The plane was a burning wreck. It lay in the middle of a field, earth scarred and gouged, snow melting into puddles and then evaporating in the heat. The windows were blown out. The fuselage was cracked and stained dark with smoke and fuel, and the gaudy blue bird painted on the tail was scorched and almost unrecognizable. I could just make out a tail number: N18776. More fuel sprayed out of one wing, a geyser that quickly caught flame, spreading across the field. Gray clouds roiled across the sky and ash rained down on the burning field, the burning plane ….
A shadow moved through the flames. Small. Crying —
I blinked, and it was gone.
There was no plane, no burning wreckage, no crying shadow. The space beside the boarding ramp was empty. Through the wide, tall window, all I could see were endless concrete runways and blue sky and shimmering brown mountains, little people in their garish vests and helmets, a trolley of luggage carts and, here and there against the brightness, a plane descending, wheels extended.
Damn. I hated airports. They were the worst possible place to See. People always panicked in airports, and the way the sounds of their screams and running steps echoed off the walls and windows ….
I jerked. “What? Yes. Sorry.” I turned, trying to compose myself.
Agent Franklin frowned at me, his newspaper lowered. The upside down headline said something about Jacqueline, but I ignored it, slowly pulling my thoughts back into order. Agent Barnaby was … someplace. He liked to keep on the move, constantly circling; reminded me of a bird of prey sometimes.
“Anything I need to know?” Franklin folded up the paper and dropped it onto the neighboring seat.
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat and stood, tugging my skirt and jacket back into position. I hefted my purse strap over my shoulder. “We’re going to miss our flight. And we need to talk to the gate agent.”
I trotted across the waiting area, trying not to run. Dozens of people lounged in hard plastic chairs or leaned against the walls of giant windows. A few children were sprinting back and forth, shrieking with excitement, and there was one bored man in the uniform of a limousine driver flipping a sign back and forth in his hands. Thick clouds of cigarette smoke hung in the air, overpowering the scent of burning fuel that still clung to my nose.
The gate agent looked up as I approached, professional smile plastered across her face. Her eyes darted between me and Franklin, but her expression remained unchanged. Either she didn’t realize what that bump under his arm meant, or she didn’t see it.
I plunked my purse onto the counter and pulled out my badge. “Madeleine Green. Federal Bureau of Psychic Research, Development, and Enforcement. I need to identify the plane with the tail number N18776. Now please.”
She blinked rapidly, and her smile started to crinkle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Barnaby come up on my other side, hovering about ten feet away. His hands hung loose but his shoulders were tight. And why the man insisted on wearing sunglasses indoors I would never understand. I had asked him once, but he had just smiled a toothy smile. Maybe it was the intimidation factor. No one ever bothered him, but strangers were always walking up to Franklin and trying to make small talk. His friendly face, no doubt; and wide shoulders; and trim hips.
“Yes, of course. Uh, one moment please.” The gate attendant looked away, reaching for a phone under the desk. She remained turned away, eyes darting back and forth as she whispered furiously to someone on the other end.
Barnaby shifted on his feet and Franklin moved a step closer to me.
The sounds behind me changed, volume dropping and then rising again, changing to hisses and whispers. The children weren’t running around anymore.
The crowd had noticed that something was happening, and they didn’t like it.
The attendant put down the phone with a sharp click. Her smile was gone. “That is this flight, actually. Ma’am. Your flight.”
Of course it was.
The attendant continued. “Flight 283, Los Angeles to Tucson to Dallas and back again. It landed just two minutes ago, and is presently taxing to the gate. It should arrive in about five minutes. Hrm. The Director of Airport Operations has also been informed.”
“Thank you.” I stuffed my badge into my purse and slung it back over my shoulder. “After the passengers have disembarked, have the plane taken to the hanger for a full inspection. And I mean full. Tear the plane down to its nuts and bolts if you have to. Understood?”
The attendant nodded, motion jerky, and reached for the phone again.
I turned and made my way back to my hard plastic seat. Franklin remained at my side, Barnaby a few steps behind. I ignored the questioning glances and considering looks from the crowd, sat down, and faced the window once more.
Franklin murmured something about calling the Dallas office. I nodded, silently going over what I had Seen. He headed back over to the gate desk, spoke to the agent (who smiled brightly and twirled her hair), and then spent several long minutes on the phone. Too long minutes. The second time Barnaby glanced in his direction, I looked over, too.
