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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories Moonbound
Tuesday, 29 May 2012 01:45

Moonbound

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About twelve years ago, a friend of mine gets it into his head that a Ferris wheel will catapult him to the moon. Remove a couple bolts, and whoosh! -- the centripetal force will toss you heavenward hard and fast enough to at least get you there. Which I suppose works if you spin the thing roughly a zillion times faster than it's built to go. The trip back, maybe not so easy, but... Kids sure do some crazy shit, don't they?
Hell, forget gravity. Forget oxygen.

Love will take care of everything.

Anyway, he has his eye on this girl. Probably you know this story already, maybe even been there yourself.

This friend, his name was Jacen, he starts going to my church every week for Sunday School. We spend most Saturday nights running around the neighborhood with toy guns, staying up late and watching old slasher flicks, then wake up the next morning pretending not to be bloodthirsty prepubescent savages.

At Sunday School, we're told that God is this all-encompassing cosmic force not unlike the one that gives Darth Vader his terrible power. Only, this God will forgive your wrongdoings to a point. Push him too far, though, and he'll drop you down into the fire.

You go out on Halloween, and opt to trick rather than treat, you'll burn forever. And you'll deserve it.

You do not hang out with people who will tell you this is bullshit.

If kids tell you they don't believe in God, you're not going to be their friend. Simple.

I think, well, that shouldn't really be too hard. Jacen and I once heard the term life insurance on television, and agreed that it must mean some kind of prepaid resurrection policy.

We hear about Christ the Son, the Savior, and how he rose from the dead, healthy as ever.

This Jesus dude, we figure he must have life insurance.

You buy into this, you don't ever have to worry about all the anxiety that haunts most children who realize they're just mortal animals with big brains.

Except Jacen doesn't give himself a chance to believe it. He's too grounded in the here-and-now, despite his disregard for such trivialities as physics and other foundational theories of the universe. Instead, he comes to church every Sunday to sit, starry-eyed and stupid, across from this girl named Elle.

We're discussing the wrongness of Job's insolence, of questioning God's justice, and Jacen's only thinking about how nice Elle's hair looks this morning. How her eyes glint like blue quartz when the sun enters the blinds a certain way.

He's wondering what this funny hair is growing in around his thing, he says, why he sometimes wants to chase Elle across the grass till she's too tired to stand and just press himself right on top of her after she collapses, out of breath. Why a kiss from this girl is suddenly more important than the fire burning hot beneath the earth. More important than gravity.

A kiss from her, he thinks, and he can die a happy ten-year-old boy.

So he tells me, "I'm going to do it, dude. I'm going to take her to the moon."

I tell him he's bat-shit crazy.

He says, "It's the only thing good enough that she'll kiss me."

Setting aside the impossibility of it all, I agree that it's definitely the only thing that could ever make a girl as pretty as Elle fall in love with a chubby, four-eyed nerd like Jacen. That he may as well give it a shot, if he thinks he has to try and make Elle his girlfriend.

Then once he makes a fool of himself, I figure, I can have a chance with her.

So the two of us head to the town's annual Prime Beef Festival together. This is the same county fair we've all been to at least a dozen times in our lives.

His face pressed against the tinted side window of his mom's minivan, Jacen glimpses the winking, scattered-firefly rainbow of a zillion buzzing carnival lights.

We eat a dinner comprised of corn dogs and fountain Cokes, ride the Wipeout a few times, do a once-through in the mirror maze, and then set about finding Elle. First we check the games, then the outskirts of the park, and finally the line outside the porta-potties.

She's nowhere.

I tell Jacen, "Maybe she went home already. It is getting late."

"Hell no," he says. "It's nine-thirty."

So we wander for another hour through the crowds, scanning the mud and the grass and the gravel. For any sign of her laugh, for the unmistakable gems of her eyes.

And then, in line at the Ferris wheel, there she is. Standing beside her is a girl neither of us has ever seen, but who is presumably her best friend. Elle is wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt, her golden hair tied back in a ponytail of modest perfection.

"I'm going to get in line," Jacen says, sounding mystified at his own newfound courage.

We both know this isn't like him; he's more the stand-back-and-be-silent sort. But tonight, he's bound for the moon. His faith in the notion has him by the balls, and I just shake my head in surrender.

"Go, then," I say. "Before she gets on."

He inches his way up behind them, looking obvious from where I'm standing. Elle turns, and says, "Hi, Jacen."

My eyes widen as I watch him, for the very first time, start to talk to her. From thirty yards away, I can almost see him shaking he's so nervous.

An empty gondola descends beside the tall, suntanned carny operating the wheel, and she and her friend step inside together.

Without Jacen.

He turns back, a pitiful look of defeat on his face, and then waits for the next gondola. After a moment, he boards the Ferris wheel alone, and with a hiss it starts up, slowly at first and then gaining speed.

Alone atop the world, I watch as my friend carefully unscrews one rusted bolt after another, no doubt with tears in his eyes at his monumental failure. The gondola lurches and groans, then emits an ear-splitting grinding noise when the second to last bolt falls loose.

Jacen waits for one more pass over the earth, his Nike tennis shoes dangling from the passenger car as inertia pulls at him, tossing him backward into the rocking capsule. Then, delicately, he yanks the final screw free and the wheel hurls him up into the sky.

I watch him disappear into the star-speckled blackness, his flailing form briefly silhouetted by the glow of the full moon, and grow distant to the point of vanishing.

My mouth hangs open as I wait for him to come soaring earthward. He never does.

After Elle gets off the Ferris wheel, she walks over to me and asks, "Have you seen Jacen?"

I say, "Yeah, he...took off. Wanted to take you with him, he said. Dunno where, but I don't think he's coming back."

"Too bad," she says, twisting her lips in disappointment. And suddenly her eyes are glossy, shining in the brilliant moonlight. "I was going to ask if he wanted to ride with me next."




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Last modified on Tuesday, 29 May 2012 01:50
Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a writer whose work has appeared in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Foundation, among other places. He lives in the small college town of Monmouth, Illinois, where he earned a B.A. in English, and was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest. Visit him online at www.alexkanefiction.com.

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