Martin Zeigler

Story image for Atmoboarders! by Martin Zeigler

A ccidents? Sure there are accidents, twanging being the most common. That’s when you slam into a telephone wire or high tension line. And that’s not the worst that can happen. A while back, a guy was atmoboarding over Alaska, taking in the vistas, when a seven-something-seven engine took him in.

So what’s this mean? Don’t atmoboard? Go out for a nice stroll instead? Safest thing in the world, right?

Wrong. Atmoboards have that honor. Look at the stats. You’re more likely to get hit by a bus crossing the avenue than sliced by a wire riding the air-venue.

So why snooze walking when you can live flying? And I do mean live. You just need to know how to hug the flat, how to twist the grip, how to grow a back-ear and sharpen your side-eye. That’s why, when you buy an atmoboard from us, we give you the first five lessons gratis—that means free. No other atmoboard outfit in the city will do that. That’s how much we at Fleetwood care about atmoboard safety.

Once you’re trained, you’ll forget about twanging, jet engines, even walking. From then on, your world will be a bright blue sky of unforgettable adventure. Or as we say here at Fleetwood: “There is no fear, just the atmosphere.

What do I mean, adventure? Ask any of the staff here at the shop—the guys and guyettes in the bright blue shirts—and they’ll tell a true tale. Or you can ask me. I’ve been riding the board for going on six years, about as long as it’s been on the market. I know more stories than anyone.

What’s that? Do I have any adventures that stand out? Well, you not only asked the right person, you asked the right question. Just step outside under the clear blue and plant your heinie on a bench, while I grab an atmoboard to help move the yarn along.

Orbit-sml ><

M an, will you look at that sky. A thing of beauty, is it not? You’re nodding, and that’s good. Because if there’s one thing we atmoboarders have in common, it’s that we all love the hue called blue.

One week ago today I was standing under a sky just like this, asking myself: where haven’t I been in years and years if not eons? My answer: Why, the Terrence River.

Name ring a bell?

That’s what I thought. I could tell just by looking that you know the river, you know the bluffs, you know the lay of the land.

My bet is you’ve been to the Terrence more than once in your life. You’ve hooked a fish or two off its piers, and scrunched in an inner tube on a sleepy Sunday. All fine things. But I’m telling you straight, because honesty is the modus operandi—that means way of doing things—here at Fleetwood, I’m telling you you’ll never really know any river till you jet in low just above it, almost kissing its current. Till you trace its meander, the rushing cliffs on either side assuring you of your decent clip.

Till you round a bend and find yourself heading straight for a bridge.

Under you go, your atmoboard jets echoing beneath the span, and just as quick you’re out in the sun again, only to see an island in midstream splitting the river in two. Which way? Left? Right? You guess, then go, every cell in you alive with the speed and closeness and whoosh of it all.

That’s how you live a river, and that’s how I lived the Terrence that day I met the Red Stripe Brigade. But before I go on, you’ll need a little atmoboard know-how. So it’s a big T for time-out as I give you the dog and pony.

Orbit-sml ><

S o here it is: la board a la atmo. A touch taller than me when I stand right beside it. But I’ll lay it down for now, because, once you’ve taken off, that’s how you ride it. Horizontal, like a paddleboard or a bodyboard.

Paddleboard, bodyboard, surfboard. There are all kinds of boards. But only one atmoboard.

Only one what?

You got it: Only one atmoboard.

And here at the top, beneath the wrap-around windshield, you have your two grips. Right and left. For turning and for climbing and for heading back down to solid ground. You twist for acceleration. Hold steady to coast.

Next is the view window, flush with the board, so you can see what’s below as you’re flying. Or above, if you’re flipped over. That happens. If it does, watch out. If it never does, we’ll teach you how to do it.

Here beneath the window, the chinrest, and farther down, you’ve got your body straps. Take it from me, even the hot dogs belt up.

And down here at the base are the heat-resistant shields for your feet so they don’t get flambéed by the jets, meaning shish-kabobbed, meaning charred like twin brats on a spit.

Now let’s flip the board over and gander its belly. What do we got? Fuel tank, pipes, engine, pipes, jets, pipes, more pipes, and rudders. How’s it all work? If I knew that, I’d be teaching aeronautics over at the U and frankly making a lot less than I do now, selling atmoboards. Hate to put it that way, but it’s true.

