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Author’s Note:

My spiritual mother, Colonel Marina Raskova, founder of 588th Night Bomber Regiment — what the Germans in WW2 called “Die Nachthexen,” the “Night Witches” — once asked me, “what is the purpose of prose if not poetry?” She delighted in French Avant-garde theater, Dada art, surrealistic verse, and so do I. If stream of consciousness bores you, dear reader, you might want to read elsewhere. Since erotica is, by its very nature, fantasy, writing about women warriors in an erotic setting, even set during the Siege of Leningrad, can be helpful. For one, it allows me to bypass certain sexist ideas that, surprisingly enough, remain in effect even today. National Public Radio recently ran an article “Women In Combat: Inevitable?” (02/16/12) where a surprising number of readers wrote in with comments that seemed to be based on some sort of odd 1950s-era, Father Knows Best, gender determinism. While my Night Witches are based in the realm of the erotic and the fantastic, that does not take away from the fact there have always been women warriors and there always will be. As always, these stories are dedicated to those of us who have survived.

* * *

[a dream, half wild: the naked ambition of war brides]

A room in a peasant’s cottage on the Ukrainian front. A large fireplace dominates the right. On the left sits a heavy oak table with benches. Woven mats litter the floor. A door at left leads into a bedroom. In the corner rests a cupboard. At the back of the room a wide window with blood-red geraniums poking up here and there, beyond that, an open door. A few rifles are stacked near the fireplace. There is an air of homely interest and care, even tidiness, about the room.

Through the open door women can be seen stacking grain. Others pass by carrying huge baskets of apricots, still more others are loaded down with wood. Every now and then, in the distance, a bugle blows or a drum beat can be heard. A squad of soldiers, none over the age of sixteen, march quickly by the open door. Everywhere there one can feel the tense atmosphere of dread, the anxiety of the approaching war.

Pizlina Katzev, a slight, flaxen-haired girl of seventeen, enters the room. She brushes off a couple stray stalks of hay from her jacket, walks over to a small travel bag with an air of secret determination. Her mother passes by the window, stops, silently appears in the doorway. She is old, work-worn, cranky but sturdy. She carries a heavy load of wood on her back, looking even more weary. She casts a sharp eye at her daughter.

“What are you doing, girl?”

Pizlina jumps, puts the bag in the cupboard and turns to face her mother.

“Who’s going away? They haven’t sent for Zhorah yet?”

“No.”

“Is all the hay in?”

The old woman sighs, drops her load on the hearth.

“Yes. I put in the last load. All the big work here is done, so …”

Pizlina turns, looks at her mother, hesitates, while the old woman begins sorting the wood into kindling.

“I’ll do that, Mother.”

“Let me be, girl. It keeps me from worrying. What were you doing with that bag? Who were you packing it for?”

“Myself.”

Her mother turns, anxious, “What for?”

“Listen, Mother, be still while I tell you …”

“Is there any news?” her mother asks quickly. “Chop-chop! Tell me!”

“Not since yesterday. Only they say Brody is at the front. We don’t know where Jurg or Karolek are, there’s been a battle …”

Her mother sways a bit, closes her eyes.

“My boys, my boys.”

“Don’t think like this, Mother! They might come back.”

Far off a cheer can be heard. Despite the war someone, somewhere, is celebrating.

“What’s that?”

Pizlina looks out the window, shrugs.

“They are cheering the war brides, that’s all.”

“Aye,” her mother nods. “There’s been another soldier’s wedding ceremony. Someone will ask you soon, too.”

“O Mother,” Pizlina cries. “That isn’t what I want to do.”

“What is there that’s better than having boy babies for the Motherland?”

“Colonel Marina Raskova has called for volunteers all across the country–”

“Oh, her.” A dismissive sniff.

“Kamenka, Bratrumila and I saw a newsreel of Colonel Raskova down at the theater yesterday. The Germans are calling them Die Nachthexen, The Night Witches!”

“My daughter, the witch.”

“Yes. That is what I was going to tell you just now. That is why I was packing the bag.”

Pizlina goes over to the cupboard, removes the little bag.

“I– I want to go to Moscow, to volunteer. I want to go tonight. I can’t stand this waiting.”

“You leave me, too?”

