This story is an experiment to see if I could actually write an entertaining non-erotic story, because all the tales I've written so far have had sex scenes. I hope you enjoy it. For those who may not be aware, the Great War is another name for World War I. Thank you to catbrown, searchingforperfection, and my wife, for reading and editing this story, and also for all of their suggestions. Any mistakes are entirely mine.
As always, she awoke just before the cock's crow. She stood, dressed herself, and then went downstairs and ate breakfast, all without a single mishap in the near pitch-black of her silent farmhouse. She had done this so very many times that she thought she sometimes was still asleep, even as she walked outside to begin her chores.
As always, the sleeping animals roused themselves at her approach. She would have most of them fed and watered before the first rays of sunlight filtered through the trees that surrounded the yard. She yawned, and her shoulders slumped as she realized that she could not even begin to guess at the number of days she had performed the same routine.
As always, Sundays were a blessing in more ways than one. She was finally able to have a reason to pull herself away from the farm and all of her chores and routines. The ring of the bells signalled a chance to meet some of her neighbours, gossip, and just to sit and exist in a different reality than that same, sad, monotonous life she had found herself trapped within. She frowned briefly as she recalled that this was not Sunday.
As always, she wondered at the world beyond her small, sleepy French village. What excitement and adventure there must be, she thought, to balance the spirit-killing boredom of her family farm. She would wonder about things such as what life might be like in other countries. She did not engage in idle fantasy or romantic adventure; she thought of peoples with different customs and different languages, of mountains, of lakes so large that some had thought them the sea, of living in a seaside village, of hunting and trapping in the wilds of the Americas, of farming in a land so different than the one that she knew far too well.
As always, she shook her head to clear it of such nonsensical daydreams. The young woman knew that her life would always be on the farm, either this one or one very much like it in a nearby village. The men that the war did not kill would return one day, and some would be looking for a wife. She was not arrogant, but she knew she was pretty, sweet natured and practical. It would not take long for a husband to find her.
For the first time, she heard a buzz that was not a bee slowly making its way through a patch of flowers. She paused in her chores and looked up. The buzz became a mechanical hum, and then rose in volume and grew coarse. A second, similar, noise came from the west, as if the heavens were answering. She studied the soft blue of the sky, for the sun had risen, unnoticed by her, as she worked. To the east there was a black bird, that was clearly not a bird, visible in the sky. To the west, there was another.
She watched with great interest, drinking in this new experience as if it might be the only new thing she would ever experience in her lifetime. The planes flew directly towards each other. There was the rapid drumbeat of gunfire.
Her heart sped up in her chest, while a bleating goat tried to distract her and failed. She wondered what kind of men were riding in those flying machines. They must be very brave, she reasoned, for they were so very high off the ground. The planes began to perform a dance, weaving and turning in three dimensions. What marvellous men, she nearly exclaimed out loud, to face sudden death if a stray bullet should find either them or a vulnerable part of their craft! In her mind's eye she could picture them, two brave men each grimly doing his best to slay his foe. Perhaps they were farmers, weavers or such back in their home nations, but here they were knights of the air fighting for her entertainment.
Then the memory of the war returned, and the cost she had already paid to it obliterated her romantic musings. These men, one of whom was likely her enemy and the enemy of France, were fighting to the death to serve their countries. Which one was fighting to free France from the Kaiser's men? Which pilot was her ally and friend, one whose corpse she might have to collect and bury should his plane come crashing down to the hard earth?
'Twas my enemy that plucked me from the heavens and threw me down, down to the hard patchwork-quilt ground below. My one victory was that I did not fall alone; as his bullets wreaked havoc in my engine, mine also rattled inside his. It was a grey lining in a dark cloud, in a robin's egg sky that showed it was far too pretty a day for both of us to die. However, in the Great War men died in the most horrible of ways and God had decided not to put a stop to it.
The engine on my Camel sputtered and coughed while it struggled to stay alive, showing its own courage in the face of death. Fritz's plane suddenly silenced, and I looked over at him and shared a look of fear with my enemy. He saluted me and I returned it. We were both afraid of death, but we were men and could not show it.
