The Unexpected Icarus
The three of us stared in awe at the rock nestled in the freshly made crater. The trees all around the impact site were snapped in half outward, and the ground was utterly barren of any debris. There were no leaves, no twigs, or even pine needles, just broken fir trees and the steaming chunk of rock in the crater’s center.
“Is that a meteor?” asked Ethan, inching closer to the crater’s edge.
“Meteorite,” said Mike.
“That’s what I said, a meteorite.”
“No, you said meteor, this is a meteorite.”
Ethan looked at me with a dumbfounded, slack-jawed expression, held his hands out to his sides, and turned back to Mike. “What’s the difference, professor?”
“Well,” said Mike. “a meteor is a piece of space rock that burns up in earth’s atmosphere, but a meteorite is a space rock that makes it to the planet’s surface.” He went on, but I wasn’t paying attention. I shut my flashlight off and leaned over the crater’s edge as much as I dared. “Now, an asteroid is a rock that’s generally in orbit between Jup-”
“Shut up for a second,” I interrupted. “Kill your light.” Mike gave me an indignant look but did as I said. With both of our lights off, my suspicion was confirmed. The meteorite had a faint green glow. The rock not only glowed, but it seemed as though it were pulsing, and without Mike and Ethans talking, it sounded as if it were humming. With each pulse of green light, the hum would grow louder and then quieter as the light dimmed.
“We need to call someone,” I said. “I don’t care if it’s the state police or park rangers.” I turned my light back on to see Mike nodding anxiously in agreement as he backed away from the crater. On the other hand, Ethan remained firmly rooted where he stood, his hands on his hips, still eyeing the meteorite.
“What do you think it’s worth?” asked Ethan.
Mike shrugged. “I don’t know what the going rate for irradiated space rock is, but I don’t want to keep standing next to it.”
“You know they can make sword’s out of this shit, right?” said Ethan, turning his back to the crater.
”Sword’s, Ethan?” I said. “I don’t know what fantasy novels you’ve been reading, but I don’t see that being the government’s top priority.”
“Well, he’s not entirely wrong. King Tut had a dagger made of meteorite,” said Mike.
Ethan opened his mouth to add more, but the ground at the crater’s edge shifted, and he began to lose his balance. He reeled backward and desperately tried to stay upright by swinging his arms in a windmill pattern. Mike and I both reached out for him, but I got to him first, grabbing his shirt and yanking him back upright.
“Holy shit,” said Ethan. “Solid save bud-”
Before he could finish, the ground below me gave way entirely. I stumbled backward and went end over end before coming to a stop inches away from the meteorite. I laid there in a cloud of dust with my face in the dirt.
“John!” yelled Mike. “Are you ok?!”
I spat out a mouthful of dirt and got up to a knee. The dust filled the air around me, but through it, I could see that the faint green glow had gotten brighter. The light had not only grown brighter, but it was pulsing much faster, and the humming noise that accompanied it had become much louder.
“I’m alright!” I called up to Mike. “You see the rock strobing out too, right? If not, then I have a bad concussion.” I began to back away from the rock without taking my eyes off of it.
“Yeah, I see it too! Whatever you do, don’t touch it!” said Mike.
“So does that rule out licking it?!” I yelled.
The pulsing light continued to increase in speed, and the hum had grown so loud that it was vibrating the ground around me. Tiny bits of rock, pulverized from the impact, began to jump and dance with each light pulse. The residual dust from my fall dissipated as though being blown away by a fan, and with it gone, the green glow became blinding. I covered my eyes from the bright flashes, and just as I thought to turn and run, all the activity stopped. The flashing green light was gone, and the hum had ceased altogether. For a brief moment, there was only darkness and silence. Then, it happened.
The meteorite lit back up, even brighter than before. I didn’t even have a chance to cover my eyes when the rock discharged a bolt of green light that hit me square in the chest. The blast sent me flying backward, and slamming into the crater’s slope, sending up a fresh dust cloud. I laid there, stunned, and unable to catch my breath. The last thing I remembered before passing out was the sound of Ethan’s high pitched shriek. I would have laughed my ass off if the wind hadn’t just been knocked out of me.
