The metal of the engine cowling was cold to the touch. Lovingly, he traced his finger along the edge of the panel, running his fingers over the press screws that hold everything in place. The dull green and dark grey of the camouflage had a soft feathered edge when you got up close. When he tapped the panel with the palm of his hand, there was a resonant metallic thunk, of something reassuringly solid. He moved forward, and slid his hand along the metal panelling, up to the nose. He reached out, and his fingers curled around the edge of the propeller. This is what an aircraft should be, not those screeching speed merchants, jets.
A child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Evan Taylor had grown up making model aeroplanes to hang from his bedroom ceiling. By the time he was in his early teens, he could name all the aircraft variants of the RAF, USAAF, LUFTWAFFE and Regia Aeronautica, but he was always a little bit sketchy in respect the Japanese aircraft, although he knew the main ones…As an adult, the hobby had become a passion. The model kits had become more intricate. Aftermarket decals replaced the ones provided in the kits, so that more exacting scale model replicas could be made. Soon, on a display shelf stood the aircraft of such aces as Johnson, Rall, Graf, Gabreski, Stanford Tuck, and Bader among others. A spare room in his home had become his work-den, where he would spray the models in the correct colours and markings of his childhood heroes. Books on aircraft, autobiographies of pilots, stories of pilots accounts of dogfights over the channel, and events such as the Dieppe raid and D-Day, filled the shelves of his bookcase so that they bowed under the weight. His DVD collection was much as would be expected. “Battle of Britain”, “Memphis Belle”, “633 Squadron” and “Mosquito Squadron” were tucked away along side every other war film and series that he could get his hands on. Some had been watched so often, he could recite the lines verbatim. To say he was a fan of military aviation history, was like saying Elvis liked his food…
He walked away from the static display, mesmerised. Trying to remember to take pictures of things such as landing gear, oil streaks, and the way that paint fades in relation to battle damage for future reference had eaten up the day. What had only meant to have been a morning trip had somehow become an all day excursion. He didn’t mind. To him, an aircraft museum was better than a toy shop. He felt guilty for dragging Megan his girlfriend around though, but after 7 years together, she was used to it by now. She knew that when he was off in his own little world like this, practically nothing could distract him. Still, if it kept him quiet, then it was all good.
He wandered off into a mock up of a Squadron ready room, circa summer 1943. Period magazines and newspapers were scattered around the room. A lifelike dummy lay slouched in a chair, a book covering its face, arms folded across its chest. All that was missing he supposed, was the smell of tobacco and aviation fuel.
Megan shouted to him to get his attention. Lifting her wrist, she tapped her watch. Time to go. Taking a last look around, Evan started to run up the flight of steps to the landing in the gallery. The magazine hadn’t been there on the journey down, it had possibly been dropped by one of the children who were trying to pull the book from the ’sleeping’ pilots face. The first Evan knew about the magazine, was when it caused his foot to shoot out from under him. A brief moment of panic, his heart shot into his mouth as he reached out to steady himself on the handrail. The wild motion failed, and he shot forward in what he imagined was a rugby dive. For some reason, he closed his eyes, hoping that the step edge that was fast approaching his nose would be soft, and that he wouldn’t be hurt. This could be so embarrassing…The last thing he heard before the flash of light exploded behind his eyes, was Megan’s scream from somewhere up above.
“Bloody ’ell Sir, you alright? That was one ’ell of a tumble you ’ad. ’Ere, let me get your bags for you.” Evan’s head was pounding, what felt like a bell was being rung in each ear, and he could taste blood in his mouth. The fact his nose was blocked probably meant it was broken. Megan will never let him forget this. His eyes were streaming tears, and he could hardly focus. She will need to drive home later, typical. He felt hands under his arms lifting him up, and somebody put a hat of some sort on his head. “I will tell the Squadron Leader you’re off to the M.O. before you report in. I will let your batman know you’re here too, and may I say, welcome to the Squadron Sir.” Eh? Evan wondered just how hard he had head butted that step. As he was led off by someone, the museum PA system played what must be sounds of aerodromes from the correct time period. As he was guided to what must be a first aid room, he could hear the clatter of mechanical typewriters, the chatter of women talking about the day to day minutiae of running an aerodrome. They had even recorded sounds of aircraft running up their engines to play back. They really had thought of everything.
Evan’s head started to feel woozy. He must have taken a real smash to the nose. He started to find it difficult to walk, and he was sure he was about to black out. “Excuse me mate, but I don’t think I can make it to the first aid room…” As Evan felt himself start to pass out, he could hear footsteps rushing towards him, but the closer they seemed to get, the more it sounded like he was having cotton wool pushed into his ears.
Opening his eyes, Evan felt like there was a rock concert playing in his head. Hangovers had nothing on this. Lifting his hands to his face, he guessed he must be in hospital, because he was wearing pyjamas and his watch was missing. Lifting his head, the confusion spread. Where the hell was he? The equipment seemed archaic, even down to the chairs. There was no television in the corner of the room, not even a radio. For some reason, the window panes by the side of the bed had big X’s taped across them. Sitting up, nothing could have prepared Evan for the shock and confusion that the next few seconds would bring. Pushing up his sleeves as he habitually did, bare skin appeared where there should be tattoos. “what the bloody HELL!?!?…” He swung his legs off the bed, and after a few seconds to regain his sense of balance, he wobbled over to the mirror. Looking back at him was a familiar stranger. It was him, but a thinner, younger version. Shaking, he took off the night shirt. Not wanting to look, he turned around, and looked backwards over his shoulder. Bare skin, on a bare back, where a large dragon tattoo was meant to be. “no no no no no no, this cant be happening!!” The sound of what he knew to be a Merlin engine roaring to life drifted into the room. On shaking legs, Evan walked to the window. Never in a million years could he have predicted the view that met him.
About maybe half a mile away, across a concrete roadway along which a stocky truck trundled, were Spitfires in hard-stands. From this distance, he could see ground crews at work on them. From the window, Evan watched as men in pale blue/grey overalls walked about with senses of purpose in their strides. On top of nearby buildings, the barrels of large guns poked over the top of sand-bagged positions. Pale blue/grey uniformed men saluted other pale blue/grey uniformed men. Some marched in step, with what he knew to be Lee Enfield rifles held in place over their shoulders by slings. A lone Spitfire flew overhead. Whenever Evan had been to an air display in the past, a Spitfire flying past was a certainty to stop crowds and traffic. This one didn’t rate a cursory glance from the people below. Almost falling backwards onto the bed in disbelief at what he was looking at outside, he was barely aware of the door clicking open behind him. Jumping up like he had been caught with his hands in places they shouldn’t be, Evan spun around to see a pretty nurse standing behind a man who was obviously a Doctor. “Aha, excellent, you’re awake. I must admit Pilot Officer Taylor, your arrival has been the talk of the Squadron already. Not here 5 minutes, and already rushed off to sickbay with a broken nose and concussion. Not a very auspicious start, what?” Evan stood there, ready to be sick. Fighting the urge to projectile vomit, he swallowed the warm saliva that was filling his mouth and tried to speak. “Wha’…what did you call me? ‘Pilot Officer’!?"