The Rocket Morning by Phillip Milton

This one summer morning had waited for the fair-haired-boy as much as he waited for it. For all of July and all of August, children can be anything, and they should be everything, and some shall be everything. 

Like the farmers that cast their seeds in the spring and then wait all season for the harvest they hope to come, the people of the town had set their hopes on the rockets. And now, it was harvest time. 

It was the rocket morning. 

The boy had been there when the first of the men in their black suits and horned rim glasses had wandered aimlessly into town and into his father’s diner. 

He was sitting in a corner booth, picking at a bowl of oatmeal when that strange man came in from the heat and sat down at the counter.

“What can I get for you?” the boy’s father said.

“I’ll start with coffee, if it’s fresh,” the man said.

The boy looked back down at his oatmeal. He’d heard this routine before.

“Freshest in the whole town. Strong enough to keep you up a night and a day and a night if you time it right.”

“Is that so?”

“I don’t call it atomic coffee for nothing,” his father said and poured a cup.

The strange man sipped the coffee and immediately slapped the counter. “Sakes alive! You ain’t kidding, mister. That’s damn near rocket fuel.”

Rocket fuel! I like that!” His father said. “Let me guess. You’re an ad man.”

The strange man smiled. “No, sir. I’m an engineer.”

“An engineer? What could you possibly want in this little speck on the map?”

“Land,” the man said, “I’m looking for a good spot to build a factory of sorts.”

“To make what?”

The strange man hesitated with the cup at his lips. He glanced over at the fair-haired boy. He smiled behind the cup. “Well, rockets,” he said.

The boy's heart leapt in his chest, and his eyes shot up to stare at this strange man. 

“Rockets…” his father said dreamily.

“We’re going to the moon, and I think this is the place to start.”

“From our little piece of earth to the moon.”

“One day…. one day soon.

From the earth to the moon, one day soon, the boy thought to himself, From the earth to the moon…

As the man ate his meal thoughtfully, the boy repeated those words to himself again and again. From the earth to the moon, one day soon… From the earth to the moon, one day soon. They were an incantation. They were a magic mantra that the boy hypnotized himself with. He seemed to rise above the booth, floating up above the diner, the state, the country, the world. Halfway between the earth and the moon, the boy looked back in pity, and then flew on into infinity.  

The strange man finished his meal, and the boy watched him as he wandered out again. He got into his car and drove off down the highway.

“Rockets! Here! What do you think of that?” The boy’s father said as he cleared away the man’s dish.

After dropping the man's money in the register, the boy’s father paused for a moment before the small chalk board that advertised the day’s lunch specials. As always, a sloppy headline along the top read, Grab a cup of atomic coffee to start your day! He wiped away the words atomic coffee and scrawled in Rocket Fuel Coffee. He considered this with a frown. After a moment, he erased the entire headline and wrote, Our coffee is the fuel for your morning lift off!

Smiling, the boy’s father went back to work.

The notion of a rocket factory seemed fantastical to the townsfolk. The town was sleepy and warm. It moved on lazily, day by day, and it seemed destined to abide that way until the end of time. 

But soon the dam broke, and the money flooded in. Stale bread turned into fresh meat. Shiny new cars with rocket fins filled the parking lots of the new drive-in, the new supermarket, the new bowling alley, and even the old diner. Hordes of workers and their great machines lumbered in to build the strange man’s rocket factory. 

And the men labored day by day. They made strides when they could and settled for inches when they came but continued on ceaselessly until the time was full.

And the fair-haired boy watched on as the figure of his dreams began to form- scratching off the days on the calendar, sleepless nights reading stories of men on other worlds, staring through the fence at the edge of the airfield as the enormous buildings rose up and the rockets sprouted like oaks from the fertile earth.

From the earth to the moon, one day soon. From the earth to the moon… 

On the dark nights when the men would test their work, the fair-haired boy would watch the rockets rise up into the sky, blotting out the twinkling stars for a moment with its little piece of stolen sunshine. And as the rocket would sputter out and fall to the earth, only the stars would remain, filling the formless void within the boy’s heart. 

And the men labored day by day. They made strides when they could and settled for inches when they came but continued on ceaselessly until the time was full.

Season became season, and eventually the time was full.The Rocket Morning had come.

The earth itself quivered anxiously. The firm line between this world and a forgotten dream seemed to recede, and the boy walked in a haze that morning. The men were finally going up, and he would be on that rocket with them. He would lay claim to new planets. He would walk in a new starlight. He would rise up from the earth on wings of fire to challenge the universe itself.  

He counted to himself as the rocket soared higher and higher. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, from the earth to the moon, three Mississippi… four… from the earth to the moon, one day soon….

A second sun instantly appeared above the little town and then was no more.

The boy watched as the debris dropped to the earth, disappearing beyond the horizon in a torrent of twisted metal. Only the playful, wispy contrail remained hanging in the sky like a shadow of birds on the sea. Somewhere, far off, the earth groaned.

The men and their rocket were gone.

There was screaming. There was wailing. There was sackcloth and ashes.

The fair-haired-boy turned away, silent. He looked up at the unblemished blue sky knowing the stars were beyond its misty veil, hiding, spinning and sparkling. A bitter longing took hold of him, a still small voice whispering wonderous things into his young, eager ear, tenderly coaxing him up… up… up… where the footpaths of angels lead the way.

He felt this pleading lust but couldn’t name it. He saw it but couldn’t touch it. Everything he had seen and everything he had done had not prepared him to contend with this old magic. He was a child and thought as a child. To a child, the moon is so very big and so very near. If he could not touch that unnameable thing beyond the stars, perhaps he could touch the moon.

And he would go up.

A generation passed away and another came up to follow it down, but the earth and the sky remained, unblemished and unsoured.

From the earth to the moon, one day soon. From the earth to the moon… 

And the men labored day by day. They made strides when they could and settled for inches when they came but continued on ceaselessly until the time again was full.

Phillip Milton is a writer from New York. His interests include science fiction, fantasy, and comedy. Some of his literary influences are Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, and Spike Milligan.

Phillip's "The Rocket Morning" won 2nd place in Sci-Fi Coffee's Coffee Lifts Creatives writing contest.