and someone has even tried to kill him. Has he discovered the conspiracy of the century, or is it just an old man's hoax?
After tracing Ariel Angelucci through Ireland, Rome, Como, and Munich, Vigilia finally finds him in Switzerland. Angelucci reveals that he did indeed fly with Lindbergh. Not sure if he believes the story, John takes the man for a flight in a biplane to discover if he really knows how to fly. The old man wants to perform some
"stunts," but suffers a heart attack at the top of a loop,
jamming the controls and causing the aircraft to crash.
When John Vigilia regains consciousness in a private clinic on an island in Lago Maggiore, he realizes he is being kept prisoner because of what he knows.
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About the Author
United States and abroad, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has also been a champion aerobatic pilot. Poleskie and his wife live in Ithaca, New York.
Visit him online at www.stephenpoleskie.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Stephen Poleskie
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Stephen Poleskie
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI come To answer thy best pleasure: be 't to fly, To swim, to dive into the re, to ride On the curl'd clouds....
Shakespeare The Tempest I. ii.
The boy's hands held a death grip on the hot, rusty iron ladder. The world below him seemed to be rolling off its normal course, spinning, things were beginning to blur. Frozen with fear, he found himself unable to go on. The blood pounding in his head had turned the green pine-covered hills around him to pink, and yellow, and red. Seen through the afternoon haze they should appear blue or gray. Aerial Perspective was what Leonardo da Vinci called this visual phenomenon in his notebooks. The boy had once thought that he wanted to be an artist, a painter; but there was no art in his town, so he had painfully worked his way through Leonardo's text, hoping to teach himself all that he needed to know. It was in these notebooks that he had found his design for a flying machine.
A cold blast of wind rattled the water tower. Sweat coated the boy's palms. On the ground it was a fine summer day, with only the occasional strong breeze. A sudden gust tore at the knapsack he had strapped to his back containing the fabric for the flying device, threatening to lift it free. The pack's straps dug into the boy's shoulders, the bundle of thin bamboo poles tied onto the bottom swaying to and fro. He hesitated. If he would be an aviator he must learn not to fear the wind.
Others have done it long before I was even born; so why not me?
Time seemed excessive, still, raw and sterile, of no use. Risking a furtive glance, the boy saw that he was higher than the hill where he lived, and where he had first tested his device from the roof of his father's garage. Grinning into the cool sky, he began breathing normally again. He had six rungs remaining before he reached the top. There was another puff, but not as strong as before; could the wind be dying down? Glancing up he wondered what came after the ladder reached the rim. Were there handholds continuing onto the roof of the tank? He had never been up here before. Fighting his fear, the boy forced himself to climb another rung. His movement, or was it the gusting wind, caused this ancient iron structure to vibrate, its motion giving off a hum, demoniac yet singsong.
Over I'll go and see what happens.
What curiosity had drawn the boy to the water tower? What kind of degenerate, unstable elevator had whisked him to the top floor of the building, opening opposite the dim stairway to the roof, leaving him receptive to this abnormal temptation, the highest point on the highest structure for miles around? You could never get lost in this small mill town; wherever you were, just look up and there was the water tower.
The colorless, and mildewed, door to the roof had opened on a beautiful and fantastic vista, unvisited for many months, perhaps even years. This neglected roof exposed a seam in the boy's ambition, the sense of space, of being above it all, in touch with his hero, Leonard, in his tower, writing in reverse in his notebooks, penning ink drawings for parachutes and flying machines. The rough, mottled doorway to the stairwell was gone, melded into the wall; there could be nowhere to go except up.
Over I'll go and see what happens.
Looking around the boy's breathing slowed; the nearby hills had gone back to being medium blue, the ones farther beyond to a paler gray, just as Leonardo wrote they would. With apostolic zeal the boy's purpose returned, if not his courage. Slowly, he climbed another rung, and another, and then, making a rapid spurt, the final three. Pulling himself up against the weight of his burden, the boy gazed at the pitched top of the water tower, uninhabited except for six startled gray pigeons that took flight at his emergence. With jealousy he watched them leave; what a glorious gift they enjoyed he told himself.
If only flying were so simple for me.
