17 Jan

Eloise Duveyrier took a deep breath and pushed herself off the cliff at four in the morning. She lifted her skis and felt the first rush of air catch under her paraglider, which was lit from within by 20 meters of lightweight LED stripping, making it appear that she was floating under a crescent moon. The jagged contours of the icy glacier floated beneath her skis as she slowly drifted toward them, pulling hard on the right cord to tug herself over to an open patch where she wanted to make her first touchdown. As the glacier got closer, the sheer speed of her descent became more obvious, and she made first contact with the crusted surface of the snow at nearly 100 kilometers an hour, powder kicking up behind her like a splash of water. She found a small rise and lunged upward, hoping the wind would catch the glider again and allow her to sail off the next drop clear of a tall natural cairn. She had to tuck her legs up to avoid its jagged miniature peak, and the balance caused her to tilt wildly in the gloaming darkness. She swung out of it and executed a neat circle before touching down again, carving a long thin scar along the mountain’s white side like a cutter pressing a knife gently along white skin, but she could not look behind her to see if her slice caused the glacier to trickle a thick line of blood into the cold air, to see if the ancient slab of ice sighed and winced at the exquisite pain of having itself opened to the elements for scarification and the diminishing tingle of being alive and alone and in control of its own violated body. Eloise had to keep her face forward into the bitter rushing wind so she could, with a whoosh, press her legs against an ice patch and launch herself into another float. She stuck her arms out and hot-dogged her tips, even though the producer said no stunts were needed in this unexpected third run, that the cinematographer just needed more overhead coverage to cut to once he realized that the Red Bull logo on the paraglider wasn’t clear enough in the earlier, more distant drone shots. They knew she was tired, they said. They knew she was tired, so it was up to her, but if they could finish it this night they could keep things on budget, and with the weather forecast what it was, well, looking ahead seemed pretty grim so maybe if she could, if she had enough rest, did she have enough rest?, they could press forward, keep going, wrap things tonight. A gust dragged her farther right than the previous runs and she tugged hard on the left cord, executing a tight spin to disguise her panic and landing neatly with bent knees on a soft patch of powder, like a cavity on the glacier’s tooth, breaking her speed a bit and sending a shockwave through her kneecaps. She lifted her feet and dropped them three more times like an airplane bouncing off a runway to continue to slow her descent. The wind was stronger than it had been at 1 o’clock, when she took her first run. Her mouth held a grim line as she calculated the best approach to the final drop, which landed atop the steep snowed-over roof of a mountainside chateau, which she could use like a jump ramp to pick up lift for the last sailing float over Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. In that last sail, she could finally relax, letting the paraglider whisk her over a small patch of spruce trees before depositing her in a snowfield. On previous runs, she’d detached the paraglider with a flourish and come to rest under a stand of lights, where she’d remove her helmet and a let her long hair fly loose in the wind, to surprise those who are still surprised to see a girl do anything. The she would take a long drink of Red Bull in silhouette against the moontower lights and earn her sponsorship money. But they said not this time, the shot was in the can, just stop and let the technicians pack up the chute. As her mind drifted forward into this denouement, her right ski caught a rock surface and pulled hard on her ankle, snapping free from the binding and twirling away to her right, leaving her boot dangling loose just before the final hop onto the chateau. She tried to skid into a halt with her uphill ski, but the chute caught a gust and lifted her free from the snow, twirling her slowly up as she leaned dangerously forward. She vainly tried to lunge down with a pole, anything to make contact before the scooping drop, but the gust had pulled her too far up, and she felt the heavy canvas of her glowing chute billow tightly with it, then, inevitably, go limp in a rippling, feathery way that she tugged to correct, but of course, this was inevitable, this was how landings happened, and now she would be landing with one foot free, digging into the soft powder atop the chateau roof with no edge to control her descent. With her last moment aloft she swung her boot back and kicked down on the other ski’s binding, snapping it open and letting the other ski drop into a wooded gully, then she desperately pinched at her harness with her gloved hands, releasing it just as her legs and backside crashed into the rooftop snow. The chute whipped free and hard before her, a single cord burning her skin like a whip as it pulled past her cheek. She spun, arms flailing, over the roof decline then helicoptered off the house and landed hard and rock-like in a shallow drift at its front porch, rolling three times before coming to a limp halt, all ribs burning, her left arm tingling and unresponsive, the taste of metal in her mouth, but mostly, still. Still. Awful. Frozen. No longer moving. How she longed to be moving. She needed to move, to fly, to fall, to rush, to run, to run, to run. Instead here she was again, broken and bleeding and fetal, the sound of pain rushing in her ears over the roar of her father’s rage.

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