Word reached me that people were seeing strange ‘things’ during flights. Other pilots started blaming any airborne mechanical failures on these monsters. They were small, skinny people with no eyes, the stories said, so of course I thought of the ‘evil thing’ that Faraday had seen the evening Kenton Motorize died. There were dark pits where his eyes should be. His skin was brown, like any Spanish child. The times and places of these monsters sightings were all over the place, and at first the targets seemed indiscriminate, but I changed my thinking as stories of this monster began focusing in on me, until the Royal Aero Club’s own Jim Graham came in shouting,
“I saw it! It was clinging to the underside of my plane! Look!”
he added, slapping the side of the plane he’d just landed, a French-borne beauty named Simone. It was a Blériot XI monoplane with two wheels under the main wing and one under the tail, and the panel between the front wheels was hanging open. The engine was visible inside that square hole, and two or three screws near the cylinder had come loose and fallen out.
“See!? I thought the engine was making a terrible racket, and this is why!”
Jim said, quite beside himself. He explained that he’s seen a tiny eyeless creature, maybe 50 centimeters tall, scrabbling about under his plane, doing something. 50 cm? That was far smaller than I’d imagined.
“Nah, it didn’t look like a Spaniard at all. No way that thing was human. All its teeth were sharpened, and its claws were long and pointy, and it kept grinning at me like it knew I couldn’t do anything. It kept messing about down there and then the engine started acting funny and I about shit myself. I turned and came straight back here before that thing made me crash, but it must have dropped off somewhere…”
Jim Graham began carrying a pistol with him whenever he flew, but he never saw the monster again. People began saying the pistol kept it away, and imitating him, but I wasn’t so sure. I wanted to prove it was real before I banished it. Prove it was the same
eyeless thing that had shown up at the Motorize Manor. So I started bringing a camera into my cockpit. A boxy camera made by Kodak, called the Brownie. If anything happened, I would take a snapshot, and if I got a photo I planned to visit the Motorize Manor again, and get Faraday to verify it, but before that happened I got a photo of something else. I was trying to photograph JG Rollins’ stunt flying, and as he turned his Leslie upside-down, I saw the silhouette of a plane through a gap in the clouds far behind him. When I showed the photo around nobody in the club had ever seen anything like it, but I was pretty sure I had. I knew I’d seen it somewhere but I couldn’t quite remember where until one day the dots finally connected. I’d never seen the plane itself. I’d only seen the schematics for it. When it was just a dream, a scribbling in his notes in the Motorize shed. Yes. It was Steven’s Motorizing.
Steven was supposed to be in France, so why was he flying close to the Dover coast? If he’d flown all the way from France this was not a public flight. This was not an era where just anyone could cross country lines whenever they liked. Was he flying home from France? But if he was flying back from France on a plane of his own design people would be talking about it, and word would have reached us. To begin with, I had no idea what Steven was even doing in France. France and England had never really got along but eight years ago they’d signed a trade agreement and travel between the two countries was quite common. I had a lot of pilot friends in France, but none of them had ever heard of Steven Motorize, and none of the airplane makers had heard of him, either. It was still a very small industry, so if he was openly involved in it I would almost certainly have heard something about him. So he must not be openly involved, I guess. He was flying his plane in secret. His own original creation. It cost money to make an airplane, so that
must be coming from the Motorize coffers. Since Darlington was clearly becoming the official heir, she should be aware of what Steven was up to. With that thought in mind I visited the Motorize home for the first time in five years. After the Kenton Murder case wound up impossible to prosecute further, Ben Motorize lost all appetite for business. He’d more or less withdrawn from it, and had retired to a resort town in American called Miami. Darlington was running the estate and the business all by herself. She’d become even more beautiful, and even more imposing. When I showed her the photo I’d taken, she grimaced.
“Tell me what Steven’s doing.”
“Don’t tell me this plane isn’t funded with Motorize money. And I highly doubt Motorize money is funding anything you don’t know about.”
“…you’ve really grown a backbone, Jorge Joestar.”
I said, certain now that I was right. Darlington was buying herself time to think. About what she should tell me. Which meant she knew something. Ignoring her attempts to deflect, I pushed for an answer.
“I know a lot about planes, and I know this is the Motorizing Steven was designing. The most distinctive aspect is this single-seat design. It looks like a two-seater, but it isn’t. He designed it this way so that he can easily fly back to the cockpit if he has to jump out of the plane for any reason. This gives him somewhere to fold his wings. No other plane would need the like.”
Darlington stared silently at me for a while, but at last she said,
but it sounded like she was talking to herself, and before I could try to say anything she said something that came as a complete surprise to me.
“Jorge, do you think it’s possible for the dead to come back to life?”
What? Was she deflecting again? But then…?
“I don’t even need to think about it. It’s not possible.”
I was lying. I knew the truth. Some dead became zombies.
But that wasn’t coming back to life again, that was the dead acting as if they were alive, drinking human blood, and devouring human flesh. A shiver ran down my spine. A flavor of fear I had not felt in some time. I thought I had left all that behind me on the Canary Islands. I did my best to keep it from showing. Darlington stared at me intently for another minute, then said,
“…yes, but not everyone thinks that way, and there are cultural and religious precedents.”
Jesus Christ resurrected three days after being crucified. People all across the world believed that was true.
“………? What do you mean by this? Does Steven believe this is possible?”
“I don’t know. But my father and Steven are betting on that possibility. They want Kenton back.”
“………! What…!? But how…?”
“….while you were studying planes, Steven and my father have been studying ways to bring back the dead. And they found a place in South America that had stories about it, and found some sort of proof that some ritual had actually given life to the dead.”
“A folk religion called Vodou. They have a kind of sorcerer called a Bokor, who is set to chant a spell that causes the dead to rise to their feet. Though still dead, they stand. They call these undead zombies.”
Zombies!? This was starting to sound a lot like what Straits had told me.
“It was slaves that brought Vodou to America originally,”
“It seems to have started as a religion on the African continent, but South America is a strange land, and parts of the continent have their own legends of the dead coming back. The Aztecs believed that the dead would become their king. Jorge, have you heard of the stone mask?”
