I was seven.
That’s not right.
I had just had the water balloon birthday party, so it was late summer of 1999.
I was nine.
The sun had started its dive into the cornfield-covered horizon and my stomach was full of the cheapest hot dogs Walmart sold. I didn’t know they were cheap at the time, of course. They were hot dogs to me. They were summer to me. Just like the prickled barbs of grass and the yellow sprinkler were summer to me.
It was easy to know how much more daylight was left. After spending every night outside, I figured there was about an hour before mom would expect me in. An hour before the sun dipped below the tall corn stalks behind our house. That gave me plenty of time to run through every setting of the sprinkler one more time. I set it to pulse, and stepped back, ready to run, when a dull hum filled the air.
The sky was deep ocean blue. No cloud to be seen. It couldn’t have been a storm, but still the hum grew. It was clear the sound was coming from above, still, I checked the street for trucks.
Looking up again, a small silver bird approached. The hum grew to a low rumble as the nose whirled with a white propeller. The small plane sailed through the sky. I forgot all about my sprinkler and waved with unabashed enthusiasm. I ran circles and swung the sprinkler above my head; a castaway on a deserted island.
The plane flew low overhead and was gone just as fast.
I watched it disappear into the purple of early dawn and bank hard to the left.
I collapsed into the damp grass and stretched my arms wide, falling up into the sky, picturing myself soaring with a flock of birds. The wind was cold against my face. The water from the sprinkler dropped down on me, but I kept flying. The sound of my engine was so loud, so real.
I jumped up.
It was true.
The plane was coming back around. Heading straight for my house. He was coming to get me. I hurried and snagged the lawn chair from the porch and climbed on top in the middle of the yard, trying to get as close as I could.
The thunder rose and the little plane puttered past overhead. It was gone, but it left more than smoke and echo behind.
A small white balloon plummeted toward Earth.
I jumped off the chair, tripping and getting a mouth full of wet grass. It would take more than that to stop me. I got to my feet and found my gift. The wind tried to steal it and carry it into the corn.
I wish I could say I was thinking about how dark it would be soon, about how my mom would be worried about me, about how dangerous wandering off would be; but none of that would be true. A pilot had just dropped something from an airplane for me. A thousand hot dogs couldn’t distract me.
I hopped the fence and sprinted barefoot through the cornfield, trying to complete the reception. It was clear now that the balloon was not a balloon at all, but a little plastic bag turned parachute for my gift. And, my gift was a small white piece of paper.
I was close.
About the distance from the dugout to the outfield.
I had played baseball a few years, but was thinking about taking a year off next summer. Just to take a break, you know? Well, I did just that. And I never went back.
My gift from above hit the dirt ninety-feet ahead of me. I sprinted hard like it was the bottom of the ninth and I’d just hit into a double-play. Sprinted so hard I ran past my gift lost in the corn husks. When I wheeled back around, I found it nestled in the dirt.
It was a piece of paper attached by tape to the handles of the plastic bag. I pulled the tape from the bag and began to unfold the note, knowing it had to be a request to meet the pilot somewhere so he could give me a ride, or maybe he wanted to give me the plane?
That was probably it.
In the last light of day I opened the note and written in an aviator’s scrawl was the word, “Hello!”
F.C. Shultz is the author of three middle grade books, and writes stories and poems about dragons and sea people and honor and family. He loves Ray Bradbury and peanut butter, and lives in Missouri with his wife, son, and cat.