“There is no shame in not knowing, the shame lies in not finding out.”
~ Assyrian Proverb
My father, a noted physician, was entrenched in the upper echelon of London society and was invited to many functions, becoming chummy with the city’s gentry. He grew especially close to William Casey, the editor of The Times of London. One day Mr. Casey had a strange request.
“He wanted me to write the horoscopes, as their staff astrologist is ill, what power eh?”
To me, power is completely alluring, even in the smallest measurement. The power to alter a future in a moment, yours or others is a faculty much too possessing, one my father brushed off in jest but one I would come to know intimately in the most extraordinary of circumstance. It led to a future, which no one could have predicted. Not even the Times.
I looked up at the black sky over London. They were coming. It was September 17th, 1940, and a night like any other in our wartime existence. Father’s moss-green Wellingtons slapped the road as we hurried down Gower Street to Goodge station. I struggled to catch up, pulling my school hat down over my ears, warming them against the icy wind. The siren, Moaning Minnie was wailing like a rooster welcoming the morning. My five-year-old younger brother’s arms were wrapped around father’s neck, eyelids heavy and face stormy as he’d been yanked out of bed at this inconvenient hour. He was still holding a toy plane, his most precious possession, earlier that day he ran around the sitting room, plane aloft in his tiny hands, slicing through the air accompanied by his pursed, propeller-like breaths. Now, the sun had yet to come up, and the road was dark, humming with the sounds of many feet. Neighbours and comrades were moving along, looking for shelter as we were. I was only just eight years of age. While many escaped the city, we remained in London; my father was an Osteopath and volunteered for the British Red Cross, driving ambulances through the broken streets. My grandfather Edmund, a herbalist whose tonics were locally renowned for their healing properties, lived with us and established a makeshift apothecary out of our home on Gower Street, intended for the injured in the surrounding districts. We weren’t in school due to father’s worry; he took my brother, Benjamin and I out of class at the Oundle School until airborne threats subsided. It had already been a month and no mercy. Most children were evacuated from the city; many were sent to board with families on the south coast while their parents stayed behind. Father refused, insisting that we were safer with him. Our mother’s family, the Haddaway’s were of Hungarian and English extraction, they’d established themselves through matchbox production, my grandfather’s father had a hand in bringing phosphorous matches to the market. They were very wealthy and during the war, offered us refuge at their manor in Harpenden, but the request went unanswered from our side. Due to the unyielding fact that, our mother wasn’t a constant in our lives and hadn’t been for years. It was sad, as I did like my grandmother, she was very Hungarian and would try to teach me the language.
“édesem, édesem.” She would say as we toddled through the door opened by the butler Adony. We lost touch over the years. In father’s view, any allegiance to my mother was unacceptable.
“She’s gone Frank, and it is better she’s not here.”
He let this statement slip one night soon after she’d left. My brother and I insisted on sleeping in his bed for many nights; we’d question her whereabouts until our eyelids were heavy. For him, the lack of sleep coupled with crying children was a strain. His outburst halted any future inquiries.
Abandoned is a strong word for her actions but in the harshest terms, it’s what she did. I understood later on why he chose to have Benjamin, and I stay, bombs or not.
Said bombs were nearing their début over our district as we hurried down the winding staircase to the platform and quickly sat on the cold tile. My father and grandfather pulled us close while fighting for space against the wall of the tunnel. It was frigid. I heard my teeth grinding against each other; I’d only had time to grab a robe and slippers so felt the temperature seep into my bones. The air was heady, rank with soot and tinges of steel dust. A chilled breeze would waft through now and then, finding it’s way to us from above, but soon they would seal the station and the flow would cease completely. The smells from the lavatory, and the collection of citizenry could be unbearable at times. People were still filling the station, and I predicted an even tighter squeeze that night, the wardens were struggling to arrange everyone, stepping over sleeping bodies, flat tin helmets wobbling atop their heads. There were no train cars, and the track had been cemented over, giving way to more space for bodies. It was full, folks lay along the tracks on makeshift beds, foot to head. I shifted uncomfortably on the hard ground. We’d found space near the exit and had a bit of bench to lean on.
“Stop fidgeting.” Said Father.
“I’m not, I’m trying to find a warm spot for my bottom,” I said, hugging my knees to my chest.
“There are none, it will be over shortly, stay put.” He said.
Grandfather nudged me; he reached into his robe pocket and produced a bottle.
“Drink this.” He winked at me as I reached for it, popping the cork and pouring it down my throat.
Like molten cinnamon, the liquid lurched downward spreading its warm intention throughout my body; I felt instantly more comfortable. The cold wasn’t as cold any longer. I’d made it a habit a long time ago to not question my grandfather, he knew more than I did. I noticed my father rarely did either; there was a definite mutual respect between them, though with a typical English reticence.
My brother was wrapped in the armchair’s quilt from the sitting room. His blonde head sunken into father’s chest, small back rising and falling gently. Only he could sleep through an air raid. I pushed my waxen curls off my face. All at once, the conversations halted around us, followed by a foreboding silence. Grandfather moved closer; I rested my hand near his.
