How many elevenths of September can a man stand? Jack Pendleton had lived through, how many, well, probably ten at least by now, yes, in fact it was ten, and this would be the eleventh. Eleven elevenths, that should make a whole something, so perhaps this would finally bring the matter to its conclusion. The confounding thing in Pendleton's mind was that, hell's teeth, you find yourself somehow time traveling in a little time warp where you're reliving a certain day over and over again, and it's not as if you'd particularly choose that day over all other potential days if you were given a choice. Except it's true he did sort of choose it, except he didn't really and he certainly never thought time warps were real.
Had somebody come up to him, some mysterious stranger, or an angel, or some satanic gentleman of some sort, and said hey Jack Pendleton, we've got something special worked up for you, how would you like to go back to any date in history and relive it over and over again, each time as different as you like mind you, and it needn't be a date from your own lifetime, you can go back to any date in history as far back as the beginning of the earth, as far back as when the earth's atmosphere settled out into a convivial mix of oxygen and nitrogen allowing you to breathe and all, what date'll it be pal, he'd not have picked that day, that eleventh. That's all I'm saying. He might have picked, jesus, who knows, who could answer a question like that, the mind would reel.
What about going way back to see some dinosaurs? What about going back again and again to the day of an especially filthy sexual experience, or maybe back to the summer of '69, maybe the day of Game Three when Tommy Agee saved five runs with two miraculous catches and the Mets seized control of the Series? What about going back and checking out this Jesus fellow in his own element, or, you know, the Buddha or Mohammed, what about checking any of these guys out and seeing if they were anything like they've gotten cracked up to be? Or what about going back to February 10, 1941, to see a young Willie Mosconi run 125 and out in his first inning on George Kelly in half an hour flat, the most perfect game of pool ever played?
What about trying to change something?
All right, by now he had made a pretty good couple of tries to change the eleventh and it hadn't worked out, but that's not to say it couldn't and it might yet. But, no disrespect intended, if he was going to try to change something, there were probably bigger fish to unfry. The eleventh was bad, OK, but it wasn't the worst preventable day in the world. There were worse. You ultra patriot types may shanghai me for saying it but there have been worse days. What about going back to Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, and banging like hell on pots and pans or something trying to get everybody to scram the hell out of dodge. Does that seem anti-American? How are we going to decide what was the worst day? Worse for whom, there's a question to bedevil your itchy brains, and what's your scope of who you're identifying with once you're a time traveling swashbuckler type? OK, how about going back to December 7, 1941, and giving folks a heads-up over Pearl Harbor? Who knows how many lives that might have saved, that day and after, maybe the US wouldn't have entered the war at all, no Dresden firebombing, no atom bombs, but then who knows what might have happened with Hitler and all, ahhh, who knows. Time travel just does your head in.
Or maybe he could have gone back, I don't know, to Thomas Farrinor's house in London early the morning of September 2, 1666, and reminded him to extinguish his oven completely. That was over thirteen thousand houses and almost ninety churches gone, pretty much all of London up in smoke really, although granted, less than twenty dead somehow, but a hell of a lot of people homeless. How do you want to count these things? Or how about going back to June 28, 1914, and convincing the schoolboy Gavrilo Princip to go home to his mother, or just smack the little cunt on the head with a bat, not out of sympathy for the old Archduke, fuck that motherfucker, but for the nine million awful, crazy deaths of ordinary brave and frightened Joes, most of them over a few yards of pointless mud one way or the other, and all over a stupid game of bluffs gone a bit wrong.
Or why try to save the world? Talk about hopeless causes and doubtful principles. Why not go back to the day of the suicide of someone you cared about? Why not be there that day where you couldn't be the first time around, there to say the right thing, there to confiscate the weapon of choice? Or just go back to the day you said something stupid and hurt somebody's feelings, go back and not say it, just sit there and say nothing instead, smiling and exploding with silent joy?
Whatever. There are infinite possibilities of course, and these are merely a few humble and fairly obvious suggestions just to put the whole thing in some kind of perspective. The point is that Pendleton may have chosen the eleventh without realizing it, without realizing time warps could be real and that he could have a choice, and also that, had he realized it, he would almost certainly have chosen a different day, no offense. All he knew was that the second time he woke up and discovered it was the eleventh again, he checked his watch and realized he had time to make it out to the 40th Street platform on the 7 line in time to see the planes arrive. And that was his first thought, and that is what he did.
