Sneak Peek: Read the first 3 chapters of Mirage by Tracy Clark + Giveaway (US Only)
Today we're super excited to present a sneak peek from Tracy Clark's MIRAGE, releasing July 5, 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Check out information about the book below, the sneak peek, and a giveaway!
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston New York
Copyright © 2016 by Tracy Clark
Text set in TK
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK
Manufactured in the United States of America
TK 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
[Permissions info, if applicable]
IT’S MY JOB to open the jump door. I love the look on the first-timers’ faces when the door slides open like a gaping mouth. Wind shoves its way into the cabin, elbowing through the rows of people sitting on the floor of the plane, their jaws so strained with nerves they look like they could bite through a steel pipe. It’s go time and they know it. The air slapping their faces makes it real.
When I open the door, it’s crazy loud. To me, the blasting wind, the unending bowl of blue sky, screams freedom. But I think some of them hear a different voice than I do. Judging from their expressions, Death herself rides on the wind, whispering in their ears.
And yet they jump.
That’s so sick. I know how they’re gonna feel when they touch ground. Badass. Superhuman. Nothing makes you feel more alive than giving Death the finger and having fun while you’re doing it.
I kneel in the doorway and hang my head out into the wind to spot the drop zone, then signal the pilot. The engine immediately powers down from a roar to a satisfied purr. I smile at the petrified faces of the new jumpers as they lumber through the hollow cabin to the opening, take a beat to register the insanity of what they’re about to do, and leap into their own fear. The air snatches them, pulling them away from the aircraft and from who they were before this moment.
The plane is nearly empty now, except for this one guy. He shuffles toward me and the open door with the distinct resistance of a man who’s clearly not having fun. I remember him coming in this morning, all bravado and balls, to skydive for his twenty-first birthday. But now he looks like he might barf.
Our best jumpmaster, Paco, does the last-minute safety check of his equipment and gives the guy another quick run-through of the hand signals he’ll need to follow if he doesn’t want to die on his birthday.
“You forgot one!” I yell through the roar of wind.
Paco looks at me quizzically while the guy looks at Paco in this terrified How could you forget a hand signal? What in the hell am I doing trusting you with my life? kind of way.
I raise my fist and shake it menacingly in the birthday boy’s face. “Did he tell you what this means?” He swallows a wad of spit and terror but doesn’t answer.
“It means, ‘Do what he says or he’ll beat you!’”
Paco laughs and shakes his head, but the scared guy just blinks as small beads of sweat form on his upper lip. I smile. Birthday Boy will jump. He can’t be out-balled by a seventeen-year-old girl with Red Baron Snoopy on her jump helmet.
I blow them a kiss and fall backward out of the plane.
It’s my favorite way to exit. Surrender into gravity. Baptism by air. It’s cobalt summer sky, rushing wind, the scrubby expanse of the Mojave Desert, and . . . survival. It’s pure. When I’m out here, nothing else exists.
I watch the guys leap from the jump door together before I tuck one arm under me to flip over and face the ground. Land is rushing at me, yes, but I don’t feel the sensation of falling. I’m cradled, like I’m balancing on my stomach on a ball of air, flying.
I check my altimeter. Just dropped through seven thousand. There’s still time to enjoy the ride before I have to pull my ripcord. The view never gets old. The desert stretches on forever, a big open palm with roads grooved across it like lifelines. The tail end of the Sierra Nevada is on my right, and a few pimply hills dot the flat land to the east. An occasional wisp of cloud rises past, reminding me how fast I’m falling.
Since I have no one out here with me, I play with my body, experimenting with the effects of small movements. The air is the opposite of land. Reach in front of me, and I move backward; pull my arms in, extend my legs, and I move forward. Relax my arch, and my body buffets a bit. People don’t realize that skydivers aren’t just falling. We’re dancing with the current. Our movements are even more crucial when we jump with other people. A formation dive is like doing the tango . . . with twenty people at once . . . at 170 miles per hour.
