This is an excerpt of my upcoming book Learning How to Fly. If you enjoy this excerpt and want to get notified when the book comes out please click the button below to sign up.
I’m stepping out of my door when I hear the phone ring. I momentarily debate answering it, but I’m already late to class and whoever’s calling can leave a message. And let’s face it, this class in particular, is really important. I don’t want to be late.
Why don’t I want to be late? I’ve got mandatory flying lessons because I’m not good in the air. I have an image to uphold as a superhero, a responsibility I take seriously, and not always being able to fly, well it’s a problem for the Superhero Bureau (also known as the SHB). They’ve told me that if I don’t get my act together with the flying they might have to kick me off my team, maybe put me in the weather bureau or something.
The SHB has a rule book it enforces religiously when it comes to being a superhero, and one of those rules is that if you’re a hero you have to be able to fly. Nothing quite makes a dramatic entrance like a hero flying in to save the day and the SHB wants us to not just be heroes, but actually look the part too.
I step outside. It’s a cool day out. The sky is a pale blue with wispy clouds floating idly by, a promise of peace, but when is there ever peace? I have my costume on, a purple elasticloth form suit and a yellow cape with two S’s on it. Elasticloth is a substance made of plastic treated with special chemicals that make it very malleable. The costume fits the hero, showing off his or her physique to the smallest detail for the admiring public, but also acts as body armor against any bullets or power blasts.
I’m about to fly. I start running down my driveway, imagining that I’m a bird about to take off. My legs are pumping hard, my arms are outstretched so that I can fly. One, two, three, here I go. I feel a bit of lightness. Oh, yes, I’m taking off this time. I flap my arms and yeah, I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s how I imagine flying. My psychologist Dr. Mazdar says that creative visualization is the key to flying. I have to be up there.
I’m up in the air now, slowly wheeling upward towards the sky. A lazy flap of my hands and the wind feels so fresh, so cold, and yet the air is so thick, like swimming through the ocean. I tell you that because it’s the only way that you as a human could understand the experience. The difference is that I can move faster in the air than I could swimming in the ocean. There’s no density around me like there would be with water.
I can do this. I can fly today. I test the wind, feeling the streams of air. Air has currents that help a bird fly, and right now I’m a bird. Oh, my superpowers, what are they? You’ll just have to pay close attention, but you already know I can fly, if not all the time.
Okay, so I’m picking up the air currents getting ready to go. Ahh, perfect, this current is going over to the SHB’s Flying School, for flying-impaired heroes. I sniff the air, a bit of ozone, some smog; the perils of living in a city. I gather speed, moving in the air with a breaststroke. Each stroke is all that matters in my mind. Take it one at a time, nice and slow.
I am a bird, flapping my wings. I feel incredibly light. The sky is blue, so blue that it becomes purple, and I’m swimming in this purple. There’s not a cloud in sight. I feel a euphoric high at the crown of my head as my endorphins begin to pump. The high can be described as the color of the sun, a mixture of yellow and orange that pierces me and raises my energy so that I can push off the ground and fly. Flying is a meditative experience and my spirit is a bird. I visualize myself as picking me up and letting me fly away from the ground and everything that could hold me down. I am flying and I feel free.
“Hey Nelson, that’s you up there? Hey man, you’re flying!”
Shit! My annoying human neighbor is talking to me. I have to focus my mind here, not waste time on this guy. I can see him looking up at me, an expression of awe and envy warring across his face. He’s tall, with curly brown hair and brown eyes, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, blue tie, ready to begin his day in corporate world.
“Uhm, hey I am flying and I really can’t talk. I have to go save the world and all the other stuff we superheroes do.”
“Oh, okay man. Sorry about that!”
I breathe a sigh of relief. That idiot is quiet and I’m still up in the air. There have been occasions when I’ve been interrupted by a well-meaning person commenting on my flying and then I’ve plummeted to the Earth. It’s called Flying Dysfunction Syndrome and, despite the fact that I’m in my mid-twenties and should well and truly have my flying mastered, it’s been an ongoing issue all my life, much to the embarrassment of my mother.
Enough of that though. It’s time to slip into the stream fully and kick this flying to a decent speed. I put my arms against my body and my legs are straight. I’m horizontal to the ground. A little shadow floats down there showing where I am. But it’s not really me. Suddenly I’m a streak of cloud, rocketing it toward the building, no longer a bird, no longer a plane. No I’m a cloud, a fast-moving cloud on a slipstream. Guess you know where I get my name. The bureau tells me that I won’t be able to keep that name if I can’t fly.
Suddenly I’m at the building. The SHB building in this town is a three-story building with huge glass windows facing the street. There’s a large dome in the back of the building, which is where I meet with the rest of the flying impaired. In all the major cities in the world there’s an SHB building that monitors the super humans in the region, keeping them tagged and employing them in jobs that serve the world government in keeping everything relatively peaceful. They track the villains and make sure they’re only doing sanctioned villain activities and occasionally have battles with them. I live in the city of Boston on the North American Eastern seaboard so I report to the SHB building there.
