“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have arrived at the gate but I ask that you all remain in your seats.”
Captain William Farver couldn’t actually hear the response of the passengers aboard Trans-Ocean Flight 33, but he could imagine a great deal of disappointment and grumbling. He didn’t blame them. They’d been through a lot together on their odyssey from London to New York.
He had to continue with the announcement as though he wasn’t as frustrated and terrified as everyone else. “Authorities from the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI will be boarding the aircraft momentarily. I urge you to remain calm and we will try to resolve this situation as soon as possible.”
As soon as Farver clicked off the mike, his First Officer Joe Craig piped up. “Resolve what, Skipper? You know what’s happened to us and where and when we are.”
“It won’t do to lose our heads, Joe. We’ll just have to play the cards we’ve been dealt.” Farver knew that as Captain and the man who was old enough to be Craig’s Dad, he was expected to stay calm and steady. He didn’t feel like it inside though. That’s what experience teaches you. You can be panicking inside and still have to look like you’re in control.
A knock on the cabin door drew the flight crew’s attention. Second Officer Wyatt opened it. Jane Braden, the head Stewardess escorted two men into the cabin. Farver was mildly shocked that one of them was a Negro.
“Special Agent Phil Johnson of the FBI,” he said extending his hand to the Captain.
“Agent Johnson,” Farver intoned as he took the man’s hand and shook it. The second person spoke up, “I’m Carl Peters, FAA.” The cockpit of the 707 airliner was too small to accommodate all of them so he stood outside the doorway.
“I think we’d all be more comfortable if we escorted you off of your aircraft. We have an interview room all set up for you.” Agent Johnson did not sound like he was making a request.
The four members of the flight crew slowly stood and filed out after Johnson. Peters took up the rear. Farver leaned over to Braden, “Try to keep the passengers calm, Jane.”
“I’ll do my best, Captain.”
Neither of them sounded confident that anyone would remain calm for long.
Each of the crew were being interviewed individually in a security cell at John F. Kennedy airport which, from Farver’s point of view, didn’t exist when Flight 33 departed from London on its last flight.
“You’re telling me you saw dinosaurs, Captain!” Johnson sounded incredulous and Farver didn’t blame him.
“I know it sounds amazing but how else can you explain our presence? Flight 33 left London International Airport at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, June 2, 1961 on route for Idlewild, New York. You’ve told me yourself that the official record was that our flight disappeared and its fate is a mystery.”
“Was a mystery if you’re telling the truth, Captain.” Peters sounded angry. Both men sounded angry. Was it so impossible to understand?
Farver was resigned. “I can’t explain it either. Our true airspeed never exceeded 540, but we felt a sensation of acceleration, like a tailwind, except you can’t feel a tailwind.”
“Your navigator says that the ground speed of your aircraft exceeded 3,000 knots. That’s impossible, especially for an old 707.”
Farver was almost offended by Johnson’s use of the term “old” to describe his aircraft, but then, from the point of view of both Johnson and Peters, and for that matter, everyone in the world today, it was.
“That’s right. First we accelerated to 830 knots, then 980, then 1,120, 1,500. It just kept climbing right up through 3,000. I don’t know why.”
“And it happened three times?” Peters was trying to find some way to penetrate this impossible fiction.
“That’s correct. Again, I can’t explain it. I don’t know how far back we travelled the first time. We were over land, but I don’t know where. The passengers and crew looked down and saw dinosaurs, I don’t know the type.”
“But you were able to pick up this, I don’t know, tailwind again?”
“I’ve told you Johnson that I don’t know what it was but we could descend below it and climb back up to it, whatever it was.”
“You said that when you descended again, you were over New York, but in 1939?”
“Yes, Peters. We all clearly saw the 1939 World’s Fair. It couldn’t have been anything else. Have you gotten those records from LaGuardia? We spoke with their control tower. Your agency must have some kind of record from the old CAA. You know, what used to be the Civil Aeronautics Administration.”
“Why did you take the chance, Farver? Why go back up again. 1939 and 1961 aren’t all that far apart. Why risk another trip in that jet stream or whatever it was?”
“For the same reason you’re giving me the third degree over, Gentlemen. Because we’d have been people out of time, just like we are now. This time, we’re an aircraft from the past, not the future. I was trying to get my crew and passengers home.”
Farver lowered his head and took it in his hands as he gazed at the table top. “Obviously, I failed.”
Both interrogators paused for a moment, then Johnson walked to the door and rapped on it twice. It opened and Johnson addressed the armed officer. “Take this man back to the holding cell.”