I pull when I’m high enough to still enjoy some canopy time. My legs dangle from the harness like I’m a kid in a swing; then I press them together as I make my final turn into the wind and run out my landing in the large, flat circle of cleared sagebrush. There’s enough of a light, heated breeze that I have to spin around and drop one toggle so my canopy won’t fill with air, become a sail, and try to drag me across the desert.
The distinctive putt-putt sound of my parents’ drop-zone golf cart bounces toward me, my cousin, Avery, behind the wheel. Her approach reminds me of when Dom and I were on his motorcycle and we had to totally alter course because we spotted a swarm of Mormon crickets advancing like a low red cloud.
I sigh with disappointment. My dad never comes out to get me. He does it for his “boys” — all the military guys with their faded Army Ranger caps with their Army “blood wings” pinned on the front who make the drop zone their second home. If you can’t be in a combat zone, you might as well be skydiving, right? I think they’re addicted to risk.
So what’s my excuse? People always want to know why I nonchalantly do something that to them is inconceivable.
I’m addicted to the rush.
Avery doesn’t jump, but she recently discovered she likes to hang out here. For a boy-crazy girl, a skydiving center is a very target-rich environment. She skids to a halt in the packed dirt, casting billowing clouds of copper dust around the tires and my feet. “I thought you had to work today,” I say, a little breathless from my landing and the afternoon heat.
“Oh, I worked . . . until I didn’t want to anymore. Then I claimed ‘female issues.’ My boss let me go faster than you can say ‘superabsorbent.’ He can’t stand it when a woman brings up that she is, in fact, a woman.”
“Most men can’t,” I answer. “My dad would give his remaining testicle to have had a boy instead of me.”
“How many does that jump make?” she asks, quickly deflecting the topic of my dad’s post-IED balls and saving me from how I sounded nine years old for a second there.
“Two sixty-eight.” I’ve racked up a good number of jumps since I convinced my parents to sign for me when I reached legal jumping age last year. I argued for it on the grounds that it’s not good business if you’re not confident enough to let your own offspring jump. My dad shrugged indifferently and signed. My mother stared at me long and hard before shaking her head and mumbling something about destiny and that she has no control over how and when I die. “Death doesn’t want me,” I reassured her. “Too busy working for the government.” The way Dad jerked his head up and scowled at me made me wish I’d kept my mouth shut.
I can’t say anything right around him.
Birthday Boy intercepts us with his hair blown back all Einstein and rings around his eyes where his goggles indented his skin. He’s smiling the broad smile of a man who is temporarily insane with his own superpowers.
“You are so drinking tonight,” I predict, at which point he lets out a huge whooping yell and punches at the sky in triumph.
Avery grabs my arm, startled, and leans in. “He’s positively primal.”
“Yeah,” I mumble, tugging impatiently at a corner of my chute that has snagged on a green ruffle of sagebrush. “Watch out for him, though. He’s high on adrenaline. It’s like twenty buckets of caffeine. For the next three hours he’ll be invincible.”
“Excellent,” she says, fixing him with lowered lashes and a sideways look.
“Yeah, excellent. Until you’ll find him curled up in the fetal position under a picnic table, sound asleep from the adrenaline crash.”
“Or the whiskey.”
“You guys make it look all cool and thrilling, but normal people don’t actually like jumping out of airplanes,” Avery says.
“I make it a point not to be normal.”
“Clearly. You’re you. But something about humans pretending they can fly is a definite major violation of the rules of nature.”
“Would we do it otherwise? Humans break rules to prove we can.”
“Yeah, well,” she says, “I could live my whole life without falling out of a plane, thanks.”
I stop short of calling her a whuffo for hanging out here when she has no intention of ever jumping. But if she eyes my Dominix again with those lashes like she’s eyeing Birthday Boy right now, it’s on.
