“Yes, Sir, he’s in the second bed on the left. I am sure he’ll have the strength to talk to you if he’s awake,” said a woman with an English accent, out of sight but nearby.
“Thank you, Nurse, I won’t bother him if he’s not awake,” was the response. The voice was that of a man, also with an accent.
I opened my eyes and looked up at the exposed beams of the wooden ceiling. At first, I didn’t know where I was, but as I rolled my head from left to right, I realized I was lying in a hospital bed. I groaned involuntarily as that light movement tugged on my right leg. I saw now that it was suspended from a metal truss connected to the foot of the bed, and was encased in a thigh-high cast. My toes peeked out where the plaster ended. I gingerly wiggled them to see if they still worked, and found they did indeed as pain shot up my shin. The head of my bed was raised, so I could reach the pitcher of water and empty glass on the white enameled side table. I heard heavy footsteps coming closer but it wasn’t until the curtain was pulled aside, did I realize who it was.
“Ah, you are awake, Lieutenant Morgan,” said the man in green-colored day uniform. He pronounced it Leftenant like the British do. “Do you feel up to talking?”
“I–I think so, but I’m thirsty; would you pour me some water, Padre?” was all I could say.
“Certainly, my boy.” The Royal Air Force Chaplain lifted the pitcher in one hand, the glass in the other, to pour my first drink since … when? He inserted a glass straw which was lying on the tray. “Here you go.” He passed me the glass, and waited for me to awkwardly lean forward. I winced as I propped myself up on my elbow and took the glass with an unsteady hand. I took a deep sip, while he stood waiting for me. “There now, do you feel better?”
I reclined back onto the bed, nodded my thanks and waited for him to continue the conversation.
“Well, now,” he said, as he pulled the straight-backed, gunmetal chair from the other side of the table and sat down. “Do you know who I am, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, Sir. You’re the RAF Chaplain. I recognized the insignia on your uniform.”
“Ah, I thought so when you referred to me as Padre,” he said, nodding his salt-n-pepper close-cropped head in acknowledgment. He rested his arm on the side of my bed, before he spoke next as if implying a familiarity. “Do you know why you are here, Lieutenant Morgan?”
“Please, Sir. Call me Theo. Saying Leftenant kind of distracts me?” I asked with a slight smile as I tried to do my part to lighten the conversation.
“Theo, that’s short for Theodore, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Padre. It’s my given name; but everyone just calls me Theo,” I explained with hope.
“Well, Theo,” he continued, “do you know where you are, and why you are here?”
“Well, I’m stationed at RAFB Yeardon in Yorkshire, England and it looks like I am in their hospital. I guess I must’ve been in an accident or something; but, I–I really don’t remember how.” The look on my face must have concerned him because he reached over and touched my forearm as if to ease my mind.
When he had my attention, he withdrew his hand, “You were hit by an automobile while crossing the road in front of a public house in town. You don’t remember the accident?”
“No Sir,” I said with some alarm, “was I drunk?”
“No, no, Theo. The accident happened in the mid-afternoon, broad daylight, full-sun.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it – no real reason for it to have happened.” I pulled my attention once more away from his face as I tried to replay the event in my mind. “I was distracted,” I said in a slow manner, almost sounding each syllable alone.
“Yes, lad, that seems to be what the police have determined. You were not looking as to where you were going and walked out in front of the unsuspecting motorist,” he confirmed with a slow nod of his head.
I turned towards the chaplain trying desperately to read his expression, “Was anyone else hurt? I mean, did I cause someone to die or something?”
“No, no, the only injuries were to you and the front left fender of the auto,” he assured once more touching my arm in reassurance. “In fact, you were lucky; the doctors say you only broke your leg. No internal injuries mean, once you heal you can be released for duty, if …”
“If? What if? I didn’t travel half-way around the world from Kansas to England just to be sent home again!” I grunted as I propped myself up on my elbows and made to pull my covers back and arise from the bed.
The chaplain stood and put both hands on my shoulders to gently push me onto my back, making tsk-tsk noises as he replaced the covers over my stomach and chest. “No, no, lad, you’re right; you could’ve stayed home and just as easily been hit by an auto, and put in the hospital,” he said in a voice calm enough to put a child at ease. Since I acted like I was going to stay put, we looked at each other and gave a small chuckle at the thought of purposefully coming all the way to England just to have a leg broken. The moment of levity didn’t last as he sat down and with all seriousness asked, “I have to ask you, lad, did you get yourself laid up on purpose so you wouldn’t have to go into battle. Don’t be ashamed to say. Many lads have done worse?”
