The September Editor's Pick writer is D. J. Tyrer
Please feel free to email D.J. at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Come, Josephine,” he said, quoting the words of the popular song as he invited her to climb aboard his flying machine, a rather nifty triplane with terrific stamina. The song could have been written about them, he thought as she climbed aboard. Their love was one that truly would soar to great heights.
Pulling his goggles down over his eyes, he told her to buckle up. The simple lapbelt was intended less for crashes and more for rolls, spins and turbulence. When an airplane crashed it shattered apart like the balsawood-and-cloth kite that it really was. But this one, a new heavy-bodied triplane built last year in 1923, was sturdier than most. As long as you walked away in one piece, it was a good landing.
Josephine pulled her own goggles over her eyes. She wore a matching outfit to his, only her boiler suit was a fetching shade of puce rather than the khaki-grey of his, and lacked oil stains. It was a somewhat daring outfit, but she was no shrinking violet. She was almost as good a pilot and mechanician as he was and with far less practice; she seemed to have a natural aptitude that he lacked.
“Ready,” she told him. “Come on, Tom, let us take wing!”
The engine had already been stuttering away, but he opened up the throttle and George pulled the chocks away, allowing the aircraft to start bumping its way across the uneven ground of the field, gathering speed until it managed to hop the hedge and sweep up into the sky. As difficult as the launch might have appeared the triplane was well capable of achieving excellent heights that put many of its rivals in the shade; he had put in a lot of time, money and effort into improving his design.
“Which way?” he asked her. “Mountains or valley?”
“Mountains,” she called back. Even shouting, her words were barely audible to him in the front seat, being whipped away by the air rushing past them. He was not surprised at her choice: the mountains offered the more challenging and exciting flight.
The Green Mountains that gave the state its name loomed to the east, filling their field of vision, the ground below rising up beneath its covering of pines, cut through by rivers and streams flowing through steep-sided gorges. As they rose, maintaining their distance from the ground, the engines had to work all the harder in the thinning air. That and the sudden changes in air pressure and wind direction were what made such flights such wonderful, if risky, fun.
He could just about hear Josephine’s cry of delight as he banked the triplane around the curve of a rugged cliff face and into a narrow ravine just wide enough to accommodate the craft. Where the valley offered the opportunity to really go for speed and to loop and roll, the mountains offered the real challenges that took your breath away, if only you had the audacity to dare them.
“What’s that?” he heard her call from behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see that she was gesturing off somewhere amongst the forested slopes to their right.
Looking where she was pointing, he could see nothing unusual, so he wheeled the plane up and round for a closer look.
“Careful!” Josephine shouted at him, the words coming clearly through the turn; he had very nearly caught the cliff side with the wings: if they lost the wings, they were dead.
Flying back in the direction she had indicated, he could see nothing but a swathe of pines and craggy rock faces. Then, he spotted it: something flitted beneath the trees. It was large enough to be a plane, yet there was no way in which it could be an aircraft: an aircraft could not move amongst trees like that, not without losing its wings. Nor was there any way it could be an eagle or other bird.
He had slowed the craft as much as he dared, fearful of stalling it. There was no way to get closer.
“Did you see, Tom?” Josephine called. “What is it?”
With difficulty, he brought the airplane round again, but there was no sign of anything untoward beneath the thick growth of trees. It was as if it had never been.
“Nothing there now,” he told her, glancing back.
She answered him with a scream and he looked about, startled, thinking, for a moment, that there was something wrong with the plane. But, there wasn’t: it was still level, the propellers were running normally, nothing had become detached.
Then he saw what Josephine had just seen: something large and black had burst from the trees below them, launched skyward with them as the target. Had the sounds of the engine and rush of air not filled his ears, he surely would have heard the sound of such an explosive exit from beneath the branches.
He had little chance to take in the dark form that surged up toward them as he increased their speed and sent them soaring higher in an attempt to evade it: the only impression that he had of it was that the creature was similar in size to their craft with wide, membranous wings that put him in mind of a bat.
The narrow confines of the ravine they had entered offered them little room in which to evade pursuit. They could rise or fall and keep going forwards, but, beyond slight adjustments, could not move left or right. Heading upward, at least, offered them the chance to try and rise above the mountainside and escape into the open sky.
“It’s coming!” Josephine cried, terrified.
Whatever it was, it could move as fast as they could.
