An odd warning


Two weeks before he left this world, John Salmon had a bit of nervous stage fright. This lasted until a wave of adrenaline washed over it, turned fear into fun, and made the day more memorable in a good way.

Next to him sat Eric, his rail-thin roommate. "You’re insane."

John smiled, looked around at the crowd of seven thousand that had gathered for the June commencement ceremony at Bucknell University. Graduating students filled the middle section of the quad in front of Bertram Library. Parents, staff, friends and other family sat at capacity around the edges of the long rectangular lawn. A blue sky presided over a warm day and a light breeze.

John rose alone, then squeezed past other seated graduates until he reached the end of the row. He waited there, got impatient, and waved for Eric to move it.

His friend shook his head, and swore without a sound. Eric nevertheless joined John, and together they turned away from the dais and the crowd. They walked toward the red brick and white-mortared library. John gazed up at the clock tower. It resembled a church steeple.

Behind Bertram, resounding echoes emanated from the speech of the class valedictorian, also captain of the Bison football team. John had forgotten his name, and couldn’t make out the words, but he didn’t care. He had something in mind more memorable than listening to banal platitudes and personal braggadocio from the big-man-on-campus.

"You’re crazy," Eric said.

John could always count on Eric to try to bring him down to earth. Mustering the will to overcome this sort of objection made him feel better about himself and whatever he wanted to do, today in particular.

"It’s not just about making an unforgettable impression on thousands of unsuspecting people," John said.

"I know. I know. Your own memory matters just as much. You want to sear the experience in your brain to lay the foundation for future success. Where did you learn that crap?"

"Obscurity sucks. You have to put yourself out there if you want people to care."

"That depends on the people," Eric said.

"This is my choice. You get to watch. Some day, after I’ve conquered the world, you can brag to your grandchildren that you knew me when."

"When what? You were still living?"

"Go back. Sit down."

Eric stepped away. "I really should. If you break your neck they’ll blame me."

John tossed Eric his graduation cap, and pulled the gown over his head, slow, so it wouldn’t catch on the gear he wore underneath. When the garment cleared his head, John tossed it to Eric, then stretched his arms full-length to both sides to test the apparatus. A two-piece crossbar clicked into place which extended his span six inches on either arm. The custom wingsuit fit neatly over the extensions. He had a rig in the back, a collapsible hang-glider tucked between his shoulder blades. Straps over both shoulders attached it to the crossbar.

"Just get it over with," Eric said.

Satisfied that his equipment worked, John collapsed and separated the crossbar into two pieces, then tucked each piece into a leg pocket. Ready, he gave Eric a quick salute accompanied by a sly grin, then went to a spot beside the rear door of the library, and gazed up the brick wall. This part he’d practiced numerous times in the past few months, always at night, always with Eric on lookout, all in preparation for this day, for this moment.


He climbed using tiny hand- and toe-holds to scale the wall, scrambled around a windowsill, onto the entryway roof. From there, he leapt to an eave, then hustled up the shingles to a peak.

Down below, Eric waved and walked away.

John peeked over the top row of shingles. The commencement had a vibrancy of color, and sound, and a feel of anticipation that made him more eager to do what he came to do. Had imagination overtaken his senses, or did this crowd crave something to stir it up?

He set eyes on the clock tower, then got his fingers around a ledge. His feet found mooring, and he pushed higher. As he climbed, John expected a gasp or two to resonate from below. They could see him now if they looked, and he longed for that first observant person who would notify the crowd of something amiss, perhaps with a pointed finger, or a desperate whisper that others would overhear.

The first murmurs reached his ears. Robes rustled among the prospective graduates as they turned to crane their necks. The speaker blathered on about their collective responsibilities to help change the world, but John didn’t much care until he heard the voice falter. A long silence came from the podium, then the valedictorian mentioned that perhaps someone should get that man down off the clock tower before he hurt himself.

John smiled.

Moments later he reached the tippy-top, where he held on with one hand, leaned out, and waved to the crowd with the other. A few students waved back. One or two gave him a shout-out, but he couldn’t understand what they said. He heard laughter, growing laughter. As he got out each half of the crossbar, and clicked them together, he sensed joy. As he extended his arms and his wingsuit, he sensed something else, an undertone of mockery. He didn’t care about that. This was his moment.

Most base-jumpers recommended a leap-off point of at least five hundred feet above ground to avoid a fatal crash landing. John had only one hundred feet between himself and the sidewalk, or the green lawn, or rows of attendees in folding metal chairs. For this reason, he required a special rig with an extended wingspan, and a rear hang-glider. He had bought it on the Internet, received it in March, and made time to test it twice in advance of the June commencement. The Route 45 bridge, which spanned the Susquehanna River on the edge of campus, served as the testing ground. The first try, in April, landed him in the river, but the second time, in May, he had a short free-fall, then a swoop up and a safe landing on the riverbank. Now the time for thinking and practicing was over.

He bent his knees, and leaped.

