BLAST OFF • by Frederick Charles Melancon

When Dex was seven, his father tore up his rocket ship. The metal popped and his father cursed. With Dex’s face stinging from his father’s hand, the boy skidded across the ground. “We don’t have the money for this,” his father said. As the remains were thrown in the back of the truck that smoked and sometimes wouldn’t run, warm tears ran over the boy’s face. “It makes us look like white trash with all this junk in the yard,” his father said. Dex never got off the ground.


Mae would sit in boxes. The other children played in the street, and she would stay on the other side of her chain-linked fence peeking out of the cardboard staring at them. The problem with Mae was that she was too smart. Dex, now in his seventies, still lived in the first house he and his wife bought when they got married, and he’d seen a bunch of neighbors like her. It was always the same. It was never a clever or a cute kind of smart. It was a how-stupid-could-you-be-to-believe-that smart. The box didn’t help. Once Dex — not wanting to talk to her, but too close to pretend she didn’t exist — asked, “Why don’t you go play with those kids?”

“They’ll beat me up.”

“How do you know?”

The box rumbled as she turned toward the old man. “Past experience.”

He already knew, but he asked anyway. “Why did they do that?”

Her eyebrows scrunched and her mouth bunched on one side of her face. He’d seen her take all their bicycle seats after they’d thrown rocks at her box. “Because I’m not stupid. I’m sure you could go play with them.”

Of course, he could go play with them. After his kids moved out, his wife used to make cookies for every adolescent that ran in front of the house. When she died, the kids he liked ran by the house without making eye contact, but the others, forced by their parents, came by offering to help him clean his yard. Back then, he didn’t need help, and now they’d all learned to run by without looking at him, even some of the parents.

He left her sitting in her trashy cardboard box. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere.


A week later, while pulling weeds around his side of the fence, he was forced to acknowledge her again. “Your castle’s nice,” he said.

“It’s not a castle.”

He knew he shouldn’t ask. “What is it, then?”

“A box.”

“What kind of kid plays in a box? I, at least, had a spaceship.”

“Good for you,” she said. “I have a box.”

Dex had actually seen her father give it to her. The thin man left about a week later. That morning, Mae’s dad had slowly closed the side door and pushed a dented old truck down the driveway before jumping in and starting the motor. The driveway had been vacant ever since.


The hardwood floors in his bedroom pressed into his knees. He didn’t move as he stared at the storage containers filled with his wife’s faded yellow, red, and orange folded clothes. Packed between the fabric were paper stars his wife used to hang over the dinner table. He should’ve thrown it all away, but he just stacked it all on her side of the bed before going back outside with the plastic tub.

As he dumped the empty container next to the fence, Mae didn’t move. Unless it rained, she never did.

“Give me your box,” he said.

“No,” she said.

“My spacecraft needs an engine. Give me the box.  It’s just creepy you sitting out here in it.”

“Creepier than an old man talking to a little girl?”

“I’m not going away until I get that box.”

“I’ll tell my mom to plant flowers when you drop dead.”

“I’ll turn the sprinkler on.”

She got out of the box.

The plastic creaked as he stood in the middle of his tub. He added another layer of tape to connect her cardboard box to his tub.

When he was done, he said, “I need a pilot for this mission.”

“Are you off your medication?” she asked.

“Get in.”


“I wonder what those boys would do to your box if they found all those bicycle seats in the compost heap of your backyard.”

She took her time crawling over the fence, and she took even longer getting in the tub.

Dex got out to inspect the incomplete spacecraft. There was a ripping sound as the tape separated, pulling fragments of cardboard off Mae’s box.

“You’re breaking it,” Mae said. “What are you doing?”

“We need controls.”

To save her box, Mae leaped over the fence and grabbed two branches. She pushed the wood into the ground, and magically, there were two control sticks on either side of the front fuselage.

“Good idea,” Dex said.

“I told you I wasn’t stupid.”

As Mae got back into the box with Dex, his shoes poked her back. She couldn’t tell if the container or Dex was the one that smelled of mothballs, but she held onto the joysticks and tried not to breathe.

“Do you know where you want to go?” Dex asked.


“Mars it is,” Dex said. “Prepare for launch.”

