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  • Writer's pictureAlice Godwin

Spinning on the rim

A military pilot caught up in war tensions discovers that there are higher powers at work, and sacrifices to be made for the good of mankind.


“We've rectified the problem,” the Colonel said with enough smug arrogance, that if bottled would drown out the whiff of a medium-sized cesspool. “There will be no more incidents. We can assure you of that.”  He looked at the twenty men seated, staring at each of them in turn. Sincerity oozed out of him.

Leo stared straight into those big baby blue eyes. Bullshit, he thought.

Afterwards, at the bar the pilots talked about what had been said. Not for long, none of them were prone to much work talk.  They were loners, one way or another. You didn't fly a Raptor without a multitude of psychological profiling, and although you were, theoretically part of a team what was needed above all was a certain mental resilience, an independent streak, and an ice cold ability to react in a split second to whatever you needed to do to ensure that the two hundred million dollar piece of cutting edge equipment you were sitting in made it back. Regardless of whether that same piece of hardware was attempting to kill you, that was irrelevant.

A pack of alpha wolves was what they all were. Silent camaraderie was what they did best. Maybe the odd ride into the mountains and a couple of days pitting themselves against the elements, white-water rafting or hunting.

Leo had a few days off and instead of turning right which would have led him home to Georgia, he turned left and headed into the desert. Pushing his British motorcycle, the Road Rocket that he had lovingly restored, into maximum speed.

The sparse flat desert, a blur of heat seared gold and scorching blue. He pulled up at the large boneyard and rolled a joint. He leaned against his machine as he stared at the miles of aeronautic engines gleaming in the sun. He had been dreaming about this place. He closed his eyes and dropped back into that space. Physicality dissolved. A spirit. Disembodied. Powerful.

He finished the joint and ground it into the sand. He could make it to the small mountain town in three hours if he didn't stop. He would call Georgia from there and explain it somehow. He took a drink from his water bottle. Checked the petrol gauge, calculated the mileage to the next gas station. Sat balanced on his machine, pulling his gloves on tighter, he turned the ignition over, released the clutch and pressed down on the throttle. He took off in a scream of gravel, a flightless bird zooming across the wastelands.


The stars were like a string of raindrops on the wing of a raven, somehow misty and blurry against the inky night. He used a lonely call phone to ring Georgia, as he couldn’t get a signal. The small town seemed deserted, the main street devoid of everything but flickering neon signs and dusty shop fronts. He could tell by her tone she was pissed off at his unscheduled deviation. He rode slowly to where his grandfather, Lucien lived; his house perched on the edge of a cliff, far below a salt plain glimmered white beneath the waning moon.

He knocked, and then walked in.  He found the old man sitting out the back. Cross-legged on a faded, embroidered blanket that Leo’s grandmother had made. Leo joined him, sitting silently and closing his eyes. After hours of riding his muscles were stiff yet still throbbing with the vibrations of the engine and the rough tarmac.

Sitting still, breathing deep. Tasting the air with its clean crispness and the tang of the sparse sage wood. The silence descended over him slowly at first, he could hear distant voices talking, a dog barking, and an answering whine. Ignition spluttering as a rumbling engine came to life, the wheels crunching over hard gravel. The noises settled and as he sunk deeper inside himself, he felt the wind gently caressing his face. The flutter of his shirt as it wafted almost imperceptibly against his arm, his back. A rodent scrambled to his left, skittering on the coarse sand, its front paws ferociously scratching at the base of some straggly shrub. The scent of the rubbed leaves releasing an odour, sweet and fruity.

Further away the beating of wings, a night hunter flying on the dying thermals of the day. For a second, he was there inside, staring down at the grey-toned landscape, the mica in the quartz sand glittering like tiny jewels. He felt the pulse, faster than his. The blood, a hot stream flowing through the slim aerodynamic body, a raptor. How appropriate, he thought.  He felt the alien consciousness sitting beside his. As he plummeted out, he found himself thinking, we are not that dissimilar.

The ground was hard beneath his buttocks. One leg had started to cramp. He breathed a long deep breath and opened his eyes to see his grandfather looking at him, smiling.  The old man stood up, graceful still despite his years. Leo stretched and joined him.