The things you’ll need to know are these two buttons, which I’ll get to in a jiff, and this combo lock. The combo lock’s for when you’re worried some skywayman will hijack your board to the cumulous without so much as a may I. Know what, though? Most riders just leave the combo at 0-0-0. That’s the factory spec. You can set it to whatever. 6-6-6 if you want to be a little Beelzebub about it—that means Devil. But most atmoboarders have enough passwords and passcodes and passed gas in our lives. Who needs a 4-7-2 or a 5-3-8 when you can just stick with your home-grown triple-ought. Besides, if you set a new combo and forget it later on, you might as well forget it later on. Fleetwood’s got the best customer service in this universe and the next one over, but they still can’t read minds. And if you can’t get the right three digits in three tries, your shiny atmoboard won’t fly, won’t float, won’t skate, and will barely make an ironing board to smooth out your wrinkled skivvies.

So here’s a quiz. Sharpen your thinking cap and put on your pencil. Let’s say I set my combo to 1-2-3, save it, then jumble the numbers so no one else can guess it. Now I want to rev up my atmoboard and take to the skies. What do I dial?


Is that your final answer?

Looks like I need to make my questions tougher.

Now to lift off, I first stand the board upright like I did before. I hug it like it’s dear old mom or pop, because that’s what she or he will be. And remember the two buttons I mentioned a while back? Now watch as I reach around in back and press the top one. See? The straps whip around and wrap me up. Press again, they release me.

As for this other button, the lower one, I’ll leave it alone for now. This is the guy that starts it all, that fires up the jets, that launches you into the air as if the sidewalk were Canaveral. Except there’s no ten, nine, eight. No seven, six. No five. It’s zero and all systems go. It’s blast off. It’s watch your hometown become a dot.

It’s catch you later, Earth, and a pleasure to meet you again, wild blue.

Orbit-sml ><

S o in our last thrilling episode, I was atmoboarding toward an island on the Terrence, trying to decide left or right, right or left. It’s a decent-sized isle, a quarter-mile wide, half-mile long. Can you guess what island I was at?

You got it. The Heron. You know the lay, all right.

And I only had a second, so I flipped a mental penny and veered left, which put the Heron on my right. I swished by a stand of poplars on the isle like they were tall green pickets on a fence. Shoo. Shoo. ShooShooShoo. And in the gaps between, I caught sight of something scattered in the open field behind them. What did I see? Can you guess? I’ll give you a hint. I’m holding one, you’re shopping for one, and it starts with an at and ends with an oard.

Yes! Nice!

What I glommed were a dozen unoccupied atmoboards lying in the grass like they were sunning down at Goldbod Beach. And I said to myself: This is supreme. Fellow atmoboarders. Fellow boarders. Fellow members of the board of atmospheriography.

This called for an immediate visit. So I applied the brakes, like this. See how I twist the grips gently, not too hard? Too hard, you’ll flip over and head in reverse and upside down. Nothing like flying with a field of sky and a sky of grass. So remember: nice and slow, nice and slow. Nice and what?

Slow, that’s right, and you’re quick. You see, your atmoboard knows you want to land on your feet, so don’t push it. Suggest it. Let the jets do what they’re paid to do, ease you down safely to Mama Terra Firma—that means Mother Earth. That’s how I touched down between two of those long tall poplars.

Once my feet were planted, I released my straps and stepped away. And as the engine clicked and cooled, I took a look around. I saw for the first time that all those other atmoboards looked exactly alike—all black, with a red stripe running down one side like a lone suspender.

And I spotted something else. Something I hadn’t noticed from above, because it was as verdant—that means green—as the meadow it was standing in. And it explained why there wasn’t a soul in sight.

What I saw was a huge, enclosed tent, as big as the kind they hold revivals in. In fact, that’s what I thought at first, that I’d landed at an old camp meeting of the atmoboard faithful. Because as I looked at that tent, I could also hear it. I’d hear one voice inside shout something, then I’d hear a chorus echo it back. The one voice, then the chorus. One voice, chorus. And so on, ad infinitum—which means over and over.