“Falling is the easy part. Trick is,” I say, tapping her on the chest, “taking the leap.”
Avery snorts, but not without some blend of admiration and incredulity in her eyes. “You’re nuts.”
“Oh, hell yes.” I pull the rest of my chute into my arms and climb aboard the golf cart. “I’d rather be crazy and fully alive than safe and half-dead.”
THE DROP-ZONE HANGAR has its back to the westerly winds. It’s open, with jumpers getting their rigs on for the next hop, riggers on the mats meticulously folding and packing chutes, and a couple of guys napping in lawn chairs. One has his mouth hanging open. It’ll be a matter of minutes before someone shoots the air compressor in his piehole or glues his shoes to the floor.
Under the row of flags on the back wall, a large group of guys slide around the concrete floor on creepers, practicing their formation dive. Their bellies are on the boards, feet in the air, as they move and switch patterns. It’s like synchronized swimming on wheels, only sweatier and with lots of laughing and swearing.
I dump my rig in a pile on the carpet and run over to the group, take a flying leap, and land on Dom’s back. We roll across the floor, bounce into the wall, ricochet, and spin in a circle. All the while I hold on tight and kiss the back of his warm neck, burying my nose in his jet-black hair, which reminds me of rippling water at midnight.
“Now this is my idea of a tandem,” Dom murmurs. He reaches behind him and squeezes my butt.
“Ryan Poitier Sharpe!” My mother’s Caribbean accent cuts through the chatter in the hangar. I roll off Dom and sit on my knees. She stands right outside the hangar doors. Late-afternoon light glows behind her vivid flowered shirt and red head wrap. Her lips are color coordinated with the wrap and glowing like a stoplight against her smooth black skin. My mother is a hibiscus in the eternal beige of the desert.
I shrug the what’s up shoulders and am met with a stern look. “Be right back,” I whisper to Dom when she crooks her finger at me.
“I don’t like to see that.” She points vaguely in the direction of Dom and leads me to the office. “This is a public establishment. A business. Our business.”
“He’s my boyfriend, Mom. That’s my business. We were just goofing around.”
“Yes, but must you crawl all over each other in public like a couple of monkeys? It’s unseemly.”
I always laugh when Mom uses that word. It’s a carryover from growing up on Cat Island. “Unseeeemly,” I tease, imitating her island accent. Like clockwork, when I laugh, Mom laughs. And my mother doesn’t just chuckle. Her laugh is full-bodied and carbonated. Her laugh is dark, sticky soda. We can never stay mad at each other.
She smacks me on the rear with her clipboard and shoos me out of her office as my father walks in. I touch his arm tentatively, but he slips away like an eel, busying himself with a pile of mail on the desk. I stare, trying to think of something to say to engage him. Dad slices the top of an envelope, shakes the letter open, and smiles broadly. It’s the sun appearing from behind a curtain of clouds. The drop zone is the only place I ever see my dad’s real smile. I stay because I want to know what’s in the letter that has made it appear.
“The good news,” he says, “is that we’ve made the short list of locations for the X Games.”
“And the bad?” Mom asks, her painted nails resting on his shoulders.
He rubs his forehead. “If we don’t get that event, our doors will close for good.”
We all sigh. I knew things were tight, but I had no idea they were that critical. This place can’t close. It’s our life and the only thing holding Dad’s PTSD in check. It keeps him focused on something other than his injuries, his losses, his bad dreams. His razor pain. “What do we have to do to make sure we get it?” I ask, squaring my shoulders in a reporting for duty kind of way.
My question brings his gunmetal gray eyes to meet mine. “We need to get their attention. We need a huge bigway when they come to scout the DZ — so many jumpers in the air that the formation will look like a spaceship landing. It’ll take every experienced jumper we know to pull it off.”
“I want in,” I say, a pebble of hope lodging in my chest. When he shakes his head, I firmly tell him, “I’m ready.”
