The Highest-Flying Kite

The wind wheeled through the empty lot in great gusts, pushing down the knee-high grass like a huge, flat hand. Overhead, the sky shone a vivid blue as it opened into endless space.

Geoff came running through the field, folding back the long green blades with his body. Held above his head was the kite, its knotted tail snapping at his back. In his other hand, wrapped around a stick, was a very large ball of string.

Out of the midst of this green carpet rose a grassless hill that was just round enough on top to hold one boy Geoff’s size.

“So you’re going to fly the world’s highest kite?” The words Dad had spoken earlier that day came back to Geoff now.

“Yep.” Geoff had continued to wrap the twine around the stick. If he held both ends of the stick loosely in his hands while his kite was airborne, the string would spin off freely, carrying the kite higher and higher.

Dad had sat down beside Geoff on the back porch. “Sure is a great day for flying a kite. How high do you suppose you’ll get it?”

“Oh, I figure about a hundred miles high.”

“You sure that’s high enough?” Dad had asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it seems to me that if you’re going to try to do something as important as flying the world’s highest kite, you should take the time to do some research and planning.”

“It doesn’t take planning to fly a kite,” Geoff had responded.

Dad had put his arm around Geoff’s shoulders and said, “But you’re not flying just a regular kite. Yours is to be the highest-flying kite in the whole world! Doesn’t it make sense to check how high other kites have flown? Then you’d know how long your string has to be for your kite to fly the highest. And wouldn’t it be worth your time to find out how hard the wind is blowing so that you’d know how strong your string has to be? There are other things you probably need to know, too, if you’re going to fly the highest kite.”

“I guess so, Dad, but this kite’s ready to go.”

Now the wind was beating back Geoff’s hair and clothes. The kite’s tail began to split the air that tugged at the kite itself, and Geoff gave the kite up to its hunter.

For a moment the kite hung suspended just above the grass. Then the wind bit into it, and it rose shakily higher.

As he played out the string in his hands, Geoff watched the kite shrink into the sky. The tail was now waving lazily from side to side. Geoff moved his hands to the left; the kite bowed to its right. He pulled right; it went to the left. String zipped off the spool as the kite climbed ever higher!

Geoff thought again of his dad’s advice. He was sure his dad had meant well, but a kite was just something you put together with the supple limbs of a eucalyptus tree, some giant-size tissue paper, and a long tail of tied-together strips from one of Mom’s old sheets. You didn’t have to go to all the trouble Dad was talking about …

Geoff had to squint now to see the kite. It was a small triangular speck against the blue. The fat ball of string had become thin.

Suddenly Geoff felt the string go limp. Then he saw about fifty feet of limp twine drifting listlessly to the ground. He peered at the triangular thing way up in the sky. At first it didn’t appear to be falling, but as he watched it, it began to twist and zigzag toward the earth. The tail wiggled every which way, like a drowning swimmer clutching the water.

In a flash, Geoff was down the side of the hill and running as fast as he could through the tall grass toward home.

Dad was already waiting for him in the pickup. “I saw it go and thought you might like some help in retrieving it.”

Geoff jumped into the cab, and the truck sped down the road, leaving a billowing cloud of dust behind them.

“There it is!” Geoff’s finger stabbed at a place in the sky about a quarter mile away from where they were.

“Looks like it’s over by Hansen’s Pond!” Dad said. The side road to Hansen’s Pond suddenly appeared out of the field, and Dad took the corner with tires screeching.

Geoff stuck his head out the window to get a better view of the falling kite. It was swiftly approaching the ground now and would be crashing any minute.

Dad pulled the truck to a quick stop. “It’s out of the upper airstream now, so it’s going to fall pretty straight. Let’s go!”

The field around Hansen’s Pond had lots of small trees and shrubs, making it difficult for Geoff and Dad to spot the kite.

“I can’t see it anymore!” Geoff groaned.

“I think I know where it’s going to fall. Just follow me.”

A dozen feet later Dad stopped and pointed to the ground. The end of the broken string lay at his feet. “If we follow the string, we’ll find it.”

Geoff picked up the string and began to wrap it around his hand. The twine led along a trail of tangled underbrush, around the base of some gnarled tree trunks, and through a dry creek bed. Finally, rounding the edge of a scrub oak, Geoff saw the kite hanging in the limbs of a small tree that grew half in, half out of Hansen’s Pond.

With Dad’s help, Geoff retrieved the kite. On the way home he examined it closely. The branch he’d used as a crosspiece was split, and there was a six-inch-long tear in the tissue paper. It was obvious that he could never use this kite again. He looked at his dad. “Since I have to build a new kite anyway, I think I’ll do some research first—and use stronger string.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney