Why not? What did I have to lose? There were few certainties in this world. Here I was, standing on the edge of a four story drop. I didn’t have any reason not to. So I slipped, so I fell, what then? No one would be any worse for it.
Besides, six feet? I could jump that any day.
I backed away from the lip as the others stared at me, not wanting to interrupt my concentration? They were quiet at least.
Four steps, three maybe with a sprint. Four or three? I should test this. I should know. No point in jumping in before I’m ready. Haha.
I walked forwards slowly, but with long strides – the kind I’d make while running. I memorised each footfall, lining them up so I’d be pushing off with my good ankle. Minimise risk.
Maybe I should minimise jumping off buildings.
But that would be no fun at all.
I traced the steps backwards until my back was flat against the machinery, maximum space. Now I just had to run. Take the leap.
I let my head fall backwards until my helmet produced an echoed thud on the hollow steel behind me. My heart beat was surprisingly slow, shouldn’t it be racing for something like this? I felt the tension, I felt the chemicals my brain was releasing just at the thought of the danger.
But my heart? That kept its steady beat. I closed my eyes, I could feel each thud behind my eyelids, pushing blood around my body. Feeding my muscles, my brain, pumping adrenaline through my veins.
I took a deep breath, as if it would help, and held it. Nothing but to go for it. Now.
Just… fucking… run damnit!
I couldn’t. I’d lost my nerve. What was wrong with me? However much I rationalised it, however much I thought I had nothing to lose, however little I cared, my body just wouldn’t let me.
Mike stepped forwards. The movement broke my trance, making it all the more obvious that I’d never be able to make this jump.
“Alex, maybe there’s something you should know.” He placed a hand on my shoulder and leaned down to my ear, lowering his voice. “I didn’t want Jack to find out. But it’s probably better he thinks his friend is dead rather than… These places, there are a few. I didn’t know we had any but…”
I looked up at him, his proximity highlighted the difference in height. He stared right into my eyes. He wasn’t joking around, this was one of the times when he’s actually taking things seriously.
“Where there’s a demand…” He shrugged, “there’s someone selling.” I frowned, not sure what he was implying. He left me with one last cryptic clue. “I wasn’t lying, what I said when we were here yesterday.”
I ran the conversation through my head. What had he said that would have any application to…
It took a moment for the utter repulsion to settle within me, and all it did was fuel an anger I hadn’t felt for a while.
So if Tom was alive then that would likely be his fate. And it would be because of me. It made sense; they didn’t need him dead. He could be an asset to them, a commodity.
I pushed myself off from the wall. I could do this.
I leaned into a full-on sprint before I could re-consider my new-found motivation. I forgot all about placing my feet in their memorised places. The run seemed to contract time, and it was an instant before I was taking the leap to make my last footfall on the very edge of the concrete roof.
I pushed off as hard as I could.
My stomach was lifted upwards as I arced through the air. I was suspended. Everything slowed as I hung there. I kept my eyes forward on where I was going to land, but the four story drop below me drew my attention.
Then I hit the ground. It was a brutal ending to the grace and elegance of momentary flight. Solid concrete came up to meet me. To my surprise my ankle held my weight, but it was only a instant’s relief. The surface of the flat roof was thick with a layer of black ice. My foot kept going and I lost balance. My momentum carried me into a roll, scraping my helmet against the hard ground.
I pulled myself up, filled with euphoria at having made it in once piece. I could see the attraction of jumping out of planes. I’d never really understood it before, but that feeling of being suspended in the air was euphoric.
I raised my head to look back at Mike and Jack, and had to force down a laugh. How could I laugh in a situation like this? They stared back at me, and I was shocked at the distance I’d covered. I’d made the six feet easily. Without the roll, I must have touched-down at nearly that distance again from the edge. Easy.
I saw Mike tense and make the run himself. It looked considerably less ethereal when you weren’t the one in the air…
He landed with more dignity than me, but covered significantly less distance. He looked up, face flushed, and smiled at me.