I looked the man straight in the eye, and with all earnest said, “No Sir. I did not ‘get myself laid up on purpose’ so I wouldn’t be able to fly, or for any other reason. Does that answer your question, Sir?”
The older man sat down and took for what seemed forever to state, “Yes, Lieutenant, it does. I believe you.”
I exhaled, not realizing I was holding my breath, and asked, “It still doesn’t explain why you are here, does it?”
“You asked me earlier if I knew why you were here. I thought if I was being evaluated to see if I was cowardly or unfit for duty; it would’ve been done by a shrink.”
The chaplain tilted his head as he spoke, “A ‘shrink’, I don’t know what you mean.”
“You know a head shrinker…one of those doctors with the psychobabble you go to see when you’re crazy,” I explained.
“Oh yes, a psychoanalyst is what you mean! Yes, normally, you probably would see a ‘shrink’, but I’m here because you asked to see me. Don’t you remember?”
“I what–when Padre?” The words stumbled out of my mouth as I racked my brain trying to remember doing so.
Once again, he laid his hand on my arm in reassurance, “It was early yesterday afternoon before your accident. You came by my office requesting to see me for some reason. I wasn’t there so my aide made an appointment for later in the day. Well, you never showed up but my aide said you seemed awfully agitated, so I did a little investigating and found out you had been hurt and were in the hospital. So now, here I am.”
“Yesterday, then that means my squadron already flew their mission.” I thought back to yesterday morning and the briefing I had attended with my crew and the other squadron members preparing for a midnight sortie over the mainland. “They didn’t come back, did they, Padre?”
He was struck dumb by my question and slightly stood, before adjusting his position in the chair to cover up his surprise. Settling himself he confirmed, “No, Captain Howling and his crew were shot down over the Netherlands. The plane was seen hitting the ground. There were no parachutes so it is presumed all on board were killed.”
We both sat in silence for several moments before I leaned my head back into the depths of my pillow. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them wide before admitting, “I knew they were not going to come back. She told me not to be on the plane. I told myself I had to ignore her, but I guess in the back of my mind I took her words to heart.”
The senior officer tried to suppress his disgust when he asked, “If you knew the plane had been sabotaged, why didn’t you tell someone? Maybe the lives of Captain Howling and the others could’ve been saved?”
“I did tell someone, Padre. I told someone a week ago. I’ve told someone every day. I even tried to tell you!” I propped myself up on my elbows ignoring my pain as I tried to get closer to the man, hoping somehow, I could make him believe me.
“That’s what you were coming to tell me, to confess you were aware of a plot to sabotage your plane?” He looked as if speaking the last few words were leaving a bad taste in his mouth. “Lieutenant, are you saying I could have prevented those men from dying?”
“I’m saying I have known for a while now something bad was going to happen to the plane!” I reclined back down, squeezed my eyes shut again and hoped when I opened them, this would all be gone, like waking from a bad dream. “A bad dream; it started as a bad dream,” I said quietly as I opened my eyes to find the older man still sitting there. He looked as if he was desperately waiting for my explanation.
“What dream Lieutenant?” he asked with a reclaimed composure.
I stared at the ceiling not caring if I would be believed or not. All I knew was I had to get the story out, “it started a little over a week ago. It was the first night on the troopship from New York to Liverpool. That was when I had my first dream of her.”
“Her? There’s a woman involved in all this?” he asked, as he pulled a pipe out of his side pocket. He presented it to me as if to ask for permission to smoke. I nodded in assent and continued with my tale.
“We were traveling on the Queen Mary, which as you know, has been commissioned as a troop ship for the duration of the war. They put extra beds in the staterooms to carry more men and I was in a cabin with three other fellows.” I leaned back into my pillow and recalled the events of the last week as easily as if I were reciting for a grade in English class. I played the events over and over in my mind so often they felt like second nature.