The 40th Street 7 train stop is on a beautiful elevated stretch of track and is the best stop in all of Queens for an unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline. You can see way up north to the Bronx and down to the south there are even slivers of Brooklyn bridges. Right in the center of your view is the Empire State Building. It's a great view. You can't beat it for scope.
It's true Pendleton was sort of obsessed with the date. No, that's not true exactly. What he was obsessed with was planes flying into buildings. Low-flying planes had always seemed a nervous sort of thing, because the whole idea of that much weight flying was at its most implausible at low altitudes, and ever since that day he couldn't look at a low-flying plane or a skyscraper without imagining the explosive conjunction of the two. Living in New York near LaGuardia, then, meant that he imagined planes hitting buildings dozens of times every single day. That's probably why, when the time warp happened, he ended up going straight back to the eleventh. It would have remained the most vivid and constant date-oriented thing in his mind.
Except he hadn't seen it the first time. Obviously he had seen the replays but that wasn't the same thing. He had seen the photographs. Those were mostly of the second plane hitting, but there was even some amateur home video footage of the first plane available on the Web. Somebody had a camera going and had heard the insane roar of the unusually low-flying plane and had swung the camera up at the crucial moment to a repeated refrain of "Holy shit!" He had seen that. But on the day itself, the first time, he hadn't seen it. He had heard about it by telephone, and by the time he had made it to the 40th Street 7 train platform, the towers had been hit and they were standing there gashed and smoking. He stood and watched until both of them had fallen -- a shocking thing to see, both times, a big surprise -- and for several hours afterward.
The truth was that Pendleton was more amazed than horrified that day. There was no question that what was happening was terrible. But somehow before its terribleness could be emotionally addressed, its hugeness had to be grasped. This was extremely huge. At first it could not be grasped at all. Nobody even knew yet that morning how many planes there would be. If they could do this much, it might be any number of planes. Why not ten planes? Why not twenty? Surely not fifty. But maybe this was an unbelievably vast plan to wipe out every major American object. Why not destroy Mount Rushmore? I'm sure they closed Disneyland. This is war, my god, we are at war. Misinformation abounded. Somebody would take an earphone out of his ear and announce to his fellow onlookers that the Supreme Court had been hit, or the Capitol building itself. Was the Empire State Building in immediate danger? Was it too late to get some anti-aircraft guns up there? Have they destroyed Mount Rushmore yet?
Somehow the idea persisted for quite some time that the first plane had been "a little one." That was probably because before the second plane hit, everyone figured it was probably some stray small plane pilot who had a heart attack or something. Maybe the steering wheel had gotten stuck. The second plane was obviously a large jetliner, but rather than adjusting immediately to the idea that they both must have been large jetliners, a lot of people, including Pendleton, spoke of the second plane as the big one and the first plane as the small one until eventually the idea withered away for not making sense. In addition to the hugeness and the shock and the confusion, Pendleton didn't know anyone personally who was anywhere near either of the towers. Viewed in silence from a safely distant borough it wasn't really about people even though obviously you knew people were dead. It was all planes and buildings. And not even planes. He hadn't seen the planes. It was really all buildings and imagining the planes.
Imagine those planes. Imagine if you happened to be on the western edge of the 40th Street 7 train platform idly looking towards the north end of Manhattan at about 8:35 on the morning of that eleventh. A plane comes into view over the horizon and eventually heads over the Bronx and into Manhattan air space. There is something unusual about it. Isn't it a bit low? Do planes usually go along that path? It must be going to Newark, but...jesus no that is definitely really low, look at that, it just went past the Empire State Building below the observation deck! It looks like it's heading straight for the World Trade Center, holy shit it's...