"Wait for me at the gates!" I shouted to him. "I won't be far behind you!"
He showed no understanding of my English. Instead, he fought with his controls, desperately and futilely trying to restart his engine. His biplane tipped and nosed towards the distant earth, while mine dipped, shuddered and fought to keep me in the air.
I was in the hands of God, as was my German friend. I muttered a silent prayer for the doomed man I believed had killed me, and then watched as his aircraft spun so violently that I was afraid it might throw itself into pieces long before the impact.
There was no lake of fire waiting for us below and we were far from the trenches, thank God. I'd rather die on impact than survive and slowly get sucked down until I drowned in the mud. My plane dropped through the air; the propeller was not turning nearly fast enough to keep me aloft. Her constant urge to turn right had become her absolute necessity and I fought it with all my strength. Once I started those tight right turns it was only a matter of time before I passed out or the plane fell into a deadly spin.
My friend continued his fall. He was headed for trees, and all too soon he smashed through the upper canopy and both he and his plane disappeared from my view.
My Camel dropped again, and again I was able to right her. My downward fall was almost as swift as my forward velocity. Realizing I might actually survive, I peered ahead and tried to find as safe a place to set down as I could. A farmer's field covered three yards deep in soft straw would be ideal, but I was too practical to dwell on such fantasies. I spotted a field surrounded by a stone fence and large, strong trees. If I could possibly land her safely I would do so in the field. If I could not land her safely then I would aim for the fence and trees and increase my speed as best I could. I would live whole or die. Returning to Winnipeg and my family farm as an invalid was not an option.
The field I was aiming for was not a wet one, which increased the likelihood of a safe landing. The wind came at me from ahead and to my right, which eased some of my problems in flying this albatross.
Soon enough, I was at the crossroads; low enough that I could land her relatively safely and fast enough that I had to start playing with the engine if I was not going to kill myself. In a second I made the decision, and down I went. The treetops raced by on my right, and the thankfully untilled earth came up at me suddenly as the engine quit.
I cursed as best I could and struggled to keep the nose up. To my surprise I spied bright blue sky over the hump and through the slowing propeller blades. I looked to my right and could have sworn the craft was parallel to the tree trunks. And then the whole airplane bounced violently, and then bounced again, jarring me both times. I held on, my hands painfully tight, until the faithful Camel slowed to a reasonable speed and then finally stopped.
I had somehow made it to the ground in one piece, but I was far behind the enemy trenches. I wiped my goggles clean of oil and then, after dropping my them to the bottom of the cockpit, I used my scarf to wipe the oil and sweat from my face. I pulled my flight cap off and threw it to the ground.
Perhaps it was a brief bout of shellshock, but I had no urge to do anything but sit in the craft and wait to be found by someone - anyone. If it was shellshock then I would never again think unkindly of those poor lads who left the trenches because of that diagnosis. I held my hand in front of my face and marvelled that it was not trembling.
I looked back up into the clear sky. No other flyers had seen the fight or my narrow escape from death. How high had I been? Ten thousand feet?
I forced myself to remember the boys in the trenches. I had fought beside them for almost a year before being lucky enough to get transferred to pilot training. A lot of the friends I had were still there, sitting in mud, eating rats, picking lice from their hair and skin, and being ordered to jump out of the trenches directly into machine gun fire by British officers who thought Canadians were untrustworthy, unreliable and undisciplined. 'One step up from an American', one officer had put it.
Remembering there were still people in far worse situations than mine set me moving again. I climbed out of the Camel and promptly fell to the ground. Standing up, I took an embarrassed look around and saw nothing but an empty field, fences and trees. The trees seemed familiar types that momentarily made me think I was back home. I spied no one, and if there was anyone about then they were keeping themselves well hidden.
I knew I was still in France so I assumed, or hoped, that the natives would be friendly to a downed Canadian pilot. But I could not know for sure until I actually encountered a Frenchman.
