Red Comet

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2004

By Philip Grayeski, Illustrated by Devon Cole

The soaring red sparkler flew over my head with clouds chasing behind. I gazed up and pondered what it would be like sitting in the Red Comet, wind rushing at your face, an old greasy leather cap on, with goggles bigger than your eyes, and you’re just looking ahead feeling so free.

My granddad landed the plane as smoothly as a feather falling. When he was gliding down the engine purred like a cat. He hopped out of the plane he received as a gift from the Air Force, the Red Comet. No one ever was allowed to ride in it because he wanted it to be so clean because he believed that it’s important to take care of things close to you. The Air Force gave it to him because he was the best pilot in the world. At least that’s what he said. He did many tricks that would make your stomach fall like you were on a roller coaster.

My granddad and I are more like friends than family. He always says I’m his favorite grandson because I’m his only. We always watch TV together. We love to watch basketball at night, especially when the New Orleans Hornets play.

I feel bad for my granddad not only because Grandmom died last year, but because he has cancer. He knows it but he’s trying to make the best out of it like very few people would which is what I look up to. He said he doesn’t worry because he’ll see Grandmom in the heavenly skies above. Questions fly through my mind when he says that. I wonder things like are you sure? I also wonder what is heaven? I want to ask will you come back later? It’s tough and I’m scared.

Red Comet fishing

We went out fishing in the great Mississippi woods

Granddad lives across the street so I go over a lot. It’s great living close to your family. We went out fishing in the great Mississippi woods. Fresh pine smell swirled in my nose, sticks tangled in my laces, and branches clung on my raggedy hat that had a little fishing hook stuck on from when I caught my first fish. Granddad gave it to me. When we got to our little lake the log that we sat on was like a couch with no back because of all the moss grown on. Granddad said it was a birthmark of the forest. As I cast out, glimmers from the fishing line sparkled into my eyes as the line sank into the water.

When we finally finished we caught twelve fish. He said I caught more than him, but I saw him add to my pile. That night we had fish. It was great. Hard work would fill in my mouth with every bite I took. I asked my mom if I could sleep over because it was a Friday. She said, “It’s perfectly fine.” When I was tucked into bed I remembered the wetness of the lake below my feet, the moss couch where I sat, and the delicious fish still in my mouth. Wilderness was still around me even in my sleep.

When Granddad tucked me in he said something very serious, “Your parents probably told you I have cancer, but I really don’t want you to worry because at this age you already have enough things to worry about. But when I do go will you promise me you’ll take care of my plane in the outside shack?”

At that moment my emotions were jumping everywhere from happy because I get to have his plane to an all-time sad because he was slipping through my fingers and I couldn’t let him go. But I replied with a tear hanging in my eye, “Yes.”

The next morning I walked down the cabin floor and into the kitchen where I saw Granddad cooking me a slapperjack, which is two pancakes smashed together with jelly and syrup in the middle. It’s kind of like a morning sloppy joe. It’s our favorite.

While we were eating breakfast I thought about what he had said last night and it made me really uncomfortable. Granddad looked at me and questioned, “Why do you have that awful stare? Was it about what I said yesterday?”

I lied, “No.”

After I gobbled up my slapperjack, my granddad guided me to the shed and slid open the creaky old wooden door. The shine from the polished red plane gleamed into my eyes like the morning sun. A thick-knotted rope was tied to the plane so my granddad could pull it out. When he took it out on his runway he said to me something I will always keep in my heart, “Hop in.” My eyes smiled with my mouth as he spoke those words. He tossed me an old greasy leather helmet and I put it on. I slid right in the cockpit while my granddad’s arms secured me as we headed for takeoff. My fingers were shaking with joy.

The pitch-black runway streamed by us while the glistening propellers started spinning faster and faster as the front wheels rose. My stomach rose with them. I looked up in the brilliant blue sky as if heaven’s hand was reaching down to touch me. The wind tickled my face just like how your mom would do when you were a little baby. I felt like I could do anything. I could grasp my dreams. It was the most magnificent thing I have ever felt. My soul just soared.

