Fiction Historical Fiction

It was a normal day when Zoe awoke. She got up, brushed her teeth, showered, and dressed for work as usual. Before heading out of her loft apartment, she stopped in the small kitchen for a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. It was while she was sipping the coffee that she remembered.

The previous night, as she slept, she’d had a dream that she now suddenly recalled. She straightened where she stood as chills moved down the length of her spine. How odd that she’d had the dream, but even odder that now, where she stood, she was suddenly recalling it all with a vivid detail. She’d had many dreams in recent years that had come true, so she knew better than to shake them off. Just last month, for example, she’d had a dream that her Great Aunt Vivian had died, and it had come true with her aunt dying the very next evening. And right now, standing in the tiny kitchen, Zoe felt an eerie in the pit of her stomach. Perhaps last night’s dream was also a foretelling of events. Dear God, but she hoped not.

In the dream, Zoe had been at work, but things looked very different from a typical day in the office. Furniture had been strewn all about, she, everything, and everyone had been covered in a white film or dust, and heat had enveloped the entire space. Her ears were ringing and muffled in the dream, but she could still hear echoes of people screaming as they panicked and ran all around her. It was much like being in the midst of a war zone.

As she finished the cup of coffee, Zoe tried to shake the memory of her dream and the eerie feeling that had invaded. This was one dream she did not want to come true, so she attempted to convince herself that it was only a dream. Maybe she’d been watching too many action packed movies on television and needed to revert back to the Hallmark Movie Channel. Yes, that must be what had precipitated the dream – an action packed, suspense thriller she’d watched the previous night.

As she left the apartment, Zoe's neighbor, Marcus, greeted her.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he said with a smile, leaning over to pick up his morning paper. “Heading to work?”

“Good morning, Marcus. Yes, heading to work as usual. I hope you have a productive day of writing,” Zoe said as she entered the elevator.

Inside the elevator, Zoe greeted everyone. She noticed that Rodrigo from the 14th floor stood in the rear. While he spoke to her whenever he saw her – usually in the mornings or afternoons - she’d had little opportunity to get to know him. She was hoping that this would change. Rodrigo worked in the building beside hers in the city, so perhaps if they became better acquainted, they could have lunch together. Or maybe other possibilities might loom in the future for them? Zoe looked down at her feet and smiled at the thought. Who knew?

As everyone exited the elevator, Paul, the doorman, greeted the group and wished them a good day as he opened the doors for the departing tenants, all of whom were headed to work.

People bustled and hustled on the sidewalks as Zoe made her way to the subway station, each person hurrying to their destination and few taking note of anyone else. It was a short distance to her work in a neighboring borough, so she always took the subway. Looking at her watch, she saw that it was 7:00 am. She had a while before she had to be at the office. However, this morning, she hoped to arrive early to prepare for an important meeting scheduled for 9:30.

As Zoe entered the subway car, her mind was engulfed with images from the dream she’d had the previous night. Try as she might, she couldn't seem to shake the overwhelming eeriness and fear she felt. This dream seemed to linger and permeate her memory in ways that left her uneasy and nearly sick to her stomach.

Zoe looked about seeking to distract herself. A woman in a maid’s uniform was seated two rows over, but her eyes were closed as if she’d not gotten enough rest the night before. A young teenager lounged lazily against a side seat, one hand on the pole by his side. He was singing along to the music he heard through his earbuds - an odd, offbeat sound in the stilted silence of the subway car. Across from Zoe, a woman sat with her arm around a young girl, obviously her daughter, who leaned across her lap. The young girl, playing with a small doll, looked at Zoe and smiled. An old woman with hair coifed meticulously, her makeup and clothing immaculate, sat stiffly a few aisles down as if she were being judged in a beauty contest.

Zoe sighed as she looked out the window, the images floating past so quickly she couldn't focus on any particular thing. There was a strange vividness to everything and everyone this day and the world seemed to be a revolving blur, as if Zoe was looking at things from the outside. Despite her best efforts, she was reminded of the lingering images from last night's dream. Why had it seemed so real and haunt her so? Looking down at her hands, she realized that they were shaking. The dream had affected her more than she had realized when first she’d remembered it.