This caught me off guard, and I stuttered,
stone mask? What stone mask?”
“A tool used to turn the Aztec King into the living dead. We’ve learned that your father, Jonathan Joestar, spent quite some time studying the mask. It was a long time ago now, but my father once visited your home, and remembers seeing the mask hanging on the wall in the parlor.”
I couldn’t keep feigning innocence. I stopped protesting, and simply waited to see where Darlington’s story would take us. She pressed on towards the heart of the matter.
“That parlor burned with the rest of the Joestar mansion in the great fire twenty-four years ago…but do you know what happened in that house the night of the fire?”
Darlington did not wait for me to answer.
“Your grandfather, also named George Joestar, gathered a bunch of policemen to arrest his adopted son, Dio Brando, who was trying to murder him. They all died. But they weren’t burned to death. Not one person there died in the fire. All the policemen were murdered before the fire began, in the most horrible, horrific manner possible. We’ve obtained a copy of the police report describing the condition of the bodies. Their arms and legs were torn off, their heads split in half. One of the policemen had two holes in his head. As if… two fingers had punctured his skull.”
……….! Darlington may not have noticed, but even I didn’t know the story in that much detail. All I knew was that Dio Brando had put the mask on, murdered my grandfather, and when blood hit the mask he’d turned into a vampire and slaughtered the cops.
“Part of the Joestar mansion that survived the fire had similar round holes on the ceiling, and on the wall two rows of parallel holes like someone had walked straight up the wall, smashing their feet through it with every step. That night, twentyfour years ago, something was in the Joestar mansion, something with unnatural power. And we know that the Aztec kings had similarly inhuman power. The stone mask links Aztec legends and the Joestar mansion, and ties both to a third place. A town in a valley known as Wind Knight’s Lot.”
By this point I couldn’t help but be impressed. She’d done her homework well.
“That town was wiped out in a single night. The only survivors were a young girl and her brother. It seems someone swore them to secrecy. There should have been bodies everywhere, but they were all taken away by some powerful group. Steven and my father managed to get those two survivors to tell everything. They tried money at first, but apparently using Dio Brando’s name and showing them a photograph of him was far more effective. The sister told them the truth. Dio Brando came to that town and turned everyone there into the living dead.”
Darlington had stepped right into the heart of the matter, and she kept on walking.
“And then their gaze turned towards the ship that sank while you parents were on their honeymoon. They investigated. They wanted to find the ship’s wreck, but couldn’t find it anywhere, so all they could do was check the records from the port it left from. They found one suspicious piece of cargo. A large box…and the owner’s name was listed only as ‘DB’. One of the dock workers who helped carry the box on board told them it was a big, sturdy black box that looked like a coffin. And another dock worker gave them an even more sinister statement – he said he’d heard a voice from inside it. Jorge, we know that when your mother was rescued by Canary Island fisherman in the Atlantic Ocean, she was afloat on a large box that looked very like a coffin. And Jorge, I’m sure you know how Steven and your father came by that statement.”
“They went to La Palma in the Canary Islands, and learned more than the history of your family. They found that 73 people had died in the island church in 1905. And that evening, a mysterious group had declared curfew on the island…essentially declaring martial law. Steven and father investigated further, and found the same group had come to the island five years earlier, and done the same thing, doing something so terrifying the islanders refuse to
speak of it at all. Jorge, I’m sure you remember this. The incident with the Torres family. Alejandro Torres came to your school, looking young again, walking on the ceiling, with large fangs sticking out of his mouth. And the ones who defeated this monster were you and the girl who’d been living with you – Lady Elizabeth Straits. Five years later, on the second night of horror, she worked with that mysterious group, and left the Joestar home for good. After that we were unable to trace her movements, but she was always with you when you needed her. Any time you were in trouble, she would come. Right? She even stayed in the Westwood jail with you.”
I really didn’t expect her to know that.
“I’m the one who tracked that lead down. Had to use a photo of Elizabeth Straits in grade school. Even as a kid she was a beauty, very mature looking. When I showed it to the police officers, they all acted like they’d been struck by lightning. Their eyes went blank, and they passed out. She left them seriously damaged. I have no idea what she could have done to knock out all those men, but several of them definitely remembered seeing Elizabeth Straits, seeing her walking freely in and out of the jail. The police officers themselves had no idea how or why she was able to do that, but I think you know, Jorge. It’s obvious she was only there because you were.”
She saw through everything. Embarrassment threatened to turn my face red, but I desperately tried to keep my poker face going.
“I understand now why you never showed interest in other girls, Jorge,”
“A girl that impressive already had you locked up. Your feelings, your heart, your very body – she’s got them all tamed. She’s trained you so well you’d never even consider cheating on her.”
She has? The look on my face must have been a sight, because Darlington burst out laughing.
“Ah ha ha ha ha! Sorry, sorry. I just couldn’t resist. No, I think the truth is, very few girls can live up to
someone so beautiful and…and amazing.”
Wait, what were we talking about?
“My point is,”
Darlington said, getting back on track.
“My father and brother are so desperate to bring my sister back to life that they’ve gone a bit too far. The Aztec legends, the stone mask, the incident at the Joestar mansion, and Elizabeth Straits herself have all led them to finding the group she works with. Today. I just received word from Steven. Steven thinks I agree with what they’re doing. But I don’t. I mean…she was my sister, and it was a great tragedy, but dead is dead. Steven’s crime won’t vanish if he brings her back, and now that she’s dead…even if Kenton comes back to life there’s no guarantee she’ll be the same Kenton we once knew. Especially given the Aztec legends and everything that happened with Dio Brando, which suggest that all this will lead to nothing but sadness and horror.”
It would. Lisa Lisa and the rest of them were fighting every day to prevent that.
“What Steven’s trying to do,”
“Will almost certainly not pay for his sins, or honor Kenton’s memory.”
