#The52Project (6) – “Write a story about a child who discovers gravity.”

I tried something a bit more silly and expansive. Bear with me. I did tell you some would be good, and some would be bad. Inspired in part by this Penny Arcade comic. 

In retrospect, this might have worked a lot better in first person, with the invisible friend. Ah, well. Might re-try this later.

Donald’s knees began to buckle under the feelings of new weight, but he couldn’t, for the life of him, understand why. There was nothing on his tiny, child-sized shoulders. His silvery, space-suited hands were empty too.

“Dad, what’s happening?” The six — six and a half, he always insisted — year old’s voice shook as he struggled to stay upright, legs wobbling with each step. It had been mere minutes since his family’s shuttle had docked, but he was already having trouble adjusting to the simple act of walking, and had already fallen four times. At that moment, he had temporarily forgotten the fact that he had a new school, no friends, and a completely new planet to get used to — putting foot before foot was too difficult.

“That’s just gravity, son.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s right. You’ve never really felt gravity before, since you were born on the station. Up there, it’s maybe a fifth as much as it is here…” James trailed off for a second, muttering to himself, before he remembered to explain what was going on to his son. “Gravity is…this invisible friend. He’s kind of like air — he’s everywhere, but instead of keeping you alive, he keeps you on the ground and from floating away. It’s why you’re not back in space already.”

“Well, daddy, I don’t think I like gravity much,” Donald declared, the same way any little boy declares that girls are full of cooties or that he will not eat his vegetables that evening. Sprawled on stainless white floor of the new house, the words came after he just tripped and fallen for the ninth time, neither leg able to get along with the new acquaintance. The protective space suit was helping him acclimate and prevented him from any real harm, but banging his head against someone every few paces was not exactly his idea of fun.

“Of course. Once you get used to it, anyway. It might take a little bit, but when you’re ready, you’re going to find that living here is going to be a little different than up at the station. Better, even, especially once we lose the suits in a couple of weeks.” James said with the assured air of a knowing parent. “Now come on, it’s getting late. I’m going to put you to bed so me and mom can keep moving things into the house. Plus, you have school tomorrow.”

Walking had been enough of an issue, but his father’s reminder brought back all the natural first day fears that six ye- excuse me, six and a half year olds — face.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes, you have to. You know that, Donald.” James said gently, as he scooped up Donald and got ready to tuck him into bed. There were no decorations ready in his son’s room, not even a desk set up. The walls were still empty and the tower of boxes — variously labeled clothes or toys or stuff — still sat unopened. Nothing had been prepared except the tiny blue spaceship bed that had been put together that morning.

“Now, I know you’re scared, but you’re going to get through it. I think you’ll grow to like it before long.” He leaned in to kiss his son on the forehead, just as he did most nights, but forgetting that they were suited up, only collided with the cracking of hardened plastics. They both laughed.

“Good night, Dad,” Donald called to his father, who was now getting up to leave the room.

“Good night, son. We’ll play catch when I get off work tomorrow, okay?” The promise of quality time with his dad — just him and his dad, no one else — was the best news he had heard since he had left the station.

On most nights, he never had trouble falling asleep, but on this one, Donald laid there in his new bed and his new home, wondering if the kids would laugh at his strange, life-preserving suit and if the teacher would like him or if she would call him to walk up to the board or if they would let him go to the bathroom or  if he would get lost or bullied or made fun of and and and if, if, i-the thoughts continued to come, one after the other. Somewhere in the middle, though, he fell asleep, his worried mind no longer able to resist his young body’s need for rest.

Unfortunately for him, his unconscious was as unfriendly as his first moments on his new planet had been. In his dream, gravity had gone missing, and casting him off into space the way his dad had mentioned, like a tiny, child-sized balloon. Free from his space suit, dream Donald took one step onto green — he couldn’t remember where, only that he took a first step for childkind — and to his surprise, he did not fall down or wobble, like he had so many times earlier.

The opposite happened.

Donald was lifted into the air by some hand or string he couldn’t see, first floating into the sky, rising. Rising above the buildings and people, the parks and the forests, and then drifting, drifting, drifting. Backwards he went, head over heels, end over end into empty darkness, filling him with a racing terror. No amount of straining could change his course — even as he struggled violently, punching and kicking at the unseen enemy, he was powerless, pulled him further and further away, while the ground got more and more faint in the other direction, smaller and smaller and smaller…

When his space suit’s alarm gently shook him the next morning, Donald snapped awake immediately, stopping the floating in his subconscious. He laid still for a few extra seconds, but fearing the coming yells from his mother, finally started to get up. He hovered at the edge of the bed uncertainly, wiggling his toes, as if the floor were a cold swimming pool.

The dip down caused him to sigh with relief. He did not fall, and he did not fly off into space, either. This was good.

His second step did not go nearly as well. Donald immediately lost his balance and crashed to the floor, tripped up again. This was not as good, although it certainly beat floating away. He could not begin to imagine the embarrassment that he would feel if it happened in front of his new classmates.

