follow us:

ALBATROSSES wash across the airfield in a white tide. Some of the pilots keep track of bird strikes by painting silhouettes under their canopies. It’s early in the war so there are more white silhouettes than little red circles; at this point, no pilot has downed more Japanese fighters than he has shredded albatrosses with his propeller. Sometimes, however, if an albatross makes contact at just the right angle, the slipstream pulls red streaks back along the fuselage from the nose cone, leaving a dripping analog of the Japanese Naval ensign’s rising sun for a few seconds.

The island is called Sand Island. No joke. It’s part of Midway Atoll, just northwest of Hawaii. The brochures call it “The Navy’s Most Beautiful Isle.” As well as the large and thriving population of albatrosses and the pilots who serve to cull them—however accidentally—seals also crawl up onto the shore and sunbathe. In fact, they’re lying there right now as Simon Fisher and Marie Carpenter wander along the shore, grabbing a few minutes together in between writing down numbers (him) and unpacking crates of morphine (her).

• • •

The two of them first met when Simon came into the hospital to donate blood. She started chatting with him as she colored the inside of his left elbow yellow with iodine.

“So what do you do for the Navy?” she said.

“Fly planes.”

“That must be exciting.”

“Oh yes. The wind in my hair, looping the loop, rolling barrels…”

“…You don’t really fly planes, do you?”

“You’ve got me. I add up numbers.”

“How did you end up in the Navy?”

“They press-ganged me. I went on a tour of one of the ships, and when I came to, I was wearing the cutest blue sailor suit and we were steaming toward the South Pacific.”

Marie slapped Simon’s elbow a couple of times to bring out the vein.

She reminded him a little of Judith.

Judith had been the radio operator for the engineering and maintenance division for a brief period several months before. She and Simon had sex a few times, but not during work, so Simon hadn’t been that much happier while this was going on.

This was before her best friend had been shot in the head, which you wouldn’t think happens very often to women during wartime, but sometimes it’s hard to tell from a distance, or at least that’s what the Japanese sniper had to say about the matter. The day Judith found out, she cried for a while, but then she put on a brave face and went back to talking in code into a crackling box. A few weeks later, she was reassigned to the European theatre. She sent Simon a letter from London.

“Dear Simon,” it read, “I’m in London! Hope you’re having fun writing down numbers. XOXO Judith.”

Marie interrupted Simon’s recollections at this point by jabbing the needle into his arm and placing a rubber ball in his hand.

“If it hurts a little,” she said, “just squeeze the ball some more and you’ll be right as rain.”

She smiled and turned to go put a spike into someone else. Just for a moment, then, Simon missed Judith, her brown hair, her Navy-issue skirt, and it hurt a little. He squeezed the ball with his long, thin fingers, and…

…he was right as rain. When he opened his hand and looked at the rubber ball, “bunker A 2300hr” was scratched into it. Cue the cloudburst overhead.

• • •

Bunker A turned out not to be the greatest make-out location, as the slumbering gunner had not been amused to awaken from a lascivious dream to find two people using his cannon (make all the Freudian comments you like here) for extra leverage to perform an act that he, the gunner, would very much have liked to have been participating in, albeit without Simon.

• • •

Now, on this particular day, Simon and Marie are, as well as dawdling innocently and chastely among the seals that line the shore like furry torpedoes, also trying to come up with an alternate location in which to rendezvous.

“Anywhere in the hospital?” Simon says.

“I’d prefer not to.”


“…I don’t want to talk about what happens in the hospital.”



“The hangar?”

“There are sentries.”

“Just outside the hangar. If we get past them, there are plenty of places inside.”

“Such as…”

“I don’t know. The firemens’ rec room. The parachute storage room. Probably not the munitions room.”

“No, probably not.”

“How about… under an airplane?”

“Under an airplane?”

“The wings and the landing gear would deflect the echoes back at us and keep the sentries from hearing.”

“How much do you know about acoustics?”


“But wouldn’t the sound eventually get out? What if it woke the sleeping albatrosses outside?”

“The albatrosses aren’t exactly a discriminating early warning system. Pretty much anything can set them off. Plus the guards would look around for something outside, right?”

“But why under an airplane, really?”



“I know it’s not a white swan, but then again, I’m not a virgin either. Big surprise I know.”

“No problem, Simon.”

“Plus at least it’s got wings. And, I don’t know, it’s just interesting to contrast the act of love and something that’s supposed to promote death.”

“…I guess.”

“So are we going to do this or not?”

“How much do you know about subterfuge?”

“Come on.”

Hand in hand, they walk out of the garden of grey fur and white feathers, trailing a buzzing cloud. Simon attracts flies when he talks, some secret pheromone in his saliva probably. It’s got a lot more simple sugars in it than other men’s saliva, is all Marie knows.

Now they have to wait for night, at Marie’s suggestion. Maybe Simon knows more about acoustics, but at least Marie knows more about subterfuge. Balance like that is important in a relationship.

• • •

Ross Spavento is the son of the famous senator Tommy Spavento, and, although he doesn’t know it, is also directly related to the Roman senator Marcius Agrippa, who fathered a boy child on some misbegotten Sicilian wench some 2000 years ago during an extended carouse through the islands at the tip of the Italian boot. Spavento stands outside the hangar with his M1 Garand at port-arms and watches the sea for any amphibious attempts to gain access to the hangar. Although Spavento can be excused for not knowing about his patrilineal ancestry, Lieutenant-Commander Gary Nero would not be pleased to see that the sentry failed to spot Simon and Marie crawling toward the hangar under the cover of grey blankets painted with India ink to resemble the tops of two seals.

The inside of the hangar is unlit. At least an airplane is fairly easy to locate in the dark, being, as it were, airplane shaped—long and narrow with a wide, flat crossbeam that juts out, perpendicular.

The flies are gone. The stink of aviation fuel must mask Simon’s scent. He runs his hand through his hair.

