LNLP - Nations at War

Darkness Falls – A Short Story by Henry Vogel

Henry Vogel, 13 May 2013

Pulp adventure from master storyteller Henry Vogel

Working the biplane’s controls with the practiced ease only possible from a former flying ace, Cliff Hanger pointed to the hilltop farm ahead.

“Cote? Are you sure that’s the place?” Cliff yelled over the roar of the aeroplane’s engine.

Cliff’s younger brother struggled to keep the map open against the buffeting wind and yelled back, “If the little bit Beth managed to say over the telephone before she was cut off is correct, then that’s the place!”

Giving Cote a thumbs up signal, Cliff was about to turn back toward the hill when he saw the other aircraft. Swooping down out of the sun and the clouds came half a dozen black-painted aeroplanes. Minions of the evil Doctor Darkness!

As he went into a barrel roll, Cliff hollered, “Doctor Darkness has sent us an unwelcoming party. Hang on, little brother!”

Machine guns chattered from the pursuing aeroplanes as Cliff dived, climbed and rolled, putting on such a flying exhibition as had not been seen since he last flew his Spad on combat missions during the Great War. But back then he had machine guns of his own and could take the fight to the enemy. Now, he could only play this airborne game of dodge-ball and hope to reach the farm before one of the dark doctor’s minions got lucky. Even as that thought flitted through his mind, the gods of chance turned against Cliff. A stream of bullets stitched the little aeroplane’s fuselage, the last one plowing into the engine!

On the hilltop below, Beth Key, plucky reporter for the Denver Sentinel, cried out in dismay as black smoke sprouted from Cliff’s aeroplane. At the same moment, it began rapidly losing altitude.

“Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!” crowed Doctor Darkness. “So much for the Hanger boys! Your precious Cliff and his little brother Cote are doomed! Doomed! Now nothing stands between me and the power I deserve!”

Looking directly into Beth’s eyes, Doctor Darkness added, “And the woman I desire!”

Struggling in the evil man’s steely grip, Beth declared, “My heart belongs to Cliff and will for as long as he lives!”

Turning back to the plummeting aeroplane, Doctor Darkness said, “Which should not be very much longer, Miss Key. Not much longer at all!”

Even as he spoke, the little aeroplane seems to pull out of its dive, leveling off. Beth’s hopes lifted as Cliff fought to land the mortally wounded craft. But just as it looked as if Cliff had the aeroplane under control, skimming the ground at terrible speed, it flew into the farm’s big, abandoned barn. Seconds later, an explosion rocked the hilltop and the barn burst into flames!
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Beth stared at the burning barn in stunned horror as Doctor Darkness cackled beside her. “You evil fiend!”

“Now, my dear Beth,” the dastardly doctor said, “is that any way to talk to your husband-to-be?”

Doctor Darkness grabbed Beth and pulled her into his arms. His lascivious lips pressed against hers. The revolted reporter kicked Doctor Darkness in the shins, following it with a roundhouse right to the jaw.

“Keep your pathetic paws off of me!” Beth cried, raising her fists and taking a pugilist’s stance.

“Foolish female, your fists have sealed your fate! It’s the Mind Manipulator for you,” spat Doctor Darkness. “You’ll be quite my willing and eager slave in a matter of minutes!”

Seeing two of his minions approaching, the leering leader waved them over. “Take Miss Key to the airship and prepare her for a mental maladjustment!”

Crack! Doctor Darkness reeled from the punch of one of his minions.

“Did you notice how I drove through the punch, Beth?” a familiar voice asked. “You still need to work on that!”

“Cliff!” Beth cried, her face lighting up with joy as she threw her arms him.

“Curse you, Hanger!” Doctor Darkness said, struggling to his feet. “You should be dead!”

Cote Hanger stepped up next to his brother, picking hay from his hair, “Then you shouldn’t leave piles of hay in your abandoned farms, Doctor Dumbness! Jumping into the hay was a piece of cake compared to some of the stunts we did in during our barnstorming days!”

Sensing a great ending to the story she would write for her newspaper, Beth pulled out her notebook and pencil. Stepping toward Doctor Darkness, she asked, “Once again the Hanger brothers have foiled your nefarious plans, Doctor Darkness. Do you have any last words before they take you to jail?”

“Yes, Miss Key, I do. Always have an ace up your sleeve!” The devious doctor grabbed Beth, pulled a snub-nosed revolver from his pocket, and put it to the lovely lady’s head. “Back off, Hanger boys, or the ace reporter will be an ex-reporter!”

Knowing Beth’s life hung in the balance, Cliff backed away. “This isn’t over, you malicious miscreant! I’ll pursue you to the ends of the earth to save Beth!”

Backing into the farmhouse, Doctor Darkness laughed, “You deluded dolt! One minute under my Mind Manipulator and Miss Key will forget all about you!”

The farmhouse door slammed shut, cutting off Beth’s protests.

“Now what, Cliff?” asked Cote.