I don’t remember getting dragged out of the crater, but I woke up with Ethan and Mike standing over me. Mike had two fingers pressed to my throat, looking down at his watch while Ethan just stood there with his mouth open, wide-eyed and pointing when he saw the I was conscious.
“Dude!” said Ethan.
Mike looked up from his watch. “Oh, thank Christ.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” asked Ethan.
I tried to answer him, but I had inhaled a lot of dust, and all I could do was cough. Mike handed me his canteen and insisted that I drink the rest of its contents. They both quietly watched as I sucked down the entire canteen and waited for me to catch my breath when I finished.
“The last thing I remember was you screaming like a little bitch.” I said, pointing at Ethan.
Mike howled with laughter. “I WAS HOPING YOU HEARD THAT TOO!”
“Oh, I heard it,” I said. “I’m never letting that one go.”
Ethan glared back and forth at us as we both laughed. “No one will believe any of this,” he said. “so I’m not too concerned.” He crossed his arms and continued to glower as Mike and I stopped laughing to exchange glances.
“But we’ll know,” said Mike, pointing to himself and then to me. Ethan tried to keep scowling, but a smile began to creep onto his face.
“I did sound like a little bitch,” Ethan finally said, causing the three of us to burst into laughter.
They helped me to my feet, and both stood next to me as they observed my ability to remain balanced and upright. My legs were weak, and my chest was sore, but I felt better than I expected. I took a few test steps with Mike staying right behind me, then turned around and nodded.
“I can make it back to camp,” I said.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you say that,” said Mike. “We did not want to drag you back.” He pointed his light towards the trail we used to come in. “We need to get back to camp and either find a spot with cell service or hike out to the car.”
“Why not wait until morning?” I asked. “Whatever just happened, really took it out of me.”
Mike looked at me with a dead-pan expression. “Because there is a glowing chunk of cosmic rock shooting out green lightning in the middle of Vermont.”
“How about we decide what to do after we eat some food?” Ethan interjected.
It was then I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch. We had just made camp when the meteorite struck the opposite side of the mountain, and the entire event had me so preoccupied that I didn’t realize how hungry I was until Ethan said something.
Even just thinking about crappy camp food made my stomach growl. I was tired, sore and the thought of a hot meal got me excited. I was just about to agree with Ethan but was interrupted by Mike yelling and pointing to my feet.
“HOW THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THAT?!”
Ethan and Mike both stood pointing with their mouths open. Confused, I looked down at my feet and saw nothing at first. I lifted my foot to see if I was standing on top of whatever they were pointing to, and it was then I realized what had them so worked up.
When I picked my foot up, I saw that the other was not touching the ground, but hovering five inches in the air. Upon seeing this, I rose another few feet in the air and stopped. My breathing became rapid, and I felt an overwhelming sense of panic as I began to rise even higher while frantically looking around for any explanation. Then, without warning, I shot upward like a missile.
The wind roared past my ears, my cheeks flapped like a windsock, and the rushing air was so strong against my face that I could barely keep my eyes open to see what was happening. It took a few seconds to comprehend my situation, but the moment I did, I screamed. Like a pop bottle rocket, I continued shooting into the night sky with an ear-piercing screech. But just as I was taking another breath to continue screaming, I was briefly distracted by the scenery below.
I looked down to see the mountains and foothills getting smaller and the landscape’s view becoming much broader, and despite my extraordinary circumstances, the sight was still incredible. So incredible that it got me to stop shrieking and appreciate the view for a moment.
Like a long winding mirror, the river below reflected the full moon’s light as it peeked over the mountain tops. For miles, I could see patches of lights nestled randomly throughout southern Vermont, and there was no traffic on any of the back roads or highways. The entire land seemed so quiet and serene, and that was when it dawned on me that it was quiet.
The air had stopped rushing over my ears, my lips and cheeks had stopped flapping, I could look up without tears filling my eyes. I looked around and saw that I was no longer accelerating upward, but steadily descending toward the ground as if wearing a parachute. Upon this realization, I began talking to myself out loud.
