Oh what terror, to fly a pig in the Dorseny sky.
Fists clutching Bella’s ears, Palo chokes against the crosswind. Bella oinks, and he loosens his thighs around her flanks, but it’s hard. The ground recedes, a checkerboard of green and yellow around Dorseny Town. Five years since the war with the Heelings, and takeoff still gives him the shivers.
“Not a hog in sight,” calls Dora, Palo’s wing. She’s astride Locci, a heavyweight with three rounds of pumpkinition strapped on, and there’s no fear in her voice. He envies her.
Palo searches the sky. Surely the Hee wouldn’t attack during Graduation. Already banners fly above Dorseny Town, and citizens gather on Takeoff Field. The cadets have been there for hours. Palo recalls his own Graduation. His arm draped across Bella’s back, looking down the runway. Waiting to run, run, run and to fly.
Pain! A silvery needle rips through his shoulder. Palo swerves, panicking. Bella compensates, banking hard under him.
“Raiders in the sun!” Dora cries.
Palo squints. Three fat, spiky shapes. The boars of the Hee, with long-clawed Heeling riders on top. And, in the middle, ungodly large, steel bristles all over, is that…?
It’s been years, but Palo could never forget. The bane of Dorseny. The scourge of the tater campaign. Soromino the Terrible.
Zumm-zumm! Foot-long bristles split the air. The boars’ hides ripple as they expel the deadly missiles. Palo pulls back on Bella’s ears. “Up!” Bella’s sides heave as she sucks in Buoyancy from the aether. They pop into the sky.
Palo twists back in his saddle just as a bristle scores his cheek, hot, sharp. Soromino’s behind them, his bristles whipping forward and back.
What folly, thinks Palo, to fly a pig in the Dorseny sky!
Bella flaps her ears for Hammerhead and tilts sharply up. Palo cries out in alarm, fearing stall, but Bella’s flanks bulge with Buoyancy.
Behind them, Soromino grunts. Bella squeals as steel pierces her leg. She shudders, and Palo’s scared. Then they’re vertical, hanging motionless in the sky.
For an unreal moment, Palo feels light and free. Bella rolls sideways and around. They barrel down at Soromino.
Small, bloodshot eyes, staring. The rictus of the Heeling pilot, lips purple and twisted. A rotten smell, stomach-churning.
“Squash away!” Palo rips the cord on Bella’s left. Pumpkinition falls free. Bella pulls up and clears Soromino’s spikes by inches.
Behind them, a meaty thwack. Soromino howls. Yellow pumpkin glue covers his back. Soromino pulls in Buoyancy in great heaving gasps, but the glue holds his bristles together. His Heeling pilot claws at his ears as he sinks.
Palo dares hope. Then steam bursts from Soromino’s nostrils. He roars, and his teeth gnash loud — grrik, grrak. A flurry of dislodged bristles falls away, and Soromino screams, but his flanks work hard: in, out, in.
Five years of peace, and now this. “Retreat!” Palo shouts.
Dora’s silent. When he banks sideways, he sees that she’s busy. One of the smaller boars is gone, but the other’s behind her. Pumpkinition strings trail empty behind her as she veers in evasive action.
Palo glances at Soromino. The beast’s a hundred yards below but rising once again. Palo wants to flee, to run away, to escape with his life.
He puts Bella into a dive instead, straight at the boar pursuing Dora. He lets out a cry as he pulls his last pumpkinition-string. “Dorseny!”
The boar rolls away. Too late — the round strikes him on the side, splashing all across. He reels into a downward spiral, squealing.
Palo pulls up alongside Dora. “Retreat! We need more pigs in the sky.”
Soromino roars, speeding toward them again, a dark cloud in compact form, but he’s too slow. Dora and Palo bank toward the combat airstrip west of Dorseny and put in maximum speed. Bella’s flanks heave as she sucks in Buoyancy, and the air rushes so hard at Palo that it stings.
Soromino falls behind, slow but sure. His bristles bulge in rhythm to the great bellows of his lungs and black smoke pours forth from his snout. It’s not enough.
Palo looks ahead at the nearing airstrip. “We’ll make it,” he mutters, and Bella oinks in agreement. “No pork for Soromino today!”
Palo looks. Soromino’s broken away. He’s gone. At first Palo doesn’t understand — indeed, he’s glad. Then realization crashes down on him.
Soromino’s sweeping down toward Takeoff Field. Hundreds of deadly bristles, speeding toward the townsfolk and the cadets getting ready to fly.
Palo’s cold. His hands tremble. He’s injured. So are Bella and Locci. They’ve got no pumpkinition left. Surely they should flee. Surely they’ve earned that right.
But he remembers his own Graduation. He remembers what it was like to stand there with Bella, looking down the runway. Waiting to run, run, run and to fly.
They’re all looking up at him today, expectant, trusting. As Dora’s looking at him over her shoulder.
So close, he thinks. We were so close. Then he yells, “Bring reinforcements!” and rolls Bella sideways.
“Sir — !” Dora cries and slows, but he cuts in with, “Go!”
Dora salutes and speeds off with a backward glance. Palo watches after her for the briefest moment, proud.
He tugs on Bella’s ears and they complete the turn, flying full speed for Soromino’s dark form. “Fly, my dear!” She orees and flaps her ears.
Soromino spots them and roars, swinging around to meet them. Smoke billows from his snout like a dark promise, and his bristles stand up straight. His pilot raises one crooked claw in triumph.
Palo draws in a full breath and cries, “For Dorseny! For Dorseny!” His fear is gone, and he feels free, so free — as if he’s never flown before, and today’s the first time. The ground is far below. The sky is vast and clear. All he knows is this:
It’s fine, so fine, to fly a pig in the Dorseny sky.
Tom Crosshill’s fiction has appeared in magazines such as Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed. In 2009, he won the Writers of the Future contest. After many years spent in Oregon and New York, he currently lives in his native Latvia. He’s a satellite member of the writers’ group Altered Fluid. In the past, he has operated a nuclear reactor, translated books and worked in a zinc mine, among other things. Visit him at tomcrosshill.com.
Become a Patron!
We need all the help we can get. For more info on any number of flash-tabulous rewards including extra stories, personalized critiques, and more:
If you enjoy Flash Fiction Online, consider subscribing or purchasing a downloadable copy. Your donations go a long way to paying our authors the professional rates they deserve. For only $0.99/issue that’s cheaper than a cup of coffee. Or subscribe for $9.99/year.
© 2015 Tom Crosshill