(For the last official story on the Acidic Fiction website, I decided to publish a story of my own entitled “Leap into the Sky.” Acidic Fiction is now gone, so I’m reposting it here.)
I’m getting ready to jump up to heaven, but my legs aren’t strong enough yet. For the past several weeks, I’ve been practicing a variety of leg exercises, which should strengthen my calves and thighs so I can make the leap. I wanted to buy an all-purpose weight machine, but the boardinghouse where I live won’t let residents install exercise equipment, so I made do with some bungee cords and a couple of cinder blocks.
I read online that you should eat plenty of protein when you want to build muscle, so I went to the grocery store and bought a crate of ribeye steaks from the butcher. He gave me a great deal because the mad cow outbreak has scared everyone away from eating beef and the ribeyes were on the verge of going bad. He couldn’t sell them to anybody else, but I don’t mind sour meat as long as it’s cooked, and I’ll be in heaven long before mad cow disease can affect me.
I’m trying to eat between four and six steaks a day, depending on how much exercise I’m able to get in. I quit my job at the sandwich shop, but I still do odd jobs around the boardinghouse for Mrs. Potter, the landlady. Sometimes she calls me the “superintendent,” but she really just needs somebody to tape and glue things together after they break so she won’t have to replace anything or hire a real repairman. In exchange, my rent is only half of what the other residents pay, so the work is worth the trouble.
Apart from doing chores around the building, I spend most of my time training my legs. The only other time I leave my apartment is at breakfast.
According to the lease, Mrs. Potter is supposed to provide all the residents a hot breakfast each morning. Right now, there are only two other residents besides me: Ms. Breyer, who never leaves her room on the top floor, and Marie, a college girl with a balance disorder. Both of them pay for their apartments with their government-issued disability checks. Mrs. Potter lives in her own house across the street.
For breakfast, Mrs. Potter always delivers a stock pot full of farina and a dozen beef sausages wrapped in tinfoil. Even though she brings us breakfast every day, she always seems to put it off until the last minute, so I usually end up eating around 10:30 in the morning.
Mrs. Potter also expects me to take breakfast up to Ms. Breyer, because her live-in nurse is only around from noon to nine. Ms. Breyer usually eats six sausages and two bowls of farina. Fortunately, she can feed herself without any help, so I don’t have to watch.
Marie eats a bowl of farina every once in a while, but she never eats meat, so I always eat the other six sausages. I throw away the remaining farina, which could probably feed another six or seven people.
I once asked Mrs. Potter why she makes so much. She told me that she cooks one entire box of farina a day so she doesn’t have to measure any ingredients. Then she boils the sausages for exactly ten minutes, wraps them in foil, and brings them over.
After I’d been training for exactly three weeks, I ate breakfast in the dining room with Marie. She normally brings a textbook to study, but this time she was just staring off into space. I sat down across from her and waited for her to say something while I ate my sausages.
Marie takes all her college classes online because she can’t walk more than 50 feet at a time without falling over and puking. It has something to do with her ear bones; they make her dizzy all the time. When she walks, she shuffles along the ground like a centipede.
Marie finished her entire bowl of farina without saying anything, then sat back and looked at me.
“How can you stand eating beef?” she asked. “There’s a huge mad cow epidemic right now. You’re taking your life into your hands when you eat that stuff. Plus it’s greasy.”
“I don’t think it’s greasy,” I said. “And I don’t have to worry about mad cow disease. I’m not going to be around much longer, anyway.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
“Of course not. It’s just that I’m going to jump up to heaven soon.”
Marie snorted. “And here I thought you might be crazy.”
“It’s not crazy, it’s a matter of faith,” I said, “and strength. I’ve been training my legs for three weeks to build up enough strength to jump into heaven.”
Marie peeked under the table. “Those ham hocks?”
I think Marie is only rude because she has no real-life friends, just online buddies. I’d be her friend except I have to train for my jump, and I’d hate for her to get too attached to me before I leave, anyway.
“Yes, my legs have a lot of muscle,” I said.” It’s a result of extensive training and proper protein consumption.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll get very high up, even with those thunder thighs. Are you going to fly the rest of the way?”
“Of course not.” I sighed. “I know people can’t fly, Marie. I’m only trying to jump. Everybody can jump, right?”
“The lady upstairs can’t. You know, the invalid. I heard she weighs 400 pounds; she can hardly stand up.”
“You know what I meant. Most people can jump, at least a little. After I jump high enough, the momentum will carry me the rest of the way.”
