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Fiction Coming of Age Adventure

We were going to go to the moon. It was me and Andy from next door and the twins, Justin and Jeremy. Andy’s sister Mary-Beth was coming too, because Andy’s mum said she had to. Andy apologised to us about it and he told Mary-Beth she’d better do what he said. “If you don’t,” he told her. “We’ll leave you on the moon. Forever.”

Mary-Beth screwed up her face and balled her fists, but she didn’t say anything. She wanted to come too badly.

We’d been planning it for some time. For weeks. Maybe longer. We didn’t keep track of time in some ways. Still though, we knew when the launch would be. 

During this time, we’d been saving the snacks and treats we got from our parents or wherever in a tin in a hole amongst the roots of the clump of trees at the bottom of Andy’s garden and there was more than enough there now to last us all the way there and back. We’d also collected bottles and cans of various drinks, a big book of plain paper, and a selection of felt tip pens, so we could draw pictures of what we saw and write letters to people.

Behind the trees, the launch site sat. The twin rockets and the ship in between with four comfortable seats, and a fifth one hastily added at the back, in the storage space, now that Mary-Beth was coming. I was the pilot, because it was my idea, and Andy was the co-pilot. Justin was the science officer and Jeremy was in charge of security. All of us, though, were responsible for building the thing. We’d been working on it whenever we had spare time, piecing it together from bits we found or salvaged. We’d borrowed tools from our fathers, with or without permission, and for the most part managed not to lose them. 

We were organised. We were ready. We were a finely tuned team.

The day of the big launch came and I woke up early. I went downstairs and made myself breakfast of orange juice and cereal. I had a second bowl, because dad always reminded me to fill up and use the bathroom before going on any trip. 

After breakfast, I opened the curtains, only to discover that it made no difference. The sky was as dark as night, rain pelting down like bullets. 

This had not been anticipated. But it didn’t matter. What type of hero is stopped by a little, or a lot of, rain?

By the time I’d gone upstairs and got dressed and double checked the kit in my bag (torch, mum’s camera, hat and scarf, spare socks and a sleeping bag) mum was downstairs, in the kitchen, brewing coffee and stirring eggs and milk and pepper together in a glass bowl. 

“What are you all dressed up for?” she asked. 

“I’m meeting up with Andy and the twins,” I told her. 

“You’re not going out in this,” she said, pointing at the window, so dark I could see her in it, pointing back at me. 

“But mum…”

“I am not having you catching a cold.”

“But…”

“No,” she said. “No buts.”

“But...”

“No.”

There was no point in arguing. I looked over my shoulder and thought about running for the door, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth it in the long run. My bag suddenly felt very heavy. I let it fall to the floor. “Can I call Andy?” I asked.

Mum gestured towards the kitchen phone, hanging on the wall beside the fridge freezer. 

At that exact point, the phone rang. 

“My mum won’t let me go out while it’s raining,” Andy said as soon as I’d taken it from mum.

“Mine won’t too.”

“What shall we do?”

“I think we have to delay the launch,” I said. 

“Have you told the twins?” Andy asked.

“Not yet.”

“I’ll call them,” he said.

“Ok,” I told him. “I’ll see you when it stops raining.”

It rained non-stop for three days. Of course it did. 

On the first day after it stopped raining, I ran over to Andy’s house with my bag, wearing wellies because mum said it was too wet to wear my trainers. It was probably a good idea, I reasoned. After all, the astronauts on TV all wore boots. 

We met up, to start with, in Andy’s garage, where we’d mixed the rocket fuel and put together the smaller test rockets. Justin and Jeremy arrived wearing new matching tracksuits. They had their initials on the front in big silver letters. “So you can tell us apart,” said Justin, or Jeremy, pointing at his J.

We ran over the plans for the launch in the garage, sitting on boxes and overturned buckets, and then we collected the cans of rocket fuel from where we’d hidden them. 

When we got to the bottom of Andy’s garden though, we found that someone had found our tin. The snacks were all eaten and the wrappers stuffed back in as if to rub our faces in the fact.

“What are we going to do?” Andy asked me.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “I doubt we can get enough food when we’re on the moon.”

“And what about while we’re travelling?” asked Andy.

“I have a Milky Way,” said Jeremy, or Justin. “But it’s only a fun size.”

“Where did you get that?” asked his brother.

“From the drawer in the kitchen,” he said. “When mum wasn’t looking.”

“Did you get me one?”

He shook his head.

The twins stared at each other, the Milky Way bar held out in a hand between them. 

