The seventh novel in the Danny Boyland series, Broken Windows, was published on October 7, 2022. Look for it in print and eBook versions on Amazon.
For all you Twilight Zone fans out there - here is a short story you might enjoy
Flight 712 from Vegas
The long flight from Las Vegas to New York was nearing its end, and Helen and I nodded in relief as the big jet bounced again in the clear turbulence that had appeared a few minutes ago. “We are in our final approach to JFK,” the captain said over the intercom, “and should be on the ground in about thirty minutes. I apologize for the unanticipated bumpy ride, so please keep those seat belts buckled up tight.”
Right after he finished, the flight attendant walked down the aisle to collect any remaining service items, the plane suddenly lurched sideways and the attendant lost his balance. I was sitting in an aisle seat and thrust out my right arm to prevent him from falling “Thank you,” he said, “I was heading for the deck, for sure”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “I may be old, but I still have some strength left.”
Fortunately the attendant had his hand firmly on the back of the seat in front of me as the plane yawed crazily in the opposite direction and then dipped at such an angle to make my stomach feel it had arrived in my head. A few seconds later, it righted itself and everything calmed down. The attendant shook his head, mumbled something, and continued on down the aisle. The intercom clicked on and the captain said, “Well, it looks like we are finally out of that turbulence. About twenty minutes to touchdown.”
I glanced over at Helen who was scrunched against the bulkhead in the window seat – luckily no one occupied the middle one – and her big, blue eyes, still wide open in obvious fright she said, “Thank God.”
I smiled and said, “That’s better, my dear. I swore I heard a few mumbled words from you that began with the letter F a few moments ago.”
“Effen-A,” she said, laughing and grabbing my hand.
About ten minutes later, I heard the intercom click and the captain said, “Uh, I don’t know how to say this, uh, but… we have a problem.”
Now that’s not what I, or Helen, or any of the other seventy or so people on this plane wanted to hear. You could hear us all suck in a collective breath as we awaited the bad news. I said, “Helen, we’ve been married forty years and have had a wonderful life together. I love you. Whatever happens, I love you.”
She squeezed my hand and said, “I love you, too, Tim. We’ve had it better than most. I can die happy with you right now.”
The captain came back on. He said, “Uh, we’re about to land.” As Helen and I looked at each other in hope and surprise, he continued, “The problem I mentioned, and which now ground control has convinced me is true, is that, uh… in this plane it is the year of our Lord 2022, but out there at Idlewild Airport – not John F. Kennedy Airport – it is the year of our Lord 1955. Wheels going down, more information to follow, I assume.”
The plane screeched to a halt at the end of the runway and the captain said he was awaiting instructions on the method and timing of de-planing. I glanced over at Helen, my eyes, I’m sure, as wide as hers, and we both said, not too quietly, “What the fuck?” as bedlam broke out in the cabin.
* * *
Helen and I had been trying to decide where to spend our upcoming fortieth wedding anniversary. We had already decided not to have a combined family get-together for a few good reasons, the chief one being the not quite vanquished COVID-19 virus that had plagued the world for over two years. Our four children had thrown us a big party for our thirtieth, but now they, and their families, were more spread out across the country. It would be a burden, financially and logistically, for them to do it again, even if the virus had been totally eradicated.
So we informed them all that we would celebrate alone this year and travel to a place where the virus seemed under control. Las Vegas seemed to have a lid on the disease, and was one of our favorite destinations. We enjoyed the night life, gambling a bit, and especially the terrific shows.
And, finally, the big day arrived. The limo got us to the airport in plenty of time. We had a cocktail in the airport lounge and soon we were up in the air for a more or less on-time departure. A few hours later we were at the Venetian Hotel enjoying our second cocktail of the day. The week flew by and the three shows we saw were all magnificent and memorable. Before we knew it we were winging our way back to New York, albeit a few pounds heavier at the waist and a few hundred dollars lighter in the wallet.
* * *
When the noise and yelling had died down a bit, caused by the captain and his first officer coming out of the cockpit, the captain said, “Can you all hear me?”
When all seemed to agree he said, “The ground crew will wheel up a staircase to the front door and we will depart in an orderly manner with each person separately escorted by a security official.”
“What for?” asked a middle-aged man.
“To be debriefed and to decide what to do, uh, where you should go –”
“Home, of course,” said a young woman. “We all want to go home, don’t we?”
Most heads nodded in agreement when a bespectacled gentleman, dressed like a college professor, cleared his voice and said in a loud voice, “I’m afraid that would be quite impossible.”
“Why is that?” asked the first officer.
“If it’s truly 1955 out there, your current homes probably do not exist. In fact, I’m sorry to say, most of you do not exist either.”
The clamor of voices was stilled by a shouted “Quiet!” by the captain. “Please continue, sir,” he said.
