The school year was about 75% complete. Young Steven and his brother, two years older than him, Davie, were helping their mother unpack boxes after school. The three of them moved into their new apartment, recently, due to an explosion in their old apartment.
“You guys are driving me crazy,” said their mother. “How?” asked Davie, “We are just doing what you told us to do.” “Well, for now, you guys can go outside and play. Be back before dark and I’ll have dinner ready.” The boys did not attest to this too much, and immediately made it to the stairs to hike three stories down, closing the door politely behind them.
“We don’t have a yard,” observed Steven. “Let’s check out what’s behind back,” said Davie, “We may have the time to do some exploring.” Davie was in the 9th grade, Steven in the 7th. They walked to behind the apartment building. It was a massive structure with 21, 4-room, 2.5-baths and made with light pink bricks. There was a small field and a wooded area nearby, also.
The boys marched right into the woods, as they were not too dense. After some time they found some railway tracks and stopped to rest. “I found an old rusty spike!” said Steven. “Just leave it alone,” said Davie, “There are probably many of them.” The two boys sat on a big square concrete block about twelve yards away from the tracks, wondering how often the train comes. On the other side of the tracks, there was a small creek just wide enough to scale. The creek ran parallel to the tracks with more woods, and an overgrown field off to the left. Time slipped away gently, as the boys talked about girls and school, tossing small pebbles into the creek across from the tracks. Only a single small tossed pebble could make ‘circle ripples,’ which reflected overhung trees in an amazing way.
Little Davie was a child prodigy, just as Steven – Davie still had the ‘brains,’ however, and Steven was always aware of his older brother’s natural instincts. “It is going to get dark any minute,” said Davie, “We should go back.” As the two boys stood, they heard the “Choo Choo” of a train coming. “A train!” exclaimed Steven. As they looked down the tracks, they saw a large train was really on its way.
They waited until the engine passed them and watched the cars whiz by, one by one. “How fast do you think the train is going?” yelled Steven. “Probably about 30 mph,” replied Davie, “Let’s go.” They left the roaring train and made it back home before dark. The two smelly lads cleaned up for dinner, ate Spaghetti, spoke politely with their mother, and bathed and went off to bed.
The next Saturday the boys woke up before dawn to watch cartoons. Their mother woke up early and cooked a nice breakfast including pancakes, sausage, and milk. “I am going to the craft store today for some fabric and stuff,” said their mother, “I want you guys to be on your best behavior, and you cannot leave this apartment until your chores are done.” “We did our chores yesterday,” said Davie, quietly, hoping they did not forget any usual chores. Steven looked to the ground, for this could mean more chores and less cartoons, or worse. “Can we go to the craft store with you?” asked Davie. “You two had better not embarrass me,” said their mother. Excited, the two brothers got ready to go to the craft store with their mother.
Curiousity flowed through the two boys like warm milk. This part of town was an intriguing new world to them, even though the craft store, much larger than most average sized hardware stores, was only six blocks away. The brothers did what they could to stay out of trouble, once in the store. Walking down every aisle, nothing seemed to be too much of a surprise. The artist’s aisle was super awesome, and Davie saw many things he did not know much about. Then, however, the boys found the model car aisle.
As amazing as it was, the model cars did not even compare to what they found toward the end of the aisle -the hobby-rocket section. Amazed, the two boys inspected every rocket, some 40 in number. The largest rockets were huge, five-foot tall models that took “D” cell engines. Stickers on the big rockets stated, “Must be 18 or Older to Purchase.” Davie noticed an interesting rocket, while Steven proceeded to pretend-launch a small rocket by hand into the air. He decided not throw it, however, and put it back quickly, as an older woman looked over her glasses from over 40 feet away.
“This one comes with a deploying parachute,” said Davie. “Wow,” said Steven, “What is the remote control for?” Davie read the package and said, “This rocket has ‘Track Finder’ technology. The remote helps you find the small plastic astronaut and his parachute, once he explodes into the air far above ground level. The little figurine uses a locator chip with a watch battery.” “Wow,” said Steven, “We’ll have to ask mom for it.”
They went and found their mother, who was making her fabric purchase before checking out with a few other items. She went with the boys to see the hobby-rocket section. I could not get you one of these today if I tried,” said their mother, “Unless you want this small one.” “We want the one with the track finder,” said Steven. “‘C’ cell engine,” said Davie, “It must be smaller than the ‘D’ cells.” “It’s marked 25% off,” said Steven, “$29.99 instead of the normal price of 40 dollars.” “That’s another 25% off if the two of you can come up with $20,” said their mother. “Is that a promise?” asked Davie. “Sure,” she said. “Is that a double promise?” asked Steven asking, “How can we get the money?” “That is a double promise,” said their mother, “Maybe you can do some cleaning for the neighbors or a few things for allowance money.”
