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Where Eagles Dare

December 22, 2013 |  by  |  Featured, Writing

A whisper of breeze ruffled the airfield’s August-browned grass. The sky overhead was warm and inviting. With unlimited visibility, the bright blue canopy appeared as if it had pulled back from the earth to provide extra airspace beneath. One lone cotton-cloud lazed over the horizon. Two eagles circled effortlessly high overhead. It was a perfect day for flying.

Pilot Rod Rees strode across the lawn. A young man in the Summer of 1963, my Uncle Rod was little older than I was when I first heard the story of his maiden flight. My mother Arlene, only a girl then, saw no trace of fear as her older brother approached the field. His eyes were set, his face was determined, and his aircraft was slung confidently under his arm.

After weeks waiting for the kit to arrive, after a summer holiday spent indoors on painstaking assembly, after his fingers had become calloused from fine tooling and his lungs ravaged by glue fumes, the day had finally come for his dream to take flight.

Aircraft fuelled and pre-flight checklists completed, Rees glanced yet again at the listless pine-bough windsocks overlooking the R-Bar-Eagle farm’s upper horse paddock —newly rechristened the Galiano Island Airfield. He bent low over his aircraft and, with a high whine and a puff of blue smoke, the engine coughed to life. Rees cycled the controls and adjusted the radio’s trim knob one last time. He looked up, taking two half-steps backward.

The plane burst forward.

With shocking acceleration, the little craft jounced over the turf. Far sooner than expected, as if it had been all those weeks itching to break the reins of gravity, the plane bolted into the sky.

Uncle Rod’s labours paid off in that one moment. His creation at last tasted its first breath of sweet summer air. Its wings, nearly as wide as an eagle’s, waggled in excitement before flexing.

As if in triumph, the plane thrust one wingtip skyward. In an almost playful motion, it continued its roll, flipped onto its back, and drove straight into the ground.

It all happened in the space between breaths. The quick takeoff, the brief flight, the sudden return to earth. There was a shocked stillness, the only sound a muffled whine coming from beneath the belly-up aircraft. Rod stood stunned. As if waking with a start, he killed the struggling engine and dashed over to search for survivors.

For a long time Rod examined and prodded at the shattered propeller and crooked wings. My mother watched her brother’s efforts from beneath the shade of the old pine at the end of the drive. She knew from hard-earned experience that the fiery look in his eyes meant not to say anything as he passed on his way to the garage, nor on his way back with the jerrycan of fuel.

Soaring high above, two eagles floated on endless thermals. Aside from a cloud of black pyre-smoke rising from the farm below, it was a perfect day for flying.

Prompt: CBC Canada Writes “Bloodlines Challenge”.

We want the stories you tell at parties and at dinners with friends. When your family gets together, what stories are retold? Do you have a colourful aunt or uncle? How did your grandmother get her pasta recipe? Why don’t you ever talk about that relative two generations back who disappeared so suddenly and mysteriously?

Pluck the juiciest story from your family tree and share it with us.

Stories must be true and be between 400 and 500 words. Submissions must also include an image (something to illustrate your story).


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