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The Merlin Factor. Chapter Ten.
Topic Started: Dec 17 2015, 02:34 AM (71 Views)
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The Merlin Factor. Chapter Ten.

Low Flight.


England: Coltishall, Norfolk, 1940.


"Mornin' Sir!" The stocky S.P. saluted crisply while my right hand moved automatically to my top left breast pocket, removing my airman's identity card. I stared at it until he reached forward to claim it. Sure enough; my face, my eyes, looked back at me. I felt vaguely surprised. I hadn't even known I'd had the document until I'd needed to show it.
"Nice to see you back, Sir. Been worried sick, we 'ave." He handed the card back without so much as a glance at it, saluting again.
"Thank you - ah - ..." He might have been well acquainted with me, but I couldn't for the life of me recall ever having seen him before in my life.
"Asquith, Sir. Welcome back Sir."
"Thank you, Asquith. Thank you very much." I turned away, began to walk, then stopped, hesitated and turned back.
"Ah, Asquith? I - ah - that is - what do I usually do when I come in the main gate?" All perfectly normal.
"Well that depends, Sir. Most often you go straight over to Flight. Unless you want to see the Squadron Leader, Sir."
"Ah. Quite. Is the Squadron Leader around?"
"Over in 'is 'ut, Sir."
"Thank you very much Asquith. Good day." I saluted again and turned away.
"Sir! Sorry Sir. It's over there, Sir." He pointed. "The one wiv the busted windows."

Thank you Sergeant, I thought. You're all right.

The windows were indeed broken. Razor shards hung from the criss-crossed adhesive tapes placed there against just such an eventuality. A large hole across the roadway made it necessary to detour by way of the lawn, while scattered about were shiny brass cartridge-cases. Stooping to pick one up, I felt a cold chill go rippling down my spine. German. Alien. Utterly evil.

"Good heavens! Johnny. How splendid to see you, old boy!" I straightened and saluted the peaked-capped figure bounding towards me.
"Sir!"
"Thank God. Nobody knew what had happened to you until two days ago. Nasty business, that. Are you fit?"

I studied him, knowing I knew him, and yet...
"Having some trouble, Sir, with my memory. Bit foggy, actually. I'll be all right..."
"Spendid! Nothing broken then? Splendid. Been a bit rough around here, as you can see," he indicated the broken glass and the big, black hole.
"'88 ambled across last night. Must've had a bomb left and no place to put it." A humorless little laugh. "Shot up the hangars on his way out, the sod. Did some dirt. Nothing much. Good to see you!"

His face was grotesque. Scarred and pink. Burnt. One eye much too bright, the other crinkled and watery. Yes. I knew him. His name would come back to me soon.
"It's good to be back, Sir." I didn't mean it.

"Well, well." He half grinned, half giggled, rubbing his hands together like an excited child. "Got a surprise for you, old chap! Just the thing! Come on..."
He lunged off in the direction of dispersals at a pace that had me speed-walking to keep up.
"What would you most like to see, about now, Johnny? Eh?" He turned his head back towards me, grinning hugely.
"Eh? Take a guess!"

I considered. A declaration of peace? To wake up and find all this had just been a particularly bad dream? A one-way ticket to New Zealand? Even the sun going down and another chance to live through the night...

"Eh? What do you make of this then, eh?"
We rounded a brick blast pen and he made a complicated, ridiculous-looking flourish to introduce me to the sleek aircraft secreted within.
"'Ow about that then, eh? Fuckin' Mark 2. Cannons, Johnny boy. Cannons!" He clapped his hands together again, chortling. Show those blighters a thing or two now, eh?"

I touched the cool stressed-aluminum skin, measuring the soul of this beast. This ultimate, deadly, gorgeous aerobatic penis. The nose looked longer, meaner, but maybe that was just illusion. No. It was the spinner, I decided. A subtly different shape. And the three-bladed prop. By the exhaust stubs, I guessed it was powered by the same model Merlin. Little tear-drop fairing bulges had been added to the upper surfaces of the graceful elliptical wings, and forward of these jutted enormous cannon barrels, the bore of which looked big enough to be usable as train tunnels. Heaven help anyone or anything that happened to get in the way of a shell from one of these. Jesus.

