A Forest of Eagles James Follett © 2008
Sample from Part 1, chapter 1
The train began to pick-up speed and the track became smoother. The window strap gave no sign of budging. Karl remained slumped, feigning sleep –– praying for the window to drop while running a mental frame by frame movie rehearsal of exactly what he had to do when, and if, it did drop. That was beginning to look less likely with each passing second. It was only a matter of moments now before the train returned to correct side of the tracks and his opportunity would be lost. His brain worked feverishly, using his skills and training as a torpedo officer to calculate his mass, the train’s velocity, the likely trajectory his body would follow, and the angle and impact of his body on the embankment. At least the grass looked long and there was a fringe of dead bracken where the embankment rose out of the bare branched woodland. His two-sizes too large navy blue greatcoat that the Red Cross had supplied worried him but there was nothing around the window that it would be likely to snag on and maybe the thick material would afford some protection. He stirred in his sleep, gathering the voluminous garment more tightly around him.
The locomotive reached the temporary track switch that diverted it back onto the up line, sending shock waves the length of the train.
The window fell.
Karl’s nerves were so keyed up that his hands were reaching for the window frame even before the window had completed its drop.
His mental rehearsals paid off. In one smooth, flowing movement, he grabbed the frame at an angle, bunched his knees up to his chin, and straightened his body like a coiled spring bursting out of its housing.
The greatcoat caught on something but it didn’t impede his departure from the train.
He found himself flying. Flying for longer than he had expected and the steep embankment was racing up to greet him much faster than he had calculated. Other calculations let him down, too, because the human body isn’t a torpedo and doesn’t behave like a torpedo in flight. He had estimated that he would bounce twice after hitting the ground –- in fact he bounced four times. The first impact drove the breath from his body like a steamroller dropped on a barrage balloon. It seemed brutally unfair that ground covered in long grass should be so hard but he had not taken the effect of late, hard frosts of northern England into account. The final bounce that brought his body nearly to a stop was more an untidy cartwheel, his arms and legs flailing like a rag doll fired from a cannon. All motion ceased when he generously permitted the frozen ground to deliver a haymaker to his jaw.
Pain filled every corner of his consciousness and invaded every muscle and bone in his body. It was the sort of all-pervading pain that by its intensity announced its intention of providing him with life-long companionship. The blue sky looked inviting from whence friendly chariots of fire would be sure to swoop down to end his torment and bear him away.
No friendly chariots arrived, but unfriendly bullets did, and quite quickly, too: the loud crack of .303 rounds zinging above his head and smacking into the nearby trees. There were harsh, metallic screams as the locomotive’s wheels locked and skated on the track. Men were shouting. Another crack of rifle fire. The sudden eruption of grass and soil not four metres from where Karl lay spiked his bloodstream with adrenaline, doubling the power of his punished muscles. He staggered to his feet and half ran, half fell down the rest of the bank towards the doubtful safety of the winter-stripped trees. He stumbled and fell but the pain, particularly in his right ankle, was nothing compared with the demon of terror snapping dementedly at his heels. His greatcoat caught on brambles that slashed at his face but he pushed blindly on, heedless of the wracking agony. Once in the trees he stopped to briefly to take stock, doubled over to get his wind back, his lungs clawing down frozen air, making clouds of telltale vapour. He straightened and tested his arms and legs. That he was able stand was a good omen. His jaw throbbed where it had helped break his fall, his hands were grazed, his right ankle an agony but it could take his weight, and he could move his arms –– all meagre indications that he hadn’t broken or dislocated anything.
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