My entry for the flash fiction contest over at http://beatbox32.wordpress.com!
Did we learn nothing from Icarus? Was his death for naught? Have we become so bold in our invention that we think ourselves more capable than nature?
The sky is for the birds.
The economic collapse of the olden days made tourism an archaism. As gas supplies dwindled, flights became scarce. Even those with the money to afford flights couldn’t book them. People only moved to find food. The days of adventure were replaced with the days of survival.
The global airline industry inevitably collapsed. The infrastructure fell to ruin; once bustling airports became open-air graveyards for rusting metal behemoths. Several resourceful tycoons attempted to keep a small, elite fleet in serviceable order, but soon found the cost too prohibitive and the attention from marauders too dangerous.
My son was born in a converted hanger. He is smart and strong, and has quickly learned what it takes to survive in the wasteland. His eyesight is sharp, and he is often looking upward.
He has seen the magazines – Skymall, Plane and Pilot, Aviation Weekly – and asks many questions. His life is in the ruins of something he can never truly know, which both fascinates and frustrates his growing mind.
I have shown him the vast instrument panels, the food service trays, the massive piles of discarded seats, removed to make homes in abandoned fuselages. The more he sees, the more his obsession grows. I wish I could contain it, but he is surrounded by the artifacts of our days in the air. It would be like trying to keep a fish from getting wet.
I know that he will never fly. I learned of the downfall of aviation through my father, who learned from his. Man still has the knowledge of lift, thrust, and drag, but lacks the raw materials to rebuild working airplanes. Some have been cannibalized into homes or bunkers, others are completely beyond repair.
To keep him grounded and focused on survival, I have told this to him. His youthful fancy denies my logic, which is to be expected of a boy so young. I tell him that there is nothing wrong with studying, but to not be as brazen as to assume he will one day join the geese that pass over our airstrip. To fly now is dangerous, and his attention needs to be on protecting himself and his mother.
He has never seemed happy being stuck on the ground.
I woke to find my wife shaking me, her eyes filled with worry. “He is gone!” she screams, unable to do more than point at an empty cot where my son should be.
He came home late, talking of some lights he’d seen high above the trees on the south side of the airstrip. He has lived through five or six marauder attacks and knew better than to explore alone. He asked if we could find the place tomorrow, and I had denied him.
I knew his imagination had overwhelmed his reason. I knew he thought they were real planes, and he had to go see them. Admittedly, I did not know what the lights were. Mystery rarely leads to anything safe.
I loaded my rifle and rushed towards the lights which were clearly visible, even from some distance. Several other people had come out to look, some preparing to lock down their homes in case of attack. I focused on the rhythmic pattern of the lights. They moved in a circle, as if some great storm had captured several streetlights in its fury.
I slowed my pace as I reached the tree line. I could see smaller lights, dotting the forest floor. I could hear talking and laughing. It sounded like dozens, if not hundreds of people. I cocked the bolt on my rifle as quietly as possible.
With my back to a tree, I started to make out what was being said. These people were speaking a language I was unfamiliar with. Dozens of colorful lights played and flashed on various large machines. An odd kind of music boomed from a small caravan. If these people were enemies, they came in odd fashion.
Lying prone, I used the scope of my rifle to get a better look. I panned the crowd; their faces were different, skin tones lighter, hair sunshine yellow. They seemed to be celebrating something. My crosshair finally came to rest on a huge metal machine in the middle of the clearing. At the top of it, sixteen lights spun in a circle, suspended by thin lengths of wire.
Then I saw him. My son was on this machine, climbing the extreme height towards roof of the contraption. The other people had not seen him. I could do little else but watch and pray.
As I sat enthralled, the sun broke over the horizon, flooding the area in a diffused half-light. I could make out what was at the end of the wires; tiny little plastic airplanes. My son had his eyes fixated on them; he could not see, or did not want to admit, that they were not real.
Through my scope, I watched as he jumped from the top of the tower, arms stretched out to his sides. I never saw him hit the ground. All I remember is his face.
Eyes closed, smile wide, the rays of the early sun behind him like two angelic wings.