Excerpt of Life by Mal Peet
(Page 4 of 4)
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Then, in May 1943, the boy had been killed. Metz, frozen
at the controls of his own plane, with his flight engineer
screaming in his headphones, had watched it happen. Had
watched the two British Hurricanes following his darling's
smoking machine down like frenzied sharks following a
blood leak, triangulating the bullets in as if there were an
infinity of bullets. Had watched the boy's plane do a halfcartwheel
into the sea and simply cease to exist. Joy and love
gone, bang, just like that, swallowed into the crinkled grey
texture of the English sea. The Hurricanes were from RAF
Beckford; Metz intended to end his war with a vengeance.
Flying solo, he had no way of defending himself from the
Spitfires. Flying at so ridiculously low a height, he had very
limited options for evasive action. So he stuck grimly to
his course, watching the Norfolk landscape race towards
and under him while his plane took an absurd number of
hits and disintegrated around him. Just before he overflew
a hamlet called Bratton Morley (did he glimpse a bulbous
woman lifting her shocked face and falling over?) his starboard
engine caught fire.
Metz didn't make it to Beckford, although he got close.
Two miles from the airbase he plunged, burning, into a sizeable
tract of forest known locally as Abbot's Wood. He had
almost certainly died by the time the ancient and heavy
English trees ripped the wings from his fuselage. Jolting in
the smoking cockpit, he tobogganed through the wood and
plunged into a stretch of water called Perch Lake.
The woods were wet and sullen after the long winter. It
didn't take long for the crews from Beckford and Borstead
to hose and beat the smouldering out. They hadn't the
equipment to lift the remains of the plane from the lake,
so Metz was left sitting next to the shattered photograph of
his lover under fifteen feet of silty water. Four months later
a courting couple were put off their stroke when his black
and gassy body parts bobbed to the surface.
Excerpted from Life
by Mal Peet. Copyright © 2011 by Mal Peet.
Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.