“I want to go to the front with Brody, Karolek and Jurg, to drop bombs on the Nazis, to help push the invaders out of our country. Why not, I, too, must do something for my country.”

“Nonsense, you are a girl. Who has ever heard of a female soldier? Fiddle-faddle.”

“Look, Mother, the apricots are plucked. The hay is stacked. You can spare me. I have been dreaming of it night and day.”

“No, Pizlina! Having babies. That is our first duty. Anything else is … unnatural.”

At that there comes a knock at the door.

“Who’s that?” her mother asks.

Pizlina, glancing out of the windows, whispers, “It’s Vasya Pupkin.”

The knock is repeated.

“Open, stupid girl! Don’t stand there!”

The door creaks. Pupkin strides in, tall, with curious patchy skin. His voice, like the pink patches on his cheeks, grow husky and he labors for breath in-between each sentence. His lungs were once vast, now ill used. The blue of his eyes gleams with moisture and his lips lighten until they are no more than a thin purple suggestion, cutting his wide, unwashed face into a smile. Accustomed to having women wait upon him, he turns fondly to Pizlina.

“Well, well, well, well! Not one appypolly loggy. You snuck away from me yesterday!”

He is from Moscow and speaks a polyglot of teenage slang and ancient, Tzarist Russian. It sounds ridiculous. Pizlina glances, highly uncomfortable, at her mother, who does not look her in the eye. Finally she nods.

“This is my mother.”

“Dobby day, Mama,” Pupkin nods.

The old woman rises to her feet and attempts to execute a curtsey. There is something forlorn in the gesture.

“Where did you itty?” He demands of Pizlina. “Here she was, as baddiwad as promising that we were to be married today, my Mama.”

“Oh, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes you did. You let me lubbilub you full on the piggy tips, in front of everyone and Bog.”

“No, sir,” Pizlina says again, taken aback. “You simply fell out of the local tavern, I had the misfortune of passing by you in the street.”

“And then,” Pupkin continues, paying no attention to her, “when I itty to the church today, no bride for Vasya Pupkin. I must skazat, they had a bratchny smeck about that, for I had told everyone I had found the prettiest devotchka for me. But tomorrow …”

“I won’t.”

“Oh, yes, you will.” Pupkin cries, roughly taking hold of her, vodka fumes making the girl squint. “I won’t bother you long. I’m off to the front any day now. Come, marry me! What do you skazat, my Baboochka?”

“Aye. I should like to see her wed,” her mother says.

“There! You viddy? It’s offical.”

“But I don’t know you.”

“Smot me yarbles. Don’t you think I am dobby enough for her, Mama? Besides, we can’t stop to think of such veshches now, Pizlina. It is war time. This is an emergency measure. Then again, I’m a krovvy soldier, that ought to count for something, I should skazat, especially if you love the Politburo, you do, don’t you, Pizlina?”

“…”

“Khorosho, then, we can get married, get acquainted afterward the war.”

“I’m going to be a pilot.”

“Chepooka!” Pupkin laughs. “Pretty devotchkas like you should marry. Uncle Josef, even all the generals, they all have commanded it. It’s for the bezoomy Motherland. Shouldn’t she have my baby, eh, Mama?”

The old woman nods, remote, a million miles from home.

“Of course. It is your patriotic duty, Pizlina. You’re a queer one. All the cheekas are tickled at the chance. But you are the one I’ve picked aahhht. I am itty to have you. Now, you sweet devotchka – come with me!”

“And that,” Pizlina Katzev laughs as she walks across the muddy ground of the aerodrome with her comrade, Florentina, by her side, “was the last I ever heard from that bastard. Someone said he choked on his own vomit later that day, wouldn’t be surprised.”

The day before it had rained and the fog kept the 588th Night Bomber Regiment grounded. Today the girls would resume their daily practicing. Even with having to go a whole day without flying, Pizlina remained cheerful by noticing that near the hangar where she normally climbed into the cockpit of her old biplane, there sat eight new airplanes none of the female pilots had seen before — smaller crafts, with peculiarly curved tails; Yakovlev Yak-1s — each with an up-to-date machine gun mounted just along side the top, right where any forward pilot could conveniently squint down the sights.

