Gravity’s End – Chris Ingram [Fiction]

Gravity’s End

The first confirmed example of human flight — unpowered, unaided, unmechanized human flight — occurred on Saturday, December 11th, 2066. It was hard to miss. There had been claims over the preceding months of spontaneous human flight occurring during pick-up soccer games, a junior high school basketball practice; a bullfight. But none were corroborated by any more than wide-eyed witness descriptions and beleaguered responses from the flyers themselves, who were maddeningly unable to repeat the feat for incredulous interviewers. The lack of any recordings of the flights cast them further into doubt in an era when most people had recordable telephoto cameras in at least one of their eye sockets.

But that Saturday there was no denying it: Humankind had learned to fly. It happened during a conference championship game between the professional football teams of the Universities of Florida and Tennessee. Florida linebacker Bertram L. Calhoun (already well-known for his voracious appetite for opposing quarterbacks) was off at the snap, hurling his six-foot-six-inch, 265-pound physique toward the line of scrimmage. He leaped over the cross body block of a Tennessee defender and never came back down. That is to say, he did return to terra firma, but not before swooping all the way around the partially-enclosed Joseph J. Lahiff stadium, dive-bombing the stands and completing not one but three loop-de-loops and numerous barrel rolls. At the end of his flight, he landed beside his prey, who, like everyone on the field and in the stands had stood dumbstruck by his display, and pulled the ball out of the Tennessee quarterback’s hand. Taking off once more, he landed with a giggle in the end zone for a touchdown. Calhoun’s flight was captured on no fewer than 16 network cameras and untold recording devices in the possession of the crowd. By nightfall, dozens more humans took flight. Flying, it seemed, was as easy as walking, if you believed you could do it. By morning almost everyone was doing it.

It spread like some psychological contagion; a mass hysteria that only required a person to see another doing it. The first attempts were comical. Flapping arms and running jumps, occasional whoops and bird-like screeches characterized beginners’ efforts. Eventually, it was realized that all that was needed was a thought; the desire to fly. This wasn’t a matter of aeronautics. Drag and lift; streamlining and gravity were irrelevant. Humans could fly because they wished to. Almost universally, the exhilaration of the first flight, the moment when one’s toes left the ground to return only when one wished them to do so, elicited a familiar sound that came to be known as the “anti-Gravity Giggle.” Indeed, some wondered with more than a modicum of fear that humans hadn’t evolved so much as natural law had broken. What if, they wondered, gravity itself had ceased? It was, for all its centuries of scientific affirmation, only a theory, after all. Would we soon see oceans vanishing into the sky, cities drifting into space?

Within a week, states were drafting legislation to control the low-altitude air space which had become congested with flying humans. Altercations broke out across the globe as right-of-way regulations were crafted “on the fly.” People of higher socioeconomic status expected others to make way for them; young toughs frightened grandmothers and younger, more impressionable flyers. There were injuries as games of chicken escalated into mid-air fisticuffs; indignant captains of industry decrying the “democratization” of the air. Efforts to legislate who could fly and when collapsed almost as soon as they were proposed. People could fly; one could no more limit them in that exercise than one could restraint them from walking down the street. Less, given the three-dimensional vastness of the atmosphere. Besides, some people took it upon themselves to restrict the act. “Non-Flight Societies” formed almost as soon as flight was accepted as possible. Some communities, particularly those known for their scenic beauty, tried to establish “no fly zones” in futile attempts to protect the aesthetics of their surroundings, which were undeniably marred by the presence of flying humans. Face it, went their rationale, most of us are far from ornamental.

Various churches took a full spectrum of positions. In Rome, the Pope swiftly issued a statement condemning human flight, calling it a “trespass upon the domain of the angels.” It, like so many papal bulls, was promptly ignored by all but the most rabid fundamentalists. In Boston, the Universalist Unitarians issued a non-binding statement inviting all humans to “partake of the newest gift bestowed upon us by the Creator.” Neither declaration mattered much; folks could, and therefore did, fly. And then they didn’t.

In less than a year, the number of people taking to the air dwindled. What had seemed an epochal shift in humankind; a flame lighting the way to a new era, flickered and died. One couldn’t carry very much while flying — a few bags of groceries or a briefcase and coffee — and the speed, as fast, perhaps, as an average Olympic sprinter, was still much slower than driving. It seemed only chiropractors benefitted as hordes of flying humans complained of back pain from the strain of holding themselves in the “Superman pose” that had proved fastest. The cry “Let’s fly!” ceased to raise spirits and wonder, summoning instead rolling eyes and apathetic rejoinders. And then, one day, (Friday, December 30, 2067, to be precise), the Global News Network reported, in the “D-block” of a 30-minute newscast, that no one had been known to fly without an airplane or other apparatus in over two weeks. No one would thereafter.

Flying, it seemed, required more of you than the belief you could do it. You had to care.

 

By Chris Ingram

 

  • Chris Ingram’s work has been published by, among others, Flash Fiction Magazine, the Loch Raven Review and Spadina Literary Review.  He has been a network TV and radio news writer, a radio deejay, a truck driver and a high school wrestling coach. His website is www.chrisingram.org
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