Marie gave me a funny look. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Of course. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this.”
She looked around. “Look, I’m taking a test today, but you should come by my apartment tomorrow afternoon and we can discuss this more. I’m a pre-med major, so I might be able to help you out from a scientific perspective.”
“I thought you were just a freshman.”
“Yeah, a freshman pre-med major.”
I shrugged. “Okay. I have to take a 30-minute cool-down between my afternoon sets, but I can still walk up stairs during that time. I’ll come by around three.”
“Good. I’ll be waiting.”
The next day, I had to glue several chunks of plaster back into Ms. Breyer’s wall where she had collapsed on her way to the bathroom. She seemed fine, but the wall looked much the worse for wear. I knew Mrs. Potter would pronounce it acceptable rather than pay for any plaster or drywall, though.
I was still able to get in my first set of afternoon exercises, but I arrived at Marie’s apartment an hour later than I expected. She was still there when I arrived, of course. Shut-ins rarely venture too far outside, especially when they get vertigo so easily.
“How are you today?” she asked as I walked into her living room.
“I can’t complain. I only have 16 minutes before I have to start my next set, though.”
“I think we’ll have enough time. I just wanted to ask you some questions about your plan to jump into heaven.” She rolled her desk chair into the living room and sat down. “Go ahead and sit in the recliner.”
“Sure.” I sat down. “What is it you want to know? Is it about my training regimen? I borrowed most of my regular exercises from a bodybuilding website, and I improvised a couple of—”
“Actually, I wanted to ask about your motivation and reasoning behind this … project, I guess.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I can on Earth, so I’d like to just go to heaven now. I’m not doing much with my life, and I think it will be a better place to spend my time.”
“And you’re planning to get to heaven by jumping, right?”
“Yes. As soon as my legs are strong enough, I am going to jump from the top of the old radio tower and ascend into heaven.”
“You realize that your plan sounds like suicide, don’t you?”
I shook my head. “It’s not suicide if you don’t fall. Besides, people who kill themselves can’t go to heaven. Everybody knows that.”
Marie leaned back in her chair, causing the wheels to creak slightly. “Why don’t you tell me about your regimen?”
“Well, like I said, I’m doing bodyweight exercises I learned from the Internet, and I’m using cinder blocks for weight training. To get enough protein, I eat two ribeye steaks at each meal, in addition to the breakfast sausages.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re eating six steaks a day?”
“Yes. The butcher has been selling them to me at a discount because of the mad cow outbreak. I’m on my third crate of ribeyes now. I’m a little tired of the flavor, but the level of protein is sufficient. Just look at the results.” I gestured downward and flexed my legs.
“Yeah, I can tell.” Marie leaned forward and looked me in the eye. “Have you ever considered that mad cow disease might actually be affecting your mind?”
“I’m not worried about mad cow—”
“You should be! Jumping to heaven is not something that normal people think about, you know. It makes no sense!” She sighed. “I think you should consider the possibility that you’ve become infected with the mad cow prion. It’s a misfolded protein that causes other proteins to become misfolded as well. In humans, it’s actually called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.”
“It’s just protein, Marie. It builds muscle.” I flexed again.
“Listen: when the proteins in your brain start folding incorrectly, they shrink into super-dense blobs, like cotton candy when it gets wet. When that happens, your brain starts to look like a sponge, full of tiny protein blobs and empty space. It causes a ton of mental problems, including confusion, dementia, and personality shifts. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, prions form super-dense brain blobs.” I looked down at my legs. “Do they build super-dense muscles, too?”
Marie winced. “I’m trying to tell you that you might be suffering from a neurological disorder, and that you should see a doctor instead of pumping cinder blocks.”
I stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out what she was trying to tell me. Then my cell phone started to vibrate. I stood up.
“That’s my alarm,” I said. “I need to get back to exercising right away.”
Marie struggled to get out of her office chair. “Well, I tried. I hope your brain doesn’t turn into a sponge before you get a chance to jump.”
“Yeah, me too.”
As soon as I walked out her front door, she shouted after me: “People can’t jump into heaven! What the hell is wrong with you?”
She slammed the door, hard.
“Everybody can jump,” I mumbled.
I haven’t seen Marie since then, but I’ve made some major gains in the meantime. When I last weighed my legs on the bathroom scale, it said they weighed 180 pounds. Oddly enough, I only weigh 200 pounds total. When I tried to think about how much my upper body must weigh, I got confused and stopped.
I had to stop doing chores around the building, too. I kept dropping all my tools, and when I tried to glue things, they wouldn’t stay glued because I couldn’t push the pieces together hard enough.