“No,” Dad answers in his first-sergeant voice while riffling through stacks of mail on his desk. “I assess your readiness. You’re too young, too inexperienced, and this is too important. I need perfection. Absolute precision. It’s not personal; it’s business. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” I mumble, but it is personal. Do people have to be willing to die in order to earn his respect? Is having a penis a prerequisite for his regard? I back out of the office right into Dom’s outstretched arms. He whispers in my ear, “Come with me. I’ve got something to show you.”
Dom’s motorcycle growls when he revs it, and he motions for me to climb on. I settle into the leather seat, wrapping myself around him. I love the feel of his hand cupping my outer thigh and the way my heart slams into my back when we take off. I have no idea where we’re going, but he’s bypassed the airport gate, so it would seem the mystery location is on the field somewhere.
Steel airplane hangars flash by in neat rows. It’s like we’re driving up the pages of a book: every sentence another row of evenly spaced hangars. Some are singles, some double wide for larger planes. They are uniformly imperfect. We turn left at the second to last row. This is the forgotten sector of the small municipal airport. In fact, the last time I was in this section was a year ago, to help my dad hang a new windsock. You know, the little things I’m qualified to do.
Dom cuts the engine and rolls to a stop in front of one of the larger hangars. He kickstands the bike and hops off. I slide forward into the warm space his body left on the seat and fondle the handlebars. “I want one so I can ride whenever I want.”
“I got something you can ride.” Dom’s dimples are in the on position as he smiles playfully. I roll my eyes. “Come with me,” he says with a gentle kiss to my nose.
I follow him to the side of the hangar where there’s a regular door. Dom fishes a key from his jeans pocket and slides it in the keyhole.
“Whose hangar is this?” I ask.
“I found out from the airport manager that it’s on the abandoned list. They’re trying to locate the owners — some kind of ultrareligious nutjobs who leased the hangar and then just disappeared. The airport is trying to serve them an eviction notice because they haven’t been paying.” He pulls me into the dark hangar. “The contents will be auctioned off if they can’t locate the owners. Until they do, it’s our secret hideaway.”
“Our secret hideaway smells like mice and dust,” I say, crinkling my nose. As my eyes slowly adjust to the dim light, I see a large motor home filling the space behind Dom. It’s covered with a powdery layer of grime, but it’s obvious how nice the RV is. Metallic lavender and silver paint glints in the shaft of sunlight from the open door, which Dom moves to close. As he does, the triangle of light slinks back into the shadows, and we’re left standing together in the hushed room with only an occasional airplane engine whirring outside.
Dom presses his lips against mine, reminding me of our first kiss and how it was not soft, but urgent and fiery. It was me who initiated it, but he denies that. He takes my hand and leads me up two small metal steps to the front door of the motor home. I don’t know why my heart is racing at simply trespassing in an abandoned hangar, but I love it when my body hums with signals — excitement, danger, alarm. It’s when these red flares shoot up inside me that I feel most alive.
“Who would dump an expensive RV like this and just vanish?” I ask, noting an extension cord snaking across the floor of the hangar. “You wired the power?” I ask, and Dom nods. He prepped our hideaway. Dom directs me inside with his hand on the small of my back. “I can’t see a thing,” I complain, reaching out in front of me into the blackness. My skin registers a drop in temperature, like the random, mystifying spots in lakes that are fifteen degrees colder. Goose bumps rise on my outstretched arms, and a wave of trepidation sweeps its rough hand down my spine.
A light switches on, and the RV is bathed in a yellow glow. I screech at my own reflection in the mirror in front of me and then bust out laughing.
Dom pokes my back. “Silly.”
“Hey, I didn’t expect to see someone standing there, even if that someone is me! Wow. This place is boss.”