Still, for that moment, the floor was perfectly fine, and since he was due for school any minute, Donald decided it would be faster to crawl to the bathroom, rather than trying to fight his way upright again. And so he went — knee, hand, knee, hand, just like he had as a baby, until he was able to reach his destination. Donald’s mind went elsewhere as he washed, continuing to imagine what his first day would be like. He saw a classroom full of unblinking faces, ready to mark him as an outsider, a teacher who would do nothing but tolerate it, and the sight of him falling over repeatedly, but before that daydream got too far along, the suit rumbled a second time. That meant that it was time to go to school, and he obediently wobbled his way to the teleporter, clinging to the hallway walls for help.

“Have a good first day, Donald! Call us if you need anything, and don’t cause any trouble. Don’t get in any fights! Ask the teacher if you need anything.” His mother shot each instruction out with rapid-fire pace, her back turned and her hands busy unpacking a box.

“I’ll pick you up at three, little man. Are you hungry?” James said, getting up from his chrome chair to rub his hand on top of Donald’s helmet, another routine gesture that lost its sentiment because of the space suits. Donald shook his head. “You must be a little scared, but I need you to be strong, okay? What room is your class?”

“S-seven. Room seven-C.” Donald was doing his best to follow his dad’s request and held strong, even though his knees were still wobbling inside the suit out of fear. To make matters worse, his new “friend” was still clinging to his legs, making them move with uncertainty.

“Good. Now let’s get you over there.” A couple of taps on the small keypad brought the teleporter to life, a glowing blue circle by the front door.

Though nervous, Donald nodded and stepped onto the pad which had been calibrated to send him right to his new classroom, and negated the need for a parent to accompany. A spinning sensation took him, and when he looked up a moment later, he had arrived in Seven C, a room decorated by rows of identical chrome desks and a bigger one up front, where the teacher sat. Unlike home, these walls were lined with artsy illustrations done by the students and informative posters. Currently, it looked like the class was doing something with maps, because Donald noticed 30 pinned scribbles of green and blue that were somewhat uniform.

Donald was immediately greeted by the voice of an elder woman, who warmly introduced herself as Miss Leno: “Oh, you must be Donald, the new student! Your seat will be over there, in the left corner, next to Abby. I’ll show you what she looks like when everyone gets here. For now, feel free to walk around the classroom and meet some of your classmates.”

In the strangeness of his new environment, meeting Miss Leno calmed Donald a bit — her brown eyes were open and inviting, and she smiled as she talked soothingly to him, which put him at ease at bit. She was very pretty, Donald thought, especially with her long black hair dyed purple at each end. He liked that the best about her, he decided.

Still, he trusted his legs very little, and remained motionless, only inching his way out of the teleporter entrance to allow other students to arrive. Donald moved with tiny, measured steps, painstakingly cautious in lifting one foot off the floor, then the other, trying not to trespass on gravity’s neighborhood. Slowly, he made his way over to the cubbyholes at the side of the room, where the other students — who were already native and used to the atmosphere — put their clothes, having no need for protective suits like him. The students who were already present were all huddled in the far corner, watching two boys who were using monsters in some holographic battle with each other. No one had noticed his arrival just yet, and he opted to stay where he was, rather than draw anyone’s attention.

When the bell rung to signal the start of the day, though, the other students immediately went to their seats, leaving only one desk empty. His. Recognizing that he had no other choice but to move, Donald wobbled unsteadily to the only open chair, managing to draw some eyeballs and raised eyebrows in the process, but made it without too much more difficulty.

Good. He was safe. Now all he had to do was make it to the end of the day.

He had been a student for all of ten minutes, and he already couldn’t wait until he could get rid of the suit, so he could just be like all the other kids. It was going to be a long few weeks.

“Class, this is Donald. Let’s say hello, shall we?” Ms. Leno paused, and the class did as she asked, greeting him in somewhat organized fashion.

“He’s a new student from the station who will be joining us. I’d like you all to treat him like one of our own, okay? Now, let’s begin.” The day itself went easy enough. Ms. Leno spent the morning reading a story to the class, but Donald didn’t remember much of what happened; he was too busy enjoying the sound of Ms. Leno’s voice. After that, there was math, Donald’s best subject, where they practiced subtraction, but were allowed to beam in their answers. That wasn’t too much of a problem either, and he got lucky again there, never having to leave his seat. The rest of the day passed in similar fashion — since he could eat inside the suit, he didn’t have to get up for lunch, and he told Ms. Leno he’d rather be indoors reading during recesses.

When the final bell rang, the entire class sprinted out the front door and into the school yard, ready to enjoy their precious hours of freedom. Ms. Leno approached Donald, who had scarcely a word to anyone all day, and urged him outside, telling him that she would send for him when his dad arrived. Remembering his mother’s last words that morning, he obeyed.

He moved to rise from his desk, but met a face full of floor for his efforts. Ms. Leno immediately rushed over to check on him, checking for injuries with those warm eyes.

“Donald! Are you alright?”

“Yes, Ms. Leno…but uh…do you think you could help me get outside?” Donald felt embarrassed to ask, but he had no other choice. Both his legs were fast asleep from the hours spent sitting down.

“Of course!” She offered her hand and he took it, performing some sort of guided spaceman-waddle on his way to the schoolyard. “Will you be okay out here?”