Surrounded by grass, the two just sat as the sounds of children laughing echoed down the street. But for years after, Mae swore she could feel the initial tremble of blast off. And the funny thing was Dex could, too.

Frederick Charles Melancon is a native of New Orleans.  Currently, he lives in Mississippi with his family.  In his spare time, he cooks, practices kung fu, and builds imaginary airplanes with his daughter.

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Rate this story:
 average 3.5 stars • 24 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I thought the effort and sincerity that went into this story was clear and that’s the problem here.

    Awkward sentence construction kept tripping me up. A simple story like this–of a lonely, kind man finding the best way to reach a lonely, defensive child–needs to be told simply. The rhythm of the tale needs to carry the reader along, even if it’s to an inevitable conclusion. I wanted to give this a three but the writing just didn’t achieve that for me. Two stars.

    But keep writing. You’ve got the heart and the craft will grow.

  • Not a bad story, but I had a few lines that struck me funny. Three stars.

    One was “he never got up.” It may be nitpicking, but next scene he’s an old man and I silently wondered if he still hadn’t gotten up.
    In that same scene you start three consecutive sentences with “It was” This may have been intentional as a sort of refrain but I feel it could be been better with some variety, or as one long sentence.
    You say “motor” for the truck, but a motor is electric, and an Engine is internal combustion. Colloquialism works fine in dialogue but not so much in third omni narration. “Start the motor” is better than he started the motor.
    And this might be a reflection that I’ve heard too much locker room humor, but the lines quoted below have a very disgusting double entendre for me…

    “Creepier than an old man talking to a little girl?”

    “I’m not going away until I get that box.”

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I think “never got off the ground” was intended to refer to the rockets lifting into space, but it’s awkwardly phrased.

      • S’pose you’re right, since the title is blast off maybe “he never did get to blast off” or maybe that’s contrived. I need more coffee in order to compose. ?

    • Re: motor. Yes, technically you are correct. But in today’s world of racing – motorcycles (grin) and cars, the word is highly interchangeable.

      First example which came to mind are Steppenwolf lyrics, “Get your motor running…”

      Car nuts are referred to as “motorheads” and there is a band with the same name.

      We have moto(r)cross races, not enginecross races.

      • I agree it’s used that way but I believe that’s of an older vernacular, personally. Not today’s world of racing, but yesteryears.i actually learned of the difference while watching NASCAR with my dad in the early 2000s. Darryl Waltrip made the distinction between the two on line TV as a spot of contention for him and other racers.
        Like the MVD, motor vehicle department, instead of the engine vehicle Dept., Etc.
        I don’t know when the distinction between motor and engine was made, perhaps recently, but it still strikes me funny.
        Also they are called GearHeads where I’m from, and where I live now. Again maybe an older vernacular.

      • And let’s not forget motor mouth, although totally irrelevant, unless perhaps only in some cosmic way.

  • This is a sound story that held my attention to the end. I found the interaction between the two characters authentic. Sure, there are several places that could be cleaned up, but they could have been easily spotted and fixed by a fresh pair of eyes prior to publishing. Better before than after.


    • Joseph Kaufman

      Jeff, I am sure the author would appreciate you being more specific about what needs to be “cleaned up”, if you have the time to elaborate…

      • Michael and Sarah already touched many of them. I simply was avoiding piling on. 🙂

      • S Conroy

        I’m not Jeff 🙂 but I think the first paragraph for instance could be a bit smoother. My understanding of the sequence of events is that the father slapped him in the face before going to tear up the rocket ship. Personally I think it would flow better if he started with Dex’s face stinging followed by the father venting his rage on the rocket.

  • I enjoyed this with my first cuppa of the day. Thank you.

  • S Conroy

    I really warmed to this story and its 2 imperfect protagonists. I agree that there are some lines that read awkardly and take you out of it.

  • I can skip over the bumpy rides, and fall into the simple honesty that creates this entertaining story. The relationship reminds me of the movie “Up”.
    For one, I cannot wait to read more from this author.

  • Grymm Gevierre

    I think a lot of what caught me up was already discussed. You’re a good writer, keep it up and hone the craft! Pay attention to sentence structure and flow, those are the only real issues here.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A good piece of storytelling that reaffirmed the belief in human nature.

  • Teacher

    I really enjoyed the relationship between the characters here 🙂 3 stars.