Franklin’s fingers were tight around the phone and his mouth was pressed into a thin line.
Apparently the Dallas office wasn’t very happy with our delay.
I needed a distraction while we waited. Barnaby could be annoyingly observant, and he would insist on a lie down and some chamomile tea if he thought I was too stressed.
Stressed out clairvoyants were no good to anyone.
The copy of the Tucson Times that Franklin had cast aside was unfolded across the seat and the headline was upright now. I reached over to smooth it out.
Pres. Kennedy Issues Warning to Krushchev. Then, in smaller print: JBK To Meet With Wallace, Dem, Repub Leaders in Dallas.
The accompanying photo was slightly grainy; low quality paper, probably. Jacqueline was standing at a bank of microphones in front of the White House, hair perfect, dress perfect, pillbox hat perfect, expression strong and determined, infant son Patrick cuddled against her shoulder.
She’d always been strong. Even when we were children, she’d been the strong one. And through the last months of the pregnancy, juggling doctors and insomnia and political division and escalating threats from Russia. Those months had been … difficult. I’d spent more time in DC than Tucson, camped out in the Lincoln Bedroom while Franklin and Barnaby crashed on some spare cots that the Secret Service dug out of storage. The constant attempts to See, mostly succeeding, sometimes failing; to touch the delicate lifeline of the fragile son she carried; to follow it, over and over again; to follow different possible lives, over and over again, until I found one that didn’t end in tears and grief just days after his birth.
And I had.
And I had Seen how the doctors saved him.
And they had.
And he had lived. Patrick Green Bouvier Kennedy.
She’d almost named him Madeleine.
I smiled at the memory.
I’d crawled back to Tucson after the birth and slept for a week. Franklin didn’t so much as lift an eyebrow when Barnaby moved in to look after me.
I traced the edge of the photo. No Jack in this picture, but the blur in the background was likely Caroline running through the mess that was the mid-renovation gardens.
Franklin dropped back into the seat next to me.
I shifted on the hard plastic seat and focused on the photo. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, exhale, the sounds of the airport fading around me. I ran my forefinger around one edge of the picture, then inward, tracing the shape of a tree, a shrub, Jacqueline’s earring, her necklace, her steady gaze.
Reading through photographs was harder than most people seemed to realize. Psychics in the movies — never real, always actors — played it up for dramatic effect, accompanied by flashing lights, wildly swinging cameras, and dissonant music.
The reality was far different. A photo in a newspaper was a copy of a photograph of an actual event. Sometimes a copy of a copy of a copy, or more. At least three times removed from the real moment captured in grainy black-and-white stillness. At this distance, all I could get were impressions.
Fierce love. Anger. Distress.
Biting my lip, I carefully pulled away from the photograph. Inhale, hold, exhale.
Folding the paper back up again, I turned in my seat. “Dallas?”
Franklin grunted. “They really want you on the ground there. The Field Office AD is not happy. He strongly suggested that we call in someone from Phoenix or Albuquerque and get in the air, asap.”
“Not happening. My Seeing, my case.”
“That’s what I told him. I told him that you told me that already, so back me up on that.”
I was certain that Barnaby was silently rolling his eyes. I smiled. “Not a problem. I got your back, Franklin.”
The glass in the windows vibrated as the plane rolled up to the gate. Slightly battered silvery fuselage, wide wings, a gaudy blue bird painted on the tail. And a tail number: N18776.
I set the newspaper aside.
Eventually the passengers began to disembark. Couples and singles. A few people with dogs, some with cigarettes dangling from between their lips and bags dangling from their fingers. There were shouts of greeting and hugs and kisses as some in the waiting crowd broke away to embrace loved ones. The man in the limousine driver’s uniform straightened his tie and his sign, and then walked away with a doe-eyed newlywed couple.
There was a ruckus as the last few were force-walked off the plane by security. One man complained loudly that he absolutely had to be in Dallas by the end of the day, while an elderly woman with a flowery hat threatened to have everyone fired if she missed President Kennedy’s speech ….
The passengers bound for Dallas stood, expecting to board.
My attention was drawn to the big window again.