They made their way to the front of the store. Their mother finished making her purchases, and the boys did not mind not getting nothing whatsoever -they had goals, now. The following week the boys went out to the tracks to see if the train passed by everyday just before dark. It usually did.
“How are we going to come up with the money for that rocket?” asked Steven. “I don’t know,” said Davie, “All I have is the dime in my pocket. I’ll have to think of something.” “I wonder if the train would flatten the dime into a smooth silver streak on the rail?” asked Steven. “No,” said Davie, “The train will flatten the coin into an oval like a potato chip. I saw it in a Western.” “Can we try it?” asked Steven. “It’s no way to save money for a rocket,” said Davie, but he handed Steven the dime as they could see the train coming. Steven placed the dime heads up on the railroad track – the vibrations knocked it off twice. “Hurry,” said Davie, “The train is coming fast.”
Steven placed the dime on the track one last time and it seemed to stay centered, tales up. He backed away in plenty of time to see the engine and 20 some-odd cars pass by – the boys even saw the caboose this time. They ran back up to the tracks and there was no dime. “Darn it,” said Steven. He and Davie looked around for the dime and Davie found it. “Wow,” said Steven, “It does look like a potato chip!” “You can keep it,” said Davie. “Are you sure?” asked Steven. “Yeah,” said Davie, “You’re my little bro. Let’s go; it will be getting dark soon.”
The two jogged back home, ate, bathed, said their prayers with their mother, and went off to bed. The next day Steven was in the lunch line, inspecting his amazing coin. “What’s that?” asked one of his student friends. “It’s a potato chip dime,” said Steven. “What’s it worth?” asked another boy. “I don’t know,” said Steven, “It’s my lucky potato chip coin.” “Can I see it?” said a girl. “Sure,” said Steven, as he handed it to her. Amazed, the children studied the coin. “I’ll give you my lunch money for it,” said one of the boys; “Two dollars.” Steven would never take the offer, as the coin meant something to him, but he thought about the rocket. “Deal,” said Steven, and the boy handed him the two dollars for the potato chip dime. The girl took one last look at the coin and handed it to its purchaser.
Steven was now $4 up and still 40 students back in the line from the cafeteria workers. As his new sidekick went to sit and inspect the coin incognito with some people already eating, Steven followed behind. “I’ll keep this four dollars,” thought Steven, “And I’ll get some more dimes.”
The idea was a fantastic one, indeed. Steven and his brother took the four dollars down the street that afternoon to the gas station. The teller would not change out their money for 40 dimes, because they would need to make a purchase, first. “What if we let you keep two of the dimes?” asked Davie, and Steven laughed a little. He just could not guess the outcome of this proposition. “I’ll take it as a transaction,” said the old woman, playing along, “For these two dark green jawbreakers.” The boys were happy with the transaction and made it back home before dark, green tongued.
Their mother asked about their green tongues, and Davie said they got them from the gas station’s jawbreakers. With no further questions, the boys were in the clear. The three ate, cleaned, and went off to bed.
The following day the boys finished their homework. It was time for external activities. Both carrying a pocket full of dimes, they jogged all the way to the tracks to beat the train. It would be there soon. The boys lined up all 38 dimes about two feet apart, 18 on each rail. The train finally came by, and the boys gathered all but one of the dimes. It was getting dark fast, and 37 would have to do. On a mission, they returned home in an efficient manner.
Over the next few weeks, both of the boys sold the potato chip dimes to other students, making sure they (the other students) would keep it a secret so that the lunch money went unmentioned. Combined, they sold 29 coins in ten days, and decided to keep four a piece for themselves. “How much does that add up to?” asked Steven, knowing Davie had already done the math. “$58,” said Davie, “Now all we have to do is give mom a story about how we got the money.” “That old man who sits by the gas station in front of the small convenience store, what if he bought us the rocket?” “Works for me,” said Davie, “We can split the change and speak with the old man when we see him.” They made it back before darkness settled in.
The next day, they finished their homework and went to the craft store and bought the rocket. The total was $32.24, so the boys had $25.76, or $12.88 a piece for piggy bank savings. Davie let Steven carry the rocket home in a large sack. Their mother, astonished.
“And just how did you two manage that?” she asked. “The old man by the store heard us talking about how we wanted that rocket so bad, and we could not figure out how to come up with the money. He did not have anyone in mind we could do chores for, but he bought it for us saying he would keep us in mind,” said Steven. Their mother’s eyes immediately met with Davie‘s whose face went pale. “That’s true,” he said. “Well that sure was nice of that man,” said the mother. They ate, cleaned, and went off to bed.
