Pull the cord, Colonel!

“Excuse me hooman, why do you look so…grizzled?”

August 15th, 1917

Diary of Sir Ernest Shackleton

We are on the ground now after having had a few minor difficulties with Her Majesty’s Airship №21, Zeta, also known as “The Flying Tubesteak.” Things went sideways right off. When our new commander showed up to take charge, one Major Horace Browntrout, it seems he and our famous second-in-command Theodore Roosevelt knew each other and had some kind of feud in the past. They appeared shocked and dismayed to see one another. After Browntrout unsealed and read our orders, he explained that our unit was to be called Browntrout’s Bicycle Brigade henceforward. Hearing this, Roosevelt chuffed, stamped his foot, rolled his eyes and muttered oaths under his breath but said nothing more.

After the orders were read, we all presented the Major with the sympathy cards we’d been instructed to make, and of all the cards I do believe he liked mine the best. Something about the way the mitten hands exuded a kind of stoic resolve I think he said. In any case, he gathered in our sympathy cards in a good humor and there were awkward but polite hugs all around. …Manly hugs, to be sure.

Whilst this manly bonding was commencing, we said three cheers for Major Browntrout and as we did so a loud “hooting” or quacking commenced behind us. It was then we noticed the twenty Saysquacks who joined us on the airship as part of the unit. “I’ll drink to that,” said the airship captain, who happened to be a bit of a tippler (I know because we shared a bottle in the back of the carriage once we were underway). As the captain finally managed to release the Flying Tubesteak from her moorings, he brought out a flask from his double-breasted coat pocket and took a stiff gulp. With that, we rose into the night air, silent as a ghost and steady as a clock…one that keeps time anyway.

Airship Zeta (The Flying Tubesteak) hovering menacingly over the river Thames during a test float

August 15th, 1917

Diary of Captain Theodore Roosevelt

Unbelievable! I knew he was in the war somewhere, but I did not know he was in my war. That dirty rascal! It’s bad enough that there will be no Roosevelt’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Bunch, but BROWNTROUT’s BICYCLE BRIGADE?! We’re going to fight unicorns on bicycles with Saysquacks? What flapdoodle is this? Of course, I must do my duty and follow orders — even if they come from a nincompoop — but I will do everything to use my power as second in command to influence those orders for the betterment of all.

“Men, if you want to fly like a Tubesteak, you must dress like a Tubesteak!”

So far, this mission has been a complete boondoggle. We were on the Flying Tubesteak nearing our target at an altitude of some 5,000 feet when Shackleton decided to light his pipe whilst having a “nip” with the airship captain. The skipper told him to put his pipe away, as our gas bags were filled with extremely flammable hydrogen, but before anyone could say “How do?” Shackleton had already lit a match.

Within seconds we were riding a fireball that would make the devil himself cry for mercy. Browntrout was throwing funny little backpacks at everyone and explaining their use. I hollered at him that now was not the time to play quartermaster and distribute new equipment. We needed to get this wreck to the ground before we were all dead. He shouted at me to put on the backpack in as loud a voice as I ever heard him use. When I had it on, he smiled and said, “Don’t forget to pull the cord.” Then that fiend shoved me off the Tubesteak and I was plunging headlong through the darkness to my certain death.

Even at night I could see the dark hues of the pine forests far below whizzing up towards me. I had no fear, but was full of indignation and resolved that my ghost should haunt Browntrout for the rest of his earthly days for doing such a deed to me.

Above the din of the burning airship and our exploding ammunition, I heard what sounded like maniacal laughter or demented caterwauling. I looked heavenward and saw Browntrout careening toward me. He was shouting something ridiculous that I could barely make out, something like, “Lovely to see you, Colonel!” Before I could say, “It’s ‘Captain’ now and good day to you!” Browntrout dove straight into me and clasped me in a bear hug with his entire body. He then shouted an inch from my left ear, “THE CORD! PULL THE CORD, COLONEL!”

Tubesteak A (left) and Tubesteak B (right) in their secret construction hangar

Then I remembered what he said. I saw a thin strip of light-colored cloth flapping loose at the front of the pack. I reached and took hold of it and gave it a firm tug. Suddenly I wasn’t falling anymore! I was dangling by netting or strings that were attached to my backpack. Genius! By George, it was as though I was on a cloud, for now I was floating rather than falling! I looked up around me and saw the others’ ghostly visages outlined by the burning embers of the airship as they too floated to the earth on whatever it was that was inside these lifesaving packs. The Tubesteak, however, was no more.

“I say, which string do I pull?”

“It’s rather like dancing, isn’t it?” said Browntrout. He then apologized for clinging to me in midair, but explained that there were not enough of the life-saving devices for every man, so he had to jump after me and hope he could catch up. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I know how badly you want to give me the old shove away. I just can’t let you go, old thing. It’s called a ‘para-chute,’ this contraption, by the by. And without it, I assure you we’d all be dead.”

An artist’s rendition of a flaming Tubesteak crashing into Austria

Those were the only words Browntrout uttered to me then — or likely in his whole life — that made any sense.

With that, our feet finally touched earth, and I did give him the shove away…but not without shaking his hand first and thanking him for remembering to bring along these things.

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Care to read a hilarious account of Theodore Roosevelt hunting Bigfoot? Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Squabble-Titans-Recollections-Roosevelt-Rainforest/dp/B097X4R4LN

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Dash Fire Diaries

Envisioning a past that never was. Step through a surreal portal where objective truth, imagined history and satirical fiction coexist.