Feigrastir

“I know that I hung, on a windy tree, for all of nine nights, wounded with a spear, and given to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree, which no man knows, from what roots it runs.  I took up runes, screaming I took them. Again I fell from there.” -Rúnatal, Hávamál

We jump at sunrise, and our features are cut in silhouette, like woodcuts in an old book.

Sven leaps with a Viking war cry, jutting jaw and shoulders.  Grem and Dacy fall graceful like birds.  I follow with the GoPro, far enough behind that the lens catches us all, diamond formation, screaming down the cliff.

In the morning light the rock is white, the foliage black, like growths on an alien landscape.  The shore of the Lysefjord is our target, our destination, our Valhalla.

Sven dips his shoulder, the air catching the new edge of his nylon suit, killing his lift.  He spins like a jet fighter, meters from the cliffside.  Then he flexes back out of it, full strength in his young arms, and pulls back into formation.  Dacy does a summersault at 160 kilometers/hour.  Grem spasms in the hellish dance moves of Tarantortula, her helmet bopping to an internal soundtrack.  I just try to keep all three in focus.

Halfway down from the summit, we pull away from the vertical face, gliding over warrens of rock.  Sven arches his back, his suit stretching like a wet seal, and he lifts higher.  He veers hard to the left.  Rivulets of rock and a sparse collection of shrubs scroll past too fast to register.

And then he spots it.  The opening to the cave, a shelf of rock leaning onto a boulder, forming a narrow loop.  A misty stream cascades through, five hundred meters to the bottom.  Sven shoots past, pointing down.

The Needle, he later calls it.  We all know what he intends to do.

***

In Stavanger, Sven is all bravado.  Even in the half-light his eyes are the blue of glacial ice.

“The Americans are too cautious!” he booms, downing his third glass.  “They plot out their routes with computer and then give them names.  So the damn NSA thinks those are the only routes.  Blast the yanks!”

“Blast em!” Grem mocks.  She’s still in full face paint from the Tarantortula show, skull white and eyeblack.  Sarcasm and black metal are strange companions.

Sven snorts, lifting his long fingers to summon another drink.  “We should be setting the routes.  Out in the field.  I spot, Erik films. We hit two, three new features a day.”

“NSA serves its purpose,” says Dacy, quietly.  “Trollveggen is still banned. How’d you like Kjerag added to the list?”

“I’ve jumped Troll Wall six times.” Sven boasts.

“The Andalsnes sheriff liked that,” Grem says.  “You paid his salary in fines for two years.”

Sven cocks his head.  “There’d be no rules on self-destructive activities.  If I were King.”

We all chuckle.  “King Sven Trygsvaald,” Dacy says, “the flying Viking.”

“Those fines will come in handy,” I say, “When they’re scraping your blonde beard off the rock.”

***

Self-destructive activities are the law of the land in winter.

Tarantortula starts touring the small townships along the western coasts, bringing with them a flock of pagan attired acolytes.  The taxidermist of Bergen runs out of elk horns, and has to start mail ordering them from Russia.  Grem mixes up big vats of black blood, greasy stuff that congeals quickly, especially when baked under the ceremonial pyres of encore performances.  Johann, the bassist, tattoos a skull on his face.  Kjel, the lead vocalist, literally wears the entrails of a bear to a show in Molde.   The drummer, Bera, stops shaving her legs and Sven jokes that it’s more metal than the face tattoo.

In Bergen the venue is packed, blistering, and probably wouldn’t pass fire inspection.  The stage is given over to a strange mix of charred wood, smoke machines, amps, medieval weaponry, pagan crosses.  A filthy sheet hangs on the back wall, and a projector blasts out images of fire, gore, castles, and roadkill.

Kjil “Kill” oversees the entire operation as a dark lord, growling his lyrics in a sort of incantation.  And despite the volume, the imagery, and the hysterics of the drummer, the entire thing is almost lulling.  But when Grem stars wailing away on her guitar and screaming counterpoint to Kjil, things kick into gear.  The crowd erupts, half of them enthusiastically, the others raging against the blasphemy.

