The worst part of being grounded is the wind in your face. It mocks you: “You used to play in me, shooting through clouds, skimming over waves. Now you’re imprisoned, but I’m still free!”
My folks locked the jetpack after the last incident. I told them I didn’t know about the beer until I got to Marcia’s for the birthday party, but since when do parents listen to their teenage sons?
So now I’ve got my license, only a week ago, and I can’t fly anywhere. Marcia, to the day as old as I am and still hotter than any ‘pack, can fly faster than the breeze.
I get to take mass transit.
That’s why I’m taking a trolley like a pupa. I’m surrounded by little drooling kids and grannies too old to handle the g-forces. The grannies huddle around the heating vents; the droolers stick their heads out the open windows like dogs. And some of my younger classmates ignore everything, but that’s beside the point. I shouldn’t be here.
I sit near the front, by the open door. The wind’s laughing at me, mussing my hair. I wouldn’t mind if I could race against it.
The puffy tops of white clouds glow in the morning light. I see the edu-complex floating over there, still a good ten minutes away. Other trolleys trail mist as they rise from the cloud cover. Above me, countless contrails fill the sky.
The upperclassmen have it so easy. I never hear about any of them getting grounded.
Scott’s chattering incessantly next to me. His birthday’s next week, so he’ll get his license soon enough. “I told her that I’d show her a good time, but she’s a dog anyway, so I guess it’s all good.” He crosses his arms in a huff.
A shadow crosses the sun. I glance up and away quickly. It’s Richardson.
“Oh! Look at this! Your license get ‘voked already, Bertie?” The roar of his ‘pack isn’t enough to drown out his jock voice.
I ignore him.
Scott doesn’t. He opens his mouth. I elbow him before any words come out. Last thing I need is the combo of being grounded and pissing off a jock.
Scott gives me a dirty look. I don’t care.
Richardson rockets away with a laugh.
The wind gusts. Figures it would take his side. Why can’t you hit the wind?
Marcia jets by. The spark of her pack pulls a wide arc – completely horizontal; she still hasn’t figured out she can fly in three dimensions yet. She comes back to the trolley. “I thought that was your beacon, Bertie,” she calls to me. “You get grounded?”
I look away before answering, “Yeah.”
“Sorry. I didn’t bring the beer.” And she does look sad. At least I want to think so. “Want to do something later? To make up for it?”
This time Scott elbows me.
Her ‘pack sputters. “Oh! Still don’t have this down. My parents got me an old manual, you know?” Her voice stutters as the entire thing shakes.
She shifts to increase the lift but forgets to hit the clutch. The ‘pack stalls. The flames cut out. Her eyes go wide. She flicks the restarter.
Everyone on the trolley gasps as gravity plucks her from the sky.
I’m pretty sure at the moment I’m thinking, “Don’t let the girl who likes you die! This might be the last one!” I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it was something more heroic. Maybe.
I jump over the trolley’s protective glass.
I can’t tell if the wind’s mocking me. It fills my ears, but I can’t pick out its tone. I’m not paying attention, anyway. I keep my eyes on Marcia’s beacon. Good. She remembered enough to flatten herself out, increase her drag. I don’t.
The wind itself gets out of my way. It knows I need to get to her.
We pass through the cloud. Gray fog gives way to brown land that fills every horizon. I lock onto her. My fall brings me beside her. I angle my body so I stay near. “Marcia! Marcia!”
She looks from the controls to me. She can barely hear me over the wind.
I raise my hands, miming the controls on the handgrips. Squeeze the left, gentle twist the right. Release the left and squeeze the right. Simple. Easy as pie.
She stalls the ‘pack again.
I twist. This’ll end up tearing my arms out of their sockets if it works, but hey, at least I get to save the pretty girl, right?
I turn myself so I’m between her and the handgrips – the only way to reach them and not be on the wrong side of the ‘pack. I can’t tell if she’s trembling with the cold of the fall or fear.
I put my hands over hers.
Oh. I’m the one who’s trembling.
Squeeze the left hand, gentle twist on the right. Release the left and squeeze the right.
The ‘pack roars to life. I let go as fast as I can. It still wrenches my shoulder as she flies up, away, with the wind.
I keep falling.
The wind isn’t mocking me anymore. It sings and wraps itself around me in a cold embrace. My teeth chatter. The ground stretches below.
Ow. Why does my leg hurt?
Why do I hear Richardson laughing? That’s really not the last thing I want to hear.
“Man, you got some big ones!”
Oh. He’s got me by a leg, slowing my fall. It still hurts, but not as bad as dying would.
“All right. You win, man. You might have gotten ‘voked, but you still fly.”
Richardson giving me respect. I save the pretty girl. And I get to fly.
All in all, not bad for being grounded.
Jonathon Mast is a pastor in a small congregation in Wisconsin. In his free time he tells stories with his children and writes some of them down.
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