Underneath the airplane the sounds of Marie struggling out of her skirt are amplified, ping-ponging back and forth and, Simon hopes, not escaping to alert the sentry. Simon can even hear the high whine of her central nervous system.

They have nothing to worry about, however; Ross Spavento is dreaming of his future political career, Italian silk smooth against his arm and chest hair, the future Mrs. Spavento (who vaguely resembles a younger, prettier, and more conscious Head Nurse Nancy Venarotta) hanging off his arm, hair curled, eyes darkened and aiming coquettish smiles at the other men through their clouds of cigar smoke but in their four-poster canopy bed swearing that she loves only him, but then the dream judders through a series of intercut frames, first just sprinkled one at a time, then in twos and threes, and eventually into twenty four frames per second of orgy, orgy in the classical sense, Caligula, y’know, slaves, grapes, orifices, the whole deal, orgywise.

Simon climbs into the underbelly triangle with Marie and his belt clanks against the concrete and let’s leave our two lovers some privacy until…

There’s a noise. A klank, right as Simon (and Simon hopes, Marie) orgasms. Although his sense of euphoria is intense and his semen shooting feels like a machine gun, it isn’t actually, is it? There’s nothing that would make Simon’s semen go klank, or anything metal inside Marie’s labial labyrinth?

Marie hears it too. Klank. Even the roughest lover she’s had, the inimical Marine Corps Private César, singlehandedly responsible for her first (and medically-justified) opiate injection never went klank or made her go klank. Simon unsticks his face from her neck, his eyeballs peeling away from her slick skin with a sort of popping sound and they lock wide-pupilled eyes then look up at the grey shadow of the F4F Wildcat. The plane’s guns firing? There was a klank not a bang; no smoke, no flash, no smell of gunpowder.

It sounded like, Simon realizes, pulling the trigger on a gun when the safety is on. Klank. Simon’s dad had been a hunter, an absentminded one who’d line up on a bird V-ing across the sky, a perfect clear shot and klank-fuck-click-bang-fuck-missed him.

“I didn’t think that was tectonic enough to trip the guns,” Marie says.

(Wait, Simon thinks, did she or… ?) “…I guess not.”

She kisses him, devours his pheromones, and the sweetness lingers on her tongue for an instant after she withdraws. “We’d better get back. Again tomorrow, right?”

• • •

“Up high into the wild blue yonder etcetera etcetera.” Lt. George Dichter demonstrates with his hands in the way pilots do. They swoop and carve around Lieutenant-Commander Nero. “See an albatross coming right for me. A big one too. Knew I was going to hit it; punched the trigger to pureé the fucker and avoid causing any damage to U.S. Navy equipment in accordance with section 2 (appropriate use of ammunition for non-combat purposes). But the goddamn .50 cals didn’t work. Nothing.” He gestures at the plane, which the ground crew are hosing down, blood and feathers swirling in peppermint tributaries across the floor. “Probably needs a new propeller too.”

Nero shakes his head. “Boys! Over here!” He turns back to Dichter. “They’ll see what they can do.”

What they can do turns out not to be much. Even after the mechanics swap out the guns from Airframe 4302B, they still don’t work in Dichter’s plane. But then they start working again as soon as they’re swapped back.

“Jesus Christ. Just keep trying,” Nero tells the mechanics, then walks outside and shoots an albatross with his Colt .45 out of frustration. Behind him, wrapped around the echoes of the .45’s blast, Nero can hear the tow truck hauling the plane into the mechanic’s bay, a sort of monochrome horror-movie operating room where all the stains are slick and black and the power tools shine in the harsh overhead lights.

• • •

Marie awakes not with the post-coital heavybones bliss one often experiences after making love late into the night but with a buzzing, her nervous system in overdrive, servomotors of desire gearing up and what’s she to do for another eighteen hours until she can sneak seal-clad up to the hangar and lie legs-spread and cocooned between the landing gear, airfoil and concrete with Simon’s one hundred and fifty pounds of thrust? She rolls over, surveys the room of bored nurses. At least the pilots get to take off and fly around and land and cull albatrosses; the nurses don’t have anything to do but organize the crates of drugs since nobody’s been injured yet. And honestly it seems like the war’s moved on already, to Rangoon and Burma and points east and nobody’s coming back to Midway.

Below Marie, Head Nurse Nancy Venarotta, who likes the sense of community afforded by sleeping with the common people, common people, like her, twists and snorts in her lotus-eaten slumber, scratching at the needles’ stigmata on her arms.

Simon awakes from a nightmare about swans. Below him, Dichter reads a Biggles book. On the cover, Biggles Immelmans his Sopwith Camel to get behind a Fokker Dreidecker, his white silk scarf streaming in the wind. Fly, Lieutenant-Commander Bigglesworth, fly! Dichter’s own white silk scarf is hung up to dry on the ladder and Simon has to watch his feet as he descends so as not to snag his claws in its tight weave.

Marie opens the door to the hospital. Nurses sprawl around in various states of opiate intoxication, the hospital’s morning dewdrops.

“What’ll it be?” asks one of the girls, rolling her slow, heavy-lidded eyes up toward Marie.

“Oh none for me today, thanks.”

“Whassamatter?”—notes Marie’s face—“Oh, you got a new gentleman? Thought they all liked rag dolls.”

The nurse, Betty, Marie thinks her name is, waves a full syringe, its liquid cargo slopping back and forth in time-lapsed tides. “Come on, he won’t even notice.”

“No, really,” Marie maneuvers around her and starts organizing a crate of bandages by size, by color, and by fabric. After a while she wonders if she’d be better off organizing the nurses. The short Filipinas over there, the tall blondes over there, the middling brunettes over there, by the coffee press. A paint box of sedated nurses all arrayed in case any of the gentlemen come a-calling.