“If we were born after 1955, we don’t exist. I was born in 1958. If I step off this plane, I will probably disappear.”
There was a moment of silence as we all digested his words and racked our brains to figure out what that meant for each of us. I would be nine and Helen seven. I said out loud, “And you would also be naked, correct?”
He smiled and said, “Correct. My clothes, my shoes, my briefcase, my watch, my wedding band, all did not exist in 1955.”
The silence returned for a moment but suddenly a man, about forty years of age, stood up and said, “This is crazy. You’re all nuts. It’s 2022 and I have a connection to Boston waiting for me at Gate C26. I plan on being the first one off this plane so I can get to my gate on time. Why don’t you go back up front, captain, and taxi this plane to the goddamn gate like you’re supposed to?”
A reflection flashed by the windows. The first officer peered out and said, “It looks like our stairs have arrived. They should be ready in a few minutes.”
The man with his connection to Boston grabbed his carry-on from the overhead and headed to the front door. The captain returned from the cockpit and said, “When we open the door, please don’t rush up here. We have to proceed in an orderly manner. Are we ready?”
“Open the damn door,” demanded the man heading to Boston. The flight attendant obeyed, and the man stepped out onto the top step of the staircase and… disappeared! Instantaneously. Without a trace. The bug-eyed flight attendant pulled the door closed and looked at the captain. “What now, sir?” she asked. He went back into the cockpit and conferred with ground control. He re-appeared, white-faced, a few minutes later and said, “In light of what just occurred, all people born after 1955 will remain on board until we figure out what to do. Those born after may leave now, if they so choose.”
“What should we do, Tim?” Helen asked putting a death grip on my forearm.
“I don’t know. Maybe we can take off again and get back to 2022.”
“This is like a Twilight Zone episode. Let’s talk to the captain.”
I motioned for him to step closer and I said, “Are you certain it’s 1955 out there? Could this be a joke, or a big hoax?”
“I understand your non-belief in that, but we just saw that guy disappear, didn’t we?”
I nodded and he continued, “When I brought the plane down, the Manhattan skyline was in clear view to the West. There were no tall buildings downtown. In 2022 we all would have been able to see the new structures at the World Trade Center site, including the 1,200-foot tall One World Trade Center building. Nothing was there.”
The plane started to shimmy and shake a bit, and a low-pitched hum was evident and seemed to be getting louder. I looked at Helen and said, “Let’s get out of here now.”
We clasped our hands together and approached the door as the flight attendant opened it once more. A crazy thought flashed through my brain – I wonder if the limo driver is still waiting? I said, “Till we meet again in fourteen years at the Blue Moon Lounge.”
“I’ll be waiting,” she said clutching my hand tighter.
The door opened and we stepped out into the mild May afternoon.
* * *
It was a sunny Saturday in March and Helen and I had just finished breakfast when the door bell rang. I opened it and was confronted by two young men, dressed in suits and ties, each displaying a wallet containing a gold badge and a picture identification card. “FBI,” the man on the left said. “I’m Agent Meyer and my partner is Agent Holmes. May we come in and speak with you and your wife? There is nothing to be alarmed about. This is not a criminal investigation. No one is hurt. No one has been killed.”
“Then what –?”
“Let’s say that this is a matter of national security, and we need your help.”
I looked at Helen. She shrugged and said, “Come on in. We still have the coffee on.”
The agents first insisted we read, and sign, a three-page non-disclosure agreement concerning what we were about to learn from them. I said, “I guess we can’t hear what you have to say first, before we sign this?”
“That’s not the way it works,” Agent Holmes said with a smile.
“And, if we don’t sign it?” Helen asked.
“We walk away,” Agent Meyer said, “and leave you to your fate.”
“Uh, that sounds ominous,” I said.
“It was meant to,” he replied.
I looked at Helen and she shrugged, which I knew meant whatever.
We signed the papers and Agent Meyer put them into his briefcase and withdrew a video disc. He said, “Would you mind popping this into your DVD? It will set the stage for what we are about to tell you.”
I did as he asked and hit the play button. A moment later Rod Serling appeared to introduce an episode of his famous TV series The Twilight Zone. As soon as the title flashed on – The Odyssey of Flight 33 – I recognized the episode. Helen and I were fans and watched the reruns whenever they came on. Agent Holmes said, “We edited out the commercials, but if you’re familiar with the episode, we’ll just watch what we consider the crucial segments.”
Ten minutes later I said, “Okay, a plane from 1961 – a jet plane – gets lost in a time warp and finds itself back in prehistoric time. It hits the time warp again, but instead of going back to 1961, it misses by 22 years and attempts to land at LaGuardia in 1939 where they never heard of a jet plane.”
“Correct, and then they don’t land,” Meyer said, “But take off to find the time warp again so they can get back home to 1961.”