He nodded.

“Don’t worry. Your classmates are friendly. Just give them a chance. They’ve never really seen anyone from the station, but I think they’ll warm up to you before long.” Those were her parting words.

A moment later, Ms. Leno was gone, back inside to prepare tomorrow’s lessons or whatever it was that adults did. Donald was left alone, perfectly content sitting and watching the other kids play on the controlled chaos of the school playground. He would have, too, if the pink cheeked, brown haired boy — heavy set and the biggest in the class, he was one of the two from the game that morning — hadn’t come up to him.

Gary. Gary was his name, Donald recalled from the morning.

“Hoy, spacey. We wanted to give you a nice welcome like Ms. Leno asked! Come play dodgeball with us?” This was his chance, Donald thought. A game he knew and an invitation to join. Maybe things would be fine after all.

“Yeah, I’d love to. What are the teams?” Donald asked the question as his legs struggled to keep pace — gravity nearly pulled him down twice more during that walk — with Gary, who was leading him off the steps of the school and into the center of the concrete yard. He shot a glance at the first schoolmate of his, whose belly barely hid beneath an off-lack polo, shaking violently as he carried himself along. His hair was swept off in one direction, although it too, shook up and down. If these things bothered him, it was not apparent from his movements, which came with known confidence. Donald concluded that he must be the most popular one in the class. It would be important to stay on his good side.

When Donald and Gary arrived, there were eight other boys milling about in a semi-circle, each with a ball already in hand. A quick count on Donald’s part said it would be five on five.

“Ah…spacey…” Gary paused, breaking into a cruel smile. At first, Donald had figured that Gary called him that simply because he didn’t know his name, but the way he said that word — spacey, like he was spitting out something half-chewed — the second time made it clear that it was insult. A nickname meant to keep him alone, away from everyone else for his difference and his newness.  “You’re your own team.”

That was the signal for the balls to start raining down. They thudded and thumped against Donald’s suit like dull hail, eventually knocking him to the floor and into gravity’s embrace yet again.

That feeling was becoming too familiar for the young boy. He did not like this.

“What’s the matter, spacey? Can’t keep up? Can’t stand? Didn’t they teach you that on the station?” The taunts were worse, though, because he had not asked for this. He had only wanted to be left alone, not made a schoolyard victim.

“Spacey..spacey…better stand up…” A different set of voices this time, although he couldn’t tell who from his position on the floor. More thumps came, these against his back and helmet, again and again. Thumppumpumpum, shaking the suit with each volley. Donald grit his teeth and wondered how they were still throwing. There hadn’t even been that many balls to start with, he thought.

Prone but still being pelted, Donald felt one of the balls that had landed near him roll up close to his body, and he struggled his way upright, shaking uneasily as he did so. Getting up had nearly caused him to fall twice more, dropping him to one knee each time. Then, finally ready to counter, he cocked his arm back.

Sorry Mom. That was the last thought Donald had before the ball began to fly.

Most of the other kids threw hard — he knew he was sure to bruise tomorrow — but not even the biggest of them could have emulated what happened next.

Donald uncorked a rubber lightning bolt from his right hand, throwing with enough force to knock his chosen tormentor several feet backwards on his rear. He landed with a satisfying thud a good foot and a half away, moaning loudly. Gravity, it seemed, had switched sides, no longer busy thwarting him at every opportunity.

Seeing Samuel crumple to the ground like a paper ball, Donald’s eyes grew wide with surprise, a look every bully began to share themselves. He had never seen anything like it before, had never thrown like that before. Sure, he had played catch with his father on the station, but whenever he threw hard up there, the ball just floated along lazily, drifting its way into the mitt, even when he heaved it with every muscle in his body. Why had it come like this now?

Then, he remembered what his father had said — that living here would be different than at the station. Better even. Maybe this was what he had meant. Maybe he and gravity could get along after all. Now, it was Donald’s turn to laugh loudly. As luck would have it, the ball rebounded with such force that it had found its way back into his hands. Another gift from his new friend. 

“Hit me. I’m not scared of you,” Gary dared, trying to remain poised in front of his cronies. His eyes told another story, though, full of wild fear for the blow that was to come.

Donald understood now, why gravity had kept pulling at him all this time. It had just been lonely, in want of a companion, and he was ready to oblige. He launched a second bolt, this time into Gary’s smug face, with dramatically different results.

This collision was not a thump, but a sharp ping! 

It did not knock Gary off his feet, either — he was much too big to topple over with one shot.

No, what made this throw remarkable was its aftermath. Gary’s face began dripping crimson and clear right after, an immediate mess followed by a tremendous wailing that brought all the adults. The rest of the bullies immediately scattered, seeing their mighty leader slain by the still-suited newcomer.

There was still another ball nearby, but Donald didn’t get a third, because a familiar hand grabbed his wrist from behind before he could try again.

James face was stern and serious at the scene around him, before cracking a wild grin and laughing uproariously, having seen everything unfold from outside the yard: “Son, you did good, but you are so very, very grounded.”

Donald didn’t quite understand the joke, but that didn’t change what came next. He was grounded. So very, very grounded.

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