Vertical

Aaron stared out the window of the helicopter at Cathedral Rock and wondered if he and the pilot would make it to Sedona Airport before the storm moving in from the north overtook them. He knew the risks based on the weather report, but he had paid a handsome fee for the ride. His father Jim was deteriorating rapidly in an assisted living home due to dementia and Parkinson’s, to the point where he thought he was arguing policy with Fidel Castro at church and eating lunch with the Swedish cheerleaders in his room. He had also gotten into the habit of walking naked through the hallways and relieving himself in unusual places.

Just two years earlier, Jim had said to Aaron, “Look, son, sometimes I can’t tell if things are real or if my mind is just playing tricks on me.” Aaron had never seen such dark fear in his father’s eyes. Jim said to Aaron, “If it gets to the point where I’m living in some horrible fantasy world because I didn’t handle things in time, you’re going to have to take care of some business. I know this doesn’t sound good, but we both know you’re the only one in the family who has the guts and the brains to manage this without compromising yourself in the process. If things go south faster than expected, you need to step in and set things right. Promise me, son.”

“I promise, Dad,” Aaron said. “I’ll always be there for you, no matter what. I’ll do whatever you want me to do, even if I have to figure it out for myself.”

Now, Aaron was planning on taking Jim back home, where he and his wife could tend to Jim and help him pass away discreetly, without suspicion, and with at least a modicum of dignity. No one else in the family had the means or willingness to help Jim at this point, anyway. They were too poor and distracted by their own emotional traumas, too obsessed with their own petty concerns to care for others in any meaningful way. As the helicopter neared the airport, Aaron’s stomach tightened from the guilt he felt for having slipped his father into an assisted living home in the first place. It was as if all the years Jim had poured into the family were going to utter waste. Aaron couldn’t let this happen.

The pilot circled to the left and descended several hundred feet before approaching the airport from the southeast. As the helicopter rose to the lip of the plateau, it began shuddering. From the corner of his eye, Aaron saw the pilot tense up and knew something terrible was about to happen. Just before the helicopter reached eye level with the helipad, a wind shear jolted it violently and threw it into the side of the cliff. Aaron and the pilot were killed on impact. Their lifeless bodies bounced like mannequins in their seats as the disintegrating chopper careened down the side of the mountain and finally came to rest in a gully. Just then, the brunt of the storm Aaron had wondered about arrived, darkening the sky and dousing the corpses in pulsating sheets of rain. Back at the assisted living home, Jim rocked back and forth in his favorite chair and mumbled over and over, “He’s a good boy, my son. He’ll take care of me. I love my son. He’ll take care of me.”