It’s not like the pilots are all rapists and the women all half-asleep slaves—there’s some weird symbiotic relationship going on. Remora and manta ray, seagull and sunfish. None of the pilots can batter their mu-opioid receptors with chemicals or even drink (well, maybe they could find a way but it takes fucking forever for coconuts to ferment) since Gary Nero has ordered they all stay in flying condition at all times. But if shooting morphine is like fucking Venus in your sleep, the second best thing is fucking someone who’s a reasonable approximation of Venus, chromosome-wise at least, who’s feeling like they’re fucking Venus in their sleep.

But what do the nurses get out of it? It’s about the only way they can fulfill the reason they signed up to be nurses at the front, since nobody’s been injured yet. It’s hard to be Florence Nightingale with no patients.

And the drug’s a relief from the boredom too. There’s not much point in perking yourself up with uppers if all you’re going to do is lie around anyway, all revved up and nowhere to go, propeller spinning in a vacuum where it can’t tractor the plane up up and away into Dichter’s wild blue yonder. So downers it is.

Simon could also avail himself of the various injectables in the nurse’s station but really he prefers the sick wooziness of taking something out of his veins every time he donates blood to putting something in, prefers nausea to fucking Venus because at least it’s real, material, he can feel it in his gut. Y’know, it’s actually more like Venus is fucking you, the drug is, or at least she’s penetrating you with her tongue, sticking it out of her red lips, rolling it into a silver tube and pushing in through a hole in your arm, then extending it up the vein right toward the heart, snaking up the vena cava and sliding right in until you can feel it pulsing, questing, filling the chambers of the heart until it spasms in rapid rhythmic contractions, chugging something into the aorta that’s thicker than blood. But still Simon doesn’t do it, prefers the lacunae of drained blood vessels, Nosferatu’s castle to Venus’s bedroom under the volcano.

Today there’s not much for Simon to add up. He slides his report into a manila envelope. He ambles over to the hangar to plan tonight’s tryst, to time the movements of Ross Spavento and the frequency of his dreamtime. But now there’s another sentry too, one Simon doesn’t know. This one is tall, broad-shouldered, bigheaded, a Midwest farmboy. Does Nero suspect interference? Simon doesn’t know about the impotence of the Wildcat under which they had spent the previous night, but he’s heard rumors, fragments, snatches of “Nero’s pissed”, mumbled words from Dichter in his sleep about some unexplainable maintenance issue resulting in the lowering of his albatross-kill-by-bullet to albatross-kill-by-propeller ratio, which, Simon knew had previously been the highest of all the pilots on NAS Midway.

The seal trick, combined with some Morse-coded games of go-go-go-go-stop again allows Simon and Marie to elude both sentries and copulate enthusiastically in the same place as the previous night, which is now occupied by a different airplane.

• • •

The next morning, Nero conducts a firing test/albatross cull with all the planes arranged in a row and, as Simon lazes in the doorway of the barracks surrounded by a ceaseless buzzing of insects that he’s too tired even to swat, Nero asks him to startle one of the birds aloft.


“How do you think, Fisher? Jesus Christ. Yell at it.”

Simon creeps up behind an albatross and shouts at it. The bird stretches its wings and rises and then disintegrates as all 44 of the remaining Wildcats’ guns hack and sputter into life. Except. Four of them don’t work, and wouldn’t you know it? Those four belong to the plane that had witnessed Simon and Marie’s biological indiscretion.

Nero’s hand is shaking too much to let out his frustration in the usual manner, so he holsters his Colt before he can shoot himself in the foot. The sun is directly overhead now and if Japanese bombers dove out of its blinding corona, Airframes 3989A and 4302B at least wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it.

• • •

This pattern continues for the next nine days. Simon works fast, reconnoiters and plans out how to avoid the sentries that now double each night. Marie fights the ennui by organizing and abstains from injectables. Overnight they fuck in the strangely sound-absorbent space between the landing gear of yet another Wildcat. Each morning, Nero lines the planes up like ten little Indians, nine little Indians, eight little Indians, and expends at least 36 rounds per plane per morning depending on how quickly the pilots can take their fingers off the trigger, which itself depends on whether they’d been fucking Venus by proxy the night before.

• • •

The ninth night isn’t like every other night, however. Simon and Marie are in some acrobatic (or aerobatic) position and an ill-timed thrust forces Marie out between the plane’s legs where her shriek of pleasure happens to alert Ross Spavento, who spins his flashlight around until it rests on Marie’s naked torso, shining with sweat, her left arm coming up to cover her breasts, revealing the row of scabbed punctures extending from the crook of her elbow that might as well be the official insignia of the nursing corps.

• • •

The following morning finds them in The Brig, elevation five feet (it’s slightly further down the beach, presumably so that the expendable prisoners can serve as cannon fodder if the Japs storm the shore).

Outside The Brig, the mechanics establish that there is no physical way that Simon and Marie’s lovemaking could have affected the operation of the planes’ guns. And now none of the guns work. None at all.

It’s a good thing Nero’s had some dealings with the occult before. Back in Pennsylvania, young Gary once found himself face-to-face with his dead grandmother looking at him out of the bathroom mirror as he masturbated into the toilet. Now here we have a recipe for sexual repression and paranormal paranoia, but this unlikely combination turns out to be exactly what Nero needs to figure out the problem.

And it’s this:

Previously, the airplanes had only been firing their guns auto-erotically. A full metal jerkoff, as it were. Shooting death seeds off into empty space, which sometimes happened to include albatrosses. Now they’d seen love, and between their legs no less. Think of it this way: if, after a lonely teenhood where the closest you get to a girl is a Playboy pinup made of dead trees and soy-based ink and when you masturbate you think only of the pistoning of your cock in and out of her, then after your hormones have died down you actually have sex with a girl who loves you and what you find you focus on the most is the warmth of her belly sliding across yours when she’s on top and the feel of her breath in your ear, who the fuck would go back to Playboy after that? Degenerates, that’s who. The airplanes aren’t degenerates. They are the pinnacle of military-industrial technology. And now they’ve seen love and are sick of jerking off. This is what Nero thinks.

