I know that two hundred and seventy-nine people are going to die tomorrow. I know where it will happen but not the location. I know the names of every person who will die but I do not know them. For the last month I have seen their faces in my dreams. I have heard their screams. The first time I had the dream the only thing I recalled on waking was the disaster. I watched the plane as it dropped lower and lower in the sky. The sky was a beautiful cerulean blue. There were a few fluffy white clouds that resembled puffs of pillow stuffing. The plane dropped, faster and faster. I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came from my throat. I jumped awake seconds before the plane would have hit the earth, leaving a long gouge in the green grass, exposing the rich red earth beneath. My body was covered in a thin film of cooling sweat.
People dream about plane crashes. I’ve had friends tell me about dreams like that. They dream and when they are awake the next day they go about their business, the dream forgotten. They have pushed the dream to the back of their minds and unless something out of the ordinary happens they will likely forget it completely in a day or two. I pushed my dream to the back of my mind. I pushed it as hard as I could. But when I sat in front of my computer at work, poring over meaningless information, I could still see the plane dropping from the sky.
Five nights later I had the dream again. I had the dream again but it was not exactly the same. The sky and clouds were the same. The plane was dropping slowly, like a paper airplane that had lost its hold of the drafts that would keep it airborne. Now I was inside the plane. I looked out the window to my left. I saw the crazy tilted angle of the wing. I looked to my right. There was a middle aged man beside me who I did not recognize. His eyes were wide and his hands clenched the back of the seat in front of him. Next to him was a middle aged woman. Her mouth was moving but I could not hear any sound. I thought she might be praying. Looking out the window once again I realized the green earth was rushing up to meet us. I wanted to close my eyes but some compulsion made me continue to watch as death opened her arms to welcome me, to welcome all of us. There was a jolt and I sat up in bed, breathless, heart pounding, and a silent scream in my throat.
The next day I could hardly function as the dream filled my mind. It played over and over behind my eyes. I accomplished nothing at work. I spent the day staring at the computer monitor. I placed my fingers on the keyboard but they never moved. Co-workers asked if I was sick, told me I looked pale, suggested I go home early. I did not want to go home. If I went home I might sleep and if I slept I might dream the dream again.
After a couple of days it began to fade. It never left my mind entirely but it faded like an old color photo that’s hung on the wall for years, the sunlight striking it until all the color and life had been leached out of it. I began to feel safe. I began to sleep through the night again.
I should have known better. Hope is a funny thing. Hope combined with fear is even funnier. It lulls you into a false sense of safety because anything else is too horrifying to accept. I was lulled into that lie, that make believe peaceful place, where dreams are only dreams.
It was seven days after the second dream when the third dream came. It came with a newfound vividness. It came complete with sights, sounds, and smells. The man beside me smelled of whiskey and sweat. Beads of that sweat stood out on his upper lip like shiny transparent globes. His voice was a low deep throated moan that escaped his lips and lingered in the air like a mournful song. The woman was not praying. She was repeating a name, over and over like an old vinyl record that skipped on a scratch, unable to proceed unless someone gave it a tap. The tap came. Te tap came as the plane impacted the earth. I felt the vibrating seat, watched the grass and dirt fly up outside the window. I smelled fuel and flames. Mercifully I woke. I did not jolt awake. I did not suddenly find myself sitting up in my bed. I simply opened my eyes. It was still night. The only light was the reflection of the streetlight outside my window throwing bars across the ceiling as it forced its way between the slats of my blinds. I did not go to work the next day.
I did not go to work for the next three days. I could not bear to hear the comments on my appearance, the very polite suggestions that I should see a doctor. I could not stare at the computer monitor, terrified I would see that man’s face staring back at me, pleading for me to help him.
Then I had a week without the dream. Just when I thought I was safe, just when I believed I could sleep at night and wake the next morning, shower, dress, grab a latte and head to the office, just then the dream came again.
I was not in a seat in the cabin. I was in the cockpit. My hands were locked around the plane’s wheel. I was watching the white fluffy clouds float by in that beautiful cerulean sky. When I looked straight ahead I saw that bright green grass; grass that looked as though it had been painted a blade at a time by a magical brush. The earth was rushing at me. I was not afraid. I was not unafraid. I was nothing. It was inevitable and I accepted it. When I met the ground this time it was not a gentle jolt, it was a punch that drove my entire body sharply back in the seat. I watched the blades of grass separate and fly into the air and the rich red earth part like a woman giving birth. Only we were not being born, we were dying. We were being surrounded by earth and grass and the yellow orange of flames. I did not wake up. The dream faded and I slept on.
The next morning I woke and went to work. I waited. I waited that day, I waited the next day. I waited a week. I walked in a dream. I worked in a dream. Everyone said I looked much better. I told them I felt better. They said it must have been a bug, an allergy, the change of seasons. I agreed. I agreed with every one of them.
On the way to work I passed a store with televisions in the window. A crowd of people stood and stared at the screens, every one turned to the same program. I saw the flames. I saw the blue sky and the green grass, and the angry red gash in the earth. Two hundred and seventy nine people died. I watched for a few minutes. The crowd around me murmured horror, fear, and mourning. I went to work.
That was three months ago. Last night I dreamed I was standing beside train tracks. I could see the bright headlight of a train speeding toward me. I did not hear it. I watched it approach, the light cutting through the black night like a sword splitting dark velvet. Gray fog like mist drifted along the tracks, clinging to the ground like hungry fingers. I watched the train speed past and then it leaped from the tracks as though it could fly like the plane. It left the tracks and began its journey across the grass and the earth, cutting through it and leaving a swath of red like an open wound. The cars tumbled one on top of the other, crumpling like aluminum foil that will be discarded when it is no longer of any use. The lights behind the windows flickered and some went out.
I woke. I was not screaming. My heart was not racing. One hundred and eighty eight people were going to die. Sometime in about a month they would board a train journeying to homes, on vacations, to jobs, until they would be embraced by the flames. I knew their names. I knew the names of every one of them.