“Ok, ok, ok,” I said. “you’re flying. You don’t know how you don’t know why, but you’re flying.”
When I said that, my descent stopped, and I just hovered in the sky.
“No, down!” I shouted angrily. “Go doOWWWWNNN-”
I went up faster than before, and I mean way faster. It was like having my ears next to a large waterfall, and the downdraft was so powerful that It hurt my face when I tried to look up. A tiny hole in my down jacket tore open, and I left a streak of goose feathers in the sky behind me, like my own personal jetstream. I had been freezing before, but the loss of my jacket’s insulation made it far worse.
The more altitude I gained, the colder I became, and the harder it was to breathe. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t inhale, and my shivering had become so violent that I couldn’t control my arms or legs any longer. I was terrified, my brain was starving for oxygen, my entire body was numb, and I was too exhausted to stay awake. I had to rest my eyes for a moment, and that was the second time I blacked out that night.
When I started coming to, I was still shivering but able to breathe. I tried opening my eyes, but it felt as though they had weights attached to them. I could feel that I was lying on the ground with a blanket draped over me, and felt the warmth of a fire crackling a few feet away. The sharp snaps and pops of the burning wood brought my hearing back into focus, and that was when I heard whispering.
“We have to get him to the hospital,” said Ethan.
“And tell them, what?” whispered Mike. “A glowing, green meteorite zapped our friend, and then he blasted off towards the atmosphere like a high pitched shuttle launch?”
“Well we hav-”
“And then, after defying every law of physics, he floated to the ground like a godamn feather.”
The conversation jolted my memory, and the entire event came rushing back. The rock, the green light, flying, it all came back at once. I jerked awake, sat straight up, and you guessed it. Up I went. I grabbed for anything I could to keep me tethered to the ground, but there was nothing. Just like before, I began accelerating into the sky. The tree branches, just out of reach, blurred by me as I frantically clawed for them.
Just as it was all coming together, that what I had experienced was not a dream, I was about to repeat it. Was I fated to replicate this nightmarish experience over and over until I died from heart failure? Was I going to make it past the atmosphere this time and out into the vacuum of space? These were the questions that plagued my mind in the time it took me to go from the ground to the treetops.
Then, at the height of my desperation, I felt a sharp pain in my ankle, and my ascent stopped abruptly.
“HOOOOOOLLLY SHIT!” I heard Ethan yell.
“I KNEW IT!” shouted Mike.
The same sensation of being pulled towards the sky overwhelmed my body, but I wasn’t moving for some reason. I stayed right at the tops of the trees. It was calm, quiet, and much like the view from far above the valley. It was another one of those moments that made me forget what was happening, even for a second, and I started to descend.
“YES!” yelled Mike. “I am a genius!”
I reached down to my lower leg and came in contact with something wrapped around my ankle. I rolled it between my fingers and realized what it was. It was nylon paracord.
Mike had always been a stern advocate for bringing extra paracord on our hiking trips. It may have been the boy scouts, or maybe it was his time in the military, but Mike was ready for anything. He might have been awkward around women and had terrible timing with his jokes, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the most prepared person I had ever met. He was also the most intelligent person I knew, and his quick thinking had just saved my life.
“John!” Mike shouted up to me. “This is going to sound out there, but I need you just to trust me, ok?”
“Kay...” I responded.
“I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As deep a breath as you can take in, then let it all out. Ok?
I took a long deep breath, released it, and the speed of my descent increased. I took another deep breath in, let it out, and continued moving gradually towards the ground.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked.
“Let’s get you to the ground first,” Mike responded. “then we’ll talk about it.
Both he and Ethan were below me, each holding the paracord, pulling it hand over hand. As they assisted me, I continued the deep breathing and was to the ground in no time. The moment I touched down, Ethan grabbed me in a full embrace.
I awkwardly patted him on the back. “I uh, love you too, buddy,”
“I’m not hugging you, dipshit,” said Ethan.
“Hold him tight.” I heard Mike say.