“It’s ok,” said Mary-Beth suddenly. “I’ve been saving more snacks,” and she opened up the second of her two bags - I hadn’t even noticed she had a second bag - to reveal chocolate bars, biscuits, crisps, and bananas. “I made sandwiches too,” she added.

“Oh my god!” said Justin or Jeremy.

“Really?” asked the other one.

“Yes,” she said, blushing. “I made them myself.”

“What type?” asked Justin or Jeremy.

“I’ve got ham,” she said. “And cheese and pickle, and strawberry jam.”

“So many?”

“I made them this morning, while everybody was asleep.”

Justin and Jeremy threw their arms around Mary-Beth from either side. “You’re the best,” they said. “You’re amazing.”

“The notebook’s ruined,” I said, rooting through the tin, the bottom of which was a rainbow puddle. “And the ink’s run from all the pens.”

“I’ll get some more,” said Andy, setting off at a run for his house.

He was always a good problem solver. You couldn’t ask for a better co-pilot.

So it came to pass that, somewhat delayed, first by the weather and then by attempted sabotage, we were ready for lift-off. We shouted the countdown together, five voices not quite as one, but close enough. 

Ignition.

The rocket rumbled.

The ground beneath us shook.

And then… the ground was really beneath us. Getting further and further beneath. 

The force thrust us back hard into our seats. The rocket roared on either side of us. The shuttle shook and vibrated, but it held together. We were laughing and shouting and screaming. It was like being on every rollercoaster in the world all at once. 

And then…

And then…

And then we were free.

Zero G was the most fun in the world. Out of the world, technically. The shuttle was small, but there was room for us to flip and spin and swim through the air. We threw and kicked a ball around, pulling the most imaginative and acrobatic moves we could think of. 

When we got tired from all of the exercise, we floated together by the window and looked down at the Earth, getting smaller as we moved away. I got mum’s camera and took some pictures. We weren’t just outside of the world. We were outside of time. Outside of life itself.

We linked arms and floated together, side by side, and watched everything we knew reducing.

By the second day, the space was feeling tight. Justin and Jeremy niggled and argued and exchanged a few punches. Mary-Beth complained about being the only girl on the trip.

“Nobody asked you to come,” Andy told her.

“Mum said you have to take me,” she said.

“And we did.”

“So?” she said.

“So?” he said.

But mainly it was calm. 

There wasn’t much to do between Earth and The Moon. We checked the controls and the settings from time to time and I made sure our nose was pointed right at the centre of the moon. That was it. 

We played some games, and ate some sandwiches. Justin had brought cards, but that proved awkward because they kept floating away, spinning in the air and revealing what they were. We didn’t have enough hands to play the hands. 

The moon was cold. 

We arrived at night.

I was glad of my extra socks, my hat and my scarf. We wore coats and wrapped sleeping bags and blankets around ourselves until we got used to it. 

“We should plant a flag,” said Andy. “To show we were here.”

But none of us had thought to bring one. We argued about it for a while and blamed each other. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. “We could make one,” one of the twins suggested.

So we each took a sheet of paper and designed our own flags. The idea was that we’d decide on whose was the best and plant that one, but of course nothing’s ever that easy. Everyone thought their own flag was the best, and after some arguing we agreed we’d plant all of them. It was only then we realised we didn’t have sticks or anything to use as flagpoles. 

“What about the broomsticks?” I asked. 

There were two, both sharpened at one end, sitting in the back of the shuttles, behind Mary-Beth’s seat.

“No way,” said Jeremy, who was head of security. “They’re for defending ourselves if we get attacked.”

“We won’t get attacked,” said Andy.

“I know,” said Jeremy. “Because they’ll be scared of our sharp sticks.”

And he was right. They didn’t attack. In fact, we didn’t see them at all. But, all the same, we didn’t use those broomsticks for flagpoles. We kept them with us to defend ourselves.

The time on the moon passed all too quickly. Like any holiday, it’s a long, agonising period of excitement and expectation, and then it’s over almost before you have time to realize it’s begun. 

We knew we couldn’t stay there forever. Life would be starting again soon. A new school year. A whole host of new problems that would make rocket powered space travel pale into insignificance. 

The remainder of the time was spent doing what you’d

Expect, exploring the terrain, making the most of the ability to leap so high. We threw the ball around and kicked it and we dug some holes. After a while though, the jumping and the flipping became commonplace, and the dust felt like a beach that stretches forever without any sign of the sea. We took turns to take photos, one of us holding the camera while the other four posed together, with the earth behind us in the distance. Before long though, we found that we’d run out of film. My mum already had some pictures on it when I borrowed it, and I hadn’t brought any spare film.   