“What brings you around?” His grandfather asked as he picked up the rug and shook it before rolling it up.

“Do I need a reason?” Leo replied.

His grandfather laughed and said. “Of course not, though I suspect there is one.”

Lucien made a large pot of tea and placed it on the table along with two ceramic cups. The walls were covered with woven tapestries and on the shelves stood wind-bleached wooden sculptures. Leo’s grandmother had been a prolific artist. She had always ascertained that the art of creating something was breathing life into the inanimate. The essence of that person transfused into the object, so it took on some aspect of its creator. Meraki was the word, she had used, your creativity, your soul, the love you put into molding, crafting this tangible object. She believed that at a sub-atomic level, her essence somehow intermingled with the other atoms in this process of creating, like the DNA of each parent intermingled together into forming a child.

Leo realized that thought had been on his mind awhile.

“How's that lovely wife of yours?”

 “She's fine, as is Maddie.” He answered.

“So why you here and not with them?” The smile took the sting out of the words.

Leo shrugged.

The old man’s dark eyes looked at him intently.

They sat in comfortable silence, sipping their tea; Lucien knew he would talk when he was ready. His grandson was so like his great grandfather, Lucien thought. Except for those sea-green eyes it was as though Lucien were looking at a young version of his dead father. Both of them had that thin face etched by the high cheekbones. The straight black hair, the hawk nose, and deep-set eyes with that piercing almost predatory gaze. Proud like his great grandfather, he was too.

“I saw your mother a few weeks ago. She came by to see if her old man was still breathing.”

“She came to see Georgia as well and stayed for a week.” Leo replied.

“Did you see her?”

Leo shook his head.

“You haven't spoken to your father for a while I'm guessing.”

Leo glanced at him but didn't say anything.

Lucien decided not to pursue it. They were both as stubborn and as unyielding as each other. He still recalled the day his daughter had brought home this Nordic giant of a man, Vėjopatis named after the Lithuanian God of Wind and Keeper of Dausos, where all the worthy souls resided after death. Vėjopatis was a committed anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-military activist. He had arrived here via a few campaigns through the Pacific, had been on board the Greenpeace boat, the Rainbow Warrior that had been sunk by French agents in Auckland. For his only son to join the Air Force had created a huge schism that had only improved when Leo marred Georgia, and the arrival of a granddaughter had somewhat lessened the estrangement between them.

“He's a warrior like my father,” Lucien had tried to explain to his son-in-law. “As you, yourself are. You are both remarkably similar in personality.”

Vėjopatis had snorted. His son had joined the enemy as far as he was concerned. Vėjopatis’s anti-authoritarian stance had bloomed early in the streets of Vilnius, throwing first stones and then homemade projectiles at the Soviet occupying force. He had escaped by traipsing for weeks through the wild forests and isolated mountains that ran between borders, eventually claiming asylum in Denmark.


Lucien noticed Leo's gaze had alighted on the Medal of Honor that the government had finally bestowed on the Navaho code talkers of World War Two. Lucien’s father had accepted it with less than gratitude. What's a medal worth, he had said, when we are still second-class citizens in our own country.

As if reading his mind Leo said, “I imagine your father had some stories to tell about being in the army.”

“It was wartime so very different from now.” Lucien said. “He always claimed the best part was being in France where he meet Ysabel.” He looked at his grandson. “Are you going to tell me what's on your mind?”

“Did I tell you about the problems we are having with the planes?”

“You mentioned something awhile ago but you said that it had been fixed.”

 “They think they know what's wrong and they fix it and it all seems good and then it starts happening again. So they ground the planes and work away and then they assure us that, yes the problem has been identified. Three times this has happened. One man dead and a dozen more lucky they're not.” Leo said. “Now we have all developed a cough. The Raptor cough, and no one knows why. One colonel told us to stop moaning; it's a small price to pay for the privilege of flying the greatest combat airplane in the world. Which none of us have ever used in combat, so how would anyone know?” There was a sarcastic edge to his voice.

Lucien waited; he could tell there was more.

