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The Great Dropzone in the Sky
By Rob Price
Introduction"'Twas was a week ago Sunday,
On a broken down runway,
Just as we climbed in our plane.
When by a car bumper
There stood a strange jumper,
Who seemed to be almost insane.
He said with a shout,
"Can I follow you out?"
But he sure had a strange looking rig-
It was a front-mounted pretzel,
An Eddy Grimm special!
While the rest of the load wore a pig.
Well after the jump,
When it came time to dump
And the ten-way had finally split -
After cutting away
From his first mal today
This new guy was starting to shit!
His reserve wasn't working
After lots of hard jerking
And just when I thought he was dead
In a voice that was splitting
From the bricks he was shitting,
He looked at his poptop and said
"You picked a fine time to fail me, reserve,
Four hundred feet and I'm losing my nerve -
I've had some bad ones,
I've lived through some sad ones,
But this one I just don't deserve!
You picked a fine time to fail me, reserve!"
Well after he bounced
We smoked up an ounce,
And stared in the hole where he lay -
I started to wonder
If maybe - I'd thunder?
The next time that I cutaway.
Well the whuffos report
There's a much safer sport
But I think I'll keep jumping instead -
If my square doesn't open,
I'll cutaway hopin'
And remember the last words he said,
"You picked a fine time to fail me, reserve!
Four hundred feet and I'm losing my nerve
I've had some sad ones
I've lived through some bad ones,
But this one I just don't deserve!
You picked a fine time to fail me, reserve!
It's been several years since Allan B. Miller immortalized the story of our unfortunate hero in the song 'You Picked a Fine Time Fail Me, Reserve!' But have you ever wondered what happened to our friend after he passed to the other side? Have you lain awake at night pondering where you end up when you'd made that final great leap? This is the story of what happened to the unhappy jumper of the song above…
The Great Dropzone
A distant drone seemed to fill his head as he awoke. The noise throbbing inside his brain, he sat without moving, trying to compose his thoughts… A gentle jerk forwards and he opened his eyes, glancing around curiously. Strangely enough he seemed to be sitting inside a DC-3, just on the roll after landing. About a third of the seats were filled.
As the plane braked to a halt he glanced out the window to see a pair of shining white pillars with a narrow gate about a hundred yards off. Beyond the gate several bright new DC-3's sat, engines roaring, as innumerable jumpers clambered within. All others in his plane seemed fascinated with the scene, staring out the window as '3 after '3 lifted off with its load. Finally a fellow a few rows in front of Little Twerp stood and started moving forwards toward the door, which Little Twerp suddenly realized gaped open invitingly…
Little Twerp walked quickly after him out the door, down the steps and toward those pearly gates. By now he had guessed where he was - this was the legendary "Great Dropzone in the Sky" where all jumpers went who had made that hard, final Leap. This was his Judgement Day…
Little Twerp could make out the words on one of the pillars now. In golden letters it read 'Manifest'. Under this sign sat a man with a clipboard - a bearded man with an air of importance about him and a tag on his chest reading "Great Jumpmaster".
"Hmmm," thought Little Twerp, "so this is the 'Great Jumpmaster in the Sky'. Funny - he looks a lot like Hoop."
By now the fellow ahead of him had stopped at Manifest. Little Twerp could hear the shouts from inside the gates - "This is a get-it-on for load..." He could hear the excited clamour as skydivers carefully worked out their jumps on the ground before taking off in the shiny planes on their way up to 16 grand for their 30 and 20-ways, and 16-way sequential dives.
He heard the Great Jumpmaster speak…. "So you," he boomed, "are Fell Swoop."
The man in front of Little Twerp nodded nervously and the Great Jumpmaster continued, "According to your file, Fell, you have 2500 skydives?"
Again Fell nodded. His knees wobbled noticeably.
"But," said the Great JM, "We have no mention here of any licences ever being issued! Can there be some mistake here, Fell? Speak up!"