“It was the first night out, and we all turned in after a boisterous night full of excitement. We were crossing the ocean in a ship knowing, in our lifetimes, none of us would ever make enough money to pay for passage. Now here we were, courtesy of Uncle Sam, on our way to various posts in England, sailing in a vessel which, even stripped down, was considered luxurious compared to other troop ships being used. We were bunked down for the night when I heard her laugh; well giggled was more like it.”
The chaplain sat up straighter in the uncomfortable chair, his attention piqued, “What! This woman was in your quarters? Was she one of the nurses bound for duty overseas as well?”
“Well, it’s what I originally thought when I saw her, but as my eyesight cleared from the fog of sleep, I thought different. You see, Padre, she was dressed all I pink and I don’t think the nurses would look like that, all flowing and feminine like.” I looked at the older man and hoped he would understand my embarrassment forever having to tell my story to another. “She had hair the color of walnut wood which rested on her shoulders, and–and, she smiled the broadest smile I think I have ever seen with lips the color of deep pink roses.
“Did this woman say anything after she woke you?”
“She said, ‘Well, it’s about time, Flyboy. I was beginning to think you’d never wake up,’ and then, she giggled again.”
“Flyboy, that’s what she called you, lad? Did you know this woman? Had you seen her before?”
“No, that’s just it, Padre,” I shared, “I’d never seen her before, and believe me; I would’ve remembered a looker like her.”
“Well, where in the room was she, at the door, standing in the middle of the room?” he inquired, as he crossed his arms before him, sucking on the stem of his pipe.
“She was sitting on the side of my bed, just sitting there looking down at me as she spoke. I know it sounds kind of forward, but she seemed comfortable there.”
“Maybe she was,” the older man reflected. “Maybe she’d been in other men’s cabins before? Tell me lad, what did the other men say about her? Surely her speaking must have awakened one of the others?”
“I remember telling her to ‘keep it down’ so as not to wake the other fellows and she just giggled again and told me it was ‘alright’ because only I could hear her.” I shook my head, hardly believing the words coming out of my mouth, but I continued in hope the Padre did not think me a fool. “I looked around and saw the others were sleeping so I very quietly asked what she was doing there? She was sitting there, legs crossed one over the other with her hands clasped around her knees, ‘Well Flyboy, I’m here to see you, of course,’ was her response before she added, ‘now let me speak my piece and then I’ll be on my way.’”
“And what did she have to say, this woman dressed in pink?” he inquired with a single nod.
“She told me she had come a long way to tell me not to get on the airplane.”
“And what did you say then?”
“I asked her what plane, but she just giggled again, before saying, ‘Why the plane that’s waiting for you at Yeardon, Silly!’ Yes, she distinctly said, Yeardon,” I recalled nodding my head as if doing so would make my words more believable.
He took the pipe from his mouth and with the seriousness he had not displayed before asked, “She knew of your destination. I thought information like that was kept confidential for security reasons?”
“It is, I swear, I’ve not even told my family back home where I was to be stationed,” I demanded as I propped myself up higher on my elbows, wincing as I pulled my weight against the sling my supporting my broken leg.
He stood up and placed his hands, one still cradling his pipe between his thumb and forefinger, on my shoulders to ease me back onto the pillows. I lay back down as he kept repeating, “there-there.” When he determined, I would finally be at ease, he put his pipe down on the side table and picked up the half-empty glass of water to offer it back to me. I took a long draw, almost emptying the glass before he put it back. He looked at me and sighed as he asked me to continue, “All right, you say a woman in a pink dress came to your cabin and woke you, and only you, to give you a warning not to get on a plane at an air force base where no one but your superiors knew you were to be. Have I got that right?” I nodded my assent. He turned back to the table, picked up his pipe with a sigh, sat down, and said, “Continue, lad. Then what happened?”
“I felt shocked that she knew where I was headed. I remember thinking this had to be a dream because the others were still sleeping and didn’t seem disturbed by our talking. Finally, I asked her, ‘How do you know about Yeardon and the plane?’ but she just giggled again, uncrossed her legs and leaned forward towards my upper body. I didn’t know what she was planning to do.”
“And what did she do now?” he asked through the clenched teeth holding his pipe, his arms once again crossed over his chest. I was sure he felt certain that I wouldn’t get too excited again.
