Our town has long been a place where not a great deal happens, and that is how most of us have always liked it. There are the locals, some of whom have been here for several generations, and an itinerant population of holiday-makers who come here to enjoy our pleasant lake and interesting forest. The two people, a young woman and a somewhat older man, who caused a certain amount of disruption to our little community were in the second of these groups, and they took a lease on a holiday house on the edge of the town, where there was an overgrown path that led down to the lake beach. They had been living quietly there for about a month when word passed around that they could fly.
At first this notion was dismissed as the gossip of those people who spent a bit too much time in either of the town’s two bars, or those who engaged in distractions of a less traditional variety. But gradually the number of claims grew. The local librarian, Miss Hudson, a person of extremely sober disposition, said that the young woman had landed in the parking lot to return a borrowed book. Mr Pearson, who had taken a morning jog along the lakeside beach every day for perhaps twenty years, stated that he had seen the pair sitting on the high branch of a tree that could not possibly be climbed; they appeared to be having some sort of breakfast picnic.
There were those in town who were dismissive of such suggestions. After all, they pointed out, the couple had often been seen walking around the town, holding hands and carrying bags of groceries. Even more, they had been noticed waiting for the bus, which would hardly be expected of people who could fly. True, they were a little odd, friendly enough if engaged in conversation but apparently inclined to keep to themselves. The age difference, perhaps fifteen years between them, was unusual but hardly a cause for recriminations, and our town has always prided itself on its open-mindedness. And finally there was the obvious argument that human beings could not fly. To this group of our people, this constituted game, set and match. End of discussion.
The problem was that sightings of the flying people – sometimes together, sometimes alone – continued. Some townsfolk took to walking around with cameras while looking upwards, in the hope of taking a photograph. Only one photograph was, in fact, taken in this period, and it was so vague and blurry that it was not accepted as solid evidence even by people who swore that they had seen the airborne pair.
The situation became such that one of the town’s police officers, Patrolman Hilda Turner, said that she would pay a visit to the couple and sort the matter out. She did, indeed, set off to interview the couple in their rented house, and returned an hour later, wearing a somewhat puzzled expression. When she was asked whether the couple could fly she answered, yes, I believe so. But she emphasized that she had not actually seen either of them leave the ground. The man was on the roof of the house when she arrived, replacing some broken tiles, although there was no evidence of a ladder or any other means by which the roof might be reached. While Patrolman Turner was engaging the man in friendly if stilted conversation the young woman suddenly appeared beside her, and greeted her warmly, asking if she would like a cup of coffee. Patrolman Turner had not heard her approach, although the ground was littered with dry leaves that made a cracking sound with every footstep.
Over coffee, reported Patrolman Turner, she had asked the young woman point-blank if she and her companion could fly, and the woman had replied, why yes, yes we can, and would you like an oatmeal cookie. Patrolman Turner said yes, she would like an oatmeal cookie, and at that point the man entered the room, saying that the roof repairs were complete. Patrolman Turner asked the man if it was true that they could fly, and the man confirmed that it was. The policewoman asked how was it that they could do something which appeared to defy the laws of physics. The man responded that it was an issue of belief. He had once met someone who could fly and had therefore realized it was possible. When he and the young woman met, a few years later, she had seen him fly and had likewise realized it was possible. So there it was.
Patrolman Turner subsequently returned to the police station where she filed a short report, and later answered a few questions put to her by the editor of the local newspaper.
The resulting article caused, by the quiet standards of our little town, something of a stir, and there was a growing movement for the mayor, Ms Thompson, who ran the popular café in the main street, to become involved. Ms Thompson called a public meeting for that evening, to be convened in her café, where beverages, scones and cakes could be purchased. There were questions as to whether the flying – the allegedly flying – couple should be invited, but after discussions with Patrolman Turner the mayor decided against it, although she left the option open for a later time.
