IN THE TIME IT TAKES MR. CLARK TO DESCRIBE THE fundamentals of cloud formation, Derek has floated to the ceiling, but none of the other students have noticed because outside it has started to rain from the ground up. The rain moves in diagonal angles upward and forms clouds that block out the sun. Without much thought to what's going on outside, Adam sits at his desk and draws pictures of cumulonimbus clouds drowning his enemies. The second picture features Roger, the school's star quarterback, drowning in the fountain that faces Main Street.
Mr. Clark speaks in hushed tones about how cumulonimbus clouds form. He says that they first need plenty of moisture, then a mass of warm unstable air, and finally a source of energy strong enough to lift that warm, moist air upward. For a second Adam begins to wonder what source of energy would be strong enough to lift a fifteen-year-old boy, but he is interrupted by the annoying ting that is Derek's voice. After another muffled phrase, Adam looks up to find Derek pressed flat against the gray ceiling panels. His body forms a diagonal with the metal bars that hold the ceiling panels in place, and he is mouthing the word help. Adam looks around to see if anyone else has noticed, but they are all mesmerized by the events outside.
"Excuse me, Mr. Clark," Adam says and raises his hand. "But Derek has," he pauses to search for the right words, "floated up to the ceiling."
Mr. Clark looks up. It's the first time his eyes have left the projector since the class began. "Oh," he says. "I guess he has. Could you pull him down for me?"
* * *
By lunch the clouds have become thunderclouds and turned gray, and the ground has dried up and started to crack. The cheerleaders stand in a line by the window and watch what is left of the groundwater make its way out of the cracked soil. Cindy, Adam's best friend, stands behind the cheerleaders and makes fun of their smeared mascara and rumpled skirts. When they turn around, Cindy grabs her cell phone and pretends to be playing with the buttons.
"I had to stand on the desk just to reach him. It started to wobble, and I thought I was going to fall," Adam says as Cindy sits down.
"Did you have to pull hard?" she asks.
"No. Surprisingly, there was no resistance. He glided right down."
On the other end of the lunchroom students begin to congregate around Derek, but he ignores their presence and stares at the table. With his left hand, he traces knots in the imitation wood laminate.
"Look over there," Adam says and points toward Derek. "He's starting to float again."
"I need to get a picture of this," Cindy says and grabs her phone. She flips it open and aims it toward Derek, but the phone is stuck on the main screen. "It's not working," she says and hits the side. "What a piece of junk." After a few more smacks, Cindy puts the phone down on the table.
Adam sees that Derek is floating a few inches above his seat, and everyone surrounding him is in awe.
Adam watches Derek grab the edge of the table and hold his body down. While Derek tries to stabilize himself against the wooden bench, the crowd grows louder and captures the attention of Miss Vanderbelt, the English teacher, who stands guard in the corner making sure no one tries to go outside. Miss Vanderbelt's wardrobe consists of three full-length skirts that she alternates every three days. On Mondays, she wears the blue one.
"Uh oh, we got Miss Skirt on his back now," Cindy says.
"Maybe she'll let him use her skirt as a parachute."
Cindy laughs and tries to use her phone again, but it still won't work. "What is going on," she says and slams it down on the table.
Across the lunchroom, Miss Vanderbelt has reached Derek and the surrounding crowd. By that time, the crowd has backed up, which allows Miss Vanderbelt room to stand with her arms crossed and watch Derek desperately try to ground himself.
"I wonder what she's saying," Adam says. He watches Miss Vanderbelt's lips move.
"Probably nothing important," Cindy says. Together they watch Miss Vanderbelt grab Derek's hands, which causes him to lose his grip on the table and float to the ceiling. "What?" Cindy says.
"No one touch him," Miss Vanderbelt shouts, as Derek floats up thirty feet to the ceiling of the lunchroom.
* * *
"I have a theory about all this," Adam says. "I think it has to do with gravity."
"And what do you know about gravity?" Cindy asks. They are sitting in the back history class, in front of the window. Outside, the rain still moves in reverse.
"A little. Anyway, I looked it up. You know before Einstein, people believed that gravity was a force caused by the object. It was only after Einstein that they realized it's the bending of space-time around an object."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Cindy asks.
"Everything. Look at your phone. I bet the time is off. I think Derek floated because he altered his gravity."
"But how?" Cindy reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone. She looks at the screen and then up at the clock above the whiteboard. Adam is right. The time is off by five minutes. "Since when did you become a physicist?" she says.
