By Mike Hodgkins
The mist hung low, small eddies formed in the sodden gorse high on the Bleaklow moor. The heavy booted foot splashed into a water logged depression between the heavy clumps of vegetation.
‘I really don’t like this weather’ Ann Blake called to her friend. ‘Can’t see a flipping thing. It’s a good job we’ve got a compass or we’d be struggling in this.’
Paul Hudson the Look North weatherman had forecast a clear day on the high ground of the Peak District. ‘Thanks you, Paul. you got it wrong again,’ Ann called as she stumbled amongst the saturated features of the high moorland. Kelley Brownlow, Ann’s friend, was new to this and began to wonder if she really was suited to this particular outdoor pursuit.
‘Don’t worry Kelley, we’ll stop for a break when we find a place with a bit of shelter. A nice cup of tea will be perfect. We’ll get warmed up a bit.’
The two women worked together in the Chesterfield library. Kelley had been persuaded to come on this expedition by Ann, who was by nature the adventurous one; Kelley was more of a party girl who liked her home comforts, so was now well outside her comfort zone.
‘Just explain to me again how this will do me good again.’ Kelley said mischievously.
Ann looked at her friend and grinned. ‘Well, to appreciate the warm you have to experience the cold and to like the dry you have to know what it’s like to be soaking wet. I’m right aren’t I? It’s only logical.’
‘Yeah right,’ Kelley replied.
The girls quickly drank the hot tea and after some deliberation decided that maybe they should amend their plans for the day and make a bee line back to the car. Ann got out the map and set it to the landscape the best she could in the conditions then got a bearing on the compass and calculated that a fifty minute walk would see them back at the car, parked in lay by on the snake pass.
‘Come on then gal, let’s get to it.’ Ann said bristling with confidence, confidence borne out of the training she’d undergone whilst doing the Duke of Edinburg’s award whilst still at school.
1941. The stricken B17 was struggling to maintain height as it fought to get back to its base at Waddington in Lincolnshire. The flight over Germany had been frightening. Caught early in the German spotlights they’d become an easy target, and been splattered by flack, losing power in two of their four engine. The instruments had failed and the injured Navigator was slumped unconscious in his seat, the rest of the crew had bailed out over Germany leaving the Captain to keep their aircraft in the air as long as possible. The cloud was low and Danny Jackson the pilot was tired; it had been a long stressful trip, the only satisfaction, managing to drop their bombs on the target. Danny was cold and worried; he peered out of the cracked front window of the plane he could see only clouds. In his mind he kept getting a vision of his young wife back in Florida in the States and wondered if he would ever make it back.
The mist was thick; Ann and Kelley struggled. Walking on a bearing was becoming more testing. The terrain undulated, and was broken into deep hollows and grassy plateaus punctuated by broken gritstone boulders and water filled holes, making progress hard and exhausting and following an accurate bearing impossible. The wind picked up and the temperature fell like a stone. Ann shivered, the cold gradually seeped through her waterproof jacket and an almost indiscernible doubt was beginning to form in her head that they were off course. She stopped and looked at the map again, unsure that her initial setting had been accurate. By now they should be descending but instead they were climbing. She tried hard not to let on to Kelley, but she would have to stop, take stock, and work out the best way to proceed.
The Edale Mountain Rescue were on alert, the sudden incoming mist had proven before to cause problems for people who weren’t ideally kitted out for being on the moor in these conditions. Bob Taylor and his team were in Castleton rattling buckets, raising money from tourists to help fund their existence. He looked up at the Ridge beyond the town and something inside told him that soon they were going to be needed.
Danny Jackson fought with the controls of the huge aircraft, when they set out in the early hours of the morning he’d felt invulnerable, flying the best bomber in the world, with a crew that had flown over thirty missions with him, and the certain belief that it was right and necessary to fight this war. The low cloud still gave him no view of the outside world; he hoped that he was flying at around six thousand feet, thus giving him plenty of height to get the plane home. A third engine began to falter, occasionally spluttering and threatening to die. Danny fought to maintain his height, he was aware that to get home he had to clear the high moors of the Peak district at over two thousand feet.