“Why, it’s a thousand times better than our old ‘Kukuruzniks’,” exclaimed Pizlina on closer examination, using the Russian word for crop-duster, the ancient biplanes the Soviet air force had allotted their female pilots. “It says, huh, let’s see.” She squinted at the call letters. “Ee-dee nah hooy.”

Just then Lily Litvyak and Tatyana Mozarov strolled up, hand in hand. Litvyak had a great green woolen greatcoat on that she had found somewhere. It was ridiculously large on her small frame, as well as a pair of shiny spit-polished kick-boots.

“Going out for a little spin, Piz’da?” laughed Lily, throwing open the hangar door so that the sun fell full and proper upon the single-seat war machines.

“You can do anything with these uncontrollable cunts,” joked Florentina, stubbing out her cigarette on the sole of her boot, “except fly to Venus. Do you think we’ll all going to get one? Those motors will drag you to Hell … or to the Nazi stomping grounds, whichever you choose. As for stunts, heh,” and she spread her arms wide, “diving, dipping, playing dead, you have never seen the miracles of what a girl can preform who can work a joy stick while snot, blood and fire is erupting all around her. I only hope we go up in one soon. I hear there’s a new raid on in the works then it’s back to the old cardboard and twine Po-2s.”

Drifting away from the crowd Lily moved into the shadow of the hanger as her friend ambled away, talking and laughing, oblivious to everything, musing on that day’s hinted raid. Reaching the clubroom door, the gaggle of girls entered. There were a dozen or more of the flygirls inside, blue cigarette smoke tinging the air. Just as Lily hoped, Oksana Rzaev was working on the engine of a shot-up Ilyushin Il-2, her legs sticking out from underneath the small bomber’s underbelly. Lily remember watching the mechanic’s body before as she sweated under the boiling Ukrainian sun. She would put down her wrench, peel off her outer shirt, her breasts hanging loose in the skimpy t-shirt that all gunners, mechanics and armament specialists were required to wear, swish her mouth out with sun-warmed tea, then cock her head back, spit like a fountain into the puddles of grease that dotted the hanger’s floor. Lily would finger herself at that sight, cumming all over inside her flight suit, as well as later, at the site of Oksana bending over an open engine hood, sweat dripping down her breasts, forehead, lips.

To the city girl Oksana was exotic and alien. Her mastery of the Russian language was terrible and, truth be told, she was probably a dozen or so years older than Lily, but that didn’t show on her broad shouldered frame. She was short, like so many other of the Arctic women, had a welder’s body packed into her boilersuit. Rumor had it she had been a professional boxer once, back in Helsinki, though, of course, such things were unheard of in the more lax warmer climes. She was a refugee from the Winter War. Lily loved to watch the muscle-bound Minerva, a modern-day Roman goddess of wisdom and war, hard at work. Every airplane was different to Oksana.

“Each engine say to me, er,” and she broke into her native Finnish-Sami, the language of shamans, “nyt suunsa ja syö minun pillua.” [1]

“Say what?”

“Eh, you know, pillua,” and the older woman put the victory-sign of her index and middle fingers on either side of her lips and stuck her tongue between them. Lily’s eyes bulged then watered as she tried not to snort coffee out her nose from laughing.

“What! You mean, working on an engine is like licking pussy?”

“Juu! Yes, poosy, leek, pillua!”

“I … well, I never really thought about it like that.”

“Metafora. Just like how every pillua wants to be leeked differently,” Oksana confided. “In an areoplane her buzz only happens when you make her happy. Juu? Yes? Like a kiss – always sounds like a kiss.”

There were few mechanics in the training camp that knew engines like Oksana. When she started to work on a small attack plane like a Kochyerigin DI-6 she would radiate delight at all its complexities, laugh at the Curtiss-Wright engineers who had obviously attempted to stump the Ural mechanic with problems of its radial motor. The whole hanger brought something different, there were female mechanics from every corner of the Soviet Union, but even when Oksana was doing something mundane, repairing a fixed landing gear, she was alive in every movement, as if she were leading a jazz combo, or present when Billie Holiday first hummed the tune ‘These Foolish Things’ under her breath.