"Only got the one for the time bein'. She's mine. Sort of on loan for evaluation. Better prop. too. Bags of mods. Lots of fancy controls to play with. Climbs like a bleedin' rocket. What do you think?"
"Very nice," I conceded. "Very nice, Sir."
"Nice? `Nice' he says? She's fuckin' beautiful, man! You should've seen the bloody great holes I made in the butts with her! We'll have to build some better targets. The others didn't last five minutes when I started firin' these Hispanos at 'em!" He shook his head in wonder, his eyes full of enthusiasm. "What a beaut! What - a - fuck - in' - beaut!"

He finished caressing the oil-cooler and turned back to face me. "Think you can fly, Johnny boy? Are you up to it?"
I looked down at the ground, worried. Here it came.
"I - ah - don't know, Sir. Funny thing, memory. You never much think about it until something goes wrong. Makes an awful big difference. I don't know if I could find the aerodrome again, once I took off."
"Hmmm. Never thought of that. That could be a bit of a problem all right. Seen the Doc. have you?"
"Saw one in the hospital in Norwich, Sir."
"Well? What did he say?"
"He said that I would be fine in a few days, Sir. But to take it easy on flying for as long as possible..."
"Well. Yes. If it were possible. Easy for him to say, eh? We lost Laidler and Herb the day you went down, and that other new chap - what was his name - Rollinson, just yesterday. Dead. He went down over Ipswich. What a bleedin' mess that was. Fifty of the buggers at least. No spring chickens either. That damned red-nosed bunch again. Two-layer escort; 109s and 110s. Gettin' right bloody 'ot it is. A dangerous business all right. Anyway, we're three down now. We need you Johnny. Can't wait, d'you see? Can you do it?"

My heart dropped. What could I say, anyway. What could I ever say? The only time you could say no was when you no longer had a mouth with which to say it. Or a head. I felt my face sag as I tried to raise a smile. Yes. Yes, anything, I suppose, is possible. Even though I don't know how to fly one of these things, or whether I'll even be able to find my way home after I've taken off. It's all just fine.
"I'll do my best, Sir."
"Good lad! There's nothing doing at the moment, so let's take a quick flit around to get you back into the swing of things. All right?"

Nausea. Instant. No chance to prepare for the inevitable. No chance at all. Back in the hot seat and pray to God for the earth not to come up and smear you into itself. I smiled a ghoulish, infinitely tired sort of smile and nodded. "Fine, Sir."

He turned to the fitter who was checking fasteners on the glycol header tank of the new Mark 2. "Spencer! I'll be taking 'er up now!"
Spencer yelled at two other erks twenty feet away who were fiddling with a trolley-acc. "Two-six! Shake it up, there! Cap'n's got business wiv the 'un!"
Yells and curses. Frantic activity. I watched it all, numbed. It wasn't even a proper scramble.

"Oh, sorry old boy," the C.O. cried, half into his parachute, half out. "I suppose you left your machine on some beach, eh? Take that one, 414." He pointed to a new-looking Mark 1. "Shiny new. Bust it at your peril! Off you go then. And turn on the fuckin' radio! Listen out for me."

I hurried over to the immaculate fighter, complete with red-doped never-broken gun patches. No more of these would be made now, I reflected, that the Mark 2s were going into mass production. Too bad, really. Nice kite...

It seemed odd, somehow, that any of this was becoming familiar. Everything still felt out of place and not quite right. Dream-like and unfocused. But the more I looked at these fighters, the more the picture sharpened. I only hoped I could live long enough to get a grip on things.

"Wewcum back, Sah! Ahw strap yer in, Sah." A soiled old fitter boosted me up onto the wing towards the waiting cockpit. I called a quick thank-you, leaving it at that, since the fellow's name was not yet available to me. A strange place, this, I thought, as I eased my way down inside the tight, aluminum space. And yet not strange. A good place to die. No! Stop thinking like that, for God's sake...