I am in the back, nursing a beer, but I can see Sven near the front.  He is a boulder in a swirling maelstrom.  His eyes never leave Grem.

She licks the dripping facepaint from her lips, breathing hard, sweating.  And her eyes never leave Sven.

After, the crowd spills out onto the street and Kjel and Grem are carried along.  Sven and Dacy and I watch, frowning.  My ears are still ringing, and we’re not wearing nearly enough black to fit in.

“Hopefully she stays fit for jumping,” Sven says.  “When’s the tour over?”

“Not till the spring.  Mid April.”

“Ah,” Sven grunts.  “The time of blot.”

Dacy is intrigued.  “Blot?  What’s that?”

“When all the villagers come together to sacrifice to the gods.  Mostly cattle and ale, but in the old days, a youth would be given up.”

“Such civilized times,” I yawn.

“Things aren’t so different now,” Sven says.

Dacy leans against him, her blond braids nestled in the crook of his arm. A damp mist settles like dew on us all, down from the mountains.

***

He carries a small bent photo of her on the long Greenland trek.

We slide and trudge across the flat white disk, the snow dry like flour.  The sun is a smudge on the horizon.  We live by the beeps of his digital watch.  When to rise from the tent, when to boil snow, when to unwrap bars of chocolate, when to shit into blue plastic baggies, when to dig for core samples.

For long hours there is no sound but the swish of skis, or the crackling grumble of dry coughs.  A frozen, forsaken land.

I’d brought an e-reader, headphones, a trove of music (branching out in to the more melodic offshoots of black metal, at Grem’s recommendation) and a solar charger.  Sven merely has a leather journal, in which he jots minimalist notes, and the photo.

He had a history with Dacy, of which I knew little.   They shared secret words, letters of inside jokes.  They occasionally wrote in runes.  There was some sort of Romeo and Juliet vibe behind their secret trysts.

Sven’s father – Otto Trygsvaald – was probably the wealthiest shipping magnate in western Norway, his reach extending into the frozen seas (fisheries) and the roots of the mountains (mining).  He was squat and wore a big beard, red faced, and we joked and called him the Dwarf.  Sven played along, happy enough his trust fund afforded him heli skiing and fresh parachutes.  At the prodding of his father he’d agreed to the Greenland trek, in the name of scientific research.  Some hodgepodge rationale of following the footsteps of the first Viking settlers, and sampling the ice for signs of climate change.

Dacy had been a ward of the state, sad eyes and blonde braids.  Sven had met her at sixteen at a youth camp sponsored by his father.  Their young love was propelled by horny experimentations and breathless meetings in the snow.

Of course Otto the Dwarf objected when Sven invited her to his mountain estate at twenty.  It wasn’t her poor pedigree.  Scandinavians at least felt they were more progressive than their continental neighbors.  It was the thought of his firstborn getting tied down to an object of lust.

But Sven read it in the classic paradigm of Shakespearean tragedy, which only increased the bond.  Of course, they weren’t doomed like Tristan and Isolde, at least for now.  But Sven had to go on his distant quest.  Thus, Greenland.

It’s late in the day – according to the titanium Fortis watch – and the ice has been making sounds.  We are traversing the Helheim glacier.  I am weary and lagging, the sweat on my brow refrozen into a mask at the seam of my goggles.  My legs move like drained automatons.  But Sven is boldly striding, even now a pump in his step, head high into the blurred sunshine.

A sucking crack swallows the snow beneath the sled and then continues to peel away the ground to the north.  Sven tumbles off the edge, hacking away with his ice axe.  I fall into self-arrest on instinct, and manage to slow us for a moment.

