A Wishology Storycoin
Action & Adventure
It feels like the whole world stops. And you, well… You float on the top of it, up so high that nothing can get to you. In that moment you forget you’re fighting in a war. You forget you’re probably about to die.
The peacefulness of being wrapped up in that big blue sky is better than a thousand sunsets over the ocean. Once you experience it, you’ll never want to come down. But you will. You will fall. Everybody falls.
“You’re either gonna get us killed or save our lives long enough to die tomorrow with this stunt, Nil!” Daniel screeched at me from the backseat.
After hovering at the top of the world, our plane rotated around in a stall and pointed its nose at our new destination—the ground. We couldn’t see it, though. The ground was blocked by the roof of a cloud we had flown straight up through. Pops of light flashed below it from planes bursting into flames.
“You gotta trust me like I trust you to not shred our own tail!” I yelled back at Daniel. “Get ready!”
Nothing felt stranger than flying through a cloud. No sooner did we enter it than a wave of disorientation came over us. If not for my gauges, I wouldn’t have known what was up or down. But soon, we punched through the bottom of the cloud, and there was no mistaking where the ground was—about 4,000 feet down—or where the enemy was—all around us.
I fired the gun mounted in front of me, smattering the top of an enemy plane with holes. I must’ve hit its fuel supply because its front half blew off and down it went. Daniel fired his gun at our 3 o’clock as we dove through the cluster of dogfighting planes, but I couldn’t see if he hit anything.
At about 1,000 feet, I pulled back hard on the stick to make our way back up. On the ascent we fired at the underbellies of our enemies. This up and down maneuver was something I had theorized in my bunk over a stiff drink the night before. So far, it was working better than I’d hoped. I named my maneuver the Yo-yo, and I was cocky about its success during that flight. Maybe that’s why he died… I’ve never really considered that possibility until now.
“Are you ever gonna level off and fly like a sane pilot?” Daniel asked.
“Why? We’re taking them out with no one on our tail!” I laughed as I said it. Yeah, I was cocky.
Our boys were being shot down as fast as the enemy, and after two more Yo-yos, we found ourselves fighting alone against one other plane. The Yo-yo wasn’t going to work against one aircraft that only had us to watch, so I leveled off behind him at about 2,300 feet.
His tail looked tattered, but I had managed to avoid even a scratch. He banked left and right trying to shake me. But he was in my sights, and I was going to stick to him like the gum holding a photograph of Alice to my dash.
His piloting was frantic and uncoordinated, which worked in my enemy’s favor. The fear in this pilot’s flying made me overconfident. It never occurred to me that the last plane was being used as bait.
As he crossed into my sights for the final time, I squeezed the trigger with a grin. In an instant his plane was engulfed in black smoke, and he plummeted to the ground. Daniel and I cheered at our victory.
“Fancy flying, Nathaniel! Let’s head back to base!” Daniel said, and I could tell he was smiling. He was happy and full of hope in that last moment, and that’s how I like to remember him.
We were already following a radial close to base, so I only had to apply some rudder to the exact coordinates. We had a couple of minutes to daydream of the hero’s reception awaiting us at the base. That’s when he attacked—when we relaxed.
It started us a low rumble. The sound was so subtle that I thought it was my own engine. I didn’t realize what I was hearing until it was too late.
A gunshot rang out, not like a machine gun from a plane but a single shot from a pistol. No sooner had I heard the shot than a solid black bi-plane flying upside down above me, so close I could’ve touched it, went screaming past. I recognized the pilot’s skill instantly and knew we were in trouble.
He dove in front of me to loop back and take position at my six.
“Daniel, get back on that gun! He’s coming around!” Daniel had always given me a verbal confirmation of my orders, usually with a little sass. This time, though, he said nothing. “Daniel!” I called. Nothing.
Cockpits don’t allow for much pivoting, but I rotated my shoulders enough to catch a glimpse of Daniel out of the corner of my eye. He was slumped over with a bullet wound through the top of his head. And the next thing the corner of my eye caught was the flashing of a gun from the black plane now on my tail.
The bullets whizzed by my head and between the wings of my plane. I slammed the stick to the right, entering a barrel roll. Flaming trails of bullets spiraled all around me.
