Hot, dry wind whipped her hair around her face, fast enough so that everything seemed to be blurred with red.
Above her she could see the sun beating down on this desert place from a clear sky, the pale expanse broken only by a single jet contrail slicing across it from east to west.
On the ground in front of her a roll of 35mm film, pulled from it's canister to lay on the dry ground in a twisted curl, like a skin shed from some modern animal.
To her left she could see her car a half mile away, visible just as a green shape through the waves of heat coming up off the desert.
A dry stream bed, white with alkali, snaked away to her right.
Yes, the signs were all here. This was the place and it was almost time.
She took a long drink from the water bottle, draining it. she let it fall from her hand with a small pang. She hated littering. But she knew that they would find the car and the bottle and assume that she was dead, sacrificed to the heat of Death Valley. It didn't matter, no one would miss her. She had no close family, no close friends, and no lover.
She turned away from the car and pushed her hair back from her face. A tangle snagged on her fingers and she brought it forward to look at the colour again. She loved this colour, and it had been worth the time and money spent at the salon to change her mousey brown to this deep red. This unnatural colour was not dreamt. It was her small defiance and she suspected he would hate it. The thought of an unknown reaction made her smile. There was a feeling in the pit of her stomach that she had not felt in a long time, and she welcomed this return of anticipation. It was surprising how much fun was sucked out of life when you knew what was going to happen.
For the first time in months, she had no idea what was going to happen next. It felt wonderful.
Jane could not say exactly when the visions started. When she thought about it and looked back it seemed that they started around the time that Frank left. They may have begun before that, but somehow she doubted it. It would be just the sort of thing that Frank would be into, it would have made her less boring, less bland, more interesting in his eyes.
It began slowly. Something would happen and she'd think that maybe she'd done that before or said that before and she would shrug and pass it off as deja vu. A week or two would go by and it would happen again.
Then it started happening more frequently, like every three or four days and it began to freak her out a little. Am I losing it? she thought, had Frank's leaving been the final straw?
She went to see a therapist, someone she found in the phone book. She could have gone to see the one employed by her company, but she wanted this to stay under the HR radar. Who knows when this kind of shit might surface and prove to be a career limiting move. Career. Hah, that's a joke. Like she was ever going to be anything more than just another cog in a big multinational corporate machine.
She could tell the therapist didn't really take her all that seriously. He thought it was some sort of sleep issue and prescribed a sleeping aid. What a mistake that was.
She took one that night. Instead of the deep sleep she normally had, she dreamed a vivid, silly dream that she remembered clearly upon waking. In the dream, her terminal froze and the IT guy came to fix it during his lunch. He brought his sandwich with him and as he was eating it, a big blob of mayo landed on the m key and slid into the keyboard. He cursed and had to go get her a new one.
Well that was odd, she thought when she awoke.
Odd was not the word in her head 6 hours later, when the blob of mayo from the IT guy's sandwich landed on the m key.
It seemed that floodgates had opened. Every night Jane dreamed something, and every day what she dreamed, happened. She cursed that therapist and his goddamned sleeping pills.
She tried to fight it. One night she dreamed that at 4:17 she walked into HR and quit her job. Oh hell no, she thought and called in sick. The headache started around noon, and slowly increased in intensity. By 1, she had swallowed twice as many Advil as the package recommended. By 2 pm, it was so bad it was starting to make her nauseous. At 3 she wondered about taking a sleeping pill to sleep through this, but decided against - who knows what Pandora's box a second might open.. At 4, she was curled up on the cold tile floor of her bathroom wondering if she should call emergency. She crawled to the hall phone, meaning to call 911, but was only mildly surprised to find she had called work. 'HR department' she told the operator. Oddly, the nausea and headache receded a bit. She meant to say "I'm taking tomorrow off too' but what came out of her mouth was 'I quit'.
And just like that the headache and queasiness vanished. completely. What the hell?
She looked at the clock. 4:17. Jane thought, are you kidding me?, and fainted.
