Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine. Olwen counted her steps along the coastal path. In the corner of her eye she noticed as the waves crashed up against the rocks below. Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven. The breeze was only just noticeable. She paused and looked up at the seagulls riding the thermals above her. The wind was blowing strongly from the west.
Sixty-six, sixty-seven, and sixty-eight. She stopped and looked across the bay. Le Havre sat quietly in the distance. Her eyes lingered on the long beaches that curled around to the east. The weather wasn’t perfect, but perhaps it would do. There was nothing to suggest any new troop movements. There was no new artillery or vehicles that she could see. It would have to happen soon, it just had to.
She turned away from the water and looked down the slope which dropped away from the cliff’s edge. There was a mass of ferns and overgrown shrubs, which dropped back into a ditch. Just like she’d been told. She looked to her left, and then to her right. No one coming. She stepped forward and started counting again. One, two, three.
As she grew closer to the thick foliage she recognised the familiar point of a rudder poking through the leaves. Her breath caught in her throat, and she stopped on the spot. It was really here. She took another look around, no one here but her. She turned back and ran as quickly as she could, her heart quickening in her excitement.
The shrubs had overgrown into a ready-made shelter. She crouched underneath and pushed through the bracken until she found it, the Spitfire. She had been put down perfectly, just shy of the ditch. Olwen ran her hands over the paintwork. She was beautiful. Olwen’s excitement was suddenly tinged with sadness.
It seemed such a shame to have used her so coarsely. They had their reasons no doubt, some plan that she would never know of, but still. She was stroking the rough camouflage paint of the plane, as though to console her. She should have been flying. She should have been fighting. But then, she supposed, they all had their parts to play.
The canopy had been left open and its pilot was probably now off somewhere on a mission of his own. Though, to settle her mind, she still scanned the area for signs of blood or trauma. She leaned in and examined the cockpit. She grinned widely. She’d never been this close to a Spitfire before. She put her hands on the edge of the opening and pulled herself up into the cockpit, seating herself snugly in the pilot’s seat.
Olwen squeezed the sides of the seat and touched the instrument panel. She hadn’t been this excited, this happy, in so long. She placed her hands carefully on the control column. She thought about the man who would have flown it here, what he would have seen as he flew over the cliffs of the English coastline and across the channel.
She closed her eyes and thought about the last time she had been up so high. She had climbed Carn Llidi, the rocky hill near St. David’s Head. The day had been crystal clear. She never thought she’d see a Welsh sky so blue, a sun so bright. Though up high the wind had been strong, and she had to brace herself against the rocks. She had felt sure she could see half the length of Wales from where she stood.
She opened her eyes and sighed. Still here, still in a world thick with lies, and blood, and the smoke of violence hanging in the air. Sometimes it was all so much she felt like she couldn’t breathe, like the world was caving in on her. She felt herself getting smaller. No, she told herself, this wouldn’t do. It would be alright; she’d come this far, hadn’t she? Home wasn’t so far away. It wouldn’t be long now.
She looked around the empty cockpit, anything of use had already been taken by the resistance. Hopefully, they hadn’t found it. She reached around and felt under the back of the seat. There she felt a small lump. She sighed with relief. She ripped the small package from the tape that bound it to the leather. She placed in her lap and reached for her penknife.
She cut the package open. There it all was: a small handgun, bullets, new batteries for her radio, and the smallest of maps. She opened it and saw where the site of St. Mere Eglise had been stained with coal dust. St. Mere Eglise would be a twenty-five mile walk. They would have to be careful, stick to the fields. Hopefully, the Allies would find them first.
She checked her watch, she needed to get on. She took her jacket off and opened the thick blue fisherman’s shirt she wore. The batteries were small, the bullets too. She had found a larger bra and coated the bottom of the cups with thick fabric. She hid the batteries in one cup, the bullets and the map in the other. She did up the shirt and smoothed it down.
She held the gun in one hand, trying to estimate the weight of it. She unbuttoned her trousers and slipped them down and over her shoes. She placed the gun against her right thigh, and from her wrist she slipped off a large, thick rubber band which she had coiled there. She leaned down and pulled the band up her leg.
She pulled it up tight around her thigh, but with just enough give in it. She slipped the gun into place and then pulled the band further up, tightening the gun to her leg. It was cold, and hard, and dug into her muscle. She would have a bruise later. But it would have to do.
She climbed down from the cockpit. As she adjusted herself, she took one last look at the Spitfire. She muttered a small goodbye under her breath, and then snuck carefully back through the bracken. On emerging she stayed close to ground. She placed a hand to it. It felt dry. She pressed her fingers into the soil, still quite damp, but it was good enough.
Walking back into the village she saw one of the resident German soldiers smoking in the narrow street. He caught her eye and stepped lazily in front of her. He raised his eyebrows. “Tasche,” he said, clearly bored. She pretended not to understand him and tried to walk around him. He blocked her and took his cigarette from his mouth. “Poche!” he said more insistently.
Schneider would have made a terrible spy. He was more school prefect than soldier, doing the bare minimum just to get by. She showed him her jacket, then her trouser pockets. As she moved position she felt the gun slip against her leg. She froze. “Schneider?” He turned to the source of the voice. Another soldier was approaching them. Muller. She breathed a small sigh of relief and quickly slipped the gun back into position.
Schneider was muttering to Muller, who looked her way and motioned with his head for her to go. She walked away, as fast as she dared. When she was in through the front door of her cottage she ran straight upstairs, locking the bedroom door behind her. She pulled her morse radio from its hiding place under the floorboards and replaced the battery. She frantically tapped out her message.
Winds dropping. Ground dry. Small defence. Six soldiers. Muller will deal with. Three guns on hand. Eglise in three days. Muller will come.
The response came quickly.
Be ready. Good luck.
She sighed in relief. She put the radio, the map, the gun, under the floorboards, next to the bag she had already packed. She sat on the bed and breathed deeply. She had just one task left. To vouch for Muller, get him safely to the Allies. And try not to get killed in the process.
She lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. She thought about going home. She thought about herself in a plane, looking down on the English Channel. Flying far over the cliffs of Dover, past the lights of London, over the English countryside. There she saw them again, the Welsh mountains, welcoming her home. She sighed deeply. Not long now.
I wrote this piece as part of the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. The story had to be under 1000 words, written in 48 hours. My particular challenge was that it had to be a spy story and involve a fighter jet and a rubber band. Unfortunately, while the judges did give me some points, they heavily critiqued me on the fact that they didn’t really seem to understand much about WWII, France, or even Wales. Apparently, I should have written for an ‘international audience’ and explained everything. Two of the judges even criticised me for not saying what Olwen looked like, or how pretty she was, and I took that as my cue to not do any of these competitions again. I didn’t do the second story challenge for the first round of the competition, obviously, but I might write my idea down one day, just out of spite.
These competitions are great exercises, but with critique such as you described and lack of education from the judges AND their request to describe the prettiness of the character…. Well, you may as well write 100 single words on pieces of paper and get random passerbys to pick 3… Then write the story using their selected choices and ask a Primary School to critique the story.
Keep up the great work Julia x