Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Storm

The Storm

Jack listened to the wind howling and heard the window frames rattling as the storm whipped itself into a frenzy. Outside all was not calm but Jack, in his ivory tower, did not worry. A illuminating even more the wondrous items Jack had collected all around him.

The magnolia walls of this luxurious dwelling were the result of a sustained buying up of sale price paint. As Jack remarked to the salesperson (Jack didn’t take much notice of people and would not have been able to say definitely if the person was male or female), “Magnolia goes with all décor.”

Crystal chandeliers sparkled in their reflected glory; the deep blue plush velvet chairs and chaise lounges scattered willy-nilly on the pure wool carpet (New Zealand made of course) highlighted Jack’s exceedingly grandiose tastes. Nothing was spared in time or money to present the façade Jack so delighted in.

Jack was a loner.

Jack did not like other folks cluttering up his important life. He employed women from the village at the foot of the mountain to maintain the tasteful standards he demanded. Not that he ever encountered this busy work team. They arrived at the dwelling in the clouds when Jack was asleep. The hour long trudge up the mountain- side the women workers did not mind. Nor did they care they never laid eyes on their boss. Except if their work was slovenly, and then they didn’t see him, just the letter of dismissal he left on the highly polished, lace covered mahogany table with its monstrosity of a flower arrangement (always white lilies!) that almost covered its immaculate surface. On the whole the women liked this job. No boss around and there was a certain satisfaction in knowing their hard toil kept the place like the palace it purported to be.

The fact it was in the dead of night when they wended their way up the narrow track was a bit of a worry. Not that they were at risk of attack; oh no! Jack kept his two guard dogs, Snap and Bite in a compound at the entrance gate. Legitimate visitors had a card, which they zapped, and this in turn locked the compound ensuring the dogs would, or could, not attack.

Jack liked to think that he was the master of his destiny: a destiny of living in splendour, being in charge of his life, and not having the hassle and bother of “other folks”. “Other folks” were what Jack detested. They were the people who turned order into chaos.

* * * * * * *
Fred cast an anxious eye out the cockpit of the Tiger Moth. Ahead he could see a storm and a storm was the last thing Fred wished to encounter. The black clouds crashed together and a flash of lightning zigzagged across the darkening sky.

For months Fred had worked towards this weekend. A gathering of pre-1980’s fixed wing planes had filled his dreams and thoughts night and day.

Fred was a fighter pilot during the war and had kept up an interest in aircraft. Flying a small plane in the elements showed a courage he considered pilots of the modern passenger aircraft did not possess. The constant use of electronic navigational aids did not encourage the pilot to keep a weather eye alert. The pressurised cabin was no match for the wind and rain which he encountered flying his baby.

Modern flying was so ho-hum. No different in reality to getting on a bus or a train. Except of course, one couldn’t get off until landing.

Fred in his twilight years remained an excellent advertisement of how life could be lived. ‘Live life to its fullest’ was his motto. And living life to its fullest was what Fred did every day. Flying his aeroplane, climbing large hills (mountains he had given up on when turning 75), swimming daily in the ocean: all these activities kept Fred young in body and mind.

Fred did not like the scenery outside the window. The clouds were coming ever closer. He had already hit a serious bump of turbulence and the plane had plummeted several feet downwards. Fred valued his life and had no intention of letting him, or his plane end up in untoward circumstances.

A gap in the clouds appeared, and Fred could make out bright lights below. Perhaps he should attempt an emergency landing whilst he had the chance. Even if the storm took a couple of hours to work itself out, Fred still had loads of time to complete his journey and in one piece as well.

Another flash of lightning and a loud crash of thunder rent the skies. The little Tiger Moth struggled to stay aloft. Fred was quickly becoming alarmed. His many years of flying had taught him one thing. Do not think you can control the weather.

Safety was the better part of valour. Fred took control of the situation and manipulated his little plane down through the break in the clouds and made his careful way towards the bright lights.

* * * * * *

The old oak trees which surrounded the never used tennis courts were creaking and groaning as the wind whipped around, leaves flying in all directions, a high branch showing a fissure of white where the wind threatened to break it off completely. A sudden gust lifted the roof off the changing pavilion and set off the burglar alarm with a horrendous shrilling.

Jack, slumbering fitfully in his spacious room grunted and opened his eyes. What was the noise he had heard? He slid out of bed, thrusting his feet into the carpet slippers on the mat, and shrugging into his dressing gown padded over to the window. Flashes of lightning lit the skies. Jack could see the mess outside and over by the tennis court in particular. He would have to go and investigate. There was no sense in allowing the whole property to be lifted up and whipped away during the night.

As Jack opened the door another noise gained his attention. A sudden light accompanied by a crashing noise almost sent him back into the safety of the house, but too much was at stake. Bother and damnation!! Jack’s patience were at their lowest in the wee small hours of the morning and to be outside in a storm at that ridiculous hour irked him even more.

He stomped over the lawn, narrowly missing treading on the herbaceous border that tonight looked like a disaster area. All was in darkness again. The lightning seemed to have moved towards the hills and large raindrops plopped onto Jack’s nose. This was becoming quite intolerable!

“Help.” A faint cry attracted Jack’s attention. “Help, help me please.”

Jack listened. Surely those silly women hadn’t walked the narrow path in such a storm to clean his house? It didn’t sound like a woman’s voice, though to be honest Jack had not heard many voices for years.

