Maybe True, Mostly Metaphor part III
Reader, have you ever felt like you’ve lost all sense of control over your life? As though you were tumbling helplessly forward—a rock thrown off a cliff with nothing solid to grab onto, nothing to arrest your fall? A slave to natural laws who, in their merciless reign, turn a deaf ear to your pleas? Powerless against the whims of fate? Do you ever feel that way?
Right, silly question.
The funny thing about helplessness is that there is a good kind and a bad kind. For example, you can be rendered helpless to a good book—enraptured in a story, forfeiting all willpower and control, reading all night with a warm cup of tea until the barest hints of the morning sun peek out on the horizon. Being rendered helpless to something good like a book is…well…good.
However, if that book is Mein Kampf or, worse, a recipe book on how to make fruitcakes, then that is a very, very bad type of helplessness.
Nazis, bad desserts, and Nazi desserts aside, being in control can be good or bad.
Here’s a better example, if you know nothing about cars, then giving up control of your vehicle to a professional so he can fix your brakes is a good thing. You are voluntarily losing control of your vehicle to someone who can help you. After all, if you don’t, you might later involuntarily lose control of your car while speeding down a steep hill with no working brakes as your groceries go tumbling around in the backseat and your pet parakeet is screaming in the passenger seat next to you and there’s a stop light up ahead and it’s turning red and you pump the brakes, pump pump pump them, but nothing happens and the parakeet is screaming and groceries are flying—
And that’s a bad type of helplessness.
I was in a very bad type of helplessness as I was thrown, rocked, and tossed about in my stolen hot air balloon in the midst of this vicious thunderstorm.
I lost all semblance of control over my life. With every flash of lightning, every wild rocking of the basket, every howl of the wind, I thought I was a dead man. At the very least, I knew I would likely be thrown out of the balloon to begin my cold, terrifying descent to the ground below—like a rock thrown off a cliff, a sailor thrown overboard into the sea, a car speeding down a hill with no brakes.
Mind running on automatic, I instinctively laid as flat as I could in the bottom of the basket, my numb fingers clawing at the woven wicker fibers for dear life. My body was so full of panic and adrenaline that I didn’t notice the rough material scratching up my arms and face as I was jolted back and forth against it like cheese against a grater, an animal thrown across thorny bushes by a predator. If I was bleeding, the torrential rain washed away any evidence too quickly for my brain to see and realize that I’d been wounded.
Beyond the basket, everything was dark. The occasional lightning strike would blind me with an instant flash of my surroundings in vivid contrast, but my one and only source of comfort was the giant burner above me, roaring to life on some preset timer with violent eruptions of flame to fight off the cold and the black void around me. It cut through the night like a flaming sword. Every time it went off, the entire envelope of the balloon would glow and radiate—a fierce and defiant ember, lonely against the dark destruction all around it.
It was during one of these brief moments of reassuring light that I first noticed writing on the envelope. Or, rather, I noticed backwards writing on the inside of the canopy. A fierce gust of wind had bucked me loose from my grip and flipped me onto my back right as the burner caused the balloon to glow. I caught the reverse letters as I gazed up. The Candlewind.
My brief moment of curiosity was vanquished as another torrent of rain came down hard on my face, forcing me to roll over again and resume this hell ride to who knows where.
I don’t know how much time had gone by like this. I may have passed out—either from sheer tiredness of fighting for my life or by smashing my head against the metal frame of the balloon canopy. I’m not entirely sure. I only remember my last thoughts were of Alice and her husband, how my sudden appearance in her life moved her to action—influencing her to run away from her problems. But, would she be better or worse off for it?
It’s not like I meant for any of this to happen. I didn’t tell her to run away. She had already been planning it. As she said that night, it was my showing up with stories of travel and balloon chasing that solidified her decision. And when she didn’t have the courage to jump into the balloon, she instead took advantage of the second option—my motorcycle. If I hadn’t been there, she might not have been able to get away.
No, I couldn’t deny it, my presence there changed things.
But, I didn’t plan for any of that to happen! It wasn’t my fault. Right? I showed up looking for my balloon and some work to gain some cash. Nothing else. I didn’t want to change people’s lives. But, somehow, I did. I made an impact, but I had no control over the effect I had. Did I hurt the situation, or make it better?
Was I the good guy or the bad guy in this story?
These distressing thoughts left me in despair. The last thing I remember was feeling helpless.
I woke up with dirt in my mouth and pain singing through every fiber of my body.
