The Moon Is Out; The Stars Invite
rating: +18+x

There is nothing more toxic to a fifth grade boy's summer than boredom. There are parents, yes, but parents can be avoided. Book reports can be ignored. Girls can be fled. But boredom, when it wakes and grabs you, can only be waited out. And the waiting is very long indeed. Many a tale has been told of those who died in boredom's grasp, their minds grinding to a halt without the proper fuel of entertainment. Its arrival was a sad inevitability of summer. The only questions were how strong it would be, and how long it might last. For Thomas and Jack, it was very strong indeed.

The two boys were not brothers, though they could have been. Both had similar wavy black hair, brown eyes, and puffy cheeks. Thomas was slightly taller, though Jack was slightly wider. On the bridge of Thomas' nose were a pair of thick, round, black glasses, which were loosely tied at the back of his head by a shoelace to prevent slipping . Running down the length of Jack's arm was a nasty white scar from a tree fall. Thomas had no marks of any kind on his skin. They carried themselves in a similar, unhurried way that made it seem like they were always exactly where they needed to be, even when they weren't.

At present they were in Jack's living room. Jack was splayed out on the couch. He shifted position every minute, trying to find the sweet spot of comfort. Thomas was propped against the wall, doing a handstand and trying to count the turns of the ceiling fan. He mouthed the numbers to himself, but could never get past seven. A layer of sweat coated both of them- the temperature outside was approaching a hundred and seven degrees. A fly buzzed from wall to wall, trapped.

There came the sound of clattering and cursing from the back of the house. Both boys looked up. Such a display of a vulgarity was a rare thing in the household, and they never passed up an opportunity to spy on one as it happened. The cursing continued, moving closer to the living room, until Jack's father rounded a corner and stomped in. He was dressed in dirty overalls, and fiddling with a tightly entangled bundle of wire. When he entered the room he looked up, and an expression of surprise darted across his face.

“Oh. Hello boys,” he said.

Thomas slid off the couch and onto his feet. “Hi dad.”

His dad looked at them for another minute. Nobody moved. “So,” he finally said, “would you two be interested in helping me with a little project?”

The two boys glanced at each other. Project could mean many things. It could mean their escape from boredom and the welcoming arms of fun. It could also mean hours of backbreaking labor in the hot sun that was even more boring than sitting on your head and counting fan turns. Jack made some quick calculations.

“What is it?” he said.

His dad stroked his chin. “For you two? Just moving some things from the shed to the yard.” He reached into his pocket a dug out a brown wallet. “I might be willing to pay you ten dollars for it.”

Ten dollars could buy a lot of fun. “Okay,” said Jack, and grinned. “I'll do it.” He looked at Thomas, who sighed and slid down from the wall.

“Fine,” said Thomas.

“Excellent,” said Jack's dad. He turned and began walking back through the house. Thomas and Jack followed. Thomas' dad opened the back door and motioned for the two boys to step through. They did, and instantly recoiled. It was like stepping onto a bed of coals. Jack leapt back inside with gazelle-like speed. Thomas felt more sweat bubbling from his skin, and the soles of his feet searing, but stood his ground. Jack's dad grinned.

“Some shoes might be nice,” he said. The boys agreed, and clambered back into the house. Four minutes later they re-emerged, freshly shoed and ready again to face the sun. The three boldly pushed their way through the yard, weaving a path to the shed. The lawn looked like a battlefield. Gardening equipment, tools, and boxes were strewn about. Brush, sticks, and cordwood were piled like bodies to the side. In the center was a workbench. Thomas averted his eyes. His dad swung open the shed door and stepped back.

The inside of the shed had managed to avoid the heat. When the door opened a wave of cool, dry air poured out. Thomas and Jack breathed sighs of relief and moved closer. Thomas's dad stopped them. “First let me tell you what you're actually doing.” He motioned to a cluster of boxes, three high and three wide, in the center of the shed. “I want you to move those out to the yard and put them next to my workbench. They're heavy, so it'll probably take both of you to move one. Holler if you need help.” The boys nodded, and he left.

They examined the boxes. They were each a few feet tall and wide, a drab brown color, taped shut. Thomas pushed at one and found it was, indeed, heavy. The top boxes were stacked too high to reach comfortably- he could just barely reach the edge. He walked around the stack, and saw that the ones in the back were lower, only stacked two high. After some shoving and grunting, the boys managed to goad it to the ground. It fell with a thick thump. They squated, worked their fingers under it, and stood. Then they shuffled clumsily through the shed door and towards the workbench, where Thomas' dad was sawing a branch and going out of his way not to give them help. They shuffled onwards, twice dropping it before they managed to place it next to the workbench and collapse in a heap. Thomas' dad looked down at them. “Giving up?” he asked. Thomas shook his head, but stayed where he was. Jack started to work his way to his feet.

