The Early Days of Flight
The first person to fly was a Mr. Harold Og, of Yorkshire. Mr. Og was laboring mightily in an effort to bend a largish sapling over to form the ridgepole of a new hut. He requested that Mrs. Og, one of the most corpulent women in their hunting group, to assist in bending the tree.
Mrs. Harriet Og threw her sizable self into the project with some gusto. While the tree was half-bent, she suddenly spotted Mrs. Weela Chalmers parading by wearing nothing but a new, and remarkably short, leopard-skin skirt. “Ohhhh!” she said to herself, suddenly transported to that no-mans’-land between anger and envy. The automatic covering of her open mouth in astonishment caused her to release the hempen strap with which she was holding the bent tree, from whose thinnest end Harold was attempting to strip superfluous branches. Without her ponderous weight keeping the tree bent nearly to the ground, the sapling snapped back toward, and far past, the vertical before beginning its swinging back in forth in diminishing, but harmonic, amounts. Harold was flung into the air, over the campsite, and was dropped into a small stream beyond.
His left arm was badly sprained, but he, too, had spotted Mrs. Chalmers in her stylish, new skirt and found himself focusing with such thoughtless unawareness that, for a few blissful moments, he felt no pain in his arm at all.
“Harold!” his wife shouted the second she realized just what caused him to stare with an intensity remarkable for such a calm, quiet man. “Oh? What? Yes.” were his first, confused words. After which, with that presence of mind that had always characterized the noble men of the Og lineage, he explained his fixated staring by claiming to be partially, and painfully paralyzed from the sudden landing in the creek, and that he suddenly found himself to be “Quite unable to move my neck, really.”
Harriet was mollified, but not convinced. “I don’t know why Harold can’t go out and get a leopard skin for me.” she sniffed, without considering that her ample girth would require the hunting, killing, and skinning of a very large family of leopards.
Harold was smart enough to eliminate any feelings of his own guilt by reproachfully mentioning that, “If you’d just held on a little bit longer, by now we’d be snug inside our little hut, but, now, with this injury and all, we may have to sleep outside. Or, we could possibly join another group for the evening.” he concluded, maintaining just enough ocular control to avoid glancing over at the Chalmers’ newly blazing fire, toward which several men in the group were bringing bundles of firewood.
“We’ll be quite comfortable right where we are.” Harriet replied, pulling down the sapling and tying it in place for a ridgepole with a burst of seeming effortlessness. “Like to see that Weela Chalmers do this!” she said to herself, triumphantly.
Memories of his brief flight were both tantalizing and unforgettable. Over and over, Harold relived his brief moment aloft. By the time he was passing on the story to grandchildren, they stared, wide-eyed, at the famous grandfather who had flown over a mile, and had actually managed to pluck two geese out of a V-shaped flock through which he flew.
That was mankind’s first, and last, flight for several centuries. By one of those coincidences so beloved by historians, it was also in Yorkshire that mankind’s second ascent into the lower regions of the atmosphere took place. A Mr. Harald Ogson had been hired to help move some large stones from Wales to Salisbury, where they were to be used for a community center in a low-income housing project being developed by Mrs. Wilma Chalmersdottir. “Mr. Ogson, if you’ve got a couple of hundred slaves you don’t plan to be using for a few years, I’d like to hire them. I have to move some stones.”
Quick to sense an opportunity, and always looking forward to talking with the stunning Wilma Chalmersdottir, he told her of his recent purchase. “I have good, sound Fomorians. I got them on sale in Ireland, and they were born to move stones. Shouldn’t take them more than a decade or so.”
After interminable, and unrelated discussions, about the prices they found themselves paying for pigs, jerkins, school taxes, and “good fletching”, it was agreed that Harald Ogson would be paid seven thousand arrowheads of “sound chert”, a thousand pigs, and fourteen barrels of beer; such payments to be made at each summer solstice. Fishing rights on several of the Chalmersdottir rivers were to be included, on a “temporary” basis, and the Ogson slaves began moving the first stone, a small one, “more for practice, really”.