“Fade to black and the Twilight Zone’s eerie music,” Holmes said. “And Mr. Serling leaves us all hanging as to the final fate of Flight 33.”
“Great episode, guys,” Helen said, “but just what the heck does this have to do with me and Tim?”
“A good deal,” Meyer said. “You see a plane landed at JFK in 1955 – the airport was named Idlewild back then –”
“I know,” I said, “I grew up a couple of miles away.”
“We know that,” Holmes said.
“Yes, Mr. Braddock, we know a great deal about you and Mrs. Braddock – back then, and right now. May I continue?”
“Sure, sorry for interrupting.”
“So before this plane lands, about twenty minutes before touchdown, the control tower hears a transmission from it for the first time. They are totally confused as no planes were due to arrive at that time. When they ask for clarification, like who the hell are you and where did you come from? the pilot replies, “This is Flight 712, non-stop from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Seventy-three passengers and five crew on an American Airlines Airbus 320.”
“That must have thrown them for a loop,” I said, as an uneasy feeling came over me.
“Indeed it did. We have the recording of the entire conversation. In any event, they finally allowed the plane to land, but kept it out on the tarmac.”
“So this plane came from the future through some sort of time warp?” Helen asked. “Like in that Twilight Zone episode we just watched?”
“You know,” I said, “Helen and I are booked for a Las Vegas trip in a couple of months. I believe we are on Flight 711 going out and Flight 712 coming back.”
“You are,” Agent Holmes said. “Coming back on May 14, 2022 at 3:07 p.m., to be exact.”
“But we may have already come back from that trip in 1955?” I asked.
“Very perceptive, Mr. Braddock. And you did come back then.”
“And that’s why you’re here,” Helen said.
“That’s why we’re here,” Meyer said. “Before I give you the details of that day in 1955, let me ask this – do either of you have any memory at all of being on Flight 712 that day in 2022?”
Helen and I looked at each other and we both shook our heads. Agent Holmes said, “Do you remember stepping off the plane onto a staircase?”
Again we both shook our heads. Meyer said, “Here’s what happened, as best as the investigation concluded. The ground crew wheeled a staircase out to the plane. One of them took a picture of the strange-looking craft. It’s in our file.”
“An American Airlines Airbus 320?” Helen asked.
Yes, and we can only imagine the chaos that was going on in that cabin. Finally, they opened the door and a man in business attire, with his bag in hand, was seen standing in the open doorway. He stepped out onto the top of the staircase and… and promptly disappeared into thin air.”
“Because he didn’t exist in 1955,” I said. “He was born after that.”
“Correct, Mr. Braddock, but you and Helen were born before 1955.” Meyer said, and when the door opened again, you two, looking just about how you look right now, stood in the doorway. But when you stepped out, you stepped out into 1955, young, naked and afraid. Do you have any memories of that?”
“None,” we both responded.
“Good,” Holmes said. “Whatever conditioning they did to you two back then worked very well.”
“Conditioning?” I asked.
“Yes,” Meyer said, “so you would forget the incident and continue with a normal life. Oh, as you two walked down those steps, covered with a blanket and escorted by our agents, the aircraft shimmied, hummed, and then disappeared.”
“And we were the only two who… who escaped?” Helen asked.
“What happened to that Airbus?” I asked.
“No one knows, because it never arrived back anywhere else that we know of,” Holmes said.
“But we know its flying back and forth between here and Vegas,” I said. “And its day of reckoning is fast approaching.”
“The government clamped a super-secrecy cloak on the whole incident and completely buried it,” Meyer said. No one knew if the Soviets, or maybe even space aliens, were responsible. Imagine the reaction and panic that would have occurred if this had gotten out? Everyone involved was sworn to secrecy, made to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and were subject to behavioral conditioning.”
“You mean brainwashing, right?” Helen asked.
“Yes, and it seems to have worked, thank God.”
“What did your guys tell our parents?” Helen asked.
“That you were abducted and held for ransom, but we caught the bad guys and they released you. That explained the two days we had you in our custody.”
“Brainwashing us,” I said.
“Yes, and we had your parents bring a complete set of clothes for you when they came to pick you up. We told them the kidnappers stripped you to scare them into calling you for ransom just before we rescued them.”
“And they bought that baloney?” Helen asked.
“It appears they did,” Meyer answered. “They were very relieved to have you back.”
“And now we have to decide what to do about our upcoming trip to Vegas, I presume?”
“I would think a change of plans would be in order, Mr. Braddock. Wouldn’t you agree?” Holmes asked.
“No way are we getting on that plane – again,” Helen said.
“Well you could fly out, enjoy your scheduled week, and rent a car to drive home,” Meyer suggested.
“If I remember,” I said. “It’s the same plane going there, and coming back. They just turn it around and change the flight number. I’m going nowhere near it. Maybe it’s just waiting to snatch us up again.”