I could call out for help, but would I attract the attention of a German patrol? I determined that I had to set out on my own and proceed to find my way back to my own side as best I could. However, leaving the plane sitting here in this field was tantamount to treason; the enemy would surely find it and put it to use against my fellow aviators.
I resolved to set it ablaze, leaving nothing for the Huns to recover. I examined my craft carefully and removed every item that I thought might be of use to me. The tank was still half full of fuel so I knew that I would have no trouble giving my faithful Camel a Viking funeral. All that was lacking was a virgin to toss herself into the blaze, I mused, in a foul state of mind.
Suddenly I heard a woman's voice call to me from across the field. I started and grabbed for the matches, when the belated thought crossed my mind that a woman in France was unlikely to be an enemy soldier.
I heard another call and scanned the borders of the field for her, spotting her fairly quickly. She was leading an old bull toward me. Catching my eye, the young woman waved energetically. I returned her wave.
As she drew near, I could see her brown hair was braided behind her head in a practical fashion. She wore a summer dress, and an apron over it that did much to conceal her figure. There were boots upon her feet. The great bull followed behind her faithfully.
I stuffed my few belongings into my webbing, and put my pistol in its holster.
In a singsong voice, the women spoke several words to me. It was clearly a question, and her unsure smile and guileless eyes indicated to me that it had likely been a friendly one. Looking at her pretty face I found it hard to remember there was a war going on.
"Hello," I responded. "I'm Captain Sean Hallowchuk, Royal Flying Corps." I tapped the concentric coloured circles on the side of the Camel. "Although, I'm actually a Canadian. Where am I, miss? Do you speak English?"
She shrugged and seemed to repeat her initial question, although much more slowly. While I'd known some French Canadians, I'd never picked up the language. I answered her repeated inquiry with a shrug of my own. Her brow furrowed and she rolled her eyes.
I decided to explain to her what I'd been doing and why I had set down in her father's, or husband's, field. I pantomimed the dogfight until she covered her mouth with a small hand to conceal her laughter.
Possibly thinking I was crazy, she watched as I pulled out the box of matches and prepared to light one. Suddenly, she was waving her hands and talking excitedly. I watched her, frozen in place with the lit match slowly burning down to my fingers. She motioned for me to blow out the flame, and I did so. Then she went over to the bull and lifted a rope from around the beast's neck.
Now I watched her intently, as she reeled in the length of the rope that had trailed behind the animal. Then she approached the Camel and examined it carefully. It was my turn to call for her attention when I saw she was tying the end to the propeller blade. I lifted it off, and then fastened the rope to the struts that held the wheels underneath my craft. Clearly, she meant for the ox to pull my plane somewhere.
I watched as she approached the bull and said several words to him. Once it was understood that the creature now had every intention of ignoring its mistress, she set her fists on her hips and used an angrier tone of voice. The beast still refused to obey her.
I cleared my throat, pulled forth my pistol and then froze in surprise as the woman threw herself in between her animal and me.
"I'm not going to shoot the thing, miss," I explained. "I'm not a complete fool. Watch." I raised my pistol, pointing it upward, and before she could say a word, I fired.
The bull jumped and then ran from us as fast as he could. She and I watched it flee, amazed at the speed of the heavy beast. The rope uncoiled and stretched out. I suddenly remembered that the Camel was about to dart forward dangerously. I leapt for the girl and knocked her to the ground.
She let out a yell, but I held her beneath me until the plane had passed over us. We lifted ourselves up slowly, the Frenchwoman muttering something unintelligible at me. The bull had got over its initial fright and had stopped running and my plane slowly rolled to a stop a fair distance across the field.
"I apologize, miss, but if I hadn't bowled you to the dirt you would have been run over by the plane," I tried to explain, pointing at the aircraft.
The look of indignence upon her face made it clear that she was angry with me for manhandling her, but she turned to the Camel and she must have realized why I had done what I'd done. She calmed down and said something gentle in French, which was once again lost on me.