Bathed in luminous midday sunlight, the slanted landscape below beckoned, but the boy still clung fast, immobile. He was unwilling to trade his grip on the last rung of the ladder to reach for the first of the handholds. Traffic went on in the streets below, a few people passing by. The small town looked unchanged, much like the old engravings that he remembered seeing in a yellowed book in the library. Were these pictures early aerial views? Perhaps the artist had gone up in a balloon, or had he climbed this very water tower?
The sky around the boy had become crowded with various species of birds, circling on an endless track, sounding his intrusion into their private space. Down below him people were walking around, grounded in their own realities. Few had an immediate need to contemplate death. If they chanced to look up their assumption would be that the figure on the tower belonged there; he was working, it was the time of the day for work; they were working, or on their way to work, or going to look for work. People did not necessarily think much about death until confronted with it, ignoring the irrational need to turn it into something of value. The boy knew that he was born to die, but first he wished to fly, and if this choice might hasten his death, then so it would be.
Over I'll go and see what happens.
His flying machine was a simply made affair of nylon fabric and bamboo sticks, lashed together with cord. The boy had assembled his device many times, but the pitch of the roof, and the wind, were making it dif cult today. An audience had gathered in the streets, and a few people were waiting at the base of the water tower, with lifted heads and clucking among themselves. No one was brave enough, or foolish enough to climb the rusting ladder to try to get him down, but someone had called the police and the re department. The boy could hear the wailing of the sirens as these public servants raced each other through the labyrinth below.
His fragile glider assembled, the boy slowly drew himself upright. Holding his wings open wide, he imagined himself a living crucifix taking possession of the sky. People in the crowd were shouting now; he could hear their voices wafted up from below. A fireman was speaking something through a bullhorn, perhaps addressing him. All the sounds were unclear, only background to the many thoughts that were beating in his head, and the wind rushing in his ears.
A sudden, strong gust knocked the boy down; for an instant the would-be aviator disappeared from the view of the crowd below. No one could see him grasping fearfully at the handholds. And then, in a ash, he popped up again, his courage returned. Had he lost all reason? Walking mincingly along the very edge of the water tower, he waved to his watchers, but that was not enough.
If only flying were so simple for me.
The boy could hear them clearly now; even if his audience did not dare express its pleasure it would never forgive him for stopping here. Their shouts compelled him, demanding everything. He gave it to them.
Over I'll go and see what happens.
Stepping from the edge of the tower, the boy felt the cold rush of wind on his face and the downward pull of gravity; a gentle jolt lifted his body as the homemade wings caught the air.
I am free; I am flying.
But below him all the sadness of the world still waited.
Chapter TwoWe are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. Shakespeare The Tempest IV. i.
Nine minutes later than he had anticipated the rocky, ragged shore of Lake Erie slowly unraveled itself from the blinding glare of the summer's day. The head winds were stronger than had been forecast. The pilot glanced down, checked his aircraft's fuel gauge, and then set his gaze back outside, over the cowl. Seen through the beating arc of the propeller, the water and sky appeared to meld into one band of faded blue. Since this ancient open-cockpit biplane was not equipped with an artificial horizon, a modern day instrument useful for keeping the wings level on low visibility days like today, the haze was making flying difficult. Peering out through the network of struts and wires, the pilot concentrated on keeping his Bücker Jungmann level and on course. This lack of forward visibility presented yet another significant problem. Air mass thunderstorms were fond of forming on hot June days like today, and it was possible to fly right into one without knowing it-until it was too late to turn back.
He hadn't intended to come by this way at all, but was behind schedule, having gotten a late start from his home airport due to passing thundershowers there. His biplane was not equipped to fly at night, so the pilot needed to be in Wisconsin by this evening. The aerobatic competition he was scheduled to fly in began on the day after tomorrow, and he wanted to be there early, in time for the practice day.
A quick mental calculation led the pilot to believe that he had enough fuel to fly diagonally across the lake, which had not been his original plan, and then to fly over a thin strip of Canada. To go around this vast body of water, which for safety reasons he would have preferred to do, would entail the delay of an additional fuel stop. Checking his watch and fuel gauge one more time, the pilot made his decision. Banking slightly to change direction, he pointed the nose of the Bücker toward the middle of the lake.
