Billy Simmons, age 4, lay under his planet-covered sheets and stared at the system of neon stars on the ceiling, unable to sleep. Tomorrow he would finally be an astronaut.
Uncle Ben was there, along with Dr. Logan and her husband, the neighbors James and Donna Spitz, and many others he didn’t know. They set up a large TV.
The rocket ship, white and black with orange stripes, was at least twice Billy’s height. When Billy donned his father’s heavy-as-a-bowling-ball motorcycle helmet and boarded, his audience cheered.
He sat, buckled in, and studied all the buttons. The walkie-talkie popped, then came his father’s metallic countdown: “…3…2…1…Take Off!” The ship rumbled and shifted. Billy held his breath and reached for balance. The movement slowed and his father’s voice returned. “Captain Simmons, it’s now safe to open the viewing hatch.”
He saw Earth, no bigger than his own head, surrounded by glimmering stars. His breaths were deep and slow.
The hatch slammed shut and the ship shook again, harder. “Mayday! Prepare for emergency landing!” Billy’s chest heaved up and down; sweat collected on his forehead. “The red button!” Billy found it and pressed it and the ship was still again.
Billy stepped out. His father removed the helmet and raised Billy’s hand as if he had won a boxing match, yelling, “Hooray, Captain Simmons!” The audience erupted—clapping, whistling, stomping. They chanted “Bi-lly! Bi-lly!” Billy’s smile revealed all twenty teeth.
The next day, Billy sat shirtless on thin white crêpe paper, his legs dangling. Dr. Logan said, “The next several months will be difficult. You’re a brave boy.”
“Yesterday I flew to space,” Billy said, puffing out his chest.
“I remember. Are you ready?”
Billy nodded and slapped the examination table. “I’m ready for anything.”
Jonathan Levy lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife and two dogs. He started writing fiction about a year ago. So far, the staff and readers of Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Tell Us a Story, r.kv.r.y quarterly, and Paper Tape have made him feel so grateful and lucky.