Login   Sign Up 


Noise in the Sky

by JohnK 

Posted: 29 March 2004
Word Count: 1045
Summary: Another story from a cantankerous old man... Is Gustave a character to expand upon?

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

The bang was shocking in its intensity. Deafening and mind-numbing. I thought at first all the cars in London had hit each other at speed. Windows shattered, people covered their ears instinctively and the reverberations actually shook the pavement under our feet. I was with the two beautiful twins, Selina and Katrina, and they both turned to me wide-eyed, their hands still protecting their ears.

I shrugged to show I too did not know what on earth had happened. Then I looked up, and saw what was making all the noise. A gigantic airship had just broken the sound barrier at an extremely low altitude. As it passed over Bond Street, where Selena, Katrina and I were at the time, it looked for all the world like the opening scene in Star Wars, with a massive starship rumbling ominously overhead. Even at its extremely high speed the vehicle was so large that it took several seconds to pass over us. It had few distinguishing features.

As the noise level diminished, Selena shouted, “What was that?” I am a scientist, and I did not like to admit to total ignorance about something I had had just seen with my own eyes.

“Well, whatever it is, it has just passed from below Mach speed to well above it.” This comment didn't just impress the twins. Several shocked members of the public were clearly reassured that here was someone who had some idea about what had just happened. Others though had been so deafened by the experience they missed my words of wisdom.

A chirping sound followed close on the dying rumbles, and I knew exactly what that was. A message from the BBC News Department on my mobile, to make my way to a studio at once, to comment on what had just occurred. My scientific credentials, and my willingness to comment, made me their first choice. Accompanied by the twins, I made my way to the nearest studio, the other side of Oxford Street.

In the foyer the doorman recognised me, naturally, and asked, “What was it, Gustave? What on earth was it?”

I smiled reassuringly at him, and said, “Watch the broadcast, and find out.”

The two girls came into the studio with me, and I was hastily prepared for my few seconds on camera. I had done this sort of thing before, so I considered what I could and should say while make-up did their thing on me. Back in the studio I was shown to my seat, the producer gave a brief count down, and we were on.

The newsreader on duty faced the camera, and in a suitably grave voice, said, “Here is a news flash. Just fifteen minutes ago, the whole of the south coast, including London, suffered the effects of an extremely large, low-flying object. An estimated 20,000 windows have been shattered in London alone. At least 6,000 people have been completely deafened by the noise.

“We have in the studio Professor Gustave Bates, who has kindly consented to explain the phenomenon to us. Professor?”

I looked confidently into the camera. “Fortunately I experienced the passage of this low-flying object at first hand. I can confidently explain it, I am sure. However, my explanation may be somewhat unbelievable. I would ask you to suspend your disbelief for a while. It is my considered judgement that what so many of us have just seen was the Queen Elizabeth II.” I paused, for effect, and for this to sink in.
“I say this because I saw the twin screws of that great ship as it passed overhead. They were blurred by their excessively high speed, but I recognised them. Very few people have been told that the motive power of the ship is supplemented by a nuclear engine. I am convinced that for reasons as yet unknown, the nuclear engine has gone critical. Super-heated steam has stressed the turbines to make the ship surf its way towards the English Channel, and take off somewhere south of Devon. By the time it flew over London it had definitely reached Mach One, and the noise of something so big, at that speed, was very loud indeed. Weight for age, it is now definitely the fastest thing built by man.”

I became more serious. “If this broadcast is reaching anyone aboard the flying ship, they must contact the captain or any of the crew, and insist that they wait until they are over California until they pull on the emergency handbrake. My calculations give them a good chance of a safe splashdown in the Atlantic. They need to stop those screws spinning as they pass over Los Angeles or close by.”

I pressed the familiar button on my desk to indicate to the newsreader that I had finished. He took over smoothly. “It is a relief to know what has happened, and we all wish the passengers and crew the best of luck when, and if, they splashdown, as Professor Gustave puts it. We will now return you to normal programming, and will come back on air as soon as more information is available.”

With the tissues provided, I wiped off the make-up, and went over to Selina and Katrina. “How did I go?”

“Disgusting!” Selina said to my surprise, getting to her feet.

