FALLING ACTION

Jeremy Colangelo's short story tells the curious tale of a man who falls into a deep pit and spends the rest of his life in freefall. Illustration by Shaun Lynch.

It was an early morning in June when Alfred Arnold, sanitation engineer for the Helheim Digging Company, fell into a deep pit. He had slipped on the edge, and he screamed as he fell. But after an hour his throat began to burn and soon he stopped. He was a good worker, a dignified man, and to scream like a lunatic at such a triviality was beneath him.

Alfred tried to climb back up, but he was falling fast now, and the pit’s walls were too smooth to hold. He decided that it was impossible, but sometimes he would try again. It was like a weekly mid-life crisis.

The pit was very deep. A machine was digging it down almost for forever. They tried to make a forever pit, the digging company, as their crowning achievement (for no digging company had ever made one before), but they hadn’t yet. The exact depth was very close to infinity — infinity -1 if you like — and still, at the bottom, the machine is digging.

Poor Alfred, he knew about the pit. His union had told him everything while they were on strike the year before. They were trying to get hand rails. Oh well.

So Alfred knew that he would fall until he died. He tried starving to death to avoid the ‘splat’, but he couldn’t make himself. People liked to throw things down the hole, bits of their lunch, their scraps. Alfred, you see, had to wear weighted clothing as part of his job. It involved jumping into fluid tanks to fix clogged pipes. Most of the fluids were very dense, like molasses, so most people were too light to dive. There was depilated uranium woven into Alfred’s clothes to keep him at the bottom. Alfred, then, had a lot of inertia, so he fell faster than almost everything else. The food was old by the time he reached it, but still safe to eat. It was the preservatives.

Other people had fallen down the pit too. One day, Alfred met Angela. This was a few years later. Angela had come to the factory for ‘take your kid to work day’ and had slipped. The company paid her father a small settlement and transferred him to Iceland – which had been best for everyone. Angela was twelve when she fell, and now she was thirty. She wasn’t wearing weighted clothing, so she fell more slowly than Alfred. A bag of marbles in her pocket kept her going fast enough to catch food. Alfred gave her his shirt so they’d fall at about the same speed. When they were bored, they made love like eagles.

Anton was born soon after. It became hard to feed three people and Anton was always bored. Thankfully, someone had dropped a case of books and a puppy down the pit. Alfred and Angela read the books, and little Anton rode the puppy’s skeleton like a rocking horse. When Annette was born, he had trouble sharing with her. Luckily, they found a dead cat. Now the girl had a toy too. But they were still hungry.

Alfred began sneaking away some of his food during meals to hide it in a hole in the book case. When Angela went to sleep, he gave it to the kids. Angela didn’t like it, she wanted everyone to get enough food and had set strict rations – she was smart like that. But the children loved their daddy, and he loved them too. That’s why he starved to death, for love.

Everyone was very sad, especially Angela. They took the weighted clothing off Alfred’s body and let it fly upwards. He hit a discarded propane tank and burst into flames. A viking funeral.

The children were eight and four. They missed their father still, though he had been dead for a year by then. At bedtime, Angela would tell stories of the surface. She taught Anton to read with the books from the shelf. Annette tried to eat one. She bit off a chunk and choked to death. Another funeral. They sent her up with the cat.

It was just the two now, mother and son. Anton was a clever little boy. He said that he didn’t believe in his mother’s surface stories. They were just to keep him from misbehaving. Those horrid tales of work and school and booster shots, none were real. He was a very smart boy, but he was also very stupid.

They had an argument, Anton and Angela. Anton was twenty by then. He decided to go off on his own. He found an iron spike that had once been part of a threshing machine and jammed it into the wall. His fall slowed, and his mother was soon deep below him. Depressed, she stopped eating and removed her weights, and Anton saw her corpse fly by a few weeks later.

Anton was alone. He flew down the deep pit and thought many lonely thoughts. He wondered about the pit. Was it a god? Was it the belly of a worm? Was it his fears and hates made manifest? What of the food? Who gave it to them? Men dropping strange and random things into a dark hole, or manna from the unseen sky?

Anton thought still more thoughts. He found an empty notebook and a pen and he wrote his ideas down. When he was finished, he let it fly above him. Maybe someone would find it?

Anton never saw anyone else. He lived to 108 years old and didn’t see a single other human being. Anton could have lived forever. Or, at least, forever -1. Philosophers always live a long time. But then something happened that Anton never expected, a singular event which pre-empted his long and fruitful life. Anton hit the bottom.



'Falling Action' was published in Popshot's 8th issue, The Birth Issue, which has now sold out. To ensure that you never miss a future issue of the print magazine, subscribe from just £10 a year.