"N-n-n-n-o-oo, sir," stammered Fell. "I don't have a licence, sir."
The Great Jumpmaster frowned and said, "Hmmm. 2500 skydives and no licences. Where the hell are you from, anyway? Edmonton?"
When Fell made no reply the Great JM continued; "Well, Fell, without an A-licence at least, I'm afraid there's not too much I can do for you. I'm afraid you'll have to go to Limbo, Fell. I have no choice."
"But, sir!" cried Fell. "What does one do in Limbo? Can't I go and jump out of the '3's with the rest of the guys? I could have had a licence!"
"Well, Fell," intoned the Great Jumpmaster once again, "I'm sorry, man. But you see, without an A-licence you're automatically condemned to Limbo. As for what you'll do there - why, in Limbo everyone has to manifest loads and distribute jump tickets. Unfortunately you'll never get to jump yourself."
At this Fell dropped to his knees and began to cry, but immediately two Instructor A's (for Angels, I guess) appeared from behind the gate and started to carry him off to Limbo, where he would forever issue tickets to those who had deigned to get their A, B, and even C-licences before they dared to die.
Little Twerp swallowed hard as the Great Jumpmaster's gaze fastened on to him. He struggled to take a couple of steps forward. "Please, sir!" he croaked, and then fell silent beneath that terrible glance. The bearded one looked at some papers on his clipboard, then glanced down at our hero.
"Little Twerp!" he roared. "A-16--. 750 jumps." He looked enquiringly at the little man. "Is this correct?" As Little Twerp nodded he went on, "It says here, Little Twerp, that in conversation with a prominent Canadian skydiving personality you were heard to utter the damning phrase "C-S-P-WHAT?!" He raised his eyebrows enquiringly. Little Twerp could only tremble. "Once more," went on the Great Jumpmaster, "It says here you made your first linked exit while still on static line…" Little Twerp gulped loudly - "And that while on 20-second delays you were in a 16-man hourglass attempt! The list goes on - RW on your first night jump when you had only 500 jumps! What were you thinking of?!?!.... Getting out at 1800 ft once when it was too cloudy to go higher…." The Great Jumpmaster shook his head sadly while Little Twerp gazed longingly through tear-misted eyes at the shiny DC-3's taking off in formation behind the gates.
"No, Little Twerp. The Great Dropzone is not for you. I'm afraid with your record you've got to go to the Outlaw DZ." With that the Great Jumpmaster pointed past Little Twerp and through a hole in the clouds on which they stood. Dimly you could just make out a dingy little grass strip on which sat a rickety old 172.
"Go now, Little Twerp," ordered the Great JM, "and report to the Bandit Instructor, for it is your fate, Little Twerp, for the various infractions which you have committed, for you and others of your kind to forever go up in that 172 and attempt style jumps (forgive me, Cathy Cox) on which you will always roll out of your last backloop and then, when dumping, shall have a mal. Yes, Little Twerp, it is your fate and that of others like you that you will go in each day under a mangled parachute, landing in the center of the hard runway. And each day as you lie shattered on the runway buzzards will descent to pluck out your liver. But each night, Little Twerp, your liver will grow back and your body will mend so that when you awake in the morning you can pack up again and once more receive the tortures you so richly deserve for your sins."
Little Twerp heard this sentence with a growing sense of dismay in his heart, for he knew he deserved no better. It was that first pin where he'd gone wrong. "I should have known better than to have done it without a licence," he considered ruefully.
The Outlaw DZ
As he approached the dingy old aerodrome, our hero made out someone walking towards him from a falling-down old building. Faintly on the building he could see the word 'Office'. The fellow approaching had a pointed tail, the end of which he carried in his left hand. Short horns protruded from his helmet and he wore a bright red snow suit.
"Aha. We've been waiting for you to fill the load, Little Twerp!" he chortled. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Bandit Instructor." He grinned, baring his fangs. "We wouldn't want you to miss today's load now, would we?"