Straps. Sutton harness. Click! Tug and squirm. The usual bruise on the knee as it bangs the bottom of the instrument panel. The grimy man slams the side door and thumps his hand down on the dull green and buff cowling before jumping to the ground. I watch in fascination as my hands disengage from my brain, running through the pre-flight checks in lightning-fast time. My mouth is working, naming names of things I will need to deal with in order to make this thing fly. Seat up. Primer pump. Easy now; don't flood it. Magnetos. Brakes. Flaps...
Hand signals to the men on the ground. Fists, twirled fingers, thumbs... Clear... Bang! Chunk - chunk - groan - Bang! The airscrew shudders round briefly, suddenly disappearing into a shimmering haze, foot-long flames stabbing back from the exhaust stubs. Blue smoke, instantly gone. The stink...

The Sound!

Now I know I am here. The Sound is Now. Only Now. Violence! Even newly awakened, this machine emanates a sense of danger. Power and purpose. A thinly-disguised killer. As the engine roars, run up to full power to test for mag-drop, the machine lurches over to one side, oleo leg compressing, under the frightful torque. Easy now. Back to a third power. Wave to clear and open up a crack to get her moving. Brakes hiss inaudibly against the Sound and I begin to roll.

ssskk...crackle..."Ready Johnny? ...shkkk...pop... ..."Roger leader"...kshkkk...
I taxi after the Mark 2 down the perimeter track, weaving side to side, to see ahead of the long, long nose. The wind is very light today, and take-off is possible in any direction. We line up abreast, wingtip to wingtip, hoods open, and wave to each other. He wants to know if I'm all right. We both know I'm not, but he does it anyway. He is not all right either. Hasn't been for weeks. None of us are. We're just here. Fools...

He points ahead and moves his gauntleted hand across and across. Our throttles open wide together, carburetors hosing hundred-octane spirit into the twelve hungry cylinders. The machines want to roll sideways under all that power. Oh the Sound! My eyes are wide in terrified exhilaration. Too much power here for a frightened nineteen year old to handle. Far too much. This is madness! Criminal!
No wind. 414 accelerates rapidly, drifting to the left like an aerodynamic crab. I crank down flap to make up for the lack of lift. Shuddering, bumping, sixty, seventy m.p.h., controls slack and unwilling to participate. Faster, faster still, the tail is high and the ailerons begin to bite. My teeth are clamped together. Scared. Rapt. Helpless...

...kskkk..."Manhole to Red Leader. Manhole to Red Leader. Bandits in the circuit! Repeat, bandits in the circuit! Do you read, Red Leader, Over?"...pop...

Aaaaah!

My eyes leap into ten-power magnification as I thrash around the tiny cockpit looking for the threat. Oh my God! Oh Christ! Not now! My hands are shaking too much to decide what to do, or to do whatever it might be very well. From the corner of my eye I register the image of the Squadron Leader's face spinning around and around, searching, needing to know where death is coming from. The Spitfire bounces, stays airborne for moments, before bouncing again, wings coming alive, but too slowly. Oh lift! Lift for Chrissakes! Please! I want to abort. Cut the motor and go back to dispersals. It is not possible that I am about to die. Simply cannot be! Please, just let me go home! Oh Marion!

The Mark 2 unsticks a moment before I do with its super duper fully-blown new Merlin, its wheels lifting into wings that are already bending into a tight climbing turn to the right, away from me, only inches above the ground. Still in ground-effect, critically close to a full stall. He is insane. But he didn't get fried to a crisp and come back from the dead just to get blasted right off of his own runway. Not him! I yank back on the stick and haul my own wheels up, pressed for time, not climbing fast enough to keep the prop. blades out of the grass. I cringe and gasp for breath as the machine climbs back out of the weeds and begins to accelerate... Flaps up. Radiator - no, leave it. Tap the brakes as the wheels tuck fully into the wings. Seat full down. Hood closed. I lean on the throttle, but it's already through the emergency gate and into over-boost. Power. I want more! I envy the Squadron Leader in his new Mark 2 with its three-bladed metal De-Havilland prop. Two wooden blades are not enough! I reach forwards...