The meeting, as it turned out, attracted most of the local population as well as quite a few holiday-makers. Patrolman Turner was asked to reiterate her report, which she did in such a clear and steady manner that even some of those who had previously rejected the possibility of flying people as a hoax or a series of mistakes began to acknowledge that there might be something in the idea.
The questions and opinions that arose from the meeting fell into several categories, namely:
- Could the flying couple be witches, or perhaps aliens.
- Was there a way for the business people of the town, always on the lookout for additional sources of revenue, to make money out of this.
- Should the Department of Defense, NASA, or perhaps some other agency of the national government, be informed.
- If the ability to fly stemmed from the belief that one could fly, was it therefore possible for other people to learn to fly.
A number of people expressed considerable interest in this last point. After all, if gravity could be overcome by simply assuming that it did not exist, then it called into question many concepts previously taken for granted. Several of the younger townsfolk remarked that they would be very pleased to take flying lessons, and would be quite willing to forgo a belief in gravity and whatever else was required in order to get off the ground.
The meeting adjourned without a clear conclusion, although nearly everyone agreed that the flying couple were probably not witches or aliens but ordinary people who had somehow acquired an extraordinary ability. Notably, there remained a hard core of non-believers who argued that human flight, aside from the airplane variety, was simply impossible and that was all there was to it.
The faith of the non-believers was severely tested the next day when, quite suddenly, the couple landed in full view of many people, outside Petrucci’s Famous Pizzeria. They then ordered a pizza, pepperoni with extra cheese, with a side of potato salad, as carry-out.
There were a few people who huffed that descending on a public street in this way was tantamount to showing off but most of the townsfolk were merely curious, and put a series of polite questions to the pair while they waited for their pizza.
Yes, said the couple, we can fly, and have been able to for some time. No, flying itself is not difficult but landing requires a certain amount of practice. Yes, it is a matter of belief. It requires putting aside everything you know, or think you know, about the world and how it works, and instead substituting the knowledge, the sure and certain knowledge, that flying is possible. This leap of faith becomes much easier when you have seen someone do it, said the man. No, we do not know how the first person to fly achieved the feat. The young woman mentioned that, even after she had seen her partner fly, she had spent many hours standing in a park thinking about it. And then she realized that it could be done, because it had been done. And then she did it.
The pizza and potato salad arrived, and the couple ascended to return home. The ascension was, in some ways, not particularly impressive. There was no sudden leap into the air with arms outstretched, Superman-style. Neither was there any magical incantation or puzzling ritual. Instead, it was more like a steady drift upwards, off the surface of the planet, and then at a certain height the couple, pizza and potato salad in hand, turned towards their house. The only impressive aspect of the entire process was that it happened at all.
With the phenomenon of human flight now confirmed, our community grew strangely quiet on the issue. There was an unspoken consensus that, given that the couple had been as forthcoming as possible in their explanations, and seemed to be a pair of pleasant individuals, to notify government authorities might be an invasion of their privacy. Neither was there any further talk of ways to monetize the matter.
And then, one day, they were gone. Their rented house was empty; the real estate agent said that the lease had expired, according to schedule, and they had not renewed it. He did not know why or where they had gone but he said that, when they had returned the keys to his office, they had not expressed any ill-will towards the town or its people; quite the contrary. The most likely explanation was that their extended holiday had simply ended and they had returned to wherever it was they had come from.
But their departure did not mark the end of the story. For several weeks, a number of townspeople could be seen standing on cliffs, or by the lake, or in their yard, looking across the water or into the sky. It was a month after the departure of the couple that the first sightings of flying people began. Since then it has been a slow but steady trickle.
Over time, we have largely returned to the view that ours is a town where not very much happens. Yes, some people can fly, in that drifting, undramatic way; and others can but generally choose not to, for reasons of their own. We accept it because, putting it simply, we cannot do anything else: it is what it is. We do not find it remarkable, and we probably never will.