AS THE WIND shrieked hellish past the gap in the glass, I fumbled in my pockets for more red shells, reloading the shot guns once more, as Mike stood looking at the square shaped abyss, signs of life in him yet, if only the look of fear.
I strung the guns together with the telephone cable, tying them to my belt. Breathing deeply, closing my eyes briefly, I envisioned what was next for myself and Mike, the hot floor a constant reminder that we didn’t have much time. Opening my eyes I glanced at the stairwell, alarmed at how quickly it had filled with smoke, the same smoke that hungrily searched for things to burn as if a scout for the inferno beneath.
I walked over to Mike. “Are you ready?”
“It’s do or die. We stay, we get cremated.” A flicker of life was behind those eyes – somewhere. “I’ll feed you out, and once you’re gone, I’ll follow. Remember, don’t look down, eyes horizontal to the glass, small movements as you abseil. Ok?” He looked in shock but nodded.
Picking up the rope we were both attached to, I lead him to within five feet of the empty window panel before he froze. We could see the metropolis below and racing clouds a hundred feet up.
“Mike,” I shouted over the wind, “Walk backwards, and I’ll assist you down. Once you’re over the edge, you’ll be fine.” He couldn’t look at me, his hands were trembling on the rope. This was no time for emotions or holding hands. I pointed at the smoke which was beginning to waft into the office space. “Either you go now, or that, is going to kill you.”
He began to shuffle back cautiously, his face taught, eyes glazed as if resigned to death in one shape or another. Two feet from the ledge he stopped once more. With the wind whipping up with force, I didn’t want to do it, but I felt it might be my only option. Then he shuffled back again until the heels of his shoes were neither in nor out. He was wobbling, the knees gone, knuckles whiter than paper. Don’t make me do it Mike! The rope was tight, and I kicked the tail end out into the sky, double checking my flimsy setup, just a belt to hold me, a placebo. I didn’t have to push Mike out. Feeding the rope like I’d shown him, he backed out, the wind nearly tearing him off the edge, until he was out there fully, feet planted against the glass, descending slowly, petrified, but on the way down where our only hope of survival lay, never telling him how slim it might be.
‘Clipped’ in fifteen feet above Mike, shotguns pulling heavy, dangling, I waited until he descended further before readying myself, wishing I had gloves in case of rope burn, knowing my hands would turn cold, losing circulation and grip after ten minutes outside.
I peered beyond, Mike had his eyes fixed to the windows as he lowered, wispy brown hair battered around as he fed the rope, inching down bouncing off the building.
My last view of the interior was the smoke that had thickened, hoping that the fire was no match for its speed, that the rope would be safe tied to the stairwell railing. Sometimes you have to believe. And if I didn’t I was already dead.
With the rope taught I was pulled to a squatting position as I edged out. Inexplicably, I looked at the palms of my hands: my life would be in them. Working outwards, I gripped the rope twisting my arm around it and placed my other hand lower down. Awkwardly I hung on, trying to forget about my lack of a harness, the air numbing already and with one swing my legs, my entire body were hundreds of feet above the ground relying on my body strength.
Easing down gently, feet against glass, I could at least rest at an angle if needed. Mike was going slowly, too slowly, but I couldn’t tell him, he’d never hear, and I couldn’t rush him.
Grimmacing, I caught my reflection in the window as we descended the floor below. Selfishly I thought of life – my life – and how I’d never acheived anything of note, how the new life I’d promised myself was further away than ever. In the worst case scenario Mike might survive secured to the rope, but if I didn’t get inside ASAP my hands would give way and I could be just another so called suicide, because that’s how the office master would play it like they had with the window cleaner ‘accidents’ over the years. I’d thought about falling before, of drifting down to a concrete fate, black humour made me think at least I got to experience flying of some kind. It would be like a base jumper with a twisted parachute, except I’d know.
Breaking away from the existential, I looked down, Mike had cleared the floor below and half of the next.
One slip reminded my reflection. I clung tight, easing my grip one hand at a time, the shot guns flailing, bumping off the side causing a major nuisance. One hand release, one hand grip, one hand release, one hand grip. I cleared the floor, looking in and seeing only smoke. A relief. If it was fire we were likely done for. I estimated the rope in the office, figuring we had enough for five floors at the most. If we didn’t clear the section with fire…well, I didn’t want to think about that yet.
Mike looked up, stoic, terrified, yet doing fine. I couldn’t give him the OK without risking my life, and smiles were difficult to come by out here.
Mike continued and I followed, maintaining a gap. One foot and hand after another I followed, my hands already white, knuckles cooled.
After clearing three floors Mike stopped on the fourth, the rope tail toyed with by the gusts. He pointed making a pistol with index and thumb, aiming at the window.
I wanted to be there already. My arm muscles were beginning to tire. Not a full blown scream, but on the way. Steadily I descended gripping rope tighter than I’d ever done before. Once down to Mike’s level, I was able to abseil within a few feet of his head. Then the prospect of blowing out the window crashed home. I hadn’t thought about it. The window above pushed outwards. What if we couldn’t? And even worse, I couldn’t shoot holding on with one arm. I couldn’t do both. In fact I couldn’t even undo the guns from my belt. What was I thinking? In the rush I hadn’t even given myself a chance.
But what if? I lowered myself down to Mike as close as possible. Using my eyes I indicated at the guns. He looked perplexed, then finally realised. As he rested on the glass he reached up and fiddled with the cable, struggling to untie the knot at an awkward angle. Wathcing him intently, I felt the weight release, but Mike didn’t have them! The knot was undone, and…somehow Mike managed to grab one of the guns as the other fell down, spinning alongside the building.
Were we too close to shoot without risking injury now? I felt sick. My plan had been so ill conceived, so easy and obvious in my mind that it worked without question. But factor in every detail and the end result was not worth thinking about. Ultimately if we didn’t shoot through a window panel we would both die.
Mike inspected the gun, then looked up as if for reassurance. I was out of it. Shop closed. All I could do was nod as the wind whistled in my ears.
Mike cocked the shot gun and aimed to his right. The angle would take away the force, but I was silenced by the elements. Then Mike moved the gun closer, aiming it about twenty degrees to his right. I knew the gun didn’t have a silencer but it sounded like it as if the air had magicked a pillow over the barrel. The glass splintered a little. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Mike looked back up, the glass shattered as the one above us had. With the last shot, the cracks spread right out to the edges. Mike began pounding on it trying to loosen it but to no avail. Meanwhile my hands were icy, struggling to retain grip on the smooth nylon. Then I remembered. I had more shells in my pockets! Lowering right down, I nodded at my pockets, hoping Mike would understand. He looked at me confused, that same expression when I first saw him.
The glass began to move. I looked at Mike who was squinting. Then the entire panel fell outwards taking me and Mike with it, until it had passed us on it’s long fall, leaving us bobbing around, swinging into the empty space. To my amazement there were three firemen standing there, attached to ropes, beckoning us to clamber inside.
No matter how I look back on that day, I’ll never know who saved who. It didn’t really matter. We were alive, that’s all anyone can hope for. Mike remade his millions. I stayed grounded and quit cleaning windows. With the money from press interviews and a documentary you’ll find me wandering the glassless lands on an adventure, sometimes stopping for no apparent reason, and looking at my hands, where life is.
- Cloud Breaker I
- Cloud Breaker II
- Cloud Breaker III
- Cloud Breaker IV
- Cloud Breaker V
- Cloud Breaker VI
- Cloud Breaker VII
- Cloud Breaker VIII