The Falling Man

Dozens, if not hundreds, of hikers on the mountain witnessed The Falling Man: families with small children, rangers, tokers, and at least one church group all stared, confused, when he appeared above them, only processing what they’d seen after he passed. They looked warily up the trail, wondering—not believing, you see, just wondering—if something were chasing him. He carried no backpack, no water bottle, no map, no fanny pack full of sunscreen and bug spray. His hair, longish, a little past his ears, was plastered across his forehead and cheeks. He wore khaki shorts and a grey v-neck, soaked from shoulders down.

You’d think a man moving at such velocity might scream, if not a warning, an outta-my-way! But no, the only sound from his mouth was his own ragged breath, the occasional grunt when he landed hard on the packed trail. It was a miracle his feet hadn’t entangled in a tree root, hadn’t slipped on the mosaic of orange and red leaves scattered across the ground. An easy enough mountain to hike, it was still, after all, a mountain. He zigzagged across the trail, between people, over rocks. There were branches everywhere, there were dogs, there were families sitting on logs eating PB and J’s.

“What’s up with that guy?” a son asked from the side of the trail he and his father had retreated to when they’d heard the footfalls a moment earlier. The dad shook his head as if to say, “some people…” He looked up at all they had left to climb. Hefting his backpack, full of sandwiches and mixed nuts, he nudged the son forward.

They all thought about him later. When settling down to sleep they recounted to their spouses, siblings, prayers, or imaginations what they’d seen. As their eyelids closed a feeling of weightlessness, followed by a jolt, woke them.

It was as if The Falling Man had appeared, not at the top of the mountain, but at the top of the sky, and would ride the pull of gravity all the way to the center of the earth. Here was a man who understood the physics of things, a man who had never climbed a day in his life. This was a man who had always fallen, had, ever since the first push of the Big Bang, tumbled through the universe without thought, feeling, or voice, a man using his feet, not to step, but to push off the earth for another airborne second.

This story originally appeared in Portland Magazine.