The earth was flat, and you could commit suicide without worrying about being a nuisance. You could jump right off the edge, not so much dead as gone. No one had to fish out your body.
Pat’s mother knocked on our door and asked if my brother and I would put his stuff into boxes. How strong we were. She brought us two twenties and a couple of canned cokes while we lifted and hauled. I got to Pat’s laptop last. There was a sticker from the U.S. Geological Survey in the corner. I poked around Pat’s desktop for a goodbye letter, something to give to his mother, but found nothing.
“What’s ‘Orbirealm-13’?” asked Tate over my shoulder.
I opened the document and skimmed until I reached the phrase ‘semi-sentient insectapeople.’
Back on the desktop, it became clear that Orbirealm-13 was a displaced chapter of a novel, the rest of which resided in a dedicated Orbirealm folder. We opened more of the documents. The prose itself was pretty hard to get through, but writing was just the beginning of Orbirealm. There were maps, drawings, diagrams, taxonomies, and even equations.
“Are these… physics?”
“Well, this is embarrassing. Should we delete the documents?”
I could not produce any real emotions about my neighbor’s going, and to make up for it, my sense of right and wrong sharpened. It became clear that there was only one thing to do. I folded Pat’s laptop and found his mother, sitting in the kitchen with her eyes half-mast.
“I am sorry to tell you, but it appears Pat’s computer has a virus.”
“Can it be fixed?”
“It cannot, I’m afraid. I’d be happy to recycle the hardware.”
With Pat’s computer in my basket and the coke cans in Tate’s, we rode to the end of the earth. Tate and I did wheelies across the lot, to the segment of the fence where Pat jumped last week. Something had caused the chicken wire chain link there to sag over time, now down to our waists.
Tate and I tilted our heads over the fence. The face of the cliff was flatter than anything, a vertical slice of granite, so clean it looked wet. The freefall would have been unobstructed if not for the cotton candy clouds bubbling a hundred or so feet beneath our noses, opening and closing around blue swashes of sky. It was hard to believe that Pat hadn’t bounced a few times on those clouds before falling through them.
Tate tipped his coke can over the sag in the chicken wire, sending a gurgling stream of soda down to the clouds.
“For Pat,” he said, looking into the slit of his emptied can. I handed him mine to drink.
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t want it.”
My gift to Pat would be ensuring that all of him was gone. That’s what jumping off the world was about, not being dead but ceasing altogether. I picked up Pat’s computer to drop it over the edge. Tate sunk to his hands and knees. He was inspecting a rope wedged into a crack in the pavement. It snaked through a rung in the chicken wire and fell off the end of the earth. Tate and I strained to see further down the cliff, but we could not find the end of the rope. It wouldn’t come up when Tate pulled it.
A man was coming through the clouds. He shimmied up the rope, one arm in front of the other. Tate and I watched the climber get closer. We could hear the breath tearing in and out of his mouth and nasal passages. One hand gripped the cliff with a sweaty smack, then the other. Pat rose before us.
“That’s my computer,” he said, his smile flattening. He took it from me. “What were you doing with my computer?”
“I was going to throw it over the edge.”
“We thought you were gone,” said Tate.
Pat rubbed his eyes and slid his palm down his face. “Do you really think the earth is flat.” He left out the upward inflection at the end of the question, as if he couldn’t find the energy.
“What do you mean?”
“If the earth is flat, why can’t you see Dunmore from here?”
I took a step back, offended. I didn’t care for his smug tone. If I had just died and come back to life, I would be more enthusiastic about talking to my neighbor.
“It’s too far away.”
“What is it, five miles?”
“You don’t think we can see five miles straight? We can see the stars. How far away do you think the stars are?” Pat tucked his computer under his arm. “Trillions. The stars are trillions of miles away.” He turned to leave.
“Wait,” called Tate. “What’s down there?”
“More of this.” Pat laughed. He kept laughing, all the way across the pavement. When the laughter finally came to an end, it was not because Pat had stopped laughing but because he was too far away to hear.
Matt Kulke writes in California, United States.