I remembered what my mother had said seven years ago, on La Palma. You should stay, too. This story concerns not just the Joestar family, but all mankind. Wind Knight’s Lot may be a small country town, but even then the reason almost everyone had been turned into a zombie in a single night was because once a zombie drank your blood or ate your flesh you turned into a zombie, too. And that infection spread with terrifying speed. That was the reason the Hamon masters had ordered the villagers not to leave their homes when the Antonio Torres incident was going down on La Palma.
“Tell me, Jorge. What should I do? My family have lost their minds, and I can’t stop them. I hate to say it, but most of the Motorize fortune is under their control, and I can’t stop them using it how they please.”
“…I’ll start by contacting Lisa Lisa…Elizabeth Straits. I’ll warn her about what’s going on here. And I’ll ask her to take care of your father and Steven gently. Don’t worry, Darlington. How can I put this…the group Elizabeth Straits is with is made up entirely of amazing people, and they’re all people you can trust. I’m sure they’ll be able to help your father and Steven see reason.”
“Really? Are you sure, Jorge? They won’t let Kenton turn into a zombie?”
Even if she did turn into a zombie, Lisa Lisa would destroy her in the blink of an eye.
“You don’t need to be scared of anything like that.”
A shudder ran over Darlington, and she burst into tears.
“Thank god! I was so scared. I can’t tell you how much!”
I considered putting my arms around her suddenly fraillooking shoulders, but decided against it, striking a cheerful tone.
“Ha ha ha, what a coincidence I happened to take a picture of Steven’s plane and stop by just in time!”
Why today? Darlington had said, but wasn’t it a good thing I’d come today?
“That’s not what I meant,”
Darlington said, but before she could say anything else a car pulled up out front, and when she saw it she hastily wiped her tears. A tall man got out of the car, greeted Faraday, and strode into the house as if he owned the place, calling out,
“I’m home, Dar!”
Home? Dar? I thought only Steven and Kenton called her that.
“Let me introduce you, Jorge,”
Darlington said, smiling, and rising to greet the man coming down the hall and making his leather boots squeak loudly on the hardwood floor.
“Oh, Dar! I went to put a bouquet on the cliff tops, say a prayer, and let your mother know our good news!”
he said as he stepped in. He was a rather handsome man, of a significantly more impressive build than my own, and I was instantly in a bad mood. Was this because I’d already guessed who he must be?
“Oh, we have company? I do apologize,”
he said with a pleasant smile I found infuriating.
“William, this is Jorge Joestar,”
“Jorge, this is my fiancé, William Cardinal.”
Cardinal’s eyes went wide, then he smiled broadly and held out his hand.
“Ohhh, you’re Mr. Jorge Joestar! Well met, sir. What brings you here today?”
I had nothing to say to him.
“I heard of your engagement, and came to congratulate you both. Congratulations.”
I said, and shook his big, thick hand.
“Oh? Well, thank you very much.”
With the handshake complete, neither one of us said another word. We both knew already we had nothing to say to each other.
“Um, Jorge, thank you very much for coming,”
Darlington said, breaking the silence.
“I’ll see you to the door.”
Darlington went out in the hall, and Cardinal came with us, apparently not needing an invitation.
“Jorge, you’ll come to our wedding, won’t you?”
“…sorry, but I think I’d better not. Given my…history with this family, I doubt I’d be very welcome.”
Cardinal chuckled. I cringed, but whatever. I greeted Faraday at the door, and as I stepped outside Cardinal said,
“Since you said it first…you do tend to be a bad influence, here. Could I ask that you not ever visit here again? We’ve got enough work today rebuilding the Motorize name, and as grateful as Dar is for your friendship, from this point on we’ve got to do this as a couple, you see.”
I turned around and looked at Darlington, but she wouldn’t meet my eye. All the power I’d felt from her when I’d arrived had vanished into thin air, and she was dithering like someone else entirely. Cardinal put his hand on her shoulders, and said,
Dar? What’s wrong? You seem out of it. Are you tired? Get it together.”
Then Darlington said,
“Oh, heh heh heh, sorry,”
and smiled and got ‘it’ together.
“Thank you for everything, Jorge. Both our houses have seen too much tragedy, but personally you still have my trust. Goodbye, Jorge Joestar. Give my best wishes to your family.”
Her words sounded like the heir to the house, but the strength had left her eyes. But I said nothing. It was her family, and her life. I gave a quick wave, and left the Motorize manor. I went home, called mother at work, and had her contact Lisa Lisa. About ten minutes later the phone rang. Lisa Lisa wouldn’t tell me where she was, but I told her what Darlington had told me.
“I don’t know anything about this man Cardinal, but we’re already watching the Motorize men. It’ll be fine. Frankly, the fact that he has his own airplane design might come in handy.”
“Jorge, it’s still a ways off, but war is coming.”
“Yeah. The RAC has been working with the Navy, and soon enough they’ll officially be the Navy’s airborne division.”
“…don’t die, OK?”
“Planes won’t be used for anything but scouting, anyway, and how exactly are they going to knock us out of the sky? Only way we’ll crash is sloppy maintenance.”