But how is he going to test this? Gary may have been sexually repressed ever since the phantom of Adelaide Mauritia Nero caught him with his left hand curled around his dick and white spunk sliding down the walls of the toilet to mix with the urine he had previously left there before he got excited by the sight of his naked penis, such as it was, at age 12, but he’s not stupid.

“Lieutenant,” he says to Dichter, “round up the pilots again and then head down to the hospital for nurses. One per pilot should do the trick.”

“Will do,” says the Lieutenant. Venus’s tongue during the day! Amazing. Or, as James Bigglesworth, The Hero of Every Boy Who Dreams of Flying At A Young Age, Even If Their Family Is Of German Descent would opine, or exclaim, or even ejaculate: “Top hole!”

Dichter returns shortly, pied-pipering a parade of nurses, each carrying a box of drug paraphernalia.

“Nero knows?” asks one fresh-faced pilot and his friend elbows him in the solar plexus.

The parade turns left, twists around the support pillars and enters the hangar itself. The Lieutenant appears in the doorway and signals at the two lollygagging pilots.

Quite naturally, all the flyers are more than a little confused at what’s supposed to happen now. And why. Nero is infamous for avoiding sexual encounters, and sexuality in general, although nobody knows the reason. Many suppositions have circulated around the barracks but they have only approached the true explanation asymptotically—forever striving for the line of Truth but never quite getting there, incorporating grandmothers, mirrors, ghosts and the toilet but never all of them in precisely the right permutation. And who’d believe it anyway? It’s a lot more fun to imagine he had a terrifying sequence of events transpire in a carnival tent in Kansas, or on a houseboat in the Florida Keys or any number of places really but the important part is the sequence of terrifying events following one after another. Not just one traumatic event that happened all at once and in isolation. And that it was autoerotic in nature is a lot less amusing; the pilots, Dichter included, had come up with a host of Nero’s previous sexual partners: Barnaby the Butcher, Kristy the Krusher, Tricia Toothsome, etcetera etcetera.

Inside the hangar, Nero outlines his idea to the assembled pilots and nurses. He uses a wrench as a pointer, although he doesn’t have any diagrams, and his gestures have little to do with the actual mechanism of the actions he is describing.

“All right,” he says. “Pair up and get under a plane.” He claps his hands.

The pilots and nurses scatter randomly—but not so randomly that two pilots or two nurses end up under the same plane. Calloway and O’Connor appear to be heading in that direction but at the last second, their paths diverge and Calloway joins Betty (the slurry blonde we met earlier) and O’Connor, Susie, who’s definitely snoring at this very moment.

Soon the hangar is filled with a variety of porcine grunts and squeals coming from chauvinist pigs and swine floozies—not everyone is sticking to the maximally sound-absorbent position between the landing gear.

Nero’s getting really uncomfortable, taking his crushed cap off, mopping sweat from his forehead with a convenient rag that happens to be spotted with deposits of grease; his precise wiping motions leave his head covered with a grid, one in which he could perhaps record the outcome of his experiment, except that no marks are necessary as of yet—Nero thinks he’s heard every sound that the human body can possibly produce but no guns clicking against their safety stops. Puzzling. The voyeuristic airplanes are witnessing the physical act of love, and some of the women are fully conscious and reciprocating.

Passenger pigeons copulate only in large groups. Nero tries to minimize his discomfort by imagining the pilots and nurses in this way. But still the guns remain silent, even when semen streams into the loose-muscled nurses and the pilots all withdraw from their orifices of choice with a tidal sucking noise.

Maybe he’s wrong? The pilots don’t seem to mind. Want to do another trial run? they ask. More experimental data is always better, sir. He acquiesces but steps outside, ostensibly for a smoke, a Lucky Strike, actually, which makes the pilots chortle before diving back into their bombshells.

• • •

Simon and Marie aren’t having quite as good a time in The Brig. For starters, solitary confinement means no sexual gratification. They could theoretically self-gratify, even mutually self-gratify, since they can see each other through the bars of their respective cages, numbers one and three. But the guard might be watching; the brig is set up like a miniature panopticon—a ring of five cages, and in the center, a guard tower. Well, not really a tower per se as it’s only a few feet higher up (elevation seven feet). Regardless, it has palm frond shutters so the guard could be watching any of the five cells at any given instant. This seems a bit silly to Simon and Marie—if the cells were all laid out in a row, the guard could see them all the time, but this way he can’t. The Naval Air Station was, however, designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn (not kidding), who was specially taken with the work of Jeremy Bentham on prison layout.

So it turns out that Kahn’s respect for Bentham, inventor of the panopticon, “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”, as Bentham describes it, is what lets Marie and Simon make their escape. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“Hey Marie.”


“I think Snowdrop’s asleep.”

“How can you tell?”

“The shutters are moving a little.”

“So he’s snoring?”

“Yes, bless his little heart. The vibrations of his head down on his desk.”

“Maybe he’s just breathing very heavily.”

“Let’s for the moment assume that he isn’t sleeping. What’s the worst that could happen if he hears us?”

“Well, whatever plan we come up with would be discovered.”



“But if he is sleeping.”


“Okay, let’s make this quick then. Here’s a plan.”

“But if he isn’t sleeping.”

“It’s not a very complicated plan.”


“I spread my pheromones on Snowdrop when he brings the food.”

“Your saliva.”


“But how?”

“I can… spit into the wind. Then it’ll look like an accident.”

“Go on.”

“And then the flies in here with me will swarm around Snowdrop and while he’s distracted…”


“I punch him.”

“Simon, Snowdrop kills people for a living. Or at least, he used to, over in France with the Second Division. You use a pencil and sometimes an eraser.”

“Can you think of anything else?”

“Not really, no.”

“I mean, they’re not expecting us to be violent, right? You were very co-operative when they arrested us to begin with.”

“You try fighting a platoon of marines after orgasming for five hours.”

“So you did!”


“Nothing. Look, Snowdrop must be asleep.”

“Don’t say his name.”

“You think he’s like the dog in that cartoon? All he can hear is blah blah blah blah Snowdrop blah blah blah.”

