Mia Osborne reached for her husband, but he was already climbing out of bed. “Gotta get going,” he said. “It’s four o’clock; you go back to sleep. I’ll feed Posey.”
Mia sat up, still grabbing at his arm. “Don’t go,” she said. “I had a dream. Please, it’s not going to turn out well…if you go, you won’t come back.”
“What?” he said irritably. “I don’t have time for dream nonsense, Mia. Joe is picking me up at 5:30.”
She jumped out of bed, scuttled in front of him and gripped him hard by the shoulders. Her voice was shrill. “Kevin, I’m not kidding around. If you go, you won’t come back. I am as sure of that as I am of the maple tree standing outside the window. You will not come back!”
He brushed her off. “I don’t have time for this nonsense, Mia. We’ve had this weekend planned for months and I’m going. I’ve paid for my share of the cabin rental.”
Her expression was one of literal panic. He had never seen her like this. She threw her arms around him and sobbed. “Please, Kevin, please don’t go! I am begging you, Kevin! I love you and I am begging you!”
He tried to peel her off but she was stronger than usual. “Stop it, Mia,” he said, but his resolve wavered. “Why are you doing this?”
She let go of him and slid to her knees. When she looked up, her eyes seemed huge, glistening and very dark. “I’m begging you, Kevin. If you love me, you won’t go. It’s as simple as that.”
He was silent while several things passed through his mind. She had never done anything like this before; she was not the hysterical type. They’d been married twenty-seven years and lived together before that. He felt that he knew her well.
“Mia, for God’s sake, get up. You’re freaking me out.”
She didn’t move. “I am freaked out, Kevin. I saw it plain as day. If you go, you will die.”
He reached down and pulled her up. “What did you see? What was in the dream exactly?”
“I’m not sure, it was more than half feeling. I saw them taking the bodies out. I knew that everyone was dead. Joe and Gary too. Everyone.”
“But how? How did we all die?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know exactly but it had something to do with the cabin. It was the most awful feeling.”
He sat back down on the edge of the bed, feeling tired and unsettled. While Mia did not normally exhibit out of the ordinary psychic abilities, she had done so on two different occasions years ago. They had run into her mother’s old friend at a restaurant and afterwards, Mia said, “She’s not going to be around much longer.” The woman had looked perfectly healthy, but sure enough, shortly afterwards she had suffered a sudden heart attack and died. Another time, when their daughter Lauren was in high school, Mia begged the girl to cancel a date with a certain boy later charged with date rape. Fortunately, Lauren had listened.
Those were it, but memorable. He sighed and got up heavily. Gruffly he said to her, “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” and left her to go downstairs.
She had the good sense not to follow him, nor hang about while he made the call. “Joe,” he said. “Is Gary there yet?”
His friend told him that he was.
“Look,” said Kevin, “I’m not going to be able to go.” He paused. “Mia is having some problems I need to take care of.” There was no way he was going to tell them the truth; he’d never hear the end of it. There’d be no way to prove Mia was right even if she was, since whatever she saw happening to him probably wouldn’t happen if he didn’t go.
“Oh,” said Joe, followed by what was probably a combination of stunned silence combined with suspicion that Kevin was lying. The guys sometimes teased Kevin about Mia “running the roost,” though he knew they were jealous about his and Mia’s relationship and made their little digs to even the score. They went turkey hunting together every spring and none of them had ever canceled out.
“Anything I can do?” said Joe rather slyly and Kevin said, “No. I really hate to do this to you guys. Maybe I’ll come later if I get things straightened out.” Though of course he knew he wouldn’t. He felt like a piece of slime.
After staring out the kitchen door window at two crows in the backyard while trying to calm down, he made himself a bowl of cereal and ended up tossing half in the trash. His stomach seemed to be clogged with cement. He felt a low simmering resentment. Let her come downstairs, he wouldn’t be there. Let her wonder where he was; he was furious, though he understood that she had caused him to do this out of love. He knew how much she loved him. She did not normally stop him from doing things he liked.
They learned what had happened next day on the evening news. No one had telephoned, though that would start a while later.
“Kevin!” Mia screamed from the living room.
He’d been in the garage where he had disappeared after an almost conversation-less dinner. He knew he was being ridiculous to punish her by his silence. He was behaving like a teenager, like their daughter used to do when they clamped down on her for some misconduct or other. Well, he would get over it; there would be other trips with Joe and Gary and next time, no matter what Mia dreamed, he was going. But what was she screaming about now?