I couldn’t tell what words were being bellowed from that tent, but here’s what I imagined: I imagined atmoboarders, professing their faith. Atmoboarders, bearing witness to being reborn in that bright blue ocean of air that hugs us all. And I was tempted to march right up to that revival tent, whip up the flap, step inside, and proudly join that choir in whatever they were singing their praises to.

But just then that flap came up on its own. And the first thing I spotted poking out of the opening was a gat—and that means gun.

Right off, I grabbed my atmoboard and ducked behind a poplar. Why?

That’s right: because I’d spotted a gat, meaning gun.

Then I see the hood. The hood over the face of the guard with the gat. The black hood with the red stripe along its side. Sound familiar? If that’s a nod, you’re a hammer, you hit the nail. The guy was decked out just like those dozen atmoboards basking in the sun.

And that’s not all.

Now that the flap was up, the words pouring out of the mouth of that tent became loud and clear. Well, they were always loud, but now they were clear. And clearly, the words were Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!

I see the look on your face. I can tell you’re wondering. You’re wondering the same thing I was wondering from behind that poplar. You’re wondering: Where, oh, where in all of this was the Atmoboard Spirit? The spirit of the ancient god At-Mo-Bo? The Espiritus Atmoboardus? The Lespree de Atmeebare?

After all, since when does a tent full of atmoboarders need a guard, need a gat, need all that gabble about destroying? What’s more, since when does a tent full of atmoboarders need a tent? Look up above. What do you see? A canvas sky?

Case closed.

Now my ire was up. How dare these dozen denizens sully the good name: atmoboard. So I propped my own against the trunk and scurried off to the far side of the tent, where I couldn’t see the guard and ergo—that means therefore—he couldn’t see me.

And since he couldn’t see me, I took my sweet time, I took my sugar-sweet time.

Doing what, you ask?

For now, let’s just say I took my sugar-sweet time enjoying the golden light of old Sol—that means the sun.

And afterward I went up to the tent, slapped my ear to the canvas, and listened in. And what I heard, in a deep, booming voice, were these words:

“You, all of you, will think of only one thing. Flying full speed ahead. Not slowing, not turning, not climbing or descending, and certainly not landing. But flying full speed ahead. And you will fly full speed ahead for one purpose only. To destroy, destroy, destroy! Everyone: Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!”

I hadn’t heard those words in a sugar-sweet time, but as luck would have it, I got to hear them again and from too many voices at once: Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!

So here’s another quiz question. What did I hear?

That’s close. Real close. Your words are spot on, but I listen to you and I think you want to maybe kick a tire, maybe tag a wall, maybe knock over little Bobby’s bike. What I don’t hear is lay to waste. I don’t hear wipe completely out. I don’t hear knock back to the Pleistocene—which means Stone Age.

Now let’s hear you belt out those destroys like you mean them.

There you go! Now that’s a performance worth its weight. Not just in gold, but in gold times three.

As for what they had in mind to destroy, destroy, destroy, I needed to see what was happening. We’re in the eye age, not the ear era. So I took this Swiss job I carry with me and stabbed the tent, poking a hole just big enough to peek through.

And here was the scene: a bunch of guys in black hoods standing together. One guy in a black hood standing apart. And one guy in a black hood not standing, but strapped face down to a plywood plank. And each and every one of those hoods was lined with a bright red—well, you tell me.

Righto once again. Stripe. I sense you’re starting to get a feel for why I named this bunch the Red Stripe Brigade.

All that black and red was getting to me. So I backed off from the tent for a little blue and green. And when I put my lone little eyeball back up to the hole, here’s what I saw.

What I saw was another lone little eyeball staring right back.

And what I heard up close was this: “Oh, Master! We’re being spied upon!”

Orbit-sml ><

W as I scared?

Put it this way: I tore off through that meadow as if tomorrow had been repealed.

But my senses were sharp. My senses were keen. I couldn’t see through that canvas but I could sure hear the thundering feet on the other side keeping pace with me. And when I cleared the corner of the tent and turned to look, I saw them, the hooded hellmen, racing out of the opening like angry ants.

From one, then from all the rest, came a cry of, “After him! After him! After him!” It sounded better than that many destroys, but the meaning was the same: my hour was up and my days were numbered.

I raced past those dozen basking atmoboards in that golden sunlit field and glimpsed the guard pulling his gun. Glimpsed the guard aiming his gun. Glimpsed the guard firing his gun just as I threw myself down in the grass. Know the expression missed by a mile? Those bullets missed, but not by a mile.