He dangles into the chasm, still raining down large ice chunks and glittering snow dust.  Deep below are the hints of a raging black torrent, a moulin.  There is a line of tension, from the steel tooth of my axe in the ice, the strap on my wrist, the harness on my waist, the nylon rope out and down to Sven.  Just that, only that.

When my breathing settles, I hear him chuckle.

“It’s ok,” he calls up to me.  “Take the pressure off your arm.”

I have an anchor in my pack, a wide shovel of aluminum I can wedge down in the loose snow and take the pressure off my wrist, then lower down a ladder to Sven. But it’s on the far side of my pack, beyond the reach of my free arm.

We dangle for long minutes.  The tension digs into my arm.  I feel as though the very sinews in my joints are being pulled apart.  The rope at my harness is a constant pressure, threatening to pull me off as well.  Sven sways gently.  The cold silently seeps through our layers of Gore-Tex and down and polyprop.

“It’s ok,” Sven says again.  “If you can’t hold me Erik, let me go.”

I try to find a trace of despair in his voice, a hint of fear.  There is none, just words.  My eyes stray to the knife at my belt.

“Cut me free,” he calls.

My wrist begins to slip.  I reach for the knife.  Hit the release to free the blade.

The rope out from my harness goes slack.  Had he cut himself off?

And then he is over me, blocking out the sun, a big grin in the shadow.  “You would have done it, wouldn’t have you.  You bastard.”  He laughs, extending his hand.  I sheath the knife.  A knotted Prusik loop dangles from his own harness line.  He climbed out of the crevasse himself.

We embrace.  Cautiously look out over the ledge.  Eat a cold meal.

“Dangling from the edge of Yggdrasil,” he mutters.

With a sigh he makes the call on the sat phone, canceling the trek.

Six hours later we are on a chartered flight back to Nuuk.  Warm, drunk and reveling in our failure.

***

I spend a rainy fall in Oslo after that first summer of jumps from the western cliffs.  Sven is finishing his studies at Oxford.  Grem is ensconced in her studio recording a new album.  I’d taken a job with the local adventure blog, photojournalism of hikes and zip line tours and bar crawls.  Dacy finds work as a supermarket cashier, but her real profession is trolling the warrens of the East End, a needle in her arm.

She calls me on a Sunday afternoon and arranges to have coffee.  There is a small shop on the banks of the Akerselva, and we sip cuppas of Friele.

The mugs are sculpted into cartoonish figures from Old Norse Myth.  Dacy’s mug is a beautiful woman with a feathered cloak: Freyja the Sorceress.  Mine’s a hunched and sneering man, a goat at his feet and a serpent on his shoulder: Loki the Trickster.

I remember Sven’s erudition coming back.  “Loki called Freyja an incestual whore and a witch.  He pissed off all the other gods by calling them sluts and perverts as well.  He turned their mead to malice.  So Thor and Skadi tied him up with his son’s entrails and dripped snake venom on his face till the end of time.”

“Why did you want to see me?” I ask.

Her long braids are twirled up into circular formations on her head, like rams horns, and atop it all a red woolen hat.  She has a thousand yard stare.

“I miss Sven,” she says.  “I can’t get clean.”

I take a sip.  “You can get some help.  They have clinics.”

She looks pained.  “I’ve tried.  They’re so boring.  They make me so tired.”

“You know what makes me tired?” I say.  “You, and your self pity.  You have the love of a brilliant man, you go on amazing adventures with him.  What more could you want?  Why waste it on this shit?” I grab her hand and pull up her sleeve, exposing white flesh and track marks.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through,” she says.  She is on the verge of tears, but I can tell it’s a performance, the self-pity card she’s played before.  It’s cliché.

“I can guess.  We all have our demons.”

“Why do you think he jumps?” she asks.  “He has everything.  Anyone else would call it suicide.  But when he does it, they call him a hero, an adventurer.”

“He has expensive gear,” I say.   “But he’s not doing it out of despair.  Why do you jump?  Do you even like it?”