When I came out of the roll, I pulled back on the stick, hoping to loop around behind the black plane and blow him out of the sky. Instead, he stayed right on my tail through the loop, and I caught a few bullets through the canvas of my wings. His plane could outperform mine, and without anyone manning my back gun, I knew how this was going to end.
Fighting for my life, I dove at the ground. He continued to fire at me and got a couple of lucky shears across my elevator. I felt the stick get more sluggish and began to wonder if I was going to be able to pull up.
Just before hitting the ground in a wheat field, I pulled back hard and barely leveled off mere feet from the ground. My opponent fearlessly skimmed the ground behind me as we banked left to avoid a barn and banked right to dodge an old oak tree. His bullets streaked by, splintering the wooden obstacles in our path. Any moment one would make a final thud into my engine or my skull, and the fight would end with me in splinters.
The black plane was faster, and he was now closer to my tail than I ever dreamed anyone could get. So close, in fact, that I began to wonder if he was missing me on purpose, taunting me with every bullet. I was nothing more than a panicked antelope, and he was a lion who loved the chase more than the catch itself. But even a lion must settle the chase once and for all, or he will never eat.
A tree line appeared ahead of us, and my gut told me this was the end. I would pull up and so would he. The lion would shoot me down in a ball of flames, loop back and head home with a full belly.
My hands were cramping from a vice-like grip on the stick. Throughout the fight, my heart had been pounding so loud in my ears that it drowned out the engine, but I suddenly felt a calm come over me. I should’ve been terrified, but I wasn’t. I can’t explain it other than to say that my heart rate slowed, the entire world slowed, and I accepted my fate. I pulled back on the stick to glide over the tree line, and I took one last look at that beautiful blue sky.
The tree line passed below me, and I waited for the shot. And I waited. And I waited some more.
I leveled off a few hundred feet from the ground and glanced back at my tail, wondering where death had run off to. The black plane was fading into the distance, retreating in the other direction. I couldn’t believe it until I looked down.
Below, I saw an army of troops waving and cheering at me, along with several tanks and other heavy artillery. They had been just on the other side of the tree line. I began laughing hysterically, amazed at my own luck.
“We did it! We did it, Daniel!”
I didn’t forget he was gone, but I did feel as though he had stuck around for the fight. It was still our victory. I didn’t want to own it alone.
I cheered so loudly my throat went raw in seconds. Once I stopped, all I could think about was Daniel’s silence. It may have been our victory, but he would never get to celebrate it. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got.
The black plane had toyed with us from the very beginning. Everything from his playful approach to his dancing flight patterns indicated how much he enjoyed tormenting me. I began to daydream of his plane spiraling to the ground in a trail of thick smoke, a dream that would haunt me every night for the next two years.
My commanding officer debriefed me as soon as I landed. By then, anger had turned to a thirst for revenge, an obsession to rid the skies of Daniel’s killer.
“Sir, I need a faster plane.”
“They’re coming soon, Rook. In the meantime, I’m promoting you to Captain,” he said, signing the papers for my new rank.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now,” he cleared his throat before continuing, “did you happen to get a look at this, uh, this black plane’s name?”
“No, sir. But I could spot it. I’ll never forget that plane as long as I…”
“Well, it needs a name so we know what to tell our boys! You’re not the only pilot up there, Rook!”
“Yes, sir!” I said, staring at the maps of known enemy locations on his bulletin board. The plane that killed Daniel couldn’t have been far from its base. I remembered seeing him retreat to the Northwest, but there was no enemy base there, according to the map.
“Are you listening, Rook?” he barked.
“Sir?” I must have been too focused on the maps to hear him.
“I said give it a name! You spotted this beast. Name it!”
He had described it perfectly—“beast.” I had the name immediately.
“The Black Lion,” I said.
“A fitting name?” he asked.
“I believe so, sir.”
“Well then, Captain Rook, when you get your new aircraft…” he walked to the small window in his office and stuck a large cigar in his mouth. After lighting it with a match, he gazed into the sky and gave the cigar a few puffs, “…hunt me down a lion.”
“Yes, sir!” I said between gritted teeth.
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Featured illustration by Ryan Rehnborg