An Unavoidable Precipice


I had such a colossally exhausting day yesterday. I went out for a hike in in the hills around Hanford in the morning. Things were a little muddy and more than a little rainy and I had dull-headedly worn my tennis shoes, but I had my umbrella hat and my notepad for jotting down big ideas, so I felt contented enough trudging along the trail. Then, disaster struck. The crucial footfall. I stepped on one of those gigantic snails and the lubrication from it's panicked excretion caused my foot to slip and all-of-a-moment later, I was rocketing along the slick trail on my vinyl parka.

I came to this washed-out place and was diverted into a narrow channel that cut across the face of the hillside, all the time picking up speed. My parka was flippity-flapping like an improperly deployed parachute. Leaves and twigs were tearing at my flesh. My skin was pulled back and bits of mud flecked my teeth. Thinking quickly, I took off one of my sneakers and unlaced it. I folded the tongue out and removed the insole. The rest of the shoe was ripped from my hands, but I peeled the insole apart and found that if I held the two flaps between my heels, they acted as a sort of rudimentary canard-rudder and, in this fashion, i was able to steer myself away from the larger obstacles.

I have no shame in admitting to you that I nearly made an awful mess of my plaid knickers when I saw an unavoidable precipice ahead of me. But soon it made no difference, because I had picked up such terrific velocity that when the ground fell away I continued on in a straight line. I looked down with amazement at the landscape the spread beneath me and thought about all of the tiny people I could see, and how most of their lives actually were as tiny as they seemed, although only to everyone but themselves. But the ground was fast approaching'I didn't have time for much more reflection, I needed a plan.

The first thing I knew I needed was something on which to write. My umbrella hat, of course, was useless, but the package of Trident I had'well, I hourly thank whatever Providence is responsible for ensuring that I bought that. I unwrapped each piece and chewed them in turn, and then carefully licked the edges of the papers and fixed them together. (Now, you might be wondering why I went to the trouble of creating this makeshift paper when I had a notebook with me. That's a good question, and there are two answers to it. The first is that I had written on all but the last page in that notebook and I was saving that one in case I had any more big ideas, and the second is that if you'd been there you would have seen that it wasn't really so much trouble.) It was another lucky thing that I happened to have my astronaut pen with me because I spent most of the time falling upside down. I'd like to think that this is more due to the density of my brains that the disproportionate size of my noggin.

Anyway, I used the astronaut pen to scrawl a message on the paper, 'falling from directly above you, please summon emergency response personnel.' At first I had spelled personnel with one n and two is, but the tip of my pocketknife scraped that illiteracy away easily and I folded the corrected sheet into a paper airplane. This a threw straight down with a mighty whip of my arm. It stuck in the pompadour of a passing gent, who read it, squinted up at me, and ran off to get help.

When the firemen arrived I spent some time observing them. They seemed to be in disagreement about exactly where it was I would fall and where they should try to catch me. A quick bit of math confirmed that if they didn't arrive at the correct location post haste I would have little need for anyone but an undertaker. Sensing the potential for a grievous ending to my hike, I sacrificed my poor sweet astronaut pen to safeguard my own life. I unscrewed the cap and tossed aside the ink cartridge. Then I pried the keyless-entry fob on my keychain open and removed the LED light and the two watch batteries. I set these in place in the empty pen tube and used the spring from the pen and the metal clip to both center the light and function as a rudimentary switch. Crude, darling, I know, but time was short! Then I removed my contacts, placed them one on top of the other and stretched them over the end of the pen. Granted, I'd have traded it in a picosecond for a half-decent or semi-functional laser, but the little device I'd just assemble was certainly able to span the ever-shortening distance between myself and the ground. I knew if I pointed the glowing dot to the place that I would land and I could assure that the poor myopic firemen would be a the right location.

The only thing left then was to determine exactly were I would land, but this was made so simple because of the pocket windometer and sextant I carry that I won't bore you with the details. The rest of the story really becomes quite typical. Giant airbag to break my fall, dozens of mimes and half-cybernetic chimney sweeps to welcome me back to terra firma, quick jaunt in jet-turbine helicopter to defeat final desperate scheme of escaped delusional orangutan. Y'know, blah blah blah.



P.S. How are you, Dearest? I’m sorry if I’ve been distant; things have just been a little up in the air the last while.

P.P.S. When I got home, what do you think I should find on my porch but the parts of the astronaut pen I'd discarded' Shoo-wee. How can one bloke be so lucky?

Letters from Underground