(I reserve the right to re-edit this as I wish and without warning.)
Kyuzo had never trusted airplanes.
He was instead the sort of person who believed that simply observing the wing flexing in the air made it somehow more likely to snap off and send the entire plane spiraling down toward the unyielding surface of the Earth, Bernoulli principle be damned.
So Kyuzo was not taken totally by surprise when that’s exactly what happened on his flight back to Denver. No — unsurprised was the wrong word. Resigned, that was closer. But it still didn’t cover everything.
It didn’t cover, for instance, the strange sense of calm realization Kyuzo felt at that moment. The knowledge that death was imminent imbued every millisecond with a level of meaning no other point of Kyuzo’s life thus far had even approached.
Having subconsciously expected this for several decades, Kyuzo found himself surprisingly well-prepared — at least in theory. He’d read more than ten distinct books featuring sections on the subject of surviving a mid-flight collision sans parachute so he was something of an expert. Even drunk-watched a handful of the Youtube videos on the more reputable “worst-case scenario” channels.
In fact, Kyuzo knew all the steps and procedures so perfectly that he sometimes ran through them when he couldn’t fall asleep, which was more often than not these days.
Kyuzo’s chapped-lip grimace cracked into a smile. It was almost — almost — worth it to finally put all his special knowledge to use. All his recollected theories on angle and trajectory, his second-hand expertise on wind resistance and controlling descent — when you came down to it, everything boiled down to three key suggestions (they were only suggestions — nobody who’d ever survived falling out of an airplane had apparently ever stooped to make a YouTube video about it):
Step 1: “Use your entire body as the parachute”
Kyuzo spread his arms, feeling the wind rushing up and billowing out his clothes like a boat sail in a hurricane. He felt like a French clown in a painted children’s book he’d read once long ago.
Step 2: “Look for tree-line”
Tree-line was soft (relatively), tree-line was survivable (theoretically).
Kyuzo couldn’t keep his eyes open for long, but flashes of green sparkled in his peripheral vision. He aimed for them as best he could.
Step 3: “Pray”
This last bit was usually the sticking point to Kyuzo — a devout atheist, ever since the September his next door neighbor Davis Engram discovered the tadpole terrarium Kyuzo had been tending since summer camp, and smashed it into shards of glass and rubbery corpses.
Kyuzo never found out why, not exactly. But why wasn’t really that important. The fact was that no God such the one outlined by the religious folk around him would allow such genocidal mania to go unpunished.
And yet nothing ever happened. And so Kyuzo’s first prayer went unanswered, preparing him well for the rest of his life.
Some (perhaps those with drearily steady employment in the corporate sector, the sort that got harder to leave every second you stayed, not to mention any names in particular) might even view the multiple Engram Auto Sales outlets now crowding the northeast corner of his hometown as a form of cosmic crime paying off.
Kyuzo knew it was hopeless. The second before impact he closed his eyes and — for the second time in his life — he prayed. It was a simple prayer — that his death be quick and painless. Because all at once Kyuzo found he was prepared for death.
But smashing into the mountain — for that he was not prepared. Rolling down it, through the muddy brush, the gravel, the stones — all very unexpected.
As were the hundreds upon hundreds of fire ants that swarmed out of the clay-thick dirt and crashed down on him like a living wave of lava.
But most unexpected of all was the next morning when he was deafened by the thunderous squawking of the search-and-recovery helicopter that landed damn near on top of his head as Kyuzo warbled in-and-out of consciousness due to loss of blood.
Having prepared for death, Kyuzo found himself at a loss with life. Once in the hospital, the recovery team had plenty of questions. For which Kyuzo had few answers, none of which felt satisfying to all involved.
Except for one: Kyuzo told them that he had prayed.
Everyone nodded approvingly and went on with their business. Of course. Of course. Nobody pressed for any further details — which suited Kyuzo just fine, since he wasn’t sure how to explain that his prayer had been for painless death, not miraculous survival. That his prayer had in fact gone unanswered.
They told him he was the only survivor and then left him alone in the cold hospital bed with warm tapioca and a blown-out three-channel CRT. A friendly nurse assured Kyuzo that his friends and family could visit him in the morning. Kyuzo nodded and didn’t tell her he had no one to come.
That first night Kyuzo felt like he was living an entirely new life. Now an object of minor national interest, he spent the evening taking calls from national news organizations hoping to make him the focus of tomorrow’s human interest story.
The media tour was a 24 hour whirlwind, almost to the second. The morning shows made a meal of Kyuzo, chewing every bit of fat off his story and leaving nothing behind but rawest bone. And by the time the evening shows were done sucking out the marrow, there was barely a knuckle left for gnawing.
Underlined by the fact that the book deal that arrived in his email literally five minutes after his story first went out over the local wires was rescinded by end of day due to “over-exposure of the material”. Fortunately a Christian film studio — “HisMercy Pictures, Inc.” — purchased the rights to his story for an amount that Kyuzo knew could conceivably set him up for life, if he was smart about it.
When he got home, his house felt different.
He’d been so proud when he’d saved enough to buy it, the split-level mundanity of it all a palpable signifier that he’d achieved a certain stage in life, a solid state of stability. Stepping inside the house, he’d always felt that exact state of calm wash over him. But not now. Now he just felt a certainty that he’d never feel that way again.
