Flickering… flickering… a haze of gray… blue – no, purple. I started counting. 10-11-12… fifteen faint flickers of light fluctuating faintly in the distance.
My late nights were wasted away in this manner. Sometimes it'd take me hours on end until I felt satisfied. There is no real meaning to this nightly routine. It was something that I decided to do one day and have been doing ever since. It was as if I was trying to give significance to this insignificant action through daily repetition.
- And believing in this sophomoric theory, I would go out, take three steps away from the worn-out mat of the front door of the house, and stare mindlessly at the night sky; an imperfect starlit sky, with clouds constantly obscuring the faint white specks from my vision.
It was from this useless gesture that I gradually began to develop an interest for aircraft. It wasn't much, really. I was never a person with strong desires. It's just that the annoying buzz of low-flying planes always snapped me back to reality during my nightly "escapades."
Back then, our house must've been only a few kilometers away from the local airport, thus, the constant buzzing of low-flying aircraft even at night. A few things have changed since then. Most notably, I no longer hear the low-flying aircraft at night. After all, the new airport is a few hundred kilometers away, maybe even a thousand. Also, I'm older now… but, in hindsight, I always wonder; just how much has that mischievous little boy from back then really grown?
The Blackbird, it was the U.S. army's ultimate stealth weapon. At least that's how I've always remembered it. It was the fastest plane in the world capable of traveling at five times the speed of sound. Surely that was fast. I mean, sound travels at 1,236 kilometers per hour and this plane could move at five times that speed! I made sure to grab that information off of my personal encyclopedia set. Furthermore, parts of its engine were made with gold plating and its unique, aerodynamic design also made it invisible to conventional radar technology.
For me, it was the coolest plane of its time – perhaps the coolest plane ever. It was summer when I first came across this plane when it was featured in a short 3-page article inside a monthly general interest magazine that my parents had subscribed to. My days were spent with my two neighbors and classmates, Joey and Michael. Joey was lean and tall for his age, while Michael was bit on the pudgy side; watching them standing side-by-side, their silhouettes looked like the number 10 or 01 depending on their positions. We'd usually play all kinds of games all day by a grassy field just a few blocks away from my house.
Joey, as is to be expected from his tall frame, was the fastest runner among us. I came in a far second while fatso Michael was always dead last, but this was only in a straight race. Usually, one might think that Joey was the most formidable at tag, but that's just useless stereotyping. Tag is serious business! Well, it was for us, at least – and of course, idealized as my memories may have become, I was pretty sure that I was the ace tag player of our little group. Think about it, the Cheetah is the fastest land animal and it easily exceeds its prey's top speed at only 50 mph, while the Cheetah can run up to 75 mph, but how often does it get a Gazelle kill? In case you never watch nature programs on cable TV, let's just say it's not very often – just enough to survive and they usually prey on the estranged members of the herd. This is an appropriate analogy to justify why I'm better than Joey at tag. See, it's all in agility. Joey's thin build never allowed him to make quick turns like I could and I was faster at quick bursts of speed rather than a sustained run.
As for Michael… well… he's good at chess. Yeah, that's it, chess. Ehehehe!
Joey was the de-facto leader of our group of three. I didn't really care about stuff like leadership and rules and Michael was always too timid to oppose anything anyone says. Still, I felt that I was the most well-informed out of all of us. After all, I was the only one with access to cable TV and expensive encyclopedias. Surely, I was a genius compared to my two playmates. Taking my natural place in our trio, I made sure to periodically memorize bits of trivia to impress my *ahem* subordinates.
My flavor of the month was, of course, the Blackbird. Admittedly, I was always imprecise in handing out information and I had one wild imagination. Thus, the fabled Blackbird always had a different twist to it with each tale I told. Sometimes I'd claim it had a nuclear fusion engine even though I had only the faintest idea of what a nuclear engine might be; the number of times it could circle the globe in a minute increased exponentially from two to four to six until I finally settled down at twelve.
Fortunately, Joey and Michael didn't seem to mind very much. Maybe they even liked it… at the very least, they never complained about my tall tales.
It was already the middle of April when we found that place. It was a Friday and we'd just about played ourselves to death and were getting tired as well as bored of our three-person games. As an encore, we decided to have one round of hide and seek.
We decided on who would be it with Rock, Paper, Scissors. Michael lost, unfortunately for him. I ran a few meters away from the Acacia tree where Michael was counting and stopped to catch my breath. I checked my wristwatch. It was 4:24 PM. Still plenty of time until my curfew at 5:00. Since this was the last game, I thought about being a bit more adventurous with my hiding place.
I ran straight ahead beyond a small mound that just about obscured me from Michael's line of sight from the tree. Then, I made a sharp turn to my right. Joey had gone in another direction, so I had my planned hiding place all to myself. I ran as fast as I could to beat Michael's count.
