“There are three bullet holes in the radiator. There’s a family of mice living in the carburetor.” They’d been nesting there long enough Reggie was surprised they hadn’t put up curtains and needlework samplers. “The aileron cables are so slack they look like liquorice whips.” Reggie had the Jenny’s engine in pieces, spread all around him on a vast oily tarp inside the garage.
Reggie knew a bit about aircraft repair. Out on the Western front the ‘planes had broken down all the time, and they always needed repairs when they came back from dogfights. There had been whole hosts of mechanics to keep the machines running, but any pilot worth his salt oversaw repairs on his own ship, because a healthy engine was the only thing keeping you from the utter embarrassment of crashing during takeoff or the slightly less humiliating fate of falling out of the sky. “Don’t even ask if the landing wheels will hold her weight.” He’d found the remains of the landing gear tucked inside the rear cockpit. It looked like they’d snapped off during some epically bad landing and been shoved back there in a fit of pique. “The windshield is cracked and’ll probably explode in a thousand pieces once the engine starts vibrating.”
“So can you get it back in flying shape?” Neville asked.
Reggie sighed. “Sure,” he said. When a Curtiss Jenny was brand new it was basically constructed out of whatever scrap you found behind a hardware store. The ‘planes could be rebuilt from bottom to top for the price of one of the Packard’s spare tires. “If I can get some peace and quiet back here.”
“I shall be as silent as one of those carburetor mice,” Neville claimed.
A promise that proved impossible to keep, given the mummy’s garrulous nature. But Reggie found the greatest surprise of all was that he didn’t quite mind.
Putting the old ‘plane back together, whipping it into shape, took every bit of his concentration and brainpower. He found that while working on the damned thing he didn’t think at all about running through blood-stained forests at night, or how much he’d like to sink his fangs into human flesh.
For the first time since he’d become a werewolf, Reggie didn’t spend every waking minute remembering that he was, in fact, a werewolf.
When he finally tightened the last nut and plucked the last cable with one finger and heard it thrum like a violin string, he was very close to being at peace with himself. A feeling so devoutly to be wished, so absolutely joyously delightful that it lasted a good ten minutes before he was miserable again.
Miserable for two reasons: first, he was still a werewolf. Secondly, he was a werewolf who was going to have to actually fly the damned ‘plane.
When the appointed day broke sunny and clear, all the servants of the house—Mrs. Patavatsky, Hughes the ghostly butler, and the ushabtis from the conservatory—helped push the Jenny out onto the longest strip of lawn. Reggie paced out the length of the grassy sward. It was just about long enough. He tested the wind with a finger, then looked at the thing he’d hoped was a butterfly net but which was actually a windsock. A good stiff breeze blew in just the right direction.
Neville came out of the house dressed, as always, for the event. He wore a heavy leather coat lined with sheepskin, the most elaborate pair of goggles Reggie had ever seen, and one of those not-for-football-at-all helmets, a leather aviator’s helmet that strapped tightly under his bandaged chin. His ivory-colored silk scarf was long enough it nearly touched the ground.
Lacking visible facial features, Neville loved to accessorize.
Hughes manifested on the physical plane briefly, just long enough to hand the two aviators a flute of champagne each. Neville tossed his back and then smashed the glass on the bricks of the garden path. Reggie took a sip of his, then handed the drink over to Mrs. P, who nodded her thanks that he hadn’t just destroyed a valuable piece of crystalware.
The two of them climbed into the Jenny, Reggie in the front position. The Jenny had dual controls so it could be flown from either of its two cockpits. He had considered cutting the linkages to Neville’s position but hadn’t had the heart to sabotage his own hard work. He pumped the fuel lever. Checked his battery and his oil level. Threw Mrs. P a wave.
The redoubtable woman grabbed the propeller in both hands and gave it a mighty heave, then jumped back as the engine caught and the propeller whirred. Someone yanked away the chocks and they were off, bouncing down the lawn, the wing above Reggie’s head bouncing up and down until it looked like it was flapping, the engine roaring as her poured on the RPMs. The grass flew by beneath them and up ahead a line of trees loomed forward, ready to catch and probably kill them if this didn’t work.
It was at this very moment that Reggie remembered how he’d felt on his first solo flight. How he’d thought about how mankind had finally invented a thing that fully encapsulated human existence: the perfect admixture of limitless joy and abject, howling terror.
“Come on, girl,” he whispered, as his speed indicator crept upward, not nearly as fast as he would have liked. Those trees were getting awfully close. “Come now. Come on now. Let’s be good to each other.”
Most runways were not built on the edge of old-growth forest. For a reason.
His stomach lurched and he felt the wings grow taut, felt all his cables thrum as the ‘plane left the ground, basically a giant box kite with a rebuilt engine less powerful than the one in the Packard. Those trees were awfully close. They were far too close. Then they were even closer, and he wasn’t getting enough altitude—
He took one last deep breath and pulled back hard on the stick.
The landing gear took a few twigs off the top of an ancient oak tree. The whole ‘plane slewed over ten degrees to the right, the rotary engine threatening to pull it over into a barrel roll it would not survive. Reggie wrestled with the stick like it was a python attempting to sink its fangs into some fleshy part of him.
And it worked.
He leveled out, feathered the engine, and they were actually, truly, flying.
Traditionally pilots in an open cockpit biplane are unable to hear each other speak over the roar of the engine and the rush of the wind. They had developed an elaborate language of hand signals to allow them to communicate in mid-air.
Of course, the originators of that language had not accounted for the exceptional sense of hearing possessed by a werewolf.
Nor just how loud a mummy could whoop for pure joy.