In the process of moving an especially long stone down a very high, snow-covered hill, Harald Ogson found himself standing on the rear of the stone as it slipped from the grasp of the sturdy Fomorians. Suddenly, he was actually “surfing” down the hill, crouched at the back of the huge stone, hoping that the startlingly attractive, and recently widowed, Wilma Chalmersdottir, who was watching, would think that he had not only planned this method of stone-moving, but was actually in control. The stone gathered speed before its front end sank into a previously invisible badgers’ den of remarkable depth. That caused the rear of the stone to bounce upwards with even greater speed before the sinking of the front end brought the rear to a dead, sudden stop at the moment of its utmost verticality. Harald was unaware of the badgers beneath, flattened before they awoke from their deep winter’s nap.
Just as his forefather, Harold Og, of whom distant memories were still extant, Harald Ogson, the moment the stone had come to a stop, continued to move skyward. He soared far above the yew trees until, descending, he managed to land atop one several hundred yards away, actually on the other side of the valley. “I’m not hurt!” he marveled to himself as he clambered down, pleased beyond measure to realize that Wilma Chalmersdottir was not only racing to see how he was, but that she seemed proud of his aeronautical accomplishment.
People didn’t fly much after that. The Ogsons talked of it, to be sure, but they becoming a more genteel breed, above taking risks or adapting quickly to forces large enough to enable them to defy gravity.
To be sure, love-lost swains periodically threw themselves off cliffs, but that hardly qualified as “flying”. An attempt was made near Lindisfarne Abbey by a Brother Archibald who swung out from a high steeple in a misbegotten attempt to drop stones from a great height on Viking longboats on the water below steep cliffs. His plans came to naught. The enraged Vikings realized the source of the stones plummeting murderously among them when one of them looked up just as Brother Archibald reached the seaward apogee of his orbit around the steeple. He pointed Brother Archibald out to his shipmates the very next time he came around, at which point he was met with a veritable cloudbank of arrows.
The Vikings promptly pillaged the monastery, after which it was leveled. In the year 1000, a great celebration commemorating a thousand years of Christianity was held in Stokeley-on-Stokeley where the bridge in Stokeley crosses the River Stokeley as it winds its peaceful way to the quiet lagoons along the south side of Down Mounds. During the festivities, a Mr. Charles Ogsonton was admiring one of the huge crossbow catapults on display inside the castle grounds. “You know,” he said aloud, “I think it would be possible for a person to lay in the channel where the arrow is and be shot straight away into the air.”
As it happened, the operator and crew heard Charles. Also, as it happened, they’d drunk a “short barrel” of malmsey, and, in that state, were looking for something pleasurable to occupy the waning hours of the afternoon.
In the twinkling of an eye, Charles Ogsonton found himself lying on his side atop the crossbow’s mainpiece. His feet had been stuck into the recently de-topped malmsey barrel, and the bottom portion of that barrel would receive the greatest impact of the huge crossbow’s string.
“I say, lads, let’s not smash him into the wall.” warned the soberest member of the crew. The others, obligingly, pointed the powerful catapult through the front gates. When they released the trigger, the huge crossbow’s thick rope slammed into the bottom of the malmsey barrel, accelerating both it, and Charles, through the open castle gate at an amazing speed. His long, slow trip through the air seemed to take forever as he rose above the castle forecourt, over the tilting fields, still rising as he passed the town walls, and just beginning to fall, when, by what anyone whose name was not prefaced with “Og” would call a miracle, he spotted a haystack on the far side of the village green.
With a presence of mind that astonished awestruck onlookers below, Charles ripped apart his tunic, which slowed him. With a little tunic “steerage”, he was able to guide himself directly, and safely, into the haystack.
Three times in a thousand years, the family Og had distinguished itself by three distinct forms of flight. More was to come.
During the tumultuous years of the English Civil War, Sir Harold D’Ogsonton was utterly confused. “Do we support Charles, our rightful king, or do we lend a hand to Cromwell?” was the question he asked, anywhere from twenty to thirty times a week, to whomever he spoke.
“King Charles is a good and decent man. Cromwell is a disgusting pig. Cromwell has the stronger army. I think we’ll vacillate a little longer, but we’ll lean toward Cromwell.”
