Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The village woke up at the first glow of morning sun. It wasn’t a big community, no more than three red brick farm houses surrounded by golden fields of grain. Every day brought the peace that working on the land offered. Get up early, work the land, then share stories over dinner before hitting the bunk. It was a simple life. A satisfying life. An honest life.
Felix was the first up, heading out to ring the old chrome bell that would wake the rest. Little Sonny, stumbling out of his bed, was the first to see. He ran to his daddy, pulled on his trousers and pointed. Felix couldn’t believe his eyes. Way out in the field, in the midst of all the grain, stood a ladder, upright. It was a sight the likes of which he had never seen before, running all the way up into the clouds.
The old farmer was quick to take action. He rallied and armed everyone brave enough to come with sickles, shovels and pitchforks, then headed out into the field. Felix knew someone or something had been stealing harvests, once every year. No one had been able to explain it. No one had pleaded guilty.
As the farmers came close, they kept low, not muttering a word, weapons at the ready. Bill, Felix’s brother, gestured all to look at the ladder. One of its rungs was missing, splintered wood marking the spot it used to take.
“Spread out,” Felix whispered. “Be on your guard.”
The group split up, sickles and shovels held up like shields, each step taken carefully. Mere seconds had passed when Sal, youngest of the posse, shouted out to the others. It was immediately followed by a pained grunt as the excitable young man poked his find with his shovel.
Felix, courtesy of his aching joints, was the last to arrive. His eyes widened. The man on the ground was human alright, but his clothes seemed from a different land. He wore a brown, cracked leather jacket lined with a kind of fur that was strange to the farmers, long black gloves and a cap, topped with a set of thick glasses that seriously made Felix doubt the man’s eye sight. He flinched when he saw the nasty twist in one of his legs.
“What’s your name, son?” the old farmer asked.
“Victor,” the man said.
“And why are you here, Victor?” Felix had already noticed the sickle at his side.
“We just needed some food, that’s all. You wouldn’t even miss it.”
Felix raised an eyebrow. “We?”
Victor pointed into the clouds. “Me and my mate. He’s up there.”
All tools suddenly pointed at the ladder, expecting some assault from above. All but Felix’s. His eyes were fixed on the injured man. “It looks like you won’t be doing any stealing today. How’s your leg?”
“Hurts like hell. Damn ladder.”
Felix knelt down beside him, and carefully examined the twisted leg. Victor flinched at the touch, but did not make any sound.
“You won’t be going anywhere for a while, I’m afraid,” Felix said. “We can take care of you, but you better start explaining yourself first.”
That got the attention from the others. They gathered round once more, just as Victor started talking.
“I can’t stay. My mate’s depending on me. We’re aviators, you see. We built an aircraft.”
“What’s an aircraft?” Sal asked.
“It’s a machine, a contraption, that lets you fly like a bird would. Only, you see, we went up without constructing a means to land. We’re stuck. We can’t go down.”
“So why don’t the both of you just abandon ship?” Bill said.
“It’s not that easy. One of us needs to stay up there, to keep it in place. If we let go, it will leave, and we’ll both fall to our deaths. Please, I have to go back up. I’m sorry for taking your grain all these years, but I need to go back.”
At that, the men began muttering among each other, discussing what to do with the aviator. Felix, however, was no man of muttering. He was a man of action, and stepped forward, beckoning for silence. “Like I stated, you’re not going anywhere, son,” he said. “We won’t keep you against your will, but there’s no way you’ll be climbing that ladder. You need care. Rest.” He motioned for Sal to come forward as well. “How’s your climbing these days?”
“Good,” Sal said.
“Excellent. Men, go and fetch the longest pieces of rope you can find. We have some hauling to do.”
And so it went. Numerous ropes were tied together, and Sal took it all up the ladder, disappearing in the clouds. At his signal, all men pulled as hard as they could, and pulled over and over again, until the flying machine came in sight. And a sight it was. Made of iron and wood, it consisted of a compartment just big enough for two. Surrounding it were a couple of great propellers, fiercely spinning. A great rudder had been placed in the back.
As it touched down, the propellors stopped spinning, and all farmers fell down to catch their breath. Sal, breathing heavily as well, jumped out of the craft with an exhausted man slung over his shoulder.
“Pete!” Victor shouted. “Are you alright?”
Pete looked up at his friend, eyes half open, slightly grinning. “I’ve been better.”
Sal put the man down and walked over to Felix, who grasped him firmly by the arm. “Well done,” he said, then looked over at the machine. “How does it work?”
Sal looked at the reunited friends with nothing short of admiration. “You won’t believe it,” he said, “but these men have been pedalling for four years. Pedalling! Pete over there had to keep it up throughout the night. I was just in time, he was about to faint.”
Felix turned his attention once more to the aviators. They noticed. “Look, sir, thank you so much for all your help. We’ll help you out, we’ll pay you back for all you’ve done, for all we’ve taken. I know we’re a bunch of no good thiefs.”
“Thiefs?” Felix said. “No. Not thiefs. Let’s try men in dire need. Let’s take that as a starting point.”
A few weeks later, Felix woke up at the first glow of morning sun. As he rang the village bell, little Sonny tucked on his trousers, pointing ahead in the distance. The aircraft was high up in the air, fading into the clouds.
“Victor and Pete, you damn fools,” Felix muttered.
“Damn fools?” came Victor’s voice. He had just come up behind the old farmer, leaning on his crutches. “Why’re we fools?”
Felix’s eyes grew wide. “Marie!” he shouted out to his wife.
“Marie, where are the boys?”