I looked around at the faces. All were stoic and waiting, eyes fixed above or huddled into a child’s hair. The subsequent whistle was muffled but obvious, then a ferocious clattering followed in a moment and shook the ground above, children howled as pebbles and plaster dust fell onto our heads. It was worse than others but better than some. My brother missed it all once again. He continued slumbering as if on a cloud, the plane in hand.
The next day, after trudging up to the surface, we learned of the destruction of Marble Arch Station and the loss of lives. A bomb had blasted through the protective layers of their shelter, which in turn fell upon them. Steel girders, tiles and concrete plunging down, quickly stopping time for so many. At least twenty were killed. I’m not sure you know what to make of such things at that naive age; I recollect I’d resolved to understand that life ended for some and hoped it wouldn’t end for me.
The flat was ok and father was gone all day, tending to the injured at the University hospital. I stayed with grandfather, mixing vials and pounding seeds for those that came by with minor cuts and burns. His tonics were numbered from 1 – 60; each numeral assigned a particular ailment. The most popular were No. 6, a brownish topical liquid that smelled of fuel and castor oil. No. 5 for scalp flaking, No.44 for internal issues, No.13 for insect bites. I was very familiar with all save for No. 60. He never revealed No. 60.
On a day like most, A woman escaped the rubble of her home with a crushed kneecap, after releasing from the hospital she came to grandfather in a makeshift wheelchair for pain relief. He prescribed No. 6 to be rubbed into her knee three times daily and No.29 for sleep. After a week, she returned, walking and wide-eyed for a refill.
“This is bloody magic it is.” she exclaimed, clutching the empty bottle.
“Not quite. How is your knee?” Asked grandfather.
“Much better than it should be, Dr. Hodge.” She said, lifting her skirt to show her wrapped knee, cranking it back and forth.
He kept all his recipes in notebooks labeled precisely and locked them in a metal box at the end of each mixing day. Grandfather was a warm man but purposely mysterious, he was quite out of bounds as a scientist, between reading his many doorstopper medical journals; he would pour over passages on the memoirs of ancient times; Assyrian and Sumerian namely. He was something of an expert and often gave lectures at King’s College and offered consultation to the British Museum.
“There is something to be said for that hogwash, they understood the earth, and it’s potential; it’s alchemy from the sky to sod.”
He’d say, while I’d stand beside him at the lab table, watching the rhythm of his hands as he ground aniseed into powder. He always smelled of castor oil and his fingers were usually filmy with vestiges of another herbal miscellany. I’d spend afternoons reading his potion journals, memorizing the recipes hoping that one day I too would have the knowledge to survive anything.
“Grandfather?” I felt the need to question him at length about everything from our time together. His patience was boundless.
“Can you make a tonic that could stop the bombs from hurting people.”
“Fraid not chap.”
“Just not possible, that’s beyond my understanding at the moment.”
That night we were below again, my brother stayed awake this round. Blue eyes alert and watching. Grandfather sat close. I thought about what he’d said and how I’d like to travel to another time. One without war, though I don’t suppose that exists. There is always a fight somewhere, against others or within us. I longed for the comfort of my mother during those times underground; a mother’s reassurance is a holy, holy thing.
We didn’t know where she was. I always assumed she was staying with her parents at their manor just outside London. Any telegram from her was dictated and then sent to us from our maternal grandparents, so who knew if it was truly from her. Mother was consistently vague during the limited time we were together. Less of a mother and more of a person I lived with. She was very young, and I remember her hair and all its dark tendrils falling down her back as she put it up in the morning, singing Hungarian folk songs; “Még az éjmadár sen repdes…”
I wondered at this creature as a little boy, while my father loved her desperately. He showed affection to few though possessed a wicked humor and wit, which he shared with most. I saw them once, in an embrace. His face was buried in her nape and hands clutching the hair loose around her shoulders. Soon after that, she left for her parent’s home. I was five, my brother, only just a year old. He didn’t mention mother again until toward the end of the war.
One post-war May morning over breakfast in 1945 father announced that our uncle died. I was all of thirteen and had already seen more than I should have.
“Which uncle?” I asked, mouth full of toast.
“Your Uncle Lionel, he was an RAF pilot and was shot down over Germany last
month, he was your mother’s younger brother.”
“What did he fly?” I asked picking at charred pieces of bread.
“A Lancaster bomber I believe, shot down over Kiel. Your grandmother wanted you to have these.”
He handed me a pair of worn metal wings.
“These were his?”
