To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream…
— Hamlet (via Shakespeare)
Once upon a couch, I was home watching the pregame show before Game 5 of the 2000 World Series — the Mets-Yankees Subway Series. But I fell asleep just before the first pitch, and soon I started to dream…
… We continue our aerial journey, heading west above Pennsylvania — amazingly without the assistance of any aircraft or hot-air balloon or the like. We’re seeking Flight 93. Above and behind us, the sun is climbing high in a clear September sky. Below us, a city bustles with Matchbox cars and minute pedestrians.
The city is far smaller than the one where I was recently parade-going in the Canyon of Heroes in the dead of night. If New York City is the Himalayan mountains, this city we’re soaring above is Jersey’s Kittatinny Ridge. A river runs southeast through the metropolis.
“That’s Harrisburg, the capital of good ol’ PA,” says Miracle Max (of “Princess Bride” fame) as he gestures downward, reprising his role as aeronautical tour guide. “And that is the Susquehanna River.”
I peer down again, as does Iron Man, the newest addition to our expedition.
“Did you know this little factoid?” Max intones. “The Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Bet you didn’t know that.”
“You’re right, I did not know that,” I say.
Max smiles. “You know where I learned that? Google. Such a perky search tool.”
“I did know that,” Iron Man says in what seems a bored tone. “I can access Google as I fly, you know — and a whole lot more — on my high-octane onboard computer.”
“Of course I knew you knew, Iron Man,” Max replies, his white hair catching the sun’s brightness. “I was talking to this kid over here. He’s from Connecticut and grew up in New Jersey. I don’t think he’s been in this neck of the woods before.”
Am I dreaming? I must be … no human can soar like an eagle in waking life, and the presence of Miracle Max and Iron Man bear a distinct resemblance to characters in dream land. According to the information I gleaned at the bizarre parade in NYC, it is nearly a year after I fell asleep before World Series Game 5 in October 2000. To be specific, it is September 11, 2001 — and following Miracle Max’s lead, we’re heading toward United Flight 93, which he claims is winging over western Pennsylvania.
As we fly west of Harrisburg, we essentially follow a highway, though we take a more direct course than the interstate’s natural loops and contours.
“That’s the Pennsylvania Turnpike, kid,” Max says, anticipating my question. Iron Man nods in geographic agreement.
The blue-stained sky is resplendent. The sun is radiant. My colleagues reflect the brightness in their distinct ways — one via ancient hair, the other via modern red-and-gold armor. What awaits when we reach Flight 93?
“My intel has informed me,” Miracle Max says, as if on cue, “that Flight 93 has been hijacked, just as the other planes were — the ones that hit the Twin Towers earlier this morning. We’re going to do all we can to help the passengers and crew of United 93.”
Iron Man interjects, “I’m picking up an airliner on radar. It’s coming our way at 477.3 miles per hour.” It occurs to me that we must be flying (or gliding) at a much slower speed.
Without warning, Iron Man races toward the unseen plane, jetting ahead of me and Max. “Hey, what’s going on?” I ask. “Why’d he take off?”
“He’s following orders,” Max replies. “It’s the emergency plan we discussed earlier — before you were in the picture. He’s no stranger to hijacking and terrorist attacks. And he can fly like a rocket — just a bit faster than me, kid. Iron Man will scout the situation and do what he can until we join him, and then he’ll give us the lowdown on what exactly is going on.”
I stare ahead into the sky, the roaring sun behind me. No plane, nothing. Nothing visible to the naked eye, anyway.
By the way, the fact that we’re airborne has nothing to do with my skill and everything to do with Max’s astonishing ability to catch wind currents and take flight (which he is somehow transferring to me).
Then I see it — an airliner in the distance, rushing toward us like a relentless bird of prey.
“Listen carefully, kid, “ Max says with greater urgency. “You need to stick with me, ’cause that’s how you’re flying — but you already know that. I can’t glide nearly as fast as a jetliner, but we’ve gotta be able to keep up with Flight 93. So when we meet the plane, you and I are gonna grab one of the wings — but make sure you don’t get too close to the engines!”
My eyebrows rise involuntarily — in this case, a kneejerk terror reflex.
“Don’t worry, partner, stick with me,” Max reassures. “I can’t fly that fast, but remember, I’m a miracle man extraordinaire. You stick with me, and we’ll both be able to hold on to that wing and ascertain the best course of action.”
I nod, getting tenser now that Flight 93 is an imminent reality. The airplane is getting larger by the moment.
“Get ready, kid,” Max says. “Follow my lead. If anything happens—”
And then, suddenly, United Airlines Flight 93 is upon us, speeding east.
After some intense aerial gymnastics, Miracle Max and I are able to grab hold of the jetliner’s left wing. I’ve heeded Max’s sage advice, with his help, avoiding the engine on the wing with its cuts-both-ways power.
Iron Man soars beside us, appearing to come from the other side of the plane. He nods to our right, toward the cabin: “It’s clearly a hijack situation, Max. Your intel was correct. I could see four hijackers in the cockpit, and they’re in control of the flight. I believe the pilots are dead — there were bodies on the cockpit floor.”
Ashen-faced, Max says, “It’s as we feared. What can we do to help?”
Iron Man looks at Max and says, “I could—”
To be continued …
© Bruce William Deckert 2015