It’s a miniature house on wheels, with a kitchen, a sofa, and an oak dining table with padded booth benches. I step farther inside. The dank smell of the hangar has disappeared. In its place rise the diminishing sharp odors of bleach and the chemical smell of new carpet. Dom watches as I open cabinets, check the fridge, flip switches. “This is camping in style,” I say, clicking my fingernail against a row of dusty glasses that are hanging upside down in an overhead cabinet. They jangle against one another. “When we’re older, let’s rent one of these and drive all over hell and back.”
“How ’bout I ride my bike, you follow me like my road crew and cook me dinner, and —”
“Screw that,” I say with a raised eyebrow. “You be my road crew.”
While the place has obviously been scrubbed clean of both use and the personality of the owners, my poking around reveals traces of a previous life. A case of some kind of nutrition drink sits unopened under the kitchen table. A maroon Bible stands lonely in a little magazine nook built into the end of the couch. I run my finger over the smooth gold crown of the pages, coating my finger with a film of
dust, which I wipe on my shorts. The bathroom still has toilet paper on the roll and a stack of white towels — thin, like tea towels or hospital towels — folded in the cabinet under the sink. I slide them aside, knocking them into something, which falls sideways with a rattling sound.
It’s a prescription bottle, totally full of morphine. That’s some heavy-duty pain stuff. I wonder why it’s full. Why was it left here? The urge to swipe the pills comes over me like a drive-by devil before I put them back and head down the narrow hallway and slide the door into its pocket. A queen bed fills the middle of the room and is surrounded by honey-colored cabinets. Blankets, sheets, and pillows are stacked on the mattress. I glance over my shoulder at Dom.
There’s want in his eyes.
It’s a certain look I’ve come to recognize: chin lowered a bit, eyes focused and penetrating. I love that look. But instead of coming toward me like I expect, he leans a shoulder against the wall and stares at me with his arms crossed.
Dom holds his ground when I think he’ll advance. Surprises when I think he has no more mysteries. Six months ago, when I pegged him for another hotshot adrenaline junkie, he showed me poetry and tender pencil drawings of hawks, my profile, and his dead mother’s strong hands making tortillas.
People don’t always like Dom on first impression. For instance, my best friend, Joe. Well, Joe doesn’t like him after many impressions. I don’t know why. But to me, Dom is like the art he loves so much: complicated and nuanced. The more I look, the more beautiful he is. My heart inflates each day, expanding and rising up, up, and he holds the rope that tethers me when I feel like I’ll float away. In turn, I do the same for him. We urge each other into wild explorations, then belay each other to reality.
Needing to kiss his lips right this second, I take the length of the hallway in two strides and grab his chin. Our lips melt together — powerful, moist fire. His mouth, his jaw, his tongue . . . he is everything hard and soft at once. I reach under his T-shirt and run my hand down his stomach toward the snap of his jeans. He stops my advances with a gentle hand on my collarbone.
He turns me around so I’m facing the full-length hall mirror and stands behind me. “Look at yourself,” he whispers into my curls. His hand caresses my jaw with the sensitivity of a sculptor, and his thumb runs over my lips. “You’re beautiful.”
I’m not sure why I feel a foreign shyness when Dom says this. When he looks at me adoringly, I feel like a lone sunflower in a field, and he’s the sun I arch toward. I feel truly seen. I’m not going to be falsely modest and say I don’t know I’m attractive. Guys look. Hell, even girls look. But I think it’s more because I’m interesting, with one foot in each parent’s race.
Before she lost her sight, my grandmother said I was the combination of the smooth, dark rum of her beloved Caribbean and the imperious determination of a bank of white clouds marching over the land.
Gran has poetry in her.
I look in the mirror every day, but it’s different when someone’s with you. I look now to see what Dom sees. It’s like meeting me for the first time. My reflection watches back. Stops me cold. I look different to myself. Slightly off. A shiver passes over my skin, raising the fine hairs on my arms. I stare hard into my own eyes. They look strange, intense, as if they are studying me — as if this reflection has been here in this motor home all along, waiting for me to look — and I’m unsettled enough to close my eyes.