Because my hands were getting so weak, I learned to use my legs to do most things, but they’re starting to get in the way when I try to sit on the floor. I have to do my exercises from a folding chair now.
Mrs. Potter told me that I would be paying full rent next month unless I start working again, but I don’t have the rent money anyway. I’m spent all my remaining money last week on my fourth crate of steaks. They’re almost all gone, which means I’ll have to make the jump soon. There’s no more protein left to build up my legs. I think they’re almost big enough.
Today is the day. I woke up at 9:00, ate my last two steaks, and headed downstairs. Mrs. Potter left breakfast in the kitchen, so I ate my sausages, too. I would have taken the rest to Ms. Breyer except my arms were too weak to carry her food. Besides, the last time I went upstairs, she started laughing hysterically as soon as she saw me. I’m not sure what was so funny, but I’ve tried to avoid her ever since.
After I finished eating, I stretched and headed outside. Now all I needed to do was find my way to the radio tower. I stopped and thought about where to go, but my head was in a fog. I couldn’t even remember how far away it was or how I was supposed to get there. I wanted to sit and think, but there were no benches nearby. I just stood still and tried to focus.
As I was standing there, I saw Marie shuffling ever so slowly along the sidewalk toward the mailbox. Her eyes widened when she saw me.
“What the hell happened to you?” she said.
I tried to explain, but I could only speak in fragments. “I can’t remember … where the radio tower …”
Marie shook her head and took out her phone. “I’m calling 911.”
“No!” I ran over and knocked the phone out of her hand. “To the tower … yellow car …”
“You want me to call a taxi?”
“I can’t just let you kill yourself like this,” she said, looking down at my legs. “You need medical help.”
“Jump!” I shouted. “Heaven.”
Marie looked me in the eyes and sighed. “Okay.”
She picked up her phone off the sidewalk and called the taxi company. We stood in silence until the taxi arrived. When it reached the curb, Marie opened the door and helped me inside. She started to get in next to me.
“Sick,” I said.
“I know you’re sick, but it’s not contagious,” she said, speaking partly to me and partly to the driver.
I shook my head. “Sick.” I pointed at her.
“Oh, that. Ménière’s disease is a disorder, not a sickness. Anyway, I’m fine in cars.” She buckled up and slammed the door. “Take us out to the old radio station.”
The driver nodded and started driving. He chatted with Marie about his family, but I ignored him. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying anyway.
After 20 minutes, we arrived at the radio station. The driver told us how much the ride cost, and I looked at Marie stupidly. Marie sighed yet again and handed the driver some cash.
She had to help me get out of the taxi because I couldn’t pull the door handle open. I slid out of the seat and landed on her, almost knocking her down. Against all odds, she stabilized herself and helped me stand.
“Oof,” she said. “How did you do this to yourself, anyway?”
I blurted out a noise that sounded almost like “protein.”
“I guess so. It’s not like there’s a cure for you, anyway. I just wish you’d listened to me when I warned you last month.” She turned toward the tower. “It’s not very high.”
I tried to say, “It doesn’t matter,” but I couldn’t even form the sounds anymore.
The taxi drove away into the distance as we approached the radio tower.
“I can’t help you climb, you know,” she said. “Are you going to be able to make it to the top?”
I nodded and started climbing the ladder. I was able to make progress by leaning forward and pushing myself upward whenever I stepped off of one rung and onto the next. On a few occasions, I had to use my teeth to grab onto a rung and prevent myself from sliding off.
Eventually, I made it to a small ledge where I could stand up. It was only as high as the roof of our building, but I felt like I had demonstrated more faith by climbing the tower.
I turned to face the sun, which was slowly approaching the center of the sky. I looked down at Marie, who was looking up but shielding her eyes from the light.
I knew she expected me to hit the ground like a stone, cracking my body against the grass-covered concrete and spilling my guts on the ground. She was already imagining the sirens of an ambulance that would gather up my mangled corpse and find nothing left in my skull but a sponge of brain matter, shrunken like wet cotton candy. Someday, Dr. Marie would tell her patients about the mad cow man and his suicidal quest to jump to heaven, and they would laugh together.
But the joke was on her, because I would be in heaven in seconds, leaving her behind for greater things, for peace and love and rest and bliss. It was now or never.
I tensed my massive legs, crouched low, and took a deep breath, gathering all my faith and strength. When I was ready, I pushed my feet against the tower as hard as I could and leapt into the sky.