That opinion was noticeably strengthened when Royalist troops ran off with all of his pigs, a herd of cattle, and ate his chickens. That same opinion was reversed when fleeing Roundheads took all of his horses, every bit of food in the kitchen, and ripped down his lead drainpipes, which were sold to the highest bidder at the nearest market town, Stokeley-on-Stokeley.
The destruction of the drainpipes caused a particularly foul odor to permeate the house. “Harold, you simply have to get this fixed!” Mrs. Wilma D’Ogsonton commanded. “The whole house is smells worse than a stable!”
A little sniffing around with his head groundskeeper found the problem. “The house drains run into the septic tank. When the Roundheads ripped them off, they clogged the air drains. We need a membrane.”
Sir Harold’s request for information about a ‘membrane’ was quickly satisfied. “What you need to be doin’ Sir, is layin’ a big sheet of lacquered linen over the area above the septic tanks. That’ll keep the water from running into the ground, and it’ll keep the foul-smellin’ gases out of the house.”
Soon, a wide expanse of linen was sewn together, lacquered, and laid over the septic tanks. By the time they’d finished that evening, a slight “bubble” was noticed in the center of the tennis-court size of lacquered linen. By the next morning, the bubble was fully twenty feet high, and the fringes of the lacquered linen were being inward.
“Harold, don’t you think you should tie that down?” Wilma reasonably requested. “I hasten to obey.” He said, and ran out just in time to reach out and grasp the four corners of the huge lacquered linen sheet.
As he was laboriously tying the four corners together, the sun came out from behind a cloud, which accelerated the breeze. The forces of warmth and wind united, and, suddenly, for the fourth time, an Og found himself ascending into the air.
“Harold, you come down here!” his wife commanded. But, Harold, with no way to comply without causing his own swift death, suddenly felt the ancient, surging joy coursing through his veins that only those of the blood-Og had known. “I can see to Whitley!” he cried to Wilma. “I can see the King’s army. They’re marching this way! Hide the silver!”
And, with that, he slowly became a small speck in the distance. Wilma Ogsonton wasn’t looking. She had flown to the house, packing the silver and burying it in the soft, odiferous earth around the septic whose gasses had so recently propelled her erstwhile husbands to the greatest heights achieved by any of that remarkable bloodline.
Harold, realizing that he had broken all of his family’s height and distance records, was enjoying the trip with the pleasure that only an Og could have taken in it, no matter how many suffixes were attached to the same. He was having a better view of the manicured English countryside than any man who’d ever lived, and he was making the most of it.
Soon, of course, not more than a half an hour, the lacquered lined began to crack as it flexed in the wind. Harold noticed that he was drawing gently closer to earth. Then, he, the very first man in the history of mankind, noticed that, as he descended, he reversed direction. He began to be blown back toward his own estates. “The wind,” he said wonderingly to himself, “can blow in two directions at once.”
He had, in fact, discovered that what appeared to be a giant, monolithic blanket of air above was, in fact, a compilation of layers, which could move in exactly opposite directions.
As he approached Ogsonton Manor, he very quickly caught up with, and passed, the small band of Royalist looters heading toward his own house. “I say”, he called down as he went past, “there are a large troop of Roundheads heading toward that house over there.”
After thanking him kindly for the warning, and turning to move in the opposite direction with such fearfulness that they failed to remark on the singular happening of a man floating beneath a deflating linen balloon talking to them from the sky, they changed direction and went, instead, to Stokeley-on-Stokeley, whose buildings they promptly looted and fired.
A pen and ink drawing of Harold aloft was produced by one of the Royalist gunners. It was discovered by Roundheads on his unfortunate capture. The man was dragged to Cromwell’s headquarters and interrogated by the great Protestant, himself.
“This drawing? What is it?” the future Lord Protector demanded to know.
“Well, it happened as we were heading toward Stokeley-on-Stokeley. This man was floating along in the air, and he warned us about Roundheads. We hid in town.”
There was but one explanation for this. “It is witchcraft. Pure and evil witchcraft.” The producer of the drawing was “purged” of his evil spirit by being forced to drink a distasteful concoction produced by a Presbyterian chaplain serving with Cromwell.
“And how do you come up with something this foul if you aren’t walking in the witchs’ ways yourself?” the soldier inquired. As a result of his “uppityness”, Gunner McDuff was made to drink more of it, and nearly died.