The truth was that Pendleton wanted to see it, wanted to see with his own two eyes these low-flying high-speed airplanes scream in from the horizon and smash right into the World Trade Center towers. This was a huge historical event and it had occurred practically in his own backyard. He had just missed it. All he saw was a couple of smoking towers, and then the spectacular collapse in sparkling plumes of concrete dust and glass. Not to be insensitive to the human trauma or anything but he couldn't help but feel something like the feeling of missing the beginning of a movie, like you've come in and everything is under way and you never feel quite satisfied that you've understood everything perfectly well. He had imagined the impact so many times, every time he saw a low-flying plane, every time he saw a skyscraper, and he knew the gist of what it would look like from the documentary evidence, but what would it look like really in real life? What would it sound like? If that sort of thing is on your mind on a regular basis, if a time warp comes and it's influenced at all by your mental predilections, then seen from that angle it's not that surprising that somebody would go right back and relive that day a few times.
So the first time he went back, that is to say the second time altogether, he went right back to the west end of the 40th Street 7 train station platform and gazed intently northward. He checked his watch. 8:38 am. His heart began to beat harder. It was going to happen so soon. A plane appeared on the horizon. This was it. Here it comes.
"Oh my god, oh my god," he muttered out loud, noticing on his periphery that a few people gave him the sideways eye. He straightened up and said more forthrightly to the nearest man: "Check this out." He gestured to the plane, which was still quite a long way off. The man glanced up and tossed Pendleton a perplexed facial expression before getting back to his newspaper. A 7 train pulled up and everyone got on except Pendleton. As it left, a fresh crew of commuters was already filtering up the stairs and onto the platform. The plane was getting really close now. It was just going past the Empire State Building, clearly lower than the top of the building. Pendleton looked around to see if anyone was noticing this obviously demonic plane. Nobody was. He smacked a man on the shoulder to get him to look. He couldn't help himself. The guy looked.
"Holy fucking shit!" said the guy Pendleton had hit in the shoulder.
"Stay tuned," said Pendleton. He couldn't help himself. But when the next 7 train came, the guy got on it. Most people got on the train, many of them still not noticing that anything strange had happened. It took them a while to stop the train service.
Time seemed to go fast, staring at that first building. Pendleton nearly forgot to look for the approach of the second plane. By the time he looked up for it, it was halfway down the skyline already, a little further west than the first one. It disappeared from view behind the towers and the smoke, and then...
OK, so there it was. The rest he had seen. Naturally, he watched it again, right up to the collapse and beyond. With all the knowledge he had from the first time and the ensuing years, he enjoyed a sense of superiority over the other confused onlookers on the platform. He had a radio with earphones this time too. There was the same guy, making his announcement that the Supreme Court had been hit. He must have been listening to the same station, but what they really said, what really happened was it was evacuated. An odd impulse came over Pendleton. He yanked the earphone out of his ear and stage whispered: "They got Mount Rushmore!" A woman's eyes widened in dismay.
Pendleton went to bed that night not sure when or where he'd wake up. As it turned out, when he woke up, he was in his Queens apartment, and it was the eleventh again. What time was it? 7:30. He had time. He wanted to check it out from a different angle this time, get a little bit closer. The Brooklyn Bridge was a pretty obvious vantage point. He'd have to hustle.
The Brooklyn Bridge angle was very dramatic, and had the advantage of including sound. You could actually hear the planes' engines, must have been on full throttle, and man, when they hit, that's a sound you never get used to.
What could he do at the end of the day but go to bed? This couldn't go on forever, but the third morning too, it was the eleventh. What time was it? 6:45. Plenty of time. Might as well try Manhattan this time. Manhattan itself. Pendleton took the 7 all the way in to Times Square and changed to the downtown A, got off at 23rd Street, and made his way to the Greenway by the Hudson in time to stroll his way in a quite leisurely fashion down to about Canal Street where he perched himself and waited. Absolutely spectacular.
On subsequent mornings it was always the eleventh and he tried out various spots, sometimes focusing on one plane or the other for the day, since certain outlooks favored the north, others the south. He did Sixth Avenue one time, then South Street Seaport, parked his car right on the BQE once, even did Hoboken for a change of pace. One time, and this scared the living hell out of him but he convinced himself to do it, he went up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building first thing in the morning. That first plane, especially, jesus, he saw it approach and go past so close he could have hit it with a baseball, and right around the same altitude he was at. Oh my god. He nearly lost his ability to stand, his legs got so wibbly wobbly, and could barely turn to look at the view to the south. When the impact happened, he just slid down and crouched and tried to breathe.
