Come in Houston

This is a piece of flash fiction I turned in for my final portfolio in my Writing Fiction and Poetry class last semester.

Come in Houston

            My dad’s old moon pencil spoke one day. Not the cheap standard HB2 pencil found everywhere in the U.S.; no this pencil was once used by N.A.S.A. for missions to the moon. I never knew the complete series of events that led to me being its owner. I only knew my dad bought it from someone with a hard luck story. He never believed the pencil was from N.A.S.A.; after I reached thirteen, I didn’t either. I kept it as a reminder of my dad’s kindness, and because it was a cool story. I live for cool stories.

            The cool story was that my dad was running early for an appointment and saw a sign in a shop window. The sign read:

Leo’s Pawn Shop.

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!

Everything Must Go!

He thought his time would be better spent perusing the shop’s last wares than reading an eighteen-month-old issue of The Saturday Evening Post, so he went inside and looked around.

            The shiny silver pencil with the N.A.S.A. logo was housed in a glass case under the register with a price tag of $100. My dad looked up at the man behind the register and said, “convince me to buy this pencil”

            “Good choice sir,” said the man with a twinkle in his green eyes. He opened the case and took the pencil out. “Why don’t you hold it for a bit,” he said and handed it to my dad.

            My dad took it and said, “this feels heavier than it looks.”

            “Yes,” said the man. “This pencil isn’t a souvenir; it was actually used on an Apollo mission. I’m not sure which one, but I like imagining Neil Armstrong himself using it to calculate the math needed for the trip home.”

            “Why are you only charging $100 for something supposedly so priceless?”

            “I have no proof; just a feeling. A guy asked $25 for it several years ago. He told me he used to work at N.A.S.A. and it was one of his perks. Said he hated to part with something that was part of the Apollo Missions, but was broke and needed a train ticket home. So, I bought the pencil and kept it around, mostly as a curiosity.”

            “Interesting. Are you going out of business because you’ve bought more stories than goods with high resale value?”

            The man chuckled, “I’m afraid so. Now I need to sell before I lose anymore and can’t grant my wife’s wish to retire and move to Florida.”

            “Now I don’t know if I believe the moon pencil story but contributing to someone’s retirement is one I’d like to play a part in,” he said and opened his wallet. He took out a crisp $100 bill and gave it to the man.

            “Thank you so much,” said the shopkeeper as he took the $100 and rang up the sale, “and my wife thanks you too.”

            After dad passed away I donated most of his possessions but kept the simple silver pencil. For years it sat silently in my pencil cup as a happy reminder of man who paid $100 not for a pencil, but a story.

            One day I thought a kid’s walkie talkie was on next-door. I heard, “Come in Houston. This is recovery ship Oh-niner-niner. Do you read us?” This continued for four days, then there was silence, and I assumed the toy got broken. But on day five I placed my hand over my pencil cup to decide which writing utensil to use and heard, “Hey! Pick me!” I Assumed this was the walkie talkie kid again and I ignored the words. Then the cup fell over and I had to pick up all the pencils and pens. I reached out and grabbed the pencil with the N.A.S.A. logo. It’s weight and thickness felt natural, like it had been tailored for my hand. It said, “about time.”

            I dropped it to the floor. There was no way this was a kid with a walkie talkie.

            “Sorry to frighten you. Please pick me up again.”

            “What’s going on?” I asked as I bent down and picked it up.

            “What’s going on is that you need to get me back to N.A.S.A. They are going to want to hear what I have to say.”

            “And that’s how I ended up, at N.A.S.A.’s gate with a pencil.”

            “You know I can’t let you in, right?” said the security guard.

            “Well, I need to talk to someone. I have called repeatedly, and people keep hanging up on me.”

            “Let me make a call.”

            He dialed a number and with a giant smile on his face said, “Hi Bob? Yeah this is James at the front gate. There’s a gentleman here with a moon pencil. He stopped talking; the smile on his face shrank and disappeared. “Okay. Will do,” he said and hung up the phone.

            “Um,” he said to me, “Bob’s coming to see you. I need to take your photo and make a copy of your driver’s license.”

            He snapped my photo, I gave him my license, and he went back into his booth. A few minutes later he came out with a lanyard and a visitor’s pass inserted in it. He handed it to me and said, “put this on while you’re here. You’ll get your license back when you leave.”

            A small man with a hunched back and bright white hair came out to greet me. “Hello,” he said and looked at my lanyard, “Mr. Babcock.” He held out his right hand and I shook it, he was a lot stronger than he looked. “I am pleased with your visit. Let’s go to my office.”

            When we were in his office he said, “can I have the pencil please?”

            I handed it over and said, “why do you believe me when no one else does?”

            “I was part of the project it was used on.” He held the pencil up and the N.A.S.A. logo changed into a black cube. “I have been waiting for its return. This is my ticket back home.”

            My jaw fell open.

The pencil spoke again. “Hi Bob, so glad to read your vitals again.”

            “And I am glad to have them read. I am ready.”

            “Excellent, just a few adjustments. The transport will be ready soon.”

            Bob looked up from the pencil to me, his gray eyes were tired, yet sparkling. He smiled softly. “I never thought I would see my ticket again. Thank you for bringing it to me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“A former colleague stole it when I wouldn’t tell him how it worked. He wanted to replicate the technology and use it in private industry. How did it come to you?”

            “My dad bought it at a pawn shop years ago. If you don’t mind, I would like the rest of the story, or at least as much of it as you can share.”

            “I understand completely. I am here because I wanted the rest humanity’s story. My planet is on the other side of the milky way. I have been here since the first moon landing when I met Neil Armstrong. I am a changeling and can copy other organisms.” I gave N.A.S.A. a lot of information about the moon and my world and they agreed to let me come back with them to compile a report about humanity for my people. I was supposed to stay for ten years, but when the communicator was stolen, I missed my pick up. This was the last scheduled attempt should I miss the original date. I am grateful that I will see my home again.”

            “Wow.”

            “Ready, Bob?” asked the pencil.

            “Ready,” said Bob, then turned to me, “I’m glad you liked the story. Stories drive the universe. Enjoy your tour of N.A.S.A. Security will meet you in the hall. Thank you and goodbye.” He pushed the top of the pencil eraser in at the same time he pressed his tie pin and disappeared.

            Now that’s a cool story, I thought as I left Bob’s office.

            “Really?” said my nine-year-old son and looked at the N.A.S.A. lanyard in his hand, “Is that really how it happened?”

            “Of course,” I said, “how else would a simple storyteller get a tour of N.A.S.A.?”

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