I craned my neck and saw him tying something together. “What the hell are you guys doing?”
Mike continued with his task. “Making you a harness.” He walked up to me with Ethan still bear hugging me and held up paracord he had braided and knotted together to make an x pattern. He draped the makeshift harness over my shoulders and clipped it to a rope lashed around a tree.
“I have a working theory,” said Mike.
“Am I safe now, or does he need to keep doing this?” I said, pointing down to Ethan, still hugging me.
Mike nodded. “I believe you’re safe, but you have to stay calm, ok?”
Ethan released me from his embrace but remained next to me, ready to pounce.
“Here’s my theory,” said Mike. “I don’t know how, but I believe your ability to fly is tied directly to your emotions, more specifically, your stress levels.”
“Case in point, when you were screaming, your stre-
“YEAH!” interrupted Ethan. “who screams like a bitch now?!”
Mike shrugged. “You both do, but I would like to get to my point now if you don’t mind.”
“As I was saying, when you were screaming, your stress levels were obviously through the roof. No pun intended. But for whatever reason, relaxing your mind, body, or both reverse the effects.”
I nodded. “An hour ago, I would’ve told you that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard, but now I’ll get on board with anything.” Ethan took a step back and somewhat relaxed while Mike and I discussed what to do next.
“So, what should we do?” I asked.
Mike looked up at the sky. “We might be isolated, but that was a massive impact. It might have registered on a seismograph or two, but it most definitely popped up on radar. Not to mention, we aren’t the only people camping out here.”
“So we should get as far away from it as we can,” said Ethan. “Let’s pack up, get to the car, and pretend like we never saw it.” Mike finished.
Before I had a chance to add my opinion, a blinding white light engulfed us. I couldn’t see much, but I could tell that it wasn’t coming from a single source. It was many individual lights surrounding the campsite.
”PLACE YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND DO NOT LOWER THEM,” a voice commanded from behind the lights.
I did as ordered, and when I did, I began to feel the same sensation as before, the feeling of being pulled up. The feeling took over my body, but I remained rooted to the ground. The only thing I could see was that all three of us had our hands in the air, but not what was keeping me grounded.
Mike whispered. “No matter what, you have to stay calm.”
As my eyes adjusted to the lights, I could see out of my peripheral vision that Mike was standing on the rope attached to my harness.
”INTERLOCK YOUR FINGERS, PLACE THEM ON TOP OF YOUR HEAD AND GET ON YOUR KNEES.” commanded the voice.
Mike continued to whisper as we all complied. “We saw and heard an impact but never went to the impact site. If we never went to the site, then we know nothing about a meteorite. Got it?” Just as he finished, I could see several of the lights approaching us.
Hands grabbed each of my arms and wrenched them behind my back. I then felt cold metal around my wrists, binding them together.
“What the hell is all this?” asked another unseen voice. I felt a sharp tug on my harness.
“Our friend wasn’t feeling well, and we were in the process of setting up a harness in case we had to carry him out,” answered Mike.
“He looks fine now,”
“Hence why we stopped, sir.”
“Get this shit off of him and separate these three. I’ll handle the questioning.” said the voice.
I felt another jerk on the harness, heard a knife cutting through the nylon cord, and felt it slide off my shoulders with a final pull. Someone put a black hood over my head, led me by my wrists to a vehicle, and shoved me in the backseat.
I had been sitting in a room for what felt like hours. I still had the hood over my head but could tell from the sounds of the footsteps that the room wasn’t big. Other than that, I had no idea what was happening or where I even was. We hadn’t been in the car very long before pulling off on to a bumpy back road. We stopped, then someone pulled me out of the vehicle, led me up a set of metal stairs, through two doors, and cuffed me to a metal chair.
I might have been able to pick up on more details through my hearing if I hadn’t been so focused on staying relaxed. From the moment they caught us, I had been practicing the deep breathing Mike suggested, and it was working. Despite all the new added stress, I remained calm.
Finally, I heard the door open and listened as a single set of footsteps entered the room. They uncuffed me, ripped off my hood, and began speaking before my eyes could adjust.
