Also by Malcolm Brooks
Copyright © 2021 by Malcolm Brooks
Jacket Design by Gretchen Mergenthaler
Jacket landscape painting by Three Forks MT-based contemporary artist Liz Chappie Zoller. More information at PearlSnapStudio.com.
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Excerpt from Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, © 1937 by Random House and © renewed 1965 by Rungstedlundfonden. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved; B. H. Pietenpol, excerpts from Flying and Glider Manual (Modern Mechanix and Inventions, 1932); Amelia Earhart, excerpt from The Fun of It (Harcourt, Brace, 1933); Amelia Earhart, excerpt from personal letters (Letters from Amelia, Beacon Press, 1982); Aimee Semple McPherson, excerpt from “I Ain’t A-Gonna Grieve” (A Negro Spiritual) (Echo Park Evangelistic Association, 1935); Author unknown, excerpt from “Give Me That Old-Time Religion” Public Domain; George Bird Grinnell, excerpt from “Antelope Hunting Thirty Years Ago and To-Day” (Outing, vol. 43, 1903); Billy Dixon, excerpt from The Life and Adventures of Billy Dixon (Cooperative Publishing Company, 1914); Beryl Markham, excerpt from West with the Night (Houghton Mifflin, 1942); Charles Lindbergh, excerpt from We (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927); Margaret Culkin Banning, excerpt from “The Case for Chastity” (Reader’s Digest, August 1937); T. S. Eliot, excerpt from The Waste Land (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1922); Scripture quotations from The Authorized (King James) Version. Rights in the Authorized Version in the United Kingdom are vested in the Crown. Reproduced by permission of the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.
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For Cole and Ethan,
and Samson and Reuben . . .
Fly high, boys.
And for David Comstock, 1914–2005, in memoriam.
In the air you are taken into the full freedom of the three dimensions; after long ages of exile and dreams the homesick heart throws itself into the arms of space . . .
I’m willing to agree that the editors can make this the best airplane how-to-build that was ever published if I just do the necessary writing. So here goes . . .
—B. H. Pietenpol, 1932 Flying and Glider Manual
Scorpio slides down and Orion stalks up, and the stars in the October sky otherwise align.
An eight-cylinder Buick roadster with out-of-state plates and nails in two tires had limped in off the highway at dusk. She rests now nine hours later in the wash of light from the open door of the shop, new tubes in place and the convertible top down and the rightful owner in a boardinghouse not two blocks away, unaware of his contribution to any of this.
The kid hits the ignition, and the cold car jolts and roars like a cat. Withered leaves jump in a blast of exhaust, and he works the pedal, feels as much as hears the engine’s high-tuned rumble. The leaves skitter again.
He’s endured months for hope of this moment exactly, and with the Montana winter lurking just to the north he knows it’s either now or hold off until spring. Eternity to a fourteen-year-old. Here is the fastest car to appear in Big Coulee in at least a year. He’s actually gone so far as to pray for such, and with the prize dropped right in his lap, he can’t help believing he’s received not simply an answer but a bona fide green light from God. Even Pop knows the score, put him on the pierced tires with a wink and a nod and made himself conspicuously scarce.
He backs the car around the side of the shop, and Raleigh appears like a red ghost in the taillights, behind him the wide wing of the glider a fainter red blur against the night. Huck walks back and the two of them wordlessly take opposite sides and roll the ship forward, tiny spoked wheels greased and silent, the luminous sailcloth bobbing.
“Looks like a gol dern giant moth,” Raleigh mumbles, and he’s right, or at least not wrong, or at least not wrong in this diffuse red light. Still, Glider Number One looks to Huck entirely of a piece with the legendary experimental fliers of Orville and Wilbur Wright from four decades past, with its overhead wing and skeletonized rib section connecting the tail and rear flaps to the operator’s chair, actually nothing more than a plank atop the axle and a corresponding plank out front for a footrest. Only the cookie-cutter wheels appear truly misfit, repurposed as they are from a baby buggy and looking absurdly out of scale beneath twenty-three feet of wingspan. He wonders if this occurs to Raleigh as well.
They hitch forty feet of hemp line to the bumper and attach the tag to another ten of shock cord with a spliced steel ring at each end, the second of which mates to a release on the ship’s footrest. Raleigh straightens up. “All set?”
Huck weaves between cables, ducks beneath the wing. He settles to the narrow plank and reaches for the leather helmet, on self-administered loan from the high school football supply. He screws the helmet down and cinches the strap. He peers up at Raleigh. “How do I look?”
“Like Tom Swift. In his Airship.” Raleigh looks over at the bungalow, dark as a morgue. “Reckon your pap’s watching?”