Ghost Pilots at Time Square

He had just graduated from Harvard University and was living in Manhattan. He loved the city and was beginning to feel at home on its streets. World War II was raging in Europe, and like all other good citizens, he followed the headlines daily and did his part for the boys overseas. Hugging his jacket close, he stood shivering at the corner, waiting for the light to change and wondering where his enlisted friends might be staying on that cold winter night. He hoped they were safe. He shivered, only partially from the cold, and looked around him at the bright lights of Times Square. He never tired of this glittering scene. His eye was caught by two men who were dressed in the uniforms of the Royal Air Force of England. They must be on leave, he thought. The men stopped beside him, glanced quickly at their watches, and then nodded and grinned at him. The taller of the two asked him, in the clipped accent of the British, if this was Times Square. He suppressed a smile at such a touristy question and said that it was. The light changed, and the two RAF pilots fell into step with the Harvard graduate as he crossed the street. The three men fell into conversation together as they meandered along the shining streets. The Brits were thrilled to be in Times Square after all they had suffered in the war. They didn’t go into detail about their wartime experiences, and he didn’t press them. He just enjoyed their pleasure in the scene, which was marred only by the frequent checking of their watches. Finally, he asked if they had someplace to be, but they said they were free for the evening. He promptly invited them to have dinner with him at the Harvard Club, and the RAF pilots accepted with alacrity. The three men repaired immediately to the Harvard Club, where they dined leisurely and chatted late into the evening. The RAF pilots were good company and told many stories, although they glossed over their experiences in the war. They continued to check their watches frequently throughout the night, but he decided it was just a nervous habit they had picked up somewhere – possibly in the air force. As midnight approached, the two RAF pilots excused themselves are rose from the table. They thanked the Harvard man for a memorable evening and started for the door. Then the tall pilot turned back and told their host that they had always wanted to visit Times Square, but never had the opportunity. It was strange, the pilot added, that they had to wait until after they were dead – killed in action when their planes were shot down the night before over Berlin – to fulfill this dream. The Harvard man stiffened, his eyes widening incredulously and his mouth falling open in shock. He gasped but could not speak. The phantom RAF pilot smiled sardonically at him, nodded, and joined his friend in the doorway. Then the pilots vanished before the astonished man’s eyes, just at the stroke of twelve midnight.

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