This is crazy. That's what Pendleton finally started to think. How many elevenths of September could a man stand? He had seen it now several times from all sorts of angles, and it wouldn't stop, and the same thing happened every time, and it was starting to create a very empty feeling. It remained compulsively fascinating, and even, though he hated to admit it even to himself, strangely beautiful, like a nuclear explosion. It's horrifying, and yet, shoot me, there's a pre-intellectual visual aesthetic there. Why do you think they showed it on the news so many times? Because it was fascinating. People were gripped by it. They didn't get tired of playing it because people didn't get tired of seeing it. But for Pendleton, finally, it was no longer enough. Maybe he should...maybe he should try to do something. That hadn't even occurred to him until he had seen it seven or eight times. How long was this going to go on? Maybe he was supposed to try to do something about it.
He woke up. It was the eleventh, 5:00 am. He didn't bother showering. He wanted to get there early, before people started going in to work. By ten to six he was outside the main entrance to the North Tower. Nobody really showed up for a pretty long time, leaving Pendleton quite a lonely stretch of just looking up with existential dread, seeing the towers standing there from what he decided was the best angle of all, right from the bottom. When workers began to arrive, Pendleton accosted them. "Don't go in there!" he urged them, and when they brushed him off, he'd grab them by the shoulder and say "No, I'm serious, don't go in there, I'm begging you don't go in there I have come from the future and I know, there are planes coming, the towers are going to be destroyed. I have come from the future!" Not one person believed him, and he got frantic, trying to tell enough people, trying to stop them. He started shouting it, attracting the attention only of a few security personnel, who asked him to move along. But he didn't move along, he stood on a bench and started shouting again, don't go in, don't go in there. He waved his arms and pleaded.
One person hesitated before going in, looking at Pendleton the crazy man, and actually turned away, saying "fuck it, I'm not going in." He was a bit superstitious. Pendleton watched him leaving the area towards Church Street and felt gratified. Maybe he had just saved a life. He remembered then for some reason about all the people in the South Tower who had been told to remain at their desks, who had listened to the voice of authority. He decided to head for the South Tower entrance, where he started a chant: "Don't stay at your desk! Don't stay at your desk! Don't stay at your desk! Don't stay at your desk!" Everyone just looked at him quizzically if they acknowledged him at all, but Pendleton hoped that the little refrain would stick in their minds, and that they'd think of it when the order came to stay. Maybe some of them would be superstitious too.
What time was it? 8:44. Oh god. Here it comes! Pendleton came back around to the North Tower and looked up. He heard it coming. Baboom. It was spectacular. He actually went into the lobby as soon as it hit, to avoid falling debris, just for the first five minutes or so, and then in something of a daze he just walked off, up West Street. When the second plane came zooming down the Hudson, he hardly even noticed it, so lost in his daze he was. He heard the crash but it didn't really register, and he didn't even turn around. He just kept walking.
Pendleton had read accounts from inside the towers, stories that weren't collected and released until several years later. There were amazing stories of heroism. Some man in the South Tower, never to be identified, was able to lead some people to a way down a certain stairway that survived the impact and was not in flames, even at and above the impact floors. He just kept showing people the way and then going back in. So there was a spot up there, above the impact site, where you could survive and then escape. A spot where you could help other people escape if you knew where it was. The stairway was on the northwest side of the building. People were known to have made it out from at least the 81st floor. Others had gone up instead, trying to get to the roof. That turned out to be the wrong move. Not only was there no rooftop rescue operation, but the door wouldn't even open to let you out there.