“But what happens once we get out? You punch him, take his keys, lock him up, let me out, we exit the prison… now everyone’s after us. And we’re on an island.”

“There’s a boat somewhere.”

“There is a boat somewhere. But they have airplanes. We wouldn’t last long.”

“Airplanes whose guns don’t work.”



“Oh,” says Dichter. “Yes.” He collapses on top of Betty. There’s been some round-robining going on, pilots flitting from bird to bird.

“That concludes this test,” says Nero. “Everyone out.”

Again, the tidal suck surges and the pilots—gentlemen that they are—shake the nurses into a reasonable facsimile of wakefulness and lead them out of the hangar.

Nero kicks the ground. Maybe he defined love a little too broadly. What does he know, he who’s never had a sexual experience since the white-haired visitation? In order to test his hypothesis he’ll have to start from the smallest unit and ratchet outwards. That means he needs Simon and Marie. Nero leaves his crew swabbing the decks to remove the filthy liquids from underneath the planes and walks down to The Brig.


“Yes, sir?”

“I need the lovebirds.”

“How many?”


“How many lovebirds, sir? What do you need them for?”

“Jesus Christ. The prisoners, Snowdrop. The man and the woman. The people in love. Surely you’ve noticed.”

“Oh yes, sir. Them.”

“Bring them to the hangar, Snowdrop. Right now.”

“Yes, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

“And keep their handcuffs on.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We don’t want them getting away.”

“No, sir.”

“Not even for a little while.”

“Of course, sir. You can count on me, sir.”

Simon and Marie stumble into the hangar, handcuffed and gagged. Simon tried to spit but just ended up moistening the rope in his mouth and a few flies landed on it. Through various modes of nonverbal communication the two had decided to save their strength for another escape attempt once a better opportunity presented itself.

Snowdrop shoves them onto the ground.

“Fisher,” Nero says.




“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Indecorous relations?”


“You’re here because you’ve spoiled the airplanes.”

“Spoiled the airplanes.”

“In what way?”

“None of the guns fire anymore.”

“Because of us?” Simon says.

“Because of you.”

“I don’t follow,” Marie says.

“The airplanes are sick of auto-eroticism.”

“Now I really don’t follow.”

“They saw you in the throes of passion and now just shooting off for the sake of shooting off doesn’t do it for them anymore.”

“So the airplanes were watching us?” Simon says. “With what?”

“The gun cameras, I guess. Or maybe they just sensed it. Sensed the vibrations, the precise frequency of orgasm.”

“So the guns don’t fire because the airplanes sensed us.”


“Voyeuristic bastards.”

“What do you want, Lieutenant-Commander?” Marie asks.

“Fuck him.”


“Under the plane.”




“This is a test.”

“A test?”


“In front of you and Snowdrop.”


“So you think the guns will fire again when we have sex? Why us?”

“Nobody else is in love.”

“Aww, that’s sweet,” Simon says. “You didn’t have to do this for us, sir.”

Nero gestures to Snowdrop, who kicks Simon in the kidneys.

“Fuck her, flyboy.”

“Handcuffs,” Simon groans.




“They’re on nice and tight, sir.”

“Take them off!”

“But won’t they escape?”

“Lock one side to the landing gear of the plane.”

“Which plane?”

“The one right in front of us.”

“Should I lock the left or right cuff to the plane?”

“Either one, Snowdrop. Just make sure their parts can touch.”

“What parts would those be, sir?”

“His penis, Snowdrop. His penis goes into her vagina. Lock them so that that action can happen repeatedly until the guns trip. Are you familiar with the idea of sexual relations, Snowdrop?”

“Oh yes, sir. Oh yes.”

Snowdrop bends down and unlocks one cuff from each of the prisoners.

“Rubber,” whispers Simon.


“Right here, sir.”

“Jesus Fucking Christ.”

“Oh, sorry, sir. Right here, sir.”

“Top or bottom, Fisher?”


“Top or bottom?”


“Head toward the back of the plane or the front?”

“Uh. Toward the back.”

“Spread your arms, Fisher.”

“What do you think, sir, right cuff or left?”

“Jesus Christ. I don’t know. Right cuff.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now pants off, Fisher.”

“I only have one hand free. My belt is complicated.”


“Done, sir.”

“Nice penis, Fisher.”

“It’s a grower, not a shower.”

“Okay, now what about her, sir?”

“What do you think? His right hand, her left.”

“Okay, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t need to have my gun out just in case you fucked up?”

“No, sir.”


“Her pants, sir?”

“She’s already taken them off, Snowdrop. Pay attention.”

“All done, sir?”

“Yes, Snowdrop. Dismissed.”


“Dismissed, Snowdrop. Wait outside until I tell you to come back.”

“Are you sure, sir?”

“Yes, Snowdrop. Okay, Fisher? Carpenter? Let’s get things started here. What’s the holdup?”

Passenger pigeons, Nero thinks. Passenger pigeons, passenger pigeons. But in his mind they’re being pulled apart like taffy, until their wings reach nearly ten feet, become stiff and cambered, with thickened, streamlined leading edges. Their bills become longer, more hooked and their nasal glands enlarge. Saltwater starts to drip from their bills.


• • •

“Dichter? What are you doing here?” Simon says.

“The pilots want more tests. So you need to disappear.”

“How’d you get—” Marie whispers.

“He’s sleeping. There’s a boat at the shore. Head over to Spit Island, hide the boat and lay low and we’ll arrange someone to pick you up.”


“Get moving.”