Now I have to go back to Earth, back to the land dwellers. I look around me and see a couple other heroes flying. They cleave the air smoothly with their supine forms. Hands are either stretched in front of them or held against their sides. Most heroes when getting ready to fly simply think that they’ll fly and suddenly they are no longer on the ground. They have used their energy to push themselves away from the ground and they don’t visualize being a bird. They just fly. There are a few other heroes, who, like me, have to flap their arms and do a running take off to start flying. As I understand it these heroes have the same problems with controlling their powers as I do. They all suffer from Flying Dysfunction Syndrome.
It’s such a disappointment when I’m not using my powers. They give me a feeling of life and I imagine that this is what the average citizen envies about us superheroes. That feeling of life, that passion, the edge of everything. I don’t envy them their ordinary lives.
I land on my feet, a human again, down on the ground. On the school grounds is a statue of the first superhero, Blast Off, aka Jenna Bosworth. Her regal face looks to the sky and her arms are raised to fly- the very thing I want to do well so I can be a full superhero. I walk past her statue toward the glass doors leading into the school of super power improvements. There’s a red light to the right of the door. I slide my wrist over it and the red light turns green. Heroes and villains, and really anyone with a hint of superpowers, are required to be tagged. The tag contains a person’s DNA, medical records, driver’s license, police record, and home address.
I step into building quickly and meet up with several other flying impaired heroes. Here we can acknowledge our secret shame. We can’t fly well and if we don’t improve we can’t be superheroes. I see Air One, our instructor, up ahead, going to the domed amphitheater where we train. Today will be the day we have a test.
Air One is an old man. I can’t guess his age, but super humans usually live to around 120. He was a superhero of the late twentieth and early twenty first century. One of the first and one of the best. He has gotten old though and his powers have faded with age. Oh, he can still fly, can still use his powers to kinetically heat up molecules, but he is old and we are young. We are at the height of our powers and under the right circumstances could easily beat him in a battle. As a super human ages he or she has less power, less strength, and less control over their super powers.
Air One is balding but has white hair on the sides of his head. He’s wearing gray pants and a gray shirt. He retired from being an active superhero two years ago. He couldn’t keep up with the youngsters, he said. His face is seamed with wrinkles, a parchment of adventures. There are a couple of scars he has on his right cheek from a battle with a famous supervillain, Moravo. When I look into his old weathered grey eyes I feel a chill pass through me. This will someday be my fate, to be put aside on the shelf, just a used- up superhero that can’t hack it anymore. Of course, for all of us this could happen sooner than later if we don’t succeed in flying when we want to fly.
“Line up, all of you! I want to take a look at you.”
We all line up in our proud costumes. Some of us have capes, bright blues, yellows, reds, and even my purple. There are even a few “heroes” with jet packs. They have super powers, but they can’t fly, so the jet packs are the only way to the sky for them.
“Well, look at you all, lined up like ducks in a pretty little row,” Air One sneers. “I have to say I’m not impressed. How any of you expect to fly is beyond me. In my day superheroes didn’t to go to a class for remedial flying, but I suppose with you sorry fools it can’t be helped. Now did any of you successfully fly here, or did you little muffins have to take the car?”
I look over at a few of the other heroes and then raise my hand hesitantly. No one else joins me. The rest hang back, their heads held down in shame. Suddenly, I’m glad I’m not in the back holding my head down. Today, I’m not a failure.
“What have we here? One of you jokes actually flew on his own power.”
I feel self-conscious for keeping my own up, but this is important. Air One walks around me for several moments, muttering to himself and running an appraising eye over me as if I am a prize animal. Perhaps I am in this case. I can fly, and no one else could, not on their own energy.
“So, you can fly, is that what you are telling me, Slipstream?”
“Yes, sir. I can fly.”
“Now, isn’t that special. Why are you here then?”
“Uh…I can’t fly well sir. I’m not that good at it.”
“Not that good at it! Why not?”
“I can fly, but I get distracted by others easily. If someone notices me flying it’s hard for me to continue flying.”
“Oh, I see. Poor little baby is noticed flying and goes boom. That’s the way of it, is it? Heh, it takes all kinds to be superheroes Slipstream, and I’ve met your kind before. Usually they’re yellow. Are you yellow, Slipstream?”
I look down at my suit.
“No. I’m not yellow anywhere, sir.”
“Oh ho, aren’t you cute. I don’t mean color, you fool. I mean you’re a coward aren’t you!”
“No way sir!”
“Then get up there and show these slackers how it’s done, and I don’t want to see none of this falling down crap on your part. You can either fly or you can’t. There isn’t any in between for us superheroes.”
