Let’s do a story about love. About the coldest war we’ve ever seen and how its outcome changed the world forever. First a little bit about the author. My father was a failed novelist who spent the majority of his days sitting at home behind a plate of mash and the television. Mother was actually a deceptively successful recording artist. She spent her days at the studio toiling away on tracks for musicians from all across the country; always hated discussing her work, the result of either humbling modesty or worn out vocal cords. We lived in a house too big to keep clean, just outside the city of HAM. Though not quite fully submerged in suburbia, it was still an ordeal to get anywhere notable to me as a little one. I began skipping out of school far too young, spending days on end with my good friend Louie Feppo who lived with his mother on the town’s endearingly run-down military base. Under the mother’s disapproving eye Louie and I would rummage through old photos and piece together blueprints. We read accounts from journals and war logs and played out the fantastic fantasies scurrying about the vast empty hanger. There were too many things in those logs we didn’t understand, things nobody could hope to understand at that point. Didn’t care. Later on, we would bring girls over and hook up in the cockpits of dismantled bombers. Some nights, kids from the city would bring their trucks, bottles, red cups onto the landing strip where we would turn on the flood lights and dance and boogie till sunrise. When they played top chart records, I could hear my mother’s voice behind the rest of the clatter and felt funny in my gut.
I moved far away from HAM at age nineteen, went to live on the farm with my uncle and his lover Dean. They had gotten too old to tend to their small orange field so they contacted my father and asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to send some help over. At that point father was too apathetic and had gained too much weight to be in any position to lend a hand himself, so he had the smart idea of plucking me out of school and sending my hand along to lend his poor brother. The TV’s had been flooded with some strange new programming in those months before I left, I remember all the kids were feeling how I was feeling. We wanted to get out of wherever we were; the farm would be a welcome change of scene. After what must have been around two weeks of intense farm work I was full of regret and my brain was all spent and my legs were near busted and the sickles had all rusted. Uncle and Dean were very considerate, for they seemed to have already accepted their own fate. The Arnold family farm gobbled up what was left of their orange stock and snatched up their land a heartbeat after they stopped showing up to marketplace. Seeing as that farm was just about everything Uncle and Dean had aside from each other, it starts to make some sense that the day after Arnold’s acquisition they decided to stick a pair of shotguns up their mouths. I was sick to my stomach over the whole ordeal and decided I wasn’t in any mindstate to go home; and, as much as I had started to miss Ma and Pa and Louie, the thing I missed most was dreaming about those airplanes flying. Louie’s old lady gave Yellow Hand Base up for demolition (From the good old grapevine I’ve heard it’s been since converted into an art gallery or something like that) and lastly I didn’t even know what HAM would be like if I came back around. It had been two years. Looking back doesn’t seem like a whole lot considering the hell I’ve gone through since; but to a young boy, two years reaping snatched away with no rewards felt like the worst fate a man could be given. I took what I could from Uncle and Dean’s place and slipped out quietly before anyone from Arnold’s found the place. Set out on a road that I thought would take me to NED Yolk but instead ended up about a hundred miles south in the city of Hillderbrandt. I had grown out a beard by the time I got into town, hated to look like that upon first contact. The morning coming into Hills was the first time I had seen a human who wasn’t looking over the wheel of a tin can in god knows how long. I could feel the age on my skin, and knew that things would be different when I struck real land. I just never imagined how different.
During my year on the streets and gutters of Hillderbrandt, I always dreamed of death. I dreamed about slipping away unnoticed by the masses, miles away from family, years away from loved ones. I was blending in with the dimness death even in harsh daylight. I wouldn’t have even put it past pedestrians to simply ignore my passing. My body would have most likely just been viewed as an accessory to the filthy back alleys; the working men and women need not even look. I dreamed these hilariously horrible dreams on the daily. But I never once dreamed that I, this lowly trash of a man, would be blessed by audience with the queen. It was at the point that my career as a vagrant had reached its nadir that I was contacted for to inform me of my visit with the queen in three months.