Shortly after that the English Royal Flying Corps was officially created, and I joined the Royal Naval Air Service. While learning how to fly a hydroplane I took part in training on how to take off and land from the deck of a new type of warship, which I thought went pretty well. Once I put my hands on the flight stick I stopped thinking about anything complicated or difficult, and focused. Being dumb was a great help. But while plenty of guys
could take off and land on a ship at harbor the only pilots who could do that from the deck of an aircraft carrier sailing across the ocean were me and Jim Graham, so I was just thinking that aircraft carriers weren’t going to be all that useful when the world went to war. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s throne was killed by a Serbian, and they declared war against Serbia. Germany and Austria had joined the Triple Alliance, and while dealing with Serbia also invaded Belgium intent on swiftly taking down France, but since they’d suddenly attacked a neutral country England also joined the war, and since Russia mobilized far faster than expected Germany demanded that Austria deal with the Russian assault and Austria plunged into chaos. The third member of the Triple Alliance, Italy, initially ignored Austria’s territorial dispute before eventually joining England and France. At the same time the Ottoman Empire, itself locked in a territorial dispute with Russia, threw in with Germany and Austria, and since Japan and England had signed a treaty, Japan joined the war, and the British Empire’s territories Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all pitched in and quite literally all the world was now mixed up in this war. So I fought, too. The main duty of the Royal Naval Air Service was finding enemy ships and submarines, and at first we flew hydroplanes in pairs watching the English Channel, but since Jim and I could take off and land on an aircraft carrier we got moved to the great wide open North Sea. For the first two weeks I was partnered with a navigator named Frank Demarast, but he kept muttering,
“It’s your fault I’m out here risking my life,”
over my shoulder the whole time we flew and eventually it got to me and I punched him the moment we landed and fired his ass. Frank seemed grateful, though. Certainly there were a hell of a lot more enemy ships. But finding them saved a lot of English lives. The ship’s guns almost never hit, and compared to the trench warfare the army was bogged
down in we got to be up in the sky and free and enjoy ourselves so what the hell was so damn scary, I thought, but fine, he was scared, and I couldn’t be bothered getting another navigator so I started flying alone and doing some pretty crazy shit. I piled bombs in Frank’s empty seat, and used them to bombard German ships from the air. I knew they were actively developing proper bombing equipment, but until that reached me I wanted to do what I could. Unless you did something really stupid planes weren’t about to get hit by any ships, and from the sky battleships looked super unprotected. So I tried tossing bombs out of the plane as I flew over them and like I expected, they hit and I was officially getting results. I was pleased. It was much better to have me blow them up than having English ships fight them head on with lots of casualties. Jim disagreed.
“We should just do what we’re told to do. If we fly right over a battleship we’re much more likely to get shot down, and there’s no glory in death.”
Hmmm…that way of thinking was kinda shitty considering we’d already earned a relatively safe job flying planes. I said as much and Jim and I had the fight we’d never quite got around to before the war started. I mean Jim didn’t say that shit lightly, and only felt comfortable speaking his mind on the matter because it was me he was talking to, but it still felt cowardly to think like that considering all the other English soldiers out fighting for England right now. If we weren’t motivated to protect people we’d never make it through this war, I thought. I felt pretty smug about it, but a single bullet ended that. Bang. I was flying Star Shooter – a hydroplane I’d made a few modifications to, and there was now a hole open in the right side of it. I stared at it, confused. How had I been shot from the side? Had Jim finally snapped and turned that pistol of his on me? I looked to my right, and saw a German Albatros headed right towards me, and the machine gun barrels on both sides of the body
spit fire again. Bratatatata! They hit. Not me, but Jim’s Simone hydroplane; he’d been just above me on my left, saw the Albatros attacking before I did, and tried to gain some distance. His wings had gone diagonal, and the hail of bullets licked the length of them. The body broke in half before the wings broke up, cracking like an egg and dropping Jim like a yolk towards the ocean below, so I quickly ducked Star Shooter under him and caught him in midair. When he fell on the pile of bombs behind me I gulped a second but they didn’t blow up and I didn’t have time to worry about it anyway. I had to dodge the wreckage of Simone as it fell all around me, and for a moment I caught the eye of Jim’s navigator, Peter Fraiser, as he and the rear seat fell with the tail. Peter was trying to stand up out of his seat like he planned to jump over to my plane and I wanted to catch him but I had to move away from him to avoid the remains of Simone’s wings and we both knew I wouldn’t make it in time even if I tried to come back for him.
“Jorge, he’s coming back!”
Jim roared behind me, so I made a sharp turn, found the Albatros coming at us, and yanked my stick to avoid the gunfire. The Albatros turned and followed close on my tail, so I rocked the plane left and right, making it hard to get a bead on us…as a feint, but the moment the Albatros started getting comfortable with our speed I suddenly shot upwards. I kept that nose up as the sky flipped up side down and we were flying upside down.
Jim yelled behind me. The bombs in the back seat went flying out, bouncing off Jim as he tried desperately not to fall out. I’d never even tried to fly upside-down, and even though I pulled it off the Albatros calmly made a sharp turn and parked itself on our tail as I righted us so I told Jim to throw a bomb at it.
“I’ll never hit it!”
“Just throw them! They don’t have to hit!”
I yelled back, and brandished my pistol.
Jim yelled, not following my drift at all. He threw a bomb, and I shot at it. Bang! Bang! Bang! The bomb exploded in the air with a tremendous boooom
right next to the Albatros, and the blast and fire knocked it sideways, and must have burned the pilot badly, since the plane dropped away without correcting course.
“Jesus…can you do that again?”
Jim asked. Because there were two more Albatros planes coming towards us.
“Nope! Let’s run for it.”
We had to get this information to our forces. But these Albatros fighter planes not only had the machine guns timed to the propellers so they could fire through them without hitting, they were also much faster than the old models, and they caught us in no time. I couldn’t dodge the volleys fast enough and they blew off my tail wing.
Jim yelled, and this time threw a bomb and tried to shoot it with his own pistol, but before he could pull the trigger the enemy bullets hit it and booooom the two Albatros planes shot straight into the blast radius, came out on fire, and in the ensuing panic tapped wings, lost their balance, crashed into each other again, got stuck together, and fell away, still entangled. We watched this in silence, then both broke up laughing.
“…ha ha ha!”
“That was lucky!”
I turned around and shook hands with Jim, then stared at the tail of Star Shooter, with its missing wings. Jim followed my gaze.
“Emergency landing it is.”
“In the middle of the North Sea? Guess that’s better than what Peter got.”
“…sorry about Peter.”
“Heh. Nobody could have saved him. I should be thanking you. Seriously, man. I owe you one.”
“If your plane hadn’t split open so perfectly I could never have done it, and even then I just happened to be in exactly the right place.”
Jim was starting to shake. I turned back around, facing forward. So, I thought. How close to our forces would I be able to get?
Not at all close, I decided instantly. That first shot from the side had scratched the fuel tank, and the fuel gauge showed we were out of petrol…and no sooner did I notice than we ran out completely, and the engines sputtered, and the propellers stopped. We were still 800 meters up. We were in for a long fall.
“It’ll be fine! I’ll land this thing on the water, no problem!”