Suddenly, they hit a pocket of turbulence and dropped several feet, the left-hand wings tearing against the cliff side. It felt almost as if they had slammed into a physical obstacle. Now, the aircraft lurched and lost further height. He found himself struggling to keep it steady.
That was all it took for the creature that pursued them to catch up, crashing into the back of the craft with a horrendous thud and the sound of tearing canvas.
They began to descend with a sickening whine as the air swept past them and the engines fought to keep them airborne. He was pulling hard on the stick, but it seemed to be having little effect against the inexorable pull of gravity.
He risked a glance back. The creature was fastened on to the tail of the plane, its wings pulled in like some strange cowl, a spindly limb with some sort of pincer or claw reaching out from beneath the wings to snap at the wires that held the plane together. From beneath the hood-like wings, something flashed an angry red. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. His heart pounded against his chest and his hands were white on the stick.
The last thing he saw, before returning his gaze to the rapidly approaching ground, was Josephine swatting at the claw with a wrench or something grabbed from beneath her seat.
The creature suddenly let go of them, but not before there was the sound of further damage to the tail of the triplane. Suddenly, the weight removed, the plane leveled out.
Risking another glance, he saw that the thing was barely a few feet behind the ragged remains of their tail. With its wings outstretched, he saw something of the creature’s body, short and spindly with long limbs pulled up about it in the manner of a mosquito and a bulbous head that seemed to flash various colors against the black of its body and wings. It was abnormal, even unnatural. Something that chilled his blood.
They burst from the ravine just as it struck again, ripping into the upper of their already damaged wings. He yanked the stick and sent them tumbling away from it, leaving a substantial piece of canvas still grasped in its pincers. But at least they were free.
If the creature left them alone now, they could limp homeward and land with a good chance of survival. If it continued to pursue them, they were going down. In the latter case, the best that they could do would be to go down of their own volition and hope to survive, rather than being torn completely apart and left to plummet.
The creature swept down at them. Tom put them into a downward spiral, but knew that they couldn’t outrun the thing, not now.
“We’re going down!” he yelled back, not knowing if she could hear him, his words being whipped away by the wind. “Brace yourself!” Even if she didn’t hear him, he was certain that Josephine would realize what was about to happen and how to respond.
The creature was in close pursuit as they spiraled rapidly towards the ground, its pincers reaching out to snap at the ruin of their tail.
At the last possible minute, he arrested the spin and leveled the plane out to bring it down in a controlled landing. That meant crashing it onto a mountain meadow rather than into the trees, and doing so at an angle less than straight down on the nose.
As they swooped down, he saw that there was a small building on the edge of the meadow he was aiming for; a hunting lodge, perhaps, or maybe a miner’s cabin. If they could reach it, they might have protection.
“When we land,” he called, “head for the shack.”
Even if she couldn’t hear him, he hoped she’d seen it.
The undercarriage slammed into the ground, jarring his spine. The plane bounced up into the air from the impact, then struck the ground again and found purchase. That was about the only part of the plane still in good working order and the landing was surprisingly smooth. He eased back on the throttle and the plane slewed to a halt.
Before they could jump out, the plane lurched and span as the creature smashed into it, practically tearing off the remaining left-hand wings. He couldn’t be certain, but he didn’t think that the creature understood that they and the airplane were not a single entity. Or, perhaps, it found it easiest to attack the largest target.
The plane tipped as the creature tore into it again, sending them tumbling out onto the grass. He felt something snap in his wrist, but that seemed the worst of his injuries. Josephine seemed okay, having already scrambled to her feet before him.
“Come, Josephine!” he shouted, pointing towards the building and beginning to run.
The creature had been tearing into the remains of the triplane behind them, but, as they began to run, it stretched its wings and gave an almost lazy flap that took it airborne with greater ease than should have been possible and swept across the meadow towards them, coming in fast.
If they could reach the cabin, they might just stand a chance of surviving. If…
D.J. Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere, most recently in Amok! (April Moon Books), In Creeps The Night (J.A.Mes Press), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Dark Arts (Hazardous Press) and Cosmic Horror (Dark Hall Press), as well as in Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), All Hallow's Evil and Undead of Winter (both Mystery & Horror LLC) and Fossil Lake (Sabledrake Enterprises), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dynatox Ministries).
DJ Tyrer's website is HERE