The world is pink and white. I can’t move, and hear nothing but echoing hurried footsteps and female laughter. A brusque voice of authority speaks in a shouted whisper: “Remember where you are!”
…Female laughter, male laughter, the clinking of glasses and babble of conversation in a cloud of cigarette smoke and parchment-coloured light.
“Drink up, Skipper, drink up, this one’s on me. Same again?”
“Righto, Ginger. Pint of the old gut rot.”
The redheaded man in the crumpled blue uniform elbows his way toward the bar clutching two fistfuls of pint pots.
“How many more can you drink and still stand up?” The girl is blonde with neatly permed hair, not beautiful but attractive, alive and willing it seems. Brenda? Belinda?
“That may depend upon how you mean stand up — B–”
“Betty. My name is Betty. I’m not surprised you have trouble remembering girls’ names. You must have so many. You’re such a good-looking guy.”
“Guy? I think perhaps you watch to many American films, Betty. We think of ourselves as chaps over here, y’know.”
Betty pouts her scarlet lips and blows a lazy smoke ring. “Well Skipper — old chap — can you stand up?”
We’re in the car park in my MG with the top down, keys in the ignition, engine roaring. I drop the clutch and screech off into another summer night pinpricked with stars, hair thrashing in the breeze. Betty screams the way they always do when I take bends at sixty in the blackout. We park and Betty’s screams grow louder. She is urgent, demanding, eager to snatch what life she can. Tonight could be everything there is.
Back in the Dog and Duck in time for the last round. Ginger has three pints in the stable and another Betty lined up. We’ve got some work to do before the bell…
… Bell clanging, bright light in my eyes, reclining, fuzzy.
I grab my helmet, oxygen mask and mascot; run like hell to dispersal where ground crew scamper around the inclined phallic shapes, Rolls Royce Merlins coughing into life, propellers rotating, slow, lazy, flashing in low sunlight.
Climb aboard, snap up, plug-in, accelerating, bouncing over grass, the RT is crackling: “Enemy formation approaching Dover. Dorniers and Heinkels with fighter escort.”
The bouncing stops, the undercarriage clonks up, I drag the stick back and my Spitfire jumps for joy. We have slipped the surly bonds of earth and take up formation, opening our throttles wide. The Merlins roar in harmony, straining to grant us altitude and position.
Scores of sinister black shapes are sneaking through wisps of cumulus below.
“Tally ho! Tally ho!” I peel off into a dive; stick forward, my thumb on the gun button. White crosses on black backgrounds fill the screen. Tracer is streaming lazily out at me from desperate gunners. Target selected. I press the gun button and the Spitfire judders as eight Brownings pump incendiary, armour piercing and high explosive rounds into my chosen Heinkel.
A thread of smoke trails out and one falling figure — please let his parachute open, let him live. An explosion buffets the plane and my view is black with debris. One eye-blink later I’m in clear blue sky, victorious, exultant, not another plane in sight.
“Look out! Skipper! Look out! On your tail!”
I kick the rudder bar and throw the stick over, too late. One cannon shell explodes behind me, thrusting the armour plate into my back. The next shell blasts open the fuel tank behind the engine, turning the cockpit into a Bunsen burner. The one-o-nine flashes in front for an instant and I hit the gun button again, watching in disbelief as the flesh cooks on my fingers and the rubber mask melts into my skin. I drag the canopy open while I’m still able. The roaring flames intensify. I release my flying harness and kick the controls. The Spitfire rolls and I fall out into silent silken heaven…
… The world is pink and white. Somewhere nearby a door opens and footsteps enter.
“Good morning, Flight Lieutenant Harrison.” The voice is reassuring, male with a New Zealand accent. “Try to relax. We have all the modern facilities necessary to make you well again here at the East Grinstead Burns Unit, don’t we nurse?” A female voice mutters agreement. “My name is Mcindoe; I’m your surgeon. Welcome to the Guinea Pig Club.”
Oscar Windsor-Smith was born on the Wirral, UK — that’s the sticky-out bit below Liverpool and above Wales — but drifted to various points of the compass and finally settled in rural Hertfordshire where he lives with one wife, three cats and a Volvo 480. He has had non-fiction articles published, had a novel long-listed for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook centenary novel competition and has accumulated various short and flash fiction competition credits.
***The author asked us to include a link to this video
explaining the nature of the Guinea Pig Club.***