath stealing thud of a sudden impact. For several minutes, he’d lie still as he had upon the ground, before the painful loop kicked in again.

During those brief interludes of rest, another image began to insert itself.

A forest. A cabin. A woman.

His view of a room seemed to be suspended near an exposed ceiling looking at two figures at a dining table.

He awoke. A white room, warm and bright and dry. Alone, of course. His family had given up on him with the mistakes of his youth. His ex-wife had passed from his arms into those of another man. Still, having no visitors was a bitter pill.

Tubes snaked from machines. A sound like bellows. Above him hung two plastic bags. One fed into an IV tube that ended at a needle in the back of his hand.

Tanner heard the timed beeping of a monitor, located it on a small wheeled table. Waves of green light scrolled across its face, where flashing numbers continually changed.

A hospital bed. But where had he been? Twice, now.

Mind games. Produced by the seizure’s tiny jolts of randomly firing synapses, or whatever caused the chemical reactions in his brain.

Alice. Someone with whom to explore an unknown, perhaps dangerous, world? He sighed. Bound to be better than this constant sorrow, but Tanner didn’t believe in miracles. Life was full of tricks. Was playing the game really worth the outcome?

Had he lost the drive to just push ahead? And if so, what now?

* * *

Watching the ragged peaks and valleys of the bedside monitor, the young nurse was puzzled by its wild variations. The patterns would be smooth and rhythmic for a while, then suddenly swing out to the machine’s boundaries.

Was he having nightmares? What could be causing such extreme fluctuations?

Should she call the doctor? No, she decided, not yet. In the event of real trouble, the alarm would sound and they’d all come running.

Still, she didn’t like the way those spiky signatures raced across the screen, faster then faster still.

Suddenly, the heart line fell flat.

#

And just before the monitor began its shrill warbling …

Tanner jumped.

Short Story
1

About the Creator

C. L. Nichols

C. L. Nichols retired from a Programmer/Analyst career. A lifelong musician, he writes mostly speculative fiction.

clnichols.medium.com

specstories.substack.com

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  • Catherine Murrayabout a month ago

    I loved this! Romantic/sentimental/sci-fi/more!

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