I nod my head. I’m not able to speak. I have to fly now. I have to somehow fly with all these spectators watching me. None of them knows how hard it was to fly when I was younger. None of them knows I had to go somewhere alone and practice my flying. Anyone who saw, they laughed at me. Will it be this way now?
I hold my hands out like wings, visualizing the feathers. Suddenly the song “Rocket Man” as sung by William Shatner pops into my mind, and I visualize myself as a rocket. My hands fall to my side. I’m pushing downward and pulling upward at the same time. I want to fly, and today I have to do it. I feel a rumble as my energy pushes me off the floor. The other heroes look surprised and Air One is laughing.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Boy, you’d better stop that now. No need to stink up the room. It’s obvious you tried and you can’t fly. If you think farting is how you fly, well heheeh, it’s not going to happen that way.”
My face colors with embarrassment. Everyone is laughing including the jetpack heroes. I’m not a superhero, I’m a super zero.
“Slipstream,” Air One calls out, “I want you to try one more time. I’m willing to believe that you did fly today, but this time you’d better prove it to me and the class or you’ll be fined for lying. And don’t fart this time. It’s not a legitimate means of flying. You aren’t a jetpack.”
I sigh, but I don’t want to be fined for lying. It’s a steep price for a superhero, a couple hundred for every violation. I guess that for today I am a bird.
I extend my arms gracefully, thinking of being a bird. I push the song “Rocket Man” out of my head. I’m not a jetpack hero. I’m a birdman. I start flapping my arms, ignoring the tittering laughter that comes from some of the costumes. I can fly and they can’t.
My arms are hollow, my entire body is hollow, and as I pick up speed running down the length of the large amphitheater I can feel myself lift off the ground. I stop flapping and begin to swim through the air, my arms making the motions of the backstroke. I test the wind, but there isn’t much at all. This is closed off from the outside world, sealing away our shame. I go into the slipstream and streak to the other end of the amphitheater. The laughter has stopped. I see Air One make a motion to come down and I lower myself to the ground gently.
“Hmm, so you can fly, Slipstream. Okay, take off leaves a bit to be desired, but even with us watching you were able to do it. Why?”
“Uhmm, well sir I’ve been doing a lot of visualization. It was suggested by my psychologist that if I visualized flying I could block out the fact other people were watching me. I-it does work. I can fly.”
“Yeah, I can see that, but you know what? I’m not impressed. You go see some shrink and you expect to block out other people watching you fly. Well it’s that kind of attitude that sees you or your friends dead on a battlefield or, even worse, some kind of building destroyed and your whole team paying for it. You have to concentrate when you are in battle, but you also have to be aware of your environment. With this visualization crap I don’t think you are aware of what’s going on around you. Do you?”
“S-sir, I respectfully disagree with you. I-I feel like this visualization helps me be even more aware of what I’m doing. I knew exactly when to stop being in the slipstream when I was flying for you. If I didn’t know where I was flying as you claimed I would’ve bashed my head against the wall.”
“I didn’t say you weren’t aware of buildings Slipstream. But what about supervillains? What if one attacks one of your teammates? What’ll you do off in dream land?”
“I’m sure I would know if a villain was there.”
“Oh, you’d stop flying ‘cause he’d be watching ya.”
“N-no sir I wouldn’t stop flying. With this visualization it just helps me not be so self-conscious about other people around me. I’m still aware of who is around me and all the action that occurs but it helps me fly better than I would otherwise.”
“Well then, Slipstream, why are you here? It seems to me that you don’t need to take remedial flying course from the likes of me.”
“I was told to go to this class by the SHB, and as you can see I’m not that good of a flyer. I want to fly like you do.”
“Hmm, well then you are going have to fly without that visualization crap. You shouldn’t need that to fly. Real flying comes natural to you, not guided like visualization has you doing. I want you to fly right now for me without any flapping arms, rocket farts, or anything else of the like. Now show me you can fly.”
No visualization this time, just pure out and out flying. I have to jump into the air and be able to fly, no not even jump, just fly. I will myself to fly, really I do, but I am so heavy, so firm to the ground, I can’t fly. Air One waits for five minutes, a disdainful smirk growing on his lips, and when I don’t fly he tells me that I have to join the rest of the superheroes that can’t fly. My first day at remedial flying leaves me envying even the jet pack heroes who Air One tells to come at a different time of day so he can train them how to fly without us taking up time. He watches the other failed flyers try to fly but they aren’t any better than me. Then he dismisses us, telling us to come back tomorrow where he’ll start our first lesson for remedial flying.
“Oh, and, Slipstream, no flying for you until you can fly without visualizing flying. Got it?”
I nod, but part of me wants to say no. Give up flying, give up being a superhero, not hardly, not for me.
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