“What did you see on the other side of the mountain?” he asked.
My vision came back into focus, and across from me, sat a man in black fatigues. A balaclava mask covered his face and hair, but I could still see his lips moving when he spoke.
“What did you and your friends see on the other side of the mountain?” he repeated.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Bullshit!” he snapped.
I took a deep breath in and let it out steadily. Stay calm, I told myself. “We only heard and felt an explosion. We didn’t leave our campsite.”
The man held up three of his fingers. "Three sets of footprints led directly to your camp from the event site, and one set of them matches the soles of those boots on your feet. Just come clean and tell me what you saw.”
I took another deep breath and proceeded to lie. “We didn’t go near any event site, or whatever you called it.”
“Again, with the lies. What did you see at the event site?”
“I don’t know what event you’re referring to, but we didn’t go near it. We only heard and felt the explosion.”
Through his mask, I could see his face contort angrily. His eyes narrowed.
“Last chance,” he said quietly.
Just as I was about to continue my lie, I was interrupted by a voice in my head. It wasn’t my voice, either. It was Mike’s.
”John, they know we saw the meteorite. Tell them we were there, but you never touched it, and nothing else happened.”
Confused, I looked around the room.
“Mike?” I said out loud.
The man sitting across from me threw his hands up. “Yes, him too.”
”Hopefully, I can explain later, but trust me and listen for now. We saw the meteorite, but we didn’t come in direct contact with it. Also, I know you’re about to respond out loud, don’t. I can hear what you’re thinking.”
“I hit my head or something,” I thought to myself.
”No, you didn’t,” said Mike’s voice. ”answer this guy and make him think you are the dumbest, most inept person to walk the earth.”
The man was moving to get up from his chair, but I stopped him.
“You’re right,” I said. “We went to the impact site.” He froze in his seat.
“Go on,” he said.
I could feel myself getting anxious, so I held up my hand for a pause. Not only did I need to calm down, but I also needed time to ask Mike what to say next, presuming it was really him speaking to me. I hadn’t even finished my thought before Mike’s voice answered.
”It’s really me, dude.
”Prove it,” I thought.
”You came down with the flu the night before your thirteenth birthday. I remember this because I was at the Boy Scout meeting when you found out you were sick. When you-
“When I shit myself!” I interrupted out loud.
“What?!” said the masked man. “You shit yourself, just now? You better not have!”
The whole night had already slowed my cognitive abilities. Between the rock, almost being launched into space, having to do meditation breathing to keep from relaunching, and then being kidnapped by unidentified military personnel, it had been a rough one. My friend speaking to me in my head didn’t help my critical thinking skills either.
“Did you just say you shit yourself?!” the man demanded.
I looked down at my feet, gravely, and nodded.
“Yes, sir. Well..., I mean, not just now, but earlier...” I said, looking back up. “I’d had the bubble guts all day. I’m not sure if some camp food didn’t agree with me, or if I didn’t purify my water enough, but I felt terrible. Well, my friends didn’t care about that and still insisted that we check out whatever the explosion was. So we found the spot where the thing hit, right? We make it to the site, and before we even have a chance to investigate anything cool, the thunder comes rumbling.”
The masked man leaned in and quietly asked. “The thunder?”
I shrugged. “Yeah. I had to, you know, poop...”
He shook his head in annoyance and leaned back in his chair as I continued.
“So there we are at this crater thing, I’m already nervous, my guts are bubbling like a hot cauldron, and then my buddy Mike tells me that stuff from outer space gives off radiation, like a lot of it. So then I’m worrying that if I drop trou right there and dump out, I’m going to get radiation poisoning or some form of butt cancer.”
Mike’s voice came out of nowhere. ”He thinks you’re a total idiot! Keep it up!”
The man held up his hands, motioning for me to stop, but I ignored him. “So instead of risking the radiation poisoning, I just let ’er rip.”
“Ok, I’ve heard plenty,” he said, getting up from his chair. “feel free to move about this room.” He pointed all around the room then sternly to the door. “If you try to walk out of here through that door, you will be shot. Understand?”
