Fahrenheit 52


Everything was going according to plan.

Greg flew to school on the back of a giant robin. Once they touched down in the quad, Greg leapt off his mount and ruffled the bird's blue-tinged neck-feathers.

"Thank you, Sebastian."

Greg fed the bird acorns from the pouch where he kept his laptop and soccer cleats. Sebastian bounced away, pecking the lawn, until he dug up a giant earthworm wearing a little green cap with a red feather in it.

Oh, Chi-chi! There you are!

Greg waved at his friends and headed into the school building to get to class on time.

In a few short weeks, Greg would be graduating. A college graduate. He. Greg. Then it was off to astronaut school. NASA already had the mission picked out for Greg. Something super important, top secret. Spy stuff. He'd been training non-stop for months now in a secret underwater laboratory next to the cafeteria. He was ready.

Greg found his usual seat near the back of the auditorium.

But something was odd.

The packed room was quiet.

Tense, even.

Greg went to make a joke to Ana, his dormmate, but she was feverishly scribbling in a blue booklet and wearing reflective ski goggles.

Greg looked down at his desk and found a blue booklet and some Xeroxes.

Today was his final exam for Calculus XIV for Junior Astronauts.

Greg didn't know the test was today.

He didn't study for it.

He could have known.

He could have studied.

But Greg didn't.

He didn't know and he didn't study and he was going to fail and never graduate and never become a train conductor which had always been his lifelong dream to ride the rails and see the world behind the back of a steam engine. No, astronaut. Or pilot? Greg couldn't remember and it didn't matter now.

It was all Greg's fault. How could he be so careless? How did this happen? He never forgets something like this. What was he going to tell his parents? Sebastian and Chi-chi?

Greg felt the hot twang of shame, warm and chalky, against his goosebumped skin. He needed to pee. He might pee.

He went to grab his calculator from his pack and spilled acorns everywhere. They rattled like slinkies down the concave ziggurat auditorium. No one even looked up from their tests. Not even the TA.

Greg wrote his name on the front of the blue booklet and opened it to the first blank page. He couldn't yet bring himself to look at the exam questions.

He was man on the plank and he needed to fly.

Something tapped at the windows.

Sebastian! And Chi-chi, too!

Greg's heart sang. The bird's beak rapped again on the glass. Chi-chi stuck out her tongue.

Greg pushed back his metal chair. This was his moment. He leapt towards the windows on the run and slithered through the diagonal opening like a clump of Nickelodeon Gak and reanimated on Sebastian's back alongside Chi-Chi.

They soared into the sky, together, on their way to the International Space Station, where Greg and his friends had a mission to accept.