“I’m getting rid of these bombs,”
Jim yelled, and started throwing them overboard. One after another they vanished into the low-lying clouds around us. Everything around us was white. Except… Between the silhouettes of the unmoving propeller blades was a tiny face. A face with no eyes. It was grinning at me, its mouth filled with fangs. There was petrol running down its chin like drool. We hadn’t run out of fuel. He’d sucked it all out. The little monster gargled the petrol, cackling,
“Hey, Jorge Joestar…I’m afraid you’re gonna die here. And after you’re dead, I’m gonna kill your family, too. Their deaths will be even worse than yours.”
Kee hee hee hee hee hee! The laugh was so shrill it made Jim squeal behind me. He could see it, too. See the monster that knew my name. It had brown skin, unruly brown hair, and the way it was grinning at me…I knew him, I thought. Who was he? I grabbed the camera I kept in my seat, and pressed the shutter. Snap!
A moment later, we were out of the clouds, could see around us, and the face between the propellers was gone. Neither of us said a word at first.
“Uh, Jim…you saw that, right?”
I asked, still peering through the viewfinder at the propellers. He didn’t answer.
Did you see it?”
I asked, turning around. Jim Graham’s mouth was wide open, his eyes rolled back, and he was clawing at his throat with both hands.
He was forcing fragments of sound out, but there was something stuffed inside his throat, preventing him from talking. What!? Was he having a seizure!?
“Jim! What’s going on!? Hey!”
I shouted. Jim’s eyes locked on to mine and for a second I had hope, and then he shoved his own hand all the way into his mouth, shoved it even farther back, grabbed something and yanked it out…his own tongue. Jim seemed too far gone to know that, and kept pulling with all his strength, stretching his tongue until he’d pulled it a good 30 centimeters out of his mouth. It was no longer just his tongue; he was now pulling out flesh that belonged inside his throat. But Jim wouldn’t stop pulling it.
“Hey…Jim! Stop! What are you doing!? Stop!!”
What the fuck!? What was he doing!? I was starting to panic, but Jim didn’t give a shit, he just grabbed the mess of flesh with both hands and pulled even harder, and everything inside came out like potatoes from the ground. One hand kept pulling while the other was squeezing everything that came out, and then I noticed that he’d even managed to pull out part of his own ribs, and I nearly threw up. Jim’s eyes had rolled back in his head again, but there was blood coming out his eyelids and his ears and his nose and he looked totally dead except his hands wouldn’t stop moving. When his stomach and small intestines tried to follow his esophagus out they caught on his jaw, but he tried to force them out anyway, and he pulled so hard his stomach ripped in half and his hands snapped forward flinging blood and bits of organs in my direction. I turned quickly away but they spattered across the back of my head and dripped down my neck and this was so unbelievably gross I couldn’t stand it any more and puked all over my cockpit. Bleergh. Bleeeeeeeeeeeergghhhhh! Tears running down my face, I threw up every last thing in
my stomach. Behind me, Jim’s hands were still moving. He was now alternating hands, ripping out pieces of the organs jammed in his mouth, tossing them out into the air. My plane was about to crash, and what was happening behind me was so horrific I could barely think straight. For a moment, I wondered if Jim and I should just plunge straight town into the ocean to our deaths, but I thought better of it.
Fuck dying here.
My mind cleared. Even since the war started there’d been a part of me that was OK dying in combat, that accepted the notion that there was honor in a death like that, but that was bullshit. Maybe there were places where it was worth dying, but this wasn’t fucking one of them. I stopped watching Jim throw his insides out into the ocean. This was no time to let my mind be clouded by that madness. I faced forward, fixed my eyes on the rapidly approaching ocean surface, and kept them there. Splat, slurp, schluuunk! Mixed into the constant sound of flesh being dragged out of him, I could heard a voice whispering,
“Jorge…Jorge, Jorge, Jorge…help…help me…”
Wait. Wait for now. The Star Shooter’s about to hit the ocean! At the last second, I lifted the nose of the Star Shooter, touching the wing-less tail to the water’s surface. Gently, softly, quietly. The Star Shooter ran across the water’s surface, water spraying behind it, and I gradually let the weight of the plane settle on the water until the floats on either side had touched down. If the sea had been flat like a mirror, it would have been an absolutely beautiful landing, but the waves rocked me, wham, thunk, and each blow forced me to yank my stick up and down, trying to soften the blows. In time, we slowed down, and finally came to a stop.
I’d touched down successfully. I took a deep breath, let it out, and then turned to see why Jim had gone silent. He was curled up in the round seat, not moving at all. There was blood all over the floor and seat and the plane around it. Bits of flesh were stuck here and there, clinging to the walls and sliding down the instrument panel. I stood up, reached over, and put my fingers to Jim’s throat, checking for a pulse. There was none. He wasn’t breathing, either. He was dead. Staring at the body of my friend, I sat down on the armored plate in front of the cockpit, wondering just what in the hell I could do next. I should have been celebrating the landing with Jim, but now I was all alone. The surface of the North Sea was dark, the sky was blue, the clouds high above, the breeze crisp but gentle. My second time adrift, I thought, but no, that wasn’t quite right, the first time I hadn’t even been born yet. Perhaps I’d listened to mother’s story a little too intently. It must have been very hard for her to deal with vampire Dio while holding baby Lisa Lisa and hiding my father’s head, but here I was bobbing all alone. Which of us had it worse? There was no comparing our experiences, and no point in comparing them. Mother survived her experience…then I started wondering why it had even occurred to me to try comparing out experiences, and I realized it was because I was confident that I would survive mine, too. Why did I think that? There could only be one answer. Lisa Lisa. I had her. I waited confidently for Lisa Lisa to get here, soaking in the sun. That made me sleepy, so I went to sleep. The sound of an airplane engine woke me. Vrrooooooooom…the sound of the propellers woke me, but I didn’t open my eyes. She’d come, I knew, and the satisfaction of finding out that I’d been right about came as a mild surprise, but got ignored because I’d been listening to engine sounds a while now and knew what they all sounded like but this engine wasn’t one I’d
ever heard before. If it wasn’t English or French did that mean it was German? An enemy? I opened my eyes and looked up to see a hydroplane coming towards me of a unique shape I knew at once. I’d seen the designs for it pinned to the wall in his workshed. This was the Motorizing, the plane Steven Motorize designed. It looked like a two-seater and was actually a single-seater but there were two people aboard and the one in back was clearly Lisa Lisa. And the other…? 436 We’re already watching the Motorize men. It’ll be fine. Frankly, the fact that he has his own airplane design might come in handy, Lisa Lisa had said. I found my fists curling up, my body tense. As Motorizing got low enough, Lisa Lisa clearly couldn’t wait any more, and leaned out of her seat…no, wait, she straight up climbed out of it holding onto the side of the plane with only one hand and foot, the end of her dress flapping in the wind for a second before she jumped off about five meters over the water.