We walked after her animal. Once we reached it the beast seemed much more amenable to the idea of following her orders, and she led it to an open gate leading into a small stretch of trees. The plane and I followed, but the journey was at a much slower pace now. I had time to look around as the Camel drew near the fence and the trees beyond. There was clearly no one else around. Where were her parents, or husband, or brothers?
My plane barely managed to squeeze through the gate, giving me deep misgivings about its ability to negotiate the trees, being at ground level as it was. But the young woman seemed to know what she was doing and she led the beast on, along a trail and past stumps, tall grass, bushes yielding bright black currants or berries, and weather-worn stones patched with lichen. As I walked and kept a worried eye on the wingtips, I could begin to make out a quaint farmhouse through the trees. One side of it green, perhaps from leafy vines.
Once the Camel was safely beyond the trees, the young woman pointed out the two-storey farmhouse and a barn beyond. They were nestled up close to the woods. Some hundred yards away were another thick row of trees and what looked to be a field beyond that. In the clearing beside the house were a couple of large flower and herbage gardens, a wallow with some pigs, and several goats wandering freely about the uneven lawn.
The trees reminded me of my family farm, although I saw no maple, pine or birch here. Otherwise, this place had the feel of age, as if this woman's family had been farming here for countless generations. Very likely they had, I realized. It was such a contrast to where I came from, where my grandfather had cleared the land himself while my father was still an infant.
It took me a few seconds to realize that she was saying something to me in her musical language. I could not fathom what until she empathically pointed at my plane and then the barn. Together, and forcing the muscular beast to do most of the heavy work, we managed to conceal my craft within the barn.
I sat outside the closed doors and wondered what I was to do now. If I left the plane here, it could still be discovered and not only could it be used against me and my fellow flyers in the Royal Flying Corps, but it might bring a harsh punishment upon this young woman and her family. The Huns did occupy much of this land, although I had seen none since my landing.
She said a few words to me, while wiping her hands upon her apron. I stared at her uncomprehending until she finally gave up and went into the house. I waited for perhaps ten minutes, however no male member of her family rushed out to question me or to urge me to move on. I pushed myself to my feet, and then stretched. I heard the distant buzz of a plane and looked to the sky. The trees were tall on either side of the clearing, and I could not see the aircraft with my obstructed view. I unbuttoned my flight jacket, picked up my webbing and walked to the house.
I called out to the residents, but not even the young woman responded. Should I just go in? I wasn't sure what a Frenchman would think of a foreigner wandering around his home, especially with his daughter - wife? - possibly alone in the house.
One of the goats came over to nuzzle at my hand. It sniffed, and then trotted off in disgust. Taking the hint, I spied a pump that I then used to wash my face, hair, neck, hands and forearms. I went back to the door, remembering to quickly run my fingers through my hair, and then opened it and stepped inside.
I could smell flowers, wild flowers, and honey...and fresh bread. My mouth watered. One of the benefits of being a pilot was that I ate much better than the boys in the trenches. I'd been one of those boys in the trenches and knew exactly how much better pilots ate. Despite the improvement in rations a pilot's meals were still inferior to home-cooking. I had an urge to rifle through the house, find the kitchen and eat my fill, but I waited just inside the door and called out again.
The woman answered me from somewhere upstairs. Was it an invitation? These Frenchwomen had something of a reputation, especially among the Englishmen I flew with. I waited, feeling foolish, my eyes wandering about the room. It was clearly a living room, or parlour of sorts. There were a couple of aged, but comfortable looking, chairs and a couch with frayed edges. The curtains on the windows had holes, although not big ones. The lace on the low table was yellowing, and stained in a few places. The room had a typical and practical farmhouse look to it. Colours clashed somewhat, but everything within was serviceable and positioned with a practical eye.
I could see a number of photographs, most yellowed and creased, or otherwise showing signs of their age. Some were more recent. I did see the young woman in two. The first photo showed a girl of about seven, and I could clearly see the woman she would become in her eyes, cheeks and chin. The other showed her in a pale dress and holding a small bouquet of wildflowers in her hands. Partially concealed behind it I could see an image of a man in his service uniform, French army unless I was mistaken.