The guard walked in and stood next to Captain Farver. “Come with me, Sir.”
Farver stood. “What about the passengers and crew. You can’t keep them on the aircraft forever.”
“We’ll take care of that, Captain. Thank you for your cooperation.” Peters sounded like he had just taken a poll on Farver’s opinion of a new breakfast cereal. The guard escorted Farver out of the room and closed the door.
Johnson burst into uncharacteristic excitement. “Do you actually think all that really happened?”
“How else can you explain the presence of that aircraft?” Peters was interrupted when his cell phone rang.
“Yes. Uh-huh. You’re sure. Okay, thanks. I’ll want to read that transcript myself so scan it and send it to my email address. Yeah, thanks.”
“What was that?”
“We got lucky. The radio exchange between Flight 33 and LaGuardia was recorded and transcribed. The archives boys finally found it. Probably hasn’t been read since 1939, but it does indicate that LaGuardia received a call from an aircraft with a designation of Trans-Ocean Flight 33 and identifying itself as a Boeing 707.”
“Then it’s true.” Johnson was staring at the wall now, still half in disbelief.
“It’s true. Your people should be able to find the flight crew’s fingerprints from 1961 and that’ll verify their identities.”
Johnson turned to face Peters. “What are we going to do with a bunch of people from 1961 in 2016?”
Idlewild, Colorado is a unique community. This small town of just over a hundred people has only one road leading in and out. That road is guarded by Federal troops 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The land the town sits on is a designated military reservation, but except for the gate, the fence, and the guards, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
There are no airplanes, no tanks, no soldiers, no barracks, or any of the usual items you’d expect on land owned by the military. Instead is a small, quaint little village. with nearly fifty couples, a smattering of children, and a few adult singles.
There are only three television stations and most of the TVs are black and white. They play shows like “American Bandstand,” “Ben Casey,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Route 66.”
The one small movie theatre plays popular films such as “West Side Story,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Dr. No, and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
The biggest hit singles on the radio are Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender,” and Ray Charles’ “I can’t stop loving you.” Other favorites are “409” by the Beach Boys, “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the M.G.s, and “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares.
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you had fallen back in time to 1962.
There are no courthouses, no post offices, no shopping malls, and no city hall. There is a small department store suitable to provide the food, clothing, and other needs of just over a hundred people.
There is an administration building. The ground floor is a modern library, and by modern I mean by 2017 standards. It offers classes in how to use a PC, provides internet access, and offers news about the real world rather than what Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley present as news every weekday evening. The residents can use the library if they want to, but it’s strictly voluntary.
This is the home of the crew and passengers of Flight 33, a refuge, a security blanket protecting them from a world that has progressed 55 years in the blink of an eye from their perspective, a world they no longer recognize nor would feel welcome in.
These are all good, kind, and generous people, but fifty-five years is a long time. Suddenly confronting a world where the President of the United States is a Negro (and that “Negro” is an offensive term since replaced with “African-American”),where it is legal for a man to marry another man and that such a thing is applauded, and that a pregnant woman could walk into a clinic and abort her baby and was encouraged to do so was too much to absorb.
Idlewild is a refuge for a people who are anachronistic, a safe haven for the most displaced of populations.
In this haven, William Farver, former Captain and pilot of Trans-Ocean Airlines has been summoned to the third floor of the administration building. He has a visitor.
“Agent Johnson.” This time, Farver said his name with pleasure and was the first one to extend a hand. “Glad you paid us a visit. It’s been long overdue.”
“Sorry I haven’t made it out sooner, Bill. It’s been busy lately.”
“I don’t doubt it. I understand in 2017, we have a new President and he’s not very popular.”
“Let’s say the Bureau has been working overtime to keep an eye on certain groups not exactly thrilled about Donald Trump.”
“Enough politics, Phil. As far as I want to know, John F. Kennedy is the President.”
“Duly noted, Bill.”
Both men took a seat on opposite sides of the table in a room that didn’t look much different from the one in which Johnson and Peters had interrogated the crew of Flight 33 seven months ago.
“How are people settling in, Bill?”
“Well, for the most part. We’re all aware this is a fiction, but it’s the fiction we know. It still seems strange that we can’t go back, that we’ll never see our families and friends again.”
“I can’t even imagine what it must be like, but this is the best we can do for you.”
Johnson sounded apologetic and Farver raised his hand in protest.
“You’ve done the best you could Phil, especially in such a short amount of time. I understand this is for our protection.”
