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A short story with long ambitions. 

Tom Williams tossed and turned in his bed. The hot sultry weather didn't help much in his inability to sleep and he knew he needed to be sharp for the morning. This was the big day that he and his pal Sam had been working towards for some time now. This day had seemed to take for ever to come around. The space ship they had been working on was now almost ready and the weather, though too hot to sleep comfortably, would be perfect for take off.

He glanced at the bedside table clock to observe that it was 6.13 am and he was to be meeting up with Sam at 7.00, so he crawled wearily out of bed. After a quick brush of his teeth he dressed and made his way downstairs. It was Sunday and the rest of the family were asleep.

A bowl of cereal and milk later and he was on his way through the front door with a back-pack full of essentials for the planned trip. Peanut butter sandwiches, two packets of potato chips, an apple, a can of Coke, a bottle of water and the rest of the rockets that he had saved from 5th November celebration bonfire.

Thus kitted out, he made his way through the estate to Sam's house. Sam had risen early and could be seen playing keepy-uppy with a football outside his garden gate as Tom rounded the corner."Hi Tom, what kept ya?" he called, as he deftly headed the ball into his garden."I'm not late, am I?"

"Naar."Sam picked up his back-pack and both boys set off to the 'launch site' down by the town dump. To call it "the town dump" may be exaggerating a little for it was just an area of waste ground in the middle of some straggly trees that local and not so local folk used for fly tipping their rubbish, but to Tom and Sam and some of the other kids it was nothing short of Paradise.

"Have you got everything?" asked Tom."Yeah, I think so."

They reached the gate of old Mr Granger's farmstead and climbed over it. This was a shortcut through the field to the woods.

"You remember to bring the duck tape?" Tom asked.

"Yeah. Did you manage to get the rest of those rockets?" Sam enquired in turn.

"Could only manage another four but with those we've got stashed that should be plenty."

They'd only gone a few yards when Tom patted his pockets, stopped and patted them again."Hang about. I think I've forgotten the matches," he said. "Bugger! I've left 'em on the table!"

Sam heard this and without stopping called back, "'Sorl right, I've got mi dad's lighter."

Tom breathed a sigh of relief and put a little spurt on to catch up with his friend. The sun had climbed noticeably higher into the blue of the early morning summer sky and it danced and sparkled off the dew filled spider webs in the hedgerow. High above them wheeled a dozen birds. Swifts or martins, thought Tom, abstractedly. Another ten minutes or so walking brought them to their launch site. Sam went straight up to an unruly pile of broken branches and assorted rubbish and began pulling it apart.

"It's still here," he said. "Nobody's touched it."

After taking off their back-packs, both boys together cleared the camouflage from around their space ship. They just dragged the stuff clear so's they could work on it. It soon stood there exposed on four neatly stacked pillars of building bricks, one stack at each corner. The ship, standing about four foot off the ground, gleamed brilliant white in the morning sun.

"Better get the rest of the rockets out and get them fixed," called Tom, "while you fix the nose cone."

He pulled on the flush fitting access handle and the hatch door swung smoothly out and open. He pushed his head and shoulders through the aperture and passed out to Sam the rest of the stick-less rockets hidden under a sponge cushion and plastic sheet. They had reckoned that the rockets would be just as efficient without their sticks and the weight saved might prove crucial.

"How many altogether," asked Sam.

"We have a dozen," answered Tom. "That means we can put two on each corner and one in the middle of each side."

"At the bottom?" Queried Sam.

"Of course at the bottom. If we put 'em any higher we might melt the outer casing!"

After Sam had finished attaching the hardboard nose cone, they both set about fastening the rockets to the sides of the space ship with the duct tape.

"Is this stuff heat-proof?" asked Sam. "We don't want the rockets falling off until we've gone high enough above gravity."

"I'm sure it'll last throughout the main burn," answered Tom. "We have tested these rockets and they go miles high in only a few seconds and I've tested the duck tape on the gas stove and it took almost half a minute to burn. It stinked a bit but it should give us plenty of time."

Sam nodded his agreement at Tom's superior logic. He'd not let him down much in the past.After another 15 minutes or so struggling with the big roll of sticky duct tape and the rockets, they had managed to get them all pointing roughly in the right direction. Tom made one last inspection by twisting each of them individually and adding duct tape to any that appeared suspect. Satisfied, he stepped back and admired their work.