My own joy had subsided, leaving me with the smouldering anger and burning guilt that had compelled me to jump. I walked to the edge where Jack was peering at us from over the gap. “Jack. Go back down below and keep an eye out for anyone-”
“No way! You’re not leaving me behind.” He skipped backwards and before I could tell him otherwise started running.
He was fast, but didn’t have Mike’s long legs, or my own strength. He pushed away from the edge and I could see the panic in his face as he travelled through the air towards me, arms flailing helplessly.
You’ve got to give him credit for effort. He was braver than I.
I dropped to my knees and reached out to grab him – catching a handful of his jacket as he slammed bodily into the lip of the roof with a grunt of expelled breath. I felt a momentary burst of panic as our collective centre of gravity shifted when I took his weight, but I grabbed at the guttering and stopped him pulling us both over the edge.
“You idiot!” I pulled, hauling him up the sheer brick surface as he scraped at it with grazed hands, scrambling to get a grip. “What the hell are you thinking?”
He didn’t reply, still gasping for air. I threw him back from the edge into a heap. He recovered breath enough to wheeze a few words. I didn’t catch much, but I was sure I heard the word “knees” a few times.
I scanned the rooftop for possible entrances. There was one obvious one: A staircase, encased in concrete, rose up from the floor, but the narrow entrance was sporting a thick steel bars. I investigated, but it was held closed with a large padlock.
Was it easy to break off a padlock? I wasn’t sure, but I guessed it would be noisy. Besides, we didn’t have any tools. I scanned the area but there were no loose bricks lying around to use as an improvised hammer. I doubted my batons would be heavy enough. And if we used them we might as well ring a bell to announce our arrival. Even if I did have something that could smash it open – the lock was on the inside, obviously, and it would have been hard to get at through the bars anyway.
Mike was already climbing on top of one of the one of the air-processing units. There didn’t seem to be any skylights, which sucked. It left us with three options I could see.
That Mike could somehow find a way in through, we make a lot of noise smashing a lock or somehow dropping down and going through one of the upper floor windows. Some rope would have been useful, hell I should have come prepared for something like this.
I left Jack to recover and circled the unit Mike was investigating. “Think we can get in through that?” I asked, I was no expert on these things. I wasn’t even sure what it did.
“Probably, there should be a vent down.” He said, poking at a grill cover on the top.
“This isn’t a movie Mike, I’m not sure people can actually fit in those vents.”
“People, maybe. You?” I saw teeth, a joke I assumed. “You’re right, the normal ventilation system would just be some ducting in the ceiling, but here? Where they all connect up? The cross-section will to be proportional to the volume of air passing through, and there are only two units up here. Every vent in this building will route up through one of these.”
“What the fuck are you on about?” Jack had pulled himself to his feet, but he was limping pretty badly.
“It’s probably pretty wide.” Mike summarised. He pulled out a pocket knife and started working on the screws, or bolts, on the corners of one of the flat panels.
“How do you know all that?” Jack said, standing to his full height beside me, ignoring the growing red blossoming on the torn knees of his pants.
“I read. The internet takes you to some interesting places.” A bolt rolled along the metal and fell, ringing out a clean tone as it hit the floor which came to an abrupt stop on its second bounce. I winced at the noise, Jack screwed up his face, probably at the thought of spending time reading. “Alex, give me a hand with this.”
I grabbed the edge and hauled myself up to his level. Wedging myself so I could have free use of my hands we lifted the cover and passed it down to Jack’s waiting arms. He placed it gently on the floor. Why we were being careful not to damage anything I don’t know – I wouldn’t blink an eye if this place burned to the ground.
We peered down the shaft. I could hear the rush of cold air through the plastic of my helmet. But we could see little, just a black void. Mike fished around in his pocket and pulled out a flashlight. Again highlighting how unprepared I was. But it revealed little more. The shaft was just continued vertically into a pit of darkness.
“Well, that’s useful. Anyone fancy a fifty foot drop down a steel tube?” I said.