For a while he tried giving back to the community. Any community. But nothing worked, not the solidity of the Red Cross, not the forward-thinking activism of Conservation International, not even the unimpeachable heroism of the Humane Society. It was all astoundingly, soul-suckingly empty.
Something was missing. Always.
After that he tried the eternal refuge of the lost: traveling the world with nothing but a knapsack. And for a while, it was wonderful.
Kyuzo saw the pyramids first, which seemed appropriately monumental in theory but the practical Egyptian realities of which Kyuzo found lacking. Not speaking the language made him feel utterly alone — unable even to communicate the sole personal story that made him stand out from the crowd.
From there he tried Europe, and found it to be a much more welcoming place. Almost everyone spoke English and most assumed him to be Canadian (a misconception Kyuzo never felt necessary to puncture, given the state of things in his homeland), so making new friends became easy, warm and fleeting.
Kyuzo soon found himself in a comfortable rhythm of riding the train from stop to stop. Two stops a day, exploring each to their fullest and finding a room for the night in the second. At least one adventure every night (even if that meant nothing more than finding a kabob place for takeaway). Once or twice he even staked out a local bar.
For months Kyuzo was lulled into contentment by the intoxicating influx of new places, new cuisines, new people. But finally even novelty itself lost its luster, each untroubled dopamine hit another step toward the road of eternal vacation. Kyuzo awoke in the middle of the night in Berlin, awash in sweat and the understanding that all of his experience, his perception of the world, of everything — it all meant nothing if it wasn’t shared more widely than himself.
The realization of which led, inevitably, to romance. The serious pursuit of which required settling somewhere for more than his customary month (i.e. the shortest lease available somewhere tentatively semi-reputable).
He landed in New York and decided to give things a shot there. The home-field advantage was marginal (Kyuzo would forever be a native of SoCal), but where else would he find such a diverse concentration of potential romantic partners?
That lasted three weeks — he sublet the fourth to a homeless man who slept across the street for thirty-two dollars and ten cents.
Three weeks of nothing. Three weeks of agonizing nothing. Three weeks of realizing that while he felt changed, the world still saw the same old Kyuzo — a ghost in normal life and in social situations, translucent.
Kyuzo thought maybe he’d find better luck in the suburbs, somewhere with a small town feel. Perhaps one of the more broad-minded areas of the south. But Winston-Salem, NC was no more welcoming to a stranger with a single story to tell — if they even wanted to hear it.
Kyuzo didn’t understand how the world couldn’t see what was standing right in front of it, on top of it, even. But then again, he could barely see it himself, not anymore. It had been months.
Which led him to drugs. Not the street-corner-shared-syringe sort of drugs, thankfully — D.A.R.E. had done too much of a number on him as an elementary schooler for that to ever be the case (or “SuperKids”, rather — the dayglo successor program that achieved little more than to ruin what previously had at the very least been a cool fashion accessory).
Kyuzo instead sought out the sorts of drugs long associated with freeing one’s mind and cosmic understanding. With the last of his savings from the HisMercy deal, Kyuzo traveled to remotest Argentina, stopping finally in an undisclosed location where there lived a certain shaman who would — for a surprisingly large amount of money, given the implied hermitage — provide both a ceremonial drug and the ceremony, necessary to ensure the entire proceedings were both technically legal and reasonably authentic.
Also in exchange for the princely fee of entry, Kyuzo was allowed to experience his journey to understanding from the comfort of a truly makeshift tent, one of several in a large circle around the Shaman’s (larger, far less temporary) lodgings.
The first day Kyuzo spent mostly regretting his decision due to the fact that his body seemed bent on ejecting every single fluid he (usually) possessed. Violently.
The second day, Kyuzo found himself talking out loud quite a bit. Mostly about himself, a sort of running sarcastically scientific catalogue of himself as if he were a specimen. He found much of what he said quite funny — which was odd, as it was almost uniformly unflattering. That discrepancy also amused.
The third day was given over to honest to god revelation. Several actually — the general progression of a first time tripper; 1) you don’ t matter. 2) Nothing matters. 3) Therefore: everything matters.
Which in and of itself sounded like a self-help book — but Kyuzo, finding himself face-to-face with the fundamental throbbing reality of that truth could do little more than gape in awe.
The fourth day Kyuzo simply couldn’t remember.
On the fifth day, Kyuzo saw his parents in the clouds and finally achieved enlightenment.
For a second time that year, in point of fact — in his long search for meaning he’d finally found the language to describe the feeling that took him over when he fell from the sky. This time around he greeted the sensation like an old friend. Accepted it, allowed it to fill him up to the brim.
A sense of clarity came over him. All at once, he felt completely sobered up. Kyuzo stood up, dusted himself off. He understood now the underpinnings of the world.
Kyuzo grinned and walked confidently out of his tent and back into the world — he understood now, truly and irrevocably. He knew at last he possessed the words that would communicate clearly his sense of purpose to everyone else, to all of them. Finally — finally — Kyuzo could step forward and make his mark on the world. Because he understood.
And this time, it would stick.
He was certain of it.
Fiction + Film