With that, father pushed his chair back and retreated to the sitting room; I heard the sharp clink of glass, scotch at 7 in the morning. He was upset, but Lionel was brave, and that mattered. I would be too. I clutched his insignia in my hand till the pin drew blood. It dug deep, so I walked downstairs to grandfather’s office to retrieve No. 6, it was perfect for topical injuries. His office was small and in an adjoining room of the street level apartment. It was always neat yet chaotic stocked full with texts and equipment. I opened the tonic cupboard and ran my fingers from 1 to 6. I poured No.6 over where the pin punctured the skin. After putting it back, I counted the bottles, my usual practice of looking for No.60; I just wanted to smell it to figure out its purpose. Grandfather was teaching me how to decipher ingredients in the tonics, to enhance my senses. I moved the bottles back and reached into the dark behind them; I felt cold metal and hard, sharp lines.
Grandfather walked up behind me.
“What’s that?” he leaned over my shoulder. I started, releasing my arm from inside the cupboard and slammed the doors shut.
“A pin pricked me.”
“Those wings there?” pointing to where I’d rested them on the desk
“Yes, they were Uncle Lionel’s, he died in the war.”
“Ah yes, I met him at a function here awhile back, nice boy.”
Then, Grandfather went to the tonic cupboard and moved bottles aside, reaching to the very back of the space as I had. He produced a small, metal lockbox and from that, a bottle labeled, No. 60.
“You must not touch this Frank, do you understand?”
He eyed me with his usual suspecting glare. Not entirely trusting the word of a teenage boy.
“Let’s put such inquisitiveness to good use, hand me that book behind you.” gesturing with his finger to spot at my left. I turned and lugged one of his huge history texts atop my much smaller lap. Slightly winded by the process. He picked it up and fanned through the pages with ease.
“I was asked to revise a few chapters of the new edition; you can help by copying down the descriptions under each picture for me. I will leave you to it, should be back by mid-day.”
I exhaled in resolution. I didn’t want to spend my morning copying down serial numbers, watermarks, and dates. But I had no choice in the matter. He plonked said book back on my legs, and feeling winded I began what would be hours of tedium as Grandfather walked out. The first two pages featured black and white photographs of ancient stone reliefs.
Winged Genie. Nimrud, Assyria (modern-day Iraq). Neo-Assyrian Period, reign of Ashur-Nasir-pal II, circa 883–859 B.C.E. Alabaster, 931⁄16 x 8013⁄16 in. (236.3 x 205.3 cm). Donated by Anonymous.
I copied it down.
Nimrud, Ancient Assyria. 9th century BC. Limestone. Height 2.4m, length 2.2m, depth 160mm. 2 tones. Gifted by Professor Sir James Young Simpson.
I flipped the page, and a stray paper leaped out of place floating lazily to the ground. It was from a notepad, frayed at the edges and older with notes scribbled furiously front to back. A word stood out to me; Annukai. Then another. Alien + Time Travel. Then another. Frank. Then another. Benjamin. Then. Lionel.
I didn’t understand the correlation between us and ancient time-traveling aliens or these Annukai. I quickly tucked it between lumps of text and closed the book.
In the autumn of 1949, I completed my studies at Oundle and decided to immediately enlist with the Royal Navy as opposed to entering college at the University of London where many of my school chums were headed. After the graduation ceremonies, we spent a grand night sending off various classmates, I ran about the grounds drunk from cider stolen from the Porter, as well as stealing a kiss from the sister of a friend. Her name was Polly.
Coming home was sobering, grandfather was aging and not as able as he once was, father needed the help with his practice though I was itching to enlist. I preferred the Navy as I liked the idea of banging around a ship and naval flight was making headway, launching fighter jets off carriers. It was just risky enough to put the twinkle in my eye though I knew it would be an arduous task convincing father to let me go.
Expectedly, he protested given my nearly eighteen years and instead convinced me to assist him at his practice while helping grandfather for a year as he was recently retired and needed the assistance filing all the boundless papers and recipes in his office as well as providing product for a few loyal customers. I obliged. Father’s office was on the main floor of our flat on Gower Street. A large, lacquered black door led into the waiting room, I sat at the front desk ushering in patients, routinely stepping out for an afternoon cigarette, eyes skyward as per usual.
On the Friday of each week, I’d work a floor below in grandfather’s dispensary. By now I was more than able to mix various tonics for him from memory, our work days consisted of me at the bench and grandfather sitting in an armchair directing my actions, wincing in his seat as his spine cracked and kinked against any movement. His back gave him lots of trouble, father being the skilled osteopathic, would freely work into his tired bones every morning and I would rub No.6 into it every night. These sessions sprouted relief but still, the aged are tired, and he needed more rest than exertion.
I never asked him about the note I had found and the names on it. The Annunaki. I figured it was Grandfather scribbling an array of disconnected things on a stray piece of paper. His office was full of them.
One Friday afternoon as he snored in his armchair and while I carefully separated and labeled a pile of documents on “ancient remedies for hearing loss,” his office telephone rang. I heard him awake with a start and gesture furiously for me to hand him the receiver. I did so, and he waved me off, indicating he needed privacy. Always mysterious. I climbed the stairs leading from the basement office to the street and smoked while waiting. Some time later he knocked his cane against the window, and I returned.
He was in his armchair but looked brighter than he had in ages.
“Good phone call I take it?”
“Oh yes, splendid.”
