Luck and Rockets

This makes 7 exercises I’ve written for the prompt contest this month, putting me firmly in the lead.

Writing Exercise:

Write a story in which a Two for One Special proves a painful lesson

This was a tough one, and I’m not sure I quite beat the exercise, but I like the story that came out of it anyway, though it’s probably a little predictable. This marks my first story written entirely about kids. Do kids still play with model rockets? I have a feeling that’s pretty rare nowadays.

Almost 1500 words!


Luck and Rockets

The boys pooled their cash, saved from lunch money, chores, and allowances. Robbie pitched in the most, dropping a twenty-dollar bill atop the pile of singles and quarters. The other three looked up in shock.

“It’s from the dinosaur adventure,” Robbie said defensively. He shrugged as though it should have been obvious.

“Again with the dinosaur adventure,” muttered Jerry. Connor and Jackson kept quiet, thinking that when someone offered them a large sum of money, it was best to keep their mouths shut.

“Okay, that’ll do it,” said the cashier. She swept the money up and dropped it into the cash register. The boys gathered up their purchase: four model rockets, and all the necessary engines to launch them. They’d admired the rockets for months, but had never been able to afford them. The hobby shop was running a two-for-one sale this week, though, and they happily took advantage of the deal.

The boys huddled in the parking lot over the rockets and divvied them up. Jerry wanted the blue one, Connor wanted the black one, and Jackson liked the striped rocket. One of the rockets was a good eight inches longer than the others, and Robbie wanted that one. The other boys hesitated, but, after all, he’d basically purchased all of them, so it seemed only fair.

“Maybe he’ll need it next time he runs into a T-Rex,” Connor said with a cruel smirk, and the other boys laughed. Robbie pretended not to hear him.

“We need somewhere to launch them,” Robbie said. “Somewhere big and flat.” He gazed off into the distance, evidently in deep thought.

“What about the track?” said Jackson meekly. “Down at the high school?”

They all agreed that the track was the best place, especially because it was within an easy ride’s distance. They mounted their bicycles, bags of rockets and rocket paraphernalia hanging from handlebars and slung over shoulders, and shakily made their way down the gravel road to the high school. The school looming at the end of the road would, in a couple of years, be their second home, but it was still an intimidating place. School had let out just a week ago, so the building was mostly empty. A few cars sat in the teacher parking lot, but a cluster of temporary buildings blocked the view from the offices. The boys veered to the right, down the hill that led to the high school football stadium.

The bicycles skidded to a halt. Beyond the steel bleachers, almost 6400 square yards of open grass lay surrounded by a black stretch of polyurethane. Only a chain link fence stood between them and the ideal launch site.

“This is perfect,” Robbie said with a nod. The boys dismounted and approached the fence.

“How do we get in?” Jackson asked. “Everything is locked up.”

“We climb the fence, dummy,” said Connor. He handed his rocket off to Jerry, then hooked his fingers and the toes of his shoes in between the links of the fence. In just a few moments, he clambered over the top of the fence and dropped to the other side. “It’s easy!”

One by one, the boys climbed the fence. Jackson snagged his shirt at the top and panicked, frozen in fear. Jerry and Connor had to climb up and pull him free, then help him down the rest of the way. Robbie came last, hauling all four bags of rockets to the top to drop them down to the other guys, then pulling himself over.

They sprinted out to the middle of the field and began to tear open the boxes. Robbie took charge, assigning Jackson and Jerry engineering duty, assembling the rockets and inserting the engines and igniters, while he and Connor would prepare the launch site and apply the necessary decals. The turf on the football field hadn’t been cut in a few weeks, but was still very short. They stomped down a patch of grass around the fifty yard line and set up the launch pad. Jackson and Jerry had assembled the rockets by the time they returned. Connor and Robbie set about fixing nose art and numbers to the rockets.

“Wait,” Jerry said as they lifted up the last rocket. “Don’t use four. It’s bad luck.”

“Who says?” Connor demanded.

Jerry shrugged. “It’s bad luck! The Japanese consider it bad luck!” He had read this in a comic book.