The grass was tall enough so I could wriggle unseen toward the poplars. Once behind the nearest tree, I got to my feet and peeked around it. So much for unseen. And, much to my demise, my atmoboard, my dear atmoboard, my fleet and faithful atmoboard was leaning against the trunk three trees away.

What to do? Take a siesta? Break out the picnic plastic? No, sir or madam, I made a dash for it, hearing more after-hims, hearing more gat reports, hearing bark ripped off each tree as I raced past. And just as I neared my board, one of the hoodmen intercepted me. On the run, I shoved him with one hand, grabbed my atmoboard with the other, and took off to the skies and to freedom.

Freedom, my friend. You know freedom, right? Of course, you do. It’s feeling the gut tug and the blood rush. It’s putting distance. It’s flying higher than the highest poplar. It’s breathing easy. It’s knowing your ship, the U.S.S. Atmoboard, is headed back to Terra Mainland, away from Heron Island and all its hooded who-bodies.

Then I heard the crack. Felt the splinter scrape my cheek. Like that, half my board was gone, disappeared, vanishissimo—and the left grip was dangling free in my hand. I was half a hawk and spinning. I saw a river of clouds and a sky of river. I was all over the place and going up fast, meaning down. Down to the ground, that kind of down. And years of riding the board told me my number was up.

My number was what?

That’s correct. Up.

And now I felt the waiting. The endless waiting. For the crash, for the final credits, for the show’s all over, folks, please exit to your right.

But the house lights didn’t come up. Instead came the teeth, the barbs, the needles. The scrapes and scratches. The being ripped and rent like a bill through a shredder.

And then it all came to a stop.

I took a look at myself. I was torn up and bloody, but I knew I was torn and bloody, and that made me alive. And I thanked whoever made blackberries that I’d landed in those brambles, which acted like a net.

I was still wrapped to what was left of my atmoboard, so I unlatched myself and set it free and bid it a “rest in peace”, a “dearly beloved board, we are gathered here”, an “Atmo, we hardly knew ye”.

But now, from the way I was being snatched from the brambles and dragged across the meadow toward the tent, it was closing credits after all, it was animals were harmed during the making of this picture, it was atmoboard, I’ll meet you in the next life over.

Orbit-sml ><

C an I get you anything? A water, soda, something from the Fleetwood fountain?

You sure?

Good, then it’s onward and tentward.

Orbit-sml ><

N ow I’m tied to a post that’s holding up the tent. The banded brethren who blasted away my atmoboard and hauled me through the grass are circling me and waving their fists and ranting through their hoods. Then someone from the back of the tent steps forward, elbows the others aside, and gets in my face. Like everyone else, he’s hooded and has that red stripe. But when he speaks, I think: that’s him. The Bossman with the booming voice. The Master.

And from out of his hood come the words, “You have a choice. To die right now, or after we demonstrate what we intend to do.”

His followers think this is funny, but the Bossman not so much. “Silence!” he screams. “I am not an act!”

It’s a spat, short and sweet, but it gives me time to decide. I cough to get their attention. “I’ve thought it over,” I announce.

I see the Master’s eyes through the slits in his hood. “And?” he says.

“I’d rather die later,” I say.

“Then watch and learn.” The Master waves his hand, and the hooded ones disperse—that means step aside—and what I now see before me is that same hapless captive strapped to the plywood plank.

“Presenting our modified atmoboard,” the Master says.

I think to myself, if this thing’s an atmoboard then I’m the Duke of Alliman Kazoo. Sure, the plywood’s the size and shape of an atmoboard, but where are the grips? The shields for the face and footsies?

But jets, it does have jets. Not Fleetwood jets, mind you. Not even jets built by our competitors. More like cheap steel tubing for a one-time shot.

“And look what’s in store,” the Master declares.

At the far end of the tent I see something I missed the first time. A huge picture window in a thick brick frame. And just behind the window, a wide cinderblock wall, the kind of wall you’d crash into in a gym, chasing that out-of-bounds b-ball.

“Picture, if you will,” the Bossman says, pointing to the frame, “a picture window. The window of a library. The window of a school. The window of a hospital. The window of a—”

His booming voice booms on, and I don’t like what I hear. I point to the pane and say, “It’s target practice, isn’t it?”