He then reached in his pocket suddenly, fidgeting around for something. He pulled out a small box and reached over to me with it.
“This is for you, a belated graduation present.”
I took the box from his hand. It was a simple blue velvet, broad and flat. I opened it. Inside laying on a plush interior was a gold pin featuring an Assyrian winged bull with a man’s head. A Lamassu. I knew this because I’d copied down countless descriptions of such a thing during my many hours of clerical work for Grandfather.
“You must wear that always Frank. It’s for protection.”
I obediently placed the pin on my lapel, smiling down at him. He nodded and went back to his reading, and I went back to filing.
Finally after my tenure, at nineteen years old I left home. I resigned my being to the fleet air arm of the Royal Navy. Father and Grandfather waved me off as I clambered into the taxi, small leather suitcase in hand, Lionel’s wings in my jacket pocket and Lamassu pin firmly embedded in my collar. I’d written to Benjamin, who was still at Oundle, of my decision and his response was both encouraging and envious, ‘only three years left till my shot’ he wrote. I’d registered at Charing Cross to begin training with the Navy Corps in Scotland. It was in my blood; Uncle Lionel had been a pilot after all. Why not give it a go.
I awoke to the sound of my bunk mate; Flight Lieutenant Charles Erwin Goodwood, banging on the metal pipes above me.
“Fuck off, night exercise; I need sleep.”
Goodwood launched a tin cup at my head.
“Parks is on approach.”
I’d sleep once dead. I rushed out of bed in a flurry of linen, following Goodwood to the deck through the narrow passageways of the HMS Glory. Fellow airmen of Squadron 804 scurried out of their quarters like termites from an old birch. This was no emergency, but a welcomed spectacle that happened every few rounds on the roster.
It was 1953, second rotation on Glory for the year during the Korean War. Benjamin and I were both onboard as pilot slaves to her cause.
He’d joined up at fifteen after forging his birth certificate, said he was tired of waiting in old Oundle. It turned out he was a better pilot than I was. In a way, we both found our neck of the woods.
“Poor sod,” Goodwood muttered as we stepped onto the platform, joining the large group that had already formed ahead of us.
We saw him coming about a mile off, the Sea Fury’s wings angling and steadying themselves amidst the cussed winds off the carrier; less graceful than she could be, but then Sub-lieutenant Parks wasn’t known for his touch. He had gained a reputation as the worst of us, a young man from Cheshire who had worked his way up the ranks through grit and determination, which are useless attributes while landing on a spit of runway in the middle of the Indian ocean. His landings were terrible and renowned, often inviting an audience.
“He’s washed back to at least 110 knots coming in.” Goodwood laughed continuing his commentary.
The Fury was a beauty to fly, fit like a glove and sailed through the air with the greatest of ease. Fastest aircraft on a piston engine. Landing her was more difficult; with a heavy undercarriage, she was unforgiving on touch down. It was our judgment of speed that equaled a smooth stop. Around 90 knots was a safe bet. Parks was coming in faster than that.
“He’s not making this one, nose too high,” Goodwood remarked as he raised his hands over his head.
We braced for the landing, while the batsmen waved their paddles frantically and airmen went running for cover. He smashed down, bouncing and running through the arrester wire and netting meant to halt the airplane, the plane skidded sideways toward the folded fighters parked on the ramp, and I could see Parks struggling to release himself from the straps. We all stood, helpless as the Fury fell over the side of the ship, taking two more planes and pilot with her.
“Shit,” Goodwood exclaimed through clasped hands. We all rushed to the side of the ship, watching as three Sea Furies were pulled underneath the HMS Glory’s force.
The siren sounded, and emergency services surfaced, running to the accident site and peering over, shaking their heads.
“Oscar, Oscar.” blared over the speakers, methodical and concise. A man overboard, a young man. I thought about Lionel.
The audience retreated to the racks, sober as judges. Goodwood was quiet for the rest of the night. I considered my youthful attitude toward war, “life ends for some, fuck I hope it won’t for me.” Something to that effect. I thumbed the Lamassu pin at my collar; I never took it off as grandfather had instructed. Now I hoped its protective tendencies would be in my favour.
That night I was restless while trying to sleep, albeit shaken by what I’d seen happen to poor Parks. The Navy was all I’d thought it would be and more than I expected. Though, once up in the air, any doubt I had expired. It was where I belonged. I drifted off with this knowledge.
I dreamed a dream unlike most before. I felt a force holding my shoulders still on the mattress. I couldn’t move but struggled in my sleep, then a familiar, molten cinnamon down my throat. I coughed and swallowed. It was strangely comforting in the rattling, grey of my carrier quarters. Then I felt her fingers on my face, saw a wisp of dark waves. My mother.
“Hands to flying stations.”
