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Authors: David Pandolfe

Jump When Ready

BOOK: Jump When Ready
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Jump When Ready

David Pandolfe

 

 

 

 

 

PRAISE FOR
JUMP WHEN READY

 

“Whether you’re 14 or 24, this book
is a fun read with endearing characters and a quick-moving plot.
Jump When
Ready
is not a book to miss.” -Portland Book Review

 

“JUMP WHEN READY combines charm and suspense in a sweet way
that leaves the reader completely believing this imagined in-between world.” -Indie
Reader

 

“The combination of
 coming-of-age, philosophical and thriller story comes together
to make a fascinating and engaging book.” - The Real Bookshelves of Room 918

 

"An engaging, poignant book that stayed with me long
after I read the last word." 

- Tracy E. Banghart, author of
Rebel Wing

 

“It impacted my thoughts in a serious way, and I will most
likely spend the next few days going over it, and over it, in my head.” - Bound
by Words

 

“There are few books out there that have characters that
make you wish you had friends like them.” - Book Nerds

 

“This was a great story. I personally have never read
anything like it.” - Reading is Better than Real Life

 

“I loved this book and am looking forward to seeing what the
author will come up with next!” - A Little Shelf of Heaven

 

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1

Voices from the
Other Side

 

The world around me was dark green and silent except for the
sound of my own heart, still beating, but slowly now. I took another breath
that wasn’t really a breath, just my lungs trying again. Nothing more than a
reflex at this point. The battle was already lost, I felt pretty sure. Still, I
hoped because that’s what we do until the very end.

I hoped someone would rescue me, even when I knew that
wasn’t going to happen. The rapids must have pulled me too far; otherwise,
someone would have gotten to me by now. It seems strange, but in those final
moments I still imagined a future. A reflex of the brain, I guess, that refusal
to quit, to give up and accept the truth. I thought about starting high school
next fall. Not much to look forward to, from what I’d heard, but I’d still been
sure it would be better. I thought about my family and the trip we had planned
for visiting the Northwest. I’d been looking forward to seeing Seattle and
Portland, getting out of the Virginia heat for a few weeks that summer. Part of
me hoped we could still make that trip together. I couldn’t help it—I still
wanted these things to happen. That was my world, the small one I knew, and I
kept hoping to hang onto it.

But even now my heart was slowing more, the time between
each beat getting longer. There was a light above me—I could see it through the
murky water. Maybe it had been there the whole time and I’d been too scared to
notice. Then there were voices, the muffled sound of people calling my name,
and I wondered if someone had gotten there in time. I kept staring up at the
light, which kept growing brighter.

Then the voices were fading.

I didn’t hear my heart anymore.