“Like in the Twilight Zone?” Holmes asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Do-do-do-do. Do-do-do-do.”
“Seriously,” Helen said. “What are your plans for May 14 when Flight 712 comes back – or tries to come back – from Vegas?”
Agent Holmes said, “Agent Meyer and I will be at JFK that afternoon to see this mystery to its end. Would you two like to join us at the arrival lounge?”
“What do you think, Tim? Should we go to JFK for the finale?”
“Sure, as long as the ghost of Flight 712 can’t reach out for us through the windows of the lounge and drag us back on board.”
* * *
Helen and I spent the night of our fortieth anniversary, May 11, in newly-reopened Manhattan enjoying a first-class restaurant meal followed by a lively Broadway musical. Three days later Agents Holmes and Meyer picked us up, and we arrived at JFK at 1:45 p.m. Flight 712 was scheduled for an on-time arrival in New York at 3:07. Holmes parked the car in a reserved spot under the terminal and we arrived inside it via a metal door which opened by a numeric code punched in by Meyer. We made our way to the arrivals concourse without passing a security checkpoint and without a challenge from anyone.
We glanced at the arrivals board. One hour to go. We stopped to buy a container of coffee at Starbucks and arrived at Gate B22 to await the arrival – or non-arrival – of Flight 712. We took a seat where we could observe the plane as it arrived to the jet way, but then Agent Holmes got up to speak with the crew member behind the desk. When he came back he told us the plane was forty minutes out and there were no reported problems. “The glitch happened when the plane had twenty minutes to land,” he said, “and that’s when the first transmission occurred in 1955. Before that, the plane was apparently in 2022, but of course, we obviously don’t have that conversation recorded.”
“I wonder what those passengers were going through during that final descent,” Helen said. “If we were truly on that flight, maybe I’m glad I don’t remember.”
“We would probably be hugging and holding hands as we tried to kiss our asses good-bye,” I said.
“Back in 1955 the agents had to pry your hands apart before they took you away separately,”Meyer said.
“That was in their report?” Helen asked.
“FBI agents put everything in their reports,” Holmes said.
“Unless directed otherwise by one of your big shot bosses,” I said with a smile.
Holmes smiled back, looked at his watch and said, “It should be touching down in just about three minutes.”
A very tense ten minutes went by and we noticed the desk attendant pick up her phone which we had heard ring loudly. When she hung up, she had a worried look on her face and both agents got up and approached her. I took the opportunity to walk a few steps from the lounge to look at the arrivals board. It still read ON TIME next to the flight number, although it was already fifteen minutes overdue. Holmes and Meyer returned grim-faced and said the pilot reported severe turbulence starting when they were twenty-six minutes from landing. The last transmission, at twenty minutes out said, ‘Uh, oh.’ The plane then disappeared from the radar screen.”
“Since there is no reported land crash,” I said, “everyone will assume it went down in the big, blue Atlantic Ocean right out there. But we know better don’t we?”
“Yes, we do,” nodded Meyer.
“Listen,” Helen said, “you two are going to be very busy for a long time. We’ll take a taxi home.”
“Thanks,” Agent Holmes said, “Send us the tab and I’ll see you get reimbursed.”
I took Helen’s hand and as we walked away, I turned and said, “It was nice not ever knowing you two alleged FBI agents.”
“Same here,” he said. “Oh, a word of advice. Those hands you’re holding? Hold on tight. Always.”
“Effen-A,” Helen said as we headed for the exit which took us right past the baggage claim area. Several friends, relatives, and limo drivers awaited the passengers from Fight 712 by carousel #4, occasionally glancing up at the nearby arrivals board with increasing nervousness. Helen stopped suddenly and grabbed my arm. “Look to your left,” she whispered. I did so and saw a white-haired man holding a white cardboard sign with our name – BRADDOCK – on it. “I thought you canceled the car service when you canceled the flight,” she said.
“I did. I know I did. Hey, as long as he’s here –”
“No way. Let’s get out of here right now,” she said. If there are no cabs around we can take the Air Train to Jamaica and take the train back home.”
* * *
That night as we discussed the day’s events over a glass or two of wine, I said, “I was really hoping that the plane would arrive safely at the gate. I wanted to scope out the passengers as they came into the lounge. See if I recognized anyone. See if that recognition would jog my memory.”
“I wonder if they would have recognized us.”
“How could they? We weren’t on it.”
“Yes, we were. The last time.”
“My mind is reeling from this Twilight Zone stuff, Helen. How about one more glass of wine and then we call it a night?”
“Sure, But I’m still wondering where that plane went today. Do you think it went back to 1955 once again?”
“Who knows? Maybe Holmes and Meyer will find a mysteriously added report in the file that it went back to 1968 or 1981, or maybe as Rod Serling said …it’s still out there somewhere trying to find its way back home.”