The earth holds, the Vimy sinks, the nose dips, the tail lifts.
It is as if they have been yanked backwards by surprise. The front of the Vimy slams into the soil. The back end flips. Brown smashes his face on the front of the cockpit. Alcock pushes back against the rudder control bar, bends it with pure force. A shot of pain through his chest and shoulders. Good Jesus, Jackie, what happened there? Have we crashed?
The silence, a noise in their heads. Louder now than ever. Suddenly doubled somehow. And then a relief floods up through them. The noise filters down into the rest of their bodies. Is that silence? Is that really silence? The racket of it. Slipping through their skullboxes. Good God, Teddy, that's silence. That's what it sounds like.
Brown touches his nose, his chin, his teeth, to see if he is intact. A few cuts, a few bruises. Nothing else. We 're alive. We 're perpendicular, but we 're alive.
The Vimy sticks out of the earth like some new-world dolmen. The nose is buried at least two feet in the bog. The tail in the air.
Crikey, says Alcock.
He can smell petrol somewhere. He switches off the magnetos.
Quick. Out. Down.
Brown reaches for the logbook, the flares, the linen bag of letters. Pulls himself up over the edge of the cockpit. Throws down his walking stick and it hits like an arrow in the bog below, stuck sideways in the soil. A burn in the leg as he lands. Hallelujah for the ground: it almost surprises him that it isn't made of air. A living dolmen, yes.
In the pocket of his flight suit, Brown has a small pair of binoculars. The right lens has fogged, but through the good lens he sees figures high-stepping across the bog. Soldiers. Yes, soldiers. They seem for all the world like toy things coming, dark against the complicated Irish sky. As they get closer he can make out the shape of their hats and the slide of rifles across their chests and the bounce of bandolier belts. There 's a war going on, he knows. But there 's always some sort of war going on in Ireland, isn't there? One never knows quite whom or what to trust. Don't shoot, he thinks. After all this, don't shoot us. Excuse me. Nein, nein. But these are his own. British, he is sure of it. One of them with a camera bobbing at his chest. Another still in his striped pajamas.
Behind them, in the distance, horses and carts. A single motorcar. A line of people coming from the town, snaking out along the road, small gray figures. And look at that. Look at that. A priest in white vestments. Coming closer now. Men, women, children. Running. In their Sunday best.
Ah, mass. So, they must have been at mass. That is why there was nobody on the streets.
The smell of the earth, so astoundingly fresh: it strikes Brown like a thing he might eat. His ears throb. His body feels as if it is still moving through the air. He is, he thinks, the first man ever to fly and stand at the exact same time. The war out of the machine. He holds the small bag of letters up in salute. On they come, soldiers, people, the light drizzle of gray.
A beautiful country. A bit savage on a man all the same.
Excerpted from TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Copyright © 2013 by Colum McCann. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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