Ann and Kelley were back on track. Ann had studied the map and had readjusted the bearing guessing that they would be at the car in twenty minutes, although the constant process of avoiding the rocks and the cloying mist was making for uncomfortable walking.
‘Can we have another breather Ann?’ Kelley called breathlessly.
‘Course we can, no rush, well be out of here soon,’ Ann replied, aware that Kelley was new to the wild outdoors.
Ann heard something unusual; in the distance came the low drone of an engine, she heard it splutter, it grew louder, and they looked trying to gauge where the sound was coming from. Then the roar overpowered them. The plane was maybe thirty feet directly above them, they could see the vague shape through the dense fog which surrounded them. They saw it disappear into the mist and then heard a dull thump and the roar of the engines ceased quite suddenly.
‘I reckon that‘s just crashed,’ Kelley shouted in what was now an eerie silence. ‘We should see if we can find it, maybe help somebody.’
Danny heard the engine fail and knew it was over — he thought he was going to die. The cloud thinned out and he saw the ground for the first time just feet below. He glimpsed two people below him, but his mind was set as was his body, trying to wrench the controls back to avoid contact with the ground.
The girls moved as fast as they could peering earnestly into the mist for the aircraft, but there was no sign of wreckage anywhere.
Danny felt the contact with the earth; there was a bump and a sudden halt in the plane’s progress Danny was shaken hard and his head came into contact with the hard metal of the fuselage. He was dazed but sufficiently conscious to see the dark brown of the landscape, he felt the plane moving, it began sliding nose first and he saw the dark brown slimy silt begin to creep over his plane. Soon it was level with the cockpit window, the sudden realisation of what was happening hit him, and he began to panic and struggled weakly out of his harness. The morass began to flow through the broken window of the cockpit and the light began to fade as his aircraft settled below the surface of the bog. Danny was trapped in darkness and slowly the brown slime filled the interior of the plane, Danny fought hard to keep his head above the surface but soon he lost the battle, his face covered and his mouth filling up with the brown peat slime of the Bleaklow moor.
The girls were sure they could find the aircraft and persevered. Ann came upon a large grey gritstone boulder, somehow, she couldn’t explain it but it all became very familiar, as though it was a place she knew well. She made her way round the boulder and was surprised; no, shocked, as she looked down she saw a pair of brown leather flying boots. She stopped fearful of what she might find. She steeled herself and moved around the stone.
‘Well hello again,’ the voice said. ‘So you’ve come back. I wondered if I’d see you again.’ The voice had a southern American drawl.
Ann stepped back. ‘Excuse me,’ she said, her voice betraying her surprise. ‘Who are you?’
‘Well Ma’am, you should know me by now, you’ve been visiting me at this place on this date for the past God knows how many years.’
Ann studied him. He was young, maybe early twenties, obviously American, then she noticed his dress. She’d seen many films about the war, this man was dressed the way they did in the nineteen-forties. ‘What do you mean come back again?’ she said, her voice showing her confusion.
‘Do you mean you don’t remember?’
‘Well, Ann, you’ve been to see me every year since 1941.’ He replied smiling broadly. ‘I thought we’d become good friends.’
Ann twisted her face in thought. ‘That can’t be, I’m only 26 years old and I hadn’t been born in 1941.’
‘Well I can definitely say that you and your friend Kelley haven’t missed a year.’
Kelley was shocked, ‘How do you know my name?’ she exclaimed. He smiled again and sat back and drew on a cigarette. ‘As I said, my plane crashed near here in 1941, then it sank in the bog, all of my crew had bailed out except my navigator who was injured. I sank with it but somehow I’m here and guess I always will be.’
The girls stared at each other incredulously. ‘This can’t be happening! it’s impossible! if we’d been coming here before we would have remembered it,’ Ann said. ‘So tell me: sorry, what’s your name?’
‘I am, or should I say was, Captain Danny Jackson pilot of the B17 bomber which crashed here on February the 21st 1941 — at your service,’ He said with a laugh in his voice. ‘Do you know the worst thing about this?’
‘What?’ They said in unison.
‘Your wife? Your wife what?’
‘Well I guess that she’s still alive, what year is it now?
