JET PACK (short story, full text)



Timothy Herrick


Copyright 2015, held by author

I dream of a world where people would travel short distances by Jet Pack. In this future, I would captain a rescue hydro-craft on the Hudson and save people who hadn’t calculated sufficient jet fuel to go safely back and forth from New Jersey and Manhattan. You know what is going to happen, several times a day, every day: people are going to wind up in the river. They’ll be enough for a business, without a doubt. Stupidity always outpaces technological advancement.

The Jet Packs would have parachutes that are activated automatically in case of emergency. My loyal Alaskan Seal/Golden Retriever hybrid – I would name him Toby – would be my first-responder, a life preserver strapped to his back, reaching our clients as they land in the water. When my hydro-craft arrived, I would fish out the survivor. I could offer assistance, bringing the individual ashore or just give them space to feel better while I refill their Jet Pack with fuel. My robot Billy-Bob would wrap them in a blanket, dry them with his specialized, built-in blow drier and serve them coffee or tea, maybe beef bullion or chicken broth too.

I would live in a house boat on the river, docked alongside my hydro-craft. I would take my job very seriously, like a calling, something I was born to do, a 24-hour a day dedication that had little time left over for a personal life. Billy-Bob would perform household chores and maybe Toby would be smart enough to handle simple errands. I’d order a lot of stuff off the internet, just like now, but even faster.

Not all the people I save would be victims of their own negligence or occasional equipment malfunction. I’m sure some will be the future equivalent of jumping off the George Washington Bridge, people for whom the pain of living finally reached a level they can no longer bear, so they disable the automatic parachute system of their Jet Pack and like Icarus, head as far up into the stratosphere as they can get before they plummet to the watery death they think they desire.

Maybe she would have short brown hair and round, dark eyes, like a fawn’s. Toby would be barking so excitedly around her seemingly lifeless form I would have to dive into the river and carry her to the deck, flip open the face guard of her helmet, perform mouth to mouth and other resuscitation techniques and it would only be when she ceased puking river water and breathed normally that Toby would stop barking.

She would say she was okay that she didn’t need to go to the hospital and then beg me not to follow river regulations and report her to the authorities. Suicide is still against the law, and the last thing she needed in her life was more legal trouble. Billy-Bob would ask, his voice always calmly monotone, if she wanted coffee, tea or a clear soup. She would mutter tea, then burst into tears. She would tell me how living was just too hard, that she lost what little she had and that life was just too painful to endure. Toby would whimper and squint at me. I would finally say you can stay here on my house boat, and things will look better in the morning and you can figure out what you want to do and Toby would flap his flipper paws together, then nuzzle his snout against her until she patted his head.

At first she would be quiet, sullen. I would buy extra groceries. She would watch me work, helping people out of the river, refilling their Jet Packs. Soon, she would be playing video games on Billy-Bob, when he wasn’t busy with his chores, Toby resting by her feet. She would like life on the boat. Eventually she would help me secure rigging and other nautical tasks. I never asked her about what made her so sad, but once or twice I asked about her family and she only answered no one cares about me. I would offer comfort. I would tell her about my belief in God and how we all have a purpose. That He cares about us and that He forgives us. I would see her seeing the same sunlight glimmer off the surface of the water and feeling the same sense of beauty of His world that I did. The light of the sun is the same light as faith. You’re too pretty to want to die I would tell her and this would make her smile. She would be beautiful of course, maybe not in the traditional sense, but sexy like all victims of tragedy always are. I would be a gentleman, give her the space she needs as I went on with the duty of living day to day. I would gain her trust through my unconditional compassion. Toby would like her company. She would relax a little more each day. I would teach her how to steer the boat, how to study the radar, sonar and surveillance monitors, how to spot a sputtering Jet Pack. She would even begin to take a shift or two, giving me extra time to nap. Sometimes she would be sitting, just watching me work, Toby’s chin in her lap. She would pet his neck, scratch behind his ear.

Then it would happen, some afternoon, maybe one of us just fresh from the shower, wearing only a towel, where we would kiss then make love. The time between first kiss and sex could be measured in minutes. We would touch each other with the anticipation that Adam and Eve must have felt, after they ate the apple but before they sewed the fig leaves. We would have sex twice a day at least, every day. It would be like I was in my twenties again. This would last for weeks. We would play with Toby, feed seagulls, find new apps to put into Billy-Bob so he could make stews, couscous, fried chicken. We would order take out Chinese food and discover we both loved sesame noodle. In the morning Billy-Bob would make us tea. That would be another thing; she preffered tea to coffee, just like me. The best times would be the quiet times, just me and her, watching sunlight glisten along the teal exterior of the Statue of Liberty.

One day she and her Jet Pack would be gone. It would feel like she gave no warning, and I would spend the rest of my life replaying our past together and wondering what clues I had missed, what I might have done wrong, why she could never stay happy. Maybe it would be like some French movie, where she left to successfully kill herself because our love was so pure that she wanted to prevent the next moment, when that love would decay, become compromised, the inevitablity of disappointment, however incremental. Or maybe her original death-wish had to do with an incurable disease – more the American movie scenario – and she left to die because she knew she would never survive her next relapse and didn’t want to make me suffer watching her slow death. Or maybe the off-screen ending was totally noir, the life she led and the bad people in it, she could never truly escape and eventually she had to leave me and my life on the banks of the lower Hudson. She would tell herself that when they found her I would be hurt, never admitting that she wasn’t a victim of an unavoidable destiny, just that she had a destructive impulse in her I could never replace. I will cry when I read her note, which would mention Toby.

I would go on of course, even though I would be sad, sadder even than I am now. I could never see the Statute of Liberty at sunset again without feeling lonely, without a tear or two, without thinking of the woman whose life I saved but who still had to leave.

For years, every time we rescued a woman from the river, me and I know Toby – I could tell by his bark – would foolishly hope that we would see her face when the helmet was removed, that she had come back. After a while, we stopped this hoping, except for the rare ones, the once or twice a year saves, those women who fell from high in the sky, from the restricted upper atmosphere. But even they were not self-annihilation attempts, just the regular dopes who forgot to refill before crossing the river. She would be the last suicide we had the chance to prevent.

I would know that when Toby was too old to swim and had to be put down, his paw flipper in my hand as the veterinarian injects him with massive sedatives, that he was thinking of our brief time with her. Jet Packs would be improved, get better fuel mileage, so the incidence of falling into the river would be more and more rare, eroding my hydro-craft rescue service business. I’d find something else to do. Anti-gravity belts and flight rings would replace the Jet Packs, the only people falling into the river were now intentional, but there are not enough of them to maintain a rescue business. Besides, even with technological advances, there were always more effective ways to end the pain of living than by falling into the flowing waters of the Hudson.