"Since first period," Adam says and smiles. He's glad to have proven something to Cindy. She's always been the smart one, ever since they met in the first grade and she beat him at the spelling bee, where he spelled tomato with an e at the end. "The theory also talks about time," he says. "The faster you go, the faster time passes."
"I know that," Cindy says. "I'm in AP Physics. But your theory is wrong. A human doesn't have enough mass to create its own gravity or alter the gravity around it."
Outside the sky has turned dark grey, almost black, and every now and then when lightning strikes, it goes up instead of down. "You think Derek is still floating?" Adam asks and looks out the window.
When Derek floated to the ceiling of the lunchroom the janitor had to be called in. He fished Derek down with one of those long poles used to change light bulbs. Derek had grabbed on and climbed down. After that, Miss Vanderbelt escorted him to the nurse, holding his shoulders down so he wouldn't float away.
"I sure hope not," Cindy says.
* * *
In gym class the schedule has to be changed from flag football to indoor soccer.
Roger, the star athlete in Adam's grade, has already scored ten goals for his team, which he has so cleverly nicknamed "The Floating Dereks," when he kicks the ball to Adam. Adam, who has the athletic ability of a tomato, kicks the ball toward the goal but misjudges the angle by thirty degrees. The ball shoots past the goal, hits the wall, and ricochets behind the bleachers. The coach blows the whistle and tells Adam to run and get the ball. Roger slugs Adam on the arm as he runs by.
Behind the bleachers, Adam finds remnants of old soccer balls, lost socks, and mounds of dust. There's even a football so old that the brown has turned white with use. Adam crawls underneath the metal frame and grabs the soccer ball. "Asshole," he mutters under his breath and remembers how Roger had, at one time, been his friend but now slugs him on the arm whenever he makes a mistake in gym. Once out from under the bleachers, Adam kicks the ball at Roger, but when the ball gets to Roger, Roger finds that instead of kicking a soccer ball, he is kicking air.
A boy in a cut-off maroon t-shirt, grabs Roger's arm and brings his feet back to the ground. Roger stabilizes himself and finds that he is no longer floating. Another teammate, who ran after the ball when Roger missed his kick, kicks it back to Roger, who then kicks it toward the goal and makes the shot.
After the game, Roger tries taking a shower, but when he turns on the faucet the water runs out the holes and travels up to the ceiling. It collects against the gray cement and forms a pool. So Roger tries another shower. Again, the water runs up to the ceiling and forms a pool. After trying one more shower, Roger returns to his locker. "What the hell," he says. "The water keeps going up. This is some crazy shit."
Roger grabs a bottle of spray deodorant and sprays each armpit with two long sprays. Then he looks around and sprays his groin. "I've never seen anything like this in my life," he says anyone who's listening.
The metal lockers rattle with the sound of thunder. Adam looks up at the ceiling and counts the water stains.
"I wonder what it's like outside," Roger says. He grabs a pair of red boxers from his locker and begins to slide them over his left leg.
"I dare you to go outside like that," the boy in the maroon shirt says and nods his head at Roger.
"What? You think I won't do it?" Roger says. "Okay, fine." Roger throws the boxers back into the locker and walks past the showers to the back door. At first the door is stuck, but when Roger puts his weight into it, it flies open.
Adam is the last one of the boys to make it outside. He carries his t-shirt in his right hand and slides it over his head as he walks through the door.
"Whoa, look at that," the boy in the maroon shirt says and points toward the sky.
Adam looks up and sees the giant clouds that fill the sky. The rain has stopped, and there is no humidity. The sky is almost black, but outside it feels like spring.
"See," Roger says. "I did it." He turns around and bends over, mooning the entire group. "Ha. Take that. You can't do anything to me, I'm--" Roger's feet begin to lift off the ground and his body moves upward. "Oh shit," he says.
Roger tries to push himself down but only goes up faster. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it," he says. "Please, I was only joking." A few people run toward him and try to grab onto his feet, but he is moving too fast. "Help me," he calls.
Adam grabs a nearby boy's arm and looks at his watch. The second hand has stopped ticking. He wonders what kind of energy source could lift an asshole like Roger.
* * *
After Roger disappears into the sky, the school calls an emergency assembly in the gym. Miss Vanderbelt stands at the microphone, straightens her blue skirt, and tells everyone to remain calm. She tries her best to explain why Derek and Roger were floating, but she gets stuck on her attempts at explaining the science. In the bleachers, Adam draws pictures of his friends with anchors on their feet. Cindy looks over and asks what he's doing. "It's so we don't float away," he says.
"How many pounds are they?" she asks.
"How many pounds are the weights?"
"I didn't really think about that," Adam says.
