I had originally intended this story as a comic book series, but then decided I’m more comfortable — and more marketable — with novels. It involves time warps, dinosaurs, pirates, the Bermuda Triangle, lots of old airplanes…
As the Cessna banked for the turn that would take him back up the beach for a third pass a gust of wind caught the little plane unexpectedly, and Jason Carmody felt it start to slip sideways. He let up on the wheel and fed more gas, straightening the craft out – still turning, but much more gently than he had begun; he would be flying closer to the shore for the first part of this pass than he had intended.
“Hollywood Tower, this is Foxtrot Hotel, over,” he said.
“Foxtrot Hotel, this is Hollywood Tower,” came the reply over his headphones. “What’s up, Jason? Over.”
“It’s getting a bit brisk up here,” Jason answered. “Any word from the client? Over.” He glanced out at the spring break crowds covering the Fort Lauderdale beach from Ocean Boulevard to the surf; while it was hard to be sure from this far up, fewer seemed to be paying any attention to him than on the first two passes. He mostly saw the dark spots of hair, rather than the lighter spots of upturned faces.
The crowd looked a little thinner, too; perhaps some of them had noticed those threatening clouds in the west, clouds that were blowing in much faster than Jason – or the weather service – had expected.
“Not yet. Weather service is issuing an advisory, so we may not – hold on…”
Jason waited, keeping the plane cruising north up the beach, easing a little farther out to sea as he went. He wasn’t sure exactly where in the spring break throng his customer was, so he wanted the banner to be visible everywhere.
“Foxtrot Hotel, this is Hollywood Tower, Debbie says Fred called, and quote, she said yes. Congratulations to all concerned. Over.”
“Thanks, Dave. I’ll be bringing it home, then; tell Debbie and Ed to be ready to roll up the banner. Foxtrot Hotel out.”
Another gust of wind buffeted the Cessna, and Jason looked out to his left, to the west.
That line of dark clouds was moving in really fast now; he swung the wheel and gave the plane a little right rudder, veering out to sea to start the run back to the Hollywood airport.
The Atlantic was turning choppy below him; he could see whitecaps appearing well offshore. He leaned over to look back at the beach just in time to see one of the big striped umbrellas suddenly turn inside out in the wind. The crowds were vanishing back into the streets and hotels as that freakish west wind swept down across the sand.
And that wind was driving his plane forward, out over the ocean. Jason frowned; he hoped it wasn’t going to tear up the banner. It wasn’t going to make landing any easier, either; he would have to fight his way back.
Or maybe he should just wait until it blew itself out; it couldn’t last very long, could it? The weather service hadn’t been predicting any real storms, just a cold front – if you could even call it “cold,” here in southern Florida.
Maybe this one really was cold, though; those clouds back there looked serious. Jason did not intend to do anything stupid. “Hollywood Tower, this is Foxtrot Hotel,” he said into the mike. “Say again, re: weather advisory, over.”
“Foxtrot Hotel, this is Hollywood Tower. National Weather Service has issued a small craft advisory – strike that, they’ve just upgraded it to a high wind warning. Back to the barn ASAP, Jason. Over.”
“Crap. Roger that. Foxtrot Hotel out.”
A lot of college kids were about to have their spring break ruined, by the sound and look of it. Jason gave the plane a little rudder and banked right.
The wind caught him, and the plane flipped back up to the left. “Whoa!” he said, involuntarily. He had never felt a Cessna 170 do that before. Cessnas were ridiculously stable – that was why the company used them to tow banners. Flying a Cessna in a nice straight line so that the banner flew straight and was easy to read was simple – it was getting a Cessna to do something other than fly straight that could be a challenge.
The light suddenly dimmed; that line of clouds had gotten close and high enough to block out the sun. Jason glanced at the compass.
The compass was spinning wildly. “What the heck…?” He turned to the GPS.
“Recalculating position,” the display said.
Jason looked up from the instruments just in time to see the clouds sweep over him, surrounding the little plane in blank grayness. “Oh, crap,” he said.
He had had his license for three years, and had been flying banners for a year, and he had never yet seen any weather remotely like this. Clouds, yes, and storms blowing in from the east, definitely, though usually he was safely on the ground well before they arrived, but this wall of clouds charging in from the west so fast it overtook him as he flew southeast at sixty knots was just weird.
He also wasn’t very confident of his ability to fly in it, especially when the instruments appeared to be malfunctioning. Perhaps the clouds had enough of an electrical charge to interfere with the GPS and throw the compass off? He glanced down again.
The GPS display read 10°16’24” N., 8°44’09” E., which was obvious nonsense – that would put him somewhere in the Sahara Desert, he thought, not just off the coast of Florida. Then it blanked again, but instead of recalculating, it read, “No signal.”
“Crap,” he said again. He pushed the microphone switch. “Hollywood Tower, this is Foxtrot Hotel. I’m in the middle of a cloud and have lost my bearings; instruments appear to be malfunctioning. If you have me on radar, please give my position. If anyone there has any other useful suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Over.”
There was no reply. Jason frowned. “Hollywood Tower, this is Foxtrot Hotel – do you read? Over.”