I had received the invitation to the party somewhat out of the blue. It was from someone who was outside my scientific discipline as they were not known to me either personally or professionally, but who clearly had a knowledge of my field, judging by the contents of the polite note sent to me accompanying the actual RSVP, signed by one Dr. David Fielding. The invitation was printed on a pale, almost white, blue card – tastefully inscribed by hand and requesting my attendance at a gathering at the weekend, in a hall tolerably close to my home. I was intrigued and also somewhat fascinated as my disciplines of aeronautical metallurgy and crash analysis are not well populated and are somewhat niche sciences, only called upon when disaster strikes and governments want answers, and to have a note expressing the desire to pick my brains about a “small problem” he was having was a welcome change from my usual routine. The note, although friendly and urbane in nature, yielded little clue about his “small problem” and I quickly resolved to attend the affair as my curiosity was piqued, both by the gentleman and the chance to grapple with a new problem. Yes, I replied cordially, I would be delighted to attend this function and to make the acquaintance of Dr. Fielding and the other guests. I acknowledged the dress code (suit, tie, but not TERRIBLY formal) and dutifully nipped out to the post office to post the reply first class, this being Tuesday and the party being Saturday.
A quick Google search after doing this small chore of Dr. Fielding turned up precious little, besides a few minor papers published in various scientific and metallurgical journals on his chosen field of stress-strain analysis. This didn’t unduly concern me as his field of specialty is even more rarefied than mine, although he probably had done more actual work beyond the research I covered with my search, which to be fair was quite half-hearted.
Saturday soon dawned, however. A busy week because of a small aircraft crashing at Church Fenton in Yorkshire had flown by (a terrible pun, I know!) and my analyses had confirmed eyewitness statements that the starboard wing had folded and broken at the root due to fatigue failure, causing uncontrolled departure from normal flight and an unrecoverable crash by the pilot, who had by some remarkable miracle, survived the accident but was in intensive care. Anyway, I hummed cheerfully as I bathed, shaved and donned my favourite grey Christian Dior tailored suit. Suitably attired and shod, and having availed myself of a small whisky on the way out, I made my way to the taxi I had called in a good humour.
Upon arrival at the hall, my coat was most courteously taken to the cloakroom by an extraordinarily polite young lady, who then accompanied me to show the way to the main room where the affair was being held. As I crossed the threshold, I was relieved of my invitation by a young, uniformed serving gentleman who propelled me in the direction of the bar and made sure I was provisioned adequately (with a stiff single malt over a single ice cube, as was my wont) before pointing out Dr. Fielding speaking to a small group of men and women at the far side of the room, near the large window. As I walked over to introduce myself, I noted the natural warmth of his personality on his lean face as he discoursed with his listeners. He appeared to be a jovial man, dressed in tweed and radiating bonhomie and good humour. He was otherwise unremarkable, looking pleasantly average in all departments as he appeared to listen intently to his conversationalists and sip from a balloon of brandy. He espied my arrival, and excused himself, strolling over to greet me.
Dr. Fielding shook my hand firmly, but without the excess pressure that men trying (and failing) to prove their own fragile masculinity use. I returned the gesture and greeted the gentleman cordially.
“Dr. Fielding. A pleasure to meet you, sir, although I am still somewhat confused how you have heard of me and how I can be of service to you, what with your “small problem.”
The good doctor looked directly into my eyes, and replied, “My dear chap, please call me David. I read the scientific and technical journals of metallurgy and failure analysis very closely. You kept appearing in them and your articles were arresting and concise, yet factual, which is a rare and treasured combination in academia, I am sure you’ll agree. The problem of which I spoke is merely a ten minute walk over the fields behind the house. But first let us enjoy the company of these fine people for a while longer.”
I nodded my assent and proceeded to mix with the other guests, including Mrs. Fielding, who proved to be a charming and erudite lady, quite capable of holding her conversational own with some of us fusty academics and engineers. At length, Dr. Fielding requested the pleasure of my company to view his small problem.