When it got beastly hot she’d drag the engine into the deep, dark parts of the hanger, where no wayward eyes could see, then strip off the top of her uniform. Her breasts, arms, stomach would all ripple in the heat. When she worked on a classic engine, like the Petlyakov that Lily flew, she would literally cum. Lily once saw Oksana as she adjusted a bolt on a Peshka Pe-2. Her hips swaying, big black boots tapping out a tune that only she and the forces of the universe could hear. Once she even reached down between her legs with the flat side of a wrench and began rubbing her clit.

* * *

On the day that Oksana didn’t hear Lily approach, she lay on her back, trying to wrestle a bolt back into place. When the shadow of the pilot in the immense greatcoat fell over her face, blocking out the sun, she stopped. Lily stood over the mechanic, one leg on either side of Oksana’s roller board, cleared her throat, trying not to giggle, asked, “Synishku, do you want something to drink?” She purposely called Oksana a ‘darling boy’ just to see her reaction.

When the Sami shaman heard the pilot’s voice, she couldn’t help but smile. She had wanted Lily for a long time. She reached out to roll herself out from underneath the plane, found Lily’s legs planted on either side of her shoulders. She used the girl’s boots for leverage to pull herself out and as Oksana emerged into the sunlight she could see straight up the pilot’s greatcoat, showing off her curvaceous, naked body underneath. The body of a killer.

“Synishku, you didn’t think I walked all the way here just to show off the latest Moscow fashions, did you?” Lily squat down, bringing her cunt inches away from Oksana’s up turned face, asked coyly, “my little king, are you more hungry or thirsty?” Oksana reached up, grabbed Litvyak’s scarred thighs with both of her dirty, greasy hands, brought Lily’s clit right down to her face. She was hungry after a day of working with her hands and ready to sate her herculean appetites.

Oksana sucked all of Lily’s cunt into her mouth at one go, like how one strips down the flesh of a kumquat with their teeth; however, she didn’t break the surface, didn’t leave a mark, only took the girl’s clit between her powerful lips, as if to say ‘my, look what I just discovered.’ Soon she was rewarded with the first fingernail shiver running down Lily’s entire frame. Oksana massaged Lily’s ass, spreading her cheeks wide, bringing all of her down to rest upon her face. Those cunning Alices who consort with the taboo always develop feral, emphatic hungers. Lily knew what the older woman wanted, felt those strong, callous hands on her thighs bringing her closer still. The mechanic took her time devouring in, kissing up, licking down every inch. Then her tongue reached her Lily’s asshole and for only the third time in her life Lily’s short life she was startled, but then cooed for it felt so fucking good. No one had never tasted her there before. It sent shivers through Lily’s battle scarred aura. The universe collapsed in on itself momentarily. She could feel her goose bumps spreading out in waves, infusing all the colors around her in orgasmic shivers.

Lily opened her coat wider, exposing her round ass. She wanted to give the mechanic full access. She loved the way Oksana’s greasy hands left imprints on her legs, her feet, everywhere. Oksana went back to feeding, lightly biting Litvyak’s clit, taking it in her mouth again and again — sucking on it, humming – urging the quivers onward, forward, up, everything between heaven and earth that was in her power to drive Lily wild. The girl looked down just as she opened her eyes. Their eyes met. Oksana could see the lust in that down-turned face, Lily could see the radiant energy staring up at her. They exchanged smiles that pulsed like magnetic fields. They were both lost in their distant worlds, oblivious to the fact that the hanger door was still wide open, anyone walking by could see what they were doing.

Lily started grinding — up, down, up, down — as Oksana’s tongue, her nose and chin, probed her deeper, deeper still. Pity the lover with an one inch tongue. The pilot was so wet. Her pussy was practically gushing. Oksana reached up, grabbed her tits in her boxer hands, massaging them, pinching her nipples, evoking out loud moans with each twist.

“Take off your coat,” Oksana ordered hoarsely. Lily momentarily snapped back to reality. She looked out, around, noticed the hanger door with the shadows of people walking to and fro just outside.

“Synishku, the hanger door is open, anyone can see us,” she moaned.

“Obey your mechanic,” was all the other could get out.