They looked at each other and smiled. "It looks great!" enthused Sam.

"It is great," agreed Tom. "But we have a problem, Houston."

"What?" said Sam. "A problem? What problem?"

"Well. The way I see it," explained Tom, "there's no way we can both get in the ship. There's hardly room for the both of us, for one thing, and we won't be able to light ALL the fuses and then jump in AND how are we going to close the door from the inside!!??"

Sam's jaw dropped open."Look, there's no handle inside!"

"I never thought of that," Sam said. "Are we going to toss for who goes up and who locks the door and lights the rockets, then?"

"It looks like it. Unless you want to volunteer to be the first boy in space," Tom suggested, helpfully. "I don't mind." 

Sam thought about this for a minute or so.

"OK. I've thought about it and, because most of the rockets are from your house, I'm willing to let you have first flight. Agreed?"

"Agreed," agreed Tom, with a little more haste than he cared for. But he HAD made the decision so there was no backing out now. So they shook hands on the deal.

Sam gave his task of lighting the rockets a lot of thought. Tom helped him, too. They decided that they should make TWO tapers just in case one went out while Sam was lighting the blue touchpapers. They achieved this by getting two thin twigs and tying strips of tissue paper - that Sam's sandwiches had been wrapped in - around the twigs.Sam stood with both tapers in his left hand, ready to put gas lighter in the other when Tom was safely aboard. Tom approached the hatch door, opened it wide and climbed in headfirst. They had taken precautions to cover any protruding objects inside the ship with more foam sponge that they had salvaged from an old easy chair that had been left on the dump. It was a bit of a struggle to squirm the rest of his body and legs in but Sam helped in this by giving his bum a shove with his foot.

"Ouch! Steady on!" yelled Tom.

"Well you had a bit sticking out and I can't shut the hatch door with any of you sticking out!" yelled Sam.

"Well, go steady!" moaned Tom from the hollow depths of the space ship.

"I'm now about to close the hatch," announced Sam, solemnly, laying down the tapers and pocketing the lighter. Sam closed the hatch door with a soft click. Tom's face now appeared at the hatch window. He grinned and stuck his thumbs up.Sam took up the lighter and flicked it.... nothing. He flicked it again.... nothing. He heard a knocking on the hatch cover and saw Tom gesticulating. Sam opened the hatch.

"What's up?" asked Sam.

"What do you mean what's up? It's you what's up! Have you tried turning the gas up on that lighter?"

Sam studied the lighter."Aaah! This thing here?""Yes that thing there. Turn it up and let's get this thing moving,"Sam closed the hatch door again, stood back and flicked the lighter. It burst into a tall orange flame that almost took his eyebrows off.

"Fuuuuucccckkkkkk!" The lighter went out again as he scrambled around looking for the tapers. He found them and held them up to lighter. He also held the lighter further away from his eyebrows as he flicked the flint. Another two feet of searing orange flame shot from the little Bic and he soon had the tapers alight.

Both tapers blazing, he set to work dabbing the ends of the rocket fuses alight while at the same time counting down from twelve.
"Eleven!" There were a dozen to light and he'd just about managed half of 'em "Six!" when the first one went whoooooooosh!!! and he almost jumped out of his skin. Then another whoooooshed!!! but he'd got his nerve back now and carried on desperately trying to light the other rocket fuses between whooooooooshes and pops and bangs as the fireworks went through their routines. It came to a point where Sam couldn't see for smoke and flames and the noise was reaching crescendo. He eventually had to give up and stand back.

After what seemed a whole lifetime, but may have only been half of one, the noises died down, the bangs ceased to bang and the smoke began to clear from around the space ship. But not from the surrounding area which was now ablaze as the brush wood caught fire igniting the rest of the rubbish strewn area.Above this mayhem, Sam detected knocking and went around to the side of the ship with the hatch. He could see hands banging on the plastiglass but nothing else behind the glass. He fumbled around in the smoke for the catch and quickly opened the hot hatch. Smoke poured out of the ship as Tom tumbled desperately out and fell to the ground in a choking heap,  at the same time upsetting the ship and it toppled over onto its side with a crash.

Sam helped his pal away from the now burning Zanussi washing machine and they studied the blazing inferno from a safe distance.

"Cripes!" Called Sam. "That was close!"

"Close, yes," agreed Tom. "But did we achieve lift at all?" 

Anthony W. Allsop 17-04-2009  


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