Gunsight on. It explodes into a million tiny perspex fragments as I reach for it. Blang! Something tugs at my head. A bomb goes off behind my seat. Oxygen cylinder! Senseless. Stars and orange blotches. A terrific explosion to starboard. The C.O.'s machine vanishes into a fireball. An engine-shaped mass of flaming metal flies out of this searing yellow-white light. Nothing else is left. Only heat. A black shape blots out the sun and I cringe down from its icy shadow. I want only to hide, but my shivering body runs its own, separate race, yanking back on the stick and battering the gun button, hosing bullets wildly all over the sky. Oh Jesus no! The fighter bangs and shudders on the knife-edge of a stall, only fifty feet up. The recoil from the eight Brownings slows her even more. No! I ram the stick fully forwards, my stomach erupting through my wide open mouth, as the Spitfire stops flying and drops to the bottom of its realm. Fly! Fly you fucking cow!

Aaaaaahhh!

The nose comes up - not enough - not quite - aaaahhh - come on come on - I piss my pants and scream as the prop. blades shatter and the motor screams as the shaft shears through and I bounce back into the air...

I never hear the final hit. Too loud. Too fatal. The cowling simply disintegrates before my eyes, engine oil instantly opaqueing the windscreen, dropping me into the field two hundred yards past the end of the aerodrome. The left wing smashes away as it belts the big oak tree.
"The shortest flight of my life," I say quite calmly and out loud, to myself, as the lights go down yet again.

Violence! A tidal wave of thick, wet Norfolk loam sweeps out the last vestiges of daylight, cascading through the shattered perspex and buries me alive.
You don't survive this, I mumble. Not possible.
After a while the violence subsides. A final lurch. Only the hissing of boiling glycol and the frying sound of petrol falling over hot metal remains. I consider the probability of fire, but dismiss it with a shrug. Sod it. I just don't care. I've had enough of this air-force lunacy. Let them find someone else to stem the bloody tide. And then...

I can't - really can't - believe this. Here I am, already dead, strapped inside this shattered, smoking hulk, nine-tenths buried, minding my own business, when the fucking Nazi comes back. I duck instinctively as his cannon shells spatter up the field towards me, the greedy, off-beat whine of his engine filling my brain with numbing hatred. A hammer-blow whines away off the ruin of the armored-glass windscreen and I remember suddenly why I am here. I am here because scum like this will do things like this to whoever they feel like doing it to, for however long they feel like doing it, until somebody like me, or quite unlike me, stands up and puts a stop to it.

I feel almost human for a moment or two, trapped inside my mangled aluminum coffin, unhurt and with a puddle of urine soaking into my parachute. A man with a purpose. A cause. I feel almost brave. And then the fear comes back once more, like an avalanche, like a tidal-wave, sweeping every noble thing before it.

*****

"No, dammit! I'm fine! Leave me alone!"
"Oh for goodness sake, Sergeant. It won't take a minute. We just have to take a look at you. You don't walk away from a wreck like this with no after-effects."
The M.O. was soothing but determined. I was determined but not soothing.
"You touch me and I'll blow your fucking head off! Leave me alone, d'you hear!" I couldn't believe I was saying what I was saying. This was an officer and quite within his rights, trying to do his job. He was staring at something, and looking down I gasped in shock to discover I was holding my service revolver in a trembling hand.
"All right, Sergeant. All right. Calm down, all right? If you have any problems, come and see me. It's a miracle you're even alive. Bloody good shooting, too, that, by the way. Hard to believe you flamed the bastard. Unbelievable."

I stared at him, beyond any rational response to anything. What? What? More and more confused.
"What?"
"Over there. See the smoke?" The M.O. pointed to a rising column of smoke within the airfield perimeter. "That's a 109 in several pieces. The one that got the C.O. The bastard went in just after you did. Amazing marksmanship, Sergeant. First rate."

I blinked, numbed fascination settling over me like heavy fog. I'd got the bastard. Incredible. A wholly reflexive hauling back on the stick coupled with a trembling thumb and this was the result. I'd done him. It was a move that had very nearly done for me, too. A savage glee coursed through me until I remembered the Squadron Leader.

