Learning to fly
When a young lad turns up at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent for a flying lesson, he gets more than he bargained for
It was a crisp Autumn afternoon as I drove past the airport building and around to the side road where the private aircraft were kept. Biggin Hill Airport is a former RAF base just outside of London and you could still see some of the wartime barracks and the airmen’s chapel beside the more modern air terminal. I wasn’t interested in any of that. I was there for a flying lesson. My first ever flying lesson. An 18th birthday present from Mum and Dad.
“Endora School of Flying?” My Dad had said, laughing, when Mum told him the name of the establishment she had booked for my birthday treat.
“What’s so funny about that?” she asked.
“Well, sounds like the old witch from that telly program.”
“Oh, don’t put the boy off, Graham.” Dad carried on laughing anyway.
I was too excited to care, and Dad had agreed to lend me his car for the five-mile drive from our suburban semi-detached house in Beckenham to the airfield. I was surprised he had agreed to me borrowing his brand-new Ford Cortina. It was his pride and joy so he must have been feeling generous. Mum and Dad both wanted to come with me, but I put them off, saying I would wave at them when I flew over the house.
There was a security hut at the gate, so I stopped before I parked the car and asked the bored looking bloke in the shabby uniform where to find Endora and her flying school.
“You want to go flying with a woman?” he asked, hardly believing his ears.
“Yeah, why not?”
“Rather you than me, mate!” he said as he pointed to the far end of the field bordering the hangers. “You’ll ‘ave to walk. No cars,” he continued, leaving no room for discussion. “Walk past that big hanger on your right. Follow the hedge around the outside of the field and keep going until you see a little wooden building right over the other side. And stay well clear of that runway.”
It took an age to get anywhere, and the late afternoon gloom was already starting to set in. Looking at my watch I could see that I was already 20 minutes late and hoped they would still let me fly. The watch was another present, with a huge dial, great silvery hands and Roman numerals running around the rim from I to XII. I noticed the date and remembered I had to go to some stupid All Saints Day event at St George's Church the next day. I would have to think of some way to get out of that.
Eventually, I reached the wooden hut and was surprised to note that it had a pair of pointy boots standing outside, as if their owner had just stepped out of them. They must have been left there as some kind of joke. I stepped over them and tapped on the closed door.
“Hello!” Anybody in?”
There was no answer. It really was starting to get darker now, and I began to feel disappointment seep in as I thought they probably would not take me up in this failing light. I walked around to the back of the shed but couldn’t see another door. As I turned back, I saw that an elderly lady had appeared at the door, standing in the curly toed boots. She gave me a real start and must have put those boots on pretty quick.
“Yes, dearie?” she said as she looked me up and down. “What can I do for you?”
“Er… er… I’ve come for a flying lesson,” I replied, rather taken aback at her appearance. She was wearing some sort of headmaster’s robe, the boots sticking out from below the hem. Her hair was long, straggly and jet black, with streaks of silver running through it. Was she that old? I couldn’t decide. Although her face was lined and the skin dry and with almost an olive-green shade to it, she had a young-looking smile and a twinkle in her eye as she looked at me.
“You have?” She enquired. “You must be Robert. Where is your broomstick?”
I laughed, assuming she was pulling my leg. I tried to play along.
“Oh,” I said, smiling uncertainly. “Sorry… I forgot to bring it.”
“Never mind, I’ve got a spare.”
With that, she flung something at me and, instinctively, I caught it in my left hand. It was a stick of some kind. I hadn’t even seen it before she threw it. When I looked back, I could see that she was holding another one. I looked again at the stick in my hand and it, like the other, had a long birch brush tied to the end with a crude length of rope.
“What do you want me to do with this?” I asked, still not quite catching on. The instructress laughed.
“Well, you can start by gripping it firmly near the top end and then hop on.”
“Hop on?” I asked, still not understanding.
“Yes, like this,” she said and then did a little skip and was suddenly sat astride the broomstick and hovering just over the grass. I jumped in my skin, gasping audibly.
“Neat huh?” she said and then nodded at me significantly. Not knowing what else to do, I did the same and found myself hovering on my own broomstick facing her. In something of a panic, I closed my eyes tight shut, hoping the nightmare would go away and I would wake up to a pile of cards and birthday presents on my bed. As I squinted my eyelids open again, I saw a whole host of other black-clad figures sat astride broomsticks and hovering above the field, which was now completely dark apart from the light of the full moon above.
My flying teacher continued to drone on with flying instructions as if nothing unusual had happened. She was interrupted by a loud cackling behind her and one of the shadowy figures called out:
“I see you brought the in-flight entertainment with you, Endora!” This brought forth an even louder cackle.
Another one joined in, addressing me apparently:
“Come and share my broomstick if you like, sweetie. Plenty of room for two!” Followed by a third:
“Is that a broomstick between your legs handsome, or are you just pleased to see me?”
This was followed by a cacophony of raucous laughter before they all fell silent. My tutor continued...
“Ignore them! Make sure you hold on tight and, whatever you do, don’t look down.”
With this, I heard a loud noise like a thousand seagull wings, as a multitude of cloaks started to flap in the breeze. I could feel my own broomstick start to shudder, but not nearly as much as I was.
“Okay ladies….” Announced my companion, to the general throng behind her. “and... er… young gen’leman. It’s just about midnight, it’s Halloween…
* * * * *
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