I took a moment to collect myself as I stepped around to the wooden gate that lead into my neighbor Jeff’s backyard. I didn’t know what I was going to find – but my sixth sense was tingling already, telling me that it was going to be trouble.
I should have known that an engineer takes everything far too literally.
And sure enough, as I came around the corner of his house, I could already smell the acrid scent of melted plastic, the tang of gunpowder. My concerns weren’t lessened when I saw the wooden structure pointed up at a forty-five degree angle, a set of rails that angled up over his back fence.
“Jeff?” I called out, a hint of concern in my voice. What was he building?
The man himself popped up a second later from below a metal contraption of some sort, grinning broadly. His face had even more smudges of dirt and grease on it than usual, and he wore a pair of safety goggles, conveniently protecting his forehead.
“Bill!” he shouted back, sounding as if he hadn’t seen me just yesterday. “Check it out! Totally gonna prove you wrong this time, buddy!”
I stepped forward, doing my best to get some idea of what the man had constructed, while at the same time trying not to set him off with any sudden movements. “And what are you proving me wrong on, exactly?” I ventured, trying to figure out what he had cobbled together.
It looked like a long ramp, two parallel rails aimed up and over the back fence. At the base of the ramp, several wooden struts supported and cradled a sled, made out of a sheet of hammered metal with a couple small wheels bolted to the bottom. Attached to that homemade sled were two very suspicious tubes that smelled strongly of dangerous explosives.
As I stepped in closer, I heard a faint squeal from the other side of the ramp, and I felt my stomach drop. “Oh, no,” I said out loud.
“Oh, yes!” Jeff retorted, popping back up from whatever he had been adjusting on his sled. “And you said that they couldn’t fly!”
I stepped gingerly around the launch platform (and that had to be what it was, I figured out), staring down at the creature in the cage on the other side. A pair of beady little eyes stared back at me, not recognizing me but already blaming me for being trapped in this little metal box.
Things weren’t going to get much better for the fellow, I knew.
“Surely, you can’t be serious!” I tried, staring back and forth between the man, the pig, and the machine that the man had constructed for the pig.
“I am serious!” he fired back. “And don’t call me Shirley! Look, it’s totally going to work – and Sir Porksalot is going to be fine!”
“Jeff, it’s just an expression!” I insisted. “It just means that something isn’t going to happen! You don’t have to prove the idiom wrong!”
“But it isn’t that they can’t fly!” he said, reaching down and, with a grunt, lifting the cage, and the angrily protesting Sir Porksalot with it, up onto the sled. Even despite my horror, I couldn’t help noticing that there were small pegs on the sled that perfectly held the cage in place.
He might be insane, I had to concede, but at least my neighbor was a hell of an engineer. And for all I knew, this crazy contraption might actually work.
“See, I worked out the calculations,” Jeff continued, overrunning my protests with sheer determination. “It’s just a problem of propulsion! With enough thrust, pigs fly just fine!”
And before I could say anything more, Jeff had tugged me back a dozen feet from the gantry, sled, and angrily protesting passenger. He lifted up something that looked suspiciously like a garage door remote and pressed the button.
My next comment was totally lost in the roar of explosive combustion.
As my ringing ears slowly cleared, I stared at the long, arcing trail of smoke that led up and out of Jeff’s back yard. “Hey, Jeff,” I shouted, trying to make myself heard above the persistent sounds of encroaching tinnitus.
“How’s it going to land? And where?”
“There’s the field back there behind our houses! He should come down just fine in that! I put a parachute-“
A very loud boom cut off the rest of his sentence.
We hurried out of the fenced-in back yard and around the house – where we both stopped short, staring in shared horror at the large column of smoke rising up from the field behind the house. Even at this distance, we could already catch the whiff of burned Porksalot on the breeze.
I reached out and patted Jeff on the shoulder. “Sure, they fly with enough thrust, but you still need to work on that landing,” I told him.
For once, the engineer didn’t have a retort.