Those that had gathered below let out a unified gasp. Mothers drew young children into their bodies to shield their innocent eyes. Business men with slick hair and shiny shoes, already late for afternoon meetings, emails piling up in their inboxes, remained frozen with shock. Some turned their faces in anguish; others buried their heads into their hands.
But Nathan refused to look away.
He had arrived at the corner of Bristoff and West 1st an hour earlier, just as he’d been directed in the letter. And there he waited, holding her words in his sweaty palms as the blue ink began to bleed into his skin.
When she appeared, stepping off the edge of the highest building with confidence and grace, he had to squint to make out her sleek silhouette. Even then, he could barely detect the slight line beneath her feet, the highwire splitting the sky.
In the letter, her words had been pleading and honest.
I write you requesting a specific favor. And in return, I offer you the perfect angle for a piece in your underground pub (I’m afraid it won’t be suitable for the mainstream edition).
I’m sure you’ve heard of the most recent sanctions. They’ve moved beyond guns and liquor and cigarettes to recreational pursuits. Skydiving, long-distance running, skiing, rock climbing, hang gliding, bull riding – all sanctioned. And the list goes on; there are hundreds more.
They’re saying it’s to protect us, to keep us safe from these “high-risk” activities. Can you believe that? They’re hobbies, for Christ’s sake! But that’s the world we live in: a dictatorship under the guise of excessive mothering!
As she began to make her way across the wire, a crowd formed on the sidewalks and street corners. For a moment, the busy world halted mid-sentence, mid-stride, mid-latte to wonder at this figure walking across the sky.
This isn’t about risk, Nathan. No, no, no. It’s never been about that. This is about stifling what drives us, what gives us purpose. This is about stomping out our embers of passion. This is about breaking us down.
Soon, it’ll be painting and singing and writing. They’ll say they’ve linked creativity to brain cancer; they’ll offer data from their own studies to back the claims.
That’s why you started the underground paper, isn’t it, Nathan? Because they took away your editorials? No more opinions, just the facts, right?
Only minutes had passed before marshals from the Enforcement could be seen from the roofs of both buildings – the one she had stepped off of and the one she was destined for. They waited eagerly for her arrival, like predators who had chased their prey up a tree. But she seemed not to notice their presence, focused solely on her act and nothing more.
Of course, the skywalk was on the sanction list. Hell, the old-fashioned tightrope made the list! But I can’t give it up, Nathan. It’s all I’ve ever known.
I’ve got a plan to prove them wrong. And I need you there. I need you to cover the story.
Come to the meeting of Bristoff and West 1st – in front of the old stock exchange – the first Monday in April, 1:55 in the afternoon. You’ll know where to look for me.
Please bring your camera – and don’t be late.
Suspended halfway between the two high rises, her progress stopped. Motionless except the wind whipping her ponytail with violent ferocity, she raised her head first to the overcast sky. Then shifted her gaze to what waited below.
Nathan felt the sudden, overwhelming sensation of his lunch rising in his stomach. It had not occurred to him before that moment that she had no intention of making it across.
Unrolling the wrinkled letter once more, he saw something he had missed: a postscript scrawled across the back in faint pencil.
The most high-risk activity of them all is denying ourselves what we love. We simply cannot survive it.
We have to let them know. We have to let everyone know.
Nathan looked up only to see her fold her arms across her chest before letting herself fall backward, the triumphant finale to her last great act.
Grabbing the camera from around his neck, he waited for his shot as she fell from the sky.