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Authors: Jane Peranteau


BOOK: Jumping
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Copyright © 2014

by Jane Peranteau

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Hampton Roads Publishing, Inc. Reviewers may quote brief passages.

Cover design by Jim Warner

Interior designed by Frame25 Productions

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Charlottesville, VA 22906

Distributed by Red Wheel/Weiser,

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ISBN: 978-1-57174-719-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available upon request.

Printed in the United States of America.


10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Dedicated to Jake.



Chapter One: Babe Arrives in Town

Chapter Two: Duncan Robert

Chapter Three: Jumping

Chapter Four: The Void

Chapter Five: Standing at the Void, Again

Chapter Six: The Return

Chapter Seven: The Group

Chapter Eight: Did You Hear Me?

Chapter Nine: The Conclusion

Chapter Ten: And Then They Know

Chapter Eleven: Carrie Jean

Chapter Twelve: Miles

Chapter Thirteen: Miles and His Students

Chapter Fourteen: The Students at the Void

Chapter Fifteen: Babe Remembers

Chapter Sixteen: Babe and Her Sisters

Chapter Seventeen: Babe and Her Sisters at the Void

Chapter Eighteen: Babe—Tandem Jumping

Chapter Nineteen: Babe's Jump

Chapter Twenty: Miles's Jump

Chapter Twenty-One: Miles's Second Jump

Chapter Twenty-Two: Carrie Jean

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Students


She stands at the edge, where he stood. The wind whips her skirt around her legs, persuasive. She sways.

She has stood alone at this spot in her dreams for as long as she can remember, feeling the Void's call. It always feels familiar. In her dreams, she jumps. She falls and falls, twisting and turning, grabbing for a handhold, a ledge, anything, as panic grabs her breath. She never sees what's beyond this upending fall into darkness. She never touches bottom. All she's left with, when she jolts awake, gasping for air, fighting her sheets, is the taste and smell of her fear. She has it now.

What her dreams didn't have was the massively ancient presence that surrounds her now at the edge. It is as permeating and knowing as wind. It has found her and she will follow.

Babe Arrives in Town

? For a moment I can't remember. I didn't walk, though I could have. It's only a little over three miles north of town. I drove the narrow dirt Forest Service road that branches off from the paved county road—the one that comes directly through town. It's afternoon, and things are a bit drowsy.

I parked on the edge of the Forest Service road and walked the half-mile to the Void, which is on public land. I walked through knee-high grass right up to it. I notice it doesn't feel drowsy at the edge of the Void. I stand at the edge, feeling the wind come up all of a sudden, its sound masking any other sound, as if I stand in the middle of a pause—just me and the wind. The energy of the Void is palpable, unmistakable. I can almost hear it hum. It's familiar, as if I remember it, though it's too unsettling to be comfortable. It feels like the first time I took mushrooms and the walls of my small off-campus apartment started to undulate, and I could see through the cat to what it carried, and I had a new understanding of reality after that.

I had to come here first, as any good reporter would, and I'm trying to remain the reporter, the recorder of facts, as I stand here looking in. I can't help but envision Duncan Robert falling, gravity causing him to pick up speed. I can feel the pull of gravity in the Void, especially here at the edge. It's dark in there, past the opening, with nothing to stop your fall.

It's been waiting for me. It knows I've wanted to know it.
I know that's crazy, and it gives me the willies. I laugh at myself, but I can't escape the feeling. Probably everyone feels this way, I tell myself, when they're standing at the edge. Then I notice the light behind me has changed. More time has passed than I realized, and I'm not sure how that happened. The afternoon sun is dipping toward the horizon, the light through the woods getting dimmer, and I back away from the edge. I wouldn't want to be caught here in the dark. I turn and quickly follow the faint path back through the woods to my car.

As I drive the dirt road to the county road that takes me back to town, I think about how glad I am to be here, in this corner of the Northeast. I've been waiting for this for a long time. I grew up not far from this town of Dexter, New Hampshire, and had heard about the Void from the time I was a child. In school, I wrote essays about it and used it as an example whenever I got the chance, from physics to poetry to religion to philosophy. Could the Void illuminate the meaning of life? You had to go in to find out, I glibly said.

Later, as an adult, even as I was piecing together a writing career, the Void remained in some back corner of my mind. As I wended my way through the research and development of other stories—bald eagles raiding the town dump as they followed their migration pattern south, adolescents bullying each other via social media—it was there. I work freelance, as a stringer, for the county paper, which is close to 150 years old, for an editor who is almost as old. He is a business-minded liberal—two things that make interesting bedfellows. His name is Henry Carey, and he's been in the newspaper business for almost four decades. He shows no sign of giving it up soon, either, but seems to hold onto it all the more ferociously the older he gets. Usually, his interests align in ways that suit my interests, which is why I continue to stay on as a stringer, for minimal and sporadic wages.

