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The Devil Knows You’re There

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He hung 100 feet above Fremont Street, like Superman, tethered only to the narrow ribbon of wire in a harness. Unable to twist and look up at why he was stuck, he looked down at the street instead. A sea of tourists moved below him as if he was another attraction. A small boy let go of a smiley-face balloon and started to cry.  A bald dude stared at him in a peewee muscle shirt. A ragged homeless man bumped the crowd begging for a dollar. A topless brunette in a devil’s costume waved at everyone while holding a red fan over her exposed breasts.

Mark had promised a different outcome.

“We tie you in and then the accelerator pushes you up to 30 mph. It releases and you zip down the line,” said Mark to the three people preparing to experience the high line. Tom listened to the zip line attendant with half an ear. He worried more about his height and his weight. He had topped the scales at 247 pounds, short of the 250-pound weight limit. He worried he would drop like a sack.

Now as he dangled above the street, his fear of falling accelerated. A blonde-haired girl, looking like she might fall over, pointed up at him and laughed. Others formed a crowd around her. A couple of guys exchanged bills. Tom felt certain they were gambling on him dropping like a rock.

He shifted his weight and from 30 yards behind he heard Mark yell, “Stop moving. You’ll fall.”

Perfect, Tom thought. He hung still and focused on the Devil’s red fan. People below took his picture. His nose itched. He inched his arm up to scratch it. Before he could reach his nose, he was sure his photo became featured on Instagram. His discomfort and the crowd grew. The longer he hung over the street, he knew he had become a Twitter trend. He tried to stretch out the pain in his back. Tom heard a few shouting for him to stretch out his arms and pose; a Las Vegas celebrity stuck mid-flight.

“Buddy, where’s your cape?” a drunk asked. “You planning to hang up there all day?” asked another.

A party was forming. Families were having their pictures taken with Tom hanging in the background.

The wire took a sudden dip and Tom felt his legs drop and his head bumped into the wire. He let out a gasp as his legs jetted downward. He looked behind and saw a rescuer working his way hand-over-hand onto the wire. As the man moved toward him, Tom bounced up then down. Was this prudent? He judged safety should have been his first concern.

He heard a distant siren and to his left he saw an armada of lights. A red car led the parade followed by a ladder truck and a massive red ambulance. Behind them were two police cars and a smaller ambulance. His situation was embarrassing and precarious but for the first time. He was hanging above his death. This emergency parade was overkill.

The police cars arrived first, splitting the crowd, and emptying the street below. The tipsy blonde fall backward into the arms of two guys happy to catch her. A ladder truck with four firemen in coats and hardhats pointed. Tom waved and the firemen waved back. The truck moved forward then stopped with a lurch. At the back, the ladder man began inching up to Tom.

A hand grabbed his leg and Tom jumped. Behind him Mark was hanging at his feet attached to the wire by a climbing rig and harness.

“Your accelerator failed and you sort of petered out,” said Mark. “And now we have to get you down.”

Tom rolled his eyes. It wasn’t his plan to be hanging on a wire like a piñata.

A white basket rose below him attached to a ladder.  The fireman inside looked up. “You ready to end this ride?”  He positioned the basket below Tom. “I’ll bet you’re ready for a blanket.” Tom nodded and shuddered.

Mark steadied the high-flyer as the fireman worked to release him. “This almost never happens.” He crawled closer to Tom.  “You’re lucky, I guess.”

He didn’t feel lucky as the fireman released the harness and let go of his waist. He dropped down into the basket with a thud.

“We’ll be back for you,” said the fireman.

“No worries. I’ll coast down myself.”

As the bucket descended, Mark tucked down and slid down the wire.

On the ground, the crowd cheered and Tom waved. Two officers and a fireman escorted him to the waiting ambulance. A paramedic wrapped him in a blanket. Someone else handed him a steaming paper cup filled with chocolate. He clutched the cup and a shiver snapped down his back. He looked up at the wire and noticed the height.

“It seems a lot higher up from here,” he said.

“Yup. And the view’s not as good,” said the paramedic.

The ladder truck pulled away followed by the remaining fire vehicles. The crowd filled in the street and crossed behind the ambulance. A few people pointed at Tom and whispered. Others walked by as if nothing had happened. On the corner where the small boy had let go of his balloon, the girl in the devil’s costume was still posing for photos. Tom stood up and draped the blanket on the ambulance door.

“You good,” asked the driver. Tom replied, “Yeah, I’m going to live.” He dropped down to the sidewalk and walked over to the topless girl.

“You think I can get a picture?” Tom asked. The girl smiled and drew closer. Tom sucked in his stomach.

“You draw quite a crowd, you big bear,” the girl said. “Considering all the tips I made, I can fit you in.”

Tom snuggled up and the girl dropped her fan. Tom snapped a selfie and smiled.

“Best time I’ve had,” he said.

He kissed her on the cheek and took a quick look over his shoulder at the zipline. He was glad to become anonymous again. He smiled and disappeared into the crowd.

© 2015 – 2018, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.

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