There was just the light above me. I swam toward it.

~~~

The next thing I knew, my legs were straddling a thick
branch in a giant fir tree, my hands grasping coarse bark. I looked up to see
that the sky had grown completely overcast and the air was cool around me now.
None of it made sense. Moments before, it had been hot and sunny in Richmond.
I’d been at the river—I remembered walking into the water. I looked down and
realized I was really high above the ground. Unbelievably high, like I’d never
been before unless I was riding a rollercoaster and strapped in tight. I
clenched my eyes shut, started swearing like crazy and held onto that branch with
everything I had.

Then I heard one of the voices again, a guy who sounded
about my age. “Henry, relax,” he said. “You’re okay.”

I told myself I couldn’t be hearing an actual person,
that soon I’d wake up in the hammock in our backyard, probably still clutching
the
Bakuman
manga I’d been reading before zoning out.

“Henry, please stop using that kind of language. You’re
offending us!” This time it was a girl’s voice.

Laughter followed, from what sounded like a small crowd
around me.

“Seriously, open your eyes.” It was the guy again.
“What’s the worst that could happen? You fall. Don’t worry about it.”

Dream or not, how could I keep my eyes closed when people
were talking to me? I refused to look down again but I managed to turn to my
right from where I’d heard the guy’s voice. A kid with a spiky black mohawk
stared back at me from where he sat on another branch of the tree. He wore a
black T-shirt with a band logo on it. The Cure, a 1980s band I’d heard of.

“You can stop hanging on like that,” he said. “Unless, of
course, you want to. Entirely up to you. Doesn’t really matter. My name’s
Jamie, by the way.”

I nodded like I understood but held on tight. It took all
my courage just to keep my eyes open.

“That’s Nikki over there,” Jamie said. “You should at
least say hello. She was the first to call out to you when it happened. Did you
hear us?”

I turned left to see Nikki sitting on another branch.
Nikki would have been extremely noticeable no matter what, with her jet black
hair and dark brown eyes, but the kimono thing kind of threw me. You just don’t
expect to see that in anything but a movie. She was also wearing jeans and
roller skates. Earbud wires ran down each side of her neck and she was nodding
along to music I couldn’t hear.

Nikki popped out one of her earbuds and smiled. “How’s it
going?”

I had no idea how to answer the question. What was
happening seemed impossible. What had happened before seemed impossible. Words
just kind of spilled out. “Where am I? Who are you? I don’t know what’s going
on. I think, I don’t know, I think I may have just drowned or something!”

While I was totally confused, Nikki didn’t seem confused
at all. She just nodded. “Yeah, I hear drowning sucks,” she said. “How did that
go for you?”

My head was spinning. Nothing going on around me made
anything close to sense. Meanwhile, Nikki sat there on her branch waiting for
an answer.

“How did what go for me?”

Nikki cocked her head. “The drowning part. I’ve heard
it’s kind of like slow torture. You know, because you can tell the entire time—”

“Don’t mind her,” Jamie said. “Nikki’s not particularly
sensitive when it comes to, well, you know.”

Jamie remained sitting next to me high above the earth.
Strangely, his T-shirt had changed. Although it was still black, now it showed
a logo for a different band, The Smiths. I hadn’t heard of them before. At that
moment, I realized I was wearing jeans and sneakers and one of my own T-shirts.
I was also completely dry. All things considered, that was the least strange
thing going on.

“No, I don’t know,” I said.

“I mean the D-word.”

“You mean dead?”

Jamie winced and lowered his voice. “Do you feel dead?”

It wasn’t like I knew what being dead was supposed to
feel like but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it. I shook my head.

“Cool, you’re starting to get it already. Good for you.
Just so you know, we try not to use the D-word here.”

I looked around, trying to see who he was talking about,
but I didn’t see anyone other than him and Nikki. “Why not?”

Jamie shrugged. “You know.”

“No, I don’t know! Why do you keep saying that?”

“Right, sorry. We haven’t had a new one here in a while.
The D-word makes people feel bad. We just say ‘between lives.’ Get it?”

Of course, I didn’t get it. “But you’re saying I’m dead,
right? I mean, I have to be. Either that or I’m dreaming this whole deal. Maybe
they got me out of the water and I’m at the hospital, on drugs or something. Is
that what’s going on?”

When I was ten, I wiped out on my skateboard and broke my
arm. My parents took me to the hospital and the doctor sent me home with
painkillers. Whatever that stuff was, it made me crash out like nobody’s
business. I remember having all these wild dreams. Nothing this weird, but
still. I waited for Jamie to admit he wasn’t real.

“Nothing like that,” Jamie said. “No drugs. No hospital.
You’ve definitely entered a different phase.”

“Phase? What kind of phase are you talking about? Spell
it out for me.”

Jamie waited a few seconds, then nodded. “Okay, sure.
I’ll do my best, but it’s not all that easy for some people. Depending.”

“Depending on what?”

“Well, on what you were told. Let me ask you this—what
did you expect?”

To be honest, I really hadn’t spent all that much time
thinking about what might happen to me after I died. I guess that might make me
seem kind of shallow, but I’d always found that stuff kind of depressing.
Besides, it wasn’t like anyone actually knew. Either way, sitting in a giant
fir tree next to some dude with a mohawk and self-altering T-shirt alongside a
kimono-wearing roller skater had never once crossed my mind.

“I don’t know. Maybe heaven? Something like that?”

“Okay, sure, heaven. So, like pearly gates, bright light,
guys in robes walking around on clouds? Occasional announcements from God? That
kind of thing?”

When Jamie put it that way, it did seem pretty lame. Like
I’d been expecting a cartoon.

Suddenly, Nikki appeared sitting next to Jamie on the
same branch. Which kind of freaked me out since, technically, it was impossible
for her to instantly materialize there that way. “So, what was supposed to happen
when you got to heaven?” she said.

“I’m curious too,” a girl said from somewhere above me.
“It’s always so interesting to hear what people expected.” Whoever she was, she
sounded young.

“Don’t pressure the bloke so much,” a guy with an English
accent said from somewhere below. “After all, we’ve got plenty of time. What’s
it been now? Years? Decades? I keep losing count. By the way, is anyone else
getting hungry?”

 Both Jamie and Nikki looked down and said, “Shut up,
Simon!” at the same time.

If things had been different, it probably would have been
funny. But Nikki had resumed staring at me and I got the feeling she was
running out of patience.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess you stay there. Learn
stuff. Be happy?”

Nikki squinted at me like I’d just said something
idiotic. “Forever? End of story?”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I shrugged. “I guess
so.”

“I see you’ve given this a lot of thought,” Nikki said.
Then she pushed me out of the tree.

