by Phil Temples
I was giddy with excitement the very first time I experienced the phenomena firsthand on that hot, humid summer morning on McKinney Road in Allison Park, Pennsylvania. Michael Slattery was my longest and dearest childhood friend. He claims he was the one to first discover it. Mikey, who as a year older than I, was always trying to “pull one over” on me when we were younger. Now that I was a mature 14-year-old, I tended to be the serious and skeptical one so I figured this was another of his silly practical jokes. Mikey pestered me for weeks until I finally agreed to accompany him on a Saturday morning to the spot where Kummer Road forks off from McKinney Road. We ate breakfast at Friendly’s, and then we rode our bikes a few miles out of town to the intersection.
“So, what’s this thing supposed to do again?” I ask.
Mikey stops his bike ahead of me, on a slight incline on McKinney Road, approximately twenty feet past the stop sign. I start to peddle to where he is situated.
“No, you stay right there. Stay downhill from me. You’ll be able to see it better.”
Mikey sits on his bike and lifts his legs from the pavement. He tries to balance himself on the bike without pedaling. His first attempt proves unsuccessful; he tips over. I shake my head and snicker.
Mikey tries a second time, and again he tips over. But on the third try, he’s able to maintain his balance for several seconds. Then, an amazing thing happens. Mikey’s bike slowly starts moving along McKinney Road—uphill—without his pedaling!
“Mikey, how are you doing that?” I shout at him.
Mikey looks over his shoulder at me, half-laughing, half-giggling. As he picks up speed, Mikey even takes his hands off the handlebars. “I am Master of Gravity!” he boasts.
I continue to watch him go up the hill at around ten miles per hour for another hundred feet. He eventually slows to a crawl, at which point he put his feet down on the pavement and comes to a complete stop.
“You try it now.”
I position myself in the road where Mikey began his inexplicable ride. Instead of starting from a stationary position, I pedal ever so slightly. Immediately, I feel myself picking up speed, as though I am coasting downhill. “Wow! THIS IS SICK!” I shout. I continue to travel up the hill effortlessly, before coming to rest beside Mikey. I’m wearing a big grin. Mikey reaches out to give me a high-five.
We come back later that afternoon with my girlfriend, Betty. After showing her a few bicycle tricks, Mikey and I set up a makeshift candlepin-bowling lane consisting of coke bottles and a large softball. We’d nudge the ball a bit, after which time it would pick up speed and sail up the hill about twenty or so feet towards the “pins.” If we simply place the ball on the roadway, it travels more or less in a straight line. But we soon discover that we can impart a little “English” to the softball and it will roll in a curving pattern, just like a real bowling ball.
“Hey, what should we call this game?” Mikey asks.
“How about ‘gravity bowling?’” I reply.
“Well, since this is ‘Gravity Hill’—okay! Gravity bowling, it is.”
Betty wins handily, even though she claims to never have bowled before. It’s hard for Mikey and me to remain interested when a girl keeps beating us.
* * *
In the weeks that follow, Mikey and I invite more of our friends to Gravity Hill. Even though school is out for the summer, word spreads quickly through our ranks. Soon, dozens of teens are hanging out at the Hill on the weekends, and even some weeknights. The locals are suspicious about what we’re up to; the local sheriff’s deputies cruise by regularly to keep an eye on us. Occasionally they stop and warn us to get out of the middle of the road. One day, a deputy gets out of his vehicle to see what the excitement is about. It takes a little convincing, but ultimately the deputy is blown away when we demonstrate to him our control over gravity. He stays with us for the entire afternoon, shooting gravity marbles and playing other games.
A week later, a news crew from one of the Pittsburgh television stations stops by and interviews Mikey and some of my other friends for over an hour. I’m not there, but I hear about it. After the news story airs, the cat is definitely out of the bag. Word spreads far and wide. With all the newfound publicity, Gravity Hill is no longer a hangout solely for us kids. Plenty of other people begin showing up, as cars line both sides of the road for a quarter-mile stretch. The cops start blocking off the road to allow vehicular access to local residents only. My friends and I still make our way to the ‘Hill’ by bike, but it isn’t the same anymore. It’s not fun.
Later that summer, Homeland Security agents come and interview Mikey and me. My mom is practically hysterical. She thinks that I now have a criminal record with the FBI. Mikey and I discover that no one is allowed access to Gravity Hill. Almost overnight, a barbed wire fence has been erected, complete with a guard shack and a gate blocking McKinney Road. Military police with automatic weapons stop every car unless the driver has official business.
* * *
It’s been months since Mikey or I have been out to Gravity Hill. On a warm December Saturday morning, I pedal my bike out to McKinney Road to see if I can get close. I’m curious to know whether they’ve added land mines and black helicopters, or turned the place into “The Dark Side of the Moon” à la “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I ride up to the now familiar-looking guard shack. Sitting inside the fence is a cluster of doublewide trailers that I’m guessing serves as their command center. A man in a lab coat leans against one of the trailers smoking a cigarette. I figure he’s one of the scientists. He eyes me curiously.
As I approach the gate on my bike, the MP on duty begins to wave me off.
“Beat it, kid. This is a restricted area.”
But before I can turn around and leave, the scientist approaches the guard.
“It’s okay, sergeant. I’d like to talk to this young man for a moment. Please let him pass.”
As I step inside the perimeter, the sergeant’s stare drills holes through me. But the scientist seems friendly enough. He introduces himself as Professor Todd Wilkerson from Stanford University. Wilkerson asks my name. When I answer, he breaks into a smile.
“Yes, I thought I recognized you from the files. You and your friend, Michael, ah—Michael Slattery—you two initially discovered the gravity phenomena, correct?”
We enter the nearest trailer, and Wilkerson offers me a soda. He confides to me that he’s only been at Gravity Hill for a few weeks. But in that short time, Wilkerson says his investigative team has made tremendous progress. He’s talking loudly, a mile a minute. Then Wilkerson’s voice quiets to a whisper.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this, Peter, but this is incredibly awesome. Last week we ‘hit’ this hill with ground penetrating radar. Guess what we found?”
Before I can respond, Wilkerson answers.
“There’s something down there, something very big and artificial—nearly 300 meters in circumference, and it’s buried more than fifty meters below the surface. It’s down there generating power, directly under the roadway where you and your friends were shooting marbles, and bowling, and coasting uphill on your bikes. Tomorrow, we’ll begin the excavation phase…”
Wilkerson’s voice is giddy with excitement.
I remember that feeling all too well. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago I felt giddiness. But now, I feel only a strong sense of foreboding and trepidation.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing