Algernon crept into his wife’s workshop. A room of bare cinder blocks and benches made from old railway sleepers. A sunbeam from the skylight, alive with swirls of dust, cut the room diagonally and lit a stripe across her bent back.
Loose chips of stone crunched under his shoes and his knees creaked but he knew she wouldn’t hear his approach over the noise of her own hammering.
He reached for her, hesitated, licked his lips, then grabbed her and hauled her away from the sculpting table.
Mary turned on him, mallet raised.
“What are you going to do with that?”
“I don’t know; maybe hammer some manners into that skull of yours.”
He slipped off her goggles and rubbed a smudge of powdered rock from her cheek. “Come on, it’s about time you got some fresh air.”
“No love, I want to finish this piece.”
“It can wait. The peat bog’ll be dry by now. Come on, we’ll be the first to use the new path.”
Mary sighed, glancing at her unfinished work. “It was going really well.”
“I know, you’ve been going at it like a Trojan for three days.” He grinned. “Come on, you know you want to.”
“You know very well I could never resist that smile, you old scoundrel.”
“Even after all these years?”
She pulled off her moleskin gauntlets and threw them down. “More than ever.”
They dressed in earthen coloured raincoats and sturdy walking boots. Algernon made a final visit to the toilet – just in case – and they set out across the moor.
A breeze that still clung to winter, hurried grey clouds across the low sky, and the brown heather scratched against his boots.
“Here it is,” Algernon said, looking down at a new swathe cut through the old peat bog.
“It’s just fresh, it’ll mellow.”
“Just like you.”
With a nimbus of grey hair flying about her head, she had never looked more beautiful.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Mary said. She stood on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on his lips. “You’ve never changed.”
“Neither have you.” He grabbed her hand. “Come on, lets go an explore.”
As they left the new path and set out across the newly drained bog, she complained about the mud, but kept pace with him stride for stride.
After a while they stopped, standing in the middle of a featureless low hill without any landmarks. Algernon scanned the horizon, nothing but heather and thickening grey cloud – there was no sign of their tracks.
His stomach rolled over.
Mary hugged herself. “Admit it, Algie, we’re lost.”
The mournful rustle of the heather only added to the feeling of solitude. The breeze cut through his coat making him shiver, and the clouds threatened rain.
Then he remembered a nugget of army bush craft and had to jam his hand into his pocket to prevent himself from clicking his fingers. “No we’re not,” he said with a sigh. “We we’re walking with the sun on our left, we’ll get back the way we came if we walk with it on our right.”
“But it’s not sunny.”
“Well we can guess where it is, don’t worry love, we’re not lost.”
“I remember you saying that on Ben Nevis one time.”
“Yes, the one time, besides, that wasn’t my fault.”
Mary looked around. “I don’t like this, I want to go back.”
Algernon felt an unexpected urge to wander off. As if someone were calling to him. “Come on then,” he said, striding off and waving Mary to follow him.
“Algie, love, are you sure?”
“This feels right.”
Very soon, a curve of old metal came into view, poking up out of the heather like an oversized plough shear.
Algernon stopped, looking at it.
“What on Earth is that?” Mary said, from somewhere behind him.
Pitted with rust and having a scoured texture, the metal looked like a set of giant whalebones bleached by years in the sun and wind.
“It’s a plane,” Algernon said, running a finger along the edge of the rough metal, “an old one, from an old crash.”
“How old?” Mary said, and then stopped. “Are there bodies?”
“I doubt it; I think it’s from the war. It might even be older than I am.”
“We have to report this.”
“Yes we do,” Algernon said, feeling a curious tingle from the metal. He went to mention it, but decided to keep it to himself.
Algernon sat at his desk, two-finger typing an e-mail to the Aviation Archaeology society. He paused, listening to his wife stoking the fire and then fiddling with a teapot, the sound of the rattling crockery made him shudder.
His gaze wandered across his small book collection messing up a neat wooden shelf. Von Daniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods’ and Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Mysterious World’ interspersed with old Asimov science fiction and UFO paperbacks.
He read the e-mail message for a third time, sighed, glanced at his books, and then, deleted the message before clicking the send button. He stared at his finger as if it wasn’t his.
Mary said something, but he didn’t answer, his mind dwelling on his books, the moors and the old wreck.
“Did you send it then?” Mary said, giving his shoulder a firm shake.
He nodded, nibbling his thumb knuckle, his eyes fixed on the distant line of heather visible through the window.
The following day Algernon went walking, only this time he did not invite his wife to join him, but instead took a spade for company.
Much later, he returned home, filthy and exhausted, to a barrage of unanswered questions. He weathered them, as a pebble weathers the flow of a river. Then, after a perfunctory wash, he collapsed into bed. His wife was silent and distant beside him, but he didn’t care.
Next morning she voiced her concern, again, but before the bacon grease had set on his breakfast plate, he strode from the house clasping his spade like a weapon.
She shouted after him, and he ignored her.
When he reached the wreck, he stared at it as if seeing it for the first time. Mouldering tatters of fabric hung from muddy ribs of metal, twisted into an impressionist’s idea of what a crashed plane might look like. The wings, little more than skeletal frames lay twisted in the drying peat, the empty engine housings gaping like giant crushed eggshells. The heavy machinery they once housed now rested many meters under the surface, torn loose and embedded by the crash.
He stepped across the wing frame, snapping a spar under his heel and made straight for the fuselage. Whatever lay within, he knew he was going to unearth it today.
His heart quickened.
The blade of the spade cut the peat, and Algernon dug. He moved earth like a man forty years younger, not even stopping to wipe the sweat from his eyes, or to pause when his arms ached and his back felt ready to break. His quick breath rasped in and out of his slender chest, but his arms continued to pump like pistons. Even the sight of a brown stained human skull only made him pause, but he cast the bones of the long dead aviator aside with the rest of the spoil and carried on.
Then a tiny light shone up from inside the broken fuselage, a shining point, down amongst the sods of dark peat.
He threw the spade away, and ignoring the pain in his knees, he knelt down and started digging with his hands. The light grew, occasionally obscured by falling earth, but eventually he uncovered a glowing sphere the size of a grapefruit. He held it in his hands, feeling its subtle warmth. Its brilliant light shone into him, his heart welled up, and he smiled.
In the corridor outside her workshop, Mary stopped so abruptly she almost fell over.
Algernon stood, stooped, hands behind his back, his clothes torn and stained with peat. He smelled too, a bad smell, like a dead badger in a hedgerow. He smiled and his eyes shone.
For the first time, his smile turned her blood to ice water.
She dry swallowed. “Algernon?”
His grin widened.
A shark’s mouth brimming with razor teeth, or so it seemed, the likeness was uncanny. Her heart wrenched, torn between running away and running to him.
He took a lurching step forwards.
“Oh Algernon, what have you done?”
“I found something,” he said, his voice strained, squeezed out.
Then, from behind his back, he revealed what he was holding. An orb of light rested in the palm of his hand.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” Algernon said, gazing down at it, in the same way he’d looked upon his first grandchild.
The light had a sickly, filthy green quality, and it smelled of decay; it made her stomach clench.
“Algi, put it down.”
He cradled it to his chest.
Mary felt bile rise in her throat.
“Algi, when I had that breast cancer cut out, you remember, don’t you.”
Pained recognition flickered across his features.
“Well,” Mary said, pointing to the orb, “that thing’s exactly how I’d imagined it would look. It’s wrong Algi, it’s bad.”
His grin faltered and he pulled the light against his chest. “You can’t have it, it’s mine.”
“I don’t want it, I don’t want you to have it. Good God Algernon, look at yourself.” She stopped, staring at her husband, his wild eyes reflecting the swamp light. Something familiar tugged at the edge of mind. “You dug it out of that wreck, didn’t you?”
He seemed unmoved, panting and swaying on unsteady legs.
“I know what that thing is, I’ve seen it before.”
She held open the book showing an old monochrome picture of two World War Two fighter planes in silhouette, accompanied by two patches of light.
As his gaze wandered across the photograph, his features softened.
Mary let out a sigh. “That’s right Algi, come back to me.”
Algernon frowned. “That’s a photograph of a Foo Fighter,” he said, licking his lips. “Sometimes pilots would report them, being followed by them, some thought they were visitors from another world.”
“Algi, love, put the thing down.”
“This is not a Foo Fighter,” Algernon said, his face hardening again.
“What if it is, what if it killed the crew?”
“It’s an angel; it tried to bring the plane home, bring the crew.” Then he recoiled and staggered backwards, his legs trembling. “I need to lie down.”
He lurched forward and collapsed onto the sofa bed in his study, toppling a stack of magazines across the floor.
Mary went to him, but the ball of light glowed brighter, she stopped and it dimmed.
“Leave my husband alone,” she said, spitting the words through clenched teeth.
The light began to pulse, brighter, with each throb of the bile-light Algernon seemed to fade, the colour leaking from his skin. Then his lips parted and with a shallow rasping voice he said: “Leave me alone.”
Mary shook her head.
“Please, leave,” Algernon said, his voice trailing off.
As if jolted by an electric charge she jumped up and bolted from the room, her breath ragged with anguish and panic, the blood in her ears booming.
In her workshop, she grabbed her favourite mallet, but then threw it down and selected a heavier one. She hefted it in her fist, felt the weight and enjoyed the way it made the muscles of her forearm stand out like cables. She grinned and ran back to her husband’s study.
The sickly green light glowed stronger.
She stepped up beside her husband, wielding the mallet with both hands, and lifted it above her right shoulder.
“Mary,” Algernon said, his voice barely a whisper.
Gasping, she let the mallet fall, all the strength draining from her arms. “Algernon?”
“Mary, I’m beating it.”
“Fight it, Algi, love, fight it!”
Algernon smiled, and his face relaxed like hot wax. Then his eyes scrunched up, in pain or triumph, she couldn’t tell.
Then, the orb began to fade, slowly at first, and then with gathering momentum it dissolved into seething tatters, each sending out sweeping arcs of green light as it faded. Quickening, the swirling fragments whirled, and flickered, and winked out with gentle popping sounds.
Algernon took a deep grasping breath.
Mary fell to her knees and grabbed his cold hand.
“Algi?” she said, unable to contain her rising hope and fading fear. She knew her husband was going to be alright.
Algernon’s features relaxed and he let out a deep clear sigh so great his chest seemed to collapse under her hands.
She smiled and kissed his cheek.
Then Algernon opened his eyes. They were green, and Mary screamed.