The rented blue Renault rolled to a stop beside the weather-worn old hangar. Emily's hand paused on the keys in the ignition, and the car sat purring quietly. She turned to look over her shoulder at the uniformed old man in the back seat. "Are you sure you want to do this, dad? I read that a lot of veterans have flashbacks when they come back to their old wartime haunts."
As he reached for the door handle, he felt a tickle at the back of his throat, and covered his mouth with the sleeve of his uniform just in time to cover his hacking cough.
"It might be too much for you," she continued.
A lifetime of heavy smoking and an ungodly quantity of inhaled fuel vapors was on his six like a Messerschmitt. This might be the last chance he had to do this.
"I'll be fine," he said, waving her off.
Captain Hall opened the door before Emily could protest, and swung his feet out onto the crumbling taxiway. The cold wind pinned his coat to his legs. He stood a while, scanning the old airfield. The tower stood empty, half the paint peeled away, and tall weeds grew from massive cracks in the runway.
A coughing fit wracked his body once again. He closed the car door, and walked toward the hangar. His footfalls were even and regular, with the slightest whisper of a shuffle, punctuated by the sharp tap of his walking stick. His daughter and son-in-law followed him, a disorganized rabble of footsteps, their young voices blowing away from him on the wind.
Carefully, the Captain hooked his walking stick over his arm, and closed his fingers around the edge of the hangar door. Reluctantly it opened, the wheels grinding arthritically like the Captain's knees.
The smell of oil, and fuel, and cheap French cigarettes washed over him, and he was a young man again.
A vinyl record warbled a cheery tune that bounced off the walls of the hangar, which was filled to bursting with great gleaming birds, sleek and deadly. Men moved swiftly under them, around them and over them. The constant murmur of conversation, and the sharp metallic sounds of tools at work were the engine of the war machine marching toward Berlin and war's end.
Dicky shot him a loose salute from the cockpit of his plane, a cigarette hanging from his lip, his hat tilted rakishly. Dicky's lips were moving, but the words were smothered by an engine backfiring.
The Captain returned Dicky's salute, and walked over to his own plane. "She done fueling?" He said, looking at the fueling crew.
"Full tank of gas in her, Captain. Good hunting out there!"
Captain Hall climbed up the ladder, and lowered himself into the cockpit. He shifted the stick from side to side, looking out at the ailerons, then pulled the canopy closed. The technicians cleared everything away from the plane, and he started the engines.
The squadron filed out of the hangar onto the tarmac.
His chest felt tight.
Captain Hall taxied to the runway, his heart pounding heavy in his chest.
Footsteps raced toward him.
The planes ahead of him took off. One backfired loudly.
He left the sound behind.
He pushed the throttle away from him. His plane roared loudly, speeding, faster and faster along the runway.
He pulled back on the stick. The wheels left the tarmac, and suddenly, everything went smooth and peaceful. He kept climbing, higher, higher, into the clouds.
Vertigo loomed ominously.
The world closed in until it was only him and his plane.
Then, the clouds thinned, and there was nothing but clear skies and sunshine.