She looks wistful.  “Part of me thinks I’ll have a hard landing.  Just smash to pieces.  Hopes it almost.  But when we’re out there together, and I see him out in front, it’s like he’s carrying me.  Pulling me along.”

Her coffee is now done but she swirls the black grains in her Freyja mug.

“I see it for him as a form of worship,” she continues.  “It’s so pure out there, everything is down to the elements.  Air flow, stone cliffs, gravity.  And maybe I’m not a believer.  I’m not a zealous atheist like Gren, but I can see what he sees.”

“Why do you jump, Erik?”  She reaches out and her fingers touch my arm.

I shrug.  She’s hinted at something I’ve felt, but I can’t say that.  “Makes for pretty pictures.”

She leans across the small table and kisses me.

***

Back at her ratty flat we peel off our clothes and roll around on her bed.  Then we rampage on the floor, pushing aside dirty foil wrappers of black tar H residue.  I finish off a bottle of cheap Vodka, take some pictures of her braids, a lone runic tattoo on her flank, tasteful monochrome nudes.  Pass out.

I wake up and find her with a belt on her bicep, a syringe in her forearm.

I clean her up and get her dressed and call a cab.  All the syringes and dirty foil wrappers go in the dumpster.  I drop her off at the rehab center, put in Sven’s contact information.

He flies from London to Oslo that night, but we don’t speak for a month.

***

Gren wants me to do a photoshoot for the cover of the new Tarantortula album.  There’s a motif running through the music of binaries, twin lives lived on opposite sides of a line.  The boundary between the seasons, male and female, life and death.  She penned a song about base jumping, a ballad where half the characters perish amongst the rocks.  And then they join in with slain warriors through the ages, ghosts, Vikings haunting the mountain.  Of course, Kjel “Kill”’s vocals would render the lyrics undecipherable, and only the liner notes would reveal the deeper literary ambitions of Tarantortula.  Their big hits had simple violent titles like “Bloodsprint”, “Vomitous Mass”, “Nuclear Cleansing”, “Crucify the Corporacracy”, and “Christians are Dumb”.

So she had the idea to do a photo shoot sans makeup.  Jeans and wool sweaters, maybe a little lipstick for the girls.  Of course Johan couldn’t wash off his face tattoo, but overall the resulting image would have done fine as a Christmas postcard to granny.

They then did the same pose in full getup, leather and metal and elk skulls, Kjel hoisting a bloody battleaxe in the foreground.  The band was still debating whether they wanted to do some sort of hologram or cross blending, where both images were visible, or just put the smiling sweater version on limited editions of the record that would show up on eBay for five grand.

After the shoot Johan invites me to a party at his place.  His flat is surprisingly clean, modern, rational.  There is a dark Francis Bacon print framed in his bedroom, but he also has landscapes, epic photographs of the fjords.

“I’ve jumped that,” Grem says, pointing out a jutting cliff edge on one of the landscapes.  The metalheads murmur, nonchalant.

There are a few kegs, a horn of mead, hash and pills and harder things.  The band members fall into delirium or raucous naked antics with groupies.  Grem and I talk a little bit about jumping, the old group.  She asks me about Sven.

“He has a few more classes at Oxford.  His father’s going to make him run a division in the spring.  He won’t be able to jump till the summer.”

“We could do it ourselves,” Grem says.  “Hike up, single jumps.”

“Maybe,” I say.  There was a big difference between getting shuttled by helicopter, diving at dawn and hoofing it up the rocky trail for eight or nine hours to the summit.

“I’ve been reading about this one spot,” she says.  “When I was researching for Song of Kjerag.  A crack in the cliff, water from a stream tumbling through.  Spurned lovers used to suicide by jumping through.”

“Typical,” I say.

“Does Sven ever talk about me?” she asks.  She’s standing slightly off kilter, her weight on a single bare foot.  I’m not used to seeing her in frayed jeans and a t-shirt.  Pagan sacrifice kitsch isn’t as form fitting as thin cotton.  She’s rather enticing, her death mask washed away, just the hint of eye liner, the red roots of her hair finally growing into the inky black.