There was no arguing. Lily let the coat fall to the floor, swayed momentarily, turned around, came down on her knees facing away from the older woman. She unzipped Oksana’s boilersuit, ran her fingers down, between the valley of her breasts, over the little potbelly Oksana’s first baby had left behind, down into the mighty hedge of pubes, a wall of curls and colors. She could smell her pussy juices, mixed with all the other smells of the hanger — industrial paint, heavy-duty exhaust, diesel gas, twenty year old oil – all the birthing smells of machines of war.

Oksana stopped feasting on Lily’s cunt long enough to slap her hard on the ass. From far away the tell-tale klaxon siren was winding up. Suddenly she hugged the pilot as if passion alone could somehow protect her. Their faces came together, she kissed, almost fearfully, while Lily caressed the mechanic’s strong back, her biceps, the buzz cut of her hair. Then Lily stood, turned, the greatcoat now around her shoulders, buttoned to her chin, and walked out into the sunlight, taking nothing with her save two greasy hand prints on either of her ass cheeks.

* * *

The clubroom door burst open as the siren sounded off on the parade ground near a grove of trees. It was the general summons for squadron practice. From deep inside the cigarette smoke tinged the air the girls filed out, each in their full flying suits. They saw Commander Popova on the field, watching the mechanics roll out the Yakovlev Yak-1s. Each aviatrix at once mounted her own. Lily, as squad leader, had indicated that she wanted to pair off with Pizlina earlier that day. In the east, from over a monotonous expanse of scarred, war-torn country, came the sullen roar of artillery at the front, a stern reminder of what was close approaching.

In a few moments the entire squadron was aloft, in ones or twos, gyrating playfully, always climbing, swooping higher, until to the naked eye they became nothing more than mere dots in the vast sky.

At a signal from the lead plane they began maneuvering — two hostile squadrons about to engage in aerial combat that would have left the spectator amazed at the girls’ battle tactics.

“Budʹte vnimatelʹny!” said the Commander cried out a warning, her fieldglasses screwed to her eyes. “The Lieutenant is going to loop.”

True enough, Lily’s Yak took a nose flip, was soon flying upside down. Then she leveled out again. The rest of her squad followed suit, then followed their leader into a wicked angle, all of them righting up level once again. The first plane in the other squad, flown by Pizlina, began rolling over and over soon as well. The others behind her began much the same tactics while the first line drew away as if preparing for counter moves. Now they were descending in long spirals, each handful of planes by themselves, yet preserving the mathematical distance required from both opposing sides. Finally the two leaders circled slowly as their respective members followed each other to the ground, some coming in recklessly, others drifting down slow, while others slanting lazily in as they passed under their leaders. However, as giddily as it looked, it was all mathematically timed. The planes saluted methodically as they passed the Commander on the ground.

As Lily and Pizlina taxied their aircraft across the gravel in front of the hanger, the other pilots at last arranged themselves at opposite extremes of the landing stage. Soon all the exhausted aviatrixes had left their busy mechanics who were crawling over the Yaks, while they, discussing what just took place, walked away soberly into the shadows.

* * *

“Are you going to take me with you?”

“Say what?”

“On this raid.”

“What raid?”

“Manda!”

“Did you just call me a cunt?” Lily asked, giggling.

The vodka bottle had been getting passed between her and Pizlina for some time now. Rain kept the Polikarpovs grounded, pointless to send bombers out into a fog when the ground was invisible. At the word ‘cunt’ Pizlina thought she would melt. She reached for the bottle, took a long swig. Lily was sitting on her bunk, leaning against the wall, about a foot away from her. Pizlina stared at the empty bottle for a few moments, then announced there was another one in her trunk.

“A copious supply of vodka isn’t the real reason I want you flying with me,” Lily said.

Pizlina blinked.

“The real reason?” she asked.

“Well, if you want to get up, you can always show off your ass to me, I won’t mind. I’ve always liked a girl with a big ass in a tight flightsuit.”

Pizlina turned around to face her, suddenly feeling very self-conscious in the dim light and warmth of the aerodrome dormitory, while at the same time quietly elated.

“Are you drunk?” she asked Lily.

“Most indubitably,” said the girl from Moscow, “now come over here.”

As Pizlina leaned back she repositioned herself so that she was leaning closer to Lily than before. Before she could say anything Lily she took her face in her hands, brought their lips together. She pulled back slightly blurred, only a tad taken back. She looked the other girl in the eyes, she knew then that Lily Litvyak meant everything she was doing. The quiet elation she had felt turned into total, utter delight. She kissed her again. Pizlina’s lips were plump, soft. Opening her mouth slightly, Lily probed forward with her tongue, rewarded with Pizlina’s tongue making its way into her own mouth.

Pizlina couldn’t recall how long that kiss lasted, they were lost in the moment, but after some time she pulled away, began to kiss Lily’s neck. The girl obligingly threw her head back, giving her access to the muscled lines of her windpipe. At the same time she undid the top button of her shirt, then stopped. The barracks were empty, everyone was in the officer’s club. With a smile Lily placed her hands on Pizlina’s hips, started to run them over her stomach under her loose top, her fingertips slowly working their way upwards towards her breasts, felt her own nipples staring to harden in anticipation. She kissed her again, seizing her lips with her own, plunging her tongue into her moist depths, then resumed her work on the buttons on her shirt. Before long it was hanging open. Still kissing her deeply, Pizlina pushed the shirt back over her shoulders, unhooking her bra.

Lily’s newly freed breasts were now before her. So struck by them was she that Pizlina simply gazed for a second or two. Lily smiled as she looked on; delighted by the way she was in awe of her body. Finally Pizlina tilted her head, again caressed the side of Lily’s neck with her lips, but this time she worked her way downward. Lily moaned quietly as she started to play her breasts with her tongue. She could tell from the aroma that Lily was wet, that thought made her own juices start to flow as well. She thought about all those fantasies she’d had in her little life before now, all the times that she so desperately wanted to make love to a girl while growing up in a village of drunken louts, she also thought of all the times in the last few weeks when she’d been fingering herself while sitting in her cockpit. And during all that time, an eternity of waiting, she had wanted to have a girl just like Lily in a situation just like this; now she did.

The door at the other end of the barracks burst open, sucking out all the warmth and light as four girls entered, laughing, oblivious as Lily sighed and began to button up her shirt. Pizlina was about to say something but the other just shook her head, speaking into her ear.

“There will be time enough when we get back, darling. Be patient. There will always be time.”

* * *

It rained all the next day as well, but Florentina’s speculation about a night raid finally came true. From time to time, Lily, who would be in charge, held private discussions with various members of their night bombing squad. During the dark hours assorted scouts penetrated the cloud banks over the enemy lines, their reports returning being favorable for the plan Lily had in mind. A risky plan, yet, as with all good things, promising, if skillfully carried out.

“Well, well, Piz’da! How do you feel about a little search and destroy?”

This from Lily as she jumped down from her bunk earlier that morning just as the dawn was breaking. The time for teasing had just begun.

Pizlina, still drowsing, opened one eye. The next instant, remembering what the day would hold in store for her, she threw off the covers, leaped from her bunk in her bare feet. At the same time she hit the little lieutenant a mock blow to her abdomen where, according to ancient Greek history, Theogenes of Thasos, the greatest female boxer with over 1300 titles wins in the course of her 22 year career, would always drop her opponent. Then she sprang back, feet maneuvering, fists feinting.

“I can take on the whole Nazi Luftwaffe,” she retorted. “Want some more?”

“Manda, you mad vag gunk, manda!” Lily was laughing as she recovered, retreating, grimacing. “I don’t want any more ugly scars at this stage of the game.”

Night came, with it a thin ground fog that rose white, misty, good for the purpose in hand. The clocks were pointing towards midnight, the witching hour, when two dozen women, wearing their regulation flight suits, gathered at the usual open space, while from the doors of several hangars mechanics silently rolled out their machines.

Each aviatrix gave a few modest adjustments to her own biplane, just to reassure herself that things were all right. Then came a brief minute or two of silent waiting. There were no spectators. The rest of the women at the aerodrome had orders not to appear.

Out in front stood Commander Popova, attended by Lily and Pizlina, talking in low, indistinct voices. Finally Popova looked at her watch.

“It is time. Do your best, you two. Comrade Litvyak, you will veer to the right as you approach the enemy trenches. You, Comrade Katzev,” she said to Pizlina, “will draw to the left. Your squads will follow. Should you meet opposition before you reach your goals, don’t recoil, don’t retreat. Don’t signal unless necessary but obey ever signal given. Good hunting, girls!”