My destination was the abandoned building just beyond the clearing. We were all familiar with the place, but I doubt anyone would think I'd choose it as my hiding place. It looked like it might have been some kind of commercial establishment. It was about three floors high and there were all sorts of rusted junk lying around inside it. Not to mention that it looked like it might be haunted from the outside. The sky just seemed to take on an unnaturally dark hue whenever you stepped within the vicinity of the building.
I was more than a little reluctant to actually step inside once I was actually in front of it. There was a certain morbid, melancholic air about it. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it felt as if there was an invisible barrier separating the building from the outside world. Like its world was enclosed within the few hundred square meters of space that it stood on.
But, I'd come that far, so there was no way I was going back now. Once I've made up my mind to do something, I'll go through with it even if it's obviously a stupid idea. Making my resolve, I cautiously entered the dilapidated building. There was enough light filtering through the cracks in its walls and the glassless windows for me to see where I was going.
There were debris everywhere, but thankfully, they hadn't made the stairs impassable. I ran up to the 2nd floor and peered out of one of the bare windows. I had fun pretending to be some kind of lookout or sniper waiting for my target to wander into my line of sight.
I was startled by a weird creaking sound. Thoughts of ghosts and malignant lower beings from local folklore ran across my mind. I turned around slowly to the source of the sound.
Two glowing green eyes greeted me about a yard away from where I was crouching. A cat? Sure, I knew that it was a cat right away… or did I? I think it might've been nothing more than the jitters considering where I was, but I was actually feeling scared of that cat. Its fur was extremely white. I could tell even with just the dim lighting in the room I was in. I remembered the tales of animal spirits that pretended to be ordinary stray cats. They could change their size at will from normal size to 20 foot high monsters. Some versions of the tale even say that they could speak and understand human language.
For a rational adult, maybe it'd be pretty funny if a cat suddenly spoke to him. The jaded adult mind isn't as likely to accept something like that so easily. As a child, however, I would have been totally freaked out. In fact, I was already freaked out enough just from seeing the cat and making wild speculations in my mind that I ran away in the opposite direction.
Cold shivers ran down my spine and my movements felt totally uncoordinated, but, I was running away – away from that evil cat spirit!
Before I knew it, I'd reached the third floor. I'd put in enough distance between myself and the cat to have time to catch my breath and regain my composure. I held my breath and listened for any suspicious sounds.
There were none. The sound of the shrill cicadas drowning out all sound except their own outside was a welcome respite for me.
Something in the corner of the room caught my attention. It was a sleek, black plastic box on top of a wobbly looking table. Curious, I walked toward it for a closer look. It looked so shiny and new that it seemed out of place from its surroundings.
I took a deep breath and muttered a prayer to some god of protection who might save me from opening a cursed box of unknown evil and slowly lifted the lid open. When I looked inside, what I saw totally took my breath away – in a good way.
Inside, I saw a perfect replica of my dream plane, the Blackbird!
I took it out excitedly. It was a remote-controlled model of the Blackbird! It looked exactly like the real thing based on the magazine. I flipped the switch on top of it and… it was amazing! Blue lights lit up from its windows and it began to emit a powerful sound like the roar of a large engine.
"Heeeey! Jerry! You in there?"
Joey's booming voice startled me out of my stupor.
"Hey guys! Yeah, I'm in here."
I shouted back at Joey and Michael from the third floor window. Seems they'd gotten tired of waiting for me to come out and decided to look for me. I guess my hiding place was too good.
"Oh man, I can't believe this guy…," Michael muttered.
"I told ya he was crazy enough to actually try hiding in there." Joey answered in an intentionally loud voice to make sure I heard him.
"Tsk. Whatever. Anyway, I found something interesting, you guys. Here, I'll take it down with me."
With my friends around, my courage increased ten-fold. I casually strolled past the stray cat who was still hanging around the 2nd floor. I wasn't scared anymore. I mean, who'd be scared of a common housecat? That's just too childish and uncool.
A few moments later…
"WHOOOOA!" Joey and Michael exclaimed in unison.
"Awesome isn't it?" I beamed with pride.
"But… why was it in there?" Michael asked earnestly.
I glared at him.
"Dude, I don't care! That building's just about to collapse anyway. Maybe someone who used to live in there left it. The important thing is that I found it and it's all mine… err… ours now!"
"Sure, Jerry. Sure. Just chill, man."
"Aaanyway, let's try it out tomorrow. Are there batteries in that thing?" Joey broke the tension.
"Yup! I tried it out earlier." I nodded.
"Okay then. It's getting late so we might as well call it a day." Said Joey
"Yeah, see you tomorrow guys" I replied.
We spent the next few days taking turns flying the Blackbird. It was such an amazing toy that we never got bored with it.
At that time, model planes that actually flew just didn't exist where I lived. The most sophisticated ones had flashing lights and pre-recorded sound effects, but none of them could zoom up in the air like the Blackbird.
Soon, though, trouble arose. I guess it was to be expected of playful little boys, but, we couldn't agree on how long each of us got to fly the plane anymore. Joey, who had the biggest allowance among us and thus contributed the largest share when we needed to buy new batteries insisted that he gets top priority. Of course, me and Michael had our own alibis. Mine was simple, I was the one who found it. As for Michael, he reasoned out that he's always the underdog in all our games so he should get to be the flying ace for once.