“Yes,” I said. “is there somewhere to take a leak?”
“Go in the corner,” he said, then walked out the door.
The instant the door shut, Mike began speaking to me again.
″That could not have gone better. You set the bar low, so he’s expecting the same from Ethan and me. I spoke-...err reached out to Ethan already, and as long as he doesn’t screw it up, we’re getting out of here.”
I concentrated on not responding out loud. ”These guys are government agents. I don’t think they’re letting us go.”
”That’s the thing,” said Mike. “They’re not with the government.”
I responded out loud. “What?!”
”They’re with a private military company. They somehow got a line on the meteorite, and the government missed it.”
”So wouldn’t it still be easier to kill us?” I thought.
”It would, but the CEO of this company remotely oversees all operations, and he has a history of leaving loose ends untied. All of his personnel think he’s far too soft, but he pays the best. The guy asking the questions earlier thought about how he was going to have to let us go and he was not happy about it.”
As it turns out, Mike had been right about everything. They tried to question each of us multiple times, but it was no problem with Mike able to read minds. They kept us for twenty-four hours, then let us go, and much to the man in charges chagrin, his boss forced him to give us a ride back to our car. They unceremoniously kicked us out, then peeled out on the gravel in front of us.
I calmly walked over to a small tree, sat next to it, and wrapped my arm around it. I seemed to have the whole flight thing under control at that point, but I was taking zero risks.
Mike waved and smiled as the masked man held his middle finger out of the window.
“That guy may be an asshole, but I think he hates you, Mike,” said Ethan. Mike continued waving as we watched the SUV, and the middle finger hanging out of the passenger side window disappear in a dust trail.
“That’s because once I figured out they weren’t going to kill us, I started messing with his head,” laughed Mike. “he thinks his wife is cheating on him, so I watered that seed for a bit. He actually thought about killing me for a second, so I laid off.” Mike then walked over to Ethan’s truck, pulled out a length of rope, tied one end around the truck’s trailer hitch, and then walked over to me with the other end.
“What now?” I asked, annoyed.
“I have a hypothesis,” said Mike.
“Not right now, bro. I just want to rest for a few minutes.”
“Just humor me, please.”
“Fine,” I said, standing up.
Mike spoke as he tied the other end of the rope around my waist. “So the meteorite gave you the ability to fly, right? And presumably, it gave me the power of telepathy.” He gave one test pull on both ends and then stood in front of me, placing his hands on my shoulders.
“Take as deep a breath in as you can,” he said calmly.
I did as he suggested and inhaled through my nostrils. Just as I reached the height of my breath, Mike lifted his hand in the air and slapped me across the face as hard as possible. SMACK!
The pain, the anger, the ringing in my ears all came at once. I was confused, stunned, and wouldn’t have remained upright if Mike didn’t help me keep balanced.
“WHAT THE HELL BRO?!” I shouted.
“Look!” he said. “You’re still on the ground!”
I looked down and saw that he was right. Despite the anger, my heart rate increasing, or whatever triggered my flight ability, I was still on the ground. I regained my senses after a few moments, but the slap’s pain lingered.
“You didn’t have to slap me that hard, dickhead,” I said, rubbing my cheek.
“Probably not,” said Mike. “but I wanted to make sure.”
“Is it gone, like for real gone?” I asked.
“Well, my telepathy abilities are gone, so I naturally assumed.” Mike shrugged. “The last thing I heard was Ethan thinking about how he couldn’t wait to get home and log on to his favorite paid por-...”
“You listened to my thoughts without telling me?!” Ethan interrupted from behind us.
I turned to look at him, but no one was there. I looked around and behind me, but there was nothing. “Ethan?” I said suspiciously.
“What?” said his voice from a few feet away. Mike turned to look as well.
“Where the hell are you? How are you doing that?” I asked.
“Doing what? I think you need to get some sleep.” said Ethan’s voice. I looked down at the spot where he had been and saw the gravel shifting around as though someone was still standing there, shuffling.
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose and squinted. “Oh, shit...” he said.