I can see it now. The fire rated glass doors to the emergency room slide open. Swirling red lights flash in the black night sky. Rattly wheels of a gurney roll onto white linoleum tiles, white sheets are tinged red, pink and black, doused with blood and caked with ash. Melted skin mixed with coagulated blood drips from the patient and leaves a sticky trail down the hallway. Screams curdle my blood.
I am not a psychic. I couldn’t predict what you’ll have for breakfast, or who will win the lottery or how many kids you and your husband might have. I’m just a night nurse. A “miracle worker” with a shitty track record of miracles performed. I wipe asses and administer medications and take blood pressures and draw blood. I am nobody special. In fact, I am the opposite. I am cursed.
I am cursed by Déjà vu.
Everyone knows present moments exist in a continuum with the past. But, sometimes the past completes the present moment instead of the other way around. I am convinced this is the way time and space is actually configured, it’s just no one else knows the past before it completes the present…no one except me, apparently. And only sometimes.
Déjà vu never tells me anything that could help make the present better. My visions are vivid, yet vague; visceral, yet vacant. Basically, I get to experience the horrors of the past before they become the horrors of the present and then again when the past officially completes the present, a moment I can’t predict and don’t know is coming until it happens. I live a life of double horrors. I just don’t know why.
Two weeks have passed, just enough time for my vision to begin to slither away into the recesses of my memory and fall asleep. It’s a game of cat and mouse Déjà vu makes my brain play.
I am charting the elevated blood pressure of the patient who came in with a broken tibia when the bay doors slide open. A gurney with rattly wheels, draped in blood-tinged sheets atop a body, burned from head to toe, crashes through the doorway. The patient’s wife, I’m assuming it’s his wife, rushes in behind. She slips on a flap of her husband’s sloughed off skin that has dropped to the floor and grabs hold of the nurses station countertop. She looks down at her shoe and screams. Then sobs. Then her sobs and screams mix to form bone-chilling scream-sobs. My blood curdles.
What can I say? Oh hey, lady, I knew this was going to happen to your husband two weeks ago, but I had no idea who you guys were, so there was nothing I could do?
I learned long ago to keep my complicated relationship with Déjà vu under wraps. No one believes me. Most think I am mentally unwell when I try to talk about it. So, I let the visions simmer in my brain until they happen to boil over and splash onto the burning ground of the present.
The good news is, relief is here. The relief that comes when the past finally completes the present and I get a break. I get to live like a normal person: oblivious. Oblivion is underrated. Sure, bad things still happen in oblivion, but their weight feels lighter, two-dimensional. Tonight I am going to watch Netflix and chill, while eating Ben and Jerry’s Netflix & Chill. It is the alignment in the stars my soul needs. Peanut butter ice cream will join his friends salted pretzel and fudge brownie and have a dance party on my non-boiling brain (as long as they promise no strobe lights).
My night shift ends and I walk outside for the first time in twelve hours. The sunrise is creeping up over the horizon. Beams of light illuminate the city-scape. A chilled gust of wind whips my pony tail in front of my eyes. I feel like I am a needle in a haystack, peering through wisps of hay at the day shift staff passing by. I dig in my bag for my car keys, and it strikes. Lightning catches the bale of hay atop my head on fire.
I can see it now.
My hands cup a white porcelain tea cup that hovers just above its matching saucer, on a white linen table cloth. The tablecloth is dotted with crumbs. I set the cup down on the saucer to swipe a cluster of crumbs onto the floor, except they land inside my bag instead. I reach down into my bag. I think the shadow underneath the table of my legs makes them look like a pair of cheap unbroken chopsticks from a take-out joint. My mouth tastes like sour lemons. An ear-piercing screech. A crash. A thump. Glass breaking. A child’s voice, “Mommy!” I look up. Just outside the café, a little boy peers into the road at what looks like a woman’s head poking out beneath a black off-roading tire. The head is squashed. Strawberry blonde hair is matted in oily ooze, and bits of brain splatter the mudflap of a dark green Land Rover. I gasp. Oh shit. The child turns around and sees me through the window. Wait, I know that child. He is my five-year old nephew, Ryan, only he seems taller somehow. Must be the distortion from the café’s thick glass window.
