The Great Journey: Chapter 3

3 Flight School

I had always been blessed with a lot of freedom in my life. My parents let me spend many hours outdoors on my own. I had plenty of time to ride my bike around town, climb trees, and build forts with scrap lumber. Now, with this recent project, they were mostly unaware of what I was doing but they began to question why they didn’t see me around the yard very much. I started hiding my bike in bushes and other places so that they would think I was riding around town, but I knew sooner or later they would figure something was up. I pressed on with greater abandon trying to get this outrageous project completed as fast as I could. Something told me that there were deadlines that had to be met. Occasionally, when it seemed like I might be falling behind, some of the work would be done for me. I would get to the machine and find that a whole new system had been installed while I was away. Of course, I knew I was not alone in this anyhow. The parts I needed were always there. The tools and knowledge arrived at just the right time. I began to wonder if I wasn’t part of some experiment in which subliminal messages were being poured into my brain while I slept. I became suspicious of my old Teddy Bear I had kept in my bed since I was a baby. I stuffed him away in the closet in case he was a secret spy or tape machine that spoke into my ears. I guess at ten years old, I was just naïve enough – and yet wise enough – to be the perfect canvass for the creativity of others. I was curious and wanted to see this project through to the end. I was obsessive enough to want to work hard. I was used to being told what to do and so it didn’t seem crazy to have these expectations placed upon me. Yes, it seemed like someone was using me as cheap labour, but I liked it. It was just a hobby, and someone was giving me the greatest set of Meccano anyone could ever imagine, and I liked what I was learning.

The construction of the saucer, machine, craft, flying machineI was running out of ideas of what to call this thing – was progressing rapidly. The prefab nature of many modules made it come together quickly with a minimum of skill on my part. I realized I had not had to pick up a welder in several days and that the ship, as I decided to call it, was nearing completion.

About this time, things began to change at home. First, I noticed that my dad was around home a lot more than he had been for a while. Previously, there had barely been time for sleep and his weekends were mostly filled with extra work. Sunday mornings was about the only time he didn’t work. Now he was sometimes at home in the middle of the day. He began to move slower and looked paler. Mom seemed worried and irritable as if she knew something more. I remember the day it became clear; he was obviously sick. Cancer! It had to be cancer. Immediately I noticed the progression of the cancer. Each day there was a new thing. Long strands of hair left behind at his place mat at the table, Dad sleeping in the spare room some nights, evidence that he had not slept all night, the TV on at odd hours of the day and night. Clearly this was some form of rapidly advancing cancer. This could not be good.

Still my work went on. One day I went out to find my hole in the hedge and it wasn’t there. I searched every corner of the yard and every face of the hedge. No hole! How could this be? I had not experienced this before. Oh sure, there had been days when there was no hole to be seen but those were days when I wasn’t available to work on the ship anyway. Today was different. I was ready to get on with it and I sensed that the rainy season of winter was coming. I needed to get over there and make sure all systems were A-OK! Why could I not get to my work? Who was responsible for this slow-down? Three days later I found a place to get through the hedge. I noticed a new smell in the air. It was as if the world on that side of the hedge had been burnt. It was a salty, charred smell that spoke of burnt lumber or acid poured over an oak barrel. The cone of the rocket vent looked slightly blackened, and I realized that there must have been a test firing of the rocket. I checked the pressure levels on all the tanks but saw that everything had been topped up after the burn.

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