A truck rolled up, attached a hook to the front wheels, and started to pull the plane away. The crowd took notice and groaned. The truck ground forward, rolled back, pulled forward again, angling the plane around and aiming it towards the distant hangers.
A shadow moved in one of the windows. Hands pressed up against the glass. Small. Child-size.
I hated airports.
The gate attendant, still smiling, picked up a mic. Her voice squeaked overhead. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you continuing on from Los Angeles to Dallas, or who are boarding here for Dallas, there will be a slight delay. We apologize for the inconvenience. We will be bringing a new plane and crew forward to the terminal. Passengers may expect to board within forty minutes. Again, our apologies.”
More groans, and some of the children looked confused.
A striped green and yellow business suit moved into my line of sight and I looked up. Thick glasses. Neat beard. Beside me, Franklin stood. Barnaby moved in behind the business suit, sunlight flashing off his dark glasses, blocking most of my view of the plane.
The business suit frowned down at me. “Miss Green?”
“It’s Clairvoyant, actually.”
“Yes, ma’am. Apologies. George Argyle, Director of Airport Operations, Tucson International Airport. Do you have a moment?”
I stood. “Can you walk and talk? I need to see the plane.”
Argyle didn’t even hesitate. “Of course. Right this way.” He motioned down the concourse, towards a red door with Employees Only written across it in gigantic black letters. “What can you tell me?”
“Very little.” I shifted my purse higher onto my shoulder, Franklin and Barnaby falling into step to one side and behind me. I couldn’t even hear Barnaby behind me, but I knew he was there. He was always there. I turned my attention back to Director Argyle. “Only one Seeing so far. Flight 283 was burning. It had obviously crashed, but I don’t know the cause. Maybe mechanical, maybe the weather, maybe pilot error. I’ll need to speak with both the flight crew and the maintenance team, possibly even do a physical Seeing off them.” I arched an eyebrow at the Director. “Will they have a problem with that?”
“Won’t matter if they do.” He shoved open the red door, holding it wide as I followed, Franklin and Barnaby still with me. “It’s in their contract. Mandatory submission to physical Seeing upon request.”
He led us down a concrete stairwell and through another door. A second set of stairs, this time metal. Another door at the bottom, this one opening out onto the tarmac.
It was hot. Even in November, Tucson hit the mid-seventies, and the runways reflecting the sunlight just made it hotter.
And I hated hot. The Bureau made a point of moving clairvoyants around so that we didn’t become inured to the psychic background noise of a particular area. Ten years with the FBPRDE, in eight different cities; five of them with Franklin, four with Barnaby. I’d almost resigned when I found out that the bureaucrats were sending me to Tucson — but someone and their toothy smile had talked me out of it.
I dug into my purse, hunting for my sunglasses. Smith & Wesson. Badge. Wallet. Pills. Extra ammo pouches. There, sunglasses. I dragged them out, planting them on my nose.
I really hoped that this last-minute trip to Dallas ahead of Jacqueline’s visit wasn’t the bureaucrats gauging another possible move for me. Figuring out how I fit in with the locals.
Because Dallas was humid, and I hated humid heat even more than plain old heat.
Argyle was speaking again as he led us to a waiting motorized cart. “I’m having my secretary pull the plane’s flight and maintenance logs. They should be ready soon. Wasn’t sure if you’d need them or not.”
Probably not, but I answered, “I appreciate that.” Argyle was cooperating. Too many other Directors would not — or only reluctantly — despite the law. I was a federal agent, but I was also an annoyance and an inconvenience.
We climbed into the cart, Argyle behind the wheel, Franklin in front, Barnaby and I in the back. The engine hummed and the tires whined as we took off, curving towards the hangers on the far side of the runways. The slight breeze didn’t do much to relieve the heat.
Barnaby turned in his seat, twisting around so that he could watch behind us and to the side. He took the opportunity to slide his fingers over my wrist, checking my pulse and respiration. His touch was simultaneously comforting and aggravating.
I shot him a glare over the top of my sunglasses.
He quirked an eyebrow in response, waited a few more moments, then withdrew his hand.
“The crew’s waiting for us. I told the maintenance guys to hold off on starting repairs until you gave the go-ahead.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Good idea. I’ll look around the plane first, than start the interviews.”
