by Tony Rauch
It’s been a bad day, I realize. I sigh deeply and exhale. I’m just standing in the dining room shaking my head. It feels like nothing I do ever works out. I just don’t know what to do. Suddenly a lever swings up from the floor. I look down to its base. A floorboard has sprung open, and out from the void the tall lever pops up and into place at my side. The lever stands chest-high. I look it over and follow it down to the floor. There at the base is the long floorboard flipped on its side, connected to the floor by some tiny, concealed hinges. I stare into the long void, a crisp line of darkness and what seems to be a series of gears down there, but it is too dark to make out for sure. I stand up again, following the lever back to its top.
I’m so bummed out and discouraged about a lot of things that I figure I might as well give it a good tug. I mean, what else could go wrong today? So I reach to it. There is a black rubber grip and a clutch to press. The clutch is like a larger version of the brake grip on a bicycle. I put my hand on the lever and feel its stiff tightness. I open my fist to grip the clutch and slowly pull the clutch back. There is a clicking sound and this allows the long lever to be eased back. It is a stiff bugger, so I really have to lean all my weight into it. As I lean back on the lever there is a grinding sound, as if some large gears under the floor and even way up in the attic are slowly grinding away. It sounds as if some gears in the wall are activated as well. And then I hear other strange noises—metallic groans, stretching, and rattling sounds. Finally the lever stops and locks into place, about thirty degrees from upright, at a sixty-degree angle to the floor. I let go and it stays in place.
I stand and listen, my eyes looking around, following the unusual noises in the walls, floor, and ceiling. More grinding sounds rattle from behind the walls as if stiff old gears are slowly turning to activate more and more gears, cams, shafts, and chains in a cascading momentum of strange old mechanical sounds. More and more sounds activate and rattle after the first wave, moving around the house in a domino effect, gaining momentum until the rattling builds all about, the ticking and humming and clicking and turning grows around the room.
I begin to walk around, trying to follow the sounds, trying to isolate where they are coming from—pinging and more turning of wheels of some sort—but I can’t figure out where. They seem to be all around, as if my little old house is actually some strange machine—some great mechanical device just barely disguised as a house. Then, from the corner of my eye, I catch a glint of something out the window. I look out and a shadow slowly swoops by overhead. I rush to the window and slide it up to open it. I stick my head out. The shadow swings past, looking like the wing of a glider passing overhead. It is low and moving real slow, as if trying to land on the roof. I stretch my neck and see that a panel in my roof has slid down and the fabric wing is telescoping out of it. The large wing flaps in the breeze as it folds into place. The wing is made of a brass tube frame, more tubes extending from it like a telescope. Then, out of the roof extends more tubes. They telescope straight up into the air and from them unfold huge propellers. The propellers flop down, snap into place, and begin spinning. At first slowly, but quickly building until their whirling purr creates quite a gust. Leaves on the ground whip about in great swirls of wind, drawn upward from the large propellers sticking out from the roof.
Suddenly I feel the house shake and a series of ka-ching sounds pierce the air. The house begins to move a little. I look about as the house slowly twists to the side, the structure shaking back and forth and rattling.
I look out the window to find swirls of dust and blades of grass and leaves spitting up from below. I notice the house is turning to the side even more, then rocking back and forth, then tilting one way, and then back the other. Slowly I feel the house being peeled from the foundation and we lift from the ground. I look back inside. That “ka-ching” sound must’ve been the house being dislodged from the foundation and set loose to be lifted into the air. An elaborate system of gears must’ve activated it all, triggered by the lever as if great rubber bands or springs were in the process of uncoiling to set it all in motion. That must be it—that hidden lever that popped up must have initiated some sort of getaway mechanism that was all wound up like a giant clock, and then let loose to unwind and spring forward, and I am now starting to lift off—the entire house detached from some sort of moorings and beginning to rise from the foundation.
I stick my head outside again, the gust blowing on my face and whipping my hair about. The house and I rotate a little until the propellers really start to kick in and grip the air. This pulls us higher and straightens us out. I look back inside. There is a whirling sound, as if a great clockwork of pent-up springs are uncoiling to spin the propellers. The entire structure is rattling slightly and humming a little machine-like purr. And I hear a faint engine, a slight, rhythmic chugga chugga chugga murmur that matches the vibration of the house. This must be what’s turning the propellers—some hidden gears unwinding to propel this machine. Maybe it’s a windup engine, or maybe powered by the oil in the furnace’s old oil tank.
I grip the window and watch as the other houses drop away. I don’t know how this started or what activated it—I mean other than that lever. But what caused the lever to initially be revealed from its hiding place under the floor? I mean I really don’t know what made that blasted fool lever pop up like that. Did I unknowingly tap a special spot in the floor with my foot? Did I inadvertently lean against some panel on the wall? I don’t know. I don’t remember. It looks as though all this stuff was built into the house originally, and I didn’t know anything about it until just now. I really don’t know how all this happened, but here I am, flying through the air in my little house, the trees getting smaller, the houses below toy-like and sinking away. I don’t know how to steer this thing or where we’re even going. Maybe I didn’t do anything at all. Maybe this flying house-machine is being called back to its factory for a checkup or something, and I just happened to be caught inside at the time and thus am just along for the ride. I don’t know.
I search all around, down below and in the sky, but don’t see any other houses lifting off the ground or drifting in the air. Maybe this was a unique custom job. I don’t know. But I sure feel lucky to be, for a reason yet undiscovered, riding along in my house in the sky on a nice calm blue day.