He took his time getting to the living room and found her in tears. She pointed to the TV between sobs and managed to get out, “They’re dead, Kevin!”
“Who is dead, what are you talking about?” But he knew what she was going to say.
“Joe and Gary! Kevin, they died in a fire! The cabin burned down. They showed what was left and they named the victims.”
He roughly pushed her aside and darted to the TV. They had moved past the story now. “Where’s the iPad?” he barked.
She handed it to him, then jerked it back. “Wait,” she said, “You’re not fast on it. Let me find it.” She stabbed at the screen before handing it over.
He read and googled other news outlets.
“How did they know it was them?” Mia asked.
“By Joe’s Ford Explorer.”
She did not say, I warned you, but he felt it in the air. Instead, she came to him and hugged him so tightly that he had to pry her off. He knew what she wanted him to say but he seemed unable to speak. He was devastated and it would hit him harder as the days passed. Joe and he had been friends since seventh grade and Gary for a good fifteen years. They’d gone fishing and hunting together regularly and had helped each other build or repair their houses. Lauren had dated Gary’s son for a while and Mia and Joe’s wife Trish were yoga buddies.
Speaking of Trish, the phone rang and Mia ran to get it. Her voice was soft, but Kevin heard her say, “Trish, oh Trish.”
Kevin had not told Mia what excuse he’d given to get out of going and now he was anxious about what she would say. Apparently, Trish was talking about this now, about whatever Joe had told her before he left because Mia said, “Yeah, there was a problem, but it’s personal.” And she went on listening to whatever Trish was saying. God forbid she ever told Trish the truth because the obvious question would then be why didn’t you stop them ALL from going?
But of course he knew why. First of all, he would never have mentioned it to the men no matter how much Mia begged. They would have laughed him into the next county. Not the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell they would have listened. And then he would have had to say that was why he wasn’t going, which would have only added to his humiliation.
“Mia,” he said, once she managed to get off the phone. She was crying and looked at him guiltily.
“Whatever you do, don’t ever tell them. Whatever you do.”
She mutely nodded.
“Bad enough as it is,” he added. She continued to cry.
The funerals were a nightmare. He felt accused no matter what anyone said. Both funerals occurred without viewings since the bodies were burned beyond recognition. Gary was cremated and his urn placed on a draped table surrounded by flowers. No one spoke except for the minister. The crowd was small since most of his and his wife Karen’s relatives were old and lived in Oregon. Karen and their children sat silently and stared into space.
Kevin didn’t try to say much but simply hugged Karen. Shaking his head, he said, “I am really going to miss him.” Karen would not look him in the eye.
“Did you notice she wouldn’t look at me?” he said to Mia in the car.
“She wasn’t too warm with me either. I guess I can’t blame her.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s obvious, Kevin. Her husband is dead and mine is alive. In her mind, you should be dead too.”
The reaction was similar at Joe’s funeral the next day. The casket was closed and since he’d been Catholic, the service was longer and held in the church. When Kevin and Mia finally got close to Trish at the luncheon afterwards, Trish was evasive. She allowed herself to be hugged and even patted Mia’s hand, but soon disappeared into a group of relatives.
Mia drove home. Kevin sat slumped in the passenger seat, feeling spent. “I don’t know,” he said.
Eventually, the details of the tragedy came to light. Just when he was thinking of going to the police to ask what exactly had happened, Mia set a pot of chili on the table and while filling a bowl for him, said, “I finally got Trish to talk.”
Kevin looked at her, his heart speeding up. “What did she say?”
“She told me how it happened. From what the fire marshal said.”
His stomach flipped over.
“Apparently, Gary went to bed. They’d been drinking a lot. There were many beer bottles and whiskey too.” Her expression registered sadness and disapproval. “Anyway, Joe stayed up and was cooking something. A grease fire started at the stove. His body was found on the floor in the kitchen area. The fire marshal figured that Joe had started making something, but being drunk, had fallen asleep at the table and then the fire spread and consumed the whole cabin. Those kind of fires are fast, the marshal said.”
Kevin’s mind filled with memories of other hunting trips and yes, Joe had a habit of suddenly becoming ravenous after an evening of drinking, but he and Gary had stayed up and joined him and helped him clean up. They were getting older now though and it was becoming normal to hit the sack earlier and poor Gary must have been tired out. He’d probably been in bed before Joe decided to fry something. Why oh why couldn’t Joe have been satisfied with a peanut butter sandwich or a piece of cake? Oh God. Kevin let out a stifled sob.
