This is a short written for a writing challenge on Forumopolis, the theme being “And Then A Miracle Happened,” meant to explore the storytelling trope of the deus ex machina and attempt to use it in a new or interesting way…

The cold morning air blew into Thomas Keegan’s face, its sharpness raising goosebumps on his neck and making his eyes water. He cleared them and inhaled deeply, the early morning smells – baking bread, hot asphalt from the road construction, the salty sea air – reaching him even at his twenty-third story window. He looked east toward the horizon, where the sun was just rising over the bay in the distance. He could hear the sound of gulls on the breeze, and wondered at the fresh newness that seemed to cover everything at this time of the day, the vague feeling of rebirth that hung in the air.

This sudden thought tugged at him, made him look down at his shoes. Rebirth. If only things were that simple. He looked back out to the sunrise. Things were never that simple. Simple would have been saying no way back at the beginning. Simple would have been packing up at the first sign of trouble. Simple would have been a lot of things that wouldn’t have resulted in this moment.

He looked down at his shoes again. He was still in his house slippers and bathrobe. The absurdity of the moment wasn’t yet reaching his brain. There were no conscious decisions at this point, no plan, just a grim resignation. There were no thoughts about events leading to this point, no ruminations about regret, hindsight, or anything else that common sense might play across the mind of a person about to meet his maker.

There was nothing.

Only a cold, empty numbness pervaded him. He dimly realized he was already standing on the sill, no memory of bracing himself on the frame as he stepped up into the opening. He looked down and actually laughed, noticing that this was completely different than how these situations usually played out on television. There was no ledge for him to stand on and huddle back against the brick of the building, a buffer for him to lean out and peer over. No, he was perched – rather comically – on a strip of wood and metal six inches wide, and had equal probability of falling back inside his own apartment than out into the waiting abyss.

The other element missing from whatever perceived notion he might have had were the spectators. There was no one poking their head out of the next window trying to talk him out of it. There were no rescue personnel setting up below, no TV crews, no crowd of onlookers. Indeed, he was high enough that he wouldn’t even be noticed standing there. In any case, he had told nobody, left no letter, made no announcements. He would be leaping out into obscurity.

He took another deep breath and shook his head. None of that mattered. He would be leaving nothing behind but disappointment, debt and broken promises. He set his jaw and rubbed his hands together –

And in that moment, the stiff breeze that he had been leaning against suddenly abated, leaving him tipping forward out into the open. His hands shot out to grab the window frame and caught, giving him his first proper look straight down. The height was staggering, and it took a moment for his vision to stabilize.

But it was there in that moment, hanging precipitously twenty-three stories above the pavement, that everything seemed to come into sharp focus. For the first time in too many years, he had a sudden determination to follow through on a decision, even if that decision was made in the part of his brain that had been recently vacated by any and all rational thought. His hands, almost of their own volition, released their grip on the window frame.

The world lurched sickeningly and he was in freefall. The first second put his heart in his throat, the next brought the wind screaming up at him, drowning out all other sound. Finally came dizzying pressure, as if the pavement was already pressing against his body in anticipation. As the ground violently hurtled up at him, the message finally made it through the firewall in his brain and exploded across all of his senses. You’re going to die. In that second, there was no peace, no grim resignation. Just a complete and utter reality-shattering terror, the likes of which he had never experienced before, to the point of it being physically painful, making his muscles seize up and his breath catch in his lungs. He opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out. There was no motor function of any kind.

Helplessly he watched the ground rise up to meet him, realizing with some detached disappointment that this, as well, was not playing out how he expected. Time had not slowed down. He was not seeing any part of his life flash before his eyes. If anything, his end was approaching faster with each second, leaving time for really only one thought, the cliché of which would have made his formerly rational self roll his eyes.

What have I done?

The impact was sooner than he expected. It knocked the wind out of him, his eyes shut, but it felt strange, like he had landed across something rather than the sharp impact he was expecting. His body twisted oddly, and there was a deep thrumming sound that pulsed in time to the sudden fierce eddies of air current swirling around him.

He risked opening his eyes a crack. The ground, surprisingly, was receding away from him, and his vision was obscured in time to the thrumming sound, almost like the beating of – he opened his eyes further – wings. He looked up, and was suddenly startled to be looking into the most brilliant piercing eyes he had ever seen.

It took a minute for the situation to fully sink in. He was being held aloft in the arms of a woman, strong and determined, yet kind, with classical features like a figure out of Greek myth. Contrary to the image his brain wanted to form, she was dressed like a warrior, clad in leather with a rather intimidating sword sheathed across her shoulders. The wings that held them suspended in midair were wide and powerful, yet light and translucent like feathery crystal, seeming to draw no effort from the woman, who continued to look directly into him. Her face, however, was in shadow. The morning sun was directly behind her, with wisps of her silver hair catching the light to form a corona around her face.

He couldn’t remember if she opened her mouth or not, because she seemed to be speaking directly into his soul. But he relaxed, because the words he found there were warm and filled with strength, comfort, and – for the first time in years – hope.

“Fear not,” she said softly. “Everything will be all right. I’ve got you.”