Malcolm wanted to fly more than anything in the world.
Last year, on his birthday, his parents had taken him on a plane ride. Not a big plane ride, like the time they flew to California to visit his grandparents. This was a little plane that had only enough room for the pilot, his parents, and Malcolm himself, who spent most of the flight with his nose pressed against the window, watching the tiny ant-people walk in and out of tiny ant-buildings and drive tiny ant-cars.
As fun as that was, Malcolm really wanted to fly without the aid of any plane, small as it was, so he took on the great task of learning how to fly.
First, he swiped a cardboard box from the curb before the garbage collectors came. It had once housed a big TV, and he could sit comfortably in it and even stretch out his legs in front of him. He pulled the flaps off of the box, fashioned them into wings, and taped them back to the sides. Unfortunately, his mother caught him trying to pull his makeshift plane up a ladder to the roof of the house. His first test flight failed before it even began.
Malcolm didn't give up, though. He tried using a flying carpet, only it turned out that their bathroom rug must not have flying carpet capabilities, which is always a disappointing thing to discover. He tried tying a bunch of balloons to a lawn chair, but he forgot to use helium. He tried thinking happy thoughts, but it seemed none of his happy thoughts were quite happy enough to lift him off of the ground.
Malcolm remembered that Mary Poppins used only an umbrella to fly, so he pulled his dad's golf umbrella out of the car. His mom had hidden the ladder after she found him trying to climb up to the roof, so he went to the highest place he could find -- the jungle gym at the park next to his house.
The park was deserted, which Malcolm considered a blessing. If his plan worked, he didn't want all the neighborhood kids to know his secret or they'd be wanting free flights all the time. Malcolm climbed to the top of the jungle gym, opened the umbrella, shouted, "UP UP AND AWAAAAY!" and jumped.
Malcolm landed on the ground in a heap. He'd scraped his knee in the fall and crumpled one side of his dad's umbrella. He blinked away tears and looked up to see a small man walking toward him.
"What's wrong, son?" the man asked. He was short and squat, with a woolly mustache perched atop his lip. He was wearing dress pants, a white button-down shirt, and a polka dot bow tie with matching suspenders. The flight goggles he had placed on his forehead kept slipping down over his eyes, and he had to push them back up every few seconds with a cigar-holding hand.
"Who are you?" Malcolm asked. He stood up and closed the ruined umbrella as best he could.
"I'm Lieutenant Bailey Baldridge. I'm from Baldridge's Institute for Young Fliers," he said.
"Young fliers?" asked Malcolm.
"That's right, Malcolm. We've been watching your flight attempts and we think you're an excellent candidate for the school. We're impressed with your ingenuity, but you're missing something important," Baldridge explained.