A loud, collective gasp accompanied the feat. Several women shrieked. Men shouted. John shot straight down at the sidewalk, spread his arms, his wings. The hang-glider caught a pocket of air, and slowed his descent, until — FWOOP — he curled up and shot skyward back up to a gentle height of fifty feet in the middle of the quad. Oohs and aahs entered his ears and coursed through his bloodstream. He ascended to a slow curving peak, then back down, and sped up, faster, and faster like a rocket right at the commencement platform. As he descended, he leveled off. Some of the students could almost reach up and touch him. They swooned beneath him. Good thing no one tried to grab him. He passed over their amused or frightened faces, on a beeline for the big-man-on-campus.

John had no time to swerve, nor any desire to do so. The valedictorian had maybe two whole seconds to decide to either play chicken, or get the hell out of the way.

He ducked.

Just in time too. The footballer had fast reflexes.

Then John flew beyond the dais, beyond the quad, out over the long sloping green. Below him, and fast approaching, lay the campus non-denominational church. Further beyond that the soccer fields, the new gymnasium, the campus entrance, and, high on a distant hill, humongous Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

John caught an updraft, then glided to ground on a gentle incline, where he landed at an easy jog about thirty yards from the church. As he shucked the wingsuit, which left him in bluejeans and a white t-shirt, he decided to go inside and thank someone, God perhaps, for a safe stunt. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind a permanent memory formed. Mission accomplished.


To his delight, someone had left the church unlocked, so he left the chute and wingsuit at the door, then slipped into the silent space of the small chapel, and let the soft door shut out the world. In three or four minutes a school official might come to harangue him for his misbehavior, but that lefty plenty of time for what he needed.

With quiet steps, he strode deeper into the space. It had two sections of wooden benches, and an aisle down the middle, ideal for weddings after semester ended. A thin female figure sat in the front row, right side, hunched over in prayer, her body oriented toward the large walnut cross on the wall behind the podium. He sat across the aisle and five rows back from her, and waited for just a touch of religious wisdom, but his mind remained a blank, with no clue what to say, nor to whom. The young woman stood. She wore a black blouse and blue jeans. She turned to him.

He noticed her big brown eyes, soft hair, a natural beauty unadorned by makeup. The eyes transcended her other features, except perhaps for a nose that had a little bump about halfway down.

"They’re coming. I don’t have much time," she said.

"Who?" He wondered if she had seen his escapade.

"I’m not supposed to be here."

"Are you a student?" he said, and went closer.

"Not any more."

"Oh, right. Graduation."

She glanced beyond his shoulder at the door. She seemed anxious, afraid even, as she turned her gaze to his eyes. "I came to warn you."

"I’ll be alright. It’s not like they’ll take away my diploma."

She furrowed her brow.

John realized she had no idea what he had just done. They were talking past each other. "What did you want to warn me about?"

She cast her eyes on the door again. "When the man with the white beard makes you an offer, tell him no. Walk away."

John stared. Huh?

Voices approached from outside.

She rose, fast, with limber muscles. "I have to leave. Take my advice, please." She went to a small corner door.

"Wait. Who are you?"

"Jill Gardener. You’ll be okay, as long as I leave."

She left through the corner door, and the instant it swung shut, the front door pulled open. Two men strode in. One John recognized as a professor. The other wore a uniform, a local cop.

Perhaps he had more trouble than he thought.


John planned to absorb their fury, and thus deflect whatever reprimand they wanted to dish out, but he noticed Jill had left something in the pew, small, black, and shiny. He went to check it out.

"Stay right there young man," the professor said in a loud voice that could have reached the furthest corners of a large lecture hall, easy, but grated on the ears in this tranquil place.

The gait of the professor slowed, even as the cop kept coming, accelerating past his companion as if to prevent an escape.

Their reaction amused him, but John ignored them, one of the perks of having just graduated. The teachers no longer wielded any real power to punish or reward or command the allegiance of his mind, not unless he allowed it.

The front pew had fine pine construction and a smooth lacquered finish. It framed what lay on the seat, some kind of wrist device. He picked it up, then held it high so the cop could know he had no intention of trying to escape. John slipped the black leather strap over his wrist. It fit around the base of his hand just so.

"If you do that again you’ll spend the night in jail," the professor said.

John wanted to study the odd dials and hands on the weird watch, but he had to deal with the situation, and show respect. "Not tonight, I guess."

"We were all very amused," the professor said.

The cop looked singularly unamused.

"Are you staying for Hell Week?" the professor said.

"I don’t belong to a fraternity."

"Our insurance rates will probably skyrocket next year because of what you did."


"Do you have a job young man? I mean, did anyone consider you worth hiring?"

"It’s a tough economy. I’m a history major."

"You were a history major. Now you’re just unemployed and overeducated."

"Can I go?" John said.

"Good luck finding a job." The professor left.

The cop eyeballed John while the door shut. He wouldn’t get to arrest anyone, which he doubtless found disappointing, so now, what, was he trying to look intimidating? To make John feel like a perp? As if that would have the intended effect. Not a chance. John stood his ground, and rather enjoyed it when he saw the shoulders of the cop sag. At last the man gave up and left the building.

John stood alone in silence. He turned his wrist this way and that to get a better look at the weird new watch.

[A note from Jim: thanks for reading Liberty Islanders! The full book for "Deadline 70 AD" is available for FREE at I hope if you download it you’ll give me a review on Amazon. That’s not too much to ask is it?Thanks for joining the Liberty Island community! Let’s make it something great and profound.]