‘Is that so?’ he mused and scratched his smooth chin. He thought for a while sat silently counting on his gloved fingers. ‘Daphne she was born in 1920 so she’d be about 94 years old now if what you say is right.
‘Correct,’ Ann replied. ‘If that’s right then she’s probably dead by now, don’t you think?’
‘Well she’s pretty old, yes, but who knows, maybe we can check it out,’ Kelley said.
‘Good,’ The American smiled. ‘If I get you to write down her name, etc., maybe you can get in touch. I know; I’m realistic; I’m dead, don’t know how I happen to be here but that’s a fact. Have you got a pen and paper?’
The organised mind of Ann promptly said, ‘Yes I’ve got my diary in my bag so I’ll write it down and see what I can do.’
‘That would be great.’ He replied.
Ann took out her diary from her bag and a pen opened it up and stared in disbelief.
‘Oh my god,’ She almost shouted. ‘Oh my god!’
‘What’s wrong?’ Kelley said, going to her friend.
Ann stood up and stared at her diary. ‘Look Kelley, look.’
Bob Taylor of the Edale Mountain Rescue team decided to move They’d heard reports that a car had been abandoned in a lay-by on the snake pass. He decided to drive out that way and have a look. After a twenty minute drive the team pulled their van to a halt behind the Yellow Fiat, they unloaded some equipment and set out to walk on the moor in the hope of coming across the driver of the car.
The mist had begun to clear and visibility had improved measurably. Ann and Kelley stood by the boulder the Airman stood close by smoking another cigarette.
‘Look, Kelley, look at the blooming date in my diary.’ Kelley looked over her shoulder. ‘Tell me Kelley, what does it say?’
Kelley read it out loud. ‘It says “Going out for a walk today, getting the early tram, got to be back before blackout, meeting Kelley at 8 in the market square.“’
‘Read the date, Kelley.’
Kelley looked at the diary. ‘Oh my god!’ she shouted aloud. ‘It can’t be — this is ridiculous!
‘Read it out to me, Kelly,’ Ann said, her voice almost cracked with nerves. ‘Go on read it out loud because I don’t believe it.’
‘It says, “21st February 1941.“’
‘What else does it say?’
‘”Meeting Kelley, going for a walk, and Jack coming round after dark, promised he can stay the night, very naughty.“’
‘No idea,’ Ann said quizzically.
Danny lounged against the rock his features covered in a broad smile. The girls looked at him, still unsure as to how to feel about all of this.
Ann spoke. ‘Look, we’ve got to go before the mist closes in completely. We’ll look for that information about your wife, and we’ll look for you the next time we come up here.’
The girls turned and walked slowly into the mist, soon disappearing from Danny’s view. He looked after them and let out a tired sigh, smiled again and his body evaporated into the mist.
Bob and the team walked slowly listening for any sound that would give them a clue as to where the car driver was, they heard and saw nothing, the mist restricting their vision to a few yards. They called out every few seconds but got no reply.
Then, quite suddenly one of the team descended a channel and saw something that shocked him.
‘Quick, guys, get over here!’ He called, his voice anxious and stressed.
‘What have you found Pete?’ Bob shouted into the mist.
‘Don’t know but it looks like a couple of bodies.’ The team made their way across the boggy ground to where Pete stood looking shocked.
There, lay two peat stained bodies, two women, part of their bodies exposed above the peat, perfectly preserved, their clothing intact.
Bob crouched over one of the bodies and felt inside the jacket pocket. ‘I’ve found a diary here,’ he said. ‘It’s from 1941?’ he opened it up. ‘The last entry says, “Going out for a walk today, getting the early tram meeting Kelley at 8 in the market square, and Jack coming round tonight after dark very naughty’
‘Right guys, I’ll get the police. Keep looking! Let’s see if we can locate the car driver.’
* Mike Hodgkins is a retired fire officer who lives on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak district in the UK with his wife, Carol, and has two children and six grandchildren. He now works as a guide at Chatsworth House, is a volunteer park ranger, paints, and does woodturning. In his literary career, he is currently in the process of finishing the third of a published trilogy that began with ‘Better Red Than Dead’ and ‘Jakes Tale’. *