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Uncle Glen's Airship

JT Gills work has appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Metaphorosis Magazine, and The Molotov Cocktail, where he won the 2015 Flash Fool contest. This is his 4th appearance in Daily Science FictionD. You can follow him on Twitter @jt3_gill.

"Are you ready, Sam?" Uncle Glen whispered, stubble strewn cheeks screwing up into a smile, gleaming in the moonlight.
In my parents' backyard, wedged between the trees, sat Uncle Glen's airship--a hulking thing with a sleek metal chassis, overhung by a huge canvas balloon that blotted out the stars.
"Yes," I said.
"I just don't think you should limit yourself, Samantha," Mom said, bustling around my room, bending to pick up clothes from the floor and tossing them into my hamper. "I understand you like his airship, but there are other things out there."
I sat on my bed, grinding my teeth and avoiding eye contact. "You just don't want me hanging around Uncle Glen," I said.
Mom shoved back the hair that had fallen in her face, fidgeting and biting at the corner of her lip. I was old enough to know I was right, but why, I couldn't imagine.
That year, Uncle Glen only came for a week, and left on Black Friday, lifting off into the night sky in total silence.
The following year passed in relative insignificance, and I could see the hope on Mom and Dad's faces--at the possibility that their daughter had abandoned her "childish fancies."
But when I saw Dad return from work each day, his face twisted into knots and his briefcase in hand, I knew I wanted more.
So when Uncle Glen finally returned, I asked him.
"Would you teach me how to fly?"
He nodded, smiling. "I can do that."
That was the year he stayed for a month, and I learned how to fly an airship. Late at night, after Dad's snores filled the house, I would sneak down the hall and out into the backyard, where my savior waited in the form of a whale-huge behemoth, looming out of the darkness.
Inside, Uncle Glen's living quarters were comfortable, and the times we spent in the cockpit, side by side in adjoining leather seats, were some of the fondest memories I have.
The controls surrounded me--gears and levers, analogs, switches, dials, meters reading for altitude and air pressure, the twin joysticks, and taped to one of the corner consoles, a picture of a beautiful young woman. When I asked him who she was, he only said, "that was a long time ago," and didn't speak for some time afterward.
Flying that machine reminded me of the old bombers I'd read about, in a ribbed dome of glass, turned sideways, through which all the lights of the city were visible beneath us, winking as they slid from underneath the clouds.
By the time Thanksgiving came around, I had plenty to be thankful for.
"Samantha, how do you explain this?"
Dad was sitting at the kitchen table, my report card face up in front of him. At the bottom was scrawled a note: has a hard time staying awake in class.
I swallowed, and though a dozen lies came at once to my mind, I was smart enough to know it wouldn't get me anywhere fast, so I told him the truth.
"Samantha," he said, his eyes downturned. "I can't stop you from learning to fly, or even from becoming a hauler. But there's a reason your Mother and I don't want you spending too much time with my brother."
"I wish you'd tell me," I said.
"And one day I will," he said. "When you're older."
At that, my ears were closed. Whatever he couldn't tell me now, I had no interest in hearing later.
The following morning I found the airship absent, Uncle Glen gone with it. Dad didn't say a word, and neither did I.
Years passed, and Uncle Glen didn't come back.
But I never gave up on my dream of flying. I knew how, now all I lacked was a craft.
So I got a job at the local Air & Auto shop. Each day after school, I would ride my bicycle downtown and go to work with the mechanics, grease streaked to my elbows, the intricacies of engines in my head, and cash in my pocket by each week's end.
The cash I kept in a mason jar under my bed, in hopes of one day buying my own craft, and everything else I used to feed the dream.
And then, one day I was old enough.
"Samantha," Dad said, sitting opposite me in the living room, Mom next to him on the couch.
"There's something we have to tell you."
By that time, I had news for them as well. After years of saving, I finally had enough.
Already, I had picked out an airship from a dealership downtown, an older model, used, and in my mind, perfect.
Dad nodded when I told him, and then said simply: "I think you should hear this first."
And Dad told me a story. A story about a little girl, whose Mother died in childbirth, and whose Father left to travel the world, seeking adventure aboard his airship. Seeing his daughter, he said, was too painful, with so much of her mother in her.
So he left the girl with his brother and his wife, who loved her as their own.
But there was still much of the girl's father in her. And every year, when he visited, pretending to be her uncle, her eyes were lit with a fire found only in his presence.
"Stop," I said, tears welling in my eyes.
"I'm sorry," Dad said.
I often wonder what might have happened to me, had I followed Uncle Glen. There will always be parts of him within me, but never enough to overrule what Mom and Dad have done for me.
After all, you could travel the world and never find love.
I don't know. Maybe dreams can change.
Or maybe they change us.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Author Comments

I've always loved the idea of airships and blimps as common transport, and this was one of the first story ideas I ever had. I tried writing it as a longer piece multiple times, but I just couldn't figure out the plotting. I gave up on it for years, until just recently when I tried again and it worked! Sometimes you have to wait until your abilities catch up with your imagination.

- JT Gill
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