“For something bigger, yes,” the Bossman says.

“But that’s just wrong.”

“No, it’s right. Because practice makes perfect.”

He steps up to the table the plank is lying on. He flips a switch beneath the table. The jet on the ersatz atmoboard—meaning, here sits something that’s nothing like an atmoboard—begins to glow, all hot and crimson and eager.

It’s “Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!” from the Master.

It’s ditto, ditto, ditto from all the rest, including the face-down unfortunato about to take a ride.

And with the throw of a second switch, the captive and the plywood plank are off, hitting zero to eighty in an eye blink.

Now listen carefully. An atmoboard sans grips—without grips—means you can’t turn left, you can’t turn right. It means if whatever’s up ahead won’t step aside, it’s a turn for the worse. Add in jets you can’t shut down, and it means getting there quicker, which is bad because you don’t want to get there at all.

But he does get there. And I know I shouldn’t ask, but I can’t help it. You’d ask too if you saw the shattered window and the sudden modern art on the cinderblock.

I ask: “You call that practice?”

The Master says, “Did you see real atmoboards? Real buildings? Real explosions?”

“No, but—”

“Then, yes, I call that—prac-tice,” he says, stretching out the word like taffy.

Ever been treated like that? Like a moron? Like a dunce? Like a wattless bulb? Like someone who wouldn’t know two plus two, even if handed four?

Of course you have. Not recently, I know. But at some point in your life. Happens to all of us. And it gets our goat if not our hackles up.

And so I dish it, just as taffy-like, right back to the Bossman. “When a real human hits a real wall, that doesn’t look like prac-tice to me. That looks like mur-der.”

He glares at me, slit to eye. “What about two humans then?”

Orbit-sml ><

W ithin seconds I’m strapped to a second plywood plank, and the warm-up switch is thrown.

The jets thrum louder, get hotter. I feel my belly burn. I can’t move my arms, move my legs, can’t even budge my toes. But I can think, see, and breathe. And what I’m thinking is, I see I’m about done with breathing.

About all I can hope for is a little extra time. Maybe see that ticking hand just a few minutes longer. So I give it the old college try, the old high school try, the old one-room school with just an outhouse try. And I say, “If you need to set up a new window pane, you go right ahead. Make sure it’s seated in the frame. You don’t want it to come loose before I hit it.”

“No window needed,” the Bossman says. “The wall will do.”

“I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” I say. “It looks like it needs painting. And the paint allowed to dry.”

“No need. You will supply the color.”

That’s not funny, but it’s funnier than when his finger inches toward the second switch. And that’s when I say, or rather scream, or rather cry at the top of my wanttolive lungs: “Hold on! Stop! Wait!”

The Master stalls over the launch switch and heaves a yawn that sucks in half his hood. “What is it now?”

“Since you shot up my atmoboard, may I have one to replace it? I know of one you don’t need any longer.”

It’s suddenly comedy hour at the Red Stripe Club. Even the Master laughs at this one. Hoods and stripes rise and fall with guffaws. The Master finally calms down enough to say, “And where do you plan to ride this atmoboard? Up in Heaven?”

“Outside of Heaven, but just as high,” I say after the mirth dies down. “And I’ll leave you down here in the dirt.”

The hilarity starts up again, but now I’ve got the Master riled. He tamps his hand to stifle the rabble. “Leave who in the dirt? Me?”

“All of you.”

Things hush a whole lot now. The Bossman leans over me as I’m still cocooned to the plywood plank. “You expect us not only to unstrap you and let you go, but allow you to leave these premises on an atmoboard that we will simply hand over to you?”

More guffaws, more holding of sides.

“See, that’s cowardly thinking,” I say. “Someone who’s not a coward would look at it different. They would say to me, ‘Well, you go right ahead and take that atmoboard, for all the good that will do. We’ll just catch up to you and drag you back anyway’.”

“Why waste our time catching and dragging when we can do what we wish to you right now without all that?”

“You see,” I say, “that’s how a coward would word it. A chicken would word it. A cowering chicken would word it. A cowering chicken wetting his feathers and going bwaakbwaakbwaak would word it. A cowering—”

Slap! He whacks me one upside the head. It stings, but not as bad as a cinderblock wall would, and so I go on. “You see? There again, that’s what a coward would do, a squeaking mouse in the house would do, a squeaking, meeking sheep in wolf’s clothing—”

“Enough! Enough of your lists!” cries the Master. “Everyone: we are not cowards!”

