Authors: James Van Pelt
Bonney Lake, WA
Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille
A Fairwood Press Book
Copyright © 2012 by James Van Pelt
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.
21528 104th Street Court East
Bonney Lake, WA 98391
Front cover image by Elena Vizerskaya
Book design by Patrick Swenson
First Fairwood Press Edition: November 2012
Printed in the United States of America
Electronic version by Baen Books
Fairwood Press books
by James Van Pelt
The Radio Magician
Summer of the Apocalypse
The Last of the O-Forms
Strangers and Beggars
“Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille” first appeared in
“Father’s Dragon” first appeared in
“Just Before Recess” first appeared in
Flash Fiction Online
“O Tannenbaum” first appeared in
“Night Sweats” first appeared in
Realms of Fantasy
“Teaching” first appeared in
Star Anthology #1
“Working the Moon Circuit” first appeared in
“Plant Life” first appeared in
“That He Might Yet Find the Unknown” first appeared in
“Floaters” first appeared in
“The Road’s End” first appeared in
Realms of Fantasy
“One in a Thousand” first appeared in
“Rock House” first appeared in
“Mrs. Hatcher’s Evaluation” first appeared in
“Far From the Emerald Isle” first appeared in
“Howl Above the Din” first appeared in
“No Small Change” first appeared in
“The Saint From Abdijan” first appeared in
Extremes, Darkest Africa
“Ark Ascension” first appeared in
“Working Pushout” first appeared in
The Third Alternative
“Notes From the Field” first appeared in
“Classroom of the Living Dead” first appeared in
Daily Science Fiction
“Savannah is Six” first appeared in
Dark Terrors 5
To Ed Low, Bonnie Slack, Mrs. Smith, and every hardworking
English teacher who loves literature, writing, and students equally.
by Brenda Cooper
ome of us in the Northwest are lucky. Once every year, James Van Pelt comes to the Rainforest Writer’s Village, and we get to hear him teach. He is an educator by trade, and good at it. If we’re extra lucky, we join him on a walk through the amazing Cascade rainforest, with its cedar overstory and fern and water and moss understory. Sometimes we sit huddled together by a blazing hot fireplace insert in a bar that the entire group of us takes over for the cold, rainy days, and we write fiction while he writes fiction.
This is the context in which I first met James. He is one of our best writers. He mostly does short fiction, so what you are holding in your hand is some of the best current science fiction and fantasy available. Really. You don’t have to believe me. Just go visit his webpage and peruse his bibliography and notice how many of his short stories ended up in Year’s Best anthologies of one kind or another, or gained honorable mentions in them.
The thing I love the most about Jim’s writing is that it’s smart. The stories are true to their speculative roots, redolent with wonder, but they’ve also been touched by the literary brush. They contain well-crafted sentences and well-placed commas, solid workable structure, and confident prose.
The thing I love the next-most about Jim’s writing is that it’s varied. In this collection you’ll find a wide array of characters in different situations, times, and settings and with different problems. After reading at least forty or fifty of his stories, I’m pretty confident that Jim can pull off anything. I happen to know he has now sold over a hundred stories, and I’m sure they are very different one from another. This particular collection shows more of Jim’s range than any of his others; I was regularly surprised by the stories as I read through them.
When Jim asked me to write this introduction, I said “yes” in spite of the fact that there was no way I had time to read it all. But it felt like an honor to be asked. I had read all of his last collection,
The Radio Magician and Other Stories
, and provided a blurb for it. So I could do this. I would simply read a few of these stories, comment on those, and it would all be well.
I should have known better.
Despite my lack of time, I read the whole damned thing. Jim’s just that good a writer. Here are a few of my favorites:
The title story, “Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille,” is just magic. From the opening paragraph, I’m there with Jim’s character.
“Just Before Recess” is short and magical and strange. Good strange. I’m going to give you the opening line, just so you don’t miss this little gem. “Parker kept a sun in his desk.” Wow. Don’t you just have to go read that?
“Night Sweats” is the most subtle ghost story I have ever read.
My favorite story in the whole collection is “Howl Above the Din.” It’s incredibly bitter-sweet and evocative, and the tiniest bit sexy.
Closely in second place, this collection also includes the quirky commentary on the human heart called “Plant Life.”
I shall stop now. I could say something nice about every story in this book. But I think I should get out of the way so that you can start reading. Enjoy!
t 14,000 feet the November air rushes from the prop and buffets my head. Even with goggles, a thick, fur-lined leather cap and a layer of protective grease on my face, I am freezing. My cheeks tingle, my hands ache, and my knees crack with stiffness. My elbows clamp my ribs to hold in a little warmth as I admire the rising sun’s broad, lovely light shafts through the clouds and the long shadows across the Verdun sector’s snow-covered fields. I don’t mind the cold. Everything is white or purple except my brown and tan pursuit ship and my black twin Vickers machine guns.
The 110 horse power Le Rhone engine’s roar deafens me but is so steady that I have to concentrate to hear it. I fly, then, in a kind of silence. The clean air, the sun-bathed countryside, the two toned clouds cut into irregular halves of light and dark, and the Nieuport 17, an old and reliable partner now of three months, are my only company. I fly solo. Dawn patrol. I hunt an enemy, a specific ship, a blue and silver Fokker D-2 with a red cowling.
The plane responds to my thoughts. I think left and the horizon tilts; I scan the air below. At this height I am unlikely to be surprised from above. The Boche send flights from Colmar and Habsheim, but they fly lower, relying on the cover of archie from the ground to protect them, and they seldom cross the lines.
A stream glints like a mirrored ribbon and cuts a diagonal through the trenches. An infantryman could put a note in a bottle and float it to the other line. Maybe he could write about his family back home, or invite whoever reads it to share a drink with him, if whoever picks it up could read it that is, if he could understand the language.
I think right and the world rotates for me. Three two-seaters several thousand feet lower than I fly south, but they are British observers, their wings’ bull’s-eye insignias obvious. I don’t believe they know I pass above them. They must be young. At twenty-nine, I am not. I lied about my age to the French, although they might have let me fly anyway—they want the American volunteers to fight for them. They even brought us together into one unit and called us the Americaine Escadrille, but the Heinies complained—America is neutral—and now we are the Lafayette Escadrille. They’ve told us to say, viv le France. God bless America, and to hell with the Hun!
“I love this place, Eddie. Don’t you? You got to love this place,” Brian, the bar-ace, yelled over the rock-and-roll din of the Lafayette Escadrille Bar and Grill. “Look at that,” he said as a waitress walked by in a French maid’s uniform, beer pitcher and three mugs in one hand, black fish-net stockings emphasizing the curve of her calves and the aerobicized tone of her thighs. “Makes me want to roll around in the dirt.”