e watches the kids go by on skateboards and scooters, bicycle and training wheels, only the bravest stopping to peer through the untamed rosebushes at the peeling paint and crumbling brick that he calls a home. He drops the curtain. How quickly heroes become monsters.
He’s about to head back to the kitchen to pop a TV dinner in the microwave when he hears the shatter of glass behind him. He turns to see a rock rolling across the floor and the busted maw of his front window. By the time he gets to the curtain, the culprits are gone. He picks up the rock. Nothing special about it. Just a rock, a careless thing.
He pads down the hallway, the shag carpet underfoot thick like the silence in this old place. The basement door creaks with the ghosts of thousand bad horror movies, reminding him to remind that damn woman to bring some WD-40 the next time she’s in. He takes the stairs one at a time now, with his damn hip. Still aches sixty years after the crash.
It’s where he left it, there on his workbench, covered in an old painter’s tarp. Once, everyone from the Nazis and the mafia to the Feds wanted what’s under there. Hell, even Howard Hughes came calling, first with a carload of cash and then a carload of thugs.
He pulls the tarp off like a magician with a bad trick. Metal fins polished to a shine, leather straps oiled and soft to the touch, the faint whiff of fuel lingering in the air. It’s heavy for him now, but he slings it over his shoulders like a large baby. Or a bomb.
He lost the helmet. Betty backed the car over it a few dozen times when she found out he was still flying on the sly. He gave up the air shows after that. Then he gave up flying altogether. But it was too late. They were already too far gone.
She always told him the helmet made him look like a hood ornament anyway.
It’s harder going back up, it always is. The pack’s only about twenty pounds, but he’s dragging a lot more than that behind him up the stairs. He pushes out through the torn screen door into the backyard. The grass still dead from the leak at the chemical plant all those years back. He leans a ladder up against the house and peers up at the curling shingles. He always hated heights, funny being a flyboy, but it was different on solid ground.
It takes him a while, but he makes it to the roof. It’s only a bungalow but he can still see the better part of the neighbourhood. Almost unrecognizable now. Most of the old places either bulldozed for condominiums or covered up in that crap they spray on like cotton candy.
He straps in tight, the pack snug against his back, and straightens up as best he can. He inches down to the edge of the roof. He runs his thumb over the ignition.
He could go back downstairs. Back to the same old. Back to that pantheon of TV dinners.
He doesn’t even feel his thumb twitch.
He’s already fifty feet up before he remembers how to control the damn thing. And then it all comes back and the years burn off in the roar of the exhaust.
He pulls a loop-de-loop and zooms back down for a pass over his neighbourhood. Any minute those kids’ll come running out into the backyards, pointing and cheering. Who is that? Superman? Their parents will nod knowingly, their own childhood twinkling inside them.
He makes another pass, the sun dying low over the hills. They’ll be calling the newspapers now. Helicopters and crews on the way.
The tank’s starting to sputter as he turns around for a third time, this time flying low, brushing trees. Nobody. The backyards are silent.
Even if they came out, those kids, what would they see? An old man stuck in a future long past. Hovercrafts, UFOs and jetpacks. The world moves on. Heroes become monsters.
Not monsters. No. Even worse. Forgotten.
The silence is everywhere now. He’s floating on it. He stretches out his arms like a superhero. Blue sky above, green lawn below. He’s never felt so light. Like he doesn’t even exist.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.