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The Number

The Number (Fiction): by Truckerbase:

A girl sighed behind me.

Red lights flickered and flashed down below me, moving closer on the winding dirt road which ran red sand between monolithic red cliffs. Closer to the cliff Im standing on. Nothing unusual. Base jumping, typically an illegal activity, tends to draw that kind of attention. Jumping off of a fixed object like a building, an antenna, a bridge, or this cliff is a risk versus reward kind of activity.Its a numbers game. You could get arrested, or anything. If you expect the commonplace or the humdrum you will not find it here. You will find the unexpected. You will find new horizons. Go Big, they say, and this philosophy sums up both the risks and the rewards. There is a long list of rewards. Social status, fabulous visuals, a power drink of concentration and focus, Base enhancement is the ultimate. It cures what ails you. But a list of risks falls close behind. F uck Base Jumping up and the penalty is a front row seat on every airline disaster, car wreck, close range gun battle, and skate board wipe out youve ever heard about. F uck it up and you die. F uck it up, and you become a number and a photo on Nick’s list. The Base Fatality List. You take your chances.

The pretty girl, so familiar, moves again, restlessly. Behind me, scraping rock.

I wont be distracted. Im trying to focus. To pull it all together and be just about the moment. No past, no future. Just now. Im a Base Jumper.

It takes SOMETHING to jump off a rocky cliff with a parachute, to rocket downward in a roaring wind, to fling a small pilot chute into the airstream, to open with a great “WHUMPF!!!”, and then to glide precariously near rocky hazards to an uncertain landing. If a beating heart and expanding lungs signify life, then the Base moment is one of the most alive on the planet. It’s the ultimate ride. The ultimate destination. Im going to jump off this cliff. Ive done it before, but you have to be completely ready when your feet leave the edge. Concentration. You have to gather up your soul to Base jump, or you risk losing it forever.

She shifts again, more patiently now, resting against the boulder behind her, glancing behind her, as though someone else were there. Even looked like there were people behind her for a second, but Im still in the adrenaline moment. Everything else is blurred. Like a newspaper in the rain, its lists, and figures and photos running into a dark stream, like blood running from a nicked finger. I think I probably know her, I m just kind of busy right now. Shutting reality out.

More flickering lights. Police cars. Theyre closer now, and below, it looks like people are gathering. Base jumps draw as much of a fascinated audience as it does dedicated jumpers. Like two sides of a coin, they are linked. The vicarious side, the morbid side, the “picture taking to prove you were there side”, the train wreck side--one side of the coin is the audience who waits so intently and patiently, the watchers. And the performer side, the ego side, the jumper side, jumping for nothing but the jump, but still flattered by the attention-- in the modern world to be seen is to be. Its distracting. We all suffer from a sense of importance when admirers gather. There is my side, the side that will cash in its chips if it makes a mistake, or isn't concentrating on the task at hand, and allows itself to be distracted.

I glance at the girl again. Leaning almost seductively against the rock, she is pretty in a quirky, young Barbara Streisand kind of way. Her face curiously looks like two different faces assembled into one unique blend. A longish face with high cheekbones, an oddly small mouth, and expressive blue eyes, she sweeps wisps of brown hair back from her face and drops her small pointed chin to give me a devilishly lopsided but faintly sad grin.

She’s hot. And everyone keeps telling me how easy it is to get laid as a Base Jumper. Chicks dig scars. They dig rock stars. But using a come-on tactic like that, though, seems so shallow, and Im kind of shy anyway. Well, plus I can’t shake the feeling of how familiar she is. Base Groupie, maybe? I try to focus. I step to the edge of the cliff, again.

Again? A wave of something like deja vu sweeps over me, probably a little bit of nerves due to heights. Never used to have any fear of heights before Base. Before Base I actually always thought of what it would be like to jump the rail and fly out into that giant fishbowl of air, down and down and down. After becoming a Base jumper, though, if I go out onto a bridge, or look off an observation platform, and Im not wearing a Base rig, I feel really weird. Like Im about to casually go over the rail and jump anyway, almost without any ability to stop myself from going. The sensation is always unnerving and I find myself clutching the rail tightly to make sure I dont actually do it.