His problem was certainly unusual. Without a word, he gestured at it and the scaffold erected around it. I was taken aback, confused and affrighted. Dr. Fielding’s problem was a crashed aircraft, but of a type I had never seen in flight as it had been retired from service many years ago. It was a De Havilland Dove, in the colours (the “raspberry ripple”) of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. That was interesting as to my knowledge the RAE hadn’t flown any Doves. Equally strange and disturbing was the fact that although the propellers were bent and the aircraft clearly had force landed, there was not a single piece of debris, or a trail where the aircraft would have dragged along the ground, leaving a furrow in the earth. It was as if the aircraft had been dropped from just above the ground into its current position. I looked for the serial number so I could possibly identify the aircraft and report it to the military authorities, but there did not appear to be one extant on the fuselage or tailfin. I turned to Dr. Fielding and spoke brusquely.
“Doctor. How has this happened? There is nothing that indicates that this aircraft met its demise here. It appears to have had its accident somewhere else and been brought here for purposes unknown. Forgive me for asking, but is this some kind of test, or unpleasant joke? Has any of this been reported to the authorities? None of what I see makes any kind of sense.”
Dr. Fielding turned to face me, all good humour absent from his face and his mouth drawn into a thin-lipped, tense line.
“Sir, I regret it is no test or joke. The local constabulary are aware and as far as I know have contacted the air force and Farnborough. Both organisations have denied having this aircraft in their inventories since the 1970s and wish nothing further to do with the matter. The owners of the house brought this aircraft to my attention one week ago. I have lain awake and puzzled as to how and why it has ended up here. All I know is that it is horrible. We cannot gain entry to the aircraft…” Here the doctor shuddered violently. “Pray, have you looked inside the cabin or the cockpit yet?”
I had not and told Dr. Fielding this. He merely indicated with a tired wave of his hand that I should go forward and said,
“Perhaps you should inspect it.”
I pressed the doctor but he refused to be drawn any further into a discussion, merely maintaining that I should look for myself and then come and talk to him. He then descended the scaffold, moving like an old, stiff man.
I was dreadfully overcome with the fear of what I might see in the cockpit area, without knowing why, and every step along the fuselage brought a corresponding increase in dread until I very reluctantly reached the cockpit glazing – or what was left of it. Fighting against my instincts, I bent my head and looked inside.
Oh, the horror! I stumbled back and bounced off the handrails on the scaffold and fell to my knees, unable to blot out the scene within the cockpit by closing my eyes. My earlier whisky turned instantly acid in my stomach and I fought down the urge to vomit. The flight crew, pilot and co-pilot were still in there! And grotesquely, still in their seats forever joined together by a piece of stanchion or airframe that had separated from the aeroplane in the crash and punched through both heads, skewering them neatly, yet horrifyingly. Death must have been instantaneous. Sitting down as I was at eye level with the corpses, I found myself unable to drag my eyes away from this terrible tableau. Both crewmen were dressed in flying kit, and to my eye (even as I shuddered and heaved and struggled to contain myself) it was clear that their equipment was vintage, as was the uniform dress they wore. Both had their eyes open and both pairs of eyes had the milky film of death covering them. I shook off my horror and moved to the nose of the Dove. My fear then redoubled itself as it appeared that the dead eyes of the co-pilot had followed my ambulation and he was yet staring directly at me, without my having discerned any movement of his lifeless, cold eyes. Trembling, I took out my mobile phone and set it to record the horror within the Dove. I moved back towards the side glazing and took video of myself doing this, pausing at the side glazing to discover that the co-pilot was once again piercing me with his dead gaze.
This was enough for me and in a paroxysm of terror I threw myself from the scaffolding as fast as I could move and raced the full distance back to the house, where Dr. Fielding was waiting for me. I rushed straight past him and headed for the bar where I indicated I should like a large single malt, which I drank speedily. I ordered a second double which I imbibed even more speedily before turning upon Dr. Fielding, shaking with rage and terror. It took a moment to realise that all the guests had departed.
“WHY DID YOU NOT WARN ME OF THIS?” I demanded, loudly and hoarsely, my composure and manners utterly destroyed by what I had witnessed. “The co-pilot LOOKED at me! But he was dead! Stone dead. And there was no putrefaction of the corpses, yet they are clearly from the past… I have no idea…”
My voice trailed off as the enormity of my experience hit me, and I sat heavily in the chair behind me as Mrs. Fielding muttered intently into the doctor’s ear. He turned and said,
“My wife thinks you should come and spend the night at our house as you have had a very unpleasant shock. I agree with her. Please come outside and I will bring my car over to you.”
