04 – THE STORM AND THE NIGHT FLYER

In the far distance Jingle saw the triangular sail drifting on the storm clouds. The shearing winds had just hit the Walrus and Jingle could not believe that the sail would withstand the forces nature was inflicting on it.

We are in someone’s imagination, he thought but he could not really believe it. The wheel in his hands was cold to the touch and he could feel the wind pressure changes through the pedals under his feet. Rain had begun to spatter the windscreen in front of him and the wind whipped the drops away almost as soon as they landed.

The aircraft was fifty years old if it were a day, much more probably, and the single propeller that kept it aloft strained audibly.

Somewhere metal creaked.

He had been in the air for no more than ten minutes, and already he felt his arms becoming weak and his chest heaving with the exertion. His body ached from the hem of his clothes to the tips of his antlers and Jingle knew this was not going to be pretty.

He pulled back on the yoke and the aircraft climbed, the altimeter spinning slowly upward from 15 thousand feet; slowly the buffeting began to ease but the sail some distance below disappeared into the clouds.

With one three fingered hand Jingle did up the flight jacket.

Where did that come from? He thought, but was thankful for it as the temperature began to drop.

Across the horizon the sun was dipping low, staining the sky with a red’s and purple’s. Jingle didn’t know if he’d seen a sunset before, he certainly had never seen anything quite like this one.

The pain in his arms was forgotten as he watched in silence. The reds faded to purple’s and the purple’s faded to black and Jingle found himself flying in imaginations night.

He kept his eye on the compass and hoped for the best.

It was some time later that he heard it, a shrill whistle that could even be heard over the engine that sent his teeth on edge. The Walrus’s’ cockpit was surrounded on three sides by large thick glass and above him the windscreen gave him a good view of the top-most wing and engine housing of the bi-plane style wing configuration; and it was just past this that he saw it.

Whatever it was it was a slightly lighter shade of black than the surrounding sky and it flew on tenebrous wings that might have been twenty feet from tip to tip.

It did not seem hurried or hassled by the presence of the Walrus, it kept easy pace and seemed to be almost playful as it span and dived close only to back away with an ease that was mystifying.

Jingle pulled his felt antler out of the way and craned his neck to get a better view.

It looked, well, like a bat; a very large bat at that.

With three incredibly powerful beats of it wings the figure moved ahead of the Walrus then drifted until it was level with the hatch on the cockpits far side.

Jingle would be lying to say that he was afraid, he wasn’t afraid, he was petrified.

So he just sat there, his small bottom jaw slightly ajar showing even white teeth and pink tongue; all made of fine felt.

The inner workings of the hatch started to turn and the door itself cracked open a sliver. The wind rushed in and sent the still inflated dinghy flying down the surprisingly spacious cabin.

The door opened a little further and a skinny black hand sporting three fingers with long felt nails slithered in.

Jingle watched, glued to the spot as the winged figure clambered into the space between cockpit and cabin. It was huge, bigger than Jingle by about a third, but most of its volume was made up of the fine wings made of some gossamer material.

The door closed with a resounding clunk and the inner workings were fastened shut.

The figure shuddered and rainwater flung from it, its wings drooped low and it looked up at Jingle with huge yellow eyes.

It was a bat alright, its fur was grey tinged with a dark blue and its hands and feet were both skeletal and black.

Though the rest of it, Jingle had to admit, was pretty fat.

Overweight even.

“Alright mate.” The bat said in a lilting Australian accent. “I hope you don’t mind me laying down wing for a bit. Bloody billowy out there. Beginning’ ta think I’d end up with a pigeon wrapped around me neck.”

With that the seven foot bat wrapped its wings around its torso like a robe and stuck out a skinny hand.

“Put it there mate, the names Echo. Geddit? Huh?”

Jingle stuck out his own hand and the bat shook it vigorously.

“Pleased to meet you.” Jingle said and then stopped in complete shock.

He spoke, he actually spoke with his own mouth and tongue like a person; like a real live person would. He repeated the words, listening to himself. He sounded English and well spoken with well rounded vowels and a slightly deep tone.

“My names Jingle.” He concluded and pointed to the co-pilots seat next to him. “Please take a seat.”

Echo folded himself into the co-pilots seat and Jingle noticed something else, if you disregarded the wings and spindly appendages Echo’s body consisted of a round ball of grey fluff about the same size as his own.

The bat scratched his head with one claw and peered over to him with one raised eyebrow.

“Old ship innit!”

Jingle nodded, not sure how to respond.

“How long you been up?”

Jingle opened his mouth to answer but found that he had no idea so he just shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled what he hoped was a friendly smile.

Echo looked around the controls, beaming with childlike enthusiasm.

Jingle found that he liked this bat, despite his immediate shock and fear at seeing him floating around outside. Once Echo opened his mouth and spoke in that disarming tone all Jingles apprehension had fluttered away.

“Gawd, I ain’t been aboard an old Walrus in donkey’s years.” Echo tapped the glass covering the altimeter as he spoke.

“You fly?”

“I’m a bloody bat mate, course I fly…”

Jingle had to acknowledge it was a somewhat foolish thing to ask.

“Would you like to take over for a while?”

“Would I!”

Echo grinned and grasped the aircrafts wheel; Jingle hesitated for the barest moment and then relinquished control.

The aircraft itself didn’t notice.

Jingle sank back into the flight seat, his head lolling back and then to the side.

Beside him Echo grinned maniacally, his lips were pilled back displaying three quarters of a million pin-like teeth.

Jingle shuddered.

“So where you goin’?” The bat asked without taking his saucer eyes from the horizon.

“East north-east; follow the wind.”

“That I can do. Glider you know, we’re good at that.”

Jingle listened to the drone of the engine above them, the vibrations throughout the craft lulling him to sleep.

Everything was bathed red when he awoke, as if someone had crept in and deposited rose coloured sunglasses on him in the night.

The bat was shaking him, probably more roughly than was strictly necessary.

“Will you wake up! Gawd, you sleep like the dead, you know.”

Jingle shifted and an ache swept through his frame.

Beside him the bat was shifting around too, agitatedly Echo glanced sideways at Jingle and writhed in his seat like he desperately needed the bathroom. It was then that Jingle realised Echo’s eyes were squinted to little slits.

Jingle grabbed the aircrafts wheel and with a sound like dry fluttering leaves Echo released his controls and rolled out of his seat. The bat curled up behind the seat, hiding from the bright morning sun.

“The dinghy,” Jingle barked suddenly, “use the dinghy.”

Echo peeked out from under one tissue thin wing and hooked the dinghy with one felt fingertip. Within half a moment the rubber boat was upturned and Echo was curled up under it.

“I’m sorry Echo, I didn’t realise.”

“I’ll be alright mate, just need to let ‘em adjust. Gawd; mornings, can’t stand ‘em.”

Jingle glanced over his shoulder, Echo had hidden himself and all that could be seen was a single skinny foot poking out from under the yellow dinghy.

“I think I saw land ahead; just to port.” Echo mumbled.

Jingles peered out over the horizon, squinting into the bright sunlight and there, just north of the rising sun was an unmistakable shard of land, a finger of it pointing almost directly at the Walrus.

Jingle eased the aircraft around to the east and headed to land.

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