“He really loves your enthusiasm for life.  Your drive, your artistic sense.”

“Pah!” she says.  “He hates metal.”

“He doesn’t hate it.  He just prefers acoustic folk.  But he likes the energy you put into it.  And he thinks you’re a hell of a jumper.”

“But does he talk about me?”

I cock my head.  “Are we in grammar school?”

She pushes me away, goes to get another drink.  Someone queues Mayhem on the sound system, and any hope of further conversation is doomed.

***

After we set down clean in the field, across the fjord, Sven is staring up at the cliff face with binoculars.

“The Needle,” he says.  “That place, the crack in the cliff face.”

“We could jump from there.  Bit of a hike, pretty cool vantage though.”

“No,” Sven says.  “I don’t want to jump from there.  I want to fly through it.”

“Thread the Needle,” Grem says.

“Exactly,” says Sven.

I take a long look through the binocs as the Range Rovers pull up.  The angle is bad, and it looks like the internals of the Needle are a jagged maw of rock.  Zero margin for error.  Sven’s kind of thing.

At the helipad I can feel the heightened tension in the group.  Sven is full of icy determination, the rest of us dread.  “Let’s do a flyby,” I recommend.  The chopper pilot, bored and counting the clock, hovers over the crook of the rock, the downdraft of the rotor blades kicking up huge gusts of mist from the waterfall.  The cave is barely four meters tall, half as wide.  It would be tough to walk through it without banging an elbow, let alone fly a wingsuit through at 160 kilometers an hour.

“Doable,” says Sven.  Grem nods.  She’s had her earbuds in all day, and has been moving zombielike.

When the heli drops us at the flat rock of Kjerag, Grem nods to me.  “That’s the place I was telling you about last fall.  Feigrastir.  Doomed love.”

Sven leads off the jump again.  I’m not sure if he’s going to attempt it, but I’m lagging enough behind to keep him in the viewfinder.  Dacy jumps next, her arms full forward, as though she’s trying to embrace Sven.  Grem is nonchalant, shuffling off the edge to optimize the time to terminal velocity.

Up ahead, Sven in his red wingsuit is heading towards Feigrastir.  He readjusts his trajectory with expert movement, just the bare minimum tweaks of his hands and feet.  He’s perfectly aligned.  I center him in my view, the jagged crook of rock approaching rapidly.

And then he veers up and to the left, darting away from the Needle.  Dacy follows him, and I fan out my arms and legs, slowing quickly.

Grem doesn’t stop and tunnels into the Needle.

I turn myself around as we shoot out over the cliff, staring back at the waterfall.  It’s hard to see anything, with the glare and the mist and the vast expanses of grey rock.  But I see a dark form, limp, swept in the current.  Then falling free.

We pull our chutes early and drift down in silence.

“What happened?” I ask when we finally touch down.

Sven is visibly shaken, his face drained of color.  “I thought I saw something.  A person standing in the cave.”

“She went through,” I say.  “Grem.”

Sven nods.  “Did you see her impact?”

“In my peripheral.”

“We better hike up,” Sven says.

We bag the chutes and unzip our suits and start the steep hike up the base of the mountain.  The stream collects in pools before continuing to tumble down the rocky slope.  In each pool we look for her.

Halfway up Sven spots a bobbing form.  He trudges into the frigid pool, up to his waist, and pulls her out.  Her eyes stare blankly, mascara running down he cheeks.  He lays her on the mossy bank and feels for a pulse.  Her right arm is gone at the elbow, the black fabric of the wingsuit hiding the wound.

“Well…” he says.  He tries CPR for ten minutes.

Then he gives her a small kiss on the forehead and stands.  Dacy leans into him.  We stare out at the landscape, the rocks and trees and water.

