A Boy’s First Flight
by: Chris Wagner
The sudden invasion of sunlight burned my eyes, but oversleeping had made me late enough already. Ignoring my growling stomach I tore across our field and garden to the horse path that crossed my pa's cabin. I cut through the forest that surrounded our property taking something that looked a little like a trail in the making.
After running a good spell I decided to take a short break.
I stretched out my suspenders and let my breathing slow. The smell of cedar was strong in the air.
CLANK CLANK CLANK The sound of large metal pieces clanking together repeatedly echoed in my ear.
"Dag namit! Mr. Wilson started without me."
I took off running harder than I had been before. That clanking made me feel like our animals when ma started banging a pot to let them know it was feeding time. I had to get to the banging.
Finally, I reached the last hill, big, steep, and grassy. The morning dew made it a slippery climb, but every day when I reached this hill my eyes lit up. Enthusiasm pushed me up the hill. At the top I looked down the other side and saw Mr. Wilson, several wood sticks all smooth and round of various lengths, sheets of a paper like material Mr. Wilson had developed (in an experiment I had been unable to tear or punch a hole in this paper.), and Mr. Wilson's toolbox, which I knew contained all sorts of weird gadgets and things.
* * *
Mr. Wilson was an old professor. He told me once he had been fired from the local college for being too eccentric, at least I think that's the word. Anyways, Mr. Wilson is an inventor now, and I'm his assistant. Mr. Wilson was cutting that paper like fabric with special scissors he made.
I took off running towards him, shouting. "You're making the wings."
Something to glide through the air and a surprise was our project at the time.
When I reached Mr. Wilson, he glanced up at me stroking his long beard. "Hello, Albert,"
He then went back to work. He measured and pondered from all sorts of angles. I jumped around from place to place, so I could keep a good view. My heart had not stopped beating like crazy from the excitement. Pa would've made 'an ants in my pants,' comment and told me to settle down, but Mr. Wilson seemed to feed off my energy. The running and jumping eventually started to wear me down, and boredom spread throughout my muscles, weighing them down.
"Grab six toothpicks from my toolbox," Mr. Wilson ordered.
"Did you say something, sir?" I asked.
"Yes boy, yes! The design is in my head hurry before it escapes" Mr. Wilson's arms gestured frantically.
I rushed and got the toothpicks. Do not waste time was Mr. Wilson's number one rule. 'Wasted time is wasted inspiration' was his favorite quote.
He cut the paper like material into two lop-sided triangles, each no bigger than my palms. He then used the toothpicks to make frames for the triangles. I was back to my excited ways. When Mr. Wilson attached the wings to a small box, my insides started to tingle with anticipation.
We climbed to the top of the hill I had come over earlier, and Mr. Wilson tossed the winged box into the air. It floated down to the ground and stayed straight like a bird in flight. I strained my neck following the floating contraption to the ground. When it tapped the ground, I turned to Mr. Wilson with a smile so big I felt it stretching my face. The smile dropped at the sight of Mr. Wilson. He was kneeling. His head hung, shaking.
"Looks like I've got a lot of work to do," said the inventor.
“I thought it went pretty good."
Mr. Wilson turned his head and stared at me through the corner of his eye. "Pretty good? Did you not see how hard the device hit?"
Mr. Wilson stood up and looked at me.
"At least it didn't break." I slipped my hands in my pockets and scuffed my foot along the ground.
Mr. Wilson raised his arms over his head. "If you consider the velocity at which the item hit and adjust for scale, if the item would have been at full size and mass, it would have shattered into a hundred pieces." As he said pieces, Mr. Wilson’s arms flung down.
With his flailing arms and wild expressions, it was hard not to laugh, but I held it inside. He was serious, and I did not want to be rude.
Designing, building, and testing filled the rest of the week. We worked on those wings and the cabin over and over. When one design would float down and land as soft as Mr. Wilson wanted, we would increase the size and weight of everything.
The work got harder with everything getting bigger and heavier, but each successful glider was exciting in its own way.
The last day of the week finally came and when I was walking away Mr. Wilson let me know after the weekend he would have the surprise ready.
* * *
That night, when my chores were finished, I was still up in the clouds with my dreams as I prodded to the house for some rest.
When I reached the front door my pa called out to me. "Albert, come to the barn."
The barn was the place pa called me for important talks, bad news, and punishments. When I was called to the barn without knowing why, fear, nervous, and worry churned in my gut.
