9 | Jetpack

We gathered on the lawn behind Bear Mountain Pizza. By then, the clouds were spinning with my mind. The ground felt like it was up and the sky was down. Gravity was backwards. I probably did too many substances, but I didn’t care. Ben was about to take off on a Jetpack.

Whatever barbequing materials I planned on giving Ben for his birthday from my camper could never compare to the Astra Jetpack bobbing on his shoulders in the dusky setting sunlight. An orange tinge radiated from the left cylinder as Ben approached his makeshift launchpad in the clearing. A few moments before, one of his friends had spray painted an X on the rocky ground between some shrubbery with neon orange construction paint.

Wait, Ben, I said. Your glasses.

He gratefully handed me his spectacles, which I promptly positioned on the bridge of my nose. If I thought I’d been disoriented a moment ago, now everything was distorted to a new dimension. I wondered if my face was, too.

Ben walked out to the center of his redneck launchpad and readied himself for takeoff. His fans cheered from a few dozen yards away, but I was still among them, frozen like a statue in thrashing waves. I couldn’t help but see Mad Mike flying down from the clouds, splattering beyond Ben in the distance.

Was I about to watch another man plummet to his death?

I didn’t want to find out. When Ben flipped on the Jetpack and gave us his thumbs up, I slowly backed away from the crowd, turned, and sprinted toward the Tacoma. I didn’t get very far, though. About ten strides into a full-speed, head-down sprint, I ran head-first into a solid torso.

Shit! I’m so sorry, I said as we both picked ourselves up from the ground. Ben’s shattered glasses fell from my face into my hands.

Idiot, the torso’s head said.

I couldn’t help but notice the man’s voice sounded oddly familiar. I’d been afraid to look him in the eye until then, but the way he spoke sparked the instinct to laugh so I had to see who it was. Clearly, I knew this man.

My jaw dropped. All the courage I could muster would never have prepared me to make eye contact with Rainn Wilson. He asked me a few questions, but I stood like Roy in the trucker’s headlights until he walked away, muttering something about me being a nutcase.

Apparently, he’d given Ben the jetpack, but we wouldn’t find out until later. The camper was like a beacon of safety in the middle of pure embarrassment. Where on earth had we ended up? California was nothing like I thought.

It took a moment of hyperventilating to remember the Airband Scanner under the bed. Right! We can hear if Ben gets into any trouble with the jetpack, I said.

We scanned the radio for thirty minutes with nothing to report. Everything seemed normal until one pilot’s tone changed. He said, Tower. Delta 978. We just passed a guy on a jetpack. Off the left side maybe 300, 30 yards or so. About our altitude.

Oh fuck, I said.

Air traffic chatter buzzed with news of Ben and his Jetpack until a few minutes later, another pilot confirmed, saying, We just saw the guy fly by us on the jetpack.

Another flight seemed to be headed for Ben and we heard the controller tell them to use caution because there was a person on a jetpack reported about 300 yards south.

The last thing we heard before shutting off the scanner was, Only in California.

Shit. Well that’s not good. What are we going to do now?

We run.

What about CA Man?

Dammit, I said. You’re right. We have to go get him.

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