Ticket to Ride (She Wrote, Week 4)

by Christine Hawks

As David, who always beats me to publishing, mentioned earlier, this week we added a twist to our usual challenge.  Still two short stories, still using prompts to build our tales, but this week, we participated in Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at terribleminds.com.  Out of a list of 10 possible random items, contenders pick 4 to feature in their short story of about 1,000 words.  Ironically, David and I both picked the same 4 items – the unopened envelope, the rocking chair, the horseshoe and the child’s toy.  Really!  We did not plan that and, as usual, neither of us knew what the other was writing about until the big reveal here.  Great minds…?  Polls will be opened shortly and new prompts selected on Sunday.

He thrust he walker out in front of him, then shuffled his feet two steps to catch up with the contraption before repeating the awkward two-step all over again.  The going wasn’t easy; not only due to his handicap, but also because Sam Daily was traveling on a subtle incline of packed dirt that was his driveway. He made the quarter mile round-trip six days a week to retrieve the mail delivered at the intersection of his driveway and the farm road.  Though the exertion left him needing a nap most days, he was grateful that he was still able to get around on his own two legs, even if it was a struggle. He knew that one day he’d require full-time use of the Gator that he reserved for days when the driveway was mired in mud or covered in snow.

When he had reached his destination, Sam noted that the stray mutt he’d befriended was already waiting there, as usual.  He reached into his trousers and pulled out a few liver treats for the dog.  Despite his apparent homelessness, the dog was always respectful in taking whatever Sam offered him.  Sam reached down to scratch behind the dog’s floppy ear and predictably, after his snack and some attention, the dog continued up the road.  “Same time tomorrow, old boy!”

Sam, now recovered from his journey to the mailbox reached in and retrieved the day’s delivery.  He flipped through, though he already knew what to expect: the current issue of The Farm Journal, the sales circular for the local co-op grocery and the utility bill.  But, there was an addition today that he didn’t expect.  The envelope, addressed to him was accompanied by a return address from the American Planetary Tourism Board.

“What the hell?” he asked, aloud.

The white envelope was thick and, he noted, had required extra postage.  His quivering hands turned it over a few times before bundling it with the rest of the day’s mail and shoving it into his coat pocket for the trip back to the house.

Once he’d reached the opposite end of the drive, he took to his familiar resting place, seating himself in the weathered white rocking chair on the front porch.  He reached into his coat for the mail, sorting through it again until he found the envelope.  After all these years, he had given up hope; forgotten, really.

In his 30s, when space tourism was still more of an experiment than a reality, he had placed a bid to be one of the passengers.  A space voyage as a passenger was more or less a consolation prize, but it was better that than nothing.  Sam had aspired to be a pilot in the tourism program as soon as it was announced.  As a young man, he had been admitted to the program where he trained first with planes and then with simulated passenger carriers, since the actual space craft were still conceptual at that time.

In order to pay his way through the program, Sam maintained his position on the family farm.  Those were long and physically demanding days, but Sam was determined to be among the first civilian visitors to leave Earth.  Once travel was possible, Sam could obtain a pilot position with once of the private tourism companies and would make enough wages to leave the family farm.  That was the plan anyway.

He was in the barn with the horses the morning that everything changed for him.  While getting his quarter horse, Seamus, ready to ride, something spooked the animal and his rear leg delivered a direct hit to Sam’s knee.  Three surgeries later, he was able-bodied enough for most of the farm work, but would never be able to pass the rigorous physical needed to join the space tourism fleet as a pilot.  He resigned himself to his circumstances and added his bid to the passenger auction, hoping he could at least keep his dream alive in some sense.  And, as a reminder to himself about how quickly luck can change, he kept Seamus’s old shoe, hung over his bed.

He stared at the unopened package in his lap, amazed at the unexpected turn of events. He wondered what it would be like to travel now.  The experience, he’d heard, was much like air travel, with the exception of the special issue flight suits and helmets, issued once passengers cleared security and the 1-hour training and safety demonstration before boarding. Though there was room to explore and expand the program, currently just two tours were offered: The Orbiter, affording passengers the opportunity to leave the planet and venture onto one of the retired space stations or the Armstrong Moon Trek, for those seeking a longer adventure.

His sights had been set on the moon visit.  About seven years ago, some students at Embry-Riddle had figured out how to sustain life on the surface of the moon, igniting renewed efforts to colonize.  Now, the Earth’s moon was an adventurers’ mecca, boasting hotels, restaurants, even guided tours in replica rovers.

He smiled, thinking of the possibilities.  Then, something at his feet caught his eye.  His smile widened when he saw the trio of paper airplanes that he’d made earlier with his granddaughter, Senda.  The wind must have generated a short flight from their previous landing pad on the side table near his rocker.  He bent over to collect their paper creations, noting Senda’s last model was complete with colored stripes down the side and windows with smiley faces.

Sam had shared his love of flying and space travel with the girl through bedtime stories for as long as he could remember.  She was 8 now and was cultivating a love of flight and adventure of her own.  It made Sam proud to know that his dream would live on in a new generation of his family.  And, maybe for Senda, the possibilities he could only dream about, would be realities for her.

He reached for one of Senda’s colored pencils on the side table.  Carefully, he crossed out his name on the envelope and with his precise lettering, wrote in her name.  He added, ‘To Be Opened on Your 16th Birthday.  Love you to the moon and back, Gramps.’