The last thing we did before we left was to take the sharpened broomsticks that we hadn’t used to fight anything off, and we each wrote our names in the dust. Justin, or possibly Jeremy, wrote an obscene word, in big capital letters with four exclamation marks after it, but Andy and I rubbed it out. We didn’t think this was the legacy we should be leaving. 

Andy wanted to steer on the way back, so I let him. I sat back and dozed, fighting to stay awake, to watch as the planet below us got bigger and bigger. As it went back to being our whole world.

All these years later, and today when packing up my belongings to move to a new apartment, I found some of the pictures I drew and the photos I took in a card document folder along with some swimming certificates and cinema ticket stubs. I’d forgotten that I went to see Jurassic Park five times. Though now I think back, it may have been even more. And why not? 

More than that, though, I’d somehow forgotten that I’d been to the moon. The pictures from the moon trip really grabbed me. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about it and I started to wonder what else I might have forgotten along the way. 

There was the photo Andy took of Justin and Jeremy wearing Alien masks, jumping out and scaring Mary-Beth. If memory serves me correctly, one of them ended up marrying her. I couldn’t say for sure which one. I’m sure they’d know though. 

Another photo showed the ship, rockets attached to either side, sitting in Andy’s garden behind the trees just after we’d finished it. I’d forgotten that we’d given it a name. Of course we had. You don’t have a spaceship without a name. There it was, written on the side in red with a black outline: RENEGADE X-1. The dash between the X and the 1 was shaped like a bolt of lightning. 

There were a few blurry ones that didn’t look like much other than some grey and signs of movement, and most of the ones we took on the last day of us standing in groups with the Earth behind us didn’t come out too well either. I only had two of these, the others had each taken one or two when I’d had them developed. I wondered what they’d done with theirs. Hopefully at least one of them had thought to put it in a frame. 

The last photo I found was the one I took of the earth on that first day after we’d left the atmosphere and flipped around until we were worn out. In many ways, it was no different from any other photo you’ve seen that was taken of our planet from space. But this one was totally unique. As I held it and looked at it, I was almost there again, only this time my hands were shaking and my eyes were watering and things felt different from just who could do the most backflips before crashing into something. 

I’d stayed in contact with Andy for a long time after school. We’d see each other during holidays when we both went home to see our parents. We’d met each other’s families. We’d promise each other every time to make more of an effort, to maybe visit each other some time, to definitely call. It never happened though. And before I knew it, my father had passed away and my mother moved to be closer to her sisters and all the promises Andy and I had made disappeared. 

There was a chance, I thought, that I still had his number somewhere. On the other hand, there was an even better chance that he no longer had the last number I’d had for him. Look at me. Since we’d seen each other last, I’d had countless phone numbers, a few different addresses, even a different wife. You think you know what life is, and then suddenly it’s something else. 

Along with the photos, all folded up together, were five pieces of paper which I opened up and realised were the flags that we hadn’t been able to plant on the moon. In the creases of the folds were tiny amounts of moon dust. I poured it into the palm of my hand and gazed at it, shocked that I hadn’t brought some back in a jar, or even in my pocket. I suppose I had assumed I’d go back there one day. But I never had. Somehow life had happened and kept on happening and the urge to explore the universe, so compulsive, so irresistible, had been relegated to a memory and then, later, something less even than that.

Holding it carefully, I took the moon dust downstairs and put it in a jam jar, making sure to rub every trace from the creases in my palm. I held the jar up to the light from the window and shook it gently, amazed and somehow troubled at how little of it there was. 

I went back upstairs and took the five flags, laid them out side by side and stood back and looked at them. So much more than the sum of their parts. I took those five flags and attached them to sticks. It was about time. I took the flags and laid them on the dashboard of my car and went back in to finish packing the boxes. It always takes so much longer than you think it’s going to. You think you remember from the last time, so you start early, planning and organising everything so carefully. But come the last day, you’re throwing things into any box or bag that has space, always finding something you’d meant to pack earlier but forgotten. Always finding something to distract you from what you’re trying to do. 

Yeah. That’s the thing. There’s always something to distract you.

July 15, 2021 20:17

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1 comment

Trishna Pandey
19:13 Jul 19, 2021

Very heart warming story. If you are looking at it being refined more it will come in time. Look forward to more stories from you.

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