Magazine article The Spectator

Black Box by Jonathan Wynne Evans

Magazine article The Spectator

Black Box by Jonathan Wynne Evans

Article excerpt

In March The Spectator Book Club launched its inaugural short story competition in association with Barclays Wealth. The topic was invisibility, and it seemed to appeal. We received over 500 stories, most of an excellent standard.

Our judging panel comprised Mark Amory, Clare Asquith, Peter Hoskin, David Blackburn and Ravi Bulchandani from Barclays Wealth. After much heated debate, . ve . nalists were selected:

Jonathan Wynne Evans, Matthew Faulkener, K.G. Barrett, Max Dunbar and Henry Kolotas. You can read the panel's comments on the . nalists' stories at Spectator. co. uk. All our panellists were agreed, though, that Jonathan Wynne Evans's 'Black Box' should be the winner.

by Jonathan Wynne Evans

Illustrated by Michael Heath

Drifting curtains of fenland rain obscured everything from 20 yards so that, pedalling round the perimeter, the only indications of intense activity were waves of clatter from each dispersal as ground crews completed the arming of the Lancasters. Met had given it clear by 2100, only an hour away. Looked like we might yet have a quiet night in the Mason's Arms.

The first discernible form as I rolled up to our kite was Connor's stumpy figure, a Russian-doll silhouette, back to the weather with cloud of pipe-smoke visible even through the gloom. Hearing the whirr of my bike, he turned quickly. Quick was not Connor's usual thing. Looked as if he was awaiting me.

'Come and have a dekko. The boffins have nobbled us. Bastards.'

'Black box?'

He grunted affirmatively. I parked my bike against the fire extinguisher stand and climbed up into the belly of the beast; so much easier unencumbered by flying gear.

The familiar smell of dope and hydraulic oil clenched my stomach in automatic reaction. I made my way forward. Sure enough, there it was, the box, returning my gaze with black inscrutable shine, devoid of all exterior feature save a switch with a warning light.

A bowel-chilling stream of panic quickly flooded by hot anger. This was my crew. This was my kite. We had been through months of training; endless flogging around wickedly dangerous Welsh mountains on night sorties. Having survived that, unlike three crews on the station with us, we had forged a comradeship and skill through 16 night sorties over enemy territory. So far, so much endless grinding fear, but not a scratch.

And now we had been fingered. Bastards . . .

bloody bastards.

I slid to the ground. The other boys were getting down from a three-tonner from the Motor Pool. As the driver ground the gears, reversing back to the perimeter, they assembled in the shelter of the starboard wing. I looked at the enquiring faces.

'Yes, chaps, it's there. Our number came up. We shall just have to make the best of it.'

'Bugger that, Skipper! You make what you like of it. You know the form damn well.

Just tell us this. How many crews do you know that had this fucking thing appear who came back from the next sortie?' Ellis, the bomb-aimer, was, at 20, nearly my age and twice as articulate. He went on, 'When they briefed us back in January you know what the line was. It makes the kites invisible to enemy radar. That was nine sorties ago, and the box has gone out seven times and the sods carrying it were a goner each time. I for one can accept Jerry trying to kill me, but I'm buggered if I'll let our own people do it, even if it is working for everyone else.'

'What are you saying, Ellis?'

Ellis's Welsh lilt, almost unheard usually, was becoming pronounced, his white skin flushed under the ginger crop.

'What we need is to be creative. To steer a course, look you, between the flak coming from the front and the shit coming up behind. . . ' He paused, and the others shuffled uneasily, 'So, the order is, switch the thing on when you pass over the enemy coast and off again when you come back. If you come back. But who has to know if we switch it on and off every couple of minutes? …

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