“Help.” There it was again. It sounded near by. Jack gave himself a mental ticking off. He should have brought a torch. There he was, outside in the rain which by now was falling steadily, no torch, and strange sounds coming from the direction of the tennis court. Nothing for it, he decided but go and take a look. For all he knew the noise could have come from someone on his property with criminal intent. That thought was enough to energise him. He strode purposely towards the tennis courts, his slippers becoming wetter by the moment, and his pyjama trousers legs flapping damply about his ankles.

In the half-light Jack could make out something suspended in the tree that was leaning precariously under the strength of the storm. “Help!” The sound was stronger now and very near. “Help me please.”

Jack peered into the gloom. That thing in the trees was moving. Was it? It couldn’t be? It was…. it was a parachute, and dangling in the lower branches Jack made out the shape of a man. A man calling for help.

Jack was startled. He did not want to see people. He did not want to know about people needing help: people who might enter his home whilst he was there. That meant conversation, and Jack had left conversation way behind, many years ago. Jack cursed inwardly.

“Can you get me down from this confounded tree?” the cry was distinct and urgent. “I think I have a broken ankle.”

Jack thought. A broken ankle? That meant he would have to carry the man to the house, and call for medical attention. But, hang on; the weather was too rough for a doctor to come up tonight. Trees may have covered the track further down, and Jack could see that this rescue attempt was over to him.

Jack hurried over. Above him hung Fred, captured by his parachute harness, in the fork of the oak tree. “Where was the ladder?” Jack had to think back to where he had noticed it last. He recollected the gardener had not long ago trimmed the high hedge that separated the lawn from the vegetable patch, and the ladder had been in use to trim along the top. Jack stepped gingerly across the turf and grabbed the ladder that was standing against the wall of the garden shed.

“Won’t be a tick,” he called. He carried the ladder over to the oak, set it up as best he could in the conditions, and carefully positioned himself to give the assistance to the injured Fred who managed to get enough traction to lift him-self off the tree fork and tumbled the short distance to the ground, moaning as he landed on the grass. “Thank you squire,” Fred said. “You have saved my life.”

“How did you arrive here?” asked Jack, his voice very quiet and scratchy after years of not being involved in conversation.

Fred thought. “I flew in,” he replied, trying to make light of the situation.

“Flew in!” Jack retorted. “Where is your ‘plane then?”

Fred shook his head ruefully and replied,” My plane sir, crash-landed in the other field, and I managed to eject before the impact. You must stay clear as it may burst into flames.”

Jack hoped not, but felt that the ‘plane had been on the ground too long for that eventuality anyway.

He hurried as fast as the dim light and the now fierce storm conditions allowed back to the garden shed where he managed to find not only a torch with good batteries, but also some twine. The twine he used to tie Fred onto the ladder, and somehow he dragged the ladder, and Fred, back to the house. Helping Fred indoors meant Jack having to touch the man. Jack had not touched anyone for over 20 years.

“Lean on my shoulder can’t you?” Jack muttered quietly. It was a huge responsibility to have placed on him. Jack could feel a tight band around his chest and he knew he was nervous of this situation. Fred leant gratefully against Jack’s arm and together they maneuvered themselves into the front room where Fred slumped onto the sofa. Jack eased off Fred’s boot and took a look at the ankle. It didn’t appear to be broken, just badly bruised and swollen. Carefully Fred attempted to move his foot and found he could. He raised a twisted smile as he remarked, “It seems the ankle isn’t broken. I will be able to leave once this storm abates.”

Jack’s careful upbringing had installed in him the necessity of hospitality and he asked Fred if he preferred tea or coffee. Fred replied, “Tea would be welcome, thank you.”

Jack hurried into the kitchen and quickly found the electric jug that he filled from the tap. Whilst the jug was boiling he placed two cups on a tray, and fished in the cupboards until he found the biscuits he knew to be somewhere.

Jack was more concerned how they were going to fill in these early morning hours. He wondered if Fred could play cards, or chess maybe, or even checkers. It had been many years since Jack had played any of them but now he felt an urgency to talk, to spend time with his fellow man. “Would you like to play cards?” Jack asked of Fred. Fred considered this a moment before replying, “I don’t suppose you have a chess set have you? I would love to have a game of chess. It is years since I have had a game.”

Jack walked over the passage to the library and returned carrying the chess set which sat on the table, but was never used. They laid out the pieces, drank their tea and ate their biscuits and all the time Jack felt himself softening. How nice it was to have company. Fred regaled Jack with his exploits in his aeroplane and Jack listened with envy. “It’s a pity my plane is lying in your field though,” Fred said. I don’t think I will be flying in it for some time. Parts are difficult to come by you know.”

Jack smiled. His face lit up as he remembered the Tiger Moth he had stored in a hangar on another part of the property.

“Fred,” he said, “I think this was our lucky day!”

Fred stared. How could anyone call this a lucky day! It was so unlucky. He had been caught in a storm, his plane, his pride and joy, had crashed landed, and he had ended up upside down in a tree with a badly swollen and bruised ankle. Lucky! Jack had to be crazy to even think that!

“Seriously,” Jack smiled, “this is your lucky day. In another field of mine I have a hangar and in that hangar is a Tiger Moth. Now, if you feel you can fly it then how about we both go to this air pageant? Listen, the storm is abating, and I know from past storms that the day will dawn bright and clear.”

Fred was astounded. This whole episode was turning out much better than he could ever have wished. He looked down at his ankle and while it was turning a brilliant purple-yellow he could see that the swelling was already subsiding. The drink had warmed him, the biscuits had brought back his energy, and this Jack guy was turning into an all right sort of chap.

“Right,” said Fred, “we will do that. Any more tea in that pot?”