~~~

I can’t tell you how long it took me to fall, although it
felt like forever. I just kept screaming and falling, too terrified to realize
that falling out of a tree—well, technically, getting shoved out of
tree—couldn’t really do anything to me. To be fair, I had just finished
drowning a little while ago, so it wasn’t all that easy to think clearly.
Definitely, not a good day so far. But after a while it finally dawned on me
that I wasn’t really falling—I just thought I was falling. Nikki and Jamie kept
peering down at me and they weren’t getting any smaller. I could see the top of
the tree and the gray clouds above. They weren’t going anywhere either.

So, I stopped screaming. For one moment, I remained
suspended there in mid-air. Then I started to rise upward again, as if by just
thinking about it I could bring myself back to where I’d been sitting. This too
was impossible, I knew, but a moment later I was facing Jamie and Nikki again.

Nikki smirked at me. “So, how did that compare to
drowning?”

“Are you freaking crazy? I could have just—” I stopped,
in that moment starting to accept the truth.

Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Just trying to make a point,
that’s all.”

“Okay, sure. Got it. I’m dead. That’s what you’re trying
to tell me, right?”

Nikki shook her head impatiently and glanced at Jamie.

“Dude,” Jamie said, “stop saying that. You’re not exactly
making friends here.”

I looked around again but still didn’t catch a glimpse of
either Simon or the girl who’d spoken before. There was just me, Jamie and
Nikki, the lush branches of the tree and the gray sky above.

“Repeat after me,” Jamie said. “I’m now between lives.”

I couldn’t help notice his T-shirt had changed again.
Psychedelic Furs, another band I’d never heard of.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not dead,
you’re right. But forget that whole ‘between lives’ deal. I’m totally dreaming
you. I must be.” I closed my eyes and sighed. “I’m just going to chill and have
a different dream. When I wake up again, I’ll be home. Back in my yard, in the
hammock.”

It wasn’t easy but I forced myself to lay back against
the branch. But I was right, I didn’t feel the branch at all. In fact, it felt
just like our hammock at home. There was even a warm summer breeze blowing
past.

To calm down, I thought about the drafting table I was
hoping to get for my birthday. I’d always liked to draw and my parents were
supportive of that sort of thing so I figured I had a pretty good chance, even
if it was kind of a big gift to ask for (honestly, I think they were just happy
when I wasn’t playing video games). Lately, I’d been thinking about maybe going
into illustrating and graphic design someday. There was a pretty good art
program at the high school, so maybe that would be a good place to start. Who
knows, maybe I’d even get into art school for college. The way I saw it, there
was a lot to look forward to. All I had to do was wake up again.

 “Yeah, home,” I whispered. “I’ll wake up and be home.”

“I thought you didn’t like your home,” Nikki said.
Apparently, she’d decided to remain in my dream.

I didn’t answer her. Instead, I concentrated on the
future I’d just been imagining.

“Hey, Aquaman. Talking to you.”

“Still dreaming,” I whispered.

“If you liked your home so much, why did you kill
yourself?”

My attempted dream about an artistic future vanished,
which left me in a giant tree under a gray sky. I sat up and looked at Nikki.
“What the—wait, what?”

Nikki snapped a cone from a branch and whipped it at me.
It hit me in the forehead, but at the same time didn’t. At least I didn’t feel
it.

“Cut the crap and answer the question,” Nikki said.

I did my best to keep looking into her fierce eyes. “I
didn’t kill myself. I drowned.”

“Okay, sure, like no one ever drowned deliberately.
You’re not fooling anyone.”

“What are you talking about? No one would ever do that on
purpose. It’s freaking horrible!” I tried not to think about that moment when
my foot got stuck between those rocks, the terror and panic I’d felt as the
rapids had dragged me under.

“Yes, people would do that on purpose,” Nikki said.
“Obviously, you’re one of those people. So, stop lying.”

When I’d imagined it impossible for this day to get any
worse, suddenly it had taken yet another turn south. “I’m not lying.”

Nikki sighed. “Jamie, try talking some sense into our new
friend here. I’m getting this close to asking Martha to Banish him. No joke.”

“Try to relax,” Jamie said. “Henry just got here. He’s
still adjusting.”

BOOK: Jump When Ready
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