by K.M. Weiland
Finalist – 2015 Realm Makers Genre Award In Fantasy
In the high-flying, heady world of 1920s aviation, brash pilot Robert “Hitch” Hitchcock’s life does a barrel roll when a young woman in an old-fashioned ball gown falls from the clouds smack in front of his biplane. As fearless as she is peculiar, Jael immediately proves she’s game for just about anything, including wing-walking in his struggling airshow. In return for her help, she demands a ride back home . . . to the sky.
Hitch thinks she’s nuts—until he steers his plane into the midst of a bizarre storm and nearly crashes into a strange airship like none he’s ever run afoul of, an airship with the power to control the weather. Caught between a corrupt sheriff and dangerous new enemies from above, Hitch must take his last chance to gain forgiveness from his estranged family, deliver Jael safely home before she flies off with his freewheeling heart, and save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.
August 1920—Western Nebraska
FLYING A BIPLANE, especially one as rickety as a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4D, meant being ready for anything. But in Hitch’s thirteen years of experience, this was the first time “anything” had meant bodies falling out of the night sky smack in front of his plane.
True enough that flying and falling just kind of went together. Not in a good sort of way, but in a way you couldn’t escape. Airplanes fell out of the clouds, and pilots fell out of airplanes. Not on purpose, of course, but it did happen sometimes, like when some dumb palooka forgot to buckle his safety belt, then decided to fly upside down.
Flying and falling, freedom and dependence, air and earth. That was just the way it was. But whatever was falling always had to be falling from some place. No such thing as just falling out of the sky, ’cause nothing was up there to fall out of.
Which didn’t at all explain the blur of plummeting shadows just a couple hundred yards in front of his propeller.
He reacted reflexively, pulling the Jenny up and to the right. The new Hisso engine Earl had just installed whined and whirred in protest. Hitch thrust the stick forward to push the nose back down and flatten her out. This was what he got for coming out here in the middle of the night to test the plane’s new modifications. But time was short and the stakes were high with Col. Livingstone’s flying circus arriving in town tomorrow for the big competition.
Hitch and his team were only going to have this one shot to win the show and impress Livingstone. Otherwise, they’d be headed straight from broke to flat broke. And he’d be hollering adios to all those big dreams of running a real barnstorming circus. If he and his parachutist Rick Holmes were going to pull off that new stunt they’d been working on, his Jenny first had to prove she was up to new demands. A little extra practice never hurt anyone—even him—but falling bodies sure as gravy wasn’t what he’d had in mind for his first night back in the old hometown.
In the front cockpit, Taos turned around, forepaws on the back of the seat, brown ears blowing in the wind, barking his head off.
Hitch anchored the stick with both hands and twisted a look over his right shoulder, then his left, just in time to see the big shadow separate itself into two smaller patches of dark. A flower of white bloomed from first one shadow, then the other—and everything slowed down.
Parachutes. Some crazy jumpers were parachuting out here at night? He craned a look overhead, but there was nothing up there but a whole lot of moon and a whole lot more sky.
Then the night exploded in a gout of fire.
He jerked his head back around to see over his shoulder, past the Jenny’s tail.
The arc of a flare sputtered through the darkness, showering light all over the jumper nearest to him. Beneath the expanse of the white silk parachute hung a dark mass, shiny and rippling, like fabric blowing in the wind.
What in tarnation? Parachutists didn’t wear anything but practical jumpsuits or trousers. Anything else risked fouling the lines. And everybody knew better than to hazard a flare’s spark lighting the ‘chute on fire.
He circled the Jenny around to pass the jumper, giving a wide berth to keep the turbulence from interfering. Below him stretched the long metallic sheen of a brand spanking new lake—presumably from irrigation runoff—that had somehow appeared during the nine years since he’d left home. He was only fifty or so feet above the water, and the air currents were already playing heck with the Jenny. She juddered again, up and down, as if a playful giant was poking at her.
Another flare spurted into the night. Thanks to it and the light of the full moon, he could see quite well enough to tell that what was hanging from that ‘chute was a woman—in a gigantic ball gown.
When you flew all over the country, you saw a lot of strange stuff. But this one bought the beets.
This time, the flare didn’t fall harmlessly away. This time, it struck the woman’s skirt.
His heart did a quick stutter.
He was almost parallel with her now. In that second when the Jenny screamed by, the woman’s wide eyes found his, her mough open in her grease-streaked face.
“Oh, brother lady,” The wind ripped his words away.
He couldn’t leave her back there, but he sure as Moses couldn’t do much from inside the Jenny.
He careened past the white mushroom that marked the second jumper. A large bird circled above the canopy. This jumper seemed to be a man—no big skirt anyway. He whould be fine landing in the lake, if he could keep from getting tangled in his lines. But judging his capacity for brains from that blunder with the flare, even that might be too much for him to handle. Unless, of course, he’d shot at the woman deliberately.
Hitch circled wide around the man and chased back after the ball of fire.
This time when he passed the woman, he shouted, “Cut loose!”
She was only twenty feet up now. It’d be a hard fall into the water, but even that’d be a whole lot better than going down in a fireball—a flamerino as pilots called it.
He zipped past and looked back at her.
She couldn’t hear him through the wind, but if she’d seen his lips moving and his arms waving, she’d know he was talking to her. And really, what else was he going to be saying righ now?
In the front seat, Taos leaned over the turtleback between the cockpits. His whole body quivered with his frantic barking, but the sound was ripped away in the rush of the wind and the howl of the engine.
– – – – –
K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog, Helping Writers Become Authors. She makes her home in western Nebraska.
Claim your free copy of her medieval epic Behold the Dawn: http://bit.ly/1OZ8WwF