“Evil doesn’t have a long attention span,” Cliff said. “Give it a count of five, Cote, then we hit the door,”

Cliff held his hand up, counting down on his fingers. At zero, the brothers lowered their shoulders and charged into the door. Unable to stand against their righteousness might, the door crashed open! The brothers sped through the little house, but the evil man and his beautiful hostage were nowhere to be found!

“Golly, Cliff, they can’t have just disappeared!” Cote exclaimed.

“Look for a trap door,” Cliff ordered. “Doctor Darkness must have a lair inside the hill!”

At that moment, both men were thrown from their feet as the farm house shook, rumbled, and started tilting to one side. As Cliff slid toward one wall, his hands scrabbled to find something to cling to. His fingertips caught on something poking out in the middle of the floor. It was the trap door!

As he pulled the hidden hatch open, Cliff called. “Cote! Can you reach my foot and climb up here? I’ve got a feeling we have to get through this door or Beth will be lost forever!”

Cote, an experienced mountain climber, soon joined his brother at the opening in the floor. The two men gaped at the sight before them. The roar of powerful engines rattled the house as a huge aeroplane, its wing and the eight engines mounted on the wing were rotated to face up. The mammoth craft was slowly lifting straight up!

Cliff shook off his admiration of the amazing aeroplane, reminding himself that Beth was counting on him. “Come on, little brother. We’ve got an aeroplane to catch!”

So saying, Cliff pulled himself up onto the now-vertical lip of the trap door then launched himself at the rising aeroplane’s horizontal stabilizer. Landing in a crouch, Cliff steadied himself by grabbing the vertical stabilizer. With a thump, Cote landed next to him.

“We’ve got to get to the cockpit!” Cliff had to yell to be heard over the engines.

Cote nodded and the two brothers set off across the curving fuselage. Cliff silently thanked the Lord for the years they spent wing walking in the aerial show owned and operated by Beth’s father. Without that experience, they’d surely plummet to their deaths! Instead, mere moments passed before they were standing above the rear cargo hatch.

The stronger of the two, Cliff braced himself and lowered his brother head first toward the hatch. Only the narrowness of the tapering fuselage made it possible for Cote to reach the handle, but reach it he did! Seconds later, the two determined men were inside the aeroplane.

“It’s time we gave Doctor Darkness the what for!” Cliff said, striding purposefully toward the cockpit.

“Dang right, big brother!” Cote said, pounding his fist into palm.

Cliff pushed through the hatch from the cargo compartment to the vast passenger compartment. Expecting row after row of seats, Cliff was again surprised at the dastardly doctor’s inventiveness. Strange machinery lined the walls, colorful lights flashed, levers and knobs were everywhere, and the whir of spinning gears filled the compartment.

Astounding as the sight was, Cliff’s eyes were drawn inexorably to the front of the aeroplane, where Beth struggled futilely as Doctor Darkness strapped her into a chair. Wires ran from the machinery to the chair and an ominous metal helmet hung above Beth’s head!

Cliff’s sprang forward like a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks! At the sound of pounding feet, Doctor Darkness spun around and raised his snub-nosed revolver. Beth’s hands were strapped to the chair arms, but her feet were still free. Seeing the foul villain drawing a bead on the man she loved, Beth kicked him in the back of the knee.

Doctor Darkness’s knee buckled and his shot went wide. He never got a chance to take a second shot, as Cliff’s haymaker lifted the emissary of evil off his feet and sent him flying backward! Cote arrived just in time to kick the revolver away from the doctor’s reaching hand.

Doctor Darkness scrambled away from the Hanger brothers. “No! How can my brilliant plans be foiled by simpletons such as the two of you?”

“It’s simple — good always triumphs over evil!” Cliff said. starting to remove the straps holding Beth to the chair.

“This is no triumph for you, Hanger,” Doctor Darkness snarled. “Merely a setback for me!”

With that, the doctor snatched a parachute hanging nearby and wrenched open the forward hatch. Looking over his shoulder, the doctor said, “You will be mine, Beth Key! So swears Doctor Darkness!”

“Don’t jump!” Cliff cried.

But the warning came too late. With the wings facing vertically, the maniacal mastermind leaped into the nearest propellor! Beth buried her head into Cliff’s chest as bits of Doctor Darkness splattered against the outer fuselage.

“Yuck!” Cote said as he shut the forward hatch. “That guy goes all to pieces when loses.”

Chuckling at his own joke, Cote looked into the cockpit. “Hey Cliff, there’s some kind of machine flying this aeroplane!”

When Cliff didn’t reply, Cote looked back. Beth had her arms wrapped around Cliff’s neck and was kissing Cliff soundly. To Cote’s eye, Cliff looked to be giving as good as he got.

“I’ll just figure out how to fly this thing on my own, okay?”

When no answer came, Cote smiled and made his way to the cockpit. “Thought so.”

Henry Vogel is a longtime gamer and fiction writer. In addition to a his online serialized novels, he archives many of his short stories here at Tales and Telling. He was also the author and co-creator of the 1980s comic-book series Aristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves

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