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A terrific explosion came from somewhere beneath the aircraft and riding the blast, the Heinkel was thrown bodily upwards by tens of metres. The ventral gunner reported that he believed the explosion was caused by the jammed bomb which had been wrenched free by the levelling out manoeuvre, but his voice was frighteningly weak and halting. Axel asked if he was injured.
“Ja, Herr Hauptmann,” was the weak reply. “I am… I am… hurt. I hurt… Ich verstehe nicht…” the voice stopped and Axel knew he’d lost another member of his crew, a youngster who said he didn’t understand. At this point, neither did Axel, any of it.
By now the whole airframe from wingtip to wingtip was shaking ever more violently. Axel attempted to put the engine fire out but without any hope of success. The craft was rapidly becoming impossible to control and inexorably it began to dip downwards once more. This time he could see the darkly vague outlines of buildings and streets slipping rapidly beneath, so he knew that he was far too low for any possibility of bailing out and he searched ahead, desperately peering through the almost tangible gloom, looking for somewhere – anywhere – that might allow him to put the Heinkel on the ground. He continued his struggle with the twitching, jerkily deadened yoke to bring the nose up but no longer would the plane respond. With a sudden thrill of fear he knew that all control was lost.
She saw it there, forlorn in the sale room, grubby and sadly silent among the other assorted lots on the table, after long years of use and even longer years of neglect; she could not know that its capacitors were leaking and its loudspeaker was held immobile in the grip of rust. It was a sorry sight indeed, but the moment Jenny’s slender fingers touched the cabinet she knew it belonged to her and she had to have it, though she could never have explained why. It was true that she had a vision of what Peter could do with it, but that wasn’t the real reason. There were, after all, plenty of other items in that auction that he could have restored and would have made worthwhile additions to their 1930s house – but the radio – well, that was something else, something different in an apparently inexplicable way. Under the years of dirt, hidden beneath the timeworn, scratched and damaged exterior was a fine example of an art deco style radio. “Wireless, actually,” she corrected herself silently, guessing its age to be early 1930s. “That makes it… let’s see… at least 30 years old. It’s not radio. It’s a wireless, all right.”
Her heart beat faster during the bidding and her excitement rose even higher when she won.
The next thing he knew, Norm felt as if he was climbing out of a deep, dark formless pit. There was the vaguest suggestion of light but it was difficult for him to focus on – until he heard, as if far off, a voice that was so heavily muffled it was unintelligible, but a voice nonetheless. Slowly, so slowly, the sound resolved itself. “Norman. Norman. Wake up, Norman. Come on, wake up, now, sleepyhead.”
“Annie,” Norm whispered.
“You are back with us. Good. Sorry, dear, I’m Carla, your nurse for today. Who is Annie? Is she your wife?”
“Wife,” Norm answered. His eyes were open now and able to semi-focus on the homely nurse by his bedside. “How is she?”
Carla pulled a non-committal sort of face. Just at the start of her shift, she had no idea his wife was even in the hospital but she wasn’t about to admit that to Norm. A spot of quick thinking was called for. “Now don’t you upset yourself, dear. I’ll find out for you in just a moment, after a few quick checks, and then I’ll be back before you know it.”
Having satisfied herself that Norm was for the time being as good and stable as could be expected, she went out of the sub-ward door and from his sight but true to her word it wasn’t long before she returned. “I’ve sent one of the other nurses to find out,” she reported cheerfully. “As I always say, no point having a dog then barking yourself.”
“Nice,” thought Norm. “How long?” he asked. “I really do need to know.”
Carla laughed. “Eh up, lad,” she said. “Up here in Yorkshire we are an impatient lot. Seems like you’ve caught the same bug. Tell you what; if she’s not back soon I’ll sort it out personally.”Norm seemed relieved to hear this comment from a down-to-earth nurse who clearly was concerned for her patient’s welfare. Desperately weary with the effort of remaining lucid, he succumbed to sleep.
Her eyes widened the second she saw the next photograph. “Good God,” she exclaimed. “That’s it. I’m sure that’s exactly like the one I saw. What is it?”
Vaughan smiled in satisfaction. “It is just what I thought it would be, from your description. You said that you’d got a brief glimpse of the pilot, so it had to be a Heinkel He111. It had an all-glazed cockpit, sort of like a glassy bullet in shape, giving the pilot and navigator-cum-bomb aimer a great view forward and below – but as you noticed, it also gave a good view of the pilot, too, not that he would be seen from below when the aircraft was at its operating height, of course.”
“Well, you’ve surprised me,” Jenny admitted. “I… I’m sure I saw him, Vaughan. Just for an instant. He must have been terrified, Vaughan, the poor fellow. What a dreadful thing, war is. Was. Still is… but what has this little exercise proved, really?”
Vaughan placed his hand on hers. “Can’t you see? The Heinkel was the one that crashed and almost certainly the one that bombed this house. I think we can say that we’ve proved beyond doubt that what you saw was real, not something imagined. Real, Jen. But from a different time.” He stood. “Now all we have to figure out is how in hell’s name you saw something just the other day that actually happened twenty-odd years ago.”
‘Let’s take a break,’ Gareth said, sitting up. ‘Back after this, folks.’ The light blinked out and he stretched his legs, his feet making his seat swing in an arc as he surveyed me. He pursed his lips and frowned at me, fidgeting and watching intently as I used the GTN spray once more. ‘Adverts,’ he stated tersely. He glanced through the glass partition, lifted his hand to his headset and nodded. ‘Chief says do you want to stop, Charles. He’s worried, and if I’m to be honest, so am I. You are obviously far from well.’
‘Mustn’t stop now and there’s no point in worrying,’ I replied as firmly as I could whilst waiting and hoping for the expected partial relief the spray could bring. ‘Let me continue, and I really would appreciate it if you’d refrain from interrupting me.’ I even startled myself at my abruptness. It really wasn’t like me at all, but I was certain of one thing - I had to continue. There was never going to be another opportunity. Besides, I knew it wasn’t going to be long, even though it felt like forever, until the countdown. I cleared my throat as the transmission light came on. Gareth quickly set the scene and I was off again.
‘The first time it happened was definitely the most shocking; suddenly, and for no reason, well, none that was obvious to me at least, I found I had slipped, just sort of slid sideways from normal life into a place that seemingly existed a mere failed heartbeat away… ‘
‘To be clear on this point,’ Gareth asked quietly, ‘Are you asking us to believe… are you saying that this slipping, as you put it, is actually you dying? Like, for a few moments you really died, and experienced life after death?’
Suddenly I seemed to be viewing the scene from a great distance, as if through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. I could hear Mal and Dennis talking, hear the clatter of their feet – and mine – upon the pavement, but it was unreal, as if I and the other two were players acting a role in a strange, unworldly screenplay. Weirdly, I could even hear my voice speaking in conversation, as if all were completely normal. It was anything but normal. My body appeared now to be an automaton, programmed to play out a pre-planned pattern in a world where choice was an artifice, an illusion – and I, the inhabitant, was looking in from some far off place, watching events but powerless to intervene.
How could the other two know that as we chattered idly, my perception of reality had changed; that the atmosphere of immature, vulgar silliness of a few seconds or so before was for me now stripped away to reveal a previously unknown dimension. Then a brilliant silvery light filled my eyes. I seemed to float in this light, weightless, formless…
Far worse was to come. Suddenly, darkness. A sensation of terror engulfed me, flooding my mind and body. Icy fingers seemed to grip my throat and my chest felt as if iron bands were tightening around it, crushing the life from me. In great pain and choking and fighting for breath, I vomited…
‘Eh up Charlie, is your fish that bad?’ Dennis asked. ‘What a waste. Mind you, you have gone a bit grey, mate.’
The moment he saw us, Mick leapt to his feet, his face grey and serious. ‘Have you heard?’ He asked urgently. Seeing blank looks on our faces, he continued ‘Hazel. You haven’t heard? You don’t know?’
My heart lurched. It was clear from his expression that this was something bad.
‘They found Hazel Williams’s body this morning. The word is… she’s been murdered. Bloody murdered.’ He sat suddenly, heavily, shaking his head slowly, a look of shocked amazement on his face, as he could not believe the sound of his own words nor the weight of them. ‘Murdered. Hazel…’
Neither Dennis nor I seemed able to take it in at first. I know I stood rigid, at first unable to move, my mind in a whirl as the enormity of the situation filtered through, uncertain of what to say or do. I tried to speak, but the words would not come. Then I slowly sank, still silent, onto a bar stool, trembling slightly and mouthing half-formed, unspoken words. Then, with a stabbing thrill of dismay, I recalled the awful experience of the previous night and I wondered what time she’d met her death. Might it have been exactly when I slipped into that strange other-world? I wisely decided not to raise the matter.