The Phoenix (iii)

That isn’t to say this warfare is slow. A man’s life can be snatched before you’ve wiped the fog from your goggles – as I am a living testament to. After I shot down my first plane, I took the opportunity to get some distance and see if I could find a friend. There! Close to the ground, a daredevil weaved and dodged anti-air guns with the ease of a swallow. I took my plane lower and kept up with him, his tail was painted in French colours and when he also recognised me as an ally he made some sort of a frantic gesture with his hands. I rubbed my goggles clear to get a better look at what he was trying to communicate. As I lifted my fingers from the goggles and it was as if I had erased the friend’s plane with the condensation. There was no trace of him but a blinding red flash that passed with such speed and proximity that I hardly recognised it as a plane. My ally was sent in a fiery descent down to the craggy hillside with the ease of Pharaoh dashing a newborn against the rocks. And I, as helpless as my friend, somehow survived by inaction and used a gentle breeze to float away as Moses did down the Nile.

A red flash again. It must have been a plane, the only other alternative is that long ago vanquished beast painted in red for its never-ending rage – still searching for St George who cleverly had his tomb dug deep underground, hidden from vengeful sky-borne eyes. Forgive the romantics, I am getting sentimental in my old age. It was a red plane, though it may as well have been a dragon, I was petrified. My subconscious seemed to have made the connection ahead of my conscious mind – a red hot prickling ran down my back, itchy hives crawled across my skin – I was being hunted by the Red Baron. He saw the Frenchmen as the more experienced pilot and had left me, the baby bird, till later. Somewhere in this sky that bright red knife of his was floating and hidden but could at any moment plunge down into my flesh


<- Part 4 of XX ->

The Mallard

I’ve never seen the world like this before. My father and I are sitting in a ditch by a marsh, it is just before dawn with only a sliver of light creeping up behind us, reflecting softly off the lake. The creatures shuffled and went about their business but in a manner I have not witnessed before.

Of course, I’ve seen animals and critters in the wood across from the paddock. Due to growing up on a farm, animals have been reduced to just part of the scenery, completely ordinary. But this morning I must have been feeling a wonderment that I witness in other children not used to see the grace of a horse’s stride or the quiet peace of a lazy eyed cow, chewing grass in the shade of an elm.

This morning we aren’t looking upon work animals but the wild untamed creatures. And I say I have never seen the world like this because in this moment I feel I am entirely absent from it. What a simple fact I’ve ignored all my life; whenever I have seen an animal they have always seen me. Now here I sit, where we have hidden for a few hours. The scene is free of any of that excited tension that homo sapiens bring to every plain, mountain, lake, or sea. Perhaps we don’t notice it because it’s constantly around us, the fear in every blade of grass we tread on, the horror in every patch of dirt we pry open and rape for its metals that we use for our machines of industry and war.

I would have felt at peace away from all that, here in the gentle marshes, if not for our terrible quest. I secretly hoped our prize, that yet lay hidden within the labyrinth of reed beds, still slept and would decide to sleep in today.

We watched the frogs hop out of the long grass for a morning swim, and the graceful waking swans who in lifting theirs head to the rising sun resemble white lilies. I could not focus on the beauty, for I was distracted by the ugly mission I would have to carry out.

My mission is the hunt, I already know its sequence of actions. My hands flutter – but as soon as my father places the rifle in my hands they are stone. Stone my hands may be – and if that is the truth then I must be a golem for they moved automatically as if enchanted. Muscle memory and practice operated themselves on my arms. I load it, cock it, aim, and wait for the duck call. My father holds the horn to his lips. Hoped not to see that brown dull looking bird, the dullness of its feathers only added to its innocence – it wanted no attention and meant no harm, yet here I was in its home murderous instrument in hand.

Oh God, give me a way out. In excitement, I thought a tremendous sound that blasted in my ear out was Gabriel’s horn and not my fathers. “My day of judgement is not this one,” I barely had time think before a flurry of wings took off from the reeds. I spotted my quarry, slower than the rest, its struggling wings seemed to claw at the wind rather than sail upon it. I followed it with my sight and pulled the trigger. The Recoil. The Release. Final Relief.

If for just an instance, the shot seemed to wound the blue yonder herself, sprouting a burst of bleeding poppies in the sky. The mallard flapped its wings a few times in defiance of Death before falling as a mess of feathers like Icarus. But the hubris belonged to me, I tried to feel bad – what right had I to snatch its life? My father put a hand on my shoulder and the look in his eyes seemed to say that he understood. In honesty, I enjoyed the experience. I loved it despite myself.

Looking back at that spectre of a childhood memory it seems that the apparent twists and turns my life have in reality been a straight A to B journey. Reaching now into young adulthood my mission is still the hunt, but my new quarry is far more cunning than the mallard, though both share wings. This hunt is more sporting for the bird shoots back – though what is far more unsettling is that what I hunt loves to kill just as I do.

I must rest, piecing together mangled memories has been tiring. As the captain says, a good rest should be a RAF pilot’s top priority, especially on the eve of his first combat flight. Goodnight.


Part 1 of XX ->