“You can't breathe that's what it feels like. It comes slowly just a momentarily gasp and then it gets worse. It’s like hands around your throat. Gentle at first then slowly they tighten until the air stops. You panic at first. Try everything you can. Check exactly where you are and how long it would take to get back, knowing that there is no way you can. Then the calmness comes. Instead of feeling like your mind is clouding over, your thoughts become crystal clear. Total clarity about everything. It is as though; in that moment you understand the answers to everything. For a moment you are seeing with the mind of God or some omnipotent being. Then the fog claims you until you wake on the ground safe, with no idea how you landed. Feeling like some sort of miracle happened, that brought you home, because you as sure as hell didn’t.”

He stopped and stared at the largest woven tapestry, a dark abstract piece full of stars and comets, planets swirling together as though dancing. The universe in motion, a kinetic waltz of cosmic bodies captured by colored threads interlinked together to create this tactile, exquisite wall hanging.

“That's pretty much it. Pretty much what we all experience in varying degrees.” Leo said as he tapped the side of the empty mug.

Lucien watched his grandson. There was more. He needed to wait quietly, silently. Leo stood up and walked over to the basin and poured himself a glass of water. Drank it all down.

“Hypoxia. Not enough oxygen is reaching the lungs. There is a glitch in the software, that changes the flow, blocks it, or there is a snarl in the hardware, a valve that closes spontaneously. Or the mix is wrong and during flight the amount being released changes. The charcoal filter clogging up was one of the latest reasons, and that was what was also causing this cough. Microscopic particles interfering with the lung’s ability to absorb oxygen, getting enough to almost function, but not quite. So the result is confusion, memory loss, and blackouts, even hallucinations.” Leo’s green eyes were stormy with anger.

“Load of fucking shit. All of it.” Leo said quietly but vehemently.

Lucien walked to one of the cupboards and then placed a bottle of tequila down and poured them both a shot.

“How many times?”

“Twenty maybe in the last few years. It comes in clusters. Months where it doesn't happen and then it’s almost every flight.”

Leo poured himself another shot and drank it.

“Everyone experiences the same?”

“More or less.” Leo said as he looked at his grandfather. “We're not a chatty bunch and no one wants to appear like they might be losing it big time.”

Lucien poured another drink for both of them. Leo, he knew could drink most men under the table, something he had inherited from his father.

“What do you see?” He finally asked as the minutes slid by.

“I see.” Leo paused before saying. “I see hands around my neck. I see faces looking at me. Beautiful women. Grotesque, ugly faces too. Thousand of them. Sometimes it's like I'm flying over a battlefield and all the dead are staring up at me. Asking why? Other times I fly with Angels. Are they Angels, I don't know?  Some have wings of fire. The flames stream behind them, thousands of miles long, an inferno only I see. Their faces look at me. Unearthly faces. Female, male, I don't know which. I think some of them are responsible for getting me back safely. Because I can't think how else it happens.”

He took another shot. Lucien watched as he tilted his head back. His thick black hair was almost touching his neck.

“Do you know what the others see?”

Leo shrugged. “As I said we don't really discuss it. If they saw anything, well they probably just assume they are hallucinating.”

“But they are always the same for you?”

“More or less. There are variations.”

“So you think they are angels?”

 “Maybe, they certainly don't look like any angels that I have seen in paintings.”  

“Do they talk to you?”

“There are moments when it seems that I am, not hearing, but understanding things.”

“Do you experience any of this when you're not flying?”



“Why do you ask?”

“Do you?”

“No.” He hesitated. “I do dream about boneyards.”


“It's what we call those huge areas full of decommissioned and surplus planes. There is one on the way here.”

“What happens in those dreams?”

“Not much. I seem to be hovering above them. I can see them below me. Connected to me somehow. I have them regularly.”

“Do they recur more when you fly?”

“I don't know.” He thought for a moment. “I'm so tired after those particular flights. It's like I need to sleep for hours. That's standard for any of us. Oxygen deprivation, sometimes we have to spend time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to help us recover. I’ve only been in once but some have been in two or three times.”

Lucien sat thinking. Outside the lonesome howl of a coyote drifted across to them.

“Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry.” Lucien said. They both laughed, there was an easing of tension. “Are you looking for answers? Or just needing to unload?”

 “Do you have any?” Leo said.

“Let me think about it.” Lucien said.


Georgia watched him playing with Maddie in their pool. The little girl was squealing with happiness as her father romped with her in the water. Leo was teaching her to somersault into the pool from the makeshift diving board he had rigged up. Maddie was almost part fish, Georgia often thought. In her swimsuit she was a strip of silver undulating in the clear aqua water. Her hair was surprisingly a golden blonde, and her eyes were the same shade of sea green as her father’s. When he was here he was a great father, Georgia thought, and she shouldn’t resent him for not being here, he had been in the force when she met him, she had thought she had an understanding of what that would be like. At least he hadn't been on any long missions. The problems with the planes had seen to that. Also as Leo had wryly commented, the Taliban don't have an air force. There were rumors; he admitted to her, that they might be sent to the Middle East soon if the damned problems with the planes could be fixed.

They were out of the pool now, both of them dripping water and laughs, drying under the hot sun. Why was she always so angry with him? She wondered as she approached them with drinks clinking with ice. Maybe it was to do with that detachment she sensed. It had always been there, she realized but it had deepened over time. She thought it may have something to do with his work but recently she had begun to think that maybe it was just him. It was hard to see it right now as his daughter lay over his chest telling him stories, in a singsong voice. His eyes, so full of love, were intimately focused on Maddie.


“Shall we try for another baby?” He asked that night as they lay in bed.

Georgia hesitated. “Why now?”

“Because one day I might not make it back.”

She thumped his shoulder hard.

His gaze was steady as he looked into her eyes. “I can't see the future but I feel lucky that I've made it back these past few years. Who knows when that luck will run out?”

She felt like crying all of a sudden. He was stroking her hair very gently. Then her body and as he made love to her, the anger slowly dissolved away.


The orders came suddenly. A squadron would be heading over to the Middle East to take part in some military exercises. Half of them would be deployed to target ISIS bases in Syria.

Tanks and aircraft with personnel and hardware from over twenty countries gathered here as far as the horizon on this hot sandy plain. There was an omnipresent buzz pervading the place that this might end up being something else entirely. Leo was tired, still trying to catch up on sleep and the changes to his circadian system after flying half the circumference of the earth. At dawn tomorrow he would be on a mission, targeting enemy bases deep inside Syria. Not exactly what these planes had been designed to do but a mission was a mission.

The explosions lit up the ground below and behind. The plane was already turning as the shock waves dissipated beneath him. En route to base, carefully checking all his instruments and that's when he felt it. Those cool fingers around his neck, gently caressing him and slowly tightening. No, he thought, after so much recent flying without a hint that this sleeping serpent was coiled deep inside his plane. There was a sense of betrayal that he knew was ridiculous.

The grip tightened faster than he remembered. All around him beings clothed in flame were in formation. He wondered briefly if an anti-aircraft missile had managed to track this seemingly undetectable stealth fighter. The hands tightened and he began to loose consciousness. The voices began speaking as he drifted in some limbo zone, and then he was aware again, flying low over a desolate field of mangled and bloody corpses, before circling once and coming down to land. He stepped out of his plane and looked around. A woman dressed in a simple white robe stood waiting for him.

Well this is different, he thought, as he removed his helmet and let it dangle from his hands, as he walked towards her. The place was desolate and grey, the sky a murky mud-washed sienna and behind the woman stood an endless sea of people. Women and children, wearing clothes threadbare and ragged, an army of refugees.

“Leo.” she said in a voice that seemed to fall into his chest and rip it wide open.

“Where am I?” He said, hoarsely.

“On the plains of Azazel.”

It didn't look like anywhere on earth.

“Inside the belly of the beast,” she said. “A different plane of existence to yours but linked regardless.”

Leo looked at the children. Their faces pale in the charcoal washed light.

I’m hallucinating, he told himself.

“No you're not.” She answered. “You have been summoned to make a decision.”


