Fiction · 05/11/2011

T-Minus

10.

People don’t realize Mary Shelley’s monster isn’t ever actually referred to as Frankenstein in the story. The monster’s inventor, Victor Frankenstein, provides readers loads of great names with potential for traction, like Vile Insect, Daemon, Wretched Devil, and my personal favorite, Fiend. But still everyone calls him Frankenstein. I think that’s kind of messed up. The monster doesn’t even get its own name.

9.

Here’s a lie that I wish were true: Space Camp is a legitimate training ground for astronauts. I went. Major disappointment. Even the mission badge reeked of loser.

8.

A NASA pilot needs at minimum 1000 jet hours to even apply to be a part of the training program. Every day the fighter jets take off from the naval air base here on Whidbey Island. The roar of their engines stops conversation, shakes dust from hanging lights. With startling precision, I could sketch what’s going on in those engines. I could map out the capabilities of the EA-18G Growler and the EA-6B Prowler, no problem. I probably know more about the inner workings of Prowlers and Growlers than the pilots do. But I would have to present my expertise with only one eye, because the retina of my other eye floats permanently detached. Which means no wings for Fister.

7.

The other way to fly in NASA is science.

6.

There are no cockpits in science. Yes, Mission Specialists get to go along for the ride and conduct various experiments, but they don’t really get to fly. Everyone knows sitting in the back seat of a car is not even close to the same as driving.

5.

I have been building rockets since I was seven. I mowed, clipped, and weeded my way through the entire Estes catalog. I’m not going to lie and say, “Oh yeah, that was just a phase,” because I’m eighteen and still loving it and have matured beyond all that posturing. In 2007, a group of amateur scientists in Arizona built a rocket based on the Estes three-stage Comanche, only four times as large. Since then, they’ve successfully launched half a dozen other large rockets out in the Yuma desert. I emailed one of the guys from the team and convinced him to send me the specs for their Comanche. I gave him the innocent high school student vibe and he snapped it up like a bat does a mosquito. As of today, stage three is complete, and my rocket is ready to fly. This sucker, by the way, is big. I had to lay it down flat in our garage to finish it. If my mom and dad knew the firepower I had, they’d ground me for life. Ha ha.

4.

The truth is I’m furious about the fact that I will never fly jets, rockets, or spacecraft unless I become 1. wealthy enough to build or buy my own and get around the pilot licensing laws or 2. cured of what ails me. But I don’t see me making billions, and every retinal reattachment procedure thus far has failed me.

3.

In Greek mythology, the Furies were three angry ladies bent on vengeance. So when I say furious I mean just that – I want vengeance. I have felt that desire leak into my fingertips as I attached the different sections of the Fiend’s body, as I welded the shiny black cap onto the top, as I mixed the explosives beneath the single overhanging light bulb in our garage. But there’s one problem: my fury has no target. Who can I blame for my eye? I have no Mt. Olympus to storm, no Victor Frankenstein to terrorize.

2.

For a while I imagined my rocket would fly up into the heavens and metaphorically blind one of God’s eyes, but as time passed, the thought brought me less and less satisfaction.

1.

I know it’s not their fault my retina’s detached, but I hate those fighter jets as much as I love them. I hate those that fly them. Those that build them. Those that pay for them. In a way, I hate the Fiend too. I realize this hate is probably like the kind that led Shelley’s monster to murder his creator’s brother and wife, not to mention frame the nanny. I also realize that, at the end of the book, vengeance gave the monster no peace. I wish I could say this changed anything for me. Tomorrow the Fiend will burst up through my backyard with a thunder that shakes houses. My creation will fly high into the closed airspace over fair Whidbey Island and set off every military radar apparatus for miles around. Those Prowlers and Growlers will scramble into the air, guns blazing, missiles off safety. Then they will shoot the Fiend down in an explosion that no one will ever forget, a disaster that will make fools of us all.

+++

Ross McMeekin’s fiction has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Storyglossia, Connotation Press, Monkeybicycle, Johnny America, and Fractured West. He is the assistant fiction editor at Hunger Mountain and an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in his hometown, Seattle.