The subway suddenly halted, and Zoe heard the call for Cortlandt Street. This was her stop. She rose and headed out onto the subway platform and up the steps that lead to the street. As she did so, a feeling of dread filled her, and each step she took became more difficult. As she finally reached the street, she pulled out her cellphone and called her mother.

“Hey Zoe! Is everything all right?” her mother immediately asked since it wasn't normal to hear from her daughter so early in the day.

“Hey, Mom. I’m good. How are you?” Zoe asked.

“I’m fine dear. Are you sure you're all right?” her mother could hear the hesitancy in her daughter's voice and knew there was an underlying reason for the call so early.

“Yeah, Mom, I’m OK. It’s just….” Zoe didn't know how to begin.

“It’s just what, dear? What’s going on?”

“Mom, it’s just that I had this horrible dream last night about something really bad happening at work, and I can’t seem to shake it. Now I’m dreading going to the office. That’s crazy, right, Mom?” Zoe's voice was full of doubt.

“Now Zoe, didn’t you tell me you had that important marketing meeting this morning?”

“Yeah,” Zoe admitted.

“Well, that’s easy then. I’m sure the dream just represents your fear about the meeting. Don't worry - there's nothing to fear. You go to work and show them what you can do!” her mother said with conviction.

Zoe was quiet for a long moment before she responded. “Yeah, Mom, you’re right. It’s nothing but a bad dream caused by my anxiety over a stupid meeting. It'll be fine.” But Zoe did not convince herself even though she spoke the words.

“OK, dear. Be sure to call and let me know how the meeting goes. I love you, Zoe.”

“Will do, Mom. Love you, too.”

Zoe headed down the sidewalk to the last block until she had nearly reached her building of work. Stopping just outside of it, she entered the Café next to it to get another cup of coffee before she went up to the 82th floor of her building. Standing in line, she was greeted by her co-worker, Rachel.

“Hey, Zoe. Ready for your meeting this morning? It’s going to be a big one!”

“Yes, definitely,” Zoe tried to sound confident.

Rachel arched a manicured brow questioningly. “What’s up with you? You don’t seem like yourself this morning, Zoe.”

“It’s nothing. I had a bad dream last night about work,” Zoe shrugged.

Rachel laughed. “What did you dream? That the marketing department burst into flames, the meeting was canceled, and we all went home?”

Zoe's face turned white as a ghost. She looked at Rachel, her brown eyes wide.

Rachel looked at Zoe with disbelief. “Zoe, I was just kidding, girl! Are you sure you're all right? It was just a dream, after all – whatever it was about!”

Zoe nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’m being silly, Rachel, but it just seemed so real.”

Rachel picked up her latte and turned to leave. “Most dreams do seem real, Zoe, but whatever your dream was about, I’m sure it was just a dream - probably caused by something you ate, like jalapeños.” Rachel laughed and headed out the door.

Everyone thought she was being silly, but Zoe’s gut was speaking volumes to her. Thanking the barista, she headed to the door and moved the few short steps toward the towering building where she worked, stopping just outside the revolving glass doors at its' entrance.

Zoe didn’t know how long she stood before those glass doors, all she knew was that she could not take another step toward the building in front of her. She was absorbed by the memory of white dust covering everything, heat surrounding everyone, ringing in her ears, and people screaming as they panicked amidst the chaos. Her legs felt weak and her hands shook worse than before. Zoe was now more than ever sure that last night's dream was anything but just a dream.

Meeting and work be damned, she thought. Without further hesitation, Zoe threw her cup of unfinished coffee in a trashcan and headed back to the subway station. She never called in sick, but today, she was definitely sick: sick from the memory of the frightening dream.

Reaching the subway platform, she waited for the next train home as she looked at her watch. It was now 8:15 am. She must have stood on the sidewalk contemplating going inside to work much longer than she had realized. Jarred to reality by the subway doors opening, Zoe quickly entered and took a seat inside, an immense relief invading her as the train took off to head the distance to the borough where she lived.

Zoe picked up her cellphone and texted her boss to let him know she’d be unable to attend the meeting and wouldn’t be in for the remainder of the day. She apologized for the short notice but said she was unwell. It wasn't exactly a lie. She had felt sick to her stomach as she stood before that tall building and nothing could have propelled her any further. Her mother and people like Rachel would scoff and say she was paranoid, but she didn't care. All she felt as she exited the subway station to head home was unexplainable relief.

