Reads: 43

14

Learning To Fly

 

The following Monday was Freedom Day. My parents lifted the ‘being grounded’ restrictions, so I was free to move around town and go wherever I pleased, based on an unspoken trust agreement between us. They trusted me to behave, and I trusted them to spy on me. On my walk to school, I saw our car pulled up by the pavement at the entrance. As soon as my mum saw me, she kicked the gas pedal and disappeared in a cloud of wheel spinning smoke. 

A double Maths lesson first thing in the morning was a brain melting exercise for any student. It was difficult to focus on the class while holding a sinister secret. Mr. Lewis’s email. Who could I trust around here? Who else knew about this? Would my parents believe me if I told them about the plan to close my school, or would they ground me again for ‘causing trouble’? Telling the police would be like asking a thief to look after my wallet, since Smasher and Jittery were involved. They would get wind of it, and I would be doomed. Without the professor, I had no help. I gazed out of the window and looked at the trees and the birds in the rain, wishing I was elsewhere, able to blow the lid off this secret and get the professor out of his cell.

This key will get you out of trouble. You saved me bacon. I’ll save your skin!

Thwack! Miss Denham’s ruler came down hard against my desk, and she pointed to the board.

This key…

After school I took my bike and cycled out of the town. I stopped at some fields outside Hexley village, and I recognised the crooked trees, the cabbages and the bending river. It was the field that Walker and I had landed in while testing the Indestructo and the Sprinkledust. A sign read, Private Land - Keep Out. Next to the sign was a gap in the barbed wire, folded and torn by people trying to get into the field. I squeezed through it, catching the end of my finger on a sharp piece, and a thin trail of blood trickled down to my knuckles, dripping on to my school shirt. 

Walking to the middle of the field, I saw the indents in the soil where the Indestructo had landed. The trail went on, and I followed it to where it abruptly turned towards some trees. I had never informed Smasher or Jittery of this place, and judging by the lack of police cars or visitors, the professor had kept quiet about it too - a fortunate thing, considering the bundle of leaves and branches barely obscuring an aeroplane shape sitting in the greenery. Removing the branches and foliage piece by piece, I uncovered the Indestructo. I started to think like the professor, and that was why I decided to cycle to the field. Suspecting he might get in trouble, he had to put his plane somewhere.

Climbing up the Indestructo’s side ladder and banging my knee after falling into the cramped cockpit, I found myself lying sideways with my legs twisted. It took me about two minutes to stand up. Looking for the power, I found a note attached to a long metal cylinder. I saw a bunch of arrows, sketches and instructions in the handwriting of a nervous spider. It was an intricate, detailed guide to the aircraft controls, which were a mixture of bath plugs, taps, door hinges, handles and rocks, all connected to the dashboard with blu-tac, elastic bands and tape with some electrics. I looked down and saw a red box with EJECT written on it. I pushed it with my foot, and a clown on a spring popped out holding an inflatable vest. I quickly tucked it back inside the box, muttering about the professor’s dodgy designs and safety systems. The other side of the instruction guide read, ‘Wormshead Prison, the X-Block, only come at night.’ How did the professor know that trouble was coming?  How did he know I would find the note? He seemed to have thought of every possible scenario. This was his last effort to ask for help. He knew I would find his plane. He trusted my intelligence, despite his rude tone towards me. Did he secretly respect me?

Knowing time was limited, I spent the next couple of hours speeding up and slowing down the plane, applying the squeaky brakes, taking off and landing in heavy bumps, and trying to get airborne. Following the professor’s instructions, I found a little pot of Sprinkledust in a pouch on the side of the cockpit. Sprinkling some on the field, as soon as I hit it, the plane bounced, banked steeply and pitched up, and I gained altitude, feeling my stomach rise and feeling dizzy. I levelled out and circled around the field, feeling the rush of speed and the crosswinds blowing me sideways. Seeing the surrounding villages in the late afternoon was breathtaking. 

Then, as I descended, a downdraft hit the Indestructo, and I banked sharply, trying to avoid the country lane and a row of hedges by the field. I struck the top of the hedges and landed at a forty-five degree angle, which knocked the air out of me, and I collapsed. It took a while to get the plane upright again.

Taking the Indestructo back to its previous hiding place, I checked my watch. Six thirty. Dinner was at seven. I had a four mile journey home to make it on time for dinner. With no chance of covering up the plane, I had no choice but to leave the Indestructo exposed for anyone to see. On the way home, my mum texted me to say that Dad was still at work, and we wouldn’t be eating for another hour. I felt instant relief. And my mum didn’t notice the blood stain on my shirt. I wore my school blazer during dinner.

The next evening after dinner, I raced out on my bike and made it to the field. Leaving my bike by the fence, this time I squeezed through the barbed wire without cutting myself. Following the river, with an eerie silence in the air, I stopped when some branches snapped on the ground. The outline of a bushy figure with a thick tail hopped towards the trees. Relieved that it was only a hare, I carried on until I reached a row of trees. The Inferno’s silhouette appeared. Nobody had seen it! Getting into the cockpit, a beam of light suddenly cast itself across the field, followed by another one, and another. Three figures were walking right where the runway was. I heard their broad accents and deep voices. These were not townspeople. I saw that one of them was wearing a thick coat. 