The weather was hot, and dizzy with bright sunlight. Despite the altitude, and a stiff, steady breeze from the northwest, the direction the biplane was heading, the pilot could smell the freshness of the water. The great lake in front of him reflected the sun, its color a slant blending of blue and green. Directly below him the Erie was like glass. In other spots the surface had taken on a polished quality that at present made it appear almost solid.
Lettered on the side of the fuselage of the multicolored biplane, just below the curve of the rear cockpit, the one used when flying solo, was the pilot's name, John Vigilia, the words "The Stunt Flying Professor" and the name of his hometown, Elmira, New York U.S.A. John had the sign painter add on the U.S.A, as he secretly dreamed of competing in the Olympics of flying, the World Aerobatic Competition on the United States Team. Considering that his aircraft was not one of the latest competition models but only a rebuilt 1938 Bücker Jungmann, an airplane previously used by the Germans to train Luftwaffe pilots for World War Two, and that John Vigilia only competed in the Sportsman category, three categories below the Unlimited level of international competition, fulfilling his world team ambition was doubtful. John was, however, by trade a creative person to whom fantasies came easily.
The title The Stunt Flying Professor was kind of a joke, a sobriquet bestowed on him once by an air show announcer that had stuck. John was indeed a stunt flyer and a college professor. At the age of thirty-three he had obtained a position at a small college teaching writing, becoming a run-of-the-mill pedagogue, expounding in turgid, ponderous language ideas that were by then somewhat less than original. To achieve the status of a third-rate professor, and the steady salary that came with it, John Vigilia had given up some nine years of promise spent in Manhattan, where he had worked construction during the day and written at night. During that time he had completed an unpublished novel, and thirty-three short stories, six of which had been published in obscure journals that had since disappeared. John had also suffered sever depression and a broken marriage, and done any number of stupid, and sometimes illegal, things just to get by.
Without any warning the aircraft's engine began to vibrate. John reached forward, adjusted the engine's mixture control and the Lycoming O-320 smoothed out again, producing the regular sound of 2400 beats per minute. Engines always seemed to run rough over water, and he was definitely over water, having lost sight of the shore some time ago. Sliding his hand down between him and the side of the fuselage, John Vigilia patted the boat cushion his behind rested on, the only thing he had if the engine should fail and the airplane went down in Lake Erie. The Jungmann would sink in a few minutes, hardly enough time for John to unbuckle from all his safety harnesses and get out. And no one would know where to look for him, as John had not led a flight plan. At that moment John wished he were back in Elmira in the old gazebo.
The college John Vigilia taught at had a gazebo in the middle of its campus that supposedly had been used by Mark Twain when he had lived in the town. John regularly visited this weathered structure, and sat there for hours, perhaps hoping for some inspirational message from Twain's ghost. Afterwards John would retire to his office and stare at a blank computer screen, unable to make letters turn into words, words into stories. Posing no direct threat to his lackluster colleagues, after six years Professor Vigilia was granted tenure. He told himself that every man should be content with what he was-but John could not deny that he was not.
Despite having a loving wife, a fine Victorian carriage house located in the good neighborhood professors were supposed to live in, two cars, a motorcycle, and his airplane, John felt that he was, neither cynically nor hopefully, still wanting for something else. It wasn't friendship. His acquaintances were many, but they were unintegrated. The people who were John's friends were not friends of his partner, nor were they friends of one another. The college was a place filled with people escaping the prison sentence of their own personal history, a history that had lost its promise and destiny.
The realization that his own promise had been false was slowly dawning on John with the passage of his years. He was living out his own prison sentence; that of bearing witness to the steady attenuation of his sense of limitless possibility. He was not the same John Vigilia who, as a youth of thirteen, had wildly leapt from the top of the town water tower wearing homemade wings.
John Vigilia's soul had developed a kind of amnesia, a loneliness. John had lost hold of what he knew, and if he could not hold on to what he knew he could not take in any new experiences, and without new experiences there was no change. He realized that in the past his strength had lain in refusal, in his ability not to give up. But now his life had become an endless remembering of what had been.
Abandoned by his muses, John had returned to the few heroes of his youth: Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and did what he had always wanted to do. He learned to fly. And furthermore, having earned his license, and not content with the straight and level, John Vigilia had become a stunt pilot.