Eighty-first floor, eighty-first floor. Oh fuck it, why not? This has to end some time anyway. Fuck it. This can't go on forever. That's what Pendleton was thinking. There are stresses involved in being trapped in a time warp, and the eleventh was really starting to get on Pendleton's tits. He identified an office on the southwest side of the building where he reckoned you could survive the plane but still see it coming. It would hit maybe 130 feet away, but for all intents and purposes it would look like it was coming right at you until a second before the crash. He was taking a risk, of course. He wasn't completely sure of his calculations but he thought that's how it must be, somebody on that floor had seen the plane coming, meaning he was looking south, and had gotten out through the northwest stairway, which must have meant he was on a southwest part of the floor. Fuck it. He knew the guy's name. He'd go straight to the same office, fuck it. When he woke up next time on the eleventh, he was there. He went to sleep in his apartment, and then he opened his eyes and he was standing in an office on the 81st floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Spectacular view. It was just after 9:00.
The guy whose office it was just had time to question the intruder's presence before Pendleton pointed to the window out by the Statue of Liberty. A low-flying jetliner was just circling around behind it and was banking hard towards the tower. It was coming on fast.
"What the..." said the guy in the office.
"Here it comes," said Pendleton, thoughtfully adding: "Don't worry."
There it was, the nose of a jetliner in midair coming right at you. Right at you, and you're way high up in a skyscraper, and it's not just coming near you, it's coming right at you. It's getting bigger, bigger, man it's big, so fast, oh my god...
An absolutely stupendous experience. Pendleton had been really terrified, practically out of his wits, but he had made his bet and rolled his dice and he was going to grit his teeth and bear it come what may. It was hugely loud, that was probably the main thing. You couldn't see the huge fireball explosion, anyway not from under the desk where Pendleton had dived, but you felt the impact all right, and more than that you felt it when the building snapped back after the impact. It felt like a miracle that that whole tower didn't fall over right then and there. We're still standing? Unbelievable.
Well, it had worked. Pendleton was alive. Things were knocked about and some shiny bit of airplane had even come through one wall but nothing had fallen on his legs and crushed them or anything horrible like that. He was alive and he could move. He could walk. He was relatively calm although it's true he was extremely eager to get going, to get things underway and find that staircase. He was jumpy. He could suddenly imagine rather vividly all the people who were not going to have ended up as fortunate as himself. Pendleton surprised himself with how chilling this feeling was. He scrambled to his feet. Which way was north? Which way was west? OK OK OK, let's get going here, let's get going. The man whose office it was turned out to be willing to follow Pendleton's confident lead, and together they set off to get to that northwest staircase. The man knew just where it was, once he had gotten his bearings and Pendleton had spoken some reassuring words.
"Go ahead on down," said Pendleton when they arrived. "Stay calm. You have a good 50 minutes yet."
"Fifty minutes before what?" said the man.
"I am from the future," said Pendleton. "Just keep walking."
"Aren't you coming?"
The truth is that Pendleton didn't last very long up there poking around looking for people to inform about the northwest stairway. He felt heat and he wasn't too sure about where or when huge fires might come blazing in out of nowhere. He was very eager to get down those stairs. However, he did do a certain amount of poking around. Whenever he saw somebody wandering, he told them: northwest stairway, down, down, down. He directed perhaps six or seven individual wandering survivors down that way, including some that were on their way towards the roof. That group included one guy who really wanted everyone to go up to the roof. More to the point, it seemed to Pendleton, he just wanted everyone to obey him.
"No, we're going up!" the man said to Pendleton. "We go to the roof and they will send helicopters!"
Pendleton hated everything about this guy. He seemed like some bigwig, used to giving orders. What the hell was he so confident about? Look at his smug face. It was personal. He just wanted to be in fucking charge.
"I'm telling you, the roof is locked, you can't get out there."
"You've been to the roof and back?"
"No I haven't been to the roof and back, I'm telling you it's locked."
"You're telling me? Who the fuck are you? Where do you work?"
"Where do I work?!"
"What are you, from the fucking mailroom?"
The man was critically examining Pendleton now, clearly sensing that there was something subordinate about him. Pendleton looked back at the man, upset and bewildered and offended. He was trying to view him as a sympathetic figure. Jesus hell, he was a World Trade Center victim after all. His name would end up on a monument one day for crying out loud. Well, it was no good; this guy may have been perfectly pitiable in the abstract, but in the flesh he was a jerk.
"No I'm not from the fucking mailroom, dickwad! You want to go to the roof, go to the fucking roof."
"Let's go everyone! To the roof!"