And of course from the choir comes: We are not cowards!

“All right,” the Bossman booms. “We will give you your atmoboard. We will even give you a minute head start on your atmoboard. An entire minute. Sixty seconds. We will then pursue you as you flee from us in desperate panic on your atmoboard. And then we, the aces of the air, the most accomplished and skilled atmoboarders ever to rule the skies, will catch you. Will surround you. And, with the razor-sharp tips of our boards, will slice both you and your atmoboard in two and send all four halves tail-spinning to a fiery doom!

“You will not die quietly. You will not die quickly. Or painlessly. We will do everything within our power to make you wish you had simply flown into our wall. For we do not intend on capturing you and bringing you back.”

A giant cheer whirls around the tent and echoes off the cinderblock.

And now as a hooded hooligan starts unraveling me, I feel my legs move again, my toes wiggle again, the blood flow through my arms and fingers again. So I point my index toward the tent top and proclaim, “That was quite a list yourself, Bossman. But so be it! Far better to die as a hero on an atmoboard than as a mummy on a sad slat of lumber!”

Orbit-sml ><

T ime flies when you’re doomed to die.

Now that we’re all standing outside the tent, I see the afternoon’s shot, that the day’s about done. The air’s crisp as a chip, and the sky’s a deep blue that’s about to go indigo.

The banded believers have claimed their atmoboards from the scatter in the grass. They’ve handed me the extra. And now I’m almost like them. Almost, but not quite. My board’s black and banded exactly like theirs. But my head isn’t hooded. My head isn’t striped. My face is out in the open for all to see.

But I don’t strap in just yet. I give my board a half-spin, like this. See? Now I’m facing the belly of the beast. The pipes and jets and rudders.

I hear smatters of tittering as the hoodmen elbow each other and point. Even the Bossman is amused, for I can hear his booming ha.

“Are you sure,” he says, “you wouldn’t rather get hurled against the wall? If you fire up like that, with the pipes in your face, your board will do our work for us.”

I peek around the atmoboard as if it were a shower curtain. “Just looking for the Fleetwood stamp,” I say. “And I’m happy to report that it’s nowhere to be found.”

I give my board another one-eighty and hug the varnished side, the side you ride. I reach around, push the top button, and strap myself in. And the Master says, “If you’re quite through, you have—one.”

“I understand,” I answer back. “One minute head start.”

“No, you don’t understand. We’ll give you one second and not one second more.”

I’m about to call that cheating. I’m about to say he promised. I’m about to shout no take-backs, when he tells me, “Second’s over.”

Doesn’t leave much time, zero seconds, so I push the lower button. I hear the jets. I feel the surge. I see the brilliant flames beneath me. And all around me everything lights up-dusk and dark, tent and meadow, field and foe.

And then it’s liftoff, blessed liftoff, as the meadow drops away.

Freedom, my friend. I mentioned it earlier. But earlier I lost it instantly in a hail of gat-guy bullets. And now, as I shoot like a bullet myself into the Deep Majestic Up, I know I’ve been given a second chance, a reprieve, a don’t-you-blow-it op.

But I don’t escape. I don’t vamoose. I don’t hightail it the Hades out of there.

No, I hang around and hover.

Hang around and what?

Hover. That’s absolutely right. I sail down to within earshot, because it’s now too dark to see, and adopt a holding pattern.

And for good reason.

I don’t want to miss what’s about to happen for all the t’s in Tatistakastan.

And sure enough I hear it. The Bossman’s booming bass. “No! No! No! My atmoboard won’t work!”

And as an added extra, his followers’ reply: “No! No! No! My atmoboard won’t work!”

It gets even better when the Bossman screams, “No! No! No! This is not a rallying cry, you fools! My atmoboard will not fire!”

“No! No! No! Neither will ours, Oh Master!”

So much for the dogfight. So much for the battle for the skies. So much for the cutting me in half, the halving me, the having me for dinner and spitting me out. The Red Stripe Brigade is down and out. They’re flameless and they’re frozen and they’re glued to Terra Gotcha.