Dom kisses my neck, and I shut the eerie image out, concentrating on the sensation of his lips soft against my skin, my earlobe. He nips my shoulder. “Don’t close your eyes, Ry. Watch.”
His hands grasp my hips — a possessive move that gives me chills — and then slide down the outside of my thighs. He brings them up again slowly, and we watch together as he runs them over my breasts, his fingers peeling my T-shirt up to expose my stomach. I love the contrast in browns when his olive Mexican hand slides over my darker island skin.
My breath comes faster as he undoes the button of my shorts. I look down at his tapered fingers brushing along the waistband, but he gently raises my chin back to our image. He inches my zipper down and slides his hand lower. I whisper, “Yes,” because I want his hand in my pants more than anything at that moment.
I reach my arm back, seize his black hair, and tug. Dom growls softly and stares hard into my eyes in the mirror. He’s right about this game. There’s something about watching ourselves that heightens the experience. We are witnesses to our own beautiful, raging lives. I’m loving watching us until I catch my eyes again in the mirror, and a chilling thought hits me like a cold wind:
These eyes aren’t mine.
MY EYES ARE dark, moist earth.
These other eyes — superimposed over mine — are the deep Arctic Ocean with ice marbling underneath. I shiver, pull Dom’s hands from my skin, and turn away from the mirror, in to his chest. “We’d better get back.” I feel the foreign eyes on my spine, and the hairs rise on my neck and my stomach flutters with nerves.
“What? Noooo,” he groans, sliding his hands down my arms. “That has, like, five kinds of rejection and suck written all over it.”
I scoot out of his grasp. “My dad asked me to go up on the sunset jump,” I lie, willing myself not to look at the mirror and the ghostly otherness within it.
Dom does an exaggerated package shift; whether it’s for show or not, I don’t know and don’t care. I want to feel the sun on my back instead of phantom eyes. I leave him standing in the hall as I fling open the door and hop past the steps onto the concrete floor of the hangar. I’m outside before he’s even turned off the light.
I can tell he’s disappointed. He takes forever to lock the door. But when he turns toward me, his eyes crease with concern. “You okay?”
I slide onto his bike, trying to remember if I’ve ever been so creeped out. “I’ll be okay if you let me drive us back.”
I turn the key and gas it. “You getting on back or walking?”
“I know better than to tangle with you when you have the tiger look.”
“Hold on tight,” I warn, and then suck in my breath when he hooks his fingers inside the inseam of my shorts.
“No fair!” I yell as I gun it so fast the front tire pops off the pavement and we lurch forward.
“I never object when you do it to me,” he yells back. We both laugh into the wind.
“Dammit, I forgot to pack my chute from the last jump. I left it lying on the mat,” I tell Dom as we pull up to the skydive center.
He slides off the bike, helps me with the kickstand, and kisses my forehead. “I’ll pack it for you. I’m faster.”
“Okay.” I toss him his bike keys. “But you’d better not pack me for a hard opening like you did the other day.”
“I was mad at you for flirting with that tool in the aviator glasses.”
“I was not flirting with him!” I caress his wind-stung cheek.
“You wanna go up?”
He wipes his eyes with both fists like a tired toddler. “Nah. I’d like to do one more practice session on the creepers before we try the new formation.”
I wish he would jump with me this time. The image in the mirror has me unsettled, the sensation coating my skin and sinking in, infecting my spirit. I want Dom’s hand in mine as we fly. But it’s just as well. There’s business to handle with my dad. Surely there’s a way to change his mind about the big-way, and having Dom there will only make me look like I need him — which I don’t.
My sneakers pound the desert sand as I jog into the hangar toward my parents’ office. Dad’s still behind his desk, talking on the phone. I fade into the wallpaper and wait until I’m acknowledged, like I’ve been trained to do. He hangs up and raises his eyebrows. “Yes?”