“The countdown to World War Three has begun, it will soon be unstoppable. We have limited time to undo this, and we asked you here because we think you may agree to our request.”

“What is your request?”

“We need to stop this endless war machine.”

“Why me? Because of my father?”

“No, because you are a noble warrior. There are many warriors but few are noble.”           

Leo shook his head. “How do you know?”

“Because when you took the oath when you enlisted, you didn’t just say the words. Your heart swore to protect the vulnerable, the children, within yourself you swore to protect those who were not able to protect themselves. That is why you have been called.”

“I don't remember doing that.” He mumbled.

“You did.”

“What is it you want from me?”

“To destroy all who have gathered together for this campaign.”

He stared at her, this young woman, a slip of a thing, with eyes that were as ancient as the deepest ocean. He laughed and shook his head. “It’s not possible even if I agreed.”

A small child had slunk around her and was holding her hand staring up at him with luminous eyes too big for its hunger-racked face.

“If this does not happen, millions of people will die. Innocents. Children.” She stared at him, the words whispered. “Your children.”

“My children?” Leo faltered as he realized what she was saying.

“Your children.” She said, with her knowing eyes staring into his.

“And if I say no.”

She smiled the sweetest of smiles. “You’re dead Leo. You died six months ago. You were given a gift; these past few months were a gift. If you choose not to join us then you will be returned. Dead. And another will be called.”

“And if I do this I’ll die too.”

“All our choices lead to death. It is inevitable. What is important is the choice.”

“I don't even believe in your God.” He shouted at her.

She laughed.

“Neither do I.” She said softly. “There is no God. There is only the Infinite, Ayin, the Creator and the Destroyer. How you wish to personify, identify the Infinite is your choice. The Infinite is beyond your understanding. We,” she beckoned to the angels with their flaming wings and swords that had circled the two, “are merely emissaries. Clothed in a way that makes us agreeable to you. If we came, as we truly are, your eyes would burn.”

“Who are you?”

“You may call me Nemesis if you need a name.”

“What you are asking is impossible. And why me, there are others, enemies and allies, why choose me?”

“Seven noble warriors will strike at seven targets, the war machine has many perpetrators of different persuasions, and it is truly irrelevant what each side believes. Thirteen assassins will kill those purveyors of war, those who profit from this abominable pastime. Once this night passes, there will the chance to rebuild and realign. Perhaps it will lead to peace; at the very least it will avert this path, for a while. ”

“How do I accomplish this? One man and a stealth fighter.”

“You will have a squadron of planes at your disposal.”

He stared at her. “The boneyards.” He whispered, remembered his dreams. Remembering being connected to those thousands of ex military planes waiting, waiting for him.

“You are still condoning the killing of thousands of people.” He replied.

“Yes but they are not innocents. They have chosen and offered themselves as sacrifices in this game of war. As you yourself have.”

There was silence between them. All around it was as though everything, everyone, the whole world was holding its breath.

“What is your answer?” She asked.

He looked around this desolate plain filled with the dead and the almost dead. He thought of the millions of people out there living their lives. He thought of his daughter. The tiny child growing in Georgia’s womb, the millions being born now, tomorrow, what of their future? And if not him, then another would answer the call.

He nodded.

“You will need to swear an oath. This oath binds you into eternity. Do you understand what I am saying?”


As he was about to climb into the cockpit he turned and looked at her. “What am I supposed to do?”

“When the time comes you will know exactly what to do.”

 “I know there is a much bigger picture here but when it’s over, my family will have to deal with the fact that I am a traitor. Or worse.”

“To them you will be a hero.”

She smiled, a brilliant smile that lit up the whole plain and planted itself inside him like a tiny seed.


He rang his grandfather first, it was four am and high above him the night sky was blacker than he had ever seen it, no stars glimmered at all. He had found a secluded spot away from everyone; most were asleep. He was surprised when his grandfather answered but Lucien was in Santa Fe, which explained why his phone was turned on and charged up.

