The rotors beat the air outside in a great whooshing drumbeat. Whirls of snow and icy air billow past the windows as I slide my boots into the straps on my snowboard. The pilot turns and nods at me through the cockpit door, giving a thumbs up. I pull my scarf and goggles over my face. Giddy, I slide open the outer doors and push myself from the helicopter. Falling blindly through the gales of snow, I brace myself, knowing the ground is coming up fast.
I land with a painful jolt, but the ground is steep, and I’m already moving. The din of the helicopter recedes as I speed down the mountain, which is bare for quite a while before sprouting a line of pine trees farther below. This is the only time I don’t mind the snow; here, where you can come as close as you can to flying without leaving the ground. The rushing of the wind sounds far away and muted through the scarf, and this high up, my ears are popped anyway.
The treeline is approaching rapidly, and the weathered pines behind it are mazelike and close together. But I knew what I signed up for when I booked the helicopter ride. I’m ready for this. Straightening slightly to catch more drag, I coast into the trees, swerving in long arcs to slow my descent. I know not to be misled by the sudden appearance of the trees; it’s still a long way down. I press a hand tightly against my coat and feel the sharp edge of my grandmother’s necklace. Good, it’s still there.
A low branch snaps off against my sleeve. I need to pay more attention. The woods are getting thicker. Weaving around a heap of toppled evergreens, I straighten my legs and stretch my back out in an effortless curve. I imagine I look something like a motorcycle racer rounding a bend, the way I’m hanging over the ground.
As I round the pile of fallen trees, I start to pull upright. Then something strikes the board so hard my toes go numb. The world reels around me as I tumble forward, head first, arms waving. I see a puff of snow rising off the hidden root I just stuck before I complete my revolution and my back hits the ground. A purple light flashes around the edges of my vision and black crop circles dance over my eyes. My sight clears in time for me to see the splash of white that shoots into the air all around me from hitting the ground. And in the center of the snowy wave, hung suspended in the air above me, is my grandmother’s necklace.
Then the world catches up, and I’m moving again, sliding through the woods down the mountainside as the necklace whistles through the air above. Momentum carries the necklace in the same direction as I’m moving. I dig my board into the snow, rising partway off the ground, and swipe at the necklace. I miss by a hairsbreadth and hit the ground again, now noticing the pine I’m undoubtedly going to connect with. I smash into the base of the trunk with a splintering crack, and the crop circles return, along with a pain like a migraine throughout my head. The impact sends me spinning diagonally through the trees and I strike another one, this time with my hip. My right side goes numb, and the jolt lifts me off the ground and propels me forward. In the periphery of my vision, I see a thread of silver cutting a thin line through the snow. It’s not far off, I can get to it.
I angle my legs to land board-first and ready myself to snatch the tumbling necklace as I speed past it. Just before I land back on the ground, a sizable pine bough seemingly stretches out from nowhere and catches me in the front of my ribcage. What breath I have left is knocked out of me. The bough splits in half and I move straight through it as I’m thrown down violently into the snow, my ribs bruised and my ears ringing. Gravity doesn’t care that I can’t see or hear or breath, and pulls me relentlessly down the mountain. I raise my head above the flurry of white and can still see the clear trail carved through the snow by grandma’s necklace. Raising my arms and legs off the ground, I cast my weight forward, aiming to intercept it.
Ten feet… five feet….
I stretch out as far as I can and seize the chain. Only now do I realize that I’ve barreled out of the trees and am heading straight for the edge of a precipice.