I remember the camera has been running the entire time and reach up to turn it off.

***

It’s a month before Sven jumps again, after the proceedings and legal filings and a black suited funeral. Kjel gives Sven evil looks.  Her bandmates sprinkle her ashes in a high glacial stream.  Her sub-par solo records are re-released.

He walks to the Needle but doesn’t come close to threading it, instead focusing on long horizontal runs, as far out over the water as he can manage.

He holes up with Dacy in his Oslo flat and they seep into morbid lust and despair and he neglects his hygiene and trimming his flaxen beard.  He doesn’t speak to me.

***

Near the end of summer he calls me late at night.

“What did she say to you?” he asks.

“When?  What are you talking about?”

“You spent some time with her.”  His voice cracks.

“She was asking about you.  And she knew a name for that place.  The Needle.”

“The Needle,” he says.

“She called it Feigrastir.”

“Doomed Love,” he says.

“Did something happen between you two?  I thought you were with Dacy?”

“Dacy doesn’t know.  Didn’t know.” He said.  “Grem and I… It was her winter tour, she came through London.  I knew I shouldn’t have…”

“Really?”  But I’m not surprised.  “Well, what does it matter now?”

“She was trying to impress me.  With that stunt.”

“We all knew the risks.  It happened.”

“She’s dead because of me Erik.”

“No.”

“She’s dead because of me.”

“No. You can’t think that way Sven.  We own ourselves!  Remember.”

“Back in Greenland, you should have let me fall,” he says.  “That was my fate, and I cheated it.”

“You need to take a break from Dacy,” I said.  “She’s bringing you down.  Get outside more.”

He hangs up.

***

In September Tarantortula breaks up and reforms as Morgoth Slaughtermachine.  They kick out Brena and hire a skinhead drummer.  Their lyrics are misogynistic, racist and full of Nazi imagery.  Their sales double.

I pick up the story second hand, and reading the news online.

Sven attended one of the Morgoth Slaughtermachine shows, and afterwards he confronted Kjel and Johan in the parking lot.  He asked them about Grem, about her songs and her ideas, and whether they were trashing her name to throw it all away.   To trade the celebration of Norse heritage, the mountains and the people, for racism and hate.

Things got heated.  It came to blows.  Rolf, the skinhead drummer, pulled out a knife.

By the time the cops showed up Rolf’s face was bashed in and Sven was bleeding out from a dozen stab wounds.  Kjel and Johan stood around, arms folded.  They were arrested and booked.  Sven died a few hours later in a hospital bed.

***

Mourning befits Dacy.  She pulls out her braids and lets her blonde hair fall down her back.  She wears a black dress and carries a simple black handbag.

Otto shakes my hand, nods curtly to Dacy.  Then the Trygsvaald clan is away in a caravan of dark Mercedes.

We find ourselves some time later on the balcony of her apartment, standing in the disheveled remains of our funeral clothes.  We are smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke out into the early evening air.  The first snowflakes of the season are drifting about like Brownian motion.

She chuckles suddenly. “Sven.  Who would have thought it would be a knife fight with a metal band.  In a parking lot.”

“You never know,” I say.  “When your time comes.”

“He always acted with such control over his life.  Like he could conform the world to his will.”

I thought about how we’d all been drawn into his orbit.

“Did he love her?” she asks.

I look at the cigarette, the thin thread of fire consuming the paper.

“He loved all of us.”

“That doesn’t help.”

“Nothing can help it now.” I say.

“Something can,” she says.  She walks back into her apartment, pulling out a box from her closet.  I watch her from balcony, letting the cold seep through my thin suit.  Embracing it.

She sits me on a chair and ties a rubber balloon around my arm and thwacks my forearm.  She injects me with a chemical solution of concentrated happiness.  Some part of me wants to hold onto reasoning, to objectivity, the conscious observer.  I want to denote and delineate, form boundaries between what is and is not.  I want to hold on.

