The 113th is escorting a squadron of bombers on their return form an attack across the German lines. A swarm of Hun fighters streak down at them from out of the afternoon sun. Bill Maddox watches the incoming enemy. This is going to be his first dogfight as they will have to try to keep the enemy away from the bombers.
The two squadrons clashed, machine guns blazing. Maddox tried to stay with “Mad Dog” Harris, his wingman. An Albatross D.V cut across him several of its bullets cutting into Bill’s craft.
Oil from the damaged engine sprayed into Maddox’s face, covering his goggles.
The sound of machine guns fills the air with a symphony of death.
Scarf up to clean goggles.
Smell of smoke from a nearby burning plane.
Can’t find “Mad Dog.”
Bullets whistle past in the frigid air.
Enter kill position.
Screams as burning German fighter spirals to the awaiting ground.
Shaken by the close passing of another plane.
More bullets fly past.
Movement at the left.
Albatross dead ahead.
Begin hammering guns.
Strafed by German.
Warm. Blood flowing down arm.
Plane streaking past guns screaming after an unseen enemy.
Guns working again.
Enter the melee.
Out of control plane on collision course.
Violent dive to the right.
Spinning out of control.
Warmth between legs.
Climb back up towards fight.
Sudden move from right.
Turn and shoot.
Black smoke pours out of target.
Time nearly stops for Bill. The battle now sounds a hundred miles away. He can almost see the individual bullets casually floating through the air. A puffy black trail being left by his crashing victim. That is when Maddox realizes that he has just found his wingman.
Shock and terror grip Bill as his brain comprehends what he has just done. He looses sight as his wingman goes down across enemy lines. His limbs feel like they weight tons. He can’t force himself to turn and follow Harris down.
As Bill drifted he began to loose too much altitude. Boche anti-aircraft guns open fire. The sounds rattle Bill out of his trance. Before he can climb away his plane is hit by enemy fire. He begins to go down. The engine is destroyed and the little remaining fuel begins to burn.
Maddox manages to pull up the nose and get the extra distance to the British lines. As he makes a rough landing in his burning aeroplane he voids the contents of his stomach onto his controls and legs. As Allied soldiers arrive to help he looses consciousness.
Five days later Bill Maddox was in his quarters near the aerodrome. No one had said anything about what had happened to “Mad Dog.” No one had seen that Bill was the one who shot him down.
His own wounds were superficial and he was due to fly in to-morrow’s dawn patrol. Unfortunately his new obsession with whiskey may cause him to be grounded.
As Bill gets started on the night’s drinking Major Thomas enters the room.
“Major.” Said Bill as he saluted.
“Maddox.” Said the Major as he returned the salute and then seated himself in a nearby chair.
“I know that getting shot down can be a traumatic experience, Bill. If you need a few more days you can have them.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Said Bill as he sipped from the bottle.
“However,” said the Major as he takes the bottle form Bill, “this is hardly going to make you better.”
“It makes the ghosts go away.”
“What ghosts? I wasn’t aware that you’d killed anyone.”
Maddox pulls the whiskey back away from the Major. He takes a long swig from the bottle. “I killed Mad Dog.”
After a along moment passes without any words.
“You didn’t kill him, Bill.”
“Yes I did. I was scarred, confused. I saw a plane and fired. It was Jack. I murdered him.”
“Even if he was dead that wouldn’t be murder. The Huns are responsible not you.”
“If he were dead?”
The Major pulls a telegram out of his pocket and hands it to Maddox. Bill begins to read.
“He’s alive! The Germans have him at a hospital…. They had to amputate his leg.” Maddox stands and begins to pace the room. “It’s all my fault.”
“Nonsense, Maddox. I told you it was the Hun’s fault. Do you think you are the first man to accidentally shoot a buddy?”
“I don’t care if I’m the first. It doesn’t change what I did.”
The Major now stands and places his hand on Bill’s shoulder. “If you want to make things up to Jack I’ll tell you what you can do.”
“Yes… yes, Sir.”
“You can go back up there and bring down two German planes. One to avenge Jack and the other to make up for the one you should have gotten last week.”
“I don’t know. What if I shoot another one of our planes?”
“You won’t. You’ve learned a very important lesson. Besides if you don’t go back up then Jack was shot down for nothing. You owe it to him to take his place in the squadron.”
“Alright. I’ll do it.”
“Do you want to go up with the dawn patrol to-morrow, or do you still need a couple of days?” asked Major Thomas.
“I’ll go with the patrol, sir.”
“Good man.” The Major walks to the door and then turns. “Just so you know it’s not going to be much easier to shoot down a German. Before this war is over you’ll have your fair share of ghosts. The spirits in a bottle can’t make the spirits of the dead go away. You have to take comfort in the fact that with each victory we have the war is that much closer to ending. And then we can put several million spirits to rest.”