My friend Kelly McCullough just launched his new book, School for Sidekicks, this week. (No, literally, he launched it.) It’s his first middle-grade book after a history of writing for adults, and it’s getting ridiculously good reviews. This story is set in the same universe, though the protagonist and the intended audience are both older.
The railway provided us with a little slice of urban wilderness mostly cut off from the city around it. We could sit on the brush-covered slopes out of sight of anyone official and do the sorts of things that teenage boys playing hooky have always done. There were bums around, sure, but we had something of a truce with the regulars. Besides, we were fifteen and sixteen—you know, invulnerable.
But tonight was different. Tonight we were going to test my rocket board. It was December fifteenth, around six p.m.—solidly dark and into rush hour. There’d been some real snow finally, which made the pavement into a death trap for a skateboard going a reasonable speed. Add in the rocket . . . yeah. Not going to happen. Not inside the warehouse either. I’d already had plenty of warning about the dangers of mixing rocket fuel and interior spaces.
That’s how I’d settled on the railway. Not only was it clear of snow, but it was a perfect straightaway. I’d had to rig up a custom wheel set and a magnetic lock, but now the only way off that rail involved me hitting the toe release. That meant I didn’t need to worry about turns or bumps or anything but staying on the board. Perfect!
Michael shook his head as I locked the board onto the rail. “I don’t know, Rand. Don’t you think this is kind of dangerous? Maybe an unmanned test first . . .”
“Don’t worry. I’ve already tested the thrust on the rocket seventeen ways from Sunday. It’ll barely get me up to fifteen miles an hour before it tops out. A bike goes way faster than that. If anything goes wrong I can jump clear easy. It’ll be fine.”
“What about the bridge?”
“That’s nearly a mile away. I don’t even have enough fuel to make it that far. I’m going to go half a mile on rocket assist, max. I’ll coast to a stop well short of the bridge. I’ve done all the math more times than I’d care to count.”
I was more nervous than that, but hell if I’d admit it to Michael. I did check the straps on my helmet and various pads one more time. I know I didn’t mention them in the script version of this scene, but that’s the movies, man. Safety gear isn’t cinematic. I stepped up onto the board.
“Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, crazy man!”
I poised the toe of my sneaker above the rocket engage, and . . .
The world vanished with an intense purple flash like the world’s biggest black-light strobe firing off. For one brief instant I could see Michael’s skeleton like a green framework within the translucent purple outline of his body—oddly, nothing else seemed to go translucent. But I barely registered that over a sensation that felt like someone pumping every cell in my body full of hydrogen and lighting it on fire.
The sound of the Hero Bomb hit like summer lightning taking out the tree I was leaning on. If not for the sheltering banks of the railway, I think it might have knocked me off the board. Is it any wonder I accidentally stomped on the rocket ignition?