The next day was a Friday, so the boys would have to wait until the following day to try out the rocket. This did not stop Davie’s eagerness to read and learn, however. Upon finishing their homework, Davie and Steven disassembled the rocket box, keeping it intact, and Davie read the instructions. Steven, while playing with the little astronaut man, landed him on Davie‘s shoulder saying, “I have discovered the moon and have not a flag.” Davie continued to read.
The two eventually checked the contents of the box and even assembled most of the rocket. It was 2.5 feet tall and just under 1 inch in diameter. It came with a firing fuse connected to a 12-foot long wire. The wire connected to a push-button box. The rocket also came with its own stand and of course the remote control device. The device showed distance in tenths of a mile and had a radar screen. Davie was concerned that batteries were not included. They were, though they were some cheap ones.
They ate, cleaned, and went off to bed as always, reading some before bedtime. Davie liked C. S. S. Lewis and Isaac Asimov; Steven liked monster stories; and their mother, Danielle Steel. Steven asked his mother why she preferred Danielle Steel as opposed to Nora Roberts one time, and he received no response. “Probably the writing style or plot development,” said Davie, “The two authors really are different in comparison.”
It was Saturday morning, and the boys were up with their rocket before dawn. “Where are we going to launch it?” asked Steven, “A football field?” “No,” said Davie, “We’ll take it to the tracks. With any luck, the wind will be blowing towards the field on the other side of the creek, left of the other side woods.” “Those woods are creepy,” said Steven. “They are more dense,” said Davie, “That is why. Those shadows are darker because the trees block out most of the sunlight, even in the daytime. We’ll have to take the rocket in sections to the tracks in the box, and reassemble it once we are in the field with the stand.”
“Not yet you won’t,” their mother said, as she walked into the kitchen, “I want these dishes done and the carpet vacuumed before you two go anywhere today, and I’ll make us some breakfast.” Their mother did well. She was a secretary for a law firm downtown. The two boys did their chores and cleaned their rooms in order to leave. She fed them a bologna sandwich and a coke, and they assembled most of the rocket by its instructions. Then, after making sure they could go outside, they left.
They made it to the tracks early in the afternoon. “The wind just so happens to be blowing in opposite direction of the other side woods,” said Davie, “We are in luck. Not a cloud in the sky.” The boys crossed the tracks and scaled the stream, walking for a while through the field. They found a decent clearing in the wild grass and stopped. They got the rocket together as well as its stand, and Davie handed Steven the ignition button. Stupefied, Steven asked, “I just push the button?” “No,” said Davie, securing the rocket’s fuse wire in its engine before backing up a few steps, “I’ll count down from five to monitor the atmosphere. When I say ‘One, Go.’ press the button.” “Okay,” said Steven, and he held his right index finger over the button watching the amazing rocket with a great deal of attention.
“Five,” said Davie; he held a wet finger in the air to feel the wind. Steven admired the silver flame decals on the rocket along with its shining gloss-black cover paint. The rocket also had four small fins glued to its mid-section, and four larger fins glued perfectly to its lower end. “Four,” said Davie, cautiously awaiting the breeze to die a little, seeing nothing much about the peaceful field but a bird or two flying around eating gnats in the distance. Steven beheld the magnificent rocket, just waiting to press the button. “Three. Two.” There was no reason to wait. “One…” said Davie, “Go!”
Steven pressed the button and the fuse in the engine of the rocket ignited. The engine’s powder began to combust, and the rocket immediately shot up into the air, leaving a white, streaming cloud of smoke beneath its travel. “Wow!” exclaimed Steven, backing up a few steps to see it decrease in size as it climbed in altitude. “Will we see it explode the parachute?” asked Steven. “I think so,” said Davie, all eyes on the rocket, and so it did.
The children saw the rocket burst far above them, yet they could not see the parachuting astronaut figurine for a moment. Then, they thought they could see it for a second floating away. His locator chip activated and working properly, Davie‘s remote locator with radar display functioned properly, too. The two children walked further into the field to find the rocket. They saw it fall about eighty yards away from where they launched it.
They made it to the vicinity of the fallen rocket and Steven found it. “How far away is the astronaut?” asked Steven. Davie held his radar box in his right hand and pointed off to the left with his left hand, in about a 280˚ angle. “By the looks of this radar, he is 2.5 miles in that direction and may still be falling or in a tree,” said Davie. As he pointed into the far distance, they could see far down the tracks. The train was coming. “Let’s go back,” said Davie, “We’ll have to go find the astronaut tomorrow.” Steven handed Davie the rocket; they jogged back to the stand and got it; and ran to the tracks and crossed back over, safely. The train was still coming, so they put the rocket back in the box as they awaited its passing.