"Pa?" I called out as I stepped through the barn doors.
"Over here, son." My pa was leaning against a wall near a pile of straw.
I approached him cautiously. The pipe he smoked and the fact he didn't yell at me to hurry up made me think I wasn't in trouble.
"Yes sir?" I asked when I got to him.
Pa stretched the straps of his overalls. This was something he did when he was thinking.
"Son, I know you like working with Mr. Wilson, but we got the spring planting coming up. Your chores are already getting done late. I'm afraid you can't work with him any more."
I wanted to tell him no, but I couldn't go against pa's wishes.
"But pa, we're almost finished. Can't I please stay on just a little longer?"
"Sorry, son. I'll tell him, at church Sunday, I need you here on the farm."
That last statement was said I pa's 'that's final voice, but I had to see what the big surprise Mr. Wilson had promised me. I hung my head and faked a little pout.
“Can I ask you one more thing, pa?”
“Since I won’t get a chance for awhile, can I go fishing tomorrow?”
My pa was pretty tough on me at times, but he was always fair.
“Why sure boy, I just might come with ya.”
“I’d just like to be alone with my thoughts this time. If that’s ok with you, Pa.”
“Well Ok, I understand.”
Pa walked away after that. My heart hurt from deceiving him. I had not intentions of going fishing. In my head, I figured that wasn’t a lie. There had been no actual mention of where anybody was going, but if liars go to hell, I sure was standing on the shores of the lake of fire.
* * *
Guilt, curiosity, and excitement kept me anxious and awake till dawn. When our rooster crowed, I was out of my bed like it was on fire, and I did my chores faster than ever before. Pa and ma were just getting up, when I was heading out the door with my fishing pole. Ma’s face nearly hit the floor, when I turned down breakfast.
Once out of sight, I hid my pole in some bushes and headed to Mr. Wilson’s house. The sounds of his shop let me know he was hard at work before I got there. His shop (as he called it) was basically a large barn that had all of Mr. Wilson’s inventions and stuff. If I tried to explain all that was in there, a person who had not seen it would think I was making it up. He had all sorts of things that seemed to move all by themselves. These things went up and down, side to side, around and around.
When I got to the door, I walked inside. Mr. Wilson was at a table wearing some sort of helmet and appeared to be hard at work.
“Hi,” I said a little nervously.
Mr. Wilson stopped immediately and turned back toward me. He looked confused for a moment, but that look was quickly replaced with a pleasant one.
“Hello my boy, what brings you to the shop this early in the morning?”
“My pa says I got to quit helping you because it’s the planting season, and he needs me. And well, I really wanted to see the surprise you had for me.”
“That’s what will make you go far my boy, your insatiable curiosity. Unfortunately, I may not be able to get you your surprise. It seems I have hit a snag. Come here. I’ll show you.”
We walked to the back of the shop. There in front of me was the wings Mr. Wilson had designed hanging several feet off the ground from very thin ropes. The wings were bigger than I had seen them on the hill. Between the wings was a box filled with what looked like metal flowers all touching each other. Mr. Wilson called these metal flowers gears. These gears were surrounded by what looked like a very long thing belt that led out to each wing. Mr. Wilson switched some lever and the gears started to turn. It looked like one turning gear made the others turn the way they were touching each other. This made the belts start to move. The belts made the wings start to move up and down. My mouth and my eyes went as wide as they ever have before, but when I looked at Mr. Wilson to see if he shared my excitement, he was shaking his head in disappointment.
“What’s wrong? It looked like it worked to me.” I asked.
It works perfectly. Except, I can’t get the damn wings synchronized, and that is the most important part.”
I looked at the wings again and they were still moving up and down. They looked sorta like bird wings flapping in the air, but they were not together like bird wings. I thought about what to say or how to help, but my mind was filled with nothing but blankness.
“No matter how many adjustments I make to this machine, I just can’t get it right.” Mr. Wilson said.
Then an idea hit me. I rushed over to one of Mr. Wilson’s tool boxes and started getting out several gears and a couple belts.
“What are you doing, boy?” he asked me.
“I can’t stop now. You always say idleness wastes inspiration. I got an idea.”
Mr. Wilson watched as I brought everything over to him.
“What we need is another box thing like the one you got controlling both wings. If you got one box for each wing then just start them both at the same time. The wings should work together, and if you want them to work separate, just slow down or speed up each wing as you need.” I explained excitedly.