We crossed the last active runway, bumping over a rough patch to reach the service roads that circled around the hangers, maintenance bays, storage facilities, and other support buildings that kept the airport running.
The massive hanger doors had been left open. I could see the plane with its gaudy tail bird. We passed under the overhang and into the shade of the building. I pushed my sunglasses onto my head, letting my eyes adjust as Argyle pulled the cart around the starboard side of the plane. A rolling staircase was pressed up against the fuselage, leading up to an open door. The crew huddled nearby: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and four stewardesses. They looked more confused than anything.
The maintenance crew, on the other hand, were milling around impatiently along the far wall. They had tools in hand or strapped to their waists, and they were eager to get started.
The cart squeaked to a halt right next to the ramp.
“I’d appreciate it if you kept everyone off the plane until I’ve finished.”
Argyle nodded and clambered out, making his way over to the crew. A man in dark grey overalls, apparently the chief of the maintenance crew, ambled over to join him.
Franklin and Barnaby waited, following my lead. When Argyle was far enough away and speaking to the crew, I leaned forward, dropping my voice. “Possible incorporeal entity. I only caught a glimpse of it, so I won’t have any idea what we’re dealing with until we get on the plane.”
Barnaby nodded once. “We’ll do a sweep. You wait at the top of the stairs.”
“Noooo,” I corrected. “I follow as you do the sweep so that I can take care of anything you might stir up.”
“If you remain by the stairs, you can run for open ground if things go south. The interior of the plane is too confined.”
“The entity didn’t leave when the passengers disembarked. It’s not tied to any of them, it’s tied to the plane, willingly or otherwise. That means, I have to be on the plane.”
Franklin mock scowled over the seat at us. “You two do a variation on this scene every time. And every time, my response is the same.” He pointed at Barnaby — “You’re scarier” — than at me — “but you’re the boss. And since I like my job, I am doing as the boss says.”
Barnaby huffed an exasperated sigh, but said nothing else.
Franklin climbed out and started up the steps. I followed, Barnaby close on my heels. We paused on the top platform, still outside the body of the plane. I dug around, pulling a few essentials out of my purse: make-up compact (with built-in mirror), a handful of pure silver coins, a bag filled with loose bark and leaves from a strangler fig tree, and a chunk of uncut smoky quartz. Impulsively, I also grabbed my emergency chocolate candy bar.
I left the Smith & Wesson and extra ammo pouches. I needed my hands free for other things. I would have to rely on Franklin and Barnaby, as I always did, to shoot anything that needed to be shot.
I shoveled everything into my front jacket pockets, straining the material and giving myself a lumpen appearance.
Dropping my purse out of the way, I rolled my neck and shoulders. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, exhale.
I pressed my palm against the fuselage, right next to the open door. Another inhale, hold, exhale. Then another. Then a third.
Then … something. It was small. Like it was hiding. Was the ghost playing a game?
No. There was fear. Fear and confusion. Anger. Sadness. A deep, all-consuming sadness.
I pulled my hand away. A nod to Barnaby and Franklin. They pulled their pistols, silver rounds chambered, and stepped through the door, across the threshold, into the plane. I followed and immediately felt the change in temperature.
Planes were cold. I hated airports, but I liked planes. They were always cool.
The interior of this plane? Hot. Not warm because the door had been sitting open in Tucson. This was an abnormal heat, sticky and oppressive. It made my eyes burn and my lungs ache. I felt sweat bead along my hairline and the back of my neck.
Another step and then another, Franklin and Barnaby sweeping the plane ahead of me. The cockpit. The tiny storage/seating area for the stewardesses. The first class cabin.
Wind. Inside the plane. I smelled fuel again, and thick smoke and ozone and ash. The reek of plastic melting and polyurethane foam burning. Instinctively, I reached for the compact mirror and the silver coins.
The wind gusted, yanking at my hair and jacket. Metal screamed around us. Human voices, too, screaming along with the metal. The sound beat at my ears, my brain.
And then it stopped.
A shadow stood in front of us, in the center of the aisle. It thickened gradually, turning pale grey.
A child. A little boy. Five years of age? Six?
I knew those eyes. That chin. That nose.
I swallowed hard. I could taste fuel and smoke.
“Hello, Patrick,” I said.
[End Part One. Part Two will appear in the September issue of ev0ke.]
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]