Unless Im wearing a Base Rig, that is, and then its like Im wearing a bullet proof vest. Once I have on my jumping boots and have my knee pads on and my rig settled on my back, chest strap and leg straps snug; Im going; Im gone; Im off.

Okay, now Im wondering what the deal is. I seem unfocused, and Im thinking too much about everything past and present, noticing things around me like Im seeing them in a new light. The cliff and the space in front of me seems to spin like a desert dust devil. This is a Base Jump. Focus. Gather. Double check. Like the Base manufacturer, Asylum, says, “Slow down. Commit”.

“Ready! Set! Go!” Now I AM in the past, skydiving, just starting out. Committing to a skydive was a big thing, a big step. Standing in the airplane’s door at what always looked like airline heights, the world became much bigger then it had always been before. Expanded. Exiting a perfectly good airplane was an act of rebellion, individuality, and focus; the leap opened a portal into a new world of applied imagination. A new world of self confidence and expanded identity. A fountain of youth. Base was the inevitable “next step”, an expansion to the power of adventure. A continuation of my “plan” of being “more”.

Lights blue and red were flashing below me now, at the bottom of the cliff. Not so much activity now, though. Nothing approaching, nothing leaving. The people looked like they were just standing there, looking up, limp. I should jump. I should have jumped already. I shouldn't be just standing here like I'm in limbo. I feel timeless, but the sun has moved across the sky. Its getting late. I feel floaty.

I feel a gentle hand on my wrist, as gentle as a lily’s kiss. An upward pull. The girl I think. But Im squinting into the blue sky, oddly distant. Sounds from behind me. Other people up here too. Somehow, I know they are all jumpers. Experienced in taking a leap of faith. Card carrying, listed jumpers.

Carl Boenish, the Father of Base, had started the list. Started issuing The Number. When you had jumped a Building, an Antenna, a Span (or bridge), and an Earthform (or cliff) you received your Base Number, the greatest day of your life. You had become a “real” Base Jumper. A certified explorer of self.

An adventurer, a traveler, an explorer. I started slow, a mega book worm as a kid, quiet and introverted. Picked on in school, early on, and moving around alot, I never really fit in. I had a temper though, and a restless inner fire which drove me like a fortune 500 CEO’s ambition. The poster child for Angry Young Men. And while I may have been socially backward and tongue tied as a kid, I had a plan. I did well in school, and studied everything. I expanded out of every kind of restriction or fence, real or social, that lay around me. One experience opened the door for more, mental and physical. Reading led to daydreaming. Daydreaming led to doing. Backpacking, Rock climbing, sailing, scuba diving, flying, skydiving, base jumping. Traveling and trekking. Nepal, India, Egypt, Israel, Australia, South America, Central America, Europe, Eastern Europe. Asia. Job after job, civilian and military. Larger and larger, every threshold was crossed, I expanded higher and higher. When Base came along, in going straight down, I was moving even higher .

As Marta Empinotti, “Base Goddess” would say, “We need this”.

The shadows were starting to grow long as the sun started to set, deep cinnamon oranges and reds grew in the sky as light started to fade. The reds of the rock and the rusted sand glowed with the repressed fury of dying coals and embers. A desert breeze hummed distantly across breathtaking views of buttes and valleys and mesas shimmering faintly in the fading warmth of the life of the day.

But now the crowd below seemed mostly gone, somehow, the cars and people. Only the desert floor beneath the cliff remained. Exactly as it had been yesterday and the day before that, and a thousand years before that.

Shannon Carmel Dean stood just behind me, girlish hand on my wrist, gentle but as firm as forever. Committed, I turned and looked and nodded, angelically pretty blue eyes reflective and expressive, funny and sad, vulnerable and strong, looked into mine wordlessly. The devilish smile, quirky and quick. Shannon, always seeing the good in people, always bridging distances, always moving up. Even after she fell.

We walked back up the long trail together, rejoining a big group of people, a long list from the looks of them, a blonde head here, a limp there, Erich Wagar sauntering along nearby, peacefully. Tom Manship, always early. Slim, still dancing. Walking towards a new adventure, we faded like the sunlight, until only the stars remained.

The wind sighed.

And in the distance, an ambulance moving away...

(Dedicated to Shannon Dean, BaseList #99, and her fiancee, Bob.)

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