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.
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