“She gently pushed me back down onto my pillow with her left hand while pulling up my covers with her right, ‘Shush Flyboy, don’t you worry now. You just remember what I said about not getting on that plane.’ Then she bent down and gently kissed my cheek–not anything romantic like, just more the way my mother would when I was a kid.”
“So, she touched you then,” the older man said more as a reaffirming comment than as a question. We sat in silence for a few heartbeats, smoke from his pipe encircling his head. I looked at the Padre, waiting for his next question, but his thoughts were directed inward as he carefully chose his next words. “Was that it, she kissed you goodnight and left?” I nodded in response. He took the pipe from his mouth, and made to stand up while saying, “Well then, if that is the reason for you stepping in front of an auto, I …”
But I never gave him the chance to finish his assessment as I grabbed for his wrist with my right hand, “No, Sir. You don’t understand! Sure, I went to sleep after she kissed me on the cheek, but I saw her again, and again. You have to believe me, Padre, I’m not a coward!” The clergyman in soldier’s dress looked down at my fingers wrapped around his wrist as I made my plea for him not to pass judgment. I realized how forward my action had been and quickly released him from my grip, “Please, Sir. Let me finish my story?”
The chaplain shook his head as he sat down in disbelief that he was going to allow me to continue this seemingly absurd tale. “Go ahead Lieutenant Morgan, continue with your story. I’ll listen to you lad.”
“Thank you, Padre. I’m sorry I acted that way. You just have to believe me, I’m not crazy … oh, maybe I am, but I’m not a coward!” I pleaded in defiance, before I continued on, “Yes, I fell right to sleep after she kissed me on the cheek. It is why I thought it all had been a dream, especially the next morning when none of the other fellows mentioned her even being there. Still, just to be sure it wasn’t one of the nurses after chow I found the commanding officer and told him about my, well, about my believing there had been a woman in my cabin the night before.”
“I see,” he acknowledged with a slow nod of his head as he sucked on the end of his pipe, “and what did the CO have to say about the woman?”
“Well, he acted the same as you and said I had dreamed of talking to her because I was afraid to go on the mission, Padre.”
He raised his eyebrows at hearing the other officer’s opinion, but still he inquired, “And what did you think of his saying this to you?”
“Well, I knew he wasn’t saying I was a coward, it’s just I think he felt I was apprehensive about flying, and it was only natural it would come out in my dreams.” I hung my head in resignation as my words sounded more against my story than for. He recognized my despondence and asked if I was a pilot. “No sir, I’m a navigator,” I said with pride, “but I’ve been in planes all of my life. My father made his living as a crop duster back in Kansas. Hell, oh, I mean heck Padre; flying in a plane doesn’t scare me.
“When the war broke out, I was studying Engineering in college, but I dropped out to enlist in the Army Air Corps. I’ve been practicing on the B-17’s, like they have here at Yeardon, for weeks now. So, no Sir, I am not afraid to fly; not one bit.” I finished my statement and leaned my head back into my pillow, confident I would be believed by the emphatic tone of my voice.”
We sat again in silence while he gave thought to what I had said, all the while puffing on his pipe. Eventually, he took the pipe out of his mouth and sighed, “So, Lieutenant, your story is a woman came to you one night in a dream and warned you not to fly in a plane that was eventually shot down?”
“No, Sir. It wasn’t one night. She has come to me every night with the same message since the first visit; always with the same message, ‘Do not get on that plane!’.”
“And because of this Woman in Pink’s message, you allowed yourself to be swayed not to report for duty by using the excuse of being in an accident?”
“No, Sir, honest. You have to believe me,” I pleaded while trying to sit myself up once again in the bed. “I know my story sounds crazy, but I swear, I would never desert my mission and crew on purpose.”
“All right, don’t get yourself worked. Tell me how you came to see her again?” The chaplain laid both of his hands on my forearm and wrist as if he were trying to prevent me from leaving the bed. I could see my pain reflected in his face as I tried to do so. Once again, the older man’s touch and patient voice had the calming effect he desired.
I gingerly lay back down, careful to collect my thoughts before speaking. He let go of me, and returned his attention to the empty glass, and refilled it from the pitcher. Once again, he held the glass before my face as I drank my fill before releasing the straw. “Thank you, Sir,” was all I could say as we both waited for him to sit back down and give me his full attention.