“That’s ridiculous!” said Connor. “You’re not Japanese! You don’t even celebrate Christmas!”

Jerry scowled. “You’re an-”

“It’s fine,” said Robbie. “He doesn’t like four, we won’t use four.”

The other boys settled into an uneasy silence. Jerry and Connor glared at each other as they worked.

After the first few rockets were ready, excitement overcame them. They ran together to the launch site and slid Rocket 1 down onto the launch pad. Rocket 1 was one of Jackson’s, covered in black and white horizontal stripes.

“What is this, a prison ship?” Jerry asked. Connor laughed and Jackson nodded solemnly.

“Engineers, ready for ignition!” Robbie barked. Jerry hooked the controller wires onto the ignition prongs jutting out from the rocket engine. Everyone backed up a few feet, to the edge of the flattened launch area. Jackson gulped as Jerry handed him the controller.

“Commander Jackson, you are clear for launch!” Robbie called.

“Roger that, Control!” Jackson answered, and he mashed the launch button. The rocket hissed, then with a puff of smoke shot skyward. All four boys jumped up and scattered, eyes locked on a tiny trail of smoke in the clear sky. They called out constant updates on the rocket’s status, until finally they saw the a thin red streamer pop free. The rocket tumbled end over end back to earth, crashing on the nearby running track.

“That’s awesome,” breathed Jackson.

Rockets 2 and 3, Jerry’s and the Connor’s, fired off and crashed just as spectacularly. Jerry’s actually popped out a parachute rather than a streamer, but the ‘chute collapsed halfway back to the ground, which was even more fun.

As the other boys gathered around, Robbie brought his rocket to the launch pad. It was a magnificent machine, taller than all the others, with two sets of fins. The tube shined bright white in the midday sun. Robbie saw his own reflection in the glossy red nose capsule. His eyes wandered down to the erroneous five sticker crookedly placed along his mighty rocket’s fuselage.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “We’re scientists. We don’t take with this luck nonsense.” Jerry’s jaw dropped in horror as Robbie propped the rocket against his knee and peeled the sticker free. Robbie then pulled a marker from his pocket and marked a heavy, bold 4.

“I don’t know if I like this,” Jackson said.

Robbie ignored them and slid the rocket down the launch rod and nestled the engine firmly against the o-ring in the launch pad. He took the control pad from Jerry and hooked up the wires.

“Commander Robbie,” Connor called, even he taking a step further back than he had with the other launches. “You are cleared for go!”

“Roger, Houston!” Robbie said, and he punched the button. His rocket took off with the same hiss and puff, but soared higher than the others. Robbie’s face broke into a huge grin of joy as the rocket flew higher and higher. The engine cut out, and he could see, barely, a beacon of red turning over in the sky.

“Woooo!” Connor cried.

“Wait…it – wait!” Jerry yelled, his hands cupped over his head. “I think-”

Robbie saw another puff of smoke—the engines had reignited somehow! In mid-air! His rocket lurched toward the ground, and the boys scattered and ducked, fearing the missile would strike them.

“Shit!” Jackson screamed.

At the last moment, the wind caught the rocket at just the right angle, and it pulled up from a suicidal course to the ground to fly straight across the field and over the fence. The boys sprinted after it, but the rocket was already out of sight.

They scrambled over the fence in record time and ran up the hill to the high school parking lot.

“Spread out!” Robbie shouted, out of breath. “It’s gotta be around here somewhere!”

“Found it!” Connor yelled. “You’re not gonna like it!”

“I told you!” Jerry said. “I told you not to use four! I told you!”

“Shut up, Jerry,” Robbie snapped.

The rocket had found its target. The nose had punched through the windshield of a teacher’s car, stopping only when the first set of fins had caught on the spider-webbed edges of the hole. A few seconds after Robbie jogged up alongside the awed Connor, the engine finally sputtered out. Then the nose popped open and a red, white, and blue striped parachute spilled onto the car’s front seat. Robbie’s hastily scrawled four was still visible beneath the rocket’s small wings.