Down by the shore there’s a rowboat with USS Herbert stenciled on the side. Good thing Spit Island is only about a mile from Sand Island. There are a couple of canteens of water and packages of rations stowed in the front and a canvas tarp under one of the seats. Simon and Marie climb in and Dichter takes off his boots, rolls up his fatigues and shoves the boat into the water. The ocean is calm tonight, Simon’s strokes skimming them toward the island with as little resistance as he could hope for. Marie looks over the side and sees water-Marie looking back up at her with a face like glass. She sings to herself under her breath. Some half-remembered popular tune. Its suggestion of a rhythm helps Simon’s rowing, or maybe not. Spit Island is tiny, only six acres in area, but heavily populated with palms. Lots of places to hide the Herbert under its olive tarp. They slide into the bay on the west side of the island, Simon using one oar like a Venice gondolier to fend off the rocks. Marie reaches out and picks a sea star off as they pass. It’s grey in the moon’s reflected light and its skin is rough. The bottom of the boat grinds against the rocky shore. The air station was built on Sand Island for a reason. Marie tosses the sea star back into the water and helps Simon drag the boat under the palm canopy.

“We might as well sleep in the boat,” Simon says. “The leaves are pretty damn thick. We’ll just pull the canvas over us.”

They climb back into the boat, lie down, huddled together, too tired to fuck. Marie puts her head on Simon’s chest and the shadow claims her.

• • •

She opens her eyes.





“Everything’s green.”


Everything is green, his pale skin bleached frond in tone, his hair closer to kelp, the inside of the boat verdant too, like the jungle’s insinuating itself into the boat, vines and creepers entwined around the planks. It’s as bright as daylight too but amniotic darkness returns after a few seconds, so it must still be night.

There’s a blast from the emergency horn on Sand Island, a steady tone. Marie counts to seven, then three seconds of silence, then seven more seconds. And so on for two minutes. General quarters, that pattern means. Simon peels back the canvas. Flares are going up, sea stars bursting white above the base, flooding the inside of the boat with green each time.

They wake again when light washes over them. White light this time, and they can’t see anything at all. Someone’s ripped back the cover. Simon and Marie, still drowsy, lie unmoving. Something hits Simon in the gut, but nobody says anything or makes any identifying noises. Simon tries to focus his eyes. When he looks down he can see that the punch came from a package that’s still resting on his stomach. Food and water. The white light shades to green then to darkness again. They hear a scrape and a splash and the sound of oars swiveling in oarlocks as their unknown benefactors depart.

• • •

Nero’s even more shouty than normal, directing teams of Marines and German Shepherds, or rather, Alsatians, to search through the base. Snowdrop’s in the cage now, not because he’s a threat or anyone thinks he was complicit but just because Nero wanted to punish somebody. He’s still asleep.

“Jesus Christ,” Nero says, prodding him with his foot.

All Snowdrop can tell them is that he must have dozed off for a second and now they’re gone and everybody’s shouting and he doesn’t know how they could have got out.

“Someone must have let them out,” says Nero. “But who’d have a motive to do that?”

“I don’t know,” says Dichter. “We can do more tests without them. Maybe the situation wasn’t right. Need more candles, wine, poetry. Got a book—”

Biggles?” Nero’s lips twist cruelly.

“No, Neruda. I might be hung up on my childhood but I’m not an idiot.”

“…I guess you’re right, for once.”


“Fuck it. Dichter, love is more than just the material trappings of love. Romance is more than wax and crushed grapes that make you dizzy and words that mean nothing. Simon and Marie are the only chance we have to get the guns working again. Maybe we can learn from them, but they sure as sin didn’t need some spic faggot’s fairy words to get those guns firing last night.”

• • •

Eventually the searchers exhaust the entirety of Sand Island. It’s light out now, the sun making its stately way up from the horizon. The dogs track the scent of Simon and Marie to the water’s edge, where a cloud of flies hovers, a memento mori, a crown of flies for a king who hasn’t died yet. Now the dogs strain at their leashes, barking. An inventory of the small vessels at Naval Air Station Midway reveals that one rowboat is missing. Nero wonders how far Simon and Marie could get in a rowboat. Tokyo is 2200 miles west if they were planning to defect. San Francisco is 2800 miles east. Nero doesn’t know the exact distance to Hawaii but in a rowboat they’d probably miss the Hawaiian islands altogether and would have to keep going east across the open ocean and its various many-toothed inhabitants until they bumped into either North or South America.

Sir, is this search really an effective use of our resources? some of the pilots ask.

“We’re here to fight the Japs,” Nero says. “Without planes that can shoot, what use are we? We’re not going to take out an aircraft carrier from the shore if it decides to just go around us.”

The Marines load three dogs into the other rowboat and Ross Spavento rows them to Eastern Island, the third part of Midway’s tiny archipelago. Dichter had suggested they start with Eastern Island, since it offers more hiding places, and that they row instead of taking the motor launch because the element of surprise would be key in capturing the two alive. Spavento’s paddles raise watery sparks at each stroke, his technique more brutish than smooth and efficient. The dogs stand at the bow, a Cerberus figurehead, proud and serene and Teutonic. Their fur streams back in the Pacific breeze that shakes the fronds across all three islands.

The animals range around Eastern Island, Spavento just letting them run loose, but they fail to detect any trace of the two fugitives. Around dusk, however, en route from Eastern to Spit Island, Spavento’s rowboat crosses the wake of a supply ship and the dogs go fucking apeshit and Spavento signals that they stand by for boarding. He can imagine the war decorations that would add a splash of color at the dinner parties he will attend once he becomes a senator. Mrs. Spavento will wear a dress that matches, since they’ll be able to afford custom tailoring for all of their clothes. The dogs are now trying to leap out of the boat. Spavento ties the boat to the side of the supply ship and climbs aboard. The captain makes a quick decision and hands over Simon and Marie, still dripping brine onto the deck, right away in order to save his own barnacled hide.

“Didn’t know they were Midway’s most wanted,” he says, and chuckles. “Thought they were just two bored kids who wanted some alone time. Thought I’d offer them a ride back to Sand Island. Was just about to turn around.”

Spavento handcuffs Simon and Marie to the back of the rowboat. It’s a horrendous trip back with the dogs all straining at their leads barking right at the back of his head, their jaws so close he can feel the heat of their breath. He concentrates on the blue of Marie’s eyes and how they match the Campaign Service Medal’s medium-blue ribbon until they get close enough to Sand Island that he needs to look where he’s going and he has to brave the snapping jaws of the Alsatians every time he looks over his shoulder, the stink of their insides breaking down seal blubber and the indigestible parts of whiskers.