He nodded as he indicated he was ready to hear my tale. “Like I said before, I went to my CO to talk about a woman dressed in pink with her warning, and he said it was just nerves. But when it happened again the next night, I went to him in the morning and he sent me to see the ship’s doctor for an examination.”
“You’re saying you had a second dream of this woman?” I nodded my assent, as he shifted in his seat, “Go on. Continue, but first, tell me, was it the same dream?”
“Well, it was similar with her waking me by calling me ‘Flyboy’, and the conversation was similar with her warning me not to get on the plane in Yeardon.”
“She specifically said ‘Yeardon?’ You’re sure of that lad?”
“Yes, Padre, she was quite specific.” He struck a match to relight his pipe. He had puffed enough to make the match end flair a couple of times, blew it out and nodded for me to continue. “So, I went to see the ship’s doctor, and told him of the dreams of the Woman in Pink.”
Through teeth clenched around the pipe, he asked, “What did the doctor have to say?”
“Pretty much the same as my CO, that it was nerves. He gave me a sleeping powder so I wouldn’t dream and told me to check in with him the next morning. Oh, he did offer to check with the commanding officer of the nurses to watch out for one of her girls making nocturnal visits to men’s cabins.”
“The sleeping powder didn’t work I take it?”
“No, Sir, but not because I didn’t take it. Believe me, I looked forward to a night without her visit.”
“And she showed up anyway, even though you were drugged?” he asked with a tilt of his head as if he could visualize what I was saying if he were looking from a different angle.
“Yes, Padre, only this time she wasn’t all giggly and such. She woke me up by calling for me …”
“Calling you Flyboy, right?”
“Yes, Sir, but she was almost stern when she spoke. She told me I was wrong trying to be rid of her when she was only trying to save my life.” I looked up at the exposed ceiling and thought carefully about my next words, “Let’s see, – what were her exact words – ‘Here now Flyboy, it’s not very nice to try to be rid of me when I’m only trying to keep you alive!’”
Taking his pipe out of his mouth once again the older man asked with renewed interest, “She specifically said she was trying to keep you alive?”
I drew my attention back down to the foot portion of my suspended cast. I used my arms and balled fists to try to reposition myself in the bed. My leg was beginning to ache as, whatever pain medication I had been given, was beginning to wear off. I settled into something of a more comfortable position, turned my attention back to him as he asked if I wanted for him to call for the nurse. “No, Sir, I’ll be alright for now. I just want to get this finished please.”
“Of course, lad. What did you do the next day?”
“I went back to see the ship’s doctor to tell him the medication didn’t keep me from dreaming. He asked me if I wanted another dose, but I told him not to bother, it was probably just nerves after all.” I thought for a moment, and sniggered while I slowly shook my head, “He did tell me that the CO for the nurses assured him none of her girls had been roaming the ship at night.”
“At least none they knew of,” he added with a small smile as if he almost believed me.
“Yeah, probably,” I nodded, as I once again turned my attention inward to my thoughts. “After the third night, I just gave in to the dreams. I figured they were probably right with it being nerves and decided to let it play out. I mean, maybe, if I convinced this woman dressed in pink that I would heed her warning, she would go away, and let me sleep.”
“From what you’re saying, she still came to see you every night?”
“Yes, Sir, even when I wasn’t sleeping – or at least I think I wasn’t asleep. I tried to stay awake the next night by sitting up on the corner of my bunk. I thought instead of trying to make her go away, I would engage her in conversation, you know, to see how she got her information.
“I don’t think I fell asleep, but I do know I let my attention slip before she appeared. ‘Flyboy,’ she said, ‘you should be asleep at this hour. You need your rest.’ I told her I wanted to talk, to spend more time with her.”
“And did she converse that night or just repeated her warning?”
“She did both, Padre, at least a little more than the previous nights. I asked her how she knew I was going to Yeardon and her reply was something akin to a woman needing to have her secrets or some such nonsense.” I closed my eyes, shook my head to a slow rhythm and sighed. “She again warned me not to get on the plane waiting for me at the airbase and made to leave, but this time I reached out and caught her forearm before she could stand.”
The Chaplain bolted to attention in his chair, pulling his pipe from his mouth, “What’s this lad? You’re saying you touched her this time?”