Over by the plane three other jumpers awaited. Little Twerp walked over and donned the rig they held out for him. The pilot (rumor had it his name was Anastasias) looked as much a derelict as the plane itself, and Little Twerp held his breath on take-off. He still didn't quite believe that this was all happening to him.
The next thing our hero knew he was tumbling - tumbling. "So this is style," he thought sadly to himself. He glanced at his altimeter, screamed and dumped. The mal pulled him upright, but before he could think to do anything he hit the runway. Overhead, a buzzard circled lazily....
The next morning Little Twerp woke up with a dull pain in his side. His body ached all over, but he was once again functional. The 172 stood on the runway. He headed towards it.
For years on end Little Twerp faithfully carried out his sentence, but after a while he began to get almighty tired of bouncing. One day when the Bandit Instructor was nearby Little Twerp approached him and asked if this should forever be his horrible fate, or if there was some way out for him.
The Bandit Instructor looked at him for a while before replying. "Well, Little Twerp," he began, "I've been watching you here, and I must say that you're as good a skydiver as I've ever seen. Why you were sent here I don't really know, but I'll talk to the Great Jumpmaster and we'll see if something can't be worked out for you."
Little Twerp thanked him and headed back to join his companions and climb once more into the rickety old 172. He really wasn't expecting anything to come of the conversation.
Several bounces later Little Twerp was just about to board the aircraft again when he spotted the Bandit Instructor waving his arms and hurrying towards him.
"Little Twerp! Little Twerp!" he cried. "Come over here!" Little Twerp hurried where the Bandit Instructor stood.
"Well, Little Twerp. It appears that fate is on your side. The Great Jumpmaster has agreed to allow you a chance to redeem yourself. You are to report to the Master Rigger's Loft, there to work under the exacting eye of the Great Master Rigger himself until such time as he should decide either to send you on up to the Great DZ or to return you here. I must warn you, Little Twerp, the way will not be easy. If you should fall prey to any of the faults to which man is prone, you will be returned here once again. After that, there will be no second chance."
At that, Little Twerp heaved a sigh of relief, shucked off his gear, and headed across the Outlaw DZ towards the Master Rigger's Loft.
The Master Rigger's Loft
He knocked loudly on the door. "Just a minute, hold your horses, dammit!" someone shouted from inside. A few moments later he heard the scraping of a huge bolt being pushed aside and the door opened a crack. "Who is it?" asked a squeaky voice.
"Oh, Little Twerp, come in, come in. We've heard about you."
Little Twerp entered the loft and was amazed at the coolness of the building after the heat outside. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. A wizened old man stood staring him up and down, inspecting him with his eyes. He had a built-in stoop and a red beard.
"So you want to get to the Great Dropzone, eh? What makes you think you deserve that? Most people sent to the Outlaw Dropzone never get a chance to redeem themselves. What makes you think you're any different?" As Little Twerp stammered to reply the Great Master Rigger barked, "Don't answer that, dammit! Just think about it for a while. For sure we're going to find out if you're worth a second chance! This place is messy! Sweep this floor! Then come back for something else to do. And don't take your sweet time about it. Move!"
Little Twerp hurried to obey but his mind was given over to nagging worries. He wondered if this was really worth it. The Great Master Rigger obviously didn't like him. "This isn't going to be easy," he thought ruefully.
For years Little Twerp kept the Great Rigging Loft clean and in repair. As time passed, the Great Master Rigger began to look upon him with less hostility and - when Little Twerp expressed an interest in the work - began to explain many of the intricacies of Rigging to him. After a while Little Twerp was giving the Great Master Rigger a hand in his spare time packing reserves, modifying canopies, and constructing containers. It wasn't jumping, but it was better than sweeping the loft.