This is a man who appreciates directness, so I get to the point. “I care about this place as much as you do. What can I do to convince you I’m ready for the big-way?”
Dad stands up from behind his desk. I hold my breath as he walks toward me, then holds my arms. “Exhibit patience, for starters. I know you love this place and want it to do well. You don’t have to prove anything.”
I step out of his circle of power. “Another way to say you don’t believe I can.”
His tone flips like a switch. “Don’t come in here and try to browbeat me, kiddo. It ain’t gonna happen.”
I fix him with what I think is a disarming smile but I’m sure comes off more like I’m constipated. “I wasn’t raised to back down,” I answer with a lift of my chin. I know I sound like a tired war movie, but it’s his language, so I speak it. Dad dismisses me by pointing at the door.
Dom’s kneeling by my chute, straightening the parachute lines, when I stomp over.
“Whoa!” he says, grabbing my hand. “Spill.”
“Commander Crotchety in there” — I thumb toward the office — “refuses to let me be part of the big-way we’re doing to lure the X Games here.” Dom’s eyes go big. I’ve lit up his entire brain with visions of glory. “He says I need to be perfect, precise. I can land my pinky toe on a penny in the middle of the DZ. I’ve done tons of formation jumps with you guys. What else do I have to do to show him?”
Dom holds my jumpsuit out for me to step into. “You know that famous thing where Babe Ruth points to the outfield and calls it?”
“Not really, but what’s your point?” I ask, punching my arms into the suit.
“Call it.” When I show no sign of understanding, Dom zips me up and adds, “Call your opening altitude and call where you’ll touch down. Be precise about it. Hotdog your descent and stick the landing. Make it pretty. I’ll film it so you can show him how good you are. He’s too busy to watch you, so he doesn’t see that you’re a badass skydiver.”
“He doesn’t see me, period.”
I look away from Dom’s sympathetic eyes. Already a radical plan is formulating. The most radical I’ve ever had. Maybe you don’t have to die to earn Dad’s respect. Maybe you just have to show him you’re not afraid to. “Pack it to open fast,” I tell Dom.
“Boldly go.” He smirks.
“You bet your ass. Where no man has gone before.”
He gets back to folding my chute. Then he looks up at me. “And babe, I’m putting a penny in the dirt.”
I rip a page from the back of someone’s jump log and write on it, then march it into Dad’s office. He doesn’t even look at me or the paper as I toss it on his desk and about-face, slinging my helmet over my shoulder.
The pilot goes full throttle for takeoff, engines thunder, and the plane vibrates with power. Cold air sneaks in under the jump door next to me as I mentally run through what I’m about to do. We rumble down the runway, and I try to ignore the eyes of the other jumpers on me; recalling the eyes in the mirror causes unfamiliar nerves to fire off in my belly. I don’t know if it’s the memory of ghostly eyes in the motor home or what I’m about to do, but I’ve never been this on edge before a jump. My stomach is a taut, jelly-filled drum.
Once every other skydiver has exited the plane, I hold the metal edges of the doorway and lean forward into the wide open. Deep breath in, blow it out, and dive. Cool air hits my skin and presses like a giant hand against my torso. I go immediately into track position, hurtling through the pink-and-blue sky like a dart until I’m directly over the clean circle in the desert where I’m to execute a perfect landing. I ease into my arch.
There’s nothing to do now but fall.
It’s odd being out here alone again for the second time today, not part of a formation, and not goofing off with Dom, kissing in freefall. It’s extremely lonely, like I’m disassociated from what I’m doing. Like maybe I’m not real. Not as if I’m dreaming. More like . . . like I could be someone else’s dream.
What if I were?
If I bounced, would another girl sit up in bed, sweating and panting, grateful it was just a dream?