In the morning after a flurry of checks, My hands were on the choke; power on, fuel on. Panel secure. The Sea Fury’s wings spread open like an albatross, as I prepared her for takeoff, forcing her up over the ramp so as not to meet a salty end in Neptune’s lair. Parks, poor bugger. I clipped the oxygen mask hanging aside to my face, fresh air filled my lungs, and in 100 knots we were catapulted airborne. Me and the fury, off on a standard scouting patrol near Kaesong, a border area between North and South recently captured by the KPA. Benjamin was a few yards off my right wing, steady and climbing as I was. We weren’t often out together on missions, but it was a welcomed rare occurrence. He signaled as I moved forward, ahead of our formation.
Eventually, I spied rolling mountains while budding and open fields ran below as we advanced through South Korean territory to enemy land. The border to Keong was just over the range.
Upon arriving in North Korea, they signaled their location with the first blast, just over the range; anti-aircraft cannon. The second round hit my right wing; I watched the angry flames tear at the Fury, alarms rang out inside the cabin, and smoke was quickly replacing oxygen I heard Benjamin shouting over my radio. I sputtered as a foul air filled my lungs.
I felt her lurching downwards, the choke slashing about aimlessly between my knees. I closed my eyes and thought of Lionel. This is how he felt. Terrified and racing into the nether.
Dying I found, was like traveling through time and there is something downright strange about that, obviously. Since we are composed of matter, which is in turn composed of atoms that charge violently into each other all at once, conspiring to create a stable, organic structure that quantifies, breathe and feels. Taking yourself out of one patch of existence into another rips this structure apart and puts it back together. I felt my entire body expand and reduce to a single particle in a split second, wedging itself through annals and a multitude of experience and then halting, the expansion closed in like a flower at dusk, a collection occurred, and I was restored. I opened my eyes.
The light was harsh, too glaring to be sunlight. I couldn’t make out the place but felt something soft under me, a settee perhaps.
A voice, British. Did survive? I knew I’d died. I died. I died in the Fury. This was the afterlife; England?
Hands on me, hands on my shoulders. A face, whose face? He’s young, like me. Red hair.
“Haddaway, you’re up.”
Haddaway. My mother’s family name.
I rubbed my eyes for clarity.
“Yes, mission over Kiel.”
“Where am I–my plane?”
“Suffolk in his majesty’s United Kingdom, get up.”
“Am I dead?”
He looked puzzled.
“See you out there Lionel.”
He left me as far as I knew, sitting on a moss green settee in Suffolk. I looked around the room for clues. A banner above the door frame read a squadron motto, Bellamus Noctu (We Wage War By Night). I could see the Lancaster’s lined up through the window. I started to piece the information. RAF. Why was I brought to an RAF base?
Lionel, why Lionel. Do they think I’m Lionel? Kiel? I’d wondered about that as a boy, why my mother always looked at me a certain way like I reminded her of someone, someone she loved. I rushed to the mirror over the sink, and thankfully saw myself looking back; stubble and pale blonde hair, my blue eyes red and worn. I could smell the Fury’s fumes still lingering on my clothes. I perused my uniform; it was the same Navy flight suit I was wearing when I’d crashed when the KPA shot me down. I felt around my pockets for his wings, Lionel’s wings. I always carried them with me for a lucky advantage. I felt an urge to plunge the pin into my hand once again, hoping for an awakening from the moment, back to something familiar and less bizarre. I automatically felt for grandfather’s pin; good for nothing piece of tin. What was happening? I sat for a steady moment clinging to logic. I had thought of Lionel before I crashed, perhaps this was a kind of purgatory where I was to be met by dead ancestors. I was never a religious sort, born into Church of England but we never attended, coming from a family of scientists created a definite line between them and us. I never toed it, nor wanted too. In this situation, however, I was desperate for an explanation it seemed only the ramblings of dogma could provide.
I ambled outside, hesitant as to what I might find and mildly terrified I’d encounter the real Lionel or worse, an all-knowing deity. I looked above, a pilot’s instinct, eyes to heavens always. The night sky was grey and petulant. I saw gatherings of ground crew on the ramp; Stirlings, Wellingtons, and Lancaster’s on the flight line. All in their era’s glory. Was this a museum? A young ground crewman approached me and saluted.
“Lieutenant Haddaway the Lanc is ready and crew is on deck; we were looking for ya, where’s your kit, sir?”
He hurried off glancing behind him encouraging me to follow. Follow I did.
My flight crew? My kit? I was growing tired of the questions and the oblivion of everyone around me. They called me Haddaway. Why? I wondered if this was how it was for all pilots once dead. We cantered down the line past the humming of Merlin engines and aimless flight crew’s awaiting boarding. I stole glances here and there.
I decided to test my bearings.
“Right. Chap, what day is it?”
He stopped abruptly.
“The 9th of April, ‘45, sir. Please sir, where’s your kit?”
“Your proper uniform, where’s your jacket?”
1945! It seemed my navy suit from 1953 wouldn’t suffice.
“I left it back in the room.”
His brow furrowed.
“I’ll just go get it.”