“Awful!” agreed Katrina. “We didn't follow you exactly, but we heard you say 'twin screws', and neither of us expected you to mention that on national television. We are leaving, and we never want to see you again.”

The reaction on board the Queen Elizabeth II was far more satisfactory. They took my advice, and one passenger, a Mrs Davenport, relayed my instructions to the captain. In a most spectacular way, the ship landed safely, causing tidal waves for hundreds of miles in all directions. No-one was killed, thank goodness, but a few were slightly bruised. There were no plans to make this a regular feature of every cruise. I chose to bring them down into the Atlantic to provide the minimum disruption to their trip, and they reached Southampton safely, a little behind schedule.

I had to cope with the familiar crowd of reporters as I took my very shaggy dog for a walk that evening.

* * * *

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Nell at 06:42 on 30 March 2004  Report this post
John! I've so missed your stories lately, but this was well worth waiting for. How do you think them up? Longer than your usual short stories too, so an extra treat. I'll be smiling now for the rest of the day - have you ever considered submitting your shorts to be used as therapy? They really give one a lift. Except for one tiny typo (I think) - see below - I can't fault this, great stuff, I loved it. You have an unusual - if not unique - mind, and a rare talent. And if you'd set the comments to Go on! I can take it! my comment would have been exactly the same. Classic JohnK. More please.

“I say this because I saw, blurred by of their excessively high speed,...

Best, Nell.


Yes, more Gustave please!

JohnK at 07:43 on 30 March 2004  Report this post
Thanks Nell,
I had a lot going on this one, so your comments are doubly welcome. Thank you very much.

I'm about to fix that misplaced adjectival phrase, thanks for that, too.

All the best, JohnK.

Account Closed at 08:54 on 30 March 2004  Report this post
Oh, yes, I agree with Nell - a real bijou of a story. I think you should do a series of Gustave stories - he's a great character and soooo knowledgeable. I love the way he instills confidence in everyone around him and how he popped over the road to the BBC studios. I laughed out loud at the end.

Well done, John.
More please

word`s worth at 09:19 on 30 March 2004  Report this post

I enjoyed reading this very much and found the idea of Queen Elizabeth II flying over London and towards the Atlantic very amusing. As soon as you said 'twin screws' I thought uh-oh...but then I thought...nah, they wouldn't misunderstand it - but sure enough they did, that brought a smile to my face.

I don't think I've read any of your work before - I'll make a point to do so from now on if this is anything to go by.

Thanks for posting.



Oh, and as for expanding on Gustave - yes, I think he makes a very amusing and intriguing character - brains and a ladies man...most definitely.

bjlangley at 11:28 on 30 March 2004  Report this post

Gustave is definitely a character that you can do more with, and in this tale I thought he showed plenty to build on. He's obviously a smart chap, and I think this line summed him up perfectly:

My scientific credentials, and my willingness to comment, made me their first choice.

Also, I'm sure there's a story in there with the 'very shaggy dog'.

All the best,


SamMorris at 17:06 on 30 March 2004  Report this post

I was kind of relieved to see this on the archive. Your work is always something I make sure I read, and something I would miss if it was no longer there. This one did not disappoint, how you have made such an eccentric idea stick as a short story is a wonderful mystery. I would certainly like to hear more from Gustave, and his very shaggy dog perchance?

All the best


JohnK at 23:52 on 30 March 2004  Report this post
Thanks Elspeth, Nahed, Ben and Sam -

I am so relieved I have not lst the touch to amuse. Your responses are very, very welcome.

THANKS ELSPETH - I'm glad you liked Gustave, and that so far he does not remind anyone of someone else, particualrly someone in fiction. This feedback is very useful indeed.

THANKS NADHED - Glad you anticipated the twin screws - I intended it to create that effect. I have also seen many of your useful comments elsewhere, and I appreciate the work you are doing.

THANKS BEN - Encouraging and helpful as always.

THaNKS SAM - I will keep that dog in. Your comments are appeciated.


roger at 12:04 on 01 April 2004  Report this post
Wonderfully funny, John, and you have that knack of sucking the reader in, however ridiculous the story...the rare mark of a real write. Lovely stuff.

JohnK at 01:38 on 02 April 2004  Report this post
Thanks, Roger -

That's the kind of comment I like!



To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .


Other work by JohnK:      ...view all work by JohnK