Monday, October 31, 2011
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon
"A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" is a short story by Diana Gabaldon and is part of the anthology, Songs of Love and Death, George R. R. Martin, Editor.
Here she gives us the bittersweet tale of a man torn out of his proper time and place who will go to almost any length, and endure any hardship, to make it home again.
*****SPOILERS AHEAD! Do not read this post if you do not want to know any spoilers from An Echo in the Bone or A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows!*****
A very happy All Hallows Eve to you! I've been waiting for this very special day to discuss Diana Gabaldon's short story, A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows. A word of warning, though -- I've outlined the story and I'm including spoilers and exact quotes which I thought were key, so please be aware of that. I welcome everyone to help me speculate on what this new information may mean in the on-going puzzle of Outlander. Ready? Alrighty, here we go!
As the story begins, it is actually two weeks until Halloween, but "the gremlins were already at work." Jerry MacKenzie, preparing the Dolly II on the runway for a test flight, is having engine trouble. When the mechanic notes a punctured fuel line and a few other glitches, the flight plans are cancelled until the problems are fixed.
Once inside the building, Jerry is called over to be introduced to someone...."a tallish chap in army uniform with dark hair and a pleasant, if sharp, look about him, eyes like a good sheepdog." When Jerry is introduced to Captain Randall, he "feels a qualm in the pit of his stomach" as he senses Randall has an "air of confidence peculiar to men who kept secrets." Captain Randall is a member of the British Intelligence (M16) and is searching for a top-notch pilot to fly a special solo reconnaissance. The plan is to take a Spitfire II and install cameras in place of a second pair of wing guns. He must first train for the secret mission in Northumberland and will receive further details later. Realizing this was a dangerous venture, Jerry requests to see his wife one more time before he goes. Randall agrees to this, "touching his own gold wedding ring in reflex."
Delighted to be reunited with her husband, Marjorie (Dolly) and their little baby (Roger) spend some quality family time together. (We learn from details that Jerry is twenty-two years old and Roger is young enough to still be wearing nappies and sleeping in a basket.)
Following his training, Jerry learns the details of his dangerous mission: the Nazis have labor camps in Poland, and Jerry is to fly as close as possible to take photos to document evidence of this activity.
Interestingly, while Jerry is preparing to begin his flight, he completes a little pre-flight ritual. He tells Dolly that he loves her, and he carries a sapphire (his lucky stone) in his pocket that his wife found in a rocky hill while on their honeymoon.
Several pages follow of his in-air flight training, and it is noted that he flies above a stone rectangle attached to Hadrian's Wall (made by old Roman legions). The flight abruptly ends due to major engine failure and his fighter plane becomes a glider. "The ground appeared in a sudden burst of yellow and brown. He jerked the nose up, saw the rocks of a crag dead ahead, swerved, stalled, nose-dived, pulled back, pulled back, not enough, oh, God---"
Unconscious but alive and not gravely injured, Jerry regains his equilibrium and looks around -- there is no plane anywhere! Only ancient standing stones! His head was splitting and buzzing, he suffers from vertigo, and is struck with terror as he realizes there are no marks where his plane should have gouged the earth when it crash landed!
Some time later, he begins to believe he is still in Northumbria, "the northern part, where England's billowing fields crash onto the inhospitable rocks of Scotland." But something was very wrong.....the landscape is too different, too rough. He was losing touch with reality and confused about time. His first encounter with people was strange -- they were dirty, ragged, and uncivilized. They beat him, stole his jacket, took his dog tags, and locked him up.
Two Years Later:
Captain Randall visits Dolly MacKenzie; when she sees him at the door, she is flooded with emotions....she's hoping there's been a mistake...maybe Jerry hadn't been killed and they found him alive! But that is not to be. Randall feels a personal obligation to bring a medal of honor, awarded posthumously, to Lieutenant MacKenzie's widow and spends some time visiting and playing with her little boy. The visit is very hard for Dolly, and she breaks down sobbing, "You said you'd come back, Jerry...you said you'd come back!"
Meanwhile, back in a strange time and place, Jerry notices that the stone that was in his pocket has burned to a fine powder. He questions what could possibly have the power to burn a rock -- and leave the man who carried it alive???
