In order to ascend vertically and eliminate the need for a runway, the plane was designed to mimic a helicopter on take-off. Then, once airborne, its propeller would shift through 90 degrees, transforming it neatly into a plane.
Neat on paper perhaps.
Due to low funds the whole operation must be effected entirely by hand. The propeller wound into place, the wings extended quickly, creating sufficient drag to lift the fuselage into place. Then the whole structure bolted tight. If they messed up, if they took too long, there was a chance the propellers force would tear the plane clean in half.
One autumn evening, as the sun set and the trees darkened, Mr Greenhill asked Mrs Greenhill.
“What will we do?”
She thought for a moment.
“We will build a plane just big enough for the two of us. We will build a plane and fly away,” she’d replied.
That night he’d cried himself to sleep, but on waking next morning, he knew she was right.
Yes, they would build a plane and yes, they would fly away. And no one would ever hurt them again.
Some weeks later, Mr Greenhill woke to find his wife kneeling at his side.
“It’s ready,” she said.
“Really?” He replied.
“Really,” she said.
“Have we time for tea?” He asked.
“I’m afraid not my darling, we have to hurry,” she replied.
Mr and Mrs Greenhill stepped out into a cold morning and without a backwards glance, strode down to where the plane lulled, camouflaged beneath knotweed and nettles.
They climbed aboard and buckled themselves in. As Mr Greenhill extended a hand toward the key, his wife saw how it shook. She placed hers upon his and they turned it together. The engine fired immediately and this reliability would have proved heartening if it were not for the cacophony the thing emitted; the sound of so many ill-fitting, improvised components vying for self-destruction.
No matter, they thought, it was working and slowly, so slowly it belied movement, they began to rise above the horizon of hedgerows and apple trees.
Their speed increased, until reaching the designated altitude, they set to work.
It took no time to realise the test run conducted in the tranquillity of their kitchen was no preparation at all. The noise, the cold, the vibration and the sheer force of wind turned every minor action into a major endeavour. It was down to nothing but luck when the planes jig sawed body finally moved into place and each bolt hole met its opposites’ benevolent gaze.
They were off, they grabbed each other’s face and screamed. Could they believe it? No! Did they care that day-to-day living was practically unliveable? Of course not. Buoyed on auspicious winds and laughter, they glided gently southwards.
It soon became clear that diffidence, uncertainty and a fear of the unknown got them nowhere. In order to resolve problems, they must act with absolute temerity and a complete lack of foresight.
To replenish food supplies they flew through murmurating flocks, stalled the propeller for as long as they dared, then scrapped the remains from the blades into Tupperware containers.
To drink, they ascended to terrifying, skull popping heights. Then dangling by fingertips, collected crystallised nimbus in butchered plastic barrels.
But despite determination and a consistent trajectory, fear still sometimes crept aboard.
When it did, they lay awake, solid with fear, listening as wind rolled and the plane creaked like breaking bone.
Their fear grew until it bound them and they dared not leave the air above their village. From time to time, they would pass over their old house and although neither mentioned it, the sight of it, its garden spilling out, its roof pitted with missing tiles, pained them greatly. But experience had taught them, even misery can be re-tooled. So drawing strength from its dry husk, they threw themselves with new vigour, back into the activities of survival.
Over time, time itself became superfluous.
Reduced to a single tick of light and dark it hardly seemed worth noting at all.
So it was with surprise when, one morning they awoke to forgotten warmth and the sound of returning geese and realised their batteries had powered them through an entire winter without fault.
They looked down at what they knew,
“I think it’s time Mr Greenhill.”
“I think you’re right,” replied her husband.
They walked arm in arm to the head of the craft and taking firm hold of the wheel, swung the plane out across the ocean.
Different air, different challenges, but they worked hard, risked all and survived.
On they flew, over France, over Spain then east, toward the Canary Islands.
Slowly, day by day, echoes of their old lives returned. They kept fit by pacing the wings, passing at exact points so not to disturb the plane’s equilibrium. They even made time for fun, trampolining into the geysers of bubbling air detonated by electrical storms.
Sex, hundreds of miles above the earth soon became unexceptional.
The officers entered through the battered front door, stumbling over piles of unopened mail. They stayed still a few moments, listening. When they heard nothing, they continued. They made a quick search of the downstairs and finding nothing out of place retired to the kitchen.
“Put the kettle on will ya Gerald,” said PC McDonald.
Gerald was all too familiar with the request.
“Yes, Gov,” he sighed.
As Gerald began searching through the cupboards, his colleagues made themselves comfortable around the kitchen table. They began to discuss the fortunes of the local football team and Gerald groaned as McDonald began to tell the same story he always told. How he’d got drunk with its star player at a charity dinner.
He ignored them, Gerald hated football.
“’Bout time,” snarled McDonald as Gerald handed him his tea.
“Well, now you’ve made the tea Gerald, I’ve chosen you get to check upstairs. You being the brightest and best and all that,” said McDonald.
The other offices sniggering into their tea.
“Really?” Replied Gerald, grimacing, “on my own?”
“Really,” replied McDonald, “And then you can make me another cuppa”
Such deft aeronauts had they become, they could afford to take time off. They anchored above the fissured volcanic landscape of Tenerife, rubbed in cream and stretched out on either wing tip.
As Mrs Greenhill lay there looking up, she shivered, imagining the vast blackness beyond the warmth of the blue. She looked over at her husband and smiled to see how peaceful he looked.
She wiped her forehead, took a sip of sangria donated by some holiday makers and sank back down upon her towel.
Gerald left the kitchen and began to climb the stairs. Looking back, he could see his colleagues peering at him from behind the kitchen doors.
Idiots he thought.
The more he climbed, the more confused he became. The stairs seemed endless. He began taking two steps at a time, but each time he thought he’d reached the top, they shifted sideways and continued upwards.
As he climbed he noticed small alcoves cut into the walls, each cluttered with smooth lithoidal objects his eye couldn’t quite categorise. Although each appeared illuminated, he could discern no light source, but was also certain they were emitting no light themselves. He blinked hard and continued on.
Eventually, just as he was considering turning back, he stepped onto a narrow landing. He looked about him, he saw the hallway was long, with five doors leading from it. It was cold and so absolutely silent, he wondered if he hadn’t gone deaf.
He moved from room to room and found nothing. Each one, immaculately tidy and completely empty. He began to relax a little, the knot in his chest untightening.
He came to the bathroom, the last room at the far end of the hallway. The door adjacent to it was open. He gave it a quick once over and his heart stopped.
Gerald fell to his knees, his hands on his stomach.
They lay flat out on the bed, naked and grey as wet oil, their mouths frozen and plugged with thick, white ooze.
Empty pill trays and torn letters littered the floor.
In his confusion, they seemed like garden statues put to bed.
He turned his head and heaved.
Tenerife was becoming a bore. They were sick of the unrelenting noise from the nightclubs and the idiots who kept trying to climb the line anchoring them to the earth.
They decided to head for somewhere else, somewhere a little quieter. Not home, that was never quite. Somewhere sunny, just a little quieter.
Banner image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Archives of the museum of Saint-Petersburg school of Karl May, Russia.)