To Fly or to Fall

Harrison Costigan

Content Warning: Suicide, Mental Illness


No, that wasn’t quite right. Amazement? Disbelief? Awe? No, it was much simpler than that. Yes, what I was feeling was jealousy.

The chilling wind of the winter night whipped at my hair, sending it into an uncontrolled frenzy. I drew my jacket tighter to my body, as if hoping to pull warmth itself from the fabric, but a chill still shot up my spine, sending my body into slight spasms.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, hoping to protect them from the wind, and my hands found the various odds and ends I’d thrown into them. Wallet. Phone. A key ring with my car key, house key and a key for the laundry door. An empty sheet of asenapine. I swore. I was supposed to get more of them the day before. The doctor said I needed them, but I didn’t think they did much. I’d never felt better.


Another step forward.


The sounds of the city seemed distant. A siren far off announcing a medical emergency, a car horn blaring from the vehicle of an impatient driver. The city was like a grand choir, thousands of voices forming one beautiful harmony. A living, breathing, feeling creature, singing its chorus of vehicles and humans. And here, on this rooftop, with the cold breeze from the south in my face, that chorus seemed another world. A distant world, foreign. Unimportant.


Another step forward.


The being seemed to be taunting me. As if it could read my mind, detect that jealousy. It seemed to mock that emotion, laugh at my envy. Of course, that was only the way I felt it to be communicating, for it had no mouth to laugh with. Nor did it have a face. Or body. In reality, the being wasn’t physically there. I understood its laughter, its taunts, as if they were fed directly into my mind. Yet I’d never been more certain of something in my life. It was there. It existed.

I’d first noticed it that morning. Exactly where it was now. Walking to work, I looked up to the oppressive grey sky and saw it. No, ‘saw’ wasn’t quite the right word. You can’t see something without physical form. But it was there; I would swear it on my parents’ graves. An existence hovering off the edge of a building. A being that could fly.

Nobody else seemed to see it. No one had pointed out that something was suspended freely in the air above the street. It bewildered me. How could they not see it? Was this not so bizarrely out of the ordinary that it demanded attention?

Perhaps if nobody else could see it, I was imagining it. This is what I convinced myself to be true. The being didn’t possess a physical form, nor could I even begin to explain how I saw it. So I decided it must be a trick of the mind. I saw them quite frequently; people or things that weren’t really there. People or things that would disappear after a few hours, or after the doctor gave me those pills I’d run out of.

But it was still there when I made my journey home that evening. This time, while it still possessed no body, it was even more real than before. I was certain it was there, even if I couldn’t see it. I tapped on the shoulder of a lady passing me by and drew her attention to the sky, but she only looked at me with a mix of confusion and unease. She couldn’t see it.


Another step forward.


Emotion is an overwhelming force. One emotion can consume the human mind so completely it drives them to insanity. When that emotion grows to obsession, an urge can grow to a desperate need. Someone can be so consumed by fear it reduces them to a muttering, shivering shell cowering in a corner. Avarice can become so powerful, an ordinary person could take a life to satisfy their hunger for wealth.

What I was consumed by was jealousy. Envy. An emotion so strong, so overwhelming, it was deemed a cardinal sin. One of the seven deadliest of vices the human mind can experience. It was controlling me. My fists were clenched so tightly my nails drew blood. And yet, even though I could acknowledge that I’d fallen prey to this emotion, been consumed by this sin, I couldn’t stop myself. I craved so desperately to satisfy this jealousy. But how could I accomplish such a thing? The answer was as clear as the night sky above me.

I would prove to this being that I too could fly and replace jealousy with pride.


Another step forward.


It was before me now. I stood on the rooftop of the apartment building and stared at where I knew the spirit to be. I’m sure it stared back. If it had feet, they would be dangling freely, more than an arm’s length beyond the thick concrete barrier that ringed the rooftop, above the now empty street below. That thought only served to strengthen my jealousy. What did this being do to deserve such a wondrous ability? What right did this thing have to escape the restraints of mundane reality?