With practice our hero became quite adept at these rigging tasks and began to take on more and more of the less important responsibilities of the Great Master Rigger. One weekend was especially busy at the loft. While Little Twerp patched parachutes and replaced lines the Master Rigger packed reserve after reserve. Whenever Little Twerp glanced over at the old man sweating and laboring away he would reflect that the Rigger was becoming too old and tired to do this job by himself.
At the end of the day, after the Master Rigger had left for the night, our hero gathered the rigs the old man had left on the packing table. As Little Twerp was about to hang a bright new Racer in its place he noticed a red flash sticking out from under the poptop. Suddenly cautious, he carried the rig back to the packing table and pulled the reserve handle. The pilot chute released, but the container didn't open! Checking inside, the amateur rigger found four temporary pins holding the canopy inside the rig. Silently he removed the temp pins and reclosed the container. From that day on Little Twerp observed the Great Master Rigger much more closely.
A week or so later it happened again… The Great Master Rigger was just closing up another rig with temporary pins inside when Little Twerp told him to stop and showed him what he was doing. The Master Rigger sat for a long time staring at the pins. Then he looked up at Little Twerp's face and said quietly, "Little Twerp, thank you. I've often felt overworked and tired lately. But you've proven to me one thing - that you were worthy of the second chance the Great Jumpmaster gave you. All of this work with which you've helped me completely of your own free will - and done well at - had convinced me that it was time for me to talk to the Great Jumpmaster, but I'd kept putting it off. Now though, when you point out this mistake I've made with concern and alertness, I can hold you back no longer."
With that they finished closing up the rig and the Great Master Rigger, much humbled, set off to find the Great Jumpmaster and talk to him about Little Twerp's plight.
The next morning our hero was summoned in front of the bearded skygod. Even now, Little Twerp couldn't stand to look the Great Jumpmaster in the face but stood, knees trembling, staring at the ground. Every time he remembered how he had stooped to doing RW on his first night jump (even if he had had 500 jumps and was a super Rwer) he couldn't help feeling guilty and still unworthy of the Great Dropzone in the Sky.
"Well, Little Twerp, it's been a long time," he heard the bearded skygod say. In the background came the roar of the '3's as they took off time after time. "It would seem, Little Twerp, that I was wrong when I sentenced you to the Outlaw DZ. I've heard nothing but good reports of you from both the Bandit Instructor and the Great Master Rigger. It would seem that even with only an A-licence, and even with all the times you've pushed the rules a bit to have some extra fun, you're not a bad skydiver. In fact, you are, from all accounts I've heard, and excellent jumper. It's hard for me to admit being wrong to you, man, but in this case I was wrong, and I'm sorry. But you see, unless you stick to the rules, what else can I assume but that you're not good enough for the rest of us? Anyway, I've decided to do this - if you agree to help the Great Master Rigger at times during the week, I will allow you into the Great Dropzone in the Sky to play with the '3'S and all your little skydiving friends. Do you agree to this?"
Hardly daring to believe what he had just heard, Little Twerp looked up slowly. The Great Jumpmaster looked down sternly, but flanking him both the Bandit Instructor and the Great Master Rigger beamed. A lonely tear trickled down Little Twerp's cheek. "Oh, thank you, Great Jumpmaster, thank you!" was all he could find to say.
The pearly gates began to open wide as the Great Jumpmaster ended, "Here, Little Twerp, is a brand new Racer with a Featherlite and a Pegasus. It is yours. And also, Little Twerp, from now on you will be known as Junior Skygod, for indeed, despite your faults, that is what you truly are."
As Little Twerp bent down for his rig he saw the shining faces of the Bandit Instructor and the Great Master Rigger, felt them slapping him on the back and congratulating him. With the Great Jumpmaster's benediction ringing in his ears he turned towards the gates. Groups of playfully dirt-diving angels turned to face him, beckoning him forward with waves of their arms, smiling invitingly at him. With that Little Twerp took a great breath, fastened his eyes on the smoke-belching DC-3's waiting on the tarmac, and walked through the shining gates into Paradise.
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