The Launcher


That summer we were bored or stoned when we could afford to be.  It was Barry's brilliant notion to build the thing but I didn't have any ideas of my own so I went with his, which was the start of our trouble.

It looked like a homemade bazooka, made of plastic and duct tape, because that's what it was, more or less.

"Do these things have a name?"

"Hell if I know.  What's it matter?"

So we called it the launcher and started off with spuds.  Barry's mom had a twenty pound bag of them.  They looked like aborted infants, only solid and heavy.  They sailed into the sky, hung there for an astounding ten seconds before landing in a violent splatter.  It felt like cheap murder without any of the consequences.

When we ran out of potatoes we used every other vegetable we could find—tomatoes and squash, zucchini, cabbage.  We moved onto solids out of necessity.  First it was soda cans, then soda bottles.  The shattered glass sizzled, hissing at us like pissed off snakes.

Looking back I suppose those potatoes were something of a gateway drug because we got over them real quick, yet their minor thrill left us wanting more, a different fix that might kick-start some sedentary neuron in our brains.

We went to the pet store and bought two litters of mice.  I can still recall their furious scratching in the bag behind my car seat.  Their breathing was husky.  I found it fascinating that they never squeaked because in every mouse story I'd ever read there always seemed to be a lot of squeaking or squealing.

Barry's house was a dilapidated cabin that his grandfather had built a hundred years ago.  It leaned eastward, toward the rising sun, and from a certain angle you might have thought it had lost balance and was about to fall into the water.

Chain Lake was no more than two blocks long and maybe one wide.  I never thought we'd hit the guy's house.  If I'd believed we could, if Barry had, we would have tried first thing.

As it happened, the third mouse landed on the old geezer's roof.  It surprised me how dull and empty the resonance of death could be—nothing but a thud and short skid sound.  It depressed and disappointed me.  I thought of my parents and wondered if they had gasped or screamed before that car hit them. 

We shot two mice at a time.  I don't know what I expected.  Perhaps I thought of my cartoon watching days and that they'd clasp their furry paws like a varmint couple desperate to enter the afterlife conjoined.  But they just flew apart and landed apart, two separate thud-and-skid noises.

Across the lake, the old man came out of the house around the time we were nearly finished.  Barry took off, dust vapors rising up where he had been.

I watched the guy sight me with his rifle, heard him yell, "One more time.  Go ahead.  I ain't afraid to shoot."

It felt like someone had given me a belated birthday present.  I loaded the launcher, pulled the makeshift trigger, puffed out my chest and waited.  

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