On its own, my right hand left my pocket and was assaulted by the cold as it rose to my neck. I scratched viciously at the flesh between my jaw and collarbone. I often did this when agitated or upset, and I was never immediately conscious of my actions. It was a habit that had often gotten me stares from onlookers, although those stares were something I had grown accustomed to. I caught myself clawing at my skin and forced my hand back to my pocket, wiping away the blood on my fingernails against my pants.


Another step forward.


The woman hadn’t seen the being, and so I again tried to convince myself that I was simply seeing things that weren’t there. But that night, I’d tossed and turned in my bed, unable to sleep. It’d seemed so real; I’d been so certain.

It couldn’t hurt to take one more look.

And so, I found myself at that building, the moon already making its arc back down toward the horizon. From the street below, even in the dark, I could ‘see’ that thing in the sky. Each time I looked, it was more real.

It was an old apartment building, closed for renovations. I found a gap in the temporary fencing and slipped through. The site was completely silent, and there was no one to stop me as I approached the building. It felt surreal, almost unnatural. I entered and climbed the stairs to the roof. And that brought me there, my eyes locked on the being in front of me. I began my slow walk.


One more step forward.


When overlooking the landscape from a high place, it evokes a certain feeling. A feeling of worthlessness. The world you look out upon is so vast, so overwhelmingly expansive, it seems almost infinite. And when you recognise that immeasurable vastness, you are forced to acknowledge your own inferiority, your own triviality. You are but a tiny blot on the limitless plane that is ‘the world you live in’.

I stood at the edge of the roof. Only the concrete barrier separated me from the open air and the street below. I looked past the being and out to the city below, and recognised that same sense of inferiority. What is one life in an infinite universe? What impact can one life truly have?

I looked once more to where the spirit floated. One last surge of envy coursed through my veins. I too would fly. If that thing could, so could I. And then, I would be free to explore that infinite world before me.

I noticed a warm sensation at my neck. I’d been scratching at it again, and a small trickle of blood ran down to stain my jacket. Instead of returning my hand to my pocket, I placed it on the barrier.

Another hand. Then a foot. I stood tall, my feet on the barrier, my toes hanging over the edge. Where were my shoes? No matter. Centimetres from freedom. The spirit was just beyond my reach, barely past my outstretched fingers. But not for long.

A deep, shaky breath. If I couldn’t fly, I would disappear. Did I have the courage to fulfil my goal? Did I have the strength? A deep, shaky breath. Was I truly worthy of such freedom? What had I truly achieved in my lonely, miserable life? A deep, shaky breath. Would I fly? Or would I fall? A deep, shaky breath.

But no matter the outcome, I would be free.

My next breath came easily. I no longer felt the cold of the night. I felt the warmth of calmness spread through my body. I felt peace.


A step.


My hand grasped the hand of the being, our fingers locking us together. I pushed off from the ledge. My other hand found it. I joined it in the sky.

I looked down and watched as my body fell to the empty street below. There was no life in that body, a body that had lived a useless existence. I watched it hit the concrete far below, and with a horrific smack, it came to its final rest.

I looked back to the being. Its nature now seemed clear to me. I’d become the same. A free spirit, one no longer bound by reality. As I watched, the being faded. At first it was gradual, but it accelerated until, with what was surely a smile, it ceased to fill this place in the sky.

The emotion I felt in that moment couldn’t be named. A sense of tearful joy, of relief, of exultation. And there was a layer of pride amongst these feeling. I had done it. I flew.

I remained in place for a while, and eventually I watched as the sun rose above the horizon. The sounds of the city changed, as people began to leave home for work, or start preparing for a day with their families. A crowd gathered below me, gathered to find a body that had fallen from a rooftop in the night, a gruesome scene that stained the city.

As I watched, my eyes met those of a woman in the crowd. She stared, bewildered. I smiled at her. Look at me, my smile said. I am free now.

She nudged a man to her right and pointed at me. The man seemed to laugh and dismissed her. She looked back at me, a new expression on her face, one I could not name.

It was as if she was the only one who could see me.

Author: Harrison is an aspiring writer, hoping to one day publish fantasy novels. He has an interest in stories that focus deeply on character, where character development is just as important as the plot. He hopes to emulate at least a little of that in his writing.

Artist: Steph Blinco is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.