This was not the smartest way to die.U.S.A.F. Pararescue Jumper Manny PÉna grunted, tensed his muscles and tried again to flare the canopy on his parachute.No go.Panic blew through him like the gust of crisp October wind that had whipped him laterally through Refuge's early morning sky moments ago, causing part of his chute to collapse.Manny swallowed. Must keep his head or this could end badly. He glanced at the ground.Still slamming up to meet him. Fast. Way too fast.It could end badly anyway.He pulled one steer cord, then the other. Ropes dug into his gloved hands, burning his palms. Something definitely didn't feel right. Manny tilted his head to peer at the underside of his canopy. Still one-third collapsed.Not. Good.Two lines had twisted near the top and he'd made the cardinal mistake of giving his knife to one of the students. Jumping without it was something he'd never done.Except today.The one jump he deviated from procedure, and now there was no way to cut away his main chute. Manny pulled the rip cord on the emergency reserve parachute. It bubbled open, but caught on his main chute, the worst possible scenario.No ifs, ands or buts about it.He was crashing.A thousand yards from earth, wicked wind had blown him one way and his chute the other, winding them like a kid on a swing.Manny brought his legs up. The upward thrust of air flapped loose material on his camo-clad arms and legs in rapid, violent clips. Manny kicked off the heavy field kit strapped to his thighs. It tumbled into the roaring Southern Illinois sky.The position change and lightened load didn't straighten out his malfunctioning chute. Manny continued to fall through howling air at a dangerous pace. He flicked another glance to the ominous earth. His pulse spiked.Treetops were about five hundred yards down. If he could veer sideways away from them, he may have a better chance. He steered left. His team had to be wigging out. By now they'd know as well as he did it was too late to right himself enough to slow down for a safe landing. He fought hard to steer the wayward chute.Three hundred yards. He tuned out fear-filled screams from skydiving patrons and directive shouts from his team that originated from both ground and air.One hundred yards. He wished they didn't have to see this, hoped they'd close their eyes before he impacted.Fifty yards.Twenty. Manny clenched his eyes as the drop zone screamed up. Maybe he'd clear the trees after all.A violent jerk informed him otherwise. He arced downward toward a tall spruce. Gravity thrust him forward, head down. Fear gnawed him like the wood, splintering his calm. He sprang both arms up to protect his head.Lot of good that would do if he broke his neck.He blurred through a downward vortex of browns and greens. Cracking and popping sounds ricocheted around him. Frenzied shrieks came from everywhere. Pinecones pounded. Leaves slapped. Fresh sap and pine smells hit him with nausea the same time a metallic taste entered his mouth.If he was about to die, he hoped he'd go quick, 'cause it sure wasn't painless.A deafening thud and white-hot pain snatched his hearing and vision.Darkness cloaked Manny. His mind fumbled with rational thought. Peace enclosed him and whispered through this chaos that at least he was no longer on the outs with God.And I didn't even tell them. Sorry. Give me 'nother chance.* * *"BP, ninety over fifty, and he's responsive to pain."Nope. Not dead. Dead people didn't hurt like this. Manny groaned. More pain. A poke like a mad hornet sting, then burning in his forearm. He tried to pull his arm free. Hands tightened around his wrist."Manny, don't move," came from a soothing yet concerned voice. Team leader, Joel Montgomery. Manny then realized the pinprick had been Joel starting an intravenous infusion. A stream of deep cold traveled up his arm.As more sensations returned, he realized the harWyatt, Cheryl is the author of 'Soldier's Family', published 2008 under ISBN 9780373813520 and ISBN 037381352X.