"No!" screamed Pendleton. "It's a mistake! Don't listen to this cunt! He's a dick! There aren't going to be any helicopters! There's too much smoke, they can't do it! I'm telling you, we can get down these stairs! We can make it!"
Well, in the end, some of the people went down, some went up. Pendleton couldn't wait forever. This guy just wasn't going to listen to him. Pendleton watched him heading up the stairs, trailing followers. People, thought Pendleton, and then he went down the stairs, all the way down and out.
A couple of nights ago, Pendleton had gotten a different idea in his head when he went to sleep. When he opened his eyes it was the eleventh again and he was at Logan Airport in Boston, right by a boarding gate. What did it say by the gate? American Airlines. Flight 11 to Los Angeles. Pendleton quickly realized what was happening and made a beeline for the gate's doorway. These guys all traveled first class. They'll be among the first to board. What on earth did Mohamed Atta look like? The last thing he wanted to do was get involved in any racial profiling. He had to stop Atta, but what if he approached the wrong man? There would have been four or five of them, but surely there would be other dark-skinned men of Middle Eastern appearance. He couldn't just go grab one of them at random.
"Mohamed Atta!" he suddenly shouted out, just to see who would turn around. "Mohamed Atta!"
Several people turned around. Not helpful. Pendleton ran up to the woman taking tickets at the gate and grabbed her by the arm.
"Listen to me," he began. "There are hijackers trying to board this plane. Murderers! They're going to crash the plane into the World Trade Center. You can't let them board the plane."
"Sir, please calm down."
"Calm down?! Listen to me! One of them is called Mohamed Atta. There's a terrorist plot. Stop all the planes right now. Don't let anybody take off. Find these guys. One of them is called Atta, Mohamed Atta."
It didn't go well. To Pendleton's complete disbelief, the ticket lady notified security, not to nab any hijackers, but to contain the crazy yelling person that he had become. He nearly ended up in a detention cell and would probably have ended up implicated in the conspiracy, except that they decided to let him go after the plane got safely airborne. Pendleton didn't even watch it on television. He just hung around all day in a pub, trying to think of anything but planes and buildings. Why hadn't they paid attention to him? He had specific information. He was identifying a specific individual. When they saw there really was a passenger called Mohamed Atta, why weren't they at least curious? Wouldn't it be worth checking out? Must be the bureaucratic mindset. The yelling person is always the one to tackle to the ground.
The next day on the eleventh, Pendleton opened his eyes and found himself back at the boarding gate of American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles. He tried a different tack. He would remain cool. He sidled on up to the ticket lady and began to whisper in her ear in easy confidential tones about information he had received about certain passengers. He instructed her to remain calm and quietly notify security if a Mohamed Atta were to attempt to board the aircraft. He made sure to use the word ?aircraft' and not ?plane.' Any sort of government type would definitely say ?aircraft' and not ?plane.'
As he stood there, a familiar face approached the gate. Pendleton's heart raced as he looked into the eyes of the man who would fly this plane right into a building and kill loads of people without caring. He looked down at his boarding pass. Yep. Mohamed Atta. 8D. First class motherfucker. The ticket lady took his boarding pass and let him pass towards the gangway.
"That was him," whispered Pendleton with some urgency. "Haven't you been listening to me?"
"We don't want to upset our first class passengers, sir. Please step away from the boarding area."
Pendleton moved away from the boarding area all right. He sprinted right past the lady and onto the gangway and tackled Mohamed Atta right to the ground and started pummeling him. The result? Atta boarded the plane, accompanied by ostentatiously ass-licking apologetic airline personnel. Pendleton was taken away by three security guards. He was charged with assault and ended up at central booking. When he went to sleep, he was in jail. When he opened his eyes again, it was the eleventh, and he was back at Logan Airport in Boston, in line at the boarding gate for Flight 11 to Los Angeles. He was holding a ticket and boarding pass. Coach. There was only one place he hadn't seen this motherfucker from. He handed his ticket and boarding pass to the ticket lady. She put them through her little machine and gave him the stub.
"Enjoy your flight, sir," she said.
"Yep," said Jack Pendleton, and boarded the plane.