A version of this story was published in Daily Flash 2011 from Pill Hill Press. (April 30th)
My fingers are numb and fumbling, sliding over the safety harness without managing to grip the straps. Natasha laughs and tells me my thick fingers will get me killed one of these days - our little in-joke. She leans in close to me and pulls them tight, checking each buckle and latch. That's her job, after all. I wonder if, one day, she'll miss one. If she'll leave something dangling loose or even slide the boxcutter out of her belt and make a subtle cut. Hopefully it won't come to that. She looks around to make sure the others aren't watching before pressing her lips to mine. Wouldn't want to appear unprofessional. "For luck," she says, and we both know what she means.
Natasha is gone after that, disappearing off to the supply shed to hide among the spare harnesses and helmets. I saw her leaving once, after I was safely back and getting out of the rig, and she was sliding a flask back into her pocket. So much for the casual jokes about my situation. One of the other staff members clips me in and has me step up to the ledge - I manage to hide the fact that my feet aren't quite following directions. He gives the all-clear - my heart is racing, and I tip forward into the void.
With the air whipping around me and the cliff flashing past all I can think of is the ground. It would be easy to just let it come up to meet me - too easy. In my head I'm counting down to impact, waiting for that last possible second. Three... two... I spread my arms and the wings propel me forward a mere ten feet over the rocks and dust - for a moment I hope in vain that the wings will pull free and send me slamming into the landscape but everything works perfectly. I soar up and circle around on an updraft, riding thermals until eventually getting high enough that I can come in for a landing back on the top of the mesa.
Natasha comes over as I'm yanking at my helmet and she helps to undo the clasp.
"What happens when the disease goes far enough that you can't hide it?" She asks, and I can feel the warmth of her breath, smell the alcohol. It's the million-dollar question. I can go flying three times a week, base-jumping on Fridays, rapids surfing on Wednesday - but if modern safety measures continue to hold up I'll be in a wheelchair before I can get myself killed. After that it could take a year for my brain to give out, ever so much slower than terminal velocity. Natasha carries everything away, and calls to me without looking back. "See you on Saturday - I'll set aside our oldest harness for you."