Using the GPS on my phone, I planned a route to Wormshead Prison. Fifteen miles. Low lying cloud. Strong winds. At least it wasn’t raining. Failure meant crashing the plane and possibly dying,  or recovering in hospital and never being allowed outside again for the rest of my childhood. Probably youth prison too. Success meant revealing the truth of Mr. Lewis and his cohorts' plans to close my school, buy the land and change the town forever. Knowing the truth and failing to speak out seemed a worse punishment to me than trying to rescue the professor and failing. I was desperate. I needed his help, and I was his only friend. For the final time I considered the well of trouble I was about to fall endlessly into.

“Do the right thing,” I whispered, starting the engines. The torch lights shot in my direction. The brightness blinded my path. But I raised the throttle and held on, and the Indestructo bounced, going in and out of field ditches, crushing the cabbages and hurtling towards the men. As I got closer, I saw their farmer’s clothing, and one of them jumped and held on to the wing. I turned the plane and he fell face first into the cabbages. The speed went from 50 to 60 to 70, and I took off smoothly.

My GPS map told me to head south, and as I banked, a crosswind launched me sideways, and I almost threw up in the cockpit. Almost at the base of the clouds, I stayed low to avoid any heavy turbulence. Below was sheer darkness, and the feeling was disconcerting. I couldn’t tell how high or low I was travelling. I had to trust the GPS altitude and speed. Always trust your instruments, the professor had warned me.

Ten minutes later, I saw vast rows of yellow lights dotted on the landscape. Ordinary streets, narrow roads and car lights flashed by. The town of Wormshead somehow stretched out and appeared bigger from the sky than it did on the ground. With one mile to go, I slowed the Indestructo as much as I could, descending slowly and putting out the flaps, then changing the wing shape. I launched the sail too. Looking over the side, I saw the definitive shape of the X-block at Wormshead prison. 

I came up to the perimeter fence and dulled the engines, following the professor’s instructions to make the plane hover. But the plane plummeted, and I had to grab the sides so I wouldn’t shoot out. About thirty feet from the ground, the engines kicked in and saved me.

“Hill!” cried an old man’s voice. A pair of arms waved from a window. “Fly over here!”

It was the professor. He had probably been looking for me every single evening since he had been in prison.

“It’s tricky, professor! The wind is strong.”
“You’ll have to brave the wind!” shouted. “Come on. I’ll guide you!”

I hovered the Indestructo higher, travelling over its fence and towards the X-block. Suddenly, a dozen more faces looked out of their windows, and spotlights lit up the prison compound. 

“Closer! Hurry!” said the professor, beckoning me forwards. “Slowly with the throttle and the turning. Keep it steady. Slow down, slow down! SLOW DOWN!”

I could feel that the Indestructo was moments away from stalling. I had to apply some throttle, but if I did that, I would speed up and crash into the prison wall.

“The key!” he yelled.

“What?”

“They key? Do you have it?”

“Yes, it’s here.”

“Then use it. Use it now!”

How on earth was I supposed to use a key on a plane? I didn’t have a clue what the professor was talking about. Looking down at the cockpit, I saw the controls, but there was no door, nothing that unlocked, and nothing that remotely looked as if a key would fit inside it.

“Where does it go?” I shouted.

“Look behind the emergency box!” At that moment, I saw two pairs of arms wrestling the professor away from the bars. He struggled and held on, but the poor old man was frail. Moving the emergency box, I saw a slot in the dashboard. I took out the key and inserted it, and then I gave it a sharp twist that hurt my forearms as I turned. A huge, mysterious glow shot out of the front, and it hit the professor. All at once, as the guards were wrestling with him, he seemed to dissolve into the air, and the guards were left hugging each other. That same glow appeared next to me, and the professor gave me a wide grin as he stood in the cockpit.

“Good show, Hill!” he beamed, slapping me so hard on the back that my shoulder blades clicked. "Professor Winkle's key worked!" Below us, a group of guards were waiting. The Inferno was losing power, and we were sinking. The professor impolitely shoved me out of the way and quickly scanned his eyes over the controls. He pushed a few buttons and the engines and wings rotated, ready to blast us towards the ground, not away from it.

“Brace yourself,” said the professor, and he launched the throttle up and hard. We sank like a piano falling from a great height. The guards scattered and ran, and the Indestructo bounced against the ground and wobbled like jelly. The wings rose and fell and I thought they were going to snap off. Boing, boing, boing, we went, hopping up and down inside the prison compound with the help of Sprinkledust painted on the Inferno, with a bunch of big dogs snarling and barking and ready to jump at us, and ready to devour us should we fall out.

With one abrupt twist of the controls from the professor, the wings changed shape, and the bouncing momentum sent us about two hundred feet into the air, in one rapid, violent move. I threw up all over the professor’s prison clothes, and then when we levelled out at about five hundred feet above the ground. My stomach lurched again and this time I threw up on the flight controls.

“That’s the spirit!” said the professor. “There’s nothing quite like a rocky ride to greet you with your dinner. Ha, ha!” I had to sit down and hold my head for a while, fighting the urge to heave and plaster the controls with more carrots and sweetcorn.

“Professor, there’s something really important that you need to know, but I’ll tell you once we’ve landed, because…”

Before I could continue, the professor banked sharply and we lifted. I puked my stomach up all over my shoes.

 

 

 


Submitted: December 23, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Richard C. Parr. All rights reserved.

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