Lost Aviators, 3

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Mr. James Means of Boston. Undistinguished as to height, physique. Marked preference for the colors beige and taupe. Resident in Dartmouth Street, just off Copley Square. Left-handed by birth and by election a Methodist. Mr. Means believes in ends, and his mind is frequently on ultimate things of every variety: the conversion of the last heathen on earth, for example. In the mind of Mr. Means this takes place at the foot of an enormous tree in the Amazon jungle. The planet’s last heathen lives high up in the branches of the tree—how else would he have avoided the truth for so long?—where he has a sort of log cabin, bound together with tropical vines. A great crowd has gathered at the foot of the tree. All the heathen’s family are there, and the elders of his village, wearing their traditional skirts of dried grass; their faces are painted with designs in blue mud, but they all wear little silver crucifixes and some carry rosary beads. A quantity of Methodists and also missionaries of the Baptist Quaker Mennonite Lutheran Espiscopalian and Adventist faiths are also present to witness the event. Behind them a circle of reporters equipped with notebooks and cameras. From this crowd a man in a tan suit and taupe fedora steps forward. He approaches the base of the tree and calls out that if the savage will not come down to religion, then religion will go up to him, i.e., the savage. This challenge gets no response from the tree. Upon which Mr. Means, for it is Mr. Means, produces a small wooden rod with a helical propeller at one end, and at the other a little string basket. He places a travel-sized Bible in the basket and gives the rod a sharp twist with his palms. The helicopter flies upward into the branches of the tree and for a blessèd moment no one says a word. The missionaries and reporters are murmuring their doubt when the tree’s lowest branches part, and the last heathen in the world jumps to the ground. He holds the Bible in one hand and the helicopter in the other, and he shouts up into the branches of the tree that never has he seen anything so wonderful as this, this Great Spirit who makes books fly! Great cheering of missionaries, reporters, village elders, &c. Among the other last things Mr. Means has imagined: the peeling of the last orange on Earth, and the last dog crossing the last street anywhere, although this latter gives him cause for eschatological speculation, as it’s entirely possible that dogs and streets will not cease to exist simultaneously. Mr. Means’ contribution to aviation: a proposal, in 1891, for a sort of carriage with a vertical shaft coming out of its top, and a screw at the end of the shaft. Vertical planes set far apart to prevent rotation of the carriage. Although the machine was never built and would most likely not have worked had it been built, Mr. Means expressed great confidence in his method. “If you want to bore through the air,” he said, “the best way is to set up your borer and bore and bore.”

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