"What about Bob?" His name suddenly sprang from the dark mists of unknowing. Too late. The M.O. looked down and cleared his throat. "We - ah - we can't even find him, I'm afraid. Nothing much left, really. Nothing identifiable."

I sagged. I'd known it, of course, but now I was hearing it. It was true. Gone. Just like that. The best of us. Vaporized. Just like that.

"I..." Tears poured from my eyes and I sank down to lie on the damp grass. "Oh shit. Oh... Oh shit!" My own petty concerns evaporated, leaving a curious, empty honesty. I laughed a flat, ugly laugh. "You want to know why I didn't want you looking at me, Sir?" I felt completely drunk. "I'll tell you why. 'Cause I'm wearing a fucking corset, that's why. Didn't want anyone to find out, see? Got a sore back, you know. Very important not to let anyone find out. It belongs to a woman, you know. Nice lady. Bleedin' great tits. Jesus Christ! Poor Bob. Poor fucking Bob..."

The M.O. stood over me wondering what to do. I looked around at the dazed circle of airmen and it came to me that they were all wondering what to do.
"My God!" I thought. "If the Huns knew what a useless shower we really are, they'd be over here in their millions in time for tea." Just as well they didn't appear to have it figured out just yet.

The M.O. was talking, pointing, while figures moved in to lift me gently into the still-waiting ambulance with its blood-colored red crosses. Their words became curiously muffled while I seemed to float somewhere above the stark little scene. It occurred to me how tired I was becoming of seeing red crosses wherever I looked. Tired. So very tired.

*****

The shock gradually wore off and after an hour or so I was allowed to blushingly dress myself under the amused eyes of a medical orderly. He was making some attempt not to smirk, but doing a remarkably poor job of it.
"Find the corset helps, do you, Sergeant? Keeps the old back straight, I suppose, but it must be a bit uncomfortable, eh? Didn't know you could get them for men. An' black, too..."

I finished without a word and left, my scarlet ears betraying my emotions. How typical. Found out the very first time I'd worn the damned thing. I'd known I never should have worn it. Now it would get around the station in hours. It did seem rather inconsequential, though, after having witnessed the total disintegration of Bob and his marvelous new Mark 2. `Robbie Burns' he had called himself. Scarred for life inside a burning fighter. What little life he'd had left to be scarred in. He was gone for good now. The number of vanished faces was growing daily.

I borrowed a bike to get over to the wrecked 109 lying smashed and broken on the far side of the airfield, passing other airmen either on their way to, or returning from the scene.
"Wew done, Sah!" Ernie Short - that was his name! - waved to me as I wobbled by. He must have been upset at having lost his brand new 414 after little more than thirty seconds of operation. He took his machines very seriously indeed. Knew every part, and more importantly, why every part. It wasn't every day, I suppose, that his pilot brought down a Hun right over the field. I could only feel apologetic. He was almost twice my age and still a Corporal, and I'd never become used to his habit of calling me `Sah'. "Right mess you made of that Jerry, Sah. Bloody marvellous!"
"Sorry about 414, Ernie. Really I am. Stupid of me."
"Plenty more o' them, Sah. You's the important bit, like."
"Thank you, Ernie. See you over at Flight."
"'ave a good time, Sah."

The Messerschmitt was a ruin. Hard to imagine, now, that it ever could have flown at all. Crumpled, burnt, torn. Just like 414. Extinct. The pilot was still in his cockpit, melted into his seat. Charred and smoking. The aftermath of violence all around. Instant. Cunning. Ever-present.

Airmen were busy stripping the skeleton of the aircraft of anything even remotely interesting, and conversing in strangely muted tones. No hatred now. Only an appalled quiet. When the Hun was dead, he was just like your own dead. Faceless. Mute. A tragic parody of what might have been. Just like the living, but for the life. And what was life anyway? Like memory, perhaps. Nothing you thought much about until you found it slipping, uncontrollably away. Back at Flight, I met the rest of the squadron pilots for what might have been the first time.