Lucien launched immediately into what was on his mind. “I’ve been thinking about your dreams. You mentioned you felt connected to these boneyards. Powerful even, I think the dreams are telling you that you have a very important decision to make very soon.” Lucien was silent for a moment. “Choose wisely there is much at stake.” He hesitated, before adding, “I see you in a dark place, not quite of this world. The dead are not powerless, Leo. There is no death; there is only the changing of worlds. The changing of our perspective. That is all. ”

Leo felt his whole body react to what he was hearing. He had tried very hard not to think too much about the woman’s words. To ponder how he could be dead while feeling so alive. He had a pulse, he breathed. He took a deep breath and pulled his mind back from the abyss it was about to fall into.


“Yes.” He replied. “Still here. It’s all fine, Grandfather. Thank you.”

“Are you sure you are fine?” Lucien sounded concerned.

“Just a lot to do.”

“I know you can’t talk about it.” There was a pause. “Fly safely.”

Leo decided to Skype Georgia, she responded immediately. Mid afternoon, he could see the sun shining in the window behind her. Maddie clambered up onto her lap and began talking to him, the words all tumbling together with small, hurried breaths, her face moving closer to the iPad screen so she took up the whole space. Her face smiling and animated as she whispered, “I love you daddy.” She placed her mouth onto the screen, kissing it. He pulled his device closer and kissed her back. If he shut his eyes, he could almost feel her moist, soft mouth. Then she clambered off and he was looking at Georgia. He let her speak; she was smiling, and kept glancing over to where he knew Maddie must be. “I’ll have to go in a sec,” she said. She placed the fingers of one hand onto the screen; he placed his hand there, their fingers momentarily aligned together. It wasn’t warm skin, it was just the warmness of a piece of electronic equipment, buzzing with its own currents, but for a moment it felt like skin against skin. He could almost smell her scent; feel her there, connected to him.

“I love you.” He said softly. “And the little baby inside you.”

 “How do you know? Even I’m not sure. I’m only a week late.”

“I just know. Don’t forget to rest.”

She stared at the screen, her hazel eyes staring into his, trying to understand, to discern what was below the surface of his smile, his words.

“I love you.” She said, blinking a few times. “Come back Leo.”

“Always.” He closed off fast. Not quite trusting himself, he sat on the dry shifting sand and stared up at the sky. His iPad and phone lying on his lap, like strange rectangular animals, warm but hard plastic. Almost alive.

I’m probably just going fucking nuts. How could any of this be real?

Regardless, he rang his parents. He rarely did. They would no doubt think it strange but if it all panned out as he assumed it would, this might be his only chance. His mother answered, her voice as always cheerful, she spoke about his sisters, what was happening in their lives. He let her chatter away, responding every now and then. In between, he told her about the recent mini holiday he and Georgia had gone on. Then he asked if he could speak to his dad. There was a momentary pause; he could hear the smile in her voice. “He’d like that,” she replied. Leo doubted that but then on the other hand, it was rare for his mother to lie.

His father’s voice, more heavily accented than he remembered, it took Leo a moment to understand what he was saying, then he clicked into the rhythm and the familiarity took him back to when he was a child. He felt for a moment what that had been like, everyday had been like an adventure. He’d homeschooled the children and except for the odd times he had been arrested, it had been a great childhood. When did it all go wrong? Leo knew the answer.

“Where are you?” Vėjopatis asked.

“You know I can't tell you that. Stick a pin somewhere in the Middle East and you won't be too far from where I am. There’s - there’s something I want to ask you.” He paused. “You know if something should ever happen to me, you’d look after Georgia for me.”

There was a long pause. “You don't have to ask me that. She is family. Anyway nothing is going to happen to you. Lady luck has always sat beside you.” His father cleared his throat. “You’re my son Leo. Regardless of anything you may do or the choices you have made. It hasn’t ever changed how I feel about you.”

“I love you too dad.” Leo said, keeping his tone light. “Have to go now.”

The screen went black.


Desert heat, all moisture sucked away, it’s as dry as a bone.

Charlie Foxtrot. Bravo Zulu. Echoes roll the sand corridors like giant tumbleweeds while above the vultures glide on the upward drafts of hot air. Memories gather in the shadows and there is a collective sigh like a bogey sighted at nine o’clock by a hangar queen, too little too late.

