Layne Maheu works as a carpenter in Seattle, and spends some summers as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. “I like working with my hands in the day,” he says, “it frees up my mind to tell stories.”
Layne’s first novel, Song of the Crow, was a Booksense Pick (now IndieBound) and received a starred review from The Library Journal. Forthcoming soon from Chatwin is his second novel, Man of the World.
Following is a sample chapter from Man of the World.
First Flight Over the Sea
In the sky, he felt he’d been lied to. Not by his observers, or the fates, but by his own eyes. The visibility was ten miles when he took off from Calais. Now a dull, oppressive mist hid not only Dover, but all of England. Usually the winds blew away this infernal fog. But this same wind had made the flying impossible up till now. Latham had a compass on a chain in his pocket but believed only in the thrum of the engine and climbed, shaking and tilting until leveling off at around 200 feet. He saw the automobiles parked behind the line of spectators and thought he recognized a few of them. But not the one driven by Antoinette. He knew she wouldn’t be there and berated himself for looking.
Instead he saw the jetty and the estuary and the small fleet of pleasure boats gathered to send him off. All of it came into view through the sea-mist like a world of miniatures and he was once again a minor dispossessed god where the world below was something he could sway for his own amusement. He overtook the French navy’s torpedo boat, steaming the wrong way—back to France. Perhaps he had been too long in taking off, and the captain had turned back around. No matter. Latham kept sailing out over the sea. Fair waves, small to none. As dull as the sky. The oceanic calm as still as a tub’s water. Good signs all. Behind him now the navy ship, the Harpon, had turned back around to follow him to England.
The pitch of the engine dropped. The propeller slowed.
Seven minutes beyond the coast, he began to lose altitude. The two paddles of the propeller came to a halt, and Latham gave the fuel line a jolt, smacking it with his open palm. He climbed out over the wings as best as he could to give the propeller a turn, careful not to grab onto the iron-hot engine. Holding onto the blade, he could not find leverage enough to turn it with any force. Not even slowly, as if moving the hands of a clock. He hung onto the aeroplane and heard the damp cool atmosphere whistle by, and that barely perceptible hiss of the sea, its vast steaming fields tilting as they drew near. Latham took his seat again and found himself in the precarious situation of having to perform his now famous trademark, the volplane, but this time with no one there to witness it on the open sea. He took in the ocean below with a peculiar vividness, as if he couldn’t believe this was happening, yet knowing all along it would. Instead of a crowd pressing in all around him and his aeroplane in a field beside a British castle, he saw the cold blue-gray of the sea, the patterns of foam on the waves, the different hues, the hidden depths. He braced himself for the swim with a calm, waiting detachment. Long before nearing water, he felt the air grow cold with the sharp briny scent. He sensed both the unknown and the inevitable as the aeroplane belly-flopped into it, skirting across the troughs. Thrown violently, but for only a second, he perceived no injury. On the contrary. What a gentle, beautiful landing! Seawater hissed and steamed off the scalding engine, and the Antoinette herself came to rest perfectly, like a handkerchief draped upon the sea, becoming more and more heavy, until the plane no longer moved from the momentum of its fall. The aeroplane’s tail rose slightly because of the weight of the engine upfront, which he hoped would not fill completely with seawater and pull him under.
Until then, though, he bobbed.
Like a cork.
Upon the great gray sea.
Norman born, in Anglo garb.
And the clothes still dry.
Except for a sock.
And even that not wet, really.
Adrift in the middle of no-man’s land.
Or no man’s water.
Gentle trough of a wave.
Welcome and kind.
On the calmest of ocean swells.
* * *
Usually in the middle of the sea like this, you were protected by the rails of a boat, at least a story or two up. But now the placid ocean was nearly at eye’s level. Beyond the horizon, as far as he could see, were the stacks and sails of ships, as they’d be on any given day, as if he’d plunged into the middle of a watery world that had no notion of his fall. He heard only the calm against his hat and hair, and the carbonated hissing of the sea, atop waves nowhere near to breaking but softly lapping against the wooded panels and fabric of his doomed aeroship.
The reflection of a gull rode low over the waters, and a single gray seabird feather floated on the surface, the down of its quill stirred by the breeze. He searched his pockets. Excellent. His matches and tobacco were still dry. From far off the grey outline and black smoke of the navy ship could be seen, turned and steaming his way.