I know, too, that he is just about as interested in the Void as I am, though maybe for different reasons. That business-minded side of him knows that Void stories sell papers—fear, danger, mystery—all contained within a very real geographic feature. That's all you need for a good horror story.

When I first heard about Duncan Robert's jump last year, I was dumbstruck. He went in. Much as I had written, thought, and talked about the Void, doing what he had done was un-thinkable to me. I was caught between immediate hero worship and viewing him as some kind of freak. I had to know more.

I wanted to start tracking the story immediately but I couldn't find a buyer. Editors were cautious. They wanted to see if it was a hoax, a lover's ploy, a simple suicide, or an accidental death, each of which would be covered differently, by a reporter with that particular agility with words. They've seen everything, so it's hard for them to believe an act is what it is, without an angle. They waited, and now it's the anniversary, a safer reason to do a story. My editor thought it was worth following up because there might be more than just an anniversary story here. We could be on the trail of something bigger. Duncan Robert hasn't been filed as a dead person yet. Someone might know something.

I came to town in the early spring, as soon as the roads were clear enough to chance it. Nothing was blooming yet—the cold still hadn't released its hold, but nothing was entirely frozen either. Everything was waiting, it seemed, for the weather to go one way or the other. It waited warily, knowing, as the poets say, spring could be the cruelest time. I felt the same. I was waiting for something, too, something that needed to occur in its own time and in its own way, and might even be cruel. All I could think about was the Void, and it was all I tried not to think about.

Henry, through a friend of a friend, found me a place to stay, for free. It is a small studio apartment above the one bank in town, and I like it, though I won't tell Henry that. The bank building has historical status, having been built in 1790, and is located in exactly the center of town. The best place to eat, Alpine Alley, is two blocks south; the laundromat is across the street; the one movie theatre is two blocks north; and in between is a bookstore, a clothing store, and a drug store. What more could anyone need? The apartment itself has high ceilings and huge windows in the front and in the back, with east-west exposure, affording great morning and afternoon light. It comes furnished, and I spread my World Market Indian and Asian throws over everything for atmosphere. My sister Kelly, the musician, would love it; its lack of a coordinated decorating theme would make my sister Marla, the mom, uncomfortable.

My sisters would, however, be united in their feelings about jumps into the Void. A responsible mother can't condone anyone jumping into the unknown, not on her watch, and a musician might appreciate the poetry inherent in a jump but would want to be around to put her guitar to that poetry. I'm their sister and they love me. They certainly wouldn't want me around the Void. They know the attraction it has for me. Since our parents died when we were in high school, we've watched out for each other, guarding the ties we do have. Void talk would just incite more caution.

Henry had come to be sure I had his thorough instructions, and for his own chance to be near the Void. “It's got all the elements of a good ghost story, Babe!” he exhorted, one more time.

“What?” I said, teasing him, but listening, too. He hadn't gotten where he'd gotten by being dumb, and I admired him for that. “What ghost story?”

“Well, the Void stands in really well for a haunted house, don't you think?” he said, pushing his point. “So we start out afraid. And you have the innocent idealist, Duncan Robert, who decides to go in, looking to become the hero in his own life. We can identify with that, so we're scared for him. And we don't know what's happened to him, so there's lots of room for speculation, for asking ourselves what we can believe in, how far out on this branch we'll go. That's scary, too! You can't see this?” He's getting grouchy by the time he gets to his last point.

“Yes! Sort of,” I say, because I can see his point. It is scary. It scares me. I know it scares Henry, too. That's why he wants to do this story. He knows scary sells. He's a big buyer of scary.

“So, you'll talk to the yokels, you'll talk to the family and friends, you'll get to the bottom of who this Duncan Robert is and why he'd jump. And meanwhile, you'll be finding out everything you can about this Void. Is it just a geologic phenomenon?” he asks.

“No!” he answers his own question before I can. “It holds some history in this town, so I imagine it's carrying more than just air and rocks.”

“Is it seen as a magical place?” he asks. I know better than to try to answer. “Even a spiritual place? I wouldn't be surprised,” he says sagely. “You know, there's a Native American community just north of town.”

“Was your mother a witch?” I ask, just to rattle his cage. “Why are you convinced he didn't just jump to his death?”

“Because it's a Void!” he shouts, his face getting red. “Voids aren't about jumping to your death! There's got to be more to it than that.” He paces to calm himself. “You just need to find the angle. I'm banking on you, Babe,” he says, looking at me with his don't-cross-me look, “or I wouldn't be paying for all this.”

I have to laugh. “Well, I'm not sure what you're paying for, Mister Man, since the place is free,” I say, giving him my don't-cross-me look back. “And on what you do pay me, I can barely afford reporter notebooks.”

“Don't whine to me. You're getting the standard rate,” he growls, “and we don't even pay that to everybody. Not in these times. And don't forget, I found the place for you! A nice place, too.”

BOOK: Jumping
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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