At her loft apartment, the doorman greeted her with a surprised look. “Hello, Miss Zoe. Are you unwell?”

“I’m fine, Paul. I just decided to take the day off.”

“Excellent. Enjoy your day then!” Paul smiled as she headed for the elevator.

Exiting the elevator, Zoe walked down the long corridor to her apartment. As she unlocked her door, Marcus opened his.

“Playing hooky?” he teased.

“More or less!” Zoe responded and laughed.

“Well, come over later for a game of rummy,” the older man said. “I’d love the distraction!”

“Will do,” Zoe said as she entered her apartment and closed the door behind her.

The clock on the wall said 8:45 am. Removing the cellphone from her purse, she placed it on the kitchen table before going to the fridge for a bottle of cold water. Lounging lazily on her comfy sofa, she was very glad she’d followed her intuition and come home. Plumping up the pillows behind her, she relaxed and began to doze off, more tired than she'd realized from not sleeping well the previous night.

It was about thirty minutes later that Zoe’s cellphone began vibrating on the kitchen table. Half asleep, Zoe considered not answering it, assuming her boss was calling to fuss at her, but thinking better of it, she sat up intending to answer it, but the phone stopped.

As Zoe started to lie back down, the phone immediately began to vibrate again, as if someone was trying very hard to reach her. She realized she could also hear the roar of sirens from the streets below. Was the building on fire? Zoe rose quickly and headed to the table to answer the phone, but as she did so, there was urgent knocking on her door. Uncertain now as to what was happening, Zoe grabbed her phone and opened the door simultaneously.

ZOE!” It was her mother. She was screaming and obviously upset.

“Mom? What’s wrong?”

Looking at Marcus, Zoe realized there was panic in his eyes as he mouthed the words, “Turn on the TV”.

“Zoe! Oh my God! Are you all right? Where are you?” her mother was yelling so loud that Zoe that had to remove the phone from her ear. Her mother was crying.

“Mom, I’m OK – it's OK. I’m at home. What’s wrong, Mom?”

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Thank God!” her mother’s sobs and apparent relief were obvious as she continued to cry, but she had finally ceased her screaming.

Turning on the television, Zoe looked questioningly at Marcus. His eyes were wide with fear. As she turned to the television, she saw the words she would never forget, headlining the bottom of the screen Airplane Crashes into Twin Tower.

Dear God in Heaven. The Twin Tower was where Zoe worked. It was now 9:03 am and as they watched the television, their faces revealed further horror as a second plane hit the sister tower. Dear God in Heaven! This was no freak accident. Zoe could barely think less alone speak as she still listened to her mother’s sobs.

“Mom. Mom. It's OK. I’m OK. I didn’t go to work,” she said, attempting to calm her mother and trying not to cry, too. Marcus touched Zoe’s shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. It was apparent he was thankful Zoe had come back home this morning in lieu of going to work. Zoe was in complete, utter shock.

Zoe's mother at long last calmed down and was able to say, “I’m so thankful you didn’t listen to me, Zoe. You know, about the dream - the premonition. I was so stupid. Thank God you didn’t go to work, Zoe. What would I have done if I lost you? All those poor, poor people.” Her mother started to sob again.

Zoe’s heart sunk to her feet and tears filled her eyes. The dream. The horrible dream had in fact been a premonition - her worst fears realized.

Zoe, too, immediately thought of all the people she knew in the towers like Rodrigo and Rachel. Would they all perish or would they escape this horrible tragedy? It did not seem a likely possibility at the moment. She immediately sent up prayers for the safety of all those souls involved.

Zoe’s heart broke into a million pieces as she and Marcus somberly watched the news the remainder of the long day and night while listening to nonstop sirens that filled the streets of the city. She would forever give thanks that she had listened to her instincts and heeded the foreboding brought about by the dream. She would never, ever again doubt herself, her instincts, or her dreams. This day of September 11, 2001 was a day that would haunt her always, as it would many others for as long as they lived.

September 28, 2021 18:33

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