I opened my eyes and the blinding brightness that made my head spin told me it was a bad idea, so I closed them again.
Even doing that felt painful.
Everyone talks about moving away from the light when they’re about to die. I’m pretty sure they only do that because the light apparently induces crazy migraines. Even behind my closed eyelids, the light was torture to my body that so desperately wanted to drift away.
Slowly, the rest of my senses caught up. The first, unfortunately, was smell. Something must have died nearby. With every breath through my nose I caught the whiff of vomit and waste and sweat. I fought the urge to throw up because I couldn’t bear the thought of that much exertion.
I dry heaved once and thought the effort would kill me right then and there.
Next came my sense of taste. My mouth was dry and full of gritty dirt. My tongue stuck to the sides and roof of my mouth and I didn’t seem able to speak coherently.
As it turns out, the taste of dirt is better than the smell of vomit. Trust me on that one, reader. Hopefully you never have to test out my claim for yourself.
In my mouth?
Dirt meant land.
Land meant I was on the ground. Blessed, solid ground.
I opened my eyes again. The brightness was a little more bearable, and I saw that everything was sideways. Earth. Sky. Trees. A twisted wreck of fabric and metal. I suddenly went dizzy again and learned something: no matter how beat up or destroyed your body feels, there’s always enough energy left to throw up, and that’s exactly what I did.
By the look of my clothes, this wasn’t the first time I had puked. There were already ugly streaks of dubious liquids and unidentifiable semisolids crusted onto my shirt.. Well, the mystery of the bad vomit smell had been solved, at least. And here’s another thing you can learn from me without having to experience yourself, dear reader: fresh vomit smells much more… let’s say vibrant…than old vomit.
My stomach sufficiently empty and my mind having adjusted to what my eyes were seeing, I tried to sit up and was met with significant resistance from my beleaguered body. Apparently, it had decided that lying on the ground and waiting for death in a puddle of my own fluids was a perfectly acceptable end to one’s life.
I demanded that my skin and bones obey my commands. I ordered them into action, but was met with a shrug.
Not a literal shrug, mind you. That would have been taken too much effort.
My body gave my mind a metaphorical shrug that said, “Sorry, man. I understand what you want to do. I get it, really. But me and the boys have been talking and, it just isn’t going to happen.”
Now in the course of human history, reader, there are a few things that have been known to call the mind and body to action beyond their normal abilities. Situations that give one unbelievable fortitude when they think all is lost.
You may have heard the stories. A mother, seeing her son trapped under a car, suddenly finds within herself a superhuman strength that allows her to lift the vehicle up and off her baby boy.
A soldier, stranded and lost behind enemy lines, gathers up the courage and unwavering determination to survive and evade capture by his foes for days—even months.
A boy discovers in a rush of adrenaline that, yes, he has the constitution to fit just one more sausage in his stomach in order to win the town’s hot dog eating contest.
Among such stories as these, there is one special catalyst that, since the dawn of time, has inspired humans to rise above their normal limitations and do the impossible.
Behind every record speed runner is a spider chasing them.
When faced with a spider, young ladies have been known to summon the ancient skills of a martial arts master, channelling the warrior’s spirit to execute lightning fast strikes purely in an attempt to kill the beast.
Spiders will cause the laziest, the most immobile of humanity, to twist and jump and contort in ways they never have before simply to avoid touching a spider.
Spiders inspire strength in all of us, reader.
As I sat there, thinking this could be my last moment on earth, I myself experienced a phenomenon such as the ones described.
It started with a crawling feeling creeping up the back of my neck and under my ear.
The prickly sense continued forward until it made it to my cheek. That’s when my eyes caught it: a mass of spindly lines—towering legs moving across my face.
That’s the only way I can describe it. There is a blank page in my memory starting with the moment I registered the spider on my face and ending with me standing perhaps 50 feet away from where I was previously, violently brushing off my body to remove any trace of the arachnid.
I don’t remember standing up. I don’t remember running. One moment, there was a spider. The next, madness. My paralysis had been cured.
That’s the power of spiders.
Now that I was up and it appeared that I had no broken bones or lethal injuries, I fought through my headache and looked around.
Dense, green forest.
Behind what I saw around me, a question—one that had been creeping in the back of my mind from the moment I woke up—bubbled to the surface.
Where the heck am I?
Thanks for reading! If you want to read up on previous installments of Maybe True, Mostly Metaphor, start here with part one! https://lostballooncafe.com/2019/08/23/maybe-true-mostly-metaphor/