That night she dreamed she stayed in bed for two days. Which was good because she didn't think she could get up anyway. She lay there with her laptop, Googling keywords like deja vu
, sleeping pill side effects, psychic episode, mental breakdown, insanity and trying to decide if she was crazy. After two days she dreamed that she got up, showered, and had a nice healthy breakfast at the diner around the corner.
Screw that, she thought and ordered the most heart-stopping bad-for-you breakfast they made. She braced herself for the headache, but nothing.
She tested the dreams, the visions, the deja vu, the whatever it was, over the next few weeks and learned that while she could not change an event without consequences, she could easily change the details.
The visions showed her walking away from her apartment, her possessions. She sold it all on Craigslist. She saw herself buying a used car, something nondescript and reliable. She bought a green 1974 convertible MG with the money she had made selling her crap. The next dream had her heading across the border to the US and driving south west on the interstate. She headed south west all right, but took all the backroads and stopped at all the roadside attractions along the way.
Something happened after the first few days, something that had never happened to her before. People started to notice her. Not in a blatant way, but she had never been the kind of girl or woman that people looked at. She was called Plain Jane in high school, and was constantly forgotten about in college or at work. She knew she had always been forgettable. Even Frank, the one person she had ever really opened up to, was so unimpressed that he said when she asked him why he was leaving, that she was too...too...well too Plain Jane.
But now, people would start a conversation with her rather than overlook her. She just put it down to the fact that folks in the US were nicer than she had been led to believe. What Jane didn't realize that she was no longer Plain Jane. She looked the same, but her attitude was different and noticeable.
She kept meandering south and west. If she ventured too far away from that general direction to see something of interest, the headache would begin until she turned back south and west. On the one hand she was having a great time driving. The car was a bit temperamental but she loved it, and she felt like it was her great adventure. On the other hand, she felt like she was being herded toward something, and that pissed her off.
The visions kept showing her the basics of each day, traveling, getting food, finding a motel. Nothing too beyond what was her new normal. It soon became as boring as her old life.
She was pleased when the visions took her to Las Vegas. She splurged on an expensive room at the Bellagio overlooking the 8 acre "lake", and spent much of the night sitting in her darkened room, silently alternating between watching the famous dancing water show and waiting for the next one. She didn't remember drifting off, and was awoken by the morning sun streaming across the bed. She smiled and stretched, feeling eager to move on, yet a bit wistful. This is it, she thought. This is my last day.
On a whim, she went to the expensive-looking salon in the casino complex. The colourist had been up for the challenge when she pointed to a red rose in and said 'This colour. And I don't care how long or how much it costs". She paused for a moment after she said it, waiting for a headache that didn't happen.
Hours later, she strode through the casino looking nothing like the Plain Jane she had been merely weeks before. It was more than the hair; it was in the confident way she walked, the way she stood, the way she smiled back at the handsome man standing at one of the blackjack tables.
Jane went to the teller's cage, and exchanged all the money she had left for a very small pile of chips.
"Good luck," said the cashier automatically.
"Oh no," replied Jane, laughing. "I expect to lose everything I've got."
The cashier, who had heard odder things, only nodded in response.
She moved to the closest roulette table and put her meager stack of chips on black to win.
She was already walking away when red was called.
She didn't bother going back to the hotel room. She just went to her car and started driving to Death Valley.
So here she was. The plane overhead had just passed from view when the wind died suddenly, unnaturally. The silence was so complete it made her ears ring.
And there ahead of her was a shimmering. It looked like someone walking in the distance through heat waves, but it was much closer. The waves stopped, and there he was. He looked at her hair and she could tell this was a surprise. She smiled, greatly pleased that she could surprise him. He recovered and smiled back.
'Hi Jane,' he said.
'Hi Frank,' she replied.
Then he reached for her hand and led her through the shimmering waves, leaving only an empty water bottle and a car to show that she was ever there.Katitude is a writer from Toronto, Canada.