• • •

Simon slouches in the corner of his cage. Marie lies on her back. Snowdrop snores, curled in a fetal position, looking for all the world like a baby piglet, in the cage in between the two ex-fugitives. Nero says it’s so the two can’t conspire without Snowdrop hearing them but everyone knows why he’s really in there. Spavento, having shown his merit in this recent operation, has replaced Snowdrop behind the fronds of the guard shack.

Nero needn’t have bothered. Simon and Marie are stretched out on a seabed of silence. Neither is to blame for the keen noses of Spavento’s rowboat’s figurehead, though perhaps Simon’s scent is a little more distinguishable.

“No it isn’t.”

“Yes it is. Why do you think all the flies follow you around?”

“They like my smile?”

“Look, we’re both equally to blame. Or not to blame. Let’s just leave it at that.”

They lapse back into silence. Simon thinks of the comforting regularity of his blood cells dripping from his arm into a glass bottle. Marie thinks of the comforting regularity the injection routine, iodine and tourniquet, needle and bandage. Snowdrop thinks, or rather dreams, as he often does, of all the men he has killed. And the one woman. But that was a mistake. He sees them all grinning in his face, all those people grinning, spattered with the mud of the Marne, their eyes shining through it, still locked on him even with flanks punctured by bayonet, limbs missing from artillery barrages, lungs hacked out pink and red from the gas that drifted over the battlefield in a sick haze. He twists in his sleep to avoid them. Simon and Marie watch his marionette twitches for a while and then they too drift off to sleep.

• • •

When Simon wakes up, a letter rests on the ground in front of him. Snowdrop is still asleep. So is Marie. He doesn’t know about Spavento. The letter is addressed to him, although his address is incorrect. It lists his place of residence as Mens’ Barracks, when his actual location is The Brig. Regardless, the return address occupies far more of his attention. Judith Butler, it reads. U.S. Office of Secret Services, 212B Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London. He tears open the envelope.

“Dear Simon,” it reads. “Hope you’re having fun in the South Pacific! London is as dreary as it seems in Dickens. Ravens as big as men everywhere, policemen in silly hats with no expressions. And rain. Oh God. The rain never stops. Bombs fall once in a while which at least makes it seem like it’s not raining because of the light and the smoke and everything but everybody just seems to keep calm and carry on, even when they go to recover the bodies of their neighbors. Which is actually the more disturbing part. Don’t they know there’s a war on? I’d almost feel more comfortable if they let their stiff upper lips quiver a little. I’ve requested to be posted back to Midway. I’ll be there in two months if it goes through. Miss you XOXO Judith.”


Simon looks over at Marie. Her track marks are starting to heal, now just pink new skin.

Maybe Simon actually was happier when Judith was around, not just when they were having sex outside of work hours. This epiphany, or semi-epiphany, doesn’t seem to be of much use, however. Simon’s in the prison with Marie and he can’t go to London now. And who knows where he’ll be in one month. Still in prison? Buried under a palm tree? Rotting on the shore like the occasional dolphin or other large marine animal that washes up?

“Hey Spavento,” Simon whispers when the Italianate marine walks by. “Can I write a letter? In lieu of my one phone call?”

“I can’t give you anything sharp,” Spavento says, rubbing his eyes. “No pencils or pens.”

“But there’s nothing wrong with the act of letter-writing itself?”

“Tell you what. I’ll write it out for you. Just tell me what you want me to write. I need to practice my handwriting anyway for after the war, when I’ll be signing important documents all the time and writing my memoirs as I go and…”

“Okay. Dear Judith.”


“Dear Judith.”

“Let me find a pen.”

Marie wakes up partway through the dictation session. Right when Simon says, “Please forgive my lack of subtlety if I say that I miss you but I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again,” ostensibly directed at Spavento.

“What’s going on?”

“Just telling Ross how much I love him.”

“No, he’s—”

“Dictating a letter,” Marie says.



“Who to?”

“To whom,” Simon says.

“To whom, fine.”

“My mother.”

“Is that true?” Spavento says.


He turns over the envelope. “Judith. Judith… Butler.”

“Not Fisher?” Marie says.

“Nope. My father died and she remarried. To a Limey.”

“Says London on the address.”

“Thanks, Ross.”



“Listen.” She stands up. “This isn’t like you. What happened to you?”

“You happened to me”

“I did the happening?”

“Who scratched a meeting place into the rubber ball?”

“Who suggested we fuck under an airplane?”

At this point, Snowdrop wakes up. “Meeting place? Trying to escape again are we?” He looks over at Spavento. “Are you listening to this?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

Snowdrop winces. “Uh, Spavento.”


“Can I get out for a minute to use the washroom?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Snowdrop.”

“You mean I need to… in front of the broad?”

“Afraid so.”

Snowdrop takes off his shirt, sort of drapes it like a shower curtain over the corner of the cage, then squats, his face burning.

“I’m a nurse,” Marie says. “It’s not like I’ve never seen a man shit before. Speaking of men and shit, who are you writing to, Simon? Judith’s not your mother, is she? You got us into this mess. The least you can do is stand by me. Not write steamy letters to women in other countries.”

Snowdrop’s body ripples.

Spavento sighs. “Stay out of trouble, ok?” He returns to the frond-covered tower.

• • •

Nobody’s seen Nero for a couple of days. He’s directing a secret project, apparently, in the mechanics’ bay. Obviously the mechanics have seen him but nobody else has seen them either, with the net result that the interested parties—i.e. the pilots, Simon and Marie—have no idea what this secret project entails, beyond that it is mechanical in nature.

On the seventh day, Nero calls a meeting in the hangar. Even Simon and Marie are there, handcuffed together but not looking at each other. Snowdrop is handcuffed to both. Spavento is having a bit of a lie down, and the Midwest farmboy has taken over his guarding duties.