Hearing voices outside his prison, Jerry shouts for help. He is rescued from the shack by "biggish buggers, both of them, taller and broader than he was. One fair, one black-haired as Lucifer."
"What's your name, mate?" the dark chap asked with a Scots accent.
"MacKenzie, J.W. Lieutenant, Royal Air Force. Service number...."
Astounded by this information, the dark one with vivid green eyes is floored as understanding dawns. Jerry is desperate to know about these strangers -- where did they come from? They tell him they are from Inverness, but tell him they are from a time a long way away and are lost. (The other stranger is described as fair-haired with a deeply weathered and lined face.) They have no idea what time period they are presently in, but they tell Jerry he must return to the stones "where you came through." Jerry is ecstatic that they understand how to get him back and eagerly goes with them. They explain to him that he must have a gemstone when he goes back (they give him a gemstone) and tell him urgently to think about his wife, Marjorie when he goes back. "Don't think about your son! Just your wife," they tell him.
Jerry is shocked that they knew his wife's name and that he has a son! He demands an explanation, but there is no time....they are being pursued as a light is coming closer! "It's near Samhain... ye need to go, man, and NOW!"
Just as Jerry is desperately thinking of his wife while nearing the stones, the dark haired man stops and tells him, "I love you."
The fair haired stranger asks why he said such a stupid thing like that, and he replies that it is the only chance he will ever get. He says he isn't going to make it back.
But Jerry does make it back!!! When he returns to his own time, the plane is not there but there is a deep gouge where it had been. Making his way to London (and getting strange looks) and desperate to get to Dolly, he is shocked by the terrible damage to the city from bombs. When he reaches his home, it is nothing but a pile of rubble. He is fearful his family is dead when someone tells him that the family is safe and staying at the home of Dolly's mother. While desperately trying to get to that house, the sirens begin to wail and crowds pour out onto the street to get to shelter. Panic ensues as the hysterical crowds try to storm the Tube station....Jerry hears the bombs above the tunnel, the shouts, the sirens.....the tunnel is damaged from the bomb. He is down on the tracks and looks up and sees Dolly with their son. She SEES Jerry and is ecstatic but she can't get to him because of the crush of the crowds and the panic. She pushes people out of the way and can only get as far as a railing. She lowers Roger over the railing to Jerry and the little boy strikes his father in the head -- he grabs him and falls onto the tracks holding onto the boy with his life. As Jerry falls, his head cracks on the tracks and he is gravely injured. Rescuers take the child who is unharmed away from the dying man. They see he is RAF but not wearing any identification. As the tunnel begins to crack and collapse, the rescuers run out with little Roger.
"He felt her hand stroke his hair. He smiled and turned his head to see her smiling back, the radiant joy spreading round her like rings in shining water..."
And the tunnel collapses.
Let's take a deep breath to take this all in.....!!!
As usual, when Diana answers one question, she raises twenty, so while I've learned new information, I now have just as many questions. But here are some of my major observations and/or questions:
l. Now we know that Jerry MacKenzie time traveled, met Roger (as an adult) during the experience, AND made it back home in time to see his wife and son before his death (and his wife's death). (In Outlander we are told by the Reverend that Roger's father was shot down over the channel and his mother was killed in the Blitz.)
2. The fact that Frank brought Dolly the medal and spent time talking to little Roger and playing with him intrigues me. Even though Roger was only two, Frank felt it was his personal responsibility to check on Dolly and her son. (Later, in Outlander when he and Claire are at the Reverend's home and young Roger is in the chair in the study, did Frank recognize him or know who he was?? Wouldn't it make sense that Frank would ask about Roger's father if he was told the father was a member of RAF and shot down over the channel???? Or did he already know this information and just didn't say anything? Hmmmm, interesting.....verrrrry interesting!
3. I was on the fence after reading An Echo in the Bone as to whether or not Roger and Buck actually did go back in time (at least for me it was very vague). Does this mean that the two strangers (Roger and the fair-haired man) did go through the stones and meet Jerry MacKenzie while going to try to find Jem? Since Jem is not actually back in time but stuck in a tunnel, then Roger's time travel got whacked and he met up with his dad instead?! If so, then this piece of plot has to be (or should be) worked into the next book.
4. The ending of the story was just.....heartbreaking. Beautiful and heartbreaking that they went together.