Why did we jump?  Because it was there?  Hero worship?  Pride, to be documenting something so epic?  Boredom at terrestrial life?  Some artistic statement, martyrdom for a turbulent aesthetic?

It was good for them to die young, I think.

I wake up with the soul rending pain of a thousand hangovers, venom dripped on my skull.  I pull the rubber off my arm, throw on some clothes, splash water on my face.

And I notice Dacy there, staring straight ahead, her eyes hollow voids, a hint of dried spittle on her lips.  I put my fingers on her neck, already knowing.  Sven would have tried CPR, but I’m not him.

***

In a day I’m back at Kjerag with all my gear.  But I’m broke and can’t charter a chopper.  It will be an alpine ascent, a hike up the mountain in the dark.

When we were boys Sven had an old book of collected myths.  He’d found it in the attic of one of his father’s summer houses, and it was full of woodcuttings and prints of Thor and Odin and Freyja.  The tales of the gods were told straight enough, but there was a darkness to the artwork, a menace in the crosshatched shading.  A contrast of black lines as the jotunn rampaged across disembodied landscapes of peaks and rills and fjords.

I assumed he looked at Thor fondly, full of bold life and a big hammer.  But Sven was drawn to Odin.  We’d stay up late in the winter, bundled under a “snow cave” of duvets, and pore over the book.

“There is a tree,” Sven said, wide eyed.  “Yggdrasil.  It covers the whole world.”

He’d trace his finger along the knotty bark on the page.  “And wise Odin climbed the tree and hung himself there.”

“Why,” I asked, “would he kill himself?”

“To gain the Runes,” Sven said.

“Runes aren’t very useful,” I said.

“Letters, alphabets, writing.  Knowledge,” Sven said.  “He sacrificed himself to gain wisdom, and to give it to us.”

I remember Sven would always be pointing out the mountains he wanted to ascend, and would name the famous explorer that did the first summit, the first climb, the first free solo.  When base jumping came to Norway, he’d buy magazines by the stack, flip through them with the voracious appetite most boys reserved for Playboys.  His father wouldn’t allow parachuting.  Far too dangerous for a conglomerate heir.  So he’d saved up his allowance and bought some military surplus stuff, rock climbing harness and helmet.

He was scared that first hike up the mountain, in the pre-dawn darkness.  We were both scared, not of the consequences, but the pure exposure of the place, the finality of it all.  The hard edge of reality, out there under the arc of the Milky Way.   At the summit, the first hints of pale light formed the edges of eastern range.  The long shadows of the mountains stretched out across the empty space, and we saw ourselves as knobs on the crest.

“Should we really do this?” I asked, once we were all buckled in.

“You don’t have to,” he said, shrugging.  I could see the first hints of blonde stubble on his chin.  “But I must.  I was made for this.”

“The edge of the world,” I said, looking down the cliff face, swollen with blackness.

“See you at the bottom,” he said, running with a leap and a cry.

From the empty summit, my calves burning, I can see the Needle off and to the left.  The light is the same as that first jump, so many years ago.  The first rays of sun at my back.  The chill of a winter wind sweeping up the cliffside, carrying grit and mist.

“Feigrastir, you bastard,” I murmur, running for the edge.

When I level off and the wind is a screaming banshee, I can see the gap in the Needle.  I point my shoulders into it, lock my legs and arms into the wingsuit for maximum lift and glide.

And the sun breaks the plane of the earth and the western world is brought forth into the day.  There are rivulets of water coming off the cliffside, and mountains of limestone, molded in amazing shapes by a million years of wind and rain.  And there are distant clouds to the east that catch the sun in that minute and shift the wavelength to salmon and pink and lavender.  And there is a vast fjord, an ocean beneath the cliffs, and tiny fishing villages, and people going about their day, waking into mundane life, into normalcy, into a sort of default happiness.

And the Needle is there, wide open, an eye staring back at me.

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