D E V I N O L I V E R P I E R C E || ♀ || ♊ || 21 || J U N E 1 3 T H Devin Oliver Pierce had never been particularly afraid of anything, so when his best friend Jerome offered to take him sky diving for his 21st birthday, Devin jumped on the opportunity. After some persuading, Devin and Jerome had managed to convince their significantly less-enthusiastic friend, Caleb, to come along for the trip. The date was set, the tickets booked, and their weekend was all planned out --- the three boys would drive up to the jump site together Friday morning. They'd sign the waivers, take the orientation, and be up in the plane ready to jump by noon. Afterward, they were to check into a cabin for the remainder of the weekend where more of their friends would come to meet them later that evening. It would be the best 21st birthday party that Devin could ask for. Devin tapped his hand against his thigh in rhythm to the music as they sped along the forest highway toward the jump site. Jerome, who was the least anxious about the upcoming experience, was driving with the window down and the music blaring while Caleb fidgeted nervously in the back seat. "Are you guys sure this is safe," Caleb shouted over the music. "Dude, seriously, it'll be fine," Jerome replied, turning down the music enough to make his voice audible. "Stop psyching yourself out about it." "It's just... I really don't like heights. Or planes. Or the entire concept of what we're about to do." "C'mon, man," Devin piped in, turning in his seat to flash a reassuring grin in Caleb's direction. "Would we do anything to deliberately put you in danger?" "No, but..." "Exactly." Devin turned the music up again, and they ceased talking for the remainder of the drive. The pulled up to the site a half and hour later, and the three boys climbed clumsily from the car. Caleb nearly face planting in the gravel as he tried to climb through the narrow gap between the front seat and the door. "I can't feel my toes," Caleb whined. Devin had to admit --- Caleb did look a bit green. "Come on, this is an experience of a life time." Together, they made their way to the little run-down building with a giant "SKYDIVING" sign plastered in the window. "They didn't waste any money on aesthetics," Jerome commented, opening the door. A bell tinkled as they walked inside, and a frail-looking old man came hobbling toward the front counter from the back. "Morning, boys. Got an appointment?" "Uh.. yeah," Jerome replied, examining the old man skeptically. "Are you... uhh... are we going up with you?" "Oh, heavens no," the old man replied laughing, "no, you'll be going up with my two sons." "Right." Jerome looked visibly relieved, and Devin couldn't blame him. He didn't particularly like the idea of placing his life in the hands of a whithered old man, either. The three boys filled out the paperwork, Caleb a little more reluctantly than Jerome and Devin ("I feel like I'm literally signing a death wish right now"), and handed it to the little old man who looked it over briefly before leading them through the back door. "Eric and Adam are very professional," the man was saying to Caleb as he held the door, "you've got nothing to be afraid of." Caleb's only response was a nervous laugh that, judging by the green tinge in his face, was cut short by the urge to vomit. "Morning!" A muscular, dark-haired man approached them with an enormous smile across his face. "You boys ready?" "Yes," Devin and Jerome replied in unison. "Excellent, my name is Adam and I'm gonna be directing you through the safety procedures. My brother, Eric, will be piloting the plane." "Umm... Aren't we supposed to, like, be attached to someone else the first time we jump?" Caleb asked nervously. "Don't worry about that, it's just a formality. You boys will be totally fine." The three boys exchanged looks. Wasn't it a law or something? Oh well, these guys probably knew better than they did anyway. They followed Adam toward the hanger where he walked them through proper use of the equipment before strapping them into their parachutes. "Ready?" Adam asked as the plane roared to life behind them. "Yup!" Jerome replied, stepping forward enthusiastically. Devin nodded, stepping forward. Caleb didn't say or do anything apart from wobble forward with his eyes closed. They four of them loaded into the back part of the plane and within twenty minutes they were up in the air over the dense forest. "Where are we going?" Devin shouted over the engine. "We have to get out of the forest before we jump," Adam replied. "There's a van there that will shuttle us back to the base." Just then, the engine chugged and the entire plane shook. Adam looked nervously toward the cockpit. "Hang on a second," he shouted, unstrapping himself from his seat and heading toward the front of the plane. The engine chugged again, this time worse than before. The three boys exchanged terrified looks. The engine chugged again, before sputtering and dying completely. There was complete silence for a moment before the entire plane slowly dipped into a nose dive. Adam hurtled himself from the cockpit, followed by the pilot. "JUMP!" He shouted, before he threw himself from the plane. Devin didn't have time to think --- mostly because Jerome had ripped Devin from his seat, shoving him toward the door. "I'm stuck!" Caleb cried, trying to unhook the seatbelt. "JUMP, DEVIN!" Jerome gave Devin another shove. "I'll get him!" "I'll ---" "I'LL GET HIM, JUMP NOW." Devin jumped. He fell freely for a few seconds before pulling the string that released the parachute. "Come on..." Devin's eyes were still on the rapidly falling plane. "Come on guys." The plane continued to fall, and still there was no sign of Jerome or Caleb. To Devin, it happened in slow motion. He was still miles above the forest when the plane hit the ground, but the crash was deafening. Devin couldn't make a sound. He couldn't think. He floated for what felt like an eternity, stuck staring at the smoke that billowed from within the trees. Finally, the trees came rushing toward him more quickly, and his parachute became entangled in the many branches of the densely packed pine trees. Devin dangled helplessly for a while, before figuring a way to detach himself from the chute, and climb down from the tree. Finally, he was on the ground. He blundered through the underbrush in the direction that he thought the plane would be in. He had no way of telling how much time had passed, but the only thing he could focus on was finding Jerome and Caleb. Please be alive, Devin scrambled up a steep hill. He could hear crackling flames in the distance. Please, please, please be alive. Devin stumbled to the top of the hill, and looked warily down the other side. The plane was there --- or rather, what was left of it. "No..." Devin threw himself down the hill, half running, half falling in the direction of the wreckage. Waves of heat radiated from the plane, and the entire cavity was an inferno. Nobody could survive that. Nobody. Devin fell onto his knees and began to sob. And that's where he stayed for several hours. He was completely and totally in shock --- and hadn't so much as considered what he was going to do to get out of this mess. Heavy drops of rain began to fall, slowly at first, but more rapidly with each passing minute. Devin needed to find shelter. His mind was numb. He dragged branch after branch back to the wreck, his clothes completely soaked from the rain. Propping the branches against the fat trunk of a pine tree, Devin managed to make a moderately secure shelter, piling branches on in a way that kept most of the rain out. The fire in the plane was still roaring as Devin crawled inside his make-shift shelter, collapsing against the earth. His two best friends were dead. And it was his fault. Devin began to sob again, and didn't stop for hours. The sky was completely black by the time he finally drifted of into an uneasy sleep, from which he wouldn't wake until morning.