“When we exposed the passengers to what life is like now, the differences in politics, society, culture, technology…”
“I know. I’m one of them. It’s not only overwhelming, it’s terrifying how archaic we’ve become. I don’t think I could face life out there.”
“Which is why this seemed like the best solution. We can’t return you to 1961 but we could re-create it here for you. The television, music, movies, clothes, houses, Idlewild is a tiny island of the world you all left behind.”
“No luck with the 707?”
“The best scientists in the nation are baffled. There’s nothing about your aircraft that provides even the slightest clue about what caused it to travel through time, first to the past, and then to the future.”
Fraver sighed. It was a slim hope, but he still wished he could pilot Flight 33 one more time and really take his people home.
“There’s no record of any similar disappearances or any evidence of communication by people out of time?”
“We’ll keep searching, but so far we’ve come up with nothing. Sure, there have been other mysterious disappearances of aircraft over the last 100 years, but none that fit the profile of Flight 33.”
“Who knows,” Farver chuckled. Maybe Amelia Earhart will come buzzing in any second.” Both men laughed but it wasn’t really funny.
Johnson was the one to break the silence a few seconds later. “We’ll keep trying, Bill. We’ll see if we can duplicate what happened to you.”
“It’s a million-to-one shot and you know it, Phil. We’ll never go home. Even if we could, the more time we stay here, the more time that passes…we age. We would be different people if we actually made our arrival on time at Idlewild.”
“We named the town after it, that’s something.”
Both men chuckled again.
“Why don’t you give me a tour. I haven’t seen the place since everyone moved in.” Phil stood.
“Not much to see.” Bill groaned a bit as he also stood. “The reason we don’t need cars or a gas station is that its small enough to walk everywhere.”
“It’s small enough for everyone to get to know each other, too. I grew up near Boston and nobody knew each other. Not sure we wanted to, either. Besides, I wasn’t born until 1976. It’ll be a pleasure to spend a day or so in 1962.
Entering the elevator, Bill asked, “What about the children? We only have a few, but it seems…”
“We already have plans for that, Bill. We think they can be educated to adapt, eventually when they grow up, they could live in the outside world.”
“Is that why you’ve added two teachers and a new classroom on the second floor?”
“Yep.” The elevator doors opened on the ground floor. “Naturally, the children will grow up here but we can also start slowly introducing them to the culture of the 21st century. They’ll be sort of like kids raised in a small rural town who decide to get work or go to college in larger cities when they turn eighteen.”
“It’ll still be a big change, bigger than the one you describe.”
“Best we can do.”
They were on the sidewalk in front of the admin building now. A cold wind blew down from the mountains and both men buttoned up their coats.
C’mon, Phil. I’ll introduce you to Harold and Sarah Lang first. Sarah’s four months pregnant. We have more than a few young couples here. You might end up having to expand that school.”
Rod Serling wrote a screenplay for the television show “The Twilight Zone” called The Odyssey of Flight 33. It’s one of my favorite episodes.
Sometime in the late 1970s, I bought book at a used bookstore in San Francisco called “From the Twilight Zone”. Apparently it’s out of print because Googling the title turns up nothing relevant.
The book has a collection of Serling’s screenplays rendered as short stories. “The Odyssey of Flight 33” is one of them.
I started on the first draft of this story as my wife was flying home from San Francisco. It was the last leg of her journey from Italy back to Idaho. She went on a two-and-a-half week cooking and food tour with her sister and several other women.
I wanted to write a story about aircraft and Serling’s tale came to mind. One of the things that I found compelling about the tale, even as the child, was how it ended. Here’s the closing narration from the episode:
“A Global jet airliner, en route from London to New York on an uneventful afternoon in the year 1961, but now reported overdue and missing, and by now, searched for on land, sea, and air by anguished human beings, fearful of what they’ll find. But you and I know where she is. You and I know what’s happened. So if some moment, any moment, you hear the sound of jet engines flying atop the overcast—engines that sound searching and lost—engines that sound desperate—shoot up a flare or do something. That would be Global 33 trying to get home—from The Twilight Zone.”
On the TV show, it was “Global” and not “Trans-Ocean” flight 33, but the differences in details are minor.
I always knew that if the episode were ever remade and the date of the flight was kept 1961, the obvious ending would be to have Flight 33 land at JFK in the present.
The question was, what would happen next? I hope my story was a satisfying answer.
Oh, you can watch the original Twilight Zone episode on Hulu.