“Cannot we watch the train pass by?” asked Steven, “I want to count the cars.” “Okay,” said Davie. The train “Choo Choo’d,” and the boys counted exactly 20 cars, including the enormous front engine, 18 boxcars, and its caboose. The caboose was highly similar to the one they saw before, yet not the same one. Steven volunteered to carry the box, and they made their way back.
Upon entering the woods, the sun had already fallen. Though its light was still everywhere, nighttime shadows were among the trees as well. “Let’s pick it up a bit,” said Davie, and the boys steadied their jog. Halfway through the woods, the two boys were making good time. So long as it was not pitch black outside, their mother would not be too disappointed.
Suddenly, Davie grabbed Steven bringing them both to a halt. He instinctively put his hand over Steven’s mouth and pointed to about 30 yards in front of them, in about a 25˚ angle. Steven could not see him at first, then flushed pale. “Is that a ghost?” whispered Steven. “I am not sure,” said Davie, “We could just jog by him, however I think he’s watching us.” “We are in the middle of the woods,” said Steven. “We’ll just walk by him and leave him be,” said Davie, thinking it was about the best they could do.
“No need to walk by me,” said the figure, standing right before them all of a sudden. This really freaked Davie out. “Who are you?” asked Steven, courageously, sensing the figure may not be of harm to them. “I am Death,” said the tall, handsome man. The man gleamed in the shadows of dusk, a pastel purple and white gleam, much like an angel. “We must be getting back, kind sir,” said Davie. “Oh sure,” said Death, “I know your mother is waiting. There is something you may want to know, however.” “What?” asked Steven. “There is a homeless man down by the tracks, about twenty feet on the other side of where you guys crossed over before shooting off your amazing rocket. He has only moments to live. That is why I am here.” “What can we do?” asked Davie. “If you manage to get a glass of water to him before he passes, he may be able to make it.”
The three ran to the apartment complex and Death waited outside. Steven brought the box to his room and Davie hurried to get a glass of water while their mother was taking a bath. The two left and met up with Death. They jogged all the way back to the tracks by moonlight and found the dying man as he lay a ways away from the tracks on his back. Davie checked his pulse while Steven tried to get the man to drink some water. The man had a pulse, yet Steven had to open his mouth gently to pour in some water.
The plan did not go so well. The man’s eyes closed, he breathed a slight breath. He did not swallow the water. Steven closed the man’s mouth. The man died. Davie and Steven backed away from the corpse as the old man’s flesh flushed pale. The man’s spirit rose from his body, as he beheld the presence of Death. At first his draw dropped, however the old man figured out upon whom he was gazing. Death held out his hand, and the homeless man took his hand.
The boys watched as Death and the ghost of a homeless man walked hand in hand down the railroad tracks towards the moon. Steven wondered why they were not able to save the old man and wished the man swallowed the water. Death turned and spoke over his shoulder, “At least you tried, Steven,” and the two men carried on. There appeared to be a form of a doorway a long ways down the tracks. “Let’s go,” said Davie. “What about the body?” asked Steven. “We’ll tell mom he’s here,” said Davie, and the two made their way back into the dark woods.
Upon entering the apartment their mother was in the kitchen organizing things. “Mom,” said Steven, before she could ask them anything, “We found a dead man down by the train tracks.” Their mother called the authorities. The authorities found the man, asked the children a few questions, and the man received a proper burial, was in the obituaries of the town paper.
It was a few days before the boys went back to the tracks to find their astronaut. It took them some time and hiking to get to it, however with a deal of effort and a smidgen of luck, Davie was able to locate the little man and his parachute in a tree. They brought it back home, made it there before dark. They all ate, cleaned, and read for a while before turning in.
This story was inspired from the first part of Stephen King’s book, “On Writing.” If he reads this story, I hope he enjoys it, as I could not resist writing out this idea. I finished reading his book and gave it a review, which can be found on jcm3blog.com. I found his book to be a suitable collection of prose. I would have waited to write this story upon my completion of the book, however the story came to me and I just did not want to put it off or forget it, lest it never exist. We all know of those thousands of ideas we have that may never make it to paper. The review mentioned above is here. Learn more about Stephen King on stephenking.com or by clicking on the double-diamonds below for his wiki page. I enjoyed this story and hope all who read it do, too. Indeed, “Long live the King.”