This thought spooks me, makes me distrust myself for the first time, and this is one jump where I can’t afford doubts. Every fluttering gnat of fear in my belly is squashed by the weight of my stubborn will. I have to do this. The risk I’m taking is worth it. It is. I’ll show my father I’m precise.
The number I wrote on the slip of logbook said simply 1K. I wish I could see his face when he realizes what it means — eight hundred feet below oh-shit altitude, where we must make a decision in an emergency. I had to turn off my automatic activation device to do this jump.
I’d laugh if the wind weren’t pulling my cheeks back to my ears.
Dom is filming me, and I’m going to give him something memorable. But I can’t fight the lonely drag as I fall; it’s like no one, not even God, is watching me right now. I think of the specter eyes in the mirror, the spooky sensation of being watched instead of being the watcher. How can my own reflection scare me so much?
For a moment in that motor home, I was my own ghost.
I blow through the altitude where I’d normally pull. But this is no normal jump. I’ve had one jump when my chute failed to open and I had to deploy a reserve. This time, this one time, if there is a problem, I won’t have time to deploy my reserve. My objectives are: Pull as low as I can. Don’t die.
It’s like playing chicken with the earth.
With every five hundred feet I lose, my heart hammers five hundred beats faster. My fingers are twitching to pull. It’s all I can do not to reach for the cord. The ground is rushing at me so fast, and I can see people lined up around the drop zone. I’m certain I’ll hear their gasps on the video later.
There’s no taking my eyes off my altimeter now. I reach one thousand feet above ground level and pull, and my chute fans open in a violent gust. My legs swing hard underneath me as the chute jerks me upright. I do a quick check of the canopy and lines as I grab the toggles, realizing I have time for one-quarter of my turn before my feet touch the earth. I slam into the ground and roll. All breath has been knocked from me. Desperately I struggle for oxygen, but my body refuses to take in air.
For too long, all I see is white.
Did I ever pull at all?
Did someone just cry out in her sleep?
Peripheral vision opens up, color streams in fragments, and footsteps batter toward me. Dom stares down with the video camera pointed at my face. A wild-eyed mania has replaced his normally cool expression. I scared him. I excited him too, but the dilated fear is still in his eyes.
“Jesus, Ry! That was . . . Whooo! You are unbelievable!”
I fight to pull air into my lungs. Now the camera is annoying me. Avery skids up next to him. “What, are you crazy?”
“What, are you new?” My voice croaks. As I start to push myself up, my fingers alight on something smooth and hard in the dirt. I grab it and hold it out to the camera with a wide smile. “The penny, bitches.”
Dom stops filming and holds his hand out to help me up. “Damn, that was something. When I said ‘call it,’ I didn’t mean for you to call a suicide altitude. I don’t know if I’d ever do that,” he says, much more serious.
I glare at him and his backpedaling support. “Well, those that can’t do . . . dare.”
“I didn’t dare you to do that.”
I gather my chute, and when I look up, I notice my father leaning against the golf cart, his arms folded and face deep red, mouth set into a grim line. Instead of looking impressed, he looks . . . murderous.
About the Author
Tracy Clark is the award-winning author of novels for young-adults. Her Light Key Trilogy (SCINTILLATE, DEVIATE, ILLUMINATE) from Entangled Teen is a paranormal-romance that reveals a global conspiracy with a metaphysical mystery at its core. MIRAGE, a YA psychological thriller about a skydiving teen whose life begins to unravel throwing into question her safety and her sanity releases 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She’s a longtime member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) as well as RWA (Romance Writers of America) and has been on faculty and panels at conferences around the country. The winner of the SCBWI Work in Progress Grant as well as the Golden Quill for “Best YA” for Scintillate. Tracy continues to write for teens while raising two of them in her home state of Nevada.
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Wow! I'm afraid of falling so I'll never jump from a plane myself --by reading this i get to through the character. Love it!
The characters sound likable and, at least from what I got from the sneak peek, I think I could really enjoy this book. Even if it isn't something I typically go for.