My heart leaped to my throat but she splashed down calmly…without much splash at all. She just slid along the surface of the water, kicking up spray as she killed her momentum, then stood up and came running across the water like an ice skater. Directly towards me.
“Jorge! Are you alright!?”
As I gaped at her, vroooooooommm the Motorizing turned over my head, as if hesitant about landing. I looked up. The man in the cockpit lifted his goggles, and met my gaze. I couldn’t read his expression, but it was Steven. Ten years older. He’d lost a little weight and there was a harshness around his eyes, but he was the same dude I’d been so into planes with. Steven and I just looked at each other, making no attempt at greeting. We just made sure the other was alive, that we could each see the other, and that we’d be able speak to each other again. Steven lowered his goggles, and the Motorize began slowly descending, and touched down. How I felt as I watched this I still don’t really know. Was I mad at him for framing me for Kenton’s
murder, sad because he’d betrayed me, or honestly glad to see him again? And when I looked at Steven and instantly thought that he was innocent after all…was that just because I wanted him to be? Since meeting John Moore-Brabazon and getting into cars and airplanes I’d had fun with a lot of different people but even now I still tended to latch onto friends, which meant I might still be fixated on Steven.
“Jorge! You aren’t hurt, are you? Thank god!”
Lisa Lisa said, throwing her arms around me, tears in her eyes. He’d brought her to me, he’d brought Lisa Lisa to me, so did that mean I could trust him?
“How’d you know where I was?”
“Um, there’s a Hamon master named Tom Petty. He can use Hamon to predict what will happen in the future.”
“Oh…he can see the future? He’s always right?”
“…as far as I know.”
“So why’d he do that for me?”
“Heh heh. It wasn’t free, you know. There’s something we’ll need you to do. But first, you want to talk to Steven, right?”
Did I? I was a little scared. It felt more like I sort of had to talk to him now that he was here.
“I’m sorry I just brought him like this,”
Lisa Lisa said, as if reading my mind.
“But this morning Tom Petty suddenly told me he’d predicted you’d crash, and the only pilot I could get to fly me to a battlefield right away was Steven.”
That meant Steven and Lisa Lisa had been close by this morning.
“You seem close. What are you and Steven up to?”
“I’m sure Steven will tell you. …Jorge, I know it’s been a while, but you’re still the only man for me.”
And with that, Lisa Lisa kissed me on the cheek, a gentle kiss without any Hamon, and it occurred to me we hadn’t kissed on the lips since that temple underground in Rome and maybe it was time we started being more grown-up…and then I got really carried away but part of me was also going eh? With Lisa Lisa? Really?
But this was no time to get lost in that mess again. The sound of those propellers was slowing down as Steven taxied the Motorizing over to us. What should I say? Was it even my job to speak first here? Steven was the one who’d killed Kenton and framed me for it and gone into hiding. In the end, he spoke first.
“Been a while, Jorge. Sorry I couldn’t get in touch with you. After you got arrested I started chasing the real killer, trying to prove you were innocent. Then three years later I was a suspect, and the police were looking for me, so I couldn’t go back to England. …my father also suggested that if I were arrested, they’d force a guilty verdict so they could secretly hand me over to the military and do experiments on me. But let me make one thing absolutely clear here, Jorge. I did not kill Kenton. She was killed by a Spanish-speaking midget with no eyes.”
I had no idea what to say. He kept talking.
“Kenton had been telling me about him for months before he killed her. She said when she flew while the clouds were dark or it was raining, a monster would show up. She said it would laugh at her, say things that she thought might be in Spanish, and do things to her or the plane. But I never caught a glimpse of it, no matter how closely I watched. She swore it had shown up right in front of me. The cloth on the glider tore, screws or nuts on the wings came loose, sometimes there were even scratches on her body, and it was obvious that something was going on while she was flying. But neither of us took it all that seriously. I think these wings of mine made us used to weird shit like that.”
Weird shit? Jesus, what this thing had done went way beyond weird shit.
I remembered trying to repair Motorizing 5 after pulling that out of the water at the bottom of those cliffs. I’d found two sets of four claw marks. The day before Kenton died. I’d totally forgotten about that.
Steven went on.
“But one day Kenton picked the words
out of the monster’s Spanish muttering. She thought that must mean you, Jorge. She didn’t know much Spanish but she could tell what the monster was saying was insulting, maybe even a curse of some kind. And as your friend, Kenton wouldn’t stand for that. She got mad, and yelled at it, and it turned its empty eyes on her and said, ‘You’re going to die,’ in English, and then it vanished. That didn’t scare Kenton at all. She just got mad, and worried about you. She insisted we had to tell you about this the next time we saw you, warn you a weird monster was taking your name in vain and up to something evil. It was raining the next day, and she was called to the cliffs by someone using your name, but you weren’t there, and she was murdered. And you were framed for it. Jorge, when I got to the cliffs it was standing over Kenton with a knife it its hand. I saw it vanish over the edge of the cliff.”
A child with no eyes that spoke Spanish. The thing Faraday had seen that day in the Motorize Manor was what had killed Kenton…? It had cursed my name? It had framed me for the murder? Hey, Jorge Joestar…I’m afraid you’re gonna die here. And after you’re dead, I’m gonna kill your family, too. Their deaths will be even worse than yours. So I wasn’t imagining that?