Then someone spots my jets a-glowing. “Master! He sails above us!”

“You!” The Bossman bellows. “What have you done to our atmoboards?”

I descend just a little more so I can be heard. “Simple. I took my sugar-sweet time.”

“You what your what-sweet what?”

“Took, sugar, time,” I reply.

To which he responds, “What?”

So I tell him. That I took my sugar-sweet time after I first saw the tent flap open, after I first spotted the guard with the gat, after I first heard those shouts of destroy, destroy, destroy!

And after I first figured something was amiss—meaning not quite right.

That’s when I dashed to the far side of the tent where the atmoboards were sunning. Flittered from board to red-striped board. Saw to my delight that each combo was triple-ought, the factory spec. Figured no one had changed their combo, and so I changed it for them. Set each combo to the same three-digit number and saved it. Then scrambled every one so no one would ever guess it.

I did all this, and took my sugar-sweet time about it.

And how sweet it is that, just before lifting off that fine evening, I did more than just spin my board halfway and cheer that Fleetwood had played no part. No, I also entered that secret combo, so I alone could work the board and blast off free and easy.

I lay this all out for the Master and his minions. I’m hovering and they’re grounded, for the simple reason that I know the secret combo and they don’t have a clue.

But they still have the gat guy, and the gat still has bullets.

So it’s high time to move on.

I bid everyone a fond ow feedersane, a fond adoo, a fond kiss my tush and toodle-oo. Then with one squeeze of the grips, I swoop off the Heron, shoot out over the Terrence, flash a final wave, and head on home.

Orbit-sml ><

A nd now let’s head on up to the showroom.

The showroom? You’re asking, why the showroom?

Because atmoboards are awaiting. Not to mention nifty deals on account of all your on the money answers. Nifty deals like our Fleetwood water bottles, and our protective WeatherFleet waxes, and our DuroFleet fuel packs that let you fly longer than the standard thirty seconds.

What’s that? You’re saying you’re not in the least bit interested?

What’s that? You’re saying you just stuck around to hear the end of the story, and now you’re leaving?

Well, I’ll have you know I earn my keep through atmos sold, not through stories told.

You’re saying nice rhyme, but adios?

But what if I told you there’s more to the story? What if I told you that after I headed on home that night, I flew right back?

Yes, back to Heron Island. Not solo this time, but with my own brigade, my Brigade de la Fleetwood, my crew and crewatrixes in their bright blue Fleetwood tees. And no longer on that shabby black board with the flimsy red stripe, but on a bright and brand new atmoboard, on a sleek and shiny atmo, on a swift and certain A.

And there they were, the hooded has-beens, still sobbing over their boards, trying to guess the combo. It was pathetic, meaning too bad for them, as we swooped right in and knocked them cold.

The Master, the gat guy, and all the rest—who cares who was who?—were down for the count.

And now we propped them up. Strapped them to their now vertical rides. And entered the secret combo, 3-2-1.

Then, as one, we shouted, “Zero!” and pressed the launch button on each and every one of their red-striped boards and stepped back.

Way back.

And, oh, how those atmoboards rose. Higher, ever higher, in unison—meaning altogether—like eleven bright orange missiles. And soon the jet flames grew distant, resembling worms, tiny glowing worms rising deep into the night, toward the edge of our atmosphere, toward the cold silence of outer space and all the wonders it had to offer.

Orbit-sml ><

A s for the wonders Fleetwood has to offer, you ready now to sign on the dotted line?

What’s that? You wouldn’t ride an atmoboard if it were the last thing on earth?

How about if I throw in a pen and a poster?


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Martin Zeigler

Author image of Martin Zeigler Martin Zeigler writes short fiction, primarily mystery, science fiction, and horror. His stories have been published in a number of anthologies and journals, both in print and online. Every so often (okay, twice) he has gathered these stories into a self-published collection. In 2015 he released A Functional Man And Other Stories. More recently, in 2020, a year we will all remember with fondness, he released Hypochondria And Other Stories. Besides writing, Marty enjoys the things most people do. And besides those, he likes reading, taking long walks, and dabbling on the piano. He makes his home in the Pacific Northwest.

© Martin Zeigler 2021 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: jvalley678, freegr, usefoto, Couleur, ulotkidruk, PublicDomainPictures, 41330, geralt, and B_A.

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