“Yes, Sir, and I can tell you, I was surprised when she felt as real as when I touched you,” I exclaimed as I leaned toward the man in the chair, not caring how the motion caused a surge of pain in my leg. “She looked surprised by my action but said nothing for a few moments. Then, she placed her hand over mine and smiled, before she said she needed to leave. That is when I asked her where she was going to.”
“What did she say?”
“She took my hand off her arm and stood up still holding my fingers, ‘Why, Flyboy, I’m going to the place from whence I came.’ She pulled my hand to her face and gently kissed my fingers.” I leaned back again into the pillows as I remembered the softness of her lips.
He could see this part of my story held deep meaning to me and let me take a moment to savor the memory before he asked, “Did she leave after that?”
“Yes,” I slowly responded, “I don’t remember falling asleep, but I guess I did when I closed my eyes because when I opened them again, she was gone.”
“Well, she obviously made an impression on you, Lieutenant. Tell me now; did you still have dreams of her after the one where you touched her?” He placed his now spent pipe on the side table.
“I wanted to see if she would come to me in someplace other than my cabin, so the last night at sea, I went on deck instead of going to bed. I remember looking out over the rail at the pitch black of the sea. I could hear the waves lapping at the side of the ship. The only light was of the three-quarter moon and the myriad of stars in the heavens, but she came nonetheless.
“I didn’t see her walk up to me. I just knew she was there. ‘Lovely night isn’t it, Flyboy?’ I agreed and told her we would be making port the following afternoon. She was lovely standing there with a breeze softly pulling at her hair and dress, in the moonlight the pink fabric almost glowed.”
The older man sat entranced by my story. Eager to know more he asked, “Did you ever find out her name?”
“I asked what her name was, but she just gave me her off-putting giggle and changed the subject. ‘My name’s not important; just my mission,’ was her reply.
The sound of the word mission brought the officer out of his lull, “Mission, then she was sent there to sabotage the flight?”
“I don’t think it was that specific, Padre. I mean, how could she have known what crew I was going to be assigned, let alone when the plane was scheduled to fly next? No, I finally came to believe she was there just for me.” I laid back down onto the pillows sure in my recollection of the events from the last night at sea.
“Then what happened, lad?” he whispered in a voice almost like a prayer.
“We stood next to each other, not quite touching, with our arms resting on the rail. I told her the reason I was coming to England was to do a job, to save lives. ‘But what about your life, Flyboy? Isn’t yours worth saving as well?’ she pleaded. I mulled over her question, before saying I was no different than others who were risking their lives to end this evil.” I stopped my narration, and took a deep breath as if to put emphasis on my beliefs.
“How did she take this declaration?”
I looked the Padre square in the eyes and admitted with a touch of sadness, “I don’t know. We both silently watched the waves over the rail, at least it’s what I thought, but when she did not respond I turned to find her gone.”
The older man put his hands on his knees as if to prop-up his torso. “And was it the last you saw of her?”
“No, Padre, there was one other time.”
“But, I thought you said that you only dreamed of her while you were at sea?” he asked. His eyes squinted as if he were trying to envision a jigsaw puzzle before all the pieces were set.
“It started there sir,” I said with a grimace as I tried once more to re-position my body to find comfort, “I saw her one more time. Last night, or should I say, the night before last? With the accident, I’m having a hard time keeping track.”
He stood and with a fatherly gesture, put one hand around my upper arm to gently pull me forward as he adjusted my pillow behind my head and upper back. Satisfied I was properly supported, he moved to sit down once again but on the way, he commented, “So, your ship landed in Liverpool in the afternoon. I presume you were placed on a troop train for Yorkshire right away.” I nodded my assent as he continued. “That would’ve put you here at the base in the wee hours of yesterday morning. My aide feared that you were distressed when came to my office and I wasn’t there. I took the liberty of tracking you down and found that after arriving you had breakfast, reported to the duty officer, and met Captain Howling with your crew at the Noon Briefing for last evening’s mission. Where was it you saw the Woman in Pink? Fill me in on your activities if I’ve missed anything if you would.”
“Yes, Sir, well that about covers what I remember since the ship landed; but I actually have seen her twice.”
