Like A Bird

“It looks like a video compilation of epic fails.”

“It’s not that–”

“No, seriously, dude, it’s like something out of a 80s kids’ movie. There’s no way it’s flying.”

Michael shook his head, bemused. His friend’s insults didn’t bother him. He’d been saying the same thing for weeks. “Does that mean you won’t help me?”

Shawn rubbed his hand vigorously through his hair. “What makes you so sure it won’t nosedive the moment we’re off the cliff?”

“I’ve run dozens of computer simula–”

“We’re going to die. As long as I’ve prepared.”

“The models hold up, Shawn.”

“I’m not worried about the models! I’m worried about us.”

Michael sighed. He looked over his creation. Part kite, part bike, part mechanical bird, he knew every bolt and joint. It was a marvel, a work of art. Though, if he tried to see it through a stranger’s eyes, it did look a bit shabby, a tad crackpot.

“Look, Shawn, you coming or not?”

Shawn peered at the sky to avoid eye contact.

“I need you.”

“How about tomorrow?”

“Come here.” Michael pulled him down the incline to the cliff’s edge. “See that?”

Below was their small town, cars coming and going along the two highways that intersected in downtown. “Once, people drove those cars. Now the cars drive them. Kids used to go to school. Now school comes to them. Half the city works in its pajamas. You can live in a single room forever.”

“As long as it has a toilet,” Shawn added.

“Everything’s safe and confined and comfy. Then there’s this.” Michael pointed to his contraption.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying!”

“Haven’t you ever wanted to soar, to skim between heaven and earth like a bird?”

“Not really.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s not something I think about a lot.”

“Imagine flying above the earth with nothing between you and the wind!”

“Don’t go into sales, okay?”

“This is going to work,” Michael insisted. “Come with me.”

Shawn looked moodily at the town. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“What?”

“To fly.”

“Why would it be illegal?”

“Doesn’t the government own the air or something?”

Michael laughed. “Own the air? I would hope not!” Except, he considered, it was just the sort of thing they would try. “Come on, Shawn. Let’s do it–just this once.”

“Yeah, that’s not ominous.”

“Is that a yes?”

Shawn groaned. “Yeah, it’s a yes.” He started reluctantly up the hill. “Remind me how this deathtrap works.”

Ten minutes later they were strapped in and ready to go. Michael was in the front seat of the tandem bike. He tested the joints of the wings, examined the tightly stretched fabric overhead, and reminded himself he needed to purchase some parachutes for the next flight. “Ready?”

“No.”

“Remember, pedal as fast as you can, even when we run out of land.”

“Pedal as if my life depended on it. Check.”

“And sit up straight. Don’t lean unless I tell you.”

“Fall straight, not sideways. Check.”

“Ten….”

“A countdown? Really?”

“Nine.”

Shawn muttered something under his breath.

“Eight. Seven. Six.”

“I should have told my mom I love her. And sis.”

“Five. Four. Three.”

“You’re crazy, Michael. Insane.”

“Two. One.”

They began pedaling. The awkward mass started downhill. Michael gazed at the sky beyond the cliff’s edge, not at the land rushing beneath but the endless blue where they would float and soar. They pedaled hard, picking up speed as they bumped heavily down the uneven ground, the wind whipping their hair. They pedaled without restraint, serious, silent. They reached the edge. The front wheel dropped. The nose tilted down.

“Pedal!” Michael shouted.

The contraption rushed into space. It streaked downward like a badly thrown paper airplane. Shawn screamed and Michael laughed, a bit madly. The back propellor spun wildly as they pedaled, but it only added to their downward speed. Michael released the handlebars and thrust his hands into the shoulder-height gloved enclosures on either side. He grasped the handles within and rotated his wrists, changing the contour of the glider’s frame. The wind caught it.

They lurched upward, stomachs in their feet, and with effort Michael held them steady.

He let out a whoop. Looking back, he found a pale-faced Shawn smiling weakly. “I’ll thank those simulations personally when we land,” he said.

Michael grinned. His face refused to do anything but grin. “Let’s try this.” He grabbed another set of handles and, slowly, straining, pressed his extended arms down, then up, then down–like a bird flapping its wings. The wings of the contraption moved, too, lifting them higher.

Below them the city spread like a kid’s toy, intersecting streets huddle together among acres of grass and twisty housing additions. Roads and creeks ran ribbons through the undulating green. Above, thick nimbus clouds lazed in the sky like stage props.

“Where are we going?” Shawn asked.

“Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Down?” Michael teased.

“Not yet.”

“How about we just go,” Michael said. “Nowhere. Everywhere. Like they used to do with cars. Cruisin’. Let’s go cruisin’. Pick a direction.”

“That way,” Shawn said, pointing over Michael’s shoulder.

“Any reason?”

“Roads don’t go that way.”

“See, I knew I wanted you along.” His vision was filled with air and land to the edges of his eyeballs. “We’ll pedal till we can’t.”

“And then?”

“Going down’s the easy part.”

“And landing?”

Michael shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter yet, I guess,” Shawn said. “It’s not too bad up here, you know?”

“No,” Michael said, drowning in the view, “not too bad at all.”

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