It wasn't long before the discussion turned into an argument.
And it wasn't long before the argument turned into a shouting match.
Eventually, it became an all out fistfight.
In the end, I ran away from the fight clutching my precious Blackbird kept securely inside its box to my chest.
Joey and Michael were probably shouting something at me, but couldn't hear them, no- I refused to listen to them.
That night, I felt really empty. I ate little for dinner; just enough not to make Mom suspicious.
I stared at the black box that I'd taken from that building. Opening it, I took out my prized possession, The Blackbird.
"I hope you're happy… I just lost two of my best friends today thanks to you."
Even though I'd said this, I didn't feel that my actions were wrong at that time, at least I didn't want them to be. And as if to prove this, I coddled the model plane lovingly and began admiring its intricate design and workmanship.
That's when I noticed it. On the belly of the plane, there were some scratches coarse handwriting scratches on the otherwise flawless plastic.
I squinted and began to read...
I know I have been a very bad boy.
Thats why daddy isnot coming home anymore
I promise to do good and not sin forever and ever
Please bring daddy home soon
I am returning this beatiful airplane that you gave me
In exchange, I want my daddy to come back
Dear God I believe in you and your son Jesus Christ and Mama Mary
and…" I stopped at this point.
I didn't need to read anymore. In my heart, I felt a strange tugging pain. At that time, I couldn't claim to have understood all the implications of that message, but somehow, some part of me knew that I'd probably done someone an injustice; that I'd defiled the pure wishes of a boy who wanted his father back.
Somehow, I knew that it was a pointless gesture. Putting that plane inside the building wasn't going to do anything except invite other people to take it home with them. This was something beyond reason, though. I just knew deep in my heart that I had to return this plane to its proper place if I was to make peace with Michael and Joey – If I was to make peace with myself.
I couldn't wait for morning. Using the tree next to my bedroom window as a stepladder, I sneaked out of the house and ran straight for that dilapidated building. I didn't know if I would have the courage to put it back in there, but I had to. If I wanted to clear my conscience, there was no way I wouldn't make it there.
A little surprise was waiting for me when I finally made it there. In the middle of the night, Joey and Michael were waiting for me just outside the building with flashlights and wide grins on their faces.
"Wha? What are you guys doing here?"
"Don't ever try to become a ninja, Jerry. Your footsteps are about as sneaky as an elephant." said Joey.
"Joey saw you running through the field from his house. He woke me up in the middle of the night just to tell me." Added Michael.
"We tried to put two and two together and thought you might go here… and to our surprise… here you are."
Afterwards, I showed them the message etched into the plane and we all decided to place it back into the building for good. There were no regrets… well, apart from taking a scary trip into the third floor armed only with flashlights... that cat was still there too. It might really have been some kind of spirit.
In the end, it might have been a pretty useless gesture as well. That building was on the verge of collapse. It was roped off and demolished forever within a week after our escapade. Of course, this means that the Blackbird was crushed into powder along with it.
It's been more than a decade since that time. Still, not much has changed since then. I'm still a little boy at heart… that's what I'd like to believe
Sometimes, when I look to the sky, I remember their smiles and our boisterous, unrestrained laughter while we ran without a care through that grassy field.
Sighing, I looked up at the stars once again. There is no real meaning to this nightly routine. It was something that I decided to do one day and have been doing ever since. It was as if I was trying to give significance to this insignificant action through daily repetition.
Whenever I look back to how we resolved to place the Blackbird back where I'd found it; back then, I realize that there was no real meaning to that act, either. It's like life, I suppose. There are no significant meanings to a lot of things that happen to us.
I looked to the night sky once again. I smiled. Joey went to the states the summer after that incident and Michael… well, he eventually became a priest, but those things are totally insignificant to me at this point, because no matter how much we may have seemed to change… we were still just the same rowdy group of little boys who used to play in that grassy field together - just three friends.
To clarify, this is not exactly the same tale as the first short story that I wrote over a decade ago. Unfortunately, I lost the original script that piece and had to rely mostly on my fuzzy memory of the original. Furthermore, while I did try to retain the basic plot, which was about three kids who find a model plane inside an abandoned building and discover the importance of friendship, there are many more elements included in this version that incorporate my current literary style. One might say that this version of The Blackbird is now tainted with "technique." In the original version, the story started in medias res just as the protagonist whose real name escapes me now discovers the model plane inside the building. There were no pseudo-philosophical messages or flashbacks from adulthood to childhood. It was also written from a traditional third-person perspective rather than the first-person perspective that I used in this version.
Nevertheless, I feel that I've somehow succeeded in capturing the essence of the original story that I wrote so long ago and updating it to make it, at the very least, an entertaining read for everyone. I hope you enjoyed this story and I sincerely hope we can meet each other again in future stories to come. – cloud^