I jump up, knock over the table and make my way to the entrance of the café to the soundtrack of breaking porcelain and disgruntled murmurings. I exit the café and run toward Ryan. I look up. Another vehicle is speeding down the street, unaware of the crash ahead. I make it just a few steps from Ryan when the black Ford Focus veers to the left and rams over the curb, which hurdles it in the air. I look down at Ryan, who is now covered in a tidal wave of darkness from its shadow. I reach for him, then everything goes black.
I open my eyes, no. No, no, no, no. Please, god, no. Not this, please.
I am still standing outside the hospital, my hand is shaking inside my bag, and my knees begin to buckle. It’s not real. Visions never come the same day the present completes the past. I usually have a few weeks, at least! What the fuck! I run to my car as tears fly off my face in the wind. I text my sister with my adrenaline-fueled fingers.
Me: Hey, are you and Ryan okay?
Em: Hey, yeah we are fine, what’s up?
Me: Nothing, just checking - let’s get together soon.
Em: Come by later, we will be at the house.
Me: Will do.
I don’t know what to do. I try to sleep, but every time I close my eyes I see Em’s brains on that mudflap and Ryan’s lanky arms reaching for his auntie while a sky-high shadow-monster envelopes his body.
Perhaps this is just another one of Déjà vu’s sick games, like the cat and mouse one. Yeah, that’s it. Only, now I have to guess which vision is real and which one isn’t and this is the first unreal one. I’m not a psychic, I am not special. I am just cursed, remember. A cursed, non-miracle worker night nurse. Still…I need to talk to Em—on the off-chance, the extremely unlikely off-chance, that. Well, you know.
“Hey, Em,” I say, then give her a massive hug when she opens her freshly painted red front door to greet me. She said she hopes it makes the white picket fence stand out more, and it does, but in a creepy way.
Ryan comes running in from his play room. He is holding a plastic tyrannosaurus rex and a handful of multi-colored Legos, including one dismembered yellow head with no hair. It winks at me from his palm, which makes my stomach flip.
“Kate, you look exhausted, what’s wrong?” Em says as she ushers me in and takes my bag and coat.
“Oh I just worked last night, that’s all. It was a long one. Burn victim. Pretty gruesome.”
“What does gruesome mean?” Ryan pipes up from behind.
“Oh, shit, sorry,” I say, then look at Em.
“Shit,” parrots Ryan.
This is not going well so far.
Em makes us a cup of tea and we sit in her living room.
“So, um, this is going to sound crazy, but, I had a pretty vivid dream, and it scared me. I feel like I need to tell you about it. To…well, to warn you.”
Em let out a slight chuckle, then looked at me. My look was not so light-hearted. “Oh, um, okay…you’re being creepy. But, okay. What was this dream about?”
I had decided I would spare Em from the gory details, but still impress upon her the urgency of the situation. I told her I had a dream where she and Ryan were killed in a car accident, and I was nearby in a café, and tried to help but I couldn’t.
“So, Em. Promise me you will never just, like…be outside of a café, ever. Just cross the street. I will also avoid all café’s, especially with white linen tablecloths. I mean, who do I think I am anyway, that’s way too fancy for my taste. So, it’s no big deal. Right?”
“Kate, it was just a dream. Everything is going to be okay…I’m just worried about you, are you feeling okay? Like, mentally?”
“I’m fine!” I snapped back. Of course, my agitation gave her more reason to doubt that I was.
“I’m fine,” I said and forced myself to sound laid-back. “It’s all good, I’m sure you’re right, just,” I leaned forward and took her hands into mine, “promise me you won’t loiter in front of café’s?”
Em smiled and squeezed my hands. “Don’t loiter? Okay, policewoman Kate, I promise to lead a loiterless-in-front-of-cafés existence.”
Two years pass. No crash, no café’s with white linen tablecloths and white porcelain China. No disasters. I am convinced I beat Déjà vu in her silly new game.