“Twice, but you said …”
“I know, Sir, if I could explain?” I held up my hand to stop him from finishing his question lest he thinks I was lying. “The first time I saw her, after getting off the ship, was on the troop train. Now this time, I know I must’ve been dreaming because when she, eh–appeared, it was in the compartment I was traveling with five other fellas.”
“Did they see her as well, or were they all asleep like the other men in your cabin?”
“That’s just it, Padre. They weren’t there at all. It’s how I knew I must have been dreaming because when she spoke, we were the only two there.
“I had taken a window seat and was watching the sunset over the English countryside and it must have hypnotized me or something, because, the next I know, she was there–just the two of us in the compartment. ‘Beautiful isn’t it Flyboy?’ She was sitting in the seat opposite mine, looking out the window as well. For some reason, I didn’t feel startled, as if I was expecting her to be there.”
“Maybe you were counting on it. You did say she came to you only at night,” he offered.
“Probably, probably,” I agreed no longer narrating but more like a normal conversation if discussing an apparition is normal. “We just sat there not speaking for what … a half hour at least before she spoke, ‘This is my last visit, Flyboy. It’s all up to you now.’ I remember turning away from her to look out at the now dark landscape with the occasional dots of light coming from the towns and farmhouses we passed along the way. When I turned back she was gone, but the men, the others who had originally been in the compartment with me were back.”
“What were they doing lad?”
“Three were sleeping, and two of them were quietly talking by the door. And, no, before you ask, it was like before, on board ship, no one spoke of seeing a woman dressed in pink. But I did see her again, and this time other men saw her, too.”
The senior officer bolted upright no longer lulled by the contemplative conversation, “What? When did this happen?”
“It was all like you said. I arrived at RAFB Yeardon with the others, checked in, ate, reported for duty and met my crew. What your report doesn’t say is how I went with Captain Howling and the others after the mission briefing to see the plane we would be flying that night.” I spoke with ease as the events were so very clear in my mind, “She was just outside the hangar, the most beautiful B-17 I have ever seen. The captain was so proud of her. He explained how his navigator had been promoted out, and how the crew was looking forward to ‘breaking me in’ as he put it.” My eyes moistened as I spoke of how the entire crew had welcomed me.
“We walked up close to the plane, and as we approached the nose, I saw the very image of my companion painted on the side.” The Chaplain’s jaw dropped slightly as I continued my story. “There was a ¼ scale, full-body portrait of a young woman on a swing; her deep brown hair and pink dress flowing behind her as she swayed upward. ‘Ain’t she a beaut, Mate? We call her The Pink Maiden,’ one of the crew said with pride as he slapped my back, ‘She’s here to remind us what we’re all fighting for.’
“I walked up close and reached up as far as I could, barely able to reach the metal skin on the bottom of the nose, to inspect the visage on the side of the plane. It was her, Padre, a painting of the woman who had come to me all those nights to warn me not to fly. Then it hit me. Her warnings about not getting on the plane meant not to get on this plane – The Pink Maiden!”
The Chaplain reached over and placed his hand on my arm again as he could share my agitation, “It must have been quite a shock. Then, what did you do, Theo?”
His use of my first name seemed to settle me and I gave a slow nod to indicate my calm, “I was dumbstruck at first, but then I agreed, yes, she was ‘a beaut’. I asked if I could examine the plane. At first, the flight mechanic looked bemused, but he agreed to walk me around the fuselage. I think he wanted to show off his handiwork to an officer.”
“Yes, Sir. He wanted to show me how well maintained the plane was. I walked completely around the plane, touching every part of her I could reach, but it was all there, every bolt, every rivet. Visually, Padre, there was nothing wrong with that bomber.”
We both sat in silence as we waited for the other to speak. Eventually, he asked, “It still doesn’t explain how you ended up here in hospital, lad?”
“I admit I was shook-up. It must have been obvious because Captain Howling suggested I might want to look you up for a chat. I think that he thought I might be worried about participating in my first mission.”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise when heard this. I could see on his face how the picture became clear, when he remembered the fact that I had come seeking an appointment yesterday afternoon. “And when you found I was not in my office, you decided to go to a pub for spiritual guidance?”
I grinned at how comical he sounded, but the smile faded when I thought about the members of my crew who did not return. “Not really, Sir, I think I just started wandering, you know, to kill time before our appointment. I must have been in deep thought about what you would think of my story, and just wasn’t paying attention when I crossed the street.” We both sat in silence for several minutes before I dared to ask, “Well, do you think I am crazy or a coward?”
