35,000 words and counting
I thought you’d like an extract today. George went to a flying festival in the Rhinelands, but got waylaid and involved in a project to develop a flying boat – called the Pelican – by the mysterious Blackbird, aka the Rajah of Nilgiri, who is based at a castle on the river Rhine called Laurel-Eye. George has more or less been kept captive on this project ever since. He’s currently at a place called Lago Major, somewhere just south of the Alps, at the workshops of Kurtz Brothers, who are building and testing the flying boat. George is just to make the return journey. What none of the flyers know is that there has been a major storm in the Rhinelands and the river is in full flood…
This is from Chapter 17, currently entitled “Water Sports”.
George was up and about smartly while it was still dark. The passengers for the trip back were standing in line ready to be weighed, along with their baggage. A few were grumbling about the early start, some of them just stood there dozing. Princess Lili von Ottostein was complaining bitterly about having to pay more for her luggage on the way back than she had on the way to the meeting. She shouldn’t have taken that trip into town and bought those extra gowns, George thought. The Kurtz engineer was telling her much the same thing.
George watched proceedings, carefully checking the weights and advising the engineer when he needed advice about where to stow the baggage. Distribution of weight was vital to get the machine in proper ‘trim’ as he called it. He stepped on the scales himself, received a red chalk mark on his shoulder, and went across to the other end of the hangar to check the bags and other freight were being stowed properly according to the colour marks. The Kurtz guys were good. They’d got the hang of this now. George could relax. Except he couldn’t really. He had hatched a ridiculous plan. He was fed up with being kept at Laurel-Eye and shunted backwards and forwards on every trip the Pelican made. He’d had enough. So he’d made sure that one of the emergency coracles and himself were both earmarked to travel in the aft compartment. He was going to jump ship, quite literally.
A couple of hours later and he unwrapped himself from the blanket, checked his scarf was drawn tight about his neck and his keys securely fastened to his scarf. They had descended from the mountains now, and were following the long line of the River Rhine. He’d seen the River Main join it, and he was watching for the Castle of Laurel-Eye forward on the right hand side. They had to land before the river turned the corner to go round it. George was banking on throwing himself out of the back door, holding the coracle spread-eagled, landing on the water, and being washed up on the far side of the river as it turned the corner.
The flying boat was sinking lower. The river seemed to be rushing beneath him awfully fast. There was the Laurel-Eye! George skipped to the aft doorway, kicked the hatch open, grabbed his coracle with both hands, and threw himself onto it as it flew out of the door in the plane’s slipstream. He was tossed like a leaf, but held on grimly. As luck would have it, he landed exactly as he’d hoped, flat down on top of his coracle, arms and feet still stretched out like a flying squirrel.
Something was wrong. The coracle was bucking like a mule on what should be relatively smooth water. The river was rushing, in full flood. Waves tossed him from side to side, even though he was hurtling downstream far faster than he’d expected. There were thundering noises in his ears, as if a waterfall was somewhere near. He hung on grimly, trying not to choke as the water splashed into the little craft, threatening to overwhelm him. The coracle was bucking so much it tipped as much water out as it was shipping. George suddenly had a vision of his brother Fred in the crow’s nest of a pirate vessel in a storm, many years ago. This was what Fred had meant when he said he couldn’t let go, but he was afraid he was going to drown. Then he was afraid he wasn’t.
George’s fingers and toes were rigid with cold and strain. He just told himself to hang on.
And hang on.
It seemed like forever.