Mr. Wilson leaned forward and shook his head. I filled with disappointment and tried to figure out what was wrong with my plan. Then Mr. Wilson grabbed me and hugged me tight.
“My boy, you are a genius. I cannot believe I did not think of that.”
Like a whirlwind, Mr. Wilson went to work. He took apart the first box and made two smaller boxes just like it. I watched and helped out where needed. Pretty soon both wings had their own little box attached to them.
“Well boy, I think we need to give this a try.”
This was the first time I remembered hearing a little nervousness in Mr. Wilson’s voice. I stood back a few steps not wanting to get in the way of the test.
“I’m waiting boy,” Mr. Wilson said to me. “It was your idea. Don’t you think you should be part of the test?”
“I walked over to one of the boxes and looked over at Mr. Wilson. He looked over and nodded for me to take the lever of my box. We both had lever in hand. I know mine was getting wet from the sweat of my palm.
“Ok boy, when I say three, we both switch our levers.”
We switched our levers at the same time, and the wings started to flap. This time they were perfectly together just like bird wings. Mr. Wilson made some adjustment to the ropes and the wings started to rise slowly toward the ceiling. I wanted to shout with excitement, but Mr. Wilson shut off both boxes and went to grab a couple chairs.
“Come on boy! We may as well give this thing the real test. Help me get everything loaded.
We loaded up the wings and all their attachments along with the chairs in Mr. Wilson’s wagon. We both attached a couple of his horses, and we were soon on our way to the hill where all our hard work had been done.
* * *
At the hill, we got out everything and dragged it up to the top of the hill. I was following Mr. Wilson’s orders, but I was still having trouble believing what I thought we was about to do. Mr. Wilson attached the wings to the chairs so they hung laid out flat over them like a roof or canopy of some kind. The boxes for each wing hung in front of the chairs.
“Are you ready, boy?” Mr. Wilson asked.
I shook my head. I had never been so scared in all my life. “I don’t know, sir. What if it doesn’t work?”
Mr. Wilson clasped my shoulders with his hands. “Boy, why do you think we did all that work last week. “We put a lot more weight on these wings than the two of us. What happened to that weight?”
I thought for a moment. “It just glided down and landed softly on the ground.
“That’s right. Now, do you want to be the first boy to fly or not?”
I looked carefully at my empty chair, Mr. Wilson in his chair, and the wings. I was still very scared, but Mr. Wilson had said something very true earlier. I was a very curious person. I sat in my chair. Mr. Wilson grabbed the box for his wing, and I grabbed mine. He nodded at me, and I nodded back to him.
“One… Two… Three…”
We both switched our levers. The wings started to flap in perfect unison. We started to rise into the air. A tingle started in my finger tips the hill. The trees, everything around us started to get smaller and smaller. My nervousness and fear were soon replaced with excitement and the tingle spread through my body. Nerves kept my head from looking down too much, but slowly my gaze lowered. I could see the area we had worked, the local farms, and the entire town.
"That's my house," I shouted. "Do you see it, Mr. Wilson? "Do you see my house?"
"Yes boy, I see your house," Mr. Wilson said with the biggest smile I ever seen on his face.
We continued to look around. Each new thing I recognized added to my joy and excitement. I saw the lake I was supposed to be at fishing. The whole lake from shore to shore was visible, and I felt so small thinking of how I had swam in that lake.
Mr. Wilson would sometimes tell me to turn off my machine then turn it back on again. He would do the same with his, and this would make us turn this way and that way. If we wanted to go lower we would both turn off our machines and start to float back to Earth. To get back up, we just turned the machines back on. One time going up, we rose above some clouds. I never in all my life thought I would see the tops of clouds. They looked like I could jump out and walk on them.
I of course knew this would be folly to try, so I let out a great, "Yahoo!"
That was the only way to let out some excitement before I exploded.
I don’t know how long we stayed up in the air, but it felt like not long enough. Though it was hours. When it was time to land, we glided slowly to the ground and landed softly back on the hill. I got out my chair and leaped in the air letting out another joyous yell. The sun told me I had been gone way too long and probably had a whoopen coming when I got home, but I did not care this had been the best day of my life.
# # #
Author: Chris Wagner
Chris is a blue collar worker living in the Cleveland, Ohio area with a writer's heart. He has two kids in Ohio and a wonderful family in Oklahoma. His work has been published in Midwestern Literary Magazine.