He sighed and slowly stood up, pushing the heavy metal chair back to its original position on the other side of the table. He picked up his now dead pipe with is left hand to place in his pocket while he extended his right to mine as if to offer a shake, “I think, Theo, you were not meant to be on that airplane.”
I took his extended hand and pumped it with thanks, but still, I had to know, “But, Padre, do you think she was only my imagination or could she really have been The Pink Maiden, the spirit of the plane?”
“I think Theo,” he said, as he took his hand back and placed it in his pocket, “that sometimes God has plans for you, and I wouldn’t put it past him to go so far as to break your leg to make sure you’re in the right place to receive His grace. Just chalk it up to visits by a guardian angel, I guess. Now, get some sleep, lad. I hear the nurse coming this way, and I’m sure it must be time for your pain medication. I’ll come by and check on you tomorrow.” He turned and disappeared behind the privacy curtain and I was alone once more to ponder how incredulous my explanation has sounded.
I turned my face the ceiling and listened with closed eyes to the noises of the ward. I heard his footsteps fade as he mumbled greeting to someone in passing. There was a squeal in the air, the sound of a cart being wheeled, a few feet I imagined, and then it stopped. Muffled voices of an exchange between two people, patient, and nurse I supposed. The rattle of supplies on the cart sounded louder as the cart came closer.
“Well, Flyboy, did you have a nice visit with the Chaplain?”
I bolted up and opened my eyes to see who had called me by the now-familiar name, but I jerked too fast and had to lean back into the bed as pain reeled from the area under my suspended cast.
“Hey now, Flyboy, don’t be getting yourself all worked up now. Moving fast like that will only cause you unnecessary pain.” She gently placed her hands on my shoulders to assure herself I was all the way back onto my bed, then with a now accustomed gesture, pulled up the covers to my chest. Satisfied I was tucked under the blankets, she smiled with dark pink colored lips as she turned her attention to the side table. While filling my glass with the last of the water from the pitcher she said, “Speaking of pain, it’s time you had your medication. Here, take this glass while I get your pills.”
She turned back to her cart to pick out a little white paper cup. She was dressed all in white but I recognized who she was, the visage of the Woman in Pink who had come to warn me. Now here she was at my bedside tending to me once again. She handed me a paper cup with just two pills at the bottom. I emptied the cup into my mouth and turned to the glass straw for water to wash them down. The nurse steadied the bottom of the glass and took it, along with the now crumpled cup, to place on the side table when I was done. She turned, and I could see the brunette hair pulled back into a tight curl of a ponytail.
“Your hair,” I stammered, “it’s the color of walnut wood.”
She dipped her head slightly and blushed, “Why yes, it is. Not many people recognize the shade, they most usually call it brown.”
She turned her attention back towards her cart but before she left the side of my bed I had to know, “Why did you call me, Flyboy?”
She hesitated for a moment reviewing her thoughts, “I don’t know really. It just seemed like the right thing to do.” Then she quickly added, “But I can stop if it bothers you?”
“No, Ma’am, no, I don’t mind, in fact, I find it kind of comforting.”
“Good to know. I’m going to finish my rounds with the medication cart, and then I’ll be back to take your vitals. You get some rest now.” She gave one last smile; that oh, so memorable smile, and then she was gone beyond the privacy curtain, the wheels of the cart squealing away. I laid there feeling a peace I’d not felt since leaving the States. Oh, my leg hurt, but I knew, given time the pain would lessen, first from the medication then eventually, as it healed.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and drifted off to sleep content with the knowledge that the girl from my dreams would still be there when I was no longer dreaming.
P.A. O’Neil has been writing professionally for four years. In that time, her stories have been featured in multiple anthologies (many of them international best-sellers), as well as on-line journals and magazines from several continents. She released her first collection, Witness Testimony and Other Tales, in April 2020 in both ebook and paperback. It has met with great success. She and her husband reside in Olympia, Washington, with her adult children living nearby. Links to stories she has had published online, go to her Publication Resume in the Notes section of her FB page, for links to books which feature her stories, look under the Photo section. Follow her career on the Facebook author page, or visit her Amazon author page: P.A. O’Neil.