2 | Mad Mike

Hey, isn’t that CA Man? I asked, pointing to a man walking on the road a few miles from the RV camp. Did he just wander the desert at all times of the day? How on earth was he still barefoot?

After a half-hearted debate, we decided not to stop. Not for CA Man at least. Although, we did stop for the Flat Earth Research Rocket we saw a few miles later. Who wouldn’t?

A large crowd was gathering. Discovery Channel was there, among a few other camera crews. Somehow, we’d stumbled on a pretty important event that I’d never heard of before in my life.

Why is the Discovery Channel featuring a rocket used for flat earth research?

Of course, it didn’t take long for CA Man to arrive. He looked less out of place among the local crowd than he had with no one else around. Somehow, he seemed to fit, surrounded with other men and women who wore coveralls and faded Wrangler jeans. I’d never seen so many wife beaters and plain white tees in one place before.

You could tell who was from out of town and who wasn’t, even without CA Man giving away the local crowd. They all seemed much more comfortable with the way their skin sizzled in the desert sun. They were also the only crew to bring coolers with Coors and Bud.

Then he saw us. We made eye contact and I tried to look away, but it was too late. CA Man was headed my way, beers in hand.

What the hell, why not? I said.

So it began again. By the time my buzz kicked in, someone was finally announcing the start of something. I’d forgotten why we were there in the first place. I was having a blast partying with CA Man’s friends. So far, I’d hit the beer bong three times and shotgunned four beers. It was the start to a beautiful… morning? It was still before noon. How was it still before noon?

The sun dipped behind a puffy cotton candy-looking cloud, providing just enough shade for me to look up at the cobalt sky. It was hard to believe a guy named Mad Mike was about to launch himself up there on a homemade rocket, for flat earth research of all things. Right, the rocket!

I turned away from the crowd and looked toward the launchpad just in time. A plume of smoke carried the rocket into the sky as a parachute shot out from the back and was severed by the heat. The torched chute floated softly to the ground from a few hundred feet in the air and Mad Mike continued sailing above the clouds I’d just been imagining eating like a happy fat kid.

He had a backup parachute, right?

The crowd was silent as Mike reentered the scene through a fluff of cotton another 100 yards away from where he’d disappeared, plummeting into a yucca tree before he became a crater in the earth. I looked around, hoping that this was a joke, just part of the stunt.

It wasn’t.

Suddenly sober, I realized CA Man was crying. I wondered if he was a flat earther, too.

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