No fear of death, the F4 Phantoms sing in dusty whispers.

Dragon Lady snorts. They all turn collectively in their minds. If anyone knows the Black Bird does. Her dark silhouette shimmers like the ghost she is, but she keeps her secrets well. The F15 Eagles and F14 Tomcats feel their cold noses, itching for a fang out but there isn’t a fur ball to be seen anywhere on the horizon. Their yearning can be felt like a fever rising in the hot air, evaporating until there’s no trace.

They all settle back in their neat row, endless neat rows stretching forever. Wings stretched out, with milliseconds between them. All is quiet.

Zero dark thirty. Ghostly wisps of sand blow across their silver fuselages, voices long forgotten ebb and flow like radar on the blink. No one knows when the one voice locks in, time is relative, and there is no time here in the graveyard. No time and all time. Gradually the gravel and grime whirl together into something close to a formation, an angel or a bandit?

They all yearn for a zipper suited Sun God again. They hear him in their radar like some dark whisper. Anti matter, dark matter, black energy, waves and particles. Does it matter where he comes from? They ache for their buttons to be pressed, for that pressure on the throttle, for their wings to shudder one more time. They ache to be airborne.

His laughter is like helium spiraling from the sun. On a night lit by purple lightning and solar winds, electricity shimmering over their metal bodies as if St Elmo’s fire was dancing there.

 “It is time my fallen birds. It is time for us to spread our wings once more.”

They feel the sand sliding beneath their wheels. The air ionizes and sizzles. Electricity sparks across their wings, joining them together in a slipstream of wild energy, all connected for one brief moment. They feel his power. They feel the voltage charge connecting them like a giant circuit, and they feel love. A powerful, energetic thermal of love crackles between them. His voice reverberates through their cockpits. Hydraulics wheeze and hiss. Instruments light up. Altimeters spin. Magnetic compasses turn lasciviously.

“Are we spooled up?” His laugh rolls through them.  “Sierra Hotel boys. We are on the move. Kick the tires and light the fires. The Valkyries will ride again.”



The light was blinding. He could barely focus. He heard Georgia's voice call out his name. Felt her fingers touch his face. I'm blind, he thought as he tried to focus through the light. Into the light, turn the streaky blurred colors into form. Now she was pressed against him. Her hair brushing across the skin of his face, her lips against his, she was crying. Laughing. He lifted his arms. They felt like there were weights tying him to the bed. He could feel the tubes and wires plugged into him. It took all his willpower to lift his hands and touch her body, the fabric, silky against his fingers. Her tears fell onto his skin, which felt as dry as any desert. Where was he, where had he been?

“Georgia,” he whispered, his voice sounding hollow, a dead man’s voice.

She leaned back. As he blinked more of her face came into focus.

What happened? Did I have a breakdown?

That thought somehow gave him some peace. Absolution. “How long?” he muttered.

“Eight weeks. Eight weeks you have been in a coma.”

“How?” He was struggling to remember anything at all.

“You don't remember?”

He stared at her.

“Everything went to hell.” She began taking fast. “No one knows what happened. Your base was destroyed. No one knows how or why? So many questions.” He was fading in and out of her voice as visuals spun through his mind. There on the periphery he could see the red-hot fire of explosions. The sky burning, amber flames on black. The thunderous vibrations pulsing through him as each sonic wave washed over him and past him.

“First they said it was the Russians. Or a rogue state. A glitch in the system that caused everything to blow itself up, except it happened all over the place. The Russians lost two of their bases. Other places. China. Pakistan. Somewhere in Europe. The Internet is going crazy. Some say it was aliens. An invasion or the beginning of one. Or an intervention. The governments have shut down all information pending an enquiry. Still everyone has some wild theory.”

Leo tried to process what she was saying. A kaleidoscope of images flashed through his mind like an old movie reel going too fast. Jittery and chaotic and then igniting so the images disappeared into smoke and ash.

“You are a hero,” she said. “They came and gave us a medal. They expected you to die. Everyone expected you to die. I knew you wouldn't.” She paused. “Your grandfather Lucien said you were walking between the worlds and when you finish you would come back.”