A little bit of my soul would be contained in this plane forever. I looked over my shoulder to see my granddad. He looked like a kid again because of how much fun he was having. His soul soared with mine. We just looked at the tiny cars below our feet and the tall business buildings starting a new day. Eventually we landed the plane. The tires screeched as they tapped the ground. Then we smoothly let the tail down.

Red Comet flying an airplane

It was the most magnificent thing I have ever felt. My soul just soared

I got out first and tugged off my helmet. I ran my fingers through my hair but something strange happened. Granddad grabbed his chest really hard and his face turned pale.

I got nervous and asked, “Granddad, are you all right?” He couldn’t hear me. He barely made it out of the plane. Then he fell on the ground and closed his eyes.

I cried, “Granddad! Granddad! Can you hear me?” A tear fell out of my eye onto his face like a dove sent from heaven as I shook him but he still didn’t wake up. The world started spinning all around me. Sweat started to drip down my face, but the only thing I thought to do was run to my parents’ house. I darted across the street. A car hit the brakes hard as I flew past it.

I pushed open the front door and screamed, “Granddad fell! He won’t wake up.”

My dad rushed to me with a phone in his hand. He grabbed my hand and started running to Granddad’s house and asked, “Where is he?”

I said, “On the runway.” When we got to Granddad, I saw fear in my dad’s face. He quickly dialed numbers on the phone. Seconds later sirens rang all through the neighborhood. All I saw was red-and-white blurs of light flash through the tears in my eyes. The ambulance crew put my granddad on a stretcher and rushed him in the ambulance to the hospital. My heart fell and my face turned somber. I ran to hold my granddad before they left, but two police officers held me back. My arms squeezed through their blue uniforms as I yelled, “Granddad, I love you!” Tears of hope and sorrow rushed out my eyes. My hand reached out but they still held me back. I just ran to my dad and hugged him.

Our heads hung low in grief as we walked to our house. The ambulance left tire streaks where they stopped. I just sat by the window and wondered how such a beautiful day can turn into such a nightmare. My dad came in and put his arm around me as we sat on the couch. We both stared blankly. My mom came in and she also looked depressed. I guessed my dad told her. The phone finally rang as my dad went to get it. All I heard were mumbled voices and then he came in and told us, “He’s all right. He just blacked out. We can see him in the morning.” My heart rose an inch, which was just enough for me to finish my day.

The next day we headed to the hospital where my granddad lay. The halls had a weird smell and people cried in agony. I started to tremble. As I went into his room I saw tubes going into his body and monitors all around him but that would not stop him from keeping his glorious smile.

He whispered to me, “What’s going on, champ?” I just smiled back. The grownups started talking so I headed to the window. The soft clouds swirled around the hospital like someone was watching down on us from the spacious skies. I wondered if my granddad would watch out for me if he went up into the skies. Would he hold my hand or be resting his hand on my shoulder through hard times?

I just gazed out the window on the car ride home. Days passed by while I played with friends in the neighborhood. The phone rang as my dad picked it up. I was just watching “SportsCenter.” My dad quietly came in teary-eyed as he spoke, “Granddad passed away last night. He told them to tell you to go in his house and on the kitchen counter will be a note. Please don’t cry now; he is not in pain anymore.”

I just said, “I know” I jogged across the gravel driveway to his house. It felt like there was one big bump no one can get across and that bump was letting someone go. I found the note on the island counter with a set of keys as I read:

Dear Grandson,

Over the past few days, life revealed that when you cross the barrier of friendship you then find love even in the smallest of hearts. You have showed me that. I never thought I could let go of Grandmother but now I let her rest in the blue skies above. I will love you forever. Love doesn’t make the world go around. It’s knowing that you can, so will you take these keys and soar through the clouds and over the wavy seas for me? My hand will always be on your shoulder.

Love, Granddad

I closed the note as proudly as I could. I gazed at the keys for the first time while I read the imprinted words “Soaring Eagle.” My heart would be set in these keys forever to pass down to my grandchildren as they pass it down to theirs.

Red Comet Philip Grayeski

Philip Grayeski, 11
Raritan, New Jersey

Red Comet Devon Cole

Devon Cole, 12
Monroe, Maine

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