In the meantime, I start dating this resident, Kirk. Kirk and Kate, cute, right? He is dreamier than dreamy. Curly brown hair, deep, hazel eyes, freckles, tan even when he hasn’t seen the sun in months due to his grueling residency. Between you and me, and the dementia patient who came in to the ER early this morning, to whom I overshared a little, I think Kirk might propose tonight. He is taking me out to dinner. He didn’t tell me where, just to wear a dress. I can’t wait.
A girl can’t go wrong with a classic black dress. At least that’s what I heard, so that’s what I am wearing. It’s a little short, but only when I sit.
Kirk ends up blindfolding me. He takes my hand and leads me out of the car to the front of the restaurant. It is none other than Bianca’s, the Italian restaurant I have wanted to try for years, but could never afford.
We hold hands, walk inside and are seated. I am too fixated on a potential proposal to take in much of my surroundings.
We have focaccia pomodoro for our antipasti. Kirk orders trofie al pesto, and I order linguine al frutti del mar. It is the best food I have ever eaten, hands down. Kirk insists we split a lemon semifreddo and a pot of tea for dessert. I don’t argue. I am still hopeful a proposal is coming my way. As we are waiting for our dessert a thought comes to my mind. It is like a drop in the ocean that ripples, then disappears. A tiny drop with a familiar sensation. I have been here before.
I shake it off. We delight in our lemon semifreddo, feed each other spoonful’s and giggle when whipped cream gets on Kirk’s mustache. Only one bite left. We both agree we are too stuffed to eat it and instead, sit back and sip our cups of tea. Kirk looks nervous, then reaches into his pocket.
This is it.
I cup my white porcelain tea cup, hover it just above the saucer, afraid to move until I see what he is going to do. I hold my breath. He pulls his hand out of his pocket to reveal…his wallet.
Oh, come on Kirk.
Despondent, I take the last bite of lemon semifreddo. I set down my tea cup and notice a cluster of focaccia crumbs on the white tablecloth. I swipe them off in angst. Of course they fall straight into my bag on the ground. I reach into my bag and catch sight of my legs in my simple black dress. I think they look like a pair of cheap, unbroken chopsti….shit.
An ear-piercing screech. A crash. A thump. Glass breaking. A child’s voice, “Mommy!”
I look outside to see a green Land Rover and my nephew, Ryan calling out to my dead sister. On the other side of the road is a tiny café. I realize they were crossing the street to avoid it, as I made Em promise to do.
I knock over the table and make my way outside. Porcelain plates, bowls and cups crash everywhere around me as people yell out in disbelief. I don’t even look up, I run to Ryan. I can get to him, I can save him, it’s not too late.
The black Ford Focus veers to the left to avoid the Land Rover and rams over the curb which hurdles it in the air. I look at the tidal wave of dark shadow and…it’s a miracle. The shadow monster is no longer coming for Ryan. It is coming for me. I reach out to him, then everything goes black.
Past completes present.
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Very nice :) Even though we know what's going to happen, it was still suspenseful because we wonder – can she beat the curse? The fact it took much longer than two weeks was a good sign, but it was misleading. I particularly like that it was her advice to avoid cafés that ended up contributing to this. Very sad for the characters, of course, but a good story.
Thank you for your feedback!
I enjoyed this story so much! The premise was excellent, the suspense held well, and you successfully evoked a feeling of dread. Well done!
Thank you so very much! 🙏🏼
Hi Chelsey, I love the concept of the night nurse with deja vu, and the suspense that build up as we wait for the inevitable is gripping. A great story.
Thank you so much! 🙏🏼
Your title caught my eye as I recently wrote a story using the same title so wanted to see what you did with it. An interesting twist on the prompt. Nicely done. Of course I expected the ending but loved how it was so much exactly the same scene which just swept me in.
Thank you for your feedback!
Blood curdling... amazing job.
Thank you 🙏🏼
I really like how you ended with that statement: Past completes present. It just wrenched my heart. Love the short, jagged sentences! They foreshadow some kind of dreading doom ahead.
Really enjoyed reading this. The intro really leads you in. Your descriptions and character building are excellent. Love the build up to the ending 👏🏼
thank you so much!