1N 5 M1NUTE5

“If I had but five minutes to change the world I would start by altering every heartbeat”

5 minutes past 5 on the 5th of May.
That's when each of the plane crashes were. 1943. 1975. 2014. 2067. 2150.
Each crash has one survivor.
Each survivor must change the world.

This is my entry to the 'The Seventh Miss Hatfield' competition. I'm doing option 1.
~~~
Eternally grateful to MahoganyPumpkin™ for the cover (:

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1. Alfred Haines 05.05.1943

Alfred Haines 05.05.1943


“5 minutes until all men must be ready to fly to victory.”


They told us that every night, but we never caught a glimpse of ‘victory’, only destruction that mirrored our own. We saw plenty of shattered buildings, skeletal ruins and smoke plumes but the truth was that we were flying to Germany not to victory. Still, I suppose they had to keep feeding us lies to maintain the patriotism and the motivation for warfare that had somehow driven me to sign up just a few months ago.


“What would you do if you had these five minutes and any power you could choose?” I asked Jack and he grinned out at me from his smeared face.


“Wishing you could do something before you die, are you Alfie?” he asked and I winced. He was always so honest about what ‘flying to victory’ really meant. I might not have liked lies but my life was made up of them and they made living easier, somehow.


 “I don’t really know,” he added. “I suppose I’d choose the power to travel forward in time to discover a bomb that’s better than the things we carry and then use it to wipe Hitler and his whole stinkin’ boschland off the planet.”


“What difference would that make; there’d be another tyrant somewhere else and it would probably be you – the one who killed them all.”


“We all die anyway.”


“Not like that.”


“Well what would you do with your five bloody minutes and special bloody powers?”


“If I had five minutes to change the world I think I’d split it down into heartbeats and try to improve each one of them.”


 “Bloody hell that was deep. Can’t be dealing with riddles before a flight… arr, I dunno Alfie, you’re too philosophical, too intelligent for this war,” He looked me up and down, “Too young as well if I know anything.”


I flushed; “I’ve said; I’m sixteen.”


“I know yeh’ve said it but that don’t make it true.”


“Fourteen,” I said. There was so much more I want to say – idiocies really – how I missed being a child, how I missed not knowing what killing was like, how I missed home and the sunlight in Oxleigh graveyard.


“I knew it; God help us, we all knew it,” he said, trembling suddenly. “We knew it but we let you in; we needed every bloody child we could have. Damn it! You’re too young, damn it, too young to bash your brains out in a Spitfire.”


We didn’t talk again; we climbed into our own cramped cockpits and jerked the planes into action. Each pilot filing along the strip and then lurching into the air like it was some sort of ugly procession.  Perhaps it was a procession – a funeral procession.

No, stop it, stop these damn morbid thoughts. Just grit your teeth and lie to yourself. You shouldn’t talk to Jack because Jack blocks out the lies.

Jack had never approved of lies – it was odd how men still clung to alienated shreds of morality, as if it would excuse them of the murders they committed.


I looked about me at the cockpit and imagined, suddenly and horrifically, my own bust brain sliding down the controls that I was flicking.

 

***


My legs started to seize up as we were flying over Essen. It wasn’t so bad this time, my ninth; the first time I’d almost cried out into radio receiver from the cramp. This wasn’t the first time, this was my ninth life. Did that mean it was my last?


Damn, damn, damn! You’re not a bloody cat Alfred Haines. All you have to do is fly over there, blow the Nazi’s off the face of the earth and fly back. You’ll live. You lived before.


I couldn’t even tell which side of me was lying – the superstitious side or the tough, patriotic side – it could have been both. We weren’t really blowing Nazis off the face of the earth. We were blowing towns to smithereens. Our ‘successes’ came in the smoked bodies of civilians, or the fractured limbs of a hospital. We were still told to count them as successes.


What a load of bloody lies.


Those cockpits drove me mad; nothing but you and your limbs knotted up against the glass, threaded between levers. There was no one but yourself to talk to, so your conversations went round in circles, bouncing off the control panel in the air that kept on churning. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever fabricate a message for the radio receiver, just for the relief of hearing another human on the other end. I’d never realised how you could hunger human interest so desperately.


 The loneliness made me sicker than any turbulence although not quite as sick as the sound of gunfire.


The Messerschmitt came from nowhere, seemingly, because the cloud cover was thick and smoggy and the throbbing of my own engine drowned out the Jerry’s. For a minute I saw a face – dirty and smothered by the goggles – but enough of a human to force me to remember what I was usually able to forget.


The thing is that anyone wanting to survive a war has to remember that the ‘enemy’ is not, in fact, a foreign copy of you but inherently and generically evil. You have to forget that the ‘enemy’ might want to be there about as little as you do and that the ‘enemy’ might not actually like Hitler and might actually only put the portrait of him up when visitors come for tea. You have to forget that, last time, an ‘enemy’ started a football game on Christmas Day. You have to forget that that ‘enemy’ probably got blasted to pieces by the man who scored a goal against him. You have to forget that the ‘enemy’ is a human too and convince yourself instead that if you want to live then you have to put living before Sunday School, the Ten Commandments, and all basic morality.


You see, being a good soldier is sometimes less about fighting and more about thinking and how good you are at forcing yourself to forget.


For a moment I forgot about forgetting.


For a moment my hunger for be a child overwhelmed me and I was back home in the graveyard with the summer spilling through the leaves that tried to cup it; the light was dusty, golden, fragile and the smell of grass and evenings breathed against my nose.


Then a bullet pierced the cable for the radio transmitter and I refocused. The plane became alien and faceless and I let fire until I couldn’t feel anything anymore. The second Messerschmitt reared bulkily from the lightening-struck fog. A haze of bullets grazed the wing of my Spitfire and unbalanced me so I was rocking and the radio cable swung and swung and swung like a pendulum clock. It reeled out its seconds and I was struck suddenly by how utterly alone and unrecognised I was. My last words could not be heard by anyone. They’d just sit in the mess of metal and turn stale until everyone forgot to care about the fact that I’d ever even existed.


I’d just be a silent corpse; I would leave no trace.


Damn, damn, damn.


My cage was too great for curses. It was inconsolable so I fired blind volley after blind volley and the smoke tangled us in the air like pond weed in the infinite ocean of sky. When you were shooting at something and trying to right a plane, you couldn’t nauseate yourself with images of home or comfort or desolation. You simply lived and tried to continue living.


Then we were falling, diving, spiralling. The radio cable swung and swung and swung and I bashed around. I didn’t care about anything but finding something breakable and smashing it. The sky was dark and the ground was dark but the latter was pock-marked with fires, fire that I must have created; the lights careered and streaked around me in a carousel of flame until all I saw was burning lights that seemed to be hurting me and licking me and swallowing me.

 

***


I’m alive.


I’m bloody breathing for Christ’s-bloody-sake.


I was meant to die; I was dying, wasn’t I?


Why aren’t I dead? What happened? Oh My God. Oh My God. Oh My God. I’m alive. They’re all dead. How? I had dreams. They’re all burning. Last Day. World’s End. We’re not supposed to live. We all die on the fifth of May.


The other voices entered my head, unbidden. They did not creep in with my own thoughts but burst without warning in an outcry of muddled people. All the voices were terrified and they screamed themselves into louder and louder hysteria until all I could hear was noise. It was like I had fallen into a human cockpit.


The darkness was as sudden as the voices.

 

***


Alfred Haines’ wrist watch – miraculously still binding a broken radius – read five minutes past five. Something a historian might choose to find captivatingly and suspiciously coincidental.

 

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