CHAPTER 1: SMALL BLUE MARBLE
Joe was in trouble.
Lost. Directionless. Neck deep in a rapidly moving current that threatened to sweep him under. The odds of Joe’s survival weren’t good.
His hands were twin forces of destructive martial arts power, but there was little use for a kung-fu grip in the middle of a raging sea. The waves slapped against his bearded face. He bobbed to and fro like a marionette in a windstorm.
No stranger to unusual circumstances, Joe’s list of life-threatening challenges read like a daredevil’s biography. He’d been mauled by dogs, buried alive in a violent snowstorm, and burned at the stake (as evidenced by a deformed right arm). He’d fallen out of countless windows and down numerous hills.
Crushing hail and freezing rain.
The elements, it seemed, were not among Joe’s allies. Nor was the water that continued its relentless assault.
Dressed in army-fatigue green, Joe was an invisible speck in the vast ocean. His boots were filled with water that continued to pull him down. Finally, he could remain aloft no longer. Body, rigid and tight, Joe slowly sank beneath the waves just as a voice called out.
“Over here! I think he’s over here!”
“I don’t see him!” Another voice, more panicked than the first, answered.
They searched the area for nearly an hour, but Joe was gone, swallowed by the unforgiving current. The sky was overcast as Mike and Jacob stood at the water’s edge and kicked off their sneakers. Jacob removed his socks.
“Look at this,” he said, squeezing a fountain of water from each tube sock.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this,” Mike said.
“I didn’t talk you into anything. You thought it would be cool. We both did.”
“Yeah, well now I’m minus one G.I. Joe doll.”
“Action figure. G.I. Joe is an action figure,” Jacob said.
“Whatever. One of my action figures just sank in Millsburg’s creek.”
“At least it wasn’t your talking G.I. Joe.”
“That was my talking G.I. Joe, birdbrain,” Mike said. “You thought it would be funny to hear him talk in the water, remember?”
“Oh, right,” Jacob said. “Why didn’t we do that?”
“Because he sank and is now gone forever!”
“Oh. Oh, right.”
“Waste of five bucks.”
Mike continued staring at the water, hoping against hope to see a sign of his beloved action figure, but those efforts failed.
“Cripes, look at this!” Jacob said.
“I’ve seen your wristwatch a hundred times.”
“No, look at it. The crystal’s filled with water. It’s ruined.”
“It’ll be fine. Just needs to dry out.”
“Yes. Maybe. Hell, I don’t know. At least you still have your watch! My G.I. Joe doll is gone forever.”
“No it isn’t,” Jacob said.
“Do you see it?” Mike asked, with a glimmer of hope. “Where is it?”
“No, I mean it’s not a doll. It’s an action figure.”
Mike casually flipped Jacob off as the boys squeezed into their wet shoes and socks and walked through the wooded area to their bicycles.
“First day of summer vacation is off to a great start,” Mike said.
“Oh, it isn’t that bad,” Jacob said.
“Hey, check it out. Your front tire’s gone flat.”
Jacob pinched the tire with two fingers.
“Flat as a pancake,” Mike said.
“Look at this,” Jacob insisted, extending his right arm toward Mike’s line of vision.
Mike ignored the interruption.
“Sometimes I don’t know why we’re even friends. I’m just asking you to look at-”
“I’m reading here. Besides, I’ve already seen your stupid wristwatch,” he said quickly.
Pushing aside Jacob’s arm, Mike returned to the adventures of The Mighty Thor, the Norse God/super-hero whose monthly adventures were published by the Marvel Comics Group. Though he wouldn’t admit it, Mike sometimes didn’t understand the comic, what with phrases like “Have at thee!” and “I say thee nay!” splashed here and there. But the artwork, by his favorite illustrator “Big” John Buscema, made it worth reading. Still, reading Thor required more concentration than the average Marvel comic book, and Mike was in no mood for interruptions.
“No, I mean look at the crystal,” Jacob said.
“You got water in your watch,” Mike noted with a quick glance. “Didn’t we have this conversation last week?”
“That’s what I’m talking about! It’s been a whole week since I got it wet while searching for your stupid G.I. Joe in the creek. You said the water would evaporate, but it hasn’t.”
Jacob slid the metal stretch band off his wrist and banged the wind-up Timex against the carpeted living room floor as if trying to kill an insect. Mike slid the stack of precious comic books away from Jacob’s wildly waving arm.
“Now what are you doing?”
“Trying to shake out the water. This watch is supposed to be water resistant; it says so on the back.”
“Yeah,” Mike said, pushing his straight, black hair out from his eyes, “well, you did submerge it. And didn’t you also wear it in the pool?”
“Yeah. But it’s water resistant!”
“There’s a difference between water resistant and waterproof, birdbrain.”
“What kind of difference?”
“This kind,” Mike said.
He snatched the watch from Jacob’s grasp and pointed at the droplets within the crystal.
“It should say so on the back. I thought these things were supposed to take a licking and keep on ticking,” Jacob replied, snagging back his watch.
“Try licking it.”
“Don’t be a jerk.”
“I’m just saying is all.”
“This watch is practically brand new. I got it just a few months back after begging my mom. She’ll kill me.”
“Stop wearing it. She’ll forget about it, and maybe you’ll get a new watch for your tenth. Now if you don’t mind…”
As Mike returned his attention to Norse Gods in the land of Asgard, Jacob slapped his watch against the floor a few more times before slipping it back onto his wrist. To his frustration it looked as though there was even more water in the watch than before.
Later that evening, while Mom and Dad relaxed in front of the TV, Jacob attempted to advance the drying process by placing the Timex in a skillet. Moving quietly, he lit the gas burner. He removed the watch from the frying pan with a pair of tongs.
“Success,” he said, grinning.
A week later the crown turned rust red and the timepiece became a timepiece of junk.
“How come you’re still wearing that thing?” Mike asked.
“I have no choice.”
“How so? I told you, just stop wearing it and your parents will forget about it.”
“No, they won’t. This watch was a big deal. If I stop wearing it now, sooner or later my mom or dad is going to learn that it’s busted. I’ll get some stupid lecture about taking care of my stuff. Or worse, they’ll have it repaired and deduct the cost from my weekly allowance.”
“What’s so special about owning a watch? I just don’t get it.”
“What’s not to get? It’s a watch. You wear it so you know what time it is. It’s a very grown-up thing to do.”
“But then, birdbrain, you’ve got no excuse if you’re late getting home.”
Jacob frowned. He hadn’t thought about the great excuse he was sacrificing in his attempt to act more like an adult.
“But I mean, we’re nine years old. It’s not like we got anywhere to be.”
BANANA SEAT SUMMER – SMALL BLUE MARBLE CONTINUES.