Each pilot returned to her machine, heading out in front of a short double line of six idling biplanes. Lily smiled up at Florentina, who would be her navigator for the flight. About this time there came a sudden blue flare, a signal rocket, shooting upward from beyond the grove of trees. At the quiet signal the leaders taxied away, finally rising, spiraling up into the arching darkness. Presently all had vanished, motors making their familiar putt-putt-putt noise, the sewing machines, zigzagging up toward an easterly direction.

Once clear of the Soviet front line, the double platoon of planes spread out on either hand, flying swiftly, keeping near the earth. The night mists, growing more murky, promised favorable cover from any forward observers. Without question the few advance sentries that still remained near the ruins of a train station they had bombed a week before were keeping indoors. The Nazis had hoped to use the station as headquarters, doubtless expecting a swift assault; however, the Soviet bombardment turned any advance futile so the vast bulk of the Hermann Hoth’s troops pulled back to a safer location.

But for the forward observers, the distinctive noise of motors of the Night Witches close above in the clouds confused their computations. Why were Die Nachthexen flying so low? Might they not be up to more devilment? Then the motor roared over, passed, then dwindled, but towards the east. What did that mean? Their sergeant was telephoning hurriedly as to what was happening.

“Achtung! Airplane motors close overhead. No bombs.”

Presently the drum and thrum of approaching biplanes became more audible along the eastern portion of the front.

From her plane Lily made private signal to the others to put on all speed. It was not a minute or so after that that the raiders were upon the front trenches. Each woman sat with the release wire of their bombs within easy reach. The handle of the machine gun handy, its deadly muzzle pointed along the top of the fuselage into the dark future.

At the final signal down through the night air dropped bomb after bomb as the line passed over those open trenches in which German troops were massed. As they fell and exploded their flashes could be seen distinctly. Great tongues of flame leaped high along with dirt and debris skyward as if trying to reach the aircraft that had hurled the destruction down upon the cowering shadows. A dull boom told of an explosion, then another and another. The air rocked with the disturbance.

By this time heavy-caliber machine guns began to splatter shots among the darting planes, while further back anti-aircraft artillery rounds were fired into the night and exploded into clouds of smoke and fragmentation that pockmarked, black upon black, the heavens. On they went. In a minute or so the gas-bags would be in sight, the zeppelins; for these observation balloons were the real object of this nocturnal journey.

Suddenly one of the planes in Pizlina’s close formation began to belch fire all around her left wing where it joined the fuselage. Whoever it was in that plane was gliding without power, it seemed, cutting the engine, slowing up and pulling off to the right in the direction of a moderately empty stretch of countryside, fighting now to save herself and her navigator. She was too low for them to jump, there was not time for the biplane to climb to a sufficient altitude to permit a chute to open. Slowly the little wooden craft lost speed, began to settle into a glide that looked like it might come to a reasonably safe crash-landing. But Pizlina could see that the flames were spreading furiously all over the left side of the ship. Right before it touched down the left wing came off. The Polikarpov cartwheeled, a great shower of flame, smoke and sparks appeared just ahead of the point where the bomber disappeared.

“Onward!” came the signal from Lily’s plane, running a gauntlet of tracers and cannon fire, steering to the left, rising higher from the forty to fifty foot level they had so far kept to. The squadron made for the rear line. Here rose a shadowy line of oval bags, so shaped as to qualify them for the term “zeppelin,” though far less regal or large than their commercial brethren. In daytime their elevation enabled them to see over a great expanse of that level, war-ruined countryside.

There were open gondolas below each, but here, too, the Nazis were at a decided disadvantage. Evidently no raid was anticipated, for there they swung, hardly half-manned except by the few drowsing guards at night watch. In and out among them shot the planes, their machines belching their curtain of steel, with the Nazis apparently too dazed to make much resistance or lower their zeppelins to the ground.

Using explosive bullets that flared at the moment of contact soon the bags of gas ignited, one after another. As a burst of flame enveloped the last zeppelin, Lily was already mounting higher when she saw Pizlina’s plane go corkscrewing earthward with one of her wings shattered.

“What ought we do?” Lily called into her microphone that connected her to her navigator.