They went through the process ten more times before falling to the shed door, defeated. They lay in the dark cool air motionless for a long time before Thomas stirred. He moaned, and rolled over onto his stomach. Jack gave him a stare, and also pushed himself up. Then they were still for a long time again, before Jack said, “Should we do more?”

Thomas shook his head. “No.”

“I think we should do more,” said Jack, and stood up.

“I can't do any more,” said Thomas. He also stood up.

Jack walked over to the remaining boxes, put his hand on one, and gazed at the rest. Something caught his eye, and he jerked his head downward. His eyes lit up. “What's this?”

Thomas came over to look. On the floor, under where the boxes had been, was a small groove in the floor. It was about an inch wide, a half inch deep, and four long, in a neat rectangular shape too defined to have happened by accident. He reached down and ran a hand through it. It extended back slightly farther than what was showing, forming a small handle. Jack gripped it and pulled. A section of floor under him rose slightly, but the weight of the remaining box kept it down. Thomas walked to the box and threw his full weight at it, struggling to make it budge. Jack came over to help. After five minutes of grunting and heaving, they managed to slide it against the wall. Thomas walked back to the groove and pulled at it again. This time the section of floor rose with no complaint. It was a square, rectangular part, about three feet on each side, and Thomas now saw that it was hinged on one end. He opened it fully and the two boys peered into the newly found hole.

It was completely black. Jack took a rake and poked it in. It jolted against the bottom. He looked at Thomas, shrugged, then jumped down and disappeared. Five minutes later he climbed back out. “I'm going to need a flashlight,” he said. Thomas raced back to the house. When he returned with the light, Jack was back in the hole, making a pile of rectangular, multicolored blocks the size of fists next to it.

“What's this?” said Thomas. He passed the flashlight to Jack.

Jack shrugged. “There's a whole bunch of 'em at the bottom,” he said. “They're really light. Kinda warm too.” Thomas picked one up, confirming that they were, in fact, light and warm. He tossed it from hand to hand.


“They're awesome,” said Jack. He shone the flashlight around. “This goes really far back. I can't see the wall, and I think it might go under your house. It kinda slopes down a little too.” He shone the flashlight down at the ground, which was littered with the cubes. Thomas jumped down. It was like Thomas had said- a narrow passageway, maybe five feet across, running back in the direction of the house, too far to see the end. The walls were concrete and a little damp. Running along near the ceiling was a long row of square holes which went back as far as they could see. They began to walk.

After about twenty feet they stopped. Something was drawn on the wall. Jack shone the flashlight on it and they saw that it was a crude map, but not of any place they recognized. It showed a circular area, of what they assumed was forest from the color, surrounded by blue that they assumed was water. At the top were symbols that looked like mountains, and black trail-lines ran all through it. In the center of the green was a silver cone with a red upper half, surrounded by dancing red figures. At the bottom right of the picture, in the water, was a compass rose. “Weird,” said Jack. Thomas nodded. They kept going.

After about ninety more steps, Jack's light flashed on something smooth and metallic. He swung the light up. Both boys froze in amazement. Jack rubbed his eyes. Thomas' jaw dropped, and he pinched himself. The beam was shining on the end of the tunnel, revealing a gleaming metal rocketship.

It was tall, eight feet or so, with the ceiling opening up to give it space, and fat. It rested on three pointed legs. The body was silver with blue stripes running vertically, and the top was painted red. In the middle was a circular viewport. The boys shuffled forward. Jack laid a hand a hand on it, feeling that yes, it was real. “Awesome,” he said.

Thomas peered around the other end, then climbed over the leg and disappeared behind it. Jack followed. This side was the same, except instead of a window there was a number pad. The boys looked at each other. They looked at the number pad. They looked back at each other. Thomas shrugged and tapped in “1111”. Nothing happened. The numbers disappeared from the screen. He tapped in “2002”. Nothing happened. He stepped back and stroked his chin.

“I don't have any ideas,” contributed Jack.

Thomas nodded. “Same.” He tapped in a third, random number. Nothing happened.

“Maybe it's hidden somewhere. Like a video game,” said Jack.

Thomas shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. He stepped back to the front of the rocket and knelt down, peering at the underside. Then he stood up and circled the rocket again, running a hand along the side, feeling nothing. “It's not here.”

Jack nodded. “What if we just hit random numbers until we got the right one?” Thomas ignored him, instead turning back towards the entrance of the tunnel. Jack hopped over the rocket's legs and followed. They stopped in front of the map.

“I bet it's a clue or something,” said Jack.

Thomas reached out and touched the silver cone. He traced a finger along the black trails, up the mountains, then down to the bottom of the island and the compass rose. He whispered something to himself.

