Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Jason's Rocket
by Brian Plante

On the Fourth of July, Jason watched, wide-eyed through his bedroom window as the next door neighbors put on a noisy, smoke-filled Independence Day display that had the whole neighborhood looking on. Jason was 12 years old and fascinated with pyrotechnics, but his mother didn't allow him to waste his money on fireworks. It was the high-climbing rockets that especially caught Jason's attention. The moon was full that Fourth, and Jason watched them screaming upward and exploding, always well short of the indifferent orb.

The next day, a lazy post-holiday Monday, Jason awoke early and went out on his mission. He emerged from the house with a broom, dustpan and a plastic 33-gallon garbage can, and began sweeping the street in front of his neighbor's house. The street was heavily littered with exploded firecracker waste from the night before, but in a short time Jason had cleaned the area thoroughly. He circled the block, cleaning up the debris from in front of several other noisy neighbors as well, until the garbage can was heavy and hard to drag back home.

Jason set about his real task eagerly at first. He set up another empty garbage can next to the full one near the picnic table on the back patio. Reaching into the full can, he grabbed a big handful of debris and spread it out on the table before him.

There, among the fluffy brown paper wadding, were five unexploded firecrackers.

Jason quickly peeled back the paper wadding on the duds and emptied their small loads of silvery powder into a coffee can he had placed on the table. Then he swept the remaining mess into the empty garbage can and grabbed another handful.

Four hours later, the coffee can was nearly full, and the bulk of the debris had been shifted from one garbage can to the other. Jason's hands, as well as a two-foot circle on the table, glinted silver with the powder. It was boring work, but he had collected nearly enough powder to build the thing.

In his room, under the bed, Jason had a steel pipe that he had pulled from a dumpster a week earlier. It was 18 inches long and two in diameter, and capped tightly at one end. He knew as soon as he had seen it that it was perfect for his project. He had learned about jet propulsion in school last semester, and knew just how to make it into a proper rocket. It only needed a stick for stability, a nose cone to make it aerodynamic, and some fuel to make it go.

Jason's wondered how high his rocket might climb when he was finished. Certainly it would go higher than all the fireworks he had seen the night before. Maybe even into orbit? To the moon?

The next handful of brown paper debris contained a perfect unexploded firecracker, complete with an untouched fuse. He had already salvaged the fuses from a couple of other similarly unscathed specimens. It seemed a shame to break this one open and empty its powder. Besides, he was getting bored with the operation.

It was time to make a little noise.

Jason went into the house and came back out with a book of matches. Just this one, he thought, to break the monotony.

Standing over the table, he struck a match, then lit the firecracker's fuse and prepared to throw it.

A spark from the sizzling fuse jumped into Jason's hand. All covered with silvery powder, the hand burst into white flame. Jason was more startled by the light than the pain, and he frantically tried to beat out the fire with his other hand, which also promptly ignited.

The perfect firecracker dropped to the ground and fizzled. A dud.

Jason waved his flaming hands, now in agony. He blew on them ineffectually, then tried slapping them out on the picnic table. The circle of residual powder flashed brightly as it, too, ignited. One errant spark emerged from the incandescence, like a miniature rocket, and made a perfect landing in the coffee can as Jason looked down on the scene.

The can of latent fire erupted in actinic fury, taking Jason full in the face. Jason saw the light of a thousand stars for a brief second before the white-hot plasma seared his eyeballs. Just like the exhaust from the big booster engines, he thought momentarily.

The rocket transformed Jason, and carried him swiftly to the waiting moon.

Copyright © 2004 Brian Plante Count= 5362

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