Can You Hear Them? Part Three.
Ben also went to Old Donation for the Gifted and Talented. He only had one more year left and then it would be off to Norfolk Academy private school. The thought of private school was tremendously aggravating for Ben, but fortunately time goes by much slower when you are younger, and anything was possible. Meanwhile, there were games of bicycle tag to be played, Dungeons and Dragons pewter figures to be painted, and programs to be written on the Apple 2 plus. LINE 10, “NEW”. LINE 20, “PRINT ‘BENJIMOBILE’”. LINE 30, “GOTO LINE TEN.”
Ways to impress friends and ways to destroy things are items on the top of most kid’s list. Ben was no exception. When the opportunity presented itself for Mom’s friend Marvin to round up large quantities of fireworks from South Carolina, he wasted no time in bidding a request.
Ben stared at the green screen for a second and then continued diligently typing away in Basic. He entered line two hundred and thirty of his magnum opus, “IF 120 = ’ yes’ THEN 20.” Once the program was initiated, BENJIMOBILE would flash in all caps repeatedly, followed by a high resolution drawing of a vehicle that would inch its way across the glowing screen. Mom yelled from downstairs, “OK guys, dinner,” and Ben saved his program onto a five and a half inch floppy. The disk drive gurgled and moaned as Ben hopped down the stairs.
“Chicken Divan?” Ben asked with his lip curled up on the right side.
Mom didn’t answer as she opened the oven door with a green mitt. Ben sat down and immediately picked out the mushroom bits and placed them on his napkin. Mom added a quadrant of margarined acorn squash to each plate and set the remainder down on the hot tray next to the table. She then took her own seat and placed a napkin on her lap.
“What time’s Uncle Julian getting here?”
“Within the next hour is my guess,” said Mom. “Theresa MacGilveray should be here at seven. You guys gonna be okay with her?”
With a mouthful of food Ben mumbled, “Sure, she’s cool.”
“I expect you guys to spend a lot of time this evening on your homework. I know you’ve both got some make-up work to do tonight.”
Theresa MacGilveray showed up at seven fifteen and was chewing a wad of watermelon flavored Hubba Bubba with her mouth open. Mom laid out the rules for the evening as Uncle Julian stood with his arms crossed and listened. She then kissed our foreheads and the two adults left for the night.
The evening started with a round of Space Invaders on the Atari. It was then followed by an episode of Dallas. Theresa turned off the TV when the show was over and said, “Homework time!”
With a little reluctance, we headed for our bedrooms.
Theresa headed for the avocado green phone, which sat on the desk in the kitchen. First she called Amy Riddick but Amy had gone to the Bamboo Hut for dinner with her parents. Then she called Melissa Zorinski. She talked to Melissa for over an hour about the hot new boys at Lynhaven Junior High School. Melissa encouraged her to call David Guy. David seemed like the best candidate for an evening of telephone flirtation. Besides, he had passed his phone number over to her in World Geography class on Monday. Nonetheless, her heart pounded and her mouth dried up while the phone rang on the other end.
Ben sat on his bed and decided to start with math. He opened his spiral bound notebook. Fifteen minutes later he had completed the entire assignment. He then went to his social studies assignment. It was a story about a family moving into a suburb of Chicago. There was a father, mother, and a boy. The boy was terribly upset over the move. He missed his friends in San Diego. The father explained the importance of the move and the new job he had taken. Ben grew bored. Ben lifted his head and listened to the diluted sound of the Go-Go’s echoing from down the hall.
Ben rested the book face down on the bed. He yawned and swished his tongue against his teeth, discovering an annoying piece of broccoli wedged between two molars. Eventually he worked it out of his mouth and spit it toward the trashcan by the door. He walked over to the box of fireworks on the floor and squatted down next to it. Ben reached in and pulled out a brick of firecrackers and stared at the red waxy paper encasement. The label was half peeled off the front exposing the magic that lay within. Edging back the package a bit more, the colors of each individual firecracker became visible. They alternated between blue with white stars and red with white stars. Now removing the red waxy paper from the brick, he studied the long white string that wound around each firecracker holding the block together as one unit. Why not remove the string and separate each individual firecracker? This would stretch out the rations even further. At least one brick might be fun to separate. Why not? A minute later the brick had become 40 individual red and blue explosives. He held the white string in his hand and returned all the loose firecrackers to the box below him.
The string was about six inches long and smelled like gunpowder. It had similar qualities to the wicks that stuck out from each firework, but was actually a piece of string and not paper wrapped around gunpowder. In fact, there was no gunpowder on this string at all. The odor was simply residue from the package that it had been holding together. Ben wondered if it would carry a spark like a wick. Perhaps it would act like a delayed fuse. Less gunpowder, more delay. More delay meant a faster escape. This could prove useful in the upcoming weekend adventures.
There were plenty more of these pieces of string holding together the other bricks of firecrackers in the box. Would it be such a bad thing to test this one out? It was only Wednesday and although it was agreed that nothing would be lit until Friday evening, did this really fall under the category of firework? Ben didn’t think so. This was simply a piece of string. No firework attached. In a similar sense, candles were just pieces of string attached to wax. This didn’t even have wax attached to it. No need to even go outside. Besides, Theresa would be less than thrilled to find Ben out of his room so soon. Although homework was long since forgotten, at least he could do some experimentation with the wick in the privacy of his own bedroom.
Ben reached down into the brown bag next to the box of fireworks. Although the bag was now empty, it still contained two packs of generic black matchbooks. Grabbing a pack and pulling off a match from inside, Ben held up the wick in the palm of his left hand. He lit the match with his right hand and watched the sulfur ignite into a blue and then yellow flame. He placed the pack of matches back on the floor, still holding on to the wick and lit the match. Then, holding the string at one side, he lit the opposite end. He quickly blew out the match and kept an eye on the lit wick. He studied its properties as the flame grew and shrank. It then turned to a spark and flickered as it hit some gunpowder. Then it returned to small flame again and nearly went out. Ben gave it a slight breath of air. Before he knew what had happened, the flame hit another patch of gunpowder, sizzled, and a spark raced toward his left hand at a harrowing velocity. Half out of fear of burning his fingers and half out of shock, Ben dropped the wick. You can probably guess where it fell. Ben yelled at the top of his lungs, “Mike, comere quick!” He ran to the furthest corner of the room, crouched to the ground, and covered his head and ears with his hands. Ben shut his eyes and began humming to himself.
SUGGESTED READSCan You Hear Them? Part One
by Michael Hearst (1/2/2003)
Can You Hear Them? Part Two
by Michael Hearst (1/3/2003)
by Chris Ogden (10/12/2004)
RECENTLYMcSweeney’s First-Ever Student Short Story Contest
by McSweeney's Editors (7/30/2014)
Testomania: Know Your Rights
by Janet Manley (7/30/2014)
List: Actual Unicorn Related Articles Found in Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journals
by David Ng (7/30/2014)