I was in no fit state to argue or disagree, as the grim tableau of the cockpit and the lifeless eyes of the co-pilot pierced me though once more in the eye of my mind. With shaky hands, I pulled out my phone and replayed the video.
Nothing. Not a damned thing. Just black on the screen. My expostulations of horror and terror and fear were clearly heard but there were no images. Gripped by disappointment, I replaced the phone in my pocket and loosened by tie and collar. Yet, I knew what I had saw and the images were all too vivid in my mind. I nodded assent to the doctor and his wife, not trusting my tongue, and followed them timorously to the car park.
The doctor and his wife got into a long, low Mercedes car and started the engine. It was parked next to a steep slope (the hall I had visited being at the top of an escarpement). I don’t know what happened to the doctor but the car reversed suddenly and plunged down the slope, hitting a rock that upended it, and it landed upon its roof with a stupefying crash and clamour upon the tarmacadam road beneath the hill.
I immediately rushed down to offer assistance. I shattered the passenger door window of the car in somewhat of a funk as it has been a most trying day and my mind has clearly resorted to action in place of cowering in fear, and pulled Mrs. Fielding free of the vehicle, trying to not cut her on the fragments of glass and failing in some small measure. Pulling her clear and sitting her up against a bollard, I got her blood upon my shirt as I stripped my suit jacket off and placed it around her shoulders. She was crying, the tears streaking mascara down her cheeks as fragmented words spilled from her between gasps for breath and wailing. One sentence was discernible – just one.
“Oh my God, it’s happening again!”
Then she returned to incoherence and tears. After assuring her she would be safe, I raced back to the car and reached in to turn off the engine, as Dr. Fielding’s foot was wedged against the accelerator and the engine was screaming. The noise ceased as the engine juddered to a halt. I spoke feverishly to the doctor, trying to ascertain if he was seriously injured. There was no response from him and to my horror I noticed that there was a gaping wound pumping scarlet blood from his arm, but it was the arm I needed to pull in order to get him out of his wrecked car. I came to a decision and pulled. Thankfully the doctor moved fairly freely as he was unconscious, but as I had to exert greater force to extricate him through the window of the car something deeply unpleasant happened. I de-gloved the doctor’s arm. In a spray of blood, the flesh came away from the doctor’s arm and I held a flopping, repugnant and bleeding mass of flesh and skin in my hands. In my already shocked state, I fell to my knees and vomited copiously and threw the appendage from me. My back was turned to Dr. Fielding as I prayed to God and continued to retch, until I became aware of a sound behind me.
I was terrified and afraid to turn as the noise, a grinding, BONY sound became underpinned with a thin keening. I forced my head to turn and to gaze upon the misshapen figure of Dr. Fielding standing. Looking at me with a ruined face and ululating in his throat. My sight was drawn to the tendons, cartilage and bones of his arm as it slowly and horrifyingly re-shaped itself. The bones of the hand retracted into the radius and ulna as they cracked themselves and stretched forward into points, flattening and fusing themselves as they did so. The mouth of Dr. Fielding opened and the ululating became a scream. A scream that was utterly inhuman and without syllabification. And of constantly increasing volume. Aghast, and frozen to the spot with terror, I watched as the bones of his arm finished their grim metamorphosis and I watched also as the jaw of the doctor grew ever more inhumanly wide and the scream became alien and so loud it robbed me of my senses. Still the doctor’s jaw stretched, sinews snapped and the jawbone audibly cracked and the screech started to create harmonic pains in my head. I threw my hands over my ears to drown out the noise from that impossibly wide mouth and squeezed my eyes tight shut, yet still the sound increased and I became conscious that I was screaming myself, yet I could not hear my own expostulations. I opened my eyes as the pain in my head became too much and then what was the doctor lunged, mouth agape and eyes of obsidian.
I looked down to my abdomen and felt the bone blade tear upwards. Pain became my universe. I looked into the eyes of the doctor and saw nothing but black.
Disclaimer: This short story is solely the property of Dark Juan. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.