By Jake Kale
From the mythical Tower of Babel, to the Wright Brothers and right up to Armstrong’s “one small step”, the depthless curiosity of the human species, ingrained and hardwired by millions of years of natural selection, had compelled it to seek a way up. To touch the sky. The irony of its end was utterly crushing.
The way it began was always different. Sometimes, mainly back when he still drove, Ben would imagine being in his car and suddenly losing traction. Other times he would imagine—no, see himself walking along the street, watching people pass him by, hearing the lilting tones of their conversation, so faint it was almost drowned out by the regular volleys of traffic. He could almost taste the smoky diesel fumes, and that was the worst thing—it always felt so real. And gradually he would notice his footfalls becoming softer, his steps becoming easier. It would feel almost as if he were wading through water, only without the associated drag. And he’d look around and see that other people were noticing it as well. Suddenly they all felt lighter. And they would glance at each other and at Ben, and he would see surprise, puzzlement, disbelief and perhaps a healthy dose of alarm in their faces. Some might even begin to enjoy this new-found ethereality, to run and hop along like astronauts in old, grainy NASA stock footage, laughing and giggling, taking turns to see how high they could jump or how long they could hang in the air, all taking their own personal “one small step”. And Ben would watch, a part of him longing to join in even though he knew this was only the beginning, that it was going to get so much worse.
That gravity itself was about to invert.
So as the people around him continued to indulge their blissful, mindless revelry Ben would feel weightlessness in his stomach that was nothing to do with the impending repeal of Newton’s Laws. And he would begin to run, to look for shelter, anything secure with a roof over it, but with each step finding purchase enough to propel himself forward would become more and more difficult, and with each stride it would take him longer and longer to return to the pavement. Meanwhile, all around him the system would begin to break down and chaos would reign as the absence of friction caused vehicles to go out of control, to slam into each other and into the screaming pedestrians for whom the lack of traction had suddenly become a mortal handicap. The screeches and squeals of terror and rending metal, the sounds of explosions both distant and just metres away would assail his ears from all directions. And he would know at this stage that it was all over, that he should’ve stayed inside. That the best he could hope for was that he would find something to hang on to, a lamp post or a railing, anything, so that he would survive long enough to watch it all unfold.
The weightlessness would be the first symptom, gravity as everybody knew it shutting down. But at that point the second symptom would take effect, and as the attraction of mass to mass wore off and gave way to repulsion heavy objects, vehicles such as trucks, buses, vans and cars would rise up slowly, seeming to hover in the air. Rubbish and other surface debris would float lazily off the ground and out of dustbins, and loose paving tiles would tumble free. And perhaps even entire buildings, their foundations designed to rest within the soil instead of anchoring securely to it, would begin to slide up out of the earth. And finally the people in the street, and humanity as a whole would lose its fragile grip on the world and start to drift away, crying out in shock and terror, pleading and praying for help, and while some, like Ben, might find something to hold onto, or snag the branches of trees on their way up, the vast majority would not be so fortunate. And Ben would feel his own feet leave the pavement and rotate to face the sky, and he would look up, or rather down at the vast expanse of blue beneath him, down into the Aegean abyss, the effects of antigravity unfolding slowly at first but increasing rapidly until suddenly everything—vehicles, buildings, men, women, and children plummeted skyward screaming as their planet rejected them and cast them out into the Void.
And Ben would watch.
In his dreams Ben would find the reserves to hang on to his home planet for a while, trying to delay the inevitable. But eventually either his strength or willpower or both would give and he too would fall into the sky, the ground that had once held him to the Earth so securely receding, his body spinning violently, vertiginous terror causing his bile to rise, his head to throb and his vision to blur, air rushing past or perhaps flowing away with him as it, too, was ejected. He would pass into the wispy whiteness of the clouds, feeling misty droplets of pre-precipitation on his face and arms, and back out again, the pallid rolling hills and valleys fading just as the surface they now obscured had done. And as he caught sight of the curvature of the Earth, the blackness of space standing out in stark contrast beneath it, he would lose all sensation of speed, his whipping hair and clothes becoming still, Einstein’s “happy idea” experienced first-hand, and the cold, fatigue and lack of oxygen would begin to dull the intense pressure that swelled his skin and coursed through his body as his blood boiled in his veins, and in his last few seconds of consciousness he would wonder whether his body would be incinerated or if it would escape into the vacuum of space only to expand and burst in an instantly freezing bouquet of blood, bone and gore . . .
Falling by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.