“Kevin?” said Mia, laying a hand on his arm. “Are you all right?
He shook his head and gently brushed her off. “I don’t know,” he said.
He and Mia had met at the community college where she was taking a general course while she decided what she wanted to focus on. He was planning to major in mechanical engineering, but due to money issues, like Mia, he figured he’d get in his general courses at the community college before transferring to a state school. But while Mia went on to Lehigh University and graduated with a teaching degree in English and French, Kevin’s father died and he didn’t have the money to continue. He apprenticed to an uncle who ran his own electrician company and worked up through the grades until he eventually took over his uncle’s business when the man retired. Mia taught senior high English and occasionally French when they needed her, but had retired early when Lauren left home and now made and sold soaps and candles. He and Mia had always gotten along well. He could remember only two fights they’d ever had resulting in one or the other refusing to sleep in the same bed, but only for one night and they were soon smoothed over. He considered himself lucky to have her and she often said the same about him, so why then was he feeling this terrible gulf between them?
“Maybe you need a vacation,” Mia suggested a week after the funerals. “Or maybe see a therapist for grief counseling?” She looked pale and disheveled.
He shook his head, slipped into his jacket and out the door. As much as possible, he avoided intimacy now. She was right though, he needed to sort through his thoughts but why would he need a shrink to do that?
Instead of heading to work, he phoned his men, made sure they were set for the day and drove out of town. At first he was going nowhere in particular but then suddenly found himself en route to the cabin, or what remained of it. The place was about thirty miles northwest and it took him an hour to get there and find it.
His car rumbled in slowly over a rutted dirt driveway until it slowed to a stop about fifty feet from the ruin. For a moment, his heart seemed to stop beating entirely, then restarted with a hard thump. Maybe he was going to die here now where he should have died two weeks before. At first this was a startling thought, but it made a weird and terrible sense. A wave of guilt washed over him and he let go of the steering wheel and sobbed.
After a while, he got out and slowly walked around. The wet and blackened cabin remains were taped off with signs warning to keep out. Kevin didn’t know, since they had never rented this particular place before, if it had a crawl space to fall into through the burned-out floor. He stepped under the tape and looked inside. He expected to get a creepy feeling but there was nothing like that. It just seemed forsaken and lonely. A crow cawed overhead and wind rustled the trees. The smell of smoky damp penetrated his nostrils. He could not believe that his friends had died here, that he would never see or hear Joe or Gary again.
He climbed back into the car and stared straight ahead. Surely it was his fault that they were dead. Or was it Mia’s? If she’d not had that dream, he would have gone with them and maybe the fire wouldn’t have happened. That’s right, he thought. If he had been there, and Gary had gone to bed, he would have stayed up with Joe. Kevin didn’t usually get sleepy till eleven or eleven thirty, so there was no doubt in his mind that he would have stayed up with Joe. He wouldn’t have let Joe start that fire. Yet Mia claimed that her dream showed her the bodies being taken out, including his own.
His cell phone played “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Mia’s ring tone, but he let it run out and turned on the engine.
Her fault, his mind kept saying, it was all her fault. How was he going to live with this? He drove and drove, not paying attention to where he was going.
Survivor’s guilt is what this is, he thought finally. He’d read about it, heard about it on talk shows and in documentaries about disasters and war. He saw Mia’s face in his mind and almost slid into the left lane, causing a startled driver to sound his horn. Remember, he said to himself, she saw in her dream that I would not have come back. Remember the other two times she’d had premonitions. Maybe it was only a silly fantasy that he could have saved them all.
First chance he got, he pulled to the shoulder and sat there thinking. Finally, he picked up his phone, breathed deeply and pressed in Mia’s number. When she answered, he hesitated and then whispered, “Thank you.”
Margaret Karmazin’s stories have appeared in literary and speculative fiction magazines in the U.S., the UK, Germany, Australia, Canada, Romania, and New Zealand, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Confrontation, Mobius, Another Realm, Pennsylvania Review, Front Porch Review and The Moon. Four of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and “The Manly Thing” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. A children’s book, Flick-Flick & Dreamer, and a YA book, REPLACING FIONA, were published by etreasurespublishing.com; and a collection of her short stories, RISK, is available on Amazon.
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash.com