Better than a wind-up alarm clock, the gulls squawking encouragement outside Sam Bennett’s open bedroom window woke him with the sacred call of the wild. Announcing the dawn of a unique evolutionary day, the birds soared, gliding above his balcony and building at the Paradise Apartments, swooping excitedly as if they knew today would mark unimaginable metamorphosis for a new age.
Sam Bennett rolled slowly to his knees from a worn mattress on the floor. Planting one foot after the other on the hard wood he rose slowly, wriggling his fingers, rotating his neck and starting to gently flap his arms until he found a lazy rhythm. Then Sam stood still.
No more practice.
No more thought.
No more hesitation.
Time to fly.
Sam hadn’t slept all night, lying awake feeling his heart pound in his throat and the muscles twitch in his arms. Jitters didn’t throw him. Just butterflies, he thought, the word for a bundle of nerves named after delicate creatures that flew with ease, lifting and riding natural air currents without a conscious thought. If Sam’s instincts proved correct, within the hour he would take wing and fly alongside the monarchs and the gulls, showing the world he, too, could fly. To put himself in the right frame of mind Sam mixed a glass of orange Tang breakfast drink powder with tap water like the astronauts drank when Sam first dreamed as a kid of taking off.
Yes, the time had come.
Within minutes Sam Bennett stood at the edge of the Paradise Apartments’ roof overlooking the pier and several grouper fishing boats docked in the harbor two stories below. Shirtless Sam Bennett calmly swayed, balancing on bare flat feet with black hair sprouting from the tops of his toes. He wore a pair of 40-year-old cutoff blue jeans with white bleach stains burned into the thighs. To reduce aerodynamic drag, he had cut his unruly hair the night before using a cereal bowl he placed on his head that resulted in his looking like Moe in the 1962 movie The Three Stooges in Orbit, one of Sam’s all-time favorites. Breathing slowly, deeply and ready for takeoff, Mother Nature’s newest sky pilot grinned and prepared to kiss the peachy salmon sky.
RayRay saw him first. Kim spotted him next. Randall and Durkin came jogging up from their morning run on the beach and stood silently by the swimming pool, not knowing what to do or say. Ruby turned from where she had been doing warrior pose yoga on the dock and looked up. Time seemed to stop. Everybody knew what was about to happen.
Nobody wanted to interrupt Sam’s reverie or scare him, although everybody knew by now Sam Bennett didn’t scare easily. The freedom promise he made to himself mattered more than the heavy odds of dying. Nobody would ever say Sam killed himself. Trying to fly after training, practicing and believing he would fly for his entire adult life did not define suicide – madness maybe but not suicide. Anyone who had a heart loved Sam Bennett, rooting him on even though they all knew he might perish.
Like Sam often said, “You don’t know unless you try.”
Bending at the knees, Sam began to flap his arms up and down and up and down leaning forward, leaning back and leaning forward once again. Margot circled high above his head, landing on one of the dock railings. Flapping spotless gray and white wings up and down and up and down she did her best to offer moral support and encouragement to her dear human friend.
Now she waited.
Dillon circled, too, landing beside his gull friend and literally waited with baited breath since he had earlier gorged himself on a breakfast of shrimp, crabs and clams folded into a corn tortilla dripping with chipotle sauce he dug out of a hotel Dumpster.
You could almost feel time go by.
And on this magnificent Clearwater Beach morning off the edge Sam Bennett went. Gravity took over as soon as he left the roof with his chin raised and his arms spread as wide as any screaming eagle’s wings. Sunlight glistened from his watery eyes, probably reflected from the chlorine-filled swimming pool as he started to plummet faster and faster.
Kim gasped and turned away.
Randall and Durkin screamed at the same time.
RayRay took off rushing closer to the drop zone with the power of a blitzing Buffalo Bills linebacker to be the first one to try and revive his longtime pal when he smashed into the concrete. Ruby stared as Sam dropped into what could be his final descent.
Then up he went.
Sam’s sudden ascent comprised a split-second change of direction in Sam’s downward trajectory – upward movement that seemed impossible except during a tornado or hurricane. But the wind today blew haltingly as Sam rose. How could he ascend? Flapping with what seemed like stronger strokes and increased acceleration, Sam climbed about an inch higher from where he had started. Gliding now, Sam Bennett banked to the right, sailing forward before descending another inch, now nosediving toward the ground.
This is it, Ruby thought.
Sam’s cooked, RayRay thought.
“Oh, shit,” Dillon said.
Then up again he went, banking this time to the left before turning to the right, accelerating and advancing in a straight line. Five momentous seconds of what any credible witness would swear looked like flight passed before Sam went down, down, down.
From the beginning almost everybody had stood frozen except Rocco and Ricco, the muscle-headed professional wrestler duo who had been practicing summersaults, flips and leaps near the pool. They heard the commotion and raced to the scene as soon as they spotted Sam on the roof. But first they grabbed the extra-large air bag they were using for their stunt practice and dragged the safety cushion into place on the ground beneath the roof from which Sam had taken off and where he would crash.
Sam Bennett’s body slammed into the thick soft mat. The bag sucked him into warm comfort as the buffer embraced his girth. Climbing into the center of the bag, Rocco and Ricco quickly lifted Sam to safety. Critics might refer Sam to a rubber room when, in fact, our hero found refuge in an inflatable womb. As you might expect, no critics spoke up that day.
Raising Sam onto their shoulders the two strapping wrestlers cheered. Marching Sam around the swimming pool like the winning football coach at the Outback Bowl, they knew an accomplishment when they saw one – once enjoying their own moment of glory when Rocco bit legendary grappler Hulk Hogan on the ankle, making him cry in the ring, while Ricco bit the Hulkster on the shoulder like a hungry sewer rat after jumping on his back and refusing to let go.
Like everybody else on the scene, the “Terrible Twins Tag Team from Hell” believed Sam Bennett had flown through the air with the greatest of ease. If only for five seconds, in their minds’ eyes he flew. Everybody who witnessed the event would eventually agree over many drinks that Sam Bennett flew. Nobody called the newspapers or the television stations. Nobody shot video or posted on social media.
They just knew.
“Did you see me?” Sam asked Ruby.
“We saw you, Sam,” Ruby said. “We all saw you.”
“Who wants to buy me a martini?” he asked.