I was beginning to understand. I was in World War II England and very much alive. My surroundings were living, the ground was warm and the crewman speaking to me had a throbbing artery in his neck as I did. Nothing seemed transparent. I began to adjust to the inordinate idea that I was alive but in another time. Everything grandfather taught me; the “hogwash” was apparently based in a very real, reality that was hurtling at me a mile a minute. I just didn’t know what else to consider. With this realization, I pondered an attempt to dash off in panic but felt that would draw unwelcome attention to my person, and in that scrutiny, my explanation would be much too intense for these wartime men. I’d just have to figure it out.
“No skip, that what you’re wearing will have to do.”
I still had my flight cap and goggles around my neck, and life jacket. I looked the part to an extent save for a brown, leather bomber jacket.
“Right, you know where she is. Godspeed.”
He patted my back and walked off.
I remained standing beneath a behemoth Lancaster Bomber. “Kick-em-Jenny” was painted below the cockpit window, along with rows of cartoonish, crude bombs, I counted twenty-eight. This was the 29th sortie for the tour. I walked along her port side, admiring her smooth lines. I knew this machine; I’d seen rows of her lined up at my corps base in Scotland The plane was like a pachyderm, sunk into the tarmac though I also knew she flew like a feather. I’d sat in one parked at our base during early training, Lionel never far from my mind in those instances, now it was surreal to be near his tomb in a sense, I still didn’t know here he was. I heard the rackety start of engines around me; the mission was underway. I dutifully crawled up the ladder at her underbelly. My crew, or rather Lionel’s was busy at work, gunners at position, navigator at his helm and flight engineer seated ahead, awaiting my arrival. Witnessing a bygone era in the flesh, the men we’d learned from, whether it was by their triumphs or mistakes was disarming, I felt myself staring, trapped in a kind of dazed holding pattern of displacement. My mind had yet to catch up with my body. The navigator raised his head in expectancy; he smiled and lowered it, scanning the map laid out on the desk in front of him. I inched closer, hoping to catch a clue of where we were headed. I hadn’t sat in on the prior briefing; I was blind to the mission. I spied the word, Kiel. Kiel, I knew that name. It was today; today was the day he died. My purpose in this experience was becoming more and more confusing; I hadn’t perished in the Fury but it appeared I was going to in a Lancaster. Was I meant to save Lionel? To save them all? In doing so, would my fate alter itself?
I felt urgent for grandfather’s explanation. I needed a telephone. He was around; it was 1945. The propellers started. They were dead regardless, maybe I could delay the flight somehow, perhaps five minutes would make a dent in their fate. I gathered momentum to move, that moment before spontaneity is always paralyzing. I forced my body forward and ran through the cabin to the port below; I scrambled down the ladder. I heard shouting behind me as I ran across the airfield deafened by the quickening of motors, Lionel’s crew beckoning in surprise at my exit, at his exit. I knew he’d never done that before I wasn’t deserting and I was no coward. How could I explain that I was saving their lives? I made for the first building I saw, sat at the edge of the ramp. Crewmen were gathered near entrance. They stilled in surprise.
“A telephone, I need a telephone.” I gasped.
Wide-eyed, one silently pointed towards a door.
“In the lounge Skip.”
I entered the same room I’d started in, a telephone sat on the table against the back wall under a cavalry of photographs; their memories not mine. I dialed the number to grandfather’s office, yanking the dial furiously; I knew my crew was nearing my position, looking for an explanation. One I wouldn’t have.
“Hello, Dr. Hodge here.”
Hearing his voice was extraordinary, even considering my circumstance.
“Grandfather? It’s Frank.”
“Frank? That doesn’t sound like you, who is this?”
“It’s me, and I’m older, and I don’t have time.”
“Yes, I’m here from 1953.”
Silence, a pause.
“Oh, it worked.”
His lack of shock and awe was not unusual. I knew he would understand the situation immediately. I had a feeling he’d been expecting my call.
“How extraordinary Frank, where are you?”
“I’m at an airbase, Lionel’s base, they think I’m Lionel; he died today.”
“My plane was hit over North Korea, I crashed, but I appeared, here. Do you understand?”
“Why am I here?”
“What? How do I get back?”
I heard voices outside the door, shouting and hurried steps.
“You’ll have to sort that out.”
“Good luck Frank.”
I heard the dial tone. He’d hung up. Footsteps were drawing closer, the pounding on the wooden slats louder, I stayed still against the back wall of the lounge, all the while eyeing the shadows under the door. I watched the doorknob turn, and a man burst through. Lionel, I couldn’t miss him. The likeness was uncanny.
“Wherein fuck were you?”
I thought it a strange question. I was, however, amazed by how alike we were in physicality. He was a similar six foot three height; youthful, lanky and very blonde. He looked healthy and able. He lunged towards me, grabbing the lapels of my flight suit and slammed my body against the wall; the photographs rattled against the plaster.
“I can explain.”
His face was inches from mine, eyes wild and cerulean. I braced for the hit. I decided I’d claw and punch my way out if I had to.
“Explain then, are you a Nazi spook?”
He stayed his position, holding me against the wall, practically pulled upwards by my clothing. I saw the rest of his crew gather near the open doorway, as well as various ground crews from the airfield.