“So…what’s this about you trying to bring Kenton back to life?”
Steven nodded as if expecting the question.
“Dar told you?
Yeah, truth is, we were looking into the possibility. But then Lisa Lisa came along, and I saw a real zombie…and knew it would be an unforgivable sin to make Kenton into one of those horrible things.”
So we all climbed into Steven’s Motorizing and headed for France. We had to leave Star Shooter behind, and look for a chance to file a report about it and Jim’s body. Steven flew the plane, and I sat behind him with Lisa Lisa on my lap, my arms around her. Her face was bright red, and mine felt like it was on fire. Lisa Lisa and I kept talking, only partly to distract ourselves. I told her all about the rumors of the eyeless midget that had been running around the English Air Service. Lisa Lisa and Steven both thought long and hard about this. At length Steven asked,
“Did it say anything about you?”
“Nobody ever said anything like that. Very few people even mentioned it speaking Spanish. It always just shows up out of nowhere while they’re flying, breaks something, and then vanishes. Sometimes it speaks Spanish, sometimes it doesn’t; the height varies from gnome-like 50 centimeters to the normal child-sized one I saw. And lately the descriptions of it vary as well. Some say it looks like a lizard with giant ears, others say it has horns growing out of its head; the only common ground is that it always has dark pits where its eyes should be.”
“…the descriptions vary lately? Hmm. How many stories in all?”
Lisa Lisa asked.
“I couldn’t even begin to count. Some days it appears in multiple places. Some people have started calling them gremlins. No idea where that name came from.”
“In that case, there has to be more than one gremlin.”
“Undoubtedly. I don’t know what’s going on with the French pilots or other countries, but the English are flying planes over the channel and over the North Sea, and there are witnesses from all sectors.”
“Right…and these reports started happening all at once, all over the place? Or did it seem like they started in one place and spread out?”
“Uh…now that you mention it, I’m not sure. I first heard about it from someone who’d been sent from the Royal Aero Club to train with the Navy.”
“But that was after 1910, right?”
“Kenton saw it back in 1905. These things have been in the skies over Westwood for years.”
“When did you start flying?”
Lisa Lisa asked.
“Did you see it then?”
“No…it think it was around March in 1905….that’s the first time Kenton started talking about them, anyway. March, yeah.”
“Jorge, you moved to England from the Canary Islands in February 1905,”
Lisa Lisa said, pointedly.
The implication there left Steven speechless, so I said,
“And in October of that year, the evening Kenton was killed, he was in the Motorize Manor.”
Steven nearly lost it when I told him Faraday’s story.
“What the…!? Why the hell didn’t he ever tell us!?”
Almost certainly because he couldn’t believe what he’d seen. It was a child with no eyes, after all. Thinking back on it now I believe that was something evil in the shape of a child. And since I vanished immediately afterward, Faraday dared not speak of it. I’ve been too terrified. Much too terrified.
“That settles it. This thing is definitely after you, Jorge,”
Lisa Lisa said.
“If is speaks Spanish, it must have followed you from the Canary Islands.”
A monster child with no eyes!?
When we finally reached France, the Hamon masters were
waiting for Lisa Lisa, and they led us to their secret underground lair. It was close to the German border, right in the heart of the fighting, but the Hamon masters were all totally calm about, as if it didn’t concern them, which really drove home that they were fighting something else entirely. I handed over my camera, asked them to get the contents developed, and while we were waiting for that, I was introduced to a bald Tibetan Man named Ngapoi Ngawang Tom Petty. The moment he laid eyes on me, he called me by name.
“Nice to meet you, Master Tom Petty.”
“You have entered my dreams many times now. To me, it feels as if we have met many times before. It is an honor to meet you in person.”
“I’m just a soldier.”
“You are Jonathan Joestar’s son.”
Oh, he met my Dad? Instantly I became obnoxiously proud.
“I hear he was quite a man.”
Even as a severed head he was oddly impressive. But Tom Petty just laughed.
“A man? He was barely a man at all. He was a spoiled boy, weak willed, not very smart, and prone to taking the easy way out. But he had a glimmer of courage. Jorge Joestar, it can be very difficult to summon even a modest amount of courage in the face of overwhelming fear. When fear left the rest of us frozen to the spot, trying not to piss ourselves, he had the wild courage to take one step forward, and say something rude. And you seem to have inherited that courage.”
I was genuinely surprised.
“I couldn’t begin to do what my Dad did.”
Fighting one on one with a vampire that had just slaughtered a bunch of cops, throwing himself into a village where nearly the entire population had just been turned into zombies? No fucking way.
“Courage is not a thing that shows up in your imagination,”
Tom Petty said.
“It’s something you squeeze out of yourself when face to face with genuine fear, terror that leaves every part of you shaking like a leaf.”
I still was absolutely sure I had no such courage, but since he was clearly offering encouragement, there was little point in continuing to deny it.
“Uh…then I’ll do my best,”
I said, and attempted a Tibetan style bow, putting my hands together and lowering my head. Then I went to borrow a phone. I got in touch with the English Naval Air Service, gave my name, and was forwarded on.
“Jorge Joestar, where the hell are you?”
the man on the other end roared, to my surprise. I’d heard this voice before, but it wasn’t the officer I usually reported to. I ignored his question, and asked,
“Sorry, but who is this?”
“You know who it is!”
“How out of it can the Joestar’s only son be?”
he roared, and at last I placed the loudmouth. I guess I did know.
“Mister William Cardinal.”
“Sir William Cardinal, Mister Joestar.”
Fuckkk offfffffffffffffffff what was this prick doing here? Sir continued,
“As of today I am now the officer in charge of your unit. Answer my question. Where are you and what are you doing. Why did you abandoned an injured companion and run off on your own?”
“An injured companion? Who?”
“Mister Jim Graham! Don’t try and play dumb!”
“You mean, Jim’s alive?”
Even though he’d pulled his tongue and stomach and intestines out and thrown them into the ocean?