“What?” said Jack.

“I said, 'I don't know',” said Thomas. “There isn't any writing.”

“Well, let's keep looking,” said Jack. He hurried onwards. When Thomas caught up he was picking through the cubes on the floor. He would pick up one, examining it for a few seconds with the concentration of a super computer, then toss it aside and pick up another. Thomas bent down and looked at one. It had six colors- red, blue, yellow, green, purple, and orange. It was glowing somehow, and the light pulsed softly. He put it back on the ground, stood up, and slammed his foot down. It didn't give at all.

“Weird,” he said. Jack didn't respond.

“What do you think they could be for?” asked Jack.

“No idea,” said Thomas.

“Hey kids,” came the voice of Jack's dad. “Time for dinner.” The two boys climbed out of the hole and back to the house.

Dinner was a rushed affair. Thomas and Jack wolfed down their food as soon as they sat down, then squirmed as they waited to be released. When they were they shot out of their chairs and back outside. Jack went into the shed to keep looking at the cubes and map. Thomas waited outside in the shed, searching for anything that could be the right number. After turning up nothing, he went back to the house and searched in there. Jack soon joined him. An hour of relentless looking later, they had found nothing, and returned to the shed. They sat in in the passageway in silence. Jack tossed a cube against a wall and found they also bounced. So for the next thirty minutes he made a game out throwing them against the wall as hard as he could to see what would happen. Then he looked up. “I'm going to try something” he said. Before Thomas could reply, he jumped up and tried to slide the cube into a hole above him. It fit perfectly. The cube made a 'click' noise, and began to hum steadily.

The two boys looked at each other. Without saying anything, each began to gather up cubes and shove them into the wall. The humming noise intensified. Soon they had built up a trail of slowly pulsing rainbow lights running down to the rocket. The two boys stared at them.

“Now what?” asked Jack.

In response, a hissing came from the rocket. The boys rushed over and looked. A ring of lights around the midsection of the rocket had begun to glow. The number pad had lit up, and four digits typed themselves in- 4357. A thin, gray line etched its way up from the bottom of the rocket, made a 90 degree turn to the right just above the number pad, then made another turn and began to head downwards. When it reached the bottom of the rocket, there was a great 'SCREEEEECH' and a panel swung open. The rocket's innards lay before them.

It was just big enough for two people. The walls were black, and covered in glittering lights, buttons, knobs, and switches, each labeled with a piece of white masking tape and symbols the boys couldn't recognize. Thomas ripped off one of the pieces of tape and turned it over in his hands. On it was series of three black concentric circles, with a line slashed down through their center. He dropped it and took another. On that was a stylized star. He looked up when he heard a whirring noise next to him.

Jack was grinning sheepishly, his finger resting on a green switch. “Oops,” he said.

A crackling filled the rocket, along with a mumbled-water like groan. The panel leading outside slammed shut. Thomas' eyes went wide. “You idiot!” he roared, before being thrown off his feet as the rocket started to shake. He reached a hand out to catch himself and slammed into another dozen buttons.

“Mastha Awn,” said a voice from the rocket, “Swee. Non. Util. Posque. Sans.” And then everything was quiet, and still. But not for long.

The rocket launched into the air, flinging the boys off their feet. There was a roar of engines as it climbed and climbed, further into the sky. Jack stood on shaky feet, looked out the window, and gasped. His house was just a tiny dot far below him. He could see the entire city- for the first time ever- inching away slowly. The lake, something he had always thought of as gargantuan thing, was just a puddle. The mountain to the north, which he had once been so proud to have climbed, looked like a small lump on the surface of a floor.

They climbed ever higher, until, just below the cloud line, they stopped. For one moment the hung in the air, then began drifting to the right. At first it was slow, but it gained speed until it was racing over the land, passing cities and forest and farms and snowcaps, roaring along until the land disappeared and he realized, with a gasp, that they were flying over the Pacific Ocean. Thomas shoved next to him and gave the same gasp.

Again, the rocket stopped, hanging above the ocean for the briefest of seconds, before changing direction again, hurtling straight up. They pierced the clouds, never stopping, aiming straight into that blue maw, that darkened in color as the minutes ticked past. Soon it was almost black, speckled with white dots. Jack stared down, eyes glittering with tears. Thomas moved his mouth wordlessly. The Earth loomed behind them, a brilliant sapphire that filled the entire viewport. They could see white strings of clouds drifting from continent to continent, and massive blotches of city light against backdrops of green and brown. Forming in the middle of the blue they saw a monstrous swirl of white, with a blank center, inching towards Asia. To the north, where the green and brown turned to white, was a large blanket of green light hovering just above the planet.

“Where do you think we're going?” asked Jack.

Thomas shrugged.

“It's beautiful,” said Jack.

And it was.

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