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"The Langoliers"
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror,
Science fiction novella
Published in Four Past Midnight
Publisher Viking
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Publication date September 1990

The Langoliers is one of four novellas published in the Stephen King book Four Past Midnight in 1990.

Plot summary

On a cross-country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston, some passengers awaken to find that the crew and most of their fellow passengers have disappeared; the only passengers remaining are Brian Engle, an off-duty airline pilot; Dinah Bellman, a young blind girl with minor psychic powers; fifth-grade teacher Laurel Stevenson; Nick Hopewell, a mysterious Englishman; Don Gaffney, a retired tool-and-die engineer; Rudy Warwick, a perpetually hungry businessman; Albert Kaussner, a talented Jewish teen violinist; Bethany Simms, a teen girl with a drug problem; Bob Jenkins, a mystery author; and Craig Toomy, an irritable investment banker on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. They discover that only the passengers who were sleeping when the disappearance took place remained. They are unable to contact ground control over the radio, and when flying over cities see only darkness. Brian suggests that they make an emergency landing in Bangor, Maine while they figure out what has happened. Craig is upset to hear this and protests, but they still land in Bangor.

When they land in Bangor, they discover that the airport is abandoned with no signs of life. Furthermore, the environment is odd in several ways: there are no odors or electricity, sounds do not echo, food and drink have no taste, and matches and lighters don't burn. Dinah hears sounds in the distance resembling radio static and eventually all the passengers can hear this noise. Craig believes that the noise is caused by the "Langoliers"; he flashes back to his childhood, when his verbally abusive father told him the Langoliers ate children who wasted time. In his desperation to escape the Langoliers and make his appointment in Boston, Craig descends into madness and obtains a gun he finds in an open locker. Craig holds Bethany as a hostage and shoots Albert before he is knocked out and tied up. Amazingly, the gun's bullet has no force, and therefore, Albert does not get killed. Bob theorizes that they have flown through a time rip caused by an aurora borealis that the airlines spotted over the Mojave Desert. Bob declares that the world they are in is the past, a world that doesn't allow time travelers to see past events, but a deserted world that "time" has left behind. To get back, Bob theorizes, they must fly back through the aurora.

The survivors suggest refueling the plane, but Brian implies that, as sounds don't echo and food doesn't have taste, jet fuel won't burn. Eventually, Albert realizes that they brought their own time with them and the plane still holds the present inside the plane - the food, drinks and matches inside the plane work. Thus, jet fuel will work once loaded into the plane. While the others are busy Craig breaks free of his bonds and hides himself behind the counter in the restaurant, equipped with a butcher knife. Dinah, Bethany, Don, Rudy, and Laurel go to check on him, and Craig emerges quickly from the counter and stabs Dinah in the chest, fearing her as the chief Langolier, and flees. Nick and Laurel bandage the wound while Don and Albert find a stretcher in the airport security office, but Craig is hiding behind the door and stabs Don to death. Albert battles Craig and knocks him out again, almost killing him. While the survivors are all set to leave and have refueled the plane, Dinah telepathically communicates with Craig and persuades him that his board meeting is being held on the runway. Craig makes his way out and hallucinates arriving at the meeting, but has a break down before his boss and screams that he deliberately cost the company millions, ensuring his eventual firing and disgrace.

Suddenly, strange creatures emerge from the forest north of the airport after knocking down telephone wires. The Langoliers eat everything in their path as the group rushes inside, while Craig runs away. He is brought down and eaten alive. In the plane, Bob determines that the Langoliers are the timekeepers of eternity, and that their purpose is to eat what is left of the past. The plane takes off, and as they fly the passengers see that the rest of the land falls apart, leaving a formless, black void. The survivors make their way back to Los Angeles and discuss their pasts as they fly; Nick reveals himself to be an assassin for the British Army who was going to Boston to find a politician funding the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and assassinate his girlfriend. Dinah speaks to Laurel about how her life is ending happily, and then succumbs to her injuries. Nick confesses his feelings for Laurel and the hopes of a romance with her. Albert and Bethany confess a similar attraction.

Bob recalls that they only survived because they fell asleep coming through the timerift. Just as Brian is about to go through the rift, Bob has him turn the plane around, as they must again be asleep to pass through the rift safely. Brian has the idea of decreasing cabin pressure to put everyone to sleep, but one person must stay awake to put the pressure back to normal, and die. Nick volunteers, first instructing Laurel to let his father, who lives in a village called Fluting, south of London, know that his son has quit and that he has done his best to atone for what happened behind the church in Belfast. While everyone is asleep, he increases the pressure and disappears in thin air as the plane passes through the rift. Brian wakes up and tries to make radio communication with the ground. No one responds and the Los Angeles they fly over is just the same as Bangor. They land the plane, and the world first seems deserted. When they check outside, they hear a noise; this noise is not the scary, ominous sound of the Langoliers, but a relaxing hum. Inside the airport, sounds echo and food has taste. Bob concludes that the time rift brought them into the future and that this world is not dead, but a world that's waiting to be born. The group moves themselves against the wall to avoid human traffic in the airport. They then see colors with holograms of people and activity going on. A flash hits them and they find themselves in the present again. Happy to be back, the group goes outside for some fresh air.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The Langoliers was adapted for a two-part TV Movie in 1995. The TV movie starred Kate Maberly, Kimber Riddle, Patricia Wettig, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Christopher Collet and Bronson Pinchot.

The movie version of "The Langoliers", produced for broadcast on ABC-TV, was filmed almost entirely in and around the Bangor International Airport in Bangor, Maine (author King's hometown) during the summer of 1995. King himself made a cameo appearance in the film as Craig Toomey's boss, during Toomey's hallucination.

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