JERRY’S RAY GUN
Jerry Larsen was your typical kid. If it had anything to do with Sci-Fi, technology, or virtual combat he was all over it. But his favorite pastime was collecting old TV’s, microwave ovens, anything electronic, and tearing them apart to add to the most amazing machine in town- the Ultra-plaffic Hydro-demonic De-stratotizer.
Jerry’s father, Neil, even encouraged the boy by building him a small workbench in the family garage, ultimately regretting his generosity. That was the day Jerry hooked up an old car alternator to the De-stratotizer and vaporized the second floor of the house next door.
Now, being only thirteen, Jerry was immune to prison time, a fate that initially crossed Jeff Shaffer’s mind as he stared at the open-air balcony that was once his bedroom. It probably would have gone that far had not his own son, Jared, been at the crank that turned the alternator that powered the De-stratotizer that vaporized the house that he had just built. It did not, however, leave the minds of the Public Utility District, whose power pole, on the other side of the Shaffer house, also vanished along with the electrical service to part of the town.
“What the heck happened here?” Bill Elliott bellowed. A large man with searching eyes and a booming voice that carried two blocks when he talked normally, Elliott stood, hands on his hips, staring up at the stump that was once his power pole and the gaping hole in Shaffer’s roof.
Jared’s father came boiling out of his front door. “I’ll tell you what. They blew up my house!”
Elliott listened to Shaffer’s hand-waving oration while alternately looking at the two cowering boys before him and the destruction. “What do you boys have to say about this?” he demanded when Shaffer finally ran out of words.
“Honest, we didn’t really think it would work,” Jerry answered.
“What wouldn’t work?”
Elliott’s bushy eyebrows married together. “The what?”
By this time Jerry’s father had joined the party. “You better show him,” he said with due exasperation in his voice.
Jerry sighed and gestured over his shoulder. “C’mon. It’s in the back yard.”
Moments later Elliott found himself staring at the most ungainly, ridiculous contraption he had ever seen. It looked like something out of the sixties some hippie had thrown together, nailed to an old table, and called art. Basically two five-gallon metal buckets stuck together bottom-to-bottom, the De-stratotizer was a construct of microwave, television and stereo parts all stuck together, crammed into the buckets, and wired up in ways only a thirteen year-old mind could conjure. A chunk of three-inch diameter galvanized water pipe ran the length of the buckets and was wrapped with more wire and painted red with a Plexi-glass disc attached to its muzzle end. The doughnut-shaped plastic disc looked like Jerry had fashioned it with a pocketknife, which, in fact, he had. From the other end of the pipe stuck an old umbrella lined with used aluminum foil.
A pair of gnarly extension cords patched with duct tape ran from either end of the De-stratotizer and snaked down and to another table covered with more cannibalized parts put together in the same crazy manner as the De-stratotizer. From there, two more cords ran to an old car alternator that was turned by Jared Shaffer’s mountain bike. The bike, in turn, was stabilized with more pipes wired to its frame and shooting out at hard angles and into the ground.
Elliott shook his head. “And you expect me to believe that this did that?” His finger went from the De-stratotizer to Shaffer’s house.
“You better show him,” Neil Larsen said again. Neil was a man of few words.
“No!” Shaffer yelled. “Are you crazy, Neil? I don’t want the rest of my house poofed.”
“Just point it over there,” Elliott said with strained patience as he gestured to an empty space in the sky between Shaffer’s house and a large tree in the Jerry’s back yard.
Shaffer looked on nervously as Jerry and Jared repositioned the De-stratotizer. Jared, then, climbed back onto his bike, took a labored breath, and began to peddle furiously.
Jerry picked up the control switch, gulped, and glanced up at Elliott.
“Any time, kid.”
Taking a deep breath, Jerry closed his eyes and threw the switch. With a loud “Crack!” a brilliant purple beam shot backwards out of the buckets, bounced off of the foil-covered umbrella, focused on and ran up the water pipe, blasting out the hole in the Plexi-glass muzzle in a tight beam that widened until it dissipated into the Saturday afternoon sky three hundred yards away.
“Holy Mother of Macaroni!” Elliott bawled as he jumped backwards. His voice echoed throughout the neighborhood adding to the noise of howling dogs. Grabbing his cell phone, he pounded out numbers. “Harry, you better get over here fast. And bring Clark, too.”
“Who was that?” Jerry asked nervously.
Elliott looked down at the boy. “My boss… and his boss.”
The next day-and-a-half was a whirlwind of faces, questions and more demonstrations, eventually culminating with a bunch of humorless military people with trucks and tarps who scooped up everything.
“We are taking this out to the base,” the officer-in-charge said as he looked down his hair-filled nose at Jerry and Jared. “And we want you two there to answer questions.” Turning to the amassed parents, Captain Nose Hair said, “that is, if that is all right with your parents.” Both set of parents were more than willing and Captain Nose Hair ushered the boys into a waiting car.
By the time the Army had arrived Jerry was a celebrity of sorts; the kid who blacked out the town with a ray gun. It automatically elevated him to god-like status at school. Thus, it was with mixed feelings that he left home, family and fame to go into the Army, albeit unofficially. But even that added luster to his sainthood. However, after the tenth ‘I dunno’ when asked by white-smocked technicians what this was or what that did, his high flying was getting painfully close to the earth.
Finally, he and Jared sat in the Base Commander’s office. The Commander looked at them with a grim expression while the head technician stood at parade rest behind them. Captain Nose Hair sat to one side with a disgusted look on his face, hairs twitching.
“So what you are saying is you don’t have any idea how it works. Is that about the size of it?” the Commander growled.
“Yes, sir,” Jerry squeaked.
The Commander looked up at the technician. “And what you are saying is that if we tear it apart we may never get it to work again.”
“Yes, sir,” the technician answered. “It’s one of those crazy things that was just thrown together and works. But, how it works is a complete mystery.”
The Commander leaned back in his chair and sighed loudly, his throat gurgling from a nasty cold. “Can we take X-rays of it or run it through an MRI or something?”
The technician shook his head. “It won’t show anything. Too much metal.” He sighed. “It appears that the boys, by dumb luck, managed to wire together a bunch of old parts that just… worked. But for how long?” He shrugged and fell silent.
Disappointment clouded the Commander’s face and he fell silent for a moment. “Well,” he finally muttered, “I guess that about does it.” Turning to Jerry, he said, “you boys can go home now.”
After giving the Commander as accurate a list as they could of everything they had used and writing long essays of their process, which amounted to little more than saying, ‘if it looked cool, we used it,’ the boys were driven back home.
The next Saturday Jerry stood in his garage gazing at his empty bench. Captain Nose Hair had confiscated everything, right down to all of Jerry’s tools. He had nothing to show for his greatest triumph, not even clear memories, the week had gone by so quickly. With a forlorn sigh, he turned his back on his work bench and prepared himself to face a week’s worth of late school work. As he turned, he glanced across the street to see Mr. Staples carry out a broken TV dish antenna to the curb for garbage pick-up. Jerry’s heart jumped and he dashed across the street. “Hey, Mr. Staples. Can I have that?”
Staples’ face took on a worried expression as he looked over the boy’s shoulder to Shaffer’s house and the roofers as they worked on the repairs. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
“I’ll be careful. I promise.”
Staples paused and then handed over the dish. Grinning from ear to ear, Jerry took it and headed back across the street with visions of building Son of De-stratotizer. More powerful. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…. Yes!