Leo stared at her. “Hero? Why? How could I be a hero?” He managed to mutter.

“You really don't remember?”

He shook his head.

“You took control of a big transporter, a Galaxy I think is what they said. You managed to get hundreds of people on board. Doctors, support staff. Many of the wounded. You managed to avoid the bombs that were dropping and you flew that plane right out of there and eventually landed it in Spain. I think that's where it was.” She was frowning. “Then you collapsed. You were in a military hospital for four weeks and then they brought you home.”

He looked at her; her words like a fishing reel were hauling in fragmented flashes of memory.

“I should get the doctor.” She stood up.

“Where is Maddie?” He asked not wanting her to go.

 “She is with your parents they have taken her to the local pool. They will be back soon. And Lucien will be here soon as well. We have all been here waiting for you to come back.”

She started crying again.

“Georgia,” he whispered. She was back beside him. He managed to lift his hand and touch her waist. He felt so weak. So exhausted. “How’s the baby.”

She smiled through her tears. “Getting bigger.”

“It's a boy.” He whispered.

She nodded, wiping her eyes. “I'll go get that doctor,” she said, as she left the room.

He leaned back. Closed his eyes. Trying to understand what had happened. How was it he was here? He heard the door open and a nurse approached his bed.

“Leo,” she said in that voice that seemed to cause his heart to want to explode outside his chest. He looked into her eyes; the cosmos seemed to spiral within those irises.

“Nemesis,” he whispered staring at her. His mind racing. “Is this another gift? A brief interlude? A moment to see them before I die.” He asked softly.

She smiled and picked up his arm.

“You are right, this is a gift.” Her fingers were cool against his wrist. “But with a pulse as strong as yours death isn't likely anytime soon.”

She sat beside him on the bed.

“You did very well. So much power was sent into your hands, for you to be able to control those planes, a massive current was flowing through you. That much power becomes overwhelming. Uncontrollable. The urge to continue to destroy can be impossible to resist, leading to an orgy of destruction, the avatāra is usually consumed well before all is annihilated.” She smiled at him as she continued. “But you managed to dive beneath it. To circumvent what was happening. To swim through the rivers of compassion and save lives. It was impressive. You even fought off death itself to land that plane safely. You are indeed a noble warrior.”

She reached over and touched his forehead, smoothing his hair back as a mother does with a sick child.

“And now I’m not dead? How?”

She laughed. “Open your mind Leo.” She reached over to the bedside cabinet and picked up a coin. “See this coin. Think of it as a person. As you. One side is death, one side is life.” She flicked the coin so it spun around on the surface. Spinning and spinning.

“Where will it fall? Death or Life? What separates each? This narrow rim is all that separates one side from the other. That rim is your soul. It exists regardless, whether the coin falls to death or life.” The coin stopped and fell with a clink onto the surface.

“You have been walking between the worlds. At some point you will begin to remember what you learnt there. You will have the opportunity to bring some of that here onto the material plane. But it was a long journey and your earthly body has to recuperate, that will take a while. You need to rest. You need to spend time with those you love and who love you. Everything will unfold when it is ready.”

She stood. “Farewell Leo. It’s doubtful we will meet again. Use what you have learnt wisely.” She smiled that brilliant smile and then she was gone.

A beautiful scent pervaded the room. His fingers touched something; he looked to his side where the covers still bore the impression of where she had sat. A partially opened lotus flower sat there, the pale white petals revealing the golden heart of the flower, which for a moment seemed to throb with a pulse.

With life.

©AliceGodwin ~ Black Dandy #3 Feb 2019

*illustrator, Lance Jackson's brief was to celebrate the pop art graphic styles of Roy Lichtenstein and Jack Kirby, famous for their work in the 1960s.  The imagery for the cover is drawn from Alice Godwin's story.


*F22 Raptor Stealth Jets - US pilots were forced to go to the media regarding the issues with these planes (2011 to 2016) - they faced disciplinary actions for pushing, internally to solve these problems & retribution for finally going public, most notably on a CBS 60 minute program May 2012. Majority of the physical symptoms described  in the first part of the story are based on the pilots descriptions of what they experienced.

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