“What do you mean?” Florentina asked, peering over the side of the cockpit into the dark.

“We need to put down, we need to go find them.”

“I don’t see – wait, there is something burning down there. Do you think you can put us down in the dark?”

“It’s a still night, foggy, terrible for anything besides not being seen. Of course.”

Taking her bearings as best she could, Lily swung the plane into a wide arc, heading back westward, keeping at an elevation of six or seven thousand feet. The moon came out behind a cloud for the first time, she could see a little road, even partway across the field they were heading for. Briskly yet carefully working her machine, the girl from Moscow descended until she was able to flatted out over the darker background shadows of war-torn earth.

Circling round at an even lower level, the ground came up fast through the mist. Gently, cautiously, she felt her way downward, easing up in speed as best she could. The wheels jolted over rough but level terrain, until the plane came to rest along a dirt road in a small field. Far to the east the sky glowed red. Quickly she adjusted the controls, killed the engine and, revolver in hand, boldly leaped out.

Except for the lurid flashings of the distant artillery it was dark. Leaving Florentina to guard the plane Lily raced across the field toward the burning wreckage. A heavy, yet trembling groan of metal, bending in its own immolation, startled her. It was a noise of nothing more but mechanical pain. It slowed her course. Stumbling forward, she almost tripped over a body laying prone across her path. The dying plane gave another horrid metallic groan.

Dropping to her knee she gently turned the body over. It glimmered in the moonlight — a face at once both familiar and horrible. A face she might have called beloved one day, yet so ghastly now in its disfigurement that Lily shivered, drew back, then bent forward once more, hating herself for such a reaction.

“Pizlina!” she asked. “Is this you?”

The one eye left opened faintly, the gashed lips made a noise that was less than a mutter. Lily shuddered as she saw that the face, indeed the whole head, were so torn by the impact that had thrown her from her plane that it was only a question of minutes, if not seconds, before she would be dead.

As it was, Pizlina’s one eye recognized Lily. She tried to speak, but faintly. Lily reached down and took the girl’s hand. She sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in her own, looking intently into the face. She never uttered a sound all the time, except once and it was only a sniffle.

Finally she put the hand down. She reached over, straightened the points of the pilot’s shirt collar, then she rearranged the tattered edges of the uniform around the gaping wound. Then she got up, walked away down the road in the moonlight, back to Florentina.

There was a little copse of trees at the end of the field, but long ago the ruthless shelling had reduced most of the timber to scraggy, scarred skeletons. Still they were dangerous for planes when trying to land — or to rise again. The fog was rolling in once more. Soon all of this would disappear, as if it belonged to another world. A shaman’s journey into a fever-induced nightmare.

A little while later the war machine was flying through the fog, quicksilver in the night, gradually lowering its altitude, advancing across the lines of the enemy, revealed only to the pilot and navigator by the flashes from the barrage of distant artillery in the rear.

Almost in an instant they were over the front platoons, spectral, flying as close as they dared in order to escape the bombardment that was now passing overhead, falling here and there over the front trench line of the Germans.

Occasional a few shots were fired upward by soldiers who turned far too slowly at the sound of the noise, a phantom in the clouds; however, the ghost machine vanished almost at once, and the quicker of the men, these lumps of clay that sat in the dark, would urge their fellows to holster up their guns, to keep quiet, keep respectful of the night, for all around them, and high overhead, it felt as if the dead were too near. [cont.]

FOOTNOTES

[1] “Nyt suunsa ja syö minun pillua.” I understand using untranslated foreign words in stories is irritating. I spent some time trying to find out how to say “lick my pussy” in Finnish, or Norwegian, or Sami, one of those North-polar languages the shamans used to speak to the spirit-world with. I finally found this phrase, which Google translates into “Now shut up and eat my pussy.” I guess my point was that oral sex, much like mechanical engines, requires a whole different language most people never bother to learn and sounds alien when spoken aloud. Still, there is a reason why everyone loves Oksana’s skilled fingers, regardless of how it sounds when written down on the page.

Other foreign phrases used:
“Budʹte vnimatelʹny” / “Watch out” in Russian.
“Ee-dee nah hooy” / “Fuck you” (spelled phonetically) in Russian.