I hesitate to refer to those next three months as “short months” because we all know that a month is a month and no matter of eagerness or joyfulness can change the cycle of the moon. But I tell you, those months certainly sped by. Nearly the day after the Red Man attendant had shaken some sense into me on the roadside, I dreamed of something different. Even though I still lay in the dirt and shivered as the winter’s harsh jaw bite away at me, my dreams were no longer plagued. I had one particularly pleasant one that recurred quite often. It goes as such:
A soccer field near an old girlfriend’s house. Louie and I would often smoke a cigarette each and sip our sodas while we watched the older kids train for their tournaments or whatnot. The field’s once stadium-grade lights had all puttered out and so kids would climb atop the poles in admittedly dangerous displays of their acrobatic prowess. They would fill the burned out bulbs with bottles of homemade glowing jelly and leave them up there for maybe a week or so, just until they faded out and the ritual repeated itself. No parents were ever surprised when the headlines at breakfast told of local children turned into splats on the ground after attempting to better illuminate their drunken football matches. Eventually they weren’t even honored with headlines, just shoved to the third or fourth page inserts above the bicycle ads. Anyway, in the dream at hand, there were no children plummeting from those towering lampposts. In fact I was alone with Louie, and the field was only lit by moons. There were more trees than usual, and it was quieter than usual, and the buildings were bigger than usual, Louie dressed the usual. He looked very sexy in moonlight, and we were both cold and he wore a scarf and there was a creek that had started to crackle a ways away from the pitch. All of a sudden there was an airliner with a red tail landed in the midfield. It looked at once like it had been ripped from the black and white photos we always poured through, as well as from an image of childhood. Reminded me of the plane with the red tail that my father often described when recounting the fable of Home Sweet. I don’t know if the tail was his own added detail or part of history or part of myth or what. Louie and I climbed in through a series of complex hatches, we spent ages fumbling around under the belly looking for the right dos and don’ts. It was still dark but we both grinned gleefully. The interior, though dusted with healthy a coat of dust, kicked around with some hard kicking boots, still riled me up inside. I ran my hands along the torn stretches of velvet on the seats, and I didn’t care that this creature was a relic. It was romantic.
Louie had managed to pry open the door to the cockpit, colored lights were flipping and flopping around gaily under their own coat of dust. It was still too dim to make out any labels. I pulled a flashlight out of my opposite hand and batteries out of somewhere else. There was a spurt and a sputter, then a warm and gooey stream of golden gold poured out across the control panel. Louie was fascinated by all this stuff, and I was fascinated by him. He pulled out an instruction manual from some sort of glove box and collapsed into the captain’s chair. I sat in the seat behind him and adjusted my seat so we were level with each other. There was a green captain’s hat in my lap and, after a once over to get rid of the dusty film, I slapped that old thing onto Louie’s head. He ignored his head, eyes locked on the diagrams. I wandered back into the main cabin, took off my muddy boots and straightened my socks. The black cotton worked wonders on the cherry wood floorboards. I slide up and down the aisle, propelling myself along with the springy spring seat backs. I was maybe ten years old. Some five minutes had passed and I was still lost in my sliding, I had gotten a really good one going too. All the way from the back of the cabin, around the galley, to the main passenger seating area. I felt like an ice skater as I swerved and spun and then I stopped. By the time I had flung myself halfway up the fuselage, time had stopped and I was still. I whipped my head around to see what was the matter and my eyes were caught by the window to my left. I scurried into the seat closest to it and stared out. The moonlit field was rotating before my eyes. I felt it in my stomach and I thought I was going to be sick. I felt in my head and then my ears and I thought I was going brain explode myself. When I pried them open a moment later the field was gone and I could see moons ten times brighter, I could see clouds and birds and even bigger pelicans flying in place. Flying with us. I rolled out of my seat, wracked with astonishment, and sprinted into the captain’s cabin. Louie turned to me and beamed. I followed his finger, pointing straight ahead, and fainted. We were in clouds together.