Chapter Two: CENTURIES LATER
“LOST. Metal Distaff. Reward offered for safe return. Inform the Verger if found.”
The note looked old and the ink was faded. Emily wondered if she was reading the word ‘distaff’ right as she had never heard of such a thing. How would she know what she was supposed to be looking for? A diagram would have been nice.
Emily moved away from the church noticeboard, annoyed at having to resort to reading boring announcements to kill time. Huffing more than a little, she pulled her woolly hat over her ears and stuffed her gloved hands deep into her pockets. A comfortable hum of conversation leaked from inside the warm pub. Her granddad said he would ‘only be a tick’ and, already, ten minutes had gone past. If he was in there having a swift half while she was outside freezing to death, there’d be hell to pay.
Again, she played with the idea of going in to fetch him, but the thought of Harry stopped her. Harry, the Innkeeper’s son, serving behind the bar with his dad. Harry who’d kissed her like she was everything three whole weeks ago and completely ignored her ever since.
“Sod him,” she said, stamping her feet on the snowy pavement.
Above the darkening village, the snow-covered moors were half-concealed in a ghostly mist. Tendrils swirled and intertwined, drifting apart and together, teased by the wind. It was getting late. The church clock told her tea was on the table, going cold.
Even though Emily had promised herself she wouldn’t peek through the pub window, she found herself doing just that. And at the same time, who should walk over and pull the blackout curtains across, but Harry. Emily froze, then managed a half-hearted smile. Harry nodded at her and covered her smile with the curtain. A wall of black.
“Sod you, Harry,” she swore, and stuck two fingers up at the window. It was such a shame he missed it.
Now he would know she’d waited outside instead of coming in with her granddad, too embarrassed to face him. He’d probably be sharing that little nugget of information with his reject friends later. All the lads who couldn’t go to war because they were too busy farming, or couldn’t hear properly, or were a bit daft in the head. Harry himself was ‘crippled with asthma’ though Emily wasn’t sure how he swung that one because she’d never heard a wheeze from him in the time she’d been there. Maybe having a dad who was not only an Innkeeper, but a councillor too, helped.
For the hundredth time that day she wished she could go home. Back to York. Back to the hustle and bustle of the city, her friends, even the job in the tearooms. But no, it was unsafe in York. As her father was in the RAF, her parents moved to Leconfield Airfield when war began and persuaded Emily that her grandparents needed help with their farm on the edge of the Pennines. When she handed in her resignation, the boss of the fancy tearoom, Mr Marshall, said he might not be able to take Emily back on after the war. He said it with his arms folded over his pudding stomach and looked at her like she was a coward for escaping to the countryside. Most of her friends had joined up to serve in the war effort, scattering across England like dandelion spores on the wind, and not keeping in touch because they were so busy doing their important, heroic jobs.
There was nothing left for her in York, but that didn’t stop her missing it. Missing the life she used to have.
Here she had dawn cock-crows, milking twice a day, mucking out and kissing decidedly non-wheezing boys who afterwards pretended she hadn’t kissed them after all. She knew she was an oddity to the village lads. A posh city girl with airs and graces, unused to their country ways. She knew they didn’t like her, so when one of them offered her his lips, she’d been surprised into succumbing. And now she wished she hadn’t bothered.
“Sod it all,” she decided.
She would count to ten. If her granddad hadn’t finished his swift half by the time she reached ‘ten’, she was walking back alone. Grandma would have a fit. Emily could hear her now. ‘He may as well be pouring our precious money straight down his throat’. She began to count…
From the sky came a low whine…
…The stuttering purr of a propeller and the hum of the engine that drove it.
Germans? Here? It had been known, but… in this weather?
Whoever was flying it, Emily knew the plane was low. Too low. It was snowing again and the fog was too thick for planes. A pilot would have to be stupid to take such a risk.
There was no ten.
Instead: “What the hell is he doing?” Emily whispered, shielding her eyes from the snowflakes as she tried to catch sight of it.
The plane was heading towards the moors above her, and the moors were really quite high, and the plane was so low. Too low. She felt a burn of tension in her chest. It wouldn’t make it. There was no way.
Maybe it was German, though it sounded too small to be a bomber. If only she could see it, she’d know. She kept her father’s aircraft recognition book by her bed and knew all the shapes off by heart. The wing tip emerged through the fog, just for the briefest moment, and then it was gone. Emily thought she saw a circle on the wing; an RAF circle, but she couldn’t be sure.
German or English, it was to have the same, inescapable fate. Even though she expected the impact, it still came as a shock.
For a split second, there was a flash of light from the moors, illuminating a sky of swirling snowflakes and, a moment later, the noise filled the snow-smothered valley. A thud as loud as a clap of summer thunder.
Emily couldn’t move. Her gloved hands covered her face, and the wool itched, and she wanted to take them away, but she still couldn’t move. She imagined a mass of tangled wreckage and men dying. Blood and pain and broken bones and warped metal.
“Shit,” she said into her itchy gloves, and then: “Shit….”
The words helped. Because her lips had moved, so could the rest of her. She forgot Harry – that kiss – and shoved through the big, green door into the noisy pub, pointing furiously at the moors to anyone who was looking. And that was everyone.
“A plane just crashed.”
Blank faces everywhere. Silence.
“A plane,” Emily said again, “You know, the flying things. With engines.”
Harry was pulling a pint for the Verger. He wiped his hands on a towel and emerged from behind the bar. Emily now remembered Harry and couldn’t keep the blush from her cold cheeks.
“We might be countryfolk, but we do know what a plane is,” he said.
Emily hated the way everyone stayed horribly silent and still. How their stares judged her. Suddenly it was so clear that there were sides, and she was on one side while everyone else was on the other. Emily the Townie VS The Whole Bloody Village.
MISSED FOXFIRES I? Here it is.