“I told you not to play dumb, you coward! Jim Graham told us everything! You encountered three German fighters, surrendered immediately, abandoned Jim when he fell into the sea after shooting down two enemy planes, and left on an enemy ship!? You thought
Jim was dead so you moved directly to spying for the enemy? Ha! You’ve got a lot of nerve!”
What the fuck was he on about? We took out all three Albatros fighters, and Jim Graham himself took two of them out!
“Either his memories are confused…or he’s deliberately lying,”
I said. Why would Jim lie? Why would he lie in a way that put me in a tight spot? It made no sense.
“No, I doubt he’d be lying. He’d lost his mind a bit, attempted suicide, and was quite badly injured. I can totally see the shock scrambling his memories a bit.”
“Suicide? He got scraped up a bit when he crashed into the ocean, but otherwise he’s in great shape!”
??? I didn’t know what he meant.
“Pardon me for suggesting this, but it is your first day on the job; is it possible you have Jim Graham confused with someone else?”
“What!? Are you mocking me!?”
“No, I just…I’ll have to talk to Jim when he gets back to the ship.”
“No need! Graham’s already here! Our planes found him floating in the wreckage of the plane you abandoned! I’ll put him on!”
Figuring this was better than having Cardinal shout in my ear any longer, I waiting for Graham to come on the line.
It was definitely Graham’s voice.
“Jim? You’re alive?”
“No thanks to you. How could you leave me for dead?”
“….!? What…Jim, what’s going on?”
“Shut up! You’re a disgrace to the RFC! I’ll happily testify to you being a filthy spy!”
“What….!? Hey! I’d never abandon you if you were alive! I genuinely thought you were dead…!”
“You thought I was dead, so you felt free to betray us! Your friends and your country!”
What the fuck….was this not Graham at all?
“Who are you?”
“The friend you betrayed and left for dead, Jorge Joestar.
The next time I see you I’ll kill you like I would any other god damn Kraut.”
Click! He hung up on me. What was going on?
I was still reeling when Lisa Lisa came over, and showed me a photograph. It showed a child with no eyes, and just was I was starting to pat myself on the back for taking such a clear picture, Lisa Lisa said,
“You know this boy.”
Hunh? I froze.
I didn’t know any eyeless children. But that face did look familiar.
“Did you forget? There’s only one Spanish child who really had it in for you.”
I was speechless.
“Your old bully, Antonio Torres,”
Lisa Lisa said.
“Real name Anthony Hightower. Seriously, I never imagined that discarded skin lived on as a zombie.”
Lisa Lisa went on.
“This explains a lot. How did the planes get damaged? The gremlins were hiding on the plane when they took off, or the empty skin caught the wind like a kite or a flying squirrel, flying to the planes. Or, mostly likely, both. It also explains why there were so many reports. Remember, Jorge, his mother abused him so badly his metabolism accelerated until she could peel off his entire skin every year, from his head to his toes, in one single peel.”
All cells in the human body are replaced every seven years; but our skin is replaced once a month – and in Antonio
Torres’ case, three days before June 16th – Maria’s customary skinning day – his skin cell production would speed up.
“If he’s kept that power as a skin zombie, and is still growing new skin, then every year, on June 16th, skinning day, Antonio Torres is making copies of himself. The Torres case on La Palma happened in 1900. Fifteen years have passed, fourteen skinning days, and Antonio’s copies have all made copies, doubling each time, so 2 to the 14th power, leaving us with 16,384 asshole Antonios. More than enough to terrorize the 800 pilots the Naval Air Service has spread across the channel and the North Sea, wouldn’t you say?”
16,384 of that terrifying shitbag Antonio Torres? I damn near toppled over frothing at the mouth. Lisa Lisa thought for a moment, then said,
“Hmm, but from what you said, the stories about these gremlins don’t describe them consistently. Some are super short, some had totally different features…only thing they had in common was the holes where the eyes should be.”
“That might mean they weren’t actually meeting the real Antonio while out flying, but were making up stories based on the rumors.”
“………? How do you mean?”
“When people are uneasy, they see things that aren’t there, and not just illusions…they make it actually happen. Their fears manifest, and their plane gets damaged just as they imagined.”
“Hunh…? That doesn’t seem possible…”
“But it is. I mean, you and I met the same thing.”
“? What? When?”
“In the underground temple in Rome. You remember that
monster in the dark?”
The gorilla spider?
“But do you think that actually existed?”
“Yes, but I mean was it born naturally into this world? How would something like that evolve?”
Flustered, I remembered. Even then, I’d thought that Lisa Lisa’s emotions had summoned the monster. But…
“Nothing like that exists on the surface, and it wasn’t something that should exist anywhere in the world. Yet it was there with us, underground.”
“Eh…then you believe our imaginations made that thing?”
“No, not just our imaginations. Like my father said, that thing’s been in the temple, protecting the treasure all this time. So people must have gone in there after it any number of times. One after another they added to it. Imagining what frightening things might be there in the dark with them, and it matched them, growing into a muscular spider with massive legs.”
Just remembering that monster was terrifying. It must have been real, after all.
“And if human imagination follows similar patterns, that gorilla spider could exist in any dark place.”
You’re seriously scaring me now. But the words got stuck in my throat and before I could beg her to stop Lisa Lisa kept thinking out loud.
“Human fears mingle with their imaginations, and in time
those give birth to actual threats…which explains one other thing. That church on La Palma in 1905, where all those villagers died together. Why? Because villagers who had lived through the Torres case were afraid something like that would happen again, and when they gathered together their fears fed off each other, leading to them all dying together. When scared people gather together, their amplified fear created the Mothman. But he didn’t actually manifest. He was simply drawn on the walls of that locked room. As the last job of those who were dying.”
My consciousness blurred as I remembered those horrifying drawings, scribbled with the ash and blood of bodies as they burned. Lisa Lisa’s voice grew faint, sounding far away.
“Humans have only just learned to fly. But now that they’ve created gremlins, I suppose from now on, any time scared people are flying they’ll be attacked by an eyeless Antonio Torres. Ah ha ha. Amazing.”
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