"Hey hey! It's our Johnny-boy, back from the dead!"
"What a way to treat a nice new machine!"
"Trying to cut down on your flying-hours, Johnny?"

I smiled shakily, uncertainly, feeling vastly out of place. No words came to my bone-dry lips. No kindred camaraderie. They were just men. Boys. Strangers. Our common bond an ability to leave the earth and do our best to sweep our skies clean of the Nazi virus.

"Johnny's havin' a bit of trouble with his memory, fellers." It was Fred. The one face I could place with anything like certainty. He limped over, leaning heavily on a cane. "You all right, Johnny? What a bleedin' pile-up. Take a helluva lot of pots an' pans to fix you up with another kite, it will. Our local ladies'll be after your blood if you go on like that, y'know."

He slapped my shoulder so hard I staggered against the table, knocking over a card-house and bringing cries of outrage from a carrot-haired boy. He sounded American... "Ay! That took me all bloody mornin' to build! Bleedin' N.C.O.'s! Well done, by the way. One less Hun to break our windows. Way to go!"

"Johnny don't like 'uns what catches 'im wiv 'is pants down, do yer Johnny?" Fred guided me to a beach chair, lowering his voice. "Anyfink coming back to yer, is it? Looked from 'ere like you forgot 'ow to fly a Spit. Nearly shit meself seein' you choppin' up the dirt with yer prop! Shortest bleedin' flight on record, that was. You all right?"

I closed my eyes, fighting down the bile that seemed always ready to erupt from my mouth today. Nausea. Constant sickness. "I'm fine, Fred. Just fine. Nothing like a good crash to get you back into the swing of things."

A question sprang into my mind, urgently needing an answer. "Er - Fred? Do I - that is - do I have many victories? I can't bloody well remember."
"What a modest feller. The stuff of 'eroes, you are. Too right, mate. Four now, I reckon. An' one probable. Nobody can argue about that 109 lyin' out there. We should frame the bugger an' take it down to the King's Skull. The ladies'd be right impressed they would."

He laughed a tight, tense laugh. "I been thinking, Johnny. You seem a bit strange. Not just the crashes, like, but - well - a bit odd, like. I mean, well, you was really the only one out of the lot of us that sort of seemed - I dunno - normal, like. But now... What 'appens, zackly, when you lose yer memory?"

I pondered this, wringing my hands together as if they were dirty. I looked down at them. Clean. They kept up their mindless activity in spite of my scrutiny. Odd. I felt odd. He was right. And scared out of my wits. It must be a relatively new thing, this gnawing dread, by the enormous impact it was having on me. I didn't think - didn't feel - I'd always had it...

"Don't really know how to explain it, Fred. It's like I'm not really here. Like all these fellows are strangers. Do I know them all? Do I know any of them?"

He looked at me, shoulders sagging, a kind of resigned, saddened look: "All but Larkin, over there. He got 'ere just as you was taking off with Bob. What a way ter start 'is day, eh? 'E nearly fuckin' fainted. Nice enough chap, for a sprog, though. Never flown a Spit yet, so I 'ear. Just them silly Magisters over at O.T.U. Want to meet 'im?"

"Not now. No. Who else?"
"Well, there's Algy, the ugly sod, an' fuckin' Bishop over there: you remember him don't yer? Wonder boy. He jumped out right before I did, an' landed on a bleedin' 'aystack! There's me with a wrought iron fence-post stuck up me arse, and Bishop lands in 'is own private bleedin' 'aystack. 'E ain't 'uman, that kid. And Cottin'ton playin' with 'is 'ouse of cards. Oh, Cawley; dunno much about 'im yet. Stewart, Jones. Laidler's gone. An' Rollinson. An' 'erbie Burton - remember 'im, do yer? Bastard owed me ten bob. Yer don't want to go lending no-one nuffink in this game, mate. Never fuckin' see it again, most like..."

I needed more information. "Am I a good pilot?" I searched his face. He shook his head, amused and bemused.
"Better 'an most of us. Not many could've put a Spit down like you just did an' walk away from it. Gettin' bounced on take-off is somethin' not many live through. Robbie wasn't up to it. Even in 'is nice new kite. Too bad about that. The only one we 'ad."
"There's nothing left of him," I murmured, remembering the bright flash and the rolling ball of fire. "Not a trace."