“Can we talk somewhere privately?”
A strange wave of relief washed over his intensity, he released me and stepped back.
“I’m your sister’s son.”
The men at the door rustled uneasily. The navigator spoke.
“Sir, what do you suggest we do?
Lionel fixed his gaze on me, more searching than accusatory.
“Give me five minutes with him.”
The men nodded in agreement and closed the door behind them, most likely staying just outside. A flight crew during war was a band of brothers, trapped miles above, each fate in the hands of the other. I knew they wouldn’t allow harm to come to their Pilot. Not by a man such as myself.
As they left, I felt muscles relax, hands that were dug into the wood of the table eased.
“Apologies for the performance, don’t want the ground crew getting suspicious.” Said Lionel.
I walked toward the green settee, motioning for Lionel to do the same.
“No, I’ll stand thanks. You sit.”
“You’re my nephew, Frank.” He said unblinkingly.
“So you know I’m going to die today.”
Every cellular connection in my body arched. He knew. How did he? Grandfather’s consistent vagueness was now no longer interesting but rather annoying. There were too many strings untethered, too many answers coveted. One unexplained event after the other. Dying in a burning plane over North Korea seemed much more simple at this juncture. I looked up at Lionel; he stood tall, looming over me. Resembling my mother, my brother and myself.
“I think that’s why I’m here, to ensure that doesn’t happen,” I stated.
His shoulders jiggled in humour. He then began a dialogue that was the strangest I’d ever heard, and in mere minutes, the mystery of everything in my young life was spooled open like loose yarn at my feet.
“I admire your gumption, Frank.”
“Don’t have much time so I’ll speed through. ”
“Where’s your pin?” He asked.
I pulled at my lapel, indicating it to him.
“Lamassu, the protector of skies. That’s us.”
“Alright.” I stammered.
“Do you know the word, Annunaki?”
The word from the note. I felt as one does during the end of a crossword when the word jumble is slipping into order.
“How do you know that?”
The many texts Grandfather made me read flashed through my mind. I realized a preparation was more his intention than an education.
“But you’re dead, Lionel.”
With a guffaw he saunters over to the window, leaning against the seal.
“No, I’m very much alive.”
“How are you here?”
I grabbed my collar as if stung by a wasp.
“What is it?”
“It helps you travel to different time periods when you get to a certain age.”
“What, that’s not possible.”
“Oh yes, it is.”
“You mean with magic?”
“Absolutely not. This is an advanced science passed down through a collection of 25 families by the Annunaki. We belong to two of them.”
Science? Surely there was more fantasy to such an incredulous situation.
” A note I found in grandfather’s study said something about Annukai and Aliens. Then it had your name and mine and Benjamin’s.”
“Ah yes. In every family there are airmen, we are born with the disposition. You were.”
“We have to fly; it’s the only way to protect them.”
An invisible limestone wall crashed upon my shoulders. I sunk into the cushion as the blood seemingly left my body and dissipated.
“Who are they?”
“In the barest sense, aliens.They maintain the order of the earth or at least try to.”
“Human beings are their creation, though the other families and we are distant relations.”
“Your grandfather, my grandfather. Most of us are of Hungarian blood as Hungary is the cradle of civilization, the language is closest to theirs.”
“I believe that is the continent of Africa.”
“So what happens now?”
“Now, you go back to 1953, onboard the carrier before that Fury falls off.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Because I shot out her rudder, the pilot spotted me above the carrier. We were tailing you as today was your initiation of sorts; 60 days after you turn twenty-one. You’re going to start your mission as you did, but take a detour off course and join our squadron at these coordinates, turn your radio to this frequency.”
He handed me a small, white envelope.
“He will join us when he turns twenty-one; you’ll see him then. Your father knows where you both are.”
“So he’ll be sent here?”
“No, you will initiate him.”
“You can travel now, so you shoot him down and before plummeting to earth, he will be sent to yesterday in 1953 and there you will meet.”
“Were you in my quarters last night?”
“Yes, you must drink No.60 to initiate, now it is adapted to your system so you can flit around the ages as you please.”
“Did you shoot me down?”
“Same reason we all were, it’s squadron tradition.”
I considered one more person. The fuzzy recollection of seeing her in my quarters last night came to mind.
Lionel sighed, running his hands through his hair.
“She’s involved. She was a pilot but was injured in the war.”
He looked almost proud at this revelation.
“Can I see her?”
“Yes you will have an opportunity to speak with her, let’s get a move on shall we, I don’t want to encounter the other Lionel.”
My mother. My mother who abandoned us one night in the past, who didn’t write or extend herself in any way, was an integral part of this insanity. A pilot. I was shaken out of frenetic thought by banging on the door, the cavalry returned.
Lionel grabbed my shoulders.
“Concentrate and think of Glory.”
* * *
I followed the coordinates; sitting in the Fury again was comforting. A home from home. She glided along the coast; we banked right until land disappeared from view until I’d disappeared from view, claiming a strike from anti-aircraft fire.