Miss Vanderbelt's voice cracks and she opens a bottle of water. The water floats up out of the plastic bottle and to the ceiling. The people in the gym go quiet.
"Look at that," Cindy says. "Miss Skirt did a magic trick."
Above the students' heads, the water hits a light and causes it to short. There is a loud hiss, and then an even louder crack as the light bulb explodes. Glass shards fall to the right of Miss Vanderbelt, and some of the girls in the audience scream. The boys start to open their water bottles.
"Everyone calm down," Miss Vanderbelt says. "Do not open any more bottles."
"Do you know that if you threw a rock fast enough it could escape the Earth's gravity?" Adam asks Cindy.
"Yeah, I do. Did you look that up too?" Cindy says.
Then, another light explodes, and a smoky smell fills the air.
"Everyone stop opening your bottles," Miss Vanderbelt shouts. Her hands shake, and she grabs the microphone pole to neutralize the movement, but that makes a rattling sound that is broadcast over the speakers.
Below the ceiling, water begins to form one large pool. Adam wonders if they'll send Derek to mop it up. Cindy grabs her phone and tries to take a picture. "The damn thing still won't work," she says.
Miss Vanderbelt's "inhaled too much air theory" fails to impress the crowd, so Mr. Clark walks up to the microphone and talks about the physics involving rain in reverse. "Well, it's theoretically possible, if the moisture gradient is right...," he says.
"Want to hear a joke?" Cindy asks.
"Sure," Adam says. He finishes his picture of Cindy with a hundred pound weight attached to her leg and closes his notebook.
"Okay, stop me if you know this one," Cindy says. "So, three men walk into a bar next to a cliff. After a few drinks, the first man says he knows a drink that can make him float. So he orders it, gulps it down, and walks to the edge of the cliff and jumps. When the second man sees the first man float back up, he goes and orders the same thing. Then the second man decides to jump, but when he does, he falls to the ground and dies."
"Is there a point to this?" Adam asks.
"Wait, I haven't gotten to the punch line yet. So the third man turns to the first and says, 'You know Superman, you can be a real ass when you're drunk.'" When Adam doesn't laugh, Cindy punches him in the arm.
By now, Mr. Clark has moved on and is repeating his lecture from earlier in the day. "The moisture gradient," he says again.
Adam looks around and tries to guess who will be the next person to float. He wonders if maybe it'll be a teacher this time. He could do without Miss Vanderbelt and her blue skirt.
Next to Adam, a boy's watch has stopped ticking. "Someone's going to float," Adam says to Cindy and points at the boy's watch. They look around and try to guess who will be next. On the ceiling, the water ripples in the waves of the air conditioning.
"How much weight did you use?" Cindy asks.
"On my anchor. How much weight did you use?"
"Oh. One-hundred. Why?" Adam asks.
"I guess I'm safe then," she says. "Did you anchor yourself?" Adam shakes his head no. "You better do it."
Adam lifts up his legs to grab his notebook, but when he does, he finds he is beginning to float. "Uh," he says. "Something is wrong." He grabs the notebook and pen and draws himself. But by the time he is done with his body, he has lifted off the seat.
Cindy looks, stunned. "Quickly," she says.
Adam draws an anchor and writes 100 in it. He falls back to the seat. At the microphone, Miss Vanderbelt has returned to talk some more about inhaling too much air. She tells everyone to take short, shallow breathes.
Cindy looks on as Adam begins to float up again.
"Shit," he says. Looking around, he finds that everyone is staring at him, even Miss Vanderbelt. Adam opens the notebook back to his picture and draws another anchor. He writes in a number and falls down a few inches. "It's not working," he shouts. After fumbling with the pen, he draws a third anchor and writes 500 in it. This time he falls down to just a few inches above the seat.
"Dumbass, use more weight than five-hundred," Cindy says.
Now hovering a foot over his seat, Adam tries to draw another anchor, but his hands shake so much that by the time he tries to fill in the number, he drops the pen. Cindy tries to throw it back, but Adam is moving too fast for the pen to reach him. Within seconds he plunges into the pool of water above his head.
"Exhale," Miss Vanderbelt shouts, but when Adam does, water floods into his mouth. He coughs it up. "Someone get the janitor."
Nicholas Cook is currently stranded in Texas as a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Dallas where he majored in Arts and Technology. In addition to writing, he has a unhealthy obsession with photography and cameras older than him. His photographs have been featured in multiple shows around the Dallas/Fort-Worth area and are published in the spring 2006 issue of Sojourn. He likes strange fiction and even stranger foreign films. "Floating Derek" is his first publication. He hopes to one day write a novel and leave Texas.
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