“May I present to you,” Nero says, his hand curled around a rope that presumably leads to the canvas curtain (velvet’s in short supply, okay?) that’s masking some phallic monstrosity. Simon can see its gentle swelling’s silhouette behind the curtain because of the light streaming through the hangar’s doors.

“May I present to you,” Nero says again. “The cop tank.” He jerks the rope and the curtain comes tumbling down, revealing a 108-gallon drop tank—a disposable fuel tank that nestles under a plane’s wings to provide extra fuel for long sorties—with glass panels from an F4F canopy mounted in cutouts on each side, which show a mattress within, one of the gross green ones that feel like they’re just springs and nothing else. Two grilles protrude from each side. Behind them, Simon can see what he thinks are loudspeaker horns. A radio antenna juts out the from the teardrop-shaped tank’s end.

“Cop stands for, as you may have guessed, copulation. Copulation tank. Why would I make such a thing? I’m sure you’re all familiar with our quandary. The airplanes need to witness love in order to shoot their guns. So here we have the means by which all of the airplanes can both see and hear a couple engaging in intercourse. See through the windows, hear through the loudspeakers and through a radio transmitter.”

“Just one couple?” asks Dichter.

“Yes,” says Nero. “Just one. No more tests, boys. We’ve got the answer.”

The pilots shuffle their feet.

“Plus we need you to be flying the planes.”

Right, say the pilots, we’d forgotten about that part.

The air raid siren sounds its warbling scream. The inside of the hangar darkens as waves of albatrosses alight, rising past the windows.

Oh fuck, everyone says.

Spavento rushes in, legs pistoning. “Japanese carriers! The Yorktown radioed, said they were launching bombers. They’ve got to be headed here.”

Nero’s face crags right up into battle mode. “Pilots! In your planes. Fisher! Carpenter! Get your clothes off and get in the cop tank.”

“Handcuffs off? Or do you want Snowdrop in there too?”

Nero pauses and turns.

“Do you want Snowdrop in there? Whatever helps sets the mood.”

“No Snowdrop please.”

The guard from the Midwest unlocks their handcuffs. Nero opens one of the canopy sections and the two miscreants squirm in.

Two burly mechanics affix the cop tank to Dichter’s fighter, Nero having figured that statistically, given Dichter’s sharp shooting, he’s likely to survive the longest head to head versus the Japanese fleet.

“Okay, listen,” Nero says. He leans in toward the two, who now have to look at each other because of their proximity, lying, as they are, on top of one another. Even to Nero, who’s not the most adept at reading expressions of love, or lack of love, for that matter, something doesn’t seem quite right here.

“I don’t have to remind you of the importance of what it is that you’re doing here. I swear to Jesus Christ that if you make it through this alive I’ll drop all the court martial charges and you’ll be fucking war heroes. Obviously I’ll have to fudge what it is that you’re said to have done, since nobody higher up is ever going to believe this, I fully realize that. Is there anything I can do to make this situation more romantic? The imminence of danger is supposed to increase men’s attraction to women. I know there’ve been studies about that. Men who took high rickety bridges were more likely to be attracted to a woman standing on the other side than men who took safe steady bridges. Poetry. How about poetry?”

“Poetry’s all right,” Marie says.

“Okay. Dichter? Dichter?”

“Yep?” Dichter peers down from his seat.

“That poet, Neruda?”

“The spic faggot etcetera etcetera?”

“Never mind that. I was angry.”

“What about him?”

“Do you have any of his poetry memorized?”


“How much?”


“Excellent. Can you do something for me?”


“Until you make contact with the enemy, can you recite some Neruda over the radio?”

“Can do.”

Past Marie’s ear, Simon can see the trees lining the runway rush by.

The birds fled from me Dichter muses, and indeed, this time, the albatrosses stay out of his way, soaring on their thick-edged wings.

Marie’s not saying anything, just looking out the opposite panel. They’re both naked, and yes, maybe they should already be pounding away like springtime rabbits because of the excitement, the proximity to death, but they’re both lying still. Simon’s cock lolls to the right, pale and limp.

Marie pushes herself up and looks into Simon’s eyes. “I don’t give a fuck about God and country but the only chance we have to survive is if we can get all the guns working again.”


“Simon. Let’s give this a try.” She starts to kiss his neck and rub against him.

But the hour of vengeance falls, Dichter’s voice comes through the loudspeaker.

Right! He can hear them too. So can the entire squadron and any passing albatrosses. And who knows, maybe even the whole base, if they’re tuned into the same radio frequency. Marie imagines Nancy Venarotta and the nurses in the hospital listening to the slight sounds of her stomach sliding along his, trying to figure out what’s going on and whether it’s going to allow the two to reach orgasm quickly enough to help kill the attacking Japs.

And I love you. Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk. Simon lifts his hands from their hold on the edge of the mattress and runs them along the curve of her flank.

Oh the goblets of the breast! Dichter intones. Oh the eyes of absence! Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!

But Marie’s not listening anymore. She looks out the glass panel as she moves but there’s nothing but ocean. Maybe the Japanese have the same gun malfunction, and the same solution, a Haruki and Ayaka slung beneath the belly of a Type 92 bomber, tongues intertwined or maybe exploring each other’s epicanthic folds…

Simon closes his eyes and sees himself from outside. He’s lying on his back, bolted to a wide, flat crossbeam, his arms spread, head facing the plane’s tail, climbing into the sun.


Jeremy Hanson-Finger is a writer and editor, and co-founder of Dragnet Magazine (currently on hiatus). His fiction and essays appear in Joyland, Monkeybicycle, and The Puritan, among others.

MORE: Twitter | Tumblr

LF #012 © Jeremy Hanson-Finger. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, April 2012.


download | SHARE:ClimbingIntoTheSun_files/Climbing%20Into%20The%20Sun.epubshapeimage_9_link_0
into the sun

by jeremy hanson-finger