The visibility had diminished to about a mile, barely legal for flying by visual flight rules. Nevertheless, as John judged himself to be more than half the distance across the lake, he considered his best alternative would be to continue in the direction that he was heading. His main effort now was keeping the biplane steady in the growing turbulence. John locked his concentration on the altimeter, and the turn and bank indicator. The Bücker was skimming the cloud bases, rocking up and down in the billowing, ragged fingers of mist clutching at him as he flew along.
John Vigilia had started across Lake Erie at 8500 feet above sea level, an altitude that would have put the Jungmann about 8000 feet above the surface of the water, as high as he could go with the cloud ceiling, but not high enough to glide safely to the other side should his engine fail halfway across. The sky and water around him had turned from hazy blue to a bowl of murky gray Jell-O. With his single radio set to the Aylmer VOR beacon for navigation, John clung hopefully to its narrow beam, his eyes searching for a thin spit of land identified on his chart only as "Long Point." As clouds were gathering below him, and he needed to keep in visual contact with the ground, which in this case was the water, John descended to 6500 feet, and then to 4500. At this lower altitude the radio signal was becoming extremely weak.
John checked his watch. The Stunt Flying Professor should have been to the other side by now. Was he fighting a head wind considerably stronger than he had earlier? Above the beat of the engine John thought he heard the distant sound of thunder. He didn't know why, but John Vigilia was getting an increasing sense that this flight had the possibility of becoming something worst than any of the wildest adventures of his past.
Excerpted from Vigilia's Tempest by Stephen Poleskie Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Poleskie. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In his latest novel, "Vigilia's Tempest," author Stephen Poleskie confronts history as it has been written by posing the question: What if Charles Lindbergh had a secret copilot with him to keep him from falling asleep on his famous flight from New York to Paris, and what if the man who flew with him was still alive? If he could be found, what would he tell us? And why has he kept hidden all these years? Poleskie, an aviator himself, constructs this complicated and perplexing story with a virtuoso display of practical expertise, compassion, and poetic vibrancy. When John Vigilia, a well-known American stunt pilot, and university professor, lands at an abandoned air base in Canada to avoid a thunderstorm he meets a strange old man named Caliban who tells him the story of his twin brother, Ariel, who as a young boy flew with Charles Lindbergh as his secret copilot on his famous solo trans-Atlantic flight. The copilot was supposedly picked up in Nova Scotia and dropped off on a beach in Ireland, while Lindberg went on to Paris, and to fame, alone. Seeking a diversion after his wife's sudden death, John Vigilia travels to Europe to explore the truth behind the Lindbergh story he had heard. Unexpectedly, John finds himself in the middle of a decades-old international intrigue. Has John discovered the conspiracy of the century, or is it just the old man's hoax? And why is John Vigilia now being followed everywhere, and has had an attempt made on his life? One might be tempted to call "Vigilia's Tempest" a "literary thriller." Poleskie takes Vigilia through a series of adventures in Ireland, Rome, Como, and Munich, before finally allowing him to catch up with the alleged copilot, Ariel Angelucci, in Locarno, Switzerland. Ariel reveals that he was indeed in the airplane with Lindbergh when he flew across the Atlantic. Not sure if he believes Ariel's story, Vigilia takes the man up for a flight in a biplane to see if he really knows how to fly. The old man wants to do some "stunts," but has a heart attack at the top of a loop, jamming the controls and causing John to crash. John Vigilia wakes up confined in a private clinic on an island in the Lago Maggiore. He is told that, despite what he believes, there was no one in the airplane with him when he crashed. When his injuries heal, but he is not released, John realizes that he is being held prisoner at the clinic because of what he now knows. Does Vigilia ever get off the island? I am not going to spoil it by telling you. Suffice it to say that he has a few more adventures, and even a love affair, yet to go before the end of the book. The conclusion is both tragic and uplifting, as are all Poleskie's endings, confirming the author's strong sense of the continuity of life. Poleskie, who writes with a rich and full vocabulary, in the manner of such European authors as Bruno Schulz and Witold Gombrowicz, and with the dark praise of obscurity and failure found in Fernando Pessoa, also manages a tip of the hat to William Shakespeare. "Vigilia's Tempest" is filled with numerous storms, an island, and character names and chapter quotes from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest." At 500 pages this is the longest of Poleskie's novels to date, but the plot's many characters and interesting twists will keep the reader engrossed until the very end, and then even wanting more. I give this book my highest recommendation.