He looked down at his boots, deep creases forming across his forehead. "Too right. 'E went off like a soddin' bomb. Jesus."
"What happens now?" Fred scratched his ear, poked a finger inside and shook it at high speed. It was finally something I recognized about him and the action brought a faint smile to my frozen face.
"Well I 'eard," he picked earwax from under his fingernail. "I 'eard we was bein' moved down to Eleven Group. Things is 'ot down there. You think it's bad up 'ere? Read the papers, 'ave you?" I shook my head. Too bad. That might have helped me get oriented again. I waited for more.
"Rumor 'as it we're bein' put in the front line." He sneered at the irony of it. "As if we're on some bloody 'oliday up 'ere! Maybe today, maybe tomorrer. Goin' ter be nasty, by all accounts. We ain't got enough pilots for the job. Never bleedin' ready are we? Home Counties bein' bombed every bloody day. Millions of 'uns. The barbarians comin' to finish us off. Shit! I used to think it would be nice, like, being a fuckin' pilot..." I looked around, sensing the electric atmosphere in the hut. There was a veneer of light-heartedness under which lurked a darker undercurrent of uncertainty and apprehension. Losing the Squadron Leader had jolted everyone right to the core. Right over the airfield, too.

The phone rang and everyone jumped at once. The Adjutant spoke quietly, listened, span around. "Yellow section! One section only! Bandit comin' in over Sheringham! Move it!"
Fred's mouth dropped and he lunged for his parachute. "See yer later, Johnny! Got ter see a man about a dog!" He hobbled rapidly across the grass, abandoning his cane, closely followed by Jones and Bishop. Engines were already exploding into life at dispersals and everyone in the hut poured out to see the three aircraft take off. The camouflaged machines raised their deep male voices together and flung themselves forwards across the field, whining, thundering, straining against gravity. A glorious sight. A glorious sound. Three little flies bent on death and destruction. Amazingly, they all came back. The bandit, too, got home.

*****

England: Gunton Park, Norfolk, 1940.


Marion gazed through the window pane, out over the green, muddy fields, seeing nothing.

Three Spitfires had gone roaring overhead, minutes before. She had run outside, hoping to read the large fuselage letters, before remembering that Johnny's aircraft - the one bearing the letters H-K - was now lying somewhere at the bottom of the North Sea. He would have a different machine now...

She daydreamed, lonely, worried, yearning: Oh that Johnny! He was changing her, day by day, somehow. When she had first met him, she had wanted only to humiliate him, to hurt him and suck his youthful body dry. Without understanding why. It was as if some force she did not understand was controlling her. It had been the same way with her husband. With Harold. So long ago. She had beaten him, cruelly, while he worshipped her power over him. Controlling him absolutely.

It was absurd, of course. A part of her knew this. While another part laughed insane laughter and revelled in her authority...

She wanted so much to love. To give love. But she had never known how. It always seemed to come out as a need to control. To hurt. She wondered if having a child might have helped her to love, and gasped as it came to her that it was Johnny, her darling little Johnny, who now fulfilled that purpose. That allowed her to be the loving Mother she had never been. The omnipotent Mother, that commanded, and punished, while nurturing. While loving...

"Oh, Johnny," she silently pleaded. "Oh, Johnny! Forgive me! Just love me, while I learn to be what I long so much to be. Just give me enough time. Enough love. Just love me, my darling. Please!"

She blinked away the tears that always formed, whenever she thought of Johnny, and came back to the present, taking a deep breath. Men! God, how she resented and feared men! With their stupid pride and their never-ending wars. And their incredible arrogance! If only it were Women who ruled...
If only it were Women, and the children of Women...

...little girls...

And little boys!

She shook her head, turning away from the window, then started, suddenly remembering the tea that was stewing, unheeded, in the pot...

*****
Edited by crow, Dec 17 2015, 04:14 PM.
"Squawk!" said the crow, and then made space.
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