“I’m a damn fool,” muttered fourteen-year old Theodore Beem.
With his heart in his throat, Theodore looked at the twenty foot drop in front of him. The rope was swinging wildly from the moving airship. Casting all caution to the wind, he readied himself for the jump. This was his chance, it had to be now…
Just a few months ago, Theodore couldn’t even walk. He had tried helping a friend who was in trouble with some local hoodlums. Using makeshift wings of his own design, he had attempted to fly to safety. Instead, Theodore plummeted off the building, breaking both of his legs. He was lucky that he didn’t break his neck, but he didn’t feel lucky.
“You’ll be fortunate to walk again,” said the doctor.
Theodore never forgot when the doctor uttered those words. It felt like a death sentence.
It wasn’t long before Theodore fell into a deep depression. Perhaps disbelieving that anyone could be so stupid as to think they could fly off a building, his parents, blamed “the wrong kind of friends” for his injuries. Moreover, whereas Theodore may have formerly occupied himself with tinkering with his inventions, even this seemed too difficult for him. His ruined legs made it hard to maneuver in his workshop and made it difficult to obtain parts and tools. As a result, the only thing left for him were books. Theodore became a voracious reader. He learned languages, cartography, history, geography and engineering.
Then one early morning, his mother threw open his curtains and demanded he leave the confines of his bed. She took away his books and placed them outside his room. He grumbled under his breath. He leaned heavily against her small frame and shuffled into the living room. Then he saw it. There was a wheelchair in the living room. Up to now, Theodore had been housebound, barely leaving his bed, so this was a startling new development. He wondered how his parents could have purchased such an expensive luxury.
“We’re taking a little trip” said his mother firmly, brooking no disagreement.
“What could be so interesting in Gearford at such an ungodly hour?” wondered Theodore. Still, he knew better than to voice these complaints to the small woman in front of him.
Theodore’s mother Netty Beem was a careworn woman in her forties. Her hair was a rich auburn and she possessed a sunny smile along with a fierce temper. She was the rock of their family and intensely protective of her son.
Dropping himself into the wheelchair Theodore grimaced at the exertion. The doctors questioned whether he’d ever walk again, so getting into this wheelchair was something of a small victory. Nevertheless, it was also excruciating. The neighboring roads were notoriously poor and the jarring pain in his legs brought tears to his eyes. Finally, they arrived near the Southside docks just short of seven o’clock.
“Alright Teddy,” said his mother handing him a haversack, “I’ll be back this afternoon. Here’s something to keep you out of trouble.”
Teddy opened the haversack and peered inside. In addition to a half dozen sandwiches with his favorite smoked meats and cheeses, he found a sketchbook and some pencils. His mother smiled.
“A sketchbook? Drawing?” muttered Theodore, “You must be joking, mother.”
“Just humor an old lady Teddy,” said his mother before she left him at the docks.
‘What!? You’re leaving me?” asked Teddy.
“Hope you enjoy the show!” said Netty over her shoulder.
Theodore fumed, but at least his mother had packed some of his favorite food. He looked around the docks and saw a couple of ships. Men were unhurriedly loading the ships. An old man with a peg leg, sat on a nearby bench. Although, he seemed almost asleep, Theodore could see his knuckles were almost white as he firmly gripped the head of his cane. Time passed by slowly, but eventually the clock tower tolled seven o’clock.
Suddenly Theodore felt something. It started with a vibration that shook his chair. At first, he thought it an earthquake. He looked around, but the men on the dock seemed unconcerned about the tremors. The old man lifted his head sleepily and then Teddy saw it, the most beautiful and wonderful thing he had ever seen. Several airships soared overhead flying towards the bay. Theodore squinted his eyes and saw there were a couple of Falcon class airships, one Buzzard class airship, as well as several smaller craft. The Air Sea Brigade was going out on maneuvers.
They approached slowly, but picked up speed as they approached the open water. They were at least a few hundred feet overhead. When they passed over, it was as if the sun went dark. The roar of their engines would have made it difficult to talk, but Theodore was stunned into silence.
“A beautiful, fucking sight aren’t they boy,” yelled the old man.
“Um, yeah, beautiful,” shouted Theodore, “I mean, do they always come this way?”
“Hardly lad,” said the old man, “The Brigade just launched several new airships and they’re air testing them and the crews. But you’re lucky, if I’m reading the tea leaves rightly, the monarchy is gearing up for war and they’re needing to get the boys ready. We’re probably going to see a lot more of them, at least for the time being.”
Looking more closely at the old man, Theodore noticed he had to be at least seventy years old. He had a closely cut beard and a cap perched on his bald head. He seemed ancient. Teddy, thought that he looked a little like a snapping turtle. He wasn’t dressed like a gentleman, but he was still dressed neatly. A small silver pin with wings was on his chest. Theodore found his eyes drawn to the man’s wooden leg.
“If you stare at my leg any longer lad, you’ll have to fucking buy it off me. At least do me the courtesy of sharing your name,” said the man.
“Um, sorry,” muttered Theodore, “No offense intended. My name is Theodore. My friends call me Teddy.”
“Are we friends, then Teddy?” asked the man with a piercing gaze.
Teddy stared at the man awkwardly, but before he could answer, the man burst into laughter at his own joke.
“Very good Teddy, I suppose I could use a friend. Haven’t had one of them for a long time. You may call me. . . Willy. Yes, Willy.”
And so Theodore became friends with Willy, the old man at the docks. They were an odd couple to be sure. Willy seemed particularly pleased that Theodore had several sandwiches to share in his haversack. Although, neither Theodore, nor Willy were socially adept, they somehow found it easy to talk with one another. Time passed quickly and soon it was two o’clock and his mother came to bring him home.
With a brief wave, Teddy took his leave and returned home. Although his mother was a little disappointed to discover the sketchbook remained unused, she couldn’t help but notice that her son had something of a glow about him. Her son was happy and this simple fact gave great pleasure to Netty Beem.