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Monday, 6 October 2014
three : Blitzkrieg
Arthur drove quickly through the traffic.
His car was a brand new Ford Cortina. It had a 2 litre engine, 98 brake-horsepower and full leather-trim interior. It had been his pride and joy just two weeks earlier when he’d driven it off the car dealer’s forecourt. Yet, today, his new car couldn’t have been further from his mind.
Outside, the majestic stone arches of the Tower Bridge sailed by as he crossed the River Thames. Distractedly, he fiddled with the tuning knob on the radio. Nothing caught his attention (there was something about the Beatles breaking up but music didn’t really interest him). Arthur sighed and flipped the radio off altogether.
He didn’t know what was happening to him. Ever since he’d come back from Waterwhistle, his life had been brilliant. He’d been totally and completely fearless. Dr. Felix had been right – he had removed the school bully and taken his place. He had made everyone in school do whatever he’d wanted. The teachers, too. If he didn’t want to do any homework, he’d just tell them not to bother giving him any – and ta-dah – no homework.
He’d applied the same approach to the rest of his life. He steamrollered over everything and everyone to get what he wanted. He felt no fear and no remorse. His life had been one success after another.
Except, he thought now, perhaps it hadn’t been so great. Perhaps the failed friendships and relationships were not as unimportant as he’d previously believed. Perhaps they were actually a string of failures which were just as long – if not longer – than his string of successes.
What?! Arthur couldn’t believe it. The air raid alarm? Now? It wasn’t even night yet..! The enemy never did air raids unless it was under cover of total darkness. He could see it in the faces of the other drivers and pedestrians around him; panic, shock, fear. Everybody instantly knew the same thing.
This was going to be a bad one.
Arthur gripped the steering wheel – the explosion had been just a few hundred yards behind. He turned to see cars flying twenty feet into the air as if they were toys. He looked up – like a conspiracy of angry ravens, dozens of enemy aircraft filled the sky.
Without waiting another second, Arthur turned and rammed his foot on the accelerator pedal – his car screeched off before anyone else had managed to react. He weaved in and out of the traffic at seventy miles an hour. All around him, people screamed and ran and shouted and hid and stumbled and fell but Arthur just kept going.
The car physically lifted off the ground this time – the explosion was so close. Overhead, the Stuka aircraft soared by, their wing-mounted sirens filling the air with an unearthly wail. And falling from them were hundreds and hundreds of tiny, black-
Blackness. Silence. Muffled noises. Funny head. Dizzy. Eyes open… people running… on ceiling..? Noises getting louder… screaming and fire and explosions and…
Arthur awoke with a sudden jolt and realised his car was upside down – and that he was still in it. Alive. How he’d survived, he literally had no idea.
His body racked with pain, Arthur crawled across the ceiling of his brand new car (which was now the floor of his brand new car). Hand over hand, eventually, he made it to the smashed out window and crawled out. Dusting himself off, Arthur stood.
Everything was in flames.
It had been early evening and still bright – but now, the smoke blocked the sunlight out. The only light now was the dangerous, orange glow of the fires. The streets were still full of people running in all directions but most of the buildings were either aflame or had just collapsed altogether.
Arthur looked up into the sky. Angry, black, billowing smoke covered the entire view but through it was the unmistakable drone of hundreds of bomber engines. Stumbling, Arthur limped slowly into the middle of the road, his gaze fixed firmly to the sky.
Why was the war still going on, he thought? Why wasn’t it over? He had never thought it strange before now. But all of a sudden, the idea that the allies were still fighting Nazi Germany in 1970 seemed not at all right.
Suddenly, the clouds of black smoke parted as if some giant hands had drawn them like curtains. A single Stuka JU87 emerged from the gloom like a dark angel. And it was heading straight for Arthur.
Arthur had been used to not feeling fear for his entire adult life. Right now, staring at an enemy bomber flying towards him, he still felt none. He knew he should run – not out of fear but out of common sense. And yet, still, he didn’t. He just looked at the plane. The plane that he felt, more certainly with every passing second, should not be there.
For no reason he could put into words, Arthur began to walk towards the oncoming aircraft.
And that’s when he saw them.
The men in suits. Loads of them. Watching him. They were lining the streets like some kind of silent, dark parade crowd. Where had they come from, all of a sudden? Arthur knew why they were here, though. He didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure they were here to stop him walking towards the plane. He felt afraid. Very afraid.
But he kept walking.
And so did they. All as one, they stepped off the pavement and moved in his direction, hands outstretched. It was the most fearsome thing Arthur had ever seen. Twenty, thirty, more – all striding towards him. All intent on stopping him. Stopping him from what, though?
He kept on walking forwards. The plane came in lower and lower – as though it had spotted Arthur and was coming in just for him. The suited men increased their pace, hands reaching for Arthur.
The Stuka opened fire. The CLATTER-CLATTER-CLATTER of the machine guns rattled their way along the road surface getting closer and closer to Arthur.
Everything was getting closer and closer and closer…
“Move!” came the little boy’s cry as he flashed across in front of Arthur, grabbed him by the arm and yanked him away.
Arthur didn’t even have time to blink – the boy had a firm grip of his hand and was dragging him at top speed off the road and down an alleyway. For some reason, Arthur let himself be dragged and off they went. Down one alleyway. Up another. Out onto a main road. Down another alleyway. Never stopping. Were they still being chased? Arthur didn’t dare look behind. Didn’t have time to even if he’d wanted. The boy was pulling him faster and faster, going who knew where. It reminded Arthur of another time – years ago, when he’d been no older than this boy, probably. When a talking cat had dragged him into an adventure he didn’t understand…
They were inside, Arthur suddenly realised. Inside where? He looked around. A library? It hadn’t been hit, he didn’t think. Looked in pretty good shape. Just dark and empty. There was something eerie about a library at night. But at least the place had walls and a door and a roof and could keep them out of the madness for a while.
“I think they’re gone,” the boy said, looking out of the window. There was something familiar about him, Arthur realised now. His hair, his old-fashioned sweater and shirt and shorts…
And it hit him.
The boy turned around and smiled a crooked grin that looked completely out of place on that face.
His face. His ten-year old face.
“Happy Birthday, Arthur!” said the young version of himself. “Did you get my card?”