For all, they knew I was shot down over dense, North Korean forest and was dead to all intents and purposes. Witnessing Parks fall off the carrier for the second time was sobering, with my foresight I could have saved him but felt a sense of duty to my new existence. There was now a superior moral code that sated me. Leaving Benjamin was difficult; he’d join me in two years. I turned the radio to the frequency written on the sheet of paper Lionel had given. After flying for an hour, I saw the edge of an airship hidden in amongst a nebulous patch. It was painted white, camouflaged against the starkness of the sky. I spotted the squadron hemming the air around it, following dutifully. A collection of twenty warplanes; Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Furies, Hawks, a Lancaster, Zeppelins, Hanovers and Sopwiths in a formation. A history of warfare aviation flew yards ahead. The radio crackled in my ears.
“Fury 1953, this is Lancaster 1945 come in.”
“Frank, keep 100 km due north and follow the formation, land on an airstrip on the SE of the only island you’ll see.
“Right, will do.”
The island lay markedly in the blueness of the ocean around it. It was a small, 75 acres of brush and beach. Then a gathering of civilization on the south side, a crude airstrip laid out below me. I eased the Fury down, wrestling with harsh crosswinds off the coast, she bucked violently. Luckily, I was used to this kind of adversity after routinely landing on Glory. I had maintained a distance from the formation, so was the last to land. The Fury wheels slammed down on the clay and with relief I brought her to a slow pace, digging down into the ground. I spotted the flight line a quarter mile ahead. Vessels set at attention, almost awaiting their marching orders. I taxied to meet them and parked the Fury alongside. Her wheels caked in thick terracotta.
I noticed a hangar at the edge of the tarmac and saw Lionel near the Lancaster sitting at the far end of the line; he was addressing a group of men and women.The plane looked the same as when I saw her in 1945 only a collection of time ago. I made my way toward the group, nerves abound.
“Lionel!” I called to him.
Lionel turned around, as youthful in the face, though he looked stronger, more height almost. His blonde was still blonde, hair longer and not as well kept. He was dressed in a standard flight suit with a large Lamassu on the sleeve.
I nodded to the crew around him, they acknowledged and set about the Lancaster, preparing her for the next flight. I noticed the bomb drawings near her nose were now painted over.
“We don’t have time for introductions now, come with me.”
I followed him as he strode toward the hangar.
“Your crew, they’re different.”
“A Lancaster pilot selects his crew. They are from the other families.”
“Did they have a choice?”
“No.” he said as we entered the hangar.
The fact was, none of us did.
The space was relatively small and basic, it was empty save for an old carcass of a plane sat in the corner. It smelt as a hangar should, fuel and rust accented with the heaviness of our sub- tropical surroundings. The ground was hurriedly laid concrete, scattered with wheel marks and splashes of oil here and there. An office was portioned into the metal wall; it had one door and a window. Lionel took out a set of keys and jiggled the door open. The room contained a desk and a chair that was pushed against a wall; a bygone safe stood next to them. A large map of the world took up the entirety of the back wall, scrawlings and lines covered its surface.
“This is where we hold briefings in this sector.”
I nodded, sector? How many were there?
“There are twenty-five in all,” Lionel replied empathically.
“One for each family?”
“Yes. Numbers are the basis of their research, everything has to correlate, 25 has a specific role in Assyrian mathematics.”
“You’ll gather as you go along.”
Much like the process in the RAF lounge; Lionel stood, with me sitting on an askew metal chair and much like before, he continued the incredulous dialogue he began in 1945.
No. 60 originally conceived by a former member; Lewis Carroll. Alice Through The Looking Glass was primarily a codebook for the collective. My grandfather was once an alchemist under his tutelage and worked closely within the initiation process. My father was also a member but distanced himself since my mother left. He was now considered merely an ally.
He said that I now contained knowledge that most men on earth didn’t, that it was a responsibility to protect these ideas, to protect the Annukai. As a protector, I had to be invisible, a ghost. I was dead to society but very much a life to them, a necessary life. I was now, a peacekeeper, courier, and guard; weaponized and permitted to enact defense within the safety of their law.
He said that I was now powerful, that my ability to exact change was absolute but monitored by the leadership. He stated that he was my mentor, and I would continue in his stead. He said that I would figure it out as I went along, that my mother would continue this elucidation in more detail. I must also learn Hungarian.
Right now, he needed me to fly and didn’t have to explain that concept. There was the main base for the squadron underground in the Sahara. This was a briefing similar to the instructions I’d had on Glory when all was ignorant and violent. Where raw, civilized war was typical, where time was fixed, and death meant dead.
I clutched his wings all the while, blood seeping from the puncture down my hand and dripping languidly to the floor.
He said I was going to meet them, the Annukai. Tomorrow.
I knew that eventually, a new normality would occur and the shock would subside. I’d never enjoyed life on the ground. I felt a comfort in knowing the Fury was coming along.
The Fury, all the universe and me.