When Mark Philipson opened the browser, the second article on the home page grid—“Which One of the Ten Types of Retired People are You?”—caught his attention. With his 67th birthday approaching and his monthly countdown in the single digits, he figured he’d give it a shot.
When he selected the link and scanned through the introduction, the image of a smiling couple topped the heading that read “Tireless Movers”. They were on safari, decked out in the latest in insect resistant suits and sporting broad-brimmed hats with matching bands made from imitation cheetah hide. The man peered through a pair of high-powered binoculars at a herd of elephants while the woman aimed a telephoto lens attached to a tripod-mounted camera.
According to the article, movers had bucket lists longer than a receipt roll on a check-out counter cash register. Mark pictured a bucket as big as a commercial dumpster overflowing with desert dune buggies and white water kayaks.
Mark conjured up his own bucket list. At two items—mastering touch typing and taking a big road trip—it was more like a thimble list. Becoming a touch typist, the first item, was half in the bag. He’d chosen a keyboarding course as part of his company’s professional development requirements. It was hard at first, but Mark’s fingers no longer felt like bread sticks moving over ice cubes.
Number two in the bucket—the cross-country trip to the West Coast—would have to be postponed or cancelled if the Covid-19 wild fire was not under control by next March. It was a deep drag, he’d planned on seeing Area 51 and Meteor Crater. Mark had been an avid science fiction fanatic all his life. Contact with alien life forms was the focus of WORLDFALL. Facing an impact with an asteroid was the focus of ROCKFALL.
If the pandemic continued to rage across the US, the list would be cut in half.
Mark continued reading. The first part of the next sentence said, “The movers might be skydiving for the first time or …” The word skydiving distracted him. It was one of those “Been there, done that,” things. When Mark jumped in the 70s, he had to go through a full eight hours of classroom and field training related to body position, parachute deployment, and heading awareness.
Now, unless a person wanted to become licensed, skydiving was a matter of putting on some gear and falling out of a plane in a tandem hook-up with an experienced jumper.
Mark thought about his first jump.
He moved forward in the stripped-out passenger compartment of the single-engine aircraft and crouched in the open doorway. The landing gear came to a stop as the pilot applied the brakes. With the training procedure imprinted in memory, Mark reached out and grabbed hold of the wing support strut with his left hand and set his left foot on the motionless tire. He swung his right leg outward, grabbing the strut with his right hand. The jump master counted down three seconds over the intercom.
The rest was easy. All he had to do was let go.
After the brief free fall, the static line hook jettisoned the main parachute. Mark’s body snapped from horizontal to vertical in a fraction of a second. The inflated parachute pulled his weight out of the fall then eased into a slow descent.
Rolling to the Stones:
As thoughts re-channeled back to the words on the screen, the phrase “… seeing the Rolling Stones for the 100th time …” brought him back to the 70s again: He was on his way to Tampa to see the Stones in concert. Mark heard a thumping sound. He glanced in the rear view mirror as he let off the gas. Moonlight illuminated a rectangular object as it spun in a blur. With each glance, the object slowed until four stubby legs appeared. One end extruded into a blunt snout and the other end lengthened into a segmented tail.
By now, Mark had pulled over. They’d run over an alligator on Alligator Alley. The 75 Chevy Blazer was undamaged. The big gator didn’t move.
The rest of the trip was like being in a wind tunnel of opening beer bottles, burning joints being passed around, and lines of rock cocaine inhaled through rolled up dollar bills.
Near dawn, as the truck closed in on Naples, a bright object appeared in the sky. In the blink of an eye, it became a fireball with a streaming tail falling in an arcing trajectory. The fiery object swooped low then climbed, missing the top of the windshield by inches.
Mark pulled over again.
Time for another damage report. This time, the chrome trim around the windshield was raked with a blue scorch mark. To this day, Mark still wonders what came out of the sky.
The crowd in the parking lot at the stadium funneled into the entrance. It seemed to ebb and flow toward the first row of vehicles. People strayed out of line then returned. From his vantage point, Mark saw the attraction was centered on a red Cadillac El Dorado convertible. He decided to take a look. Mark stepped out of line, merging with the people mingling around the car. As he moved closer, a mountain lion, spiked collar with silver chain attached, turned and looked at him from the back seat.
Lack of sleep, plenty of booze and dope, and the shock of seeing the big cat blew a single brain cell fuse.
Mark got back in line.
An ashen taste started in the back of his throat and continued to build as Mark entered the stadium.
That was the last thing he remembered before he started coming to slowly. He couldn’t make out details on the face in front of him. It looked like an unfinished mannequin. Mark heard sounds. In time, the sounds became words then the words became questions. More time passed and he was able to say what his name was, what day of the week it was, and who the president was.
The person in the OD tent said, “I don’t know what you’re on but you’d better go easy with it.”
“Sure,” Mark said. “I guess I’d better get back before the Stones come on.”
“They wrapped up about five minutes ago … you missed the whole show.”
By now, Mark’s nervous system had normalized. Feeling returned. His tongue burned from being bitten.
A seizure prevented Mark from seeing the Rolling Stones for the first and only time.
When Mark skipped ahead to the next paragraph and saw it said “Heading Two”, he gave up on the rest of the article.