a short story by Terrence Nowicki, Jr.

Timmy and Tommy and little punk Jack were running out to the dry lake bed. It was the Fourth of July, and the reason they were running was because they were excited, and the reason they were excited was because today was going to be the best Fourth of July ever.

Nobody could really remember the exact details of why the Fourth of July was a holiday anymore. It had something to do with the birth of some country that’d expired hundreds of years ago. Like most people, Timmy and Tommy and little punk Jack knew this, but they didn’t really care anyway. All they cared about was the same thing everybody cared about when it came to the Fourth of July: The fireworks.

Fireworks were made by craftsmen who were called pyrotechnicians. It was a respected field, because it required such highly specialized skills to make good fireworks, and even a master could really only get anything out of his trade during a single week out of the year, the week leading up to the Fourth.

Really good pyrotechnicians made fireworks by filling paper sculptures made out of dollar bills with gunpowder and chemicals and such. Dollar bills were the money used in the country that the Fourth originated in. There were a lot lying around but they weren’t really worth anything anymore, except as materials for fireworks, of course. Some of the best pyrotechnicians could build complex sculptures that were almost as beautiful in their finished, unlit, and unexploded state as they were when they were blowing up.

Timmy and Tommy and little punk Jack had a friend named Harold Slat, a big chunky kid who knew a lot about fireworks and who everyone agreed would probably grow up to be a good pyrotechnician someday. They were excited and running and expecting it to be the best Fourth of July ever now because the previous day, Harold had come by while they were playing marbles to tell them about a firework he’d found out in the old dried-up lake.

“How many?” asked Tommy.

Harold shrugged. “Just one,” he said.

“Just one?” said little punk Jack, knocking one of Timmy’s marbles out of the ring with his shooter. “What’s so gosh-darn amazing about that?”

“Because this one’s really big, probably the biggest firework anyone’s ever seen,” said Harold, throwing his arms out to indicate the size of the thing but failing to stretch them anywhere near as wide as it was large. “I found it about a week ago half-buried out there. After I found it I went home and I looked at some of my old books about explosives and fireworks and found some information about this one. It was called an atom bomb.”

They all let the name of the firework roll around their brains for a few seconds. Finally, Timmy asked, “Who’s Adam?”

Harold shrugged again. “I donno,” he said, “but his bomb is definitely the most unique one I’ve ever seen. It made a really terrific explosion and even its own clouds!” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a photograph he’d clipped from one of his books on explosives. It showed a strange, mushroom-shaped cloud, alien light glowing deep within its epicenter and other clouds swirling violently all around it. They couldn’t tell how big it was because there was nothing else in the picture to judge its scale by, but they agreed, it did look mighty impressive, all right.

And suddenly they got very excited. It really did look like Harold had found the best firework anyone had ever seen, if he wasn’t pulling their legs. He told them to meet him down at the dry lake bed on the evening of the very next day, so now it was the Fourth and Timmy, Tommy, and little punk Jack were running out there as fast as they could, because this really looked like something they didn’t want to miss.

When they got there, they found Harold in a small crater he’d dug to expose the bomb. He was tinkering with something inside a rusted hole in it, and when he heard them climbing over the lip of the crater he turned and beamed proudly.

“What did I tell you fellas?” he said. “Isn’t she huge?”

It was pretty big indeed, but looked kind of dull at the moment.

“Wow, it sure is big!” said little punk Jack. trying to conceal disappointment. He was expecting its shell to be more colorful and interesting, as most bigger fireworks usually were. This one was just a single flat, mottled tan color. It looked old.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” asked Timmy. “Where’s the fuse? Let’s light this sucker!”

“There’s no fuse,” said Harold. “This kind of bomb doesn’t trigger like that. See you’re supposed to drop these from way up high, like from a plane or something, and the pressure from when the bomb hits the ground is what makes it go off. Now, this thing is way too heavy for any of us to carry it up a hill and throw it off a cliff or something, but that’s not going to be a problem because I think I can find the trigger inside and set it off manually.”

“Wait,” said Tommy, feeling a little uneasy. “So you mean you trigger it and it blows up before you have any time to get away? That doesn’t sound very safe!”

“’Course I don’t mean that, lunkhead!,” scoffed Harold, again fiddling with the insides of the bomb. “Who would make a firework that goes off before you have time to get away? That’s crazy. Aha, I think that’ll do it!”

The bomb exploded. And it really was impressive, though none of the boys actually got to see it.

(July 03, 2004)

©2004 Terrence Nowicki, Jr.