I have dreams.
Anyone could make that statement, but it wouldn’t compare to mine. The dreams I have are constantly reminding me that I should be dead. Or, that the man within them is going to be. It seems to be a trade-off. His life for mine; my life for his. And I’ve never even met the man. Though I’ve been searching for him.
Rushing across the street, I take in the faces around me. This is a daily routine. Every moment I walk to work, I inspect the people I pass. I’m hoping he’ll eventually be one of them. I know exactly what he looks like, down to the array of freckles on his neck. I may have to watch us die every night, but I’ve grown accustomed to ignoring that and focusing on him instead.
Once again, he’s not a part of the crowd. He never is.
I take the stairs to my office two at a time, venting my frustration. I’m convinced that one of these nights I’m going to dream us both dead, and then we really will be. And I’m really unwilling to watch him die in person. It doesn’t matter that he’s handsome, or that I’ve grown to love the subtleties of his expressions. No, I wouldn’t be able to watch any man, or person, die in front of me. His death would just hurt me more than I can explain.
“Miriam,” my boss snaps at me. She has one hand on her hip and the other holding a folder that she shoves into my face. How I hate my name. The only Miriam I ever met was the elderly neighbor I had as a child. She and I loved that we shared the same name. We would have tea over the matter and she baked the most delicious creme pastries. But then she died.
“Miriam,” my boss repeats, growing impatient. I shake myself from my thoughts and accept the folder. I’ve grown too attached to my own daydreams. I need to be fully present now, because otherwise I may not just lose the man in my dreams, but my job as well. “Finally. In that folder, I’ve compiled a list of interviewees. I want them interviewed by the end of the day, understood?”
“Of course ma’am,” I agree, clutching the folder to my chest.
“Now would be a good time,” my boss continues, gesturing for me to leave. I’d only just gotten here. Holding in my sigh, I nod and immediately turn to clatter back down the stairs. The days I wear high heels, I forget how difficult it is to actually descend stairs in them.
I manage to reach the landing without rolling either of my ankles, but I’m now panting from the exertion. After straightening my skirt, I open the folder. The first person on my list of interviewees is a beautiful, middle-aged woman by the name of Anne. Anne Beltran. And she lives only a block away from the office. Perfect.
I knock on Anne’s front door. She lives in a three-story apartment complex, but her apartment is on the first floor. Relief couldn’t even begin to describe what I felt when I realized that.
“Yes?” a shrill voice comes from the other side of the door, followed by a soft clack. She must be looking at me through the peephole. I wave slightly, feeling awkward.
“My name’s Miriam,” I explain. “I’ve come to interview you about the Hermann case.” I hear the latch untether and then she’s facing me in person. Her eyes are glassy, but her jaw is set in defiance. Stepping back from the doorway, she offers me to come inside. I accept though I’m somewhat uncomfortable.
“Just let me grab my jacket,” she replies, slamming the door shut once more. She passes me, heading for another room. Most of our interviews are conducted outside because it’s highly sensitive information. That seems counter-intuitive, but we’re wary of in-home recorders or bugs. In the past, several of our employees met with scandals over the information being released prior to trial. The goal is to find a location brimming with both people and noise. Conversations are hard to overhear or record in that environment. And all we need is a confirmation of the interviewee's prior testimony. It doesn’t need to be on a spoken record.
“Okay,” Anne finally announces, coming back down the hallway. She’s wrapped in a delicate fur, which she’s paired with a silken scarf and massive sunglasses. I had half expected her to be normal, but none of my interviewees have been thus far. Tugging the door open once more, she points me outside. I step over the threshold a second time and wait for her to clasp and lock her door.
“I’ve set for us to meet my son at the train station,” Anne continues, leading me out onto the sidewalk.
“Your son?” I inquire, now on guard. I have a strict policy against meeting with the interviewee's family, solely because I hate being ambushed. “I’ll have to decline that offer.” I regain my wits, straightening my posture. I’m going to have to be forceful with her.
“My son is my confidant,” Anne states, clutching her furs tighter around her. “He’s there for the interview, or I refuse to do it.” How typical. My job seems so easy until I realized how hard it is to trust people.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” I begin, prepared to explain the circumstances to her, but she speaks over the top of me.
“No need for apologies,” she dismisses me. “The meeting will go smoothly whether you account for my feelings or not.” I suddenly have the urge to hit her. She’s so flamboyantly self-absorbed.
“I have no interest in your hurt feelings ma’am,” I grit my teeth. “I will not meet you with your son present.”
“Yes, you will.” Anne seems undeterred, jogging her way to the mouth of the train station. Before I can even continue my argument with her, she starts down the stairs. I can’t help but follow her. This interview is important, about as important as any of the others, and I’ll be damned if I lose it. But she’s going to find that I have more backbone than she has taken into consideration.
“James,” she calls out when she reaches the base of the stairs. Great. “James!” As I reach the bottom of the stairs for myself I see her rush to her son’s side. But he’s not even alone. I gasp. All this time I’d been searching for the man in my dreams, and all this time I’d gotten nowhere. But suddenly he’s standing right there, beside the very man I need to start an argument with. He’s breathtaking in person.
“Mother,” James greets his mother, drawing her into a stiff hug. “This is my co-worker, Theo.” Theo, the man of my dreams, literally. Now I’m too nervous to approach them. I wonder if Theo has been having the same dreams as I have been having. It’s been months now since they started. But if he hasn’t been having them, what will I possibly say to him?
“Lovely to meet you.” Anne reaches a hand out to shake Theo’s. However, he doesn’t even budge. His expression darkens, brow furrowing. I’ve seen that expression a hundred times now. It’s the very expression he wore in some of my dreams, right before I died. As my heart begins to accelerate in my chest, I struggle to breathe. What if I really am going to die? Now that I’ve finally met him, now that I’m finally seeing that look in person. Maybe that’s all it takes.
“Miriam.” Anne turns to me, beckoning me over. But I’m stuck in place. Theo’s eyes whip to meet mine and the world begins to shake. No, it’s the train station. I feel it rumbling beneath my feet. A terrified murmur bursts through the crowd as the rumble intensifies. This is it. This is my dream. An earthquake strikes the train station, tearing it apart. And in the commotion, either me or Theo dies.
Before I can even recover from the shock, Theo is running towards me. Does that mean he knows? I also stumble my way to him, drawn in. I watch as he forcefully undoes the tie at his neck. What is he doing? But as soon as we collide, I know. He holds the tie gently over my mouth. The gas pipes. As quickly as he’d covered my mouth, I hear them burst.
The lights begin to flicker. The gas hisses through the air. And the rumble continues. Even though I’m distracted by it all, Theo seems determined. He takes hold of my arm, leading me back to the stairs. In my dream, this is how he saved me, but in the process, he was struck by exposed wires. He was electrocuted to death.
“No,” I gasp through his tie. “No, no.” I push back against him.
“Miriam.” He holds my chin in his hand. “I’m not watching you die.”
“So you expect me to watch you die?” I stammer. He does know. It’s confirmed for me now. And suddenly, everyone in the station is moving. James has his mother by the arm, dragging her towards the stairs. The others further into the station are trying to crawl their way towards us. Never in my dream did I see the fate of any of these people. It was only ever Theo.
“James,” Theo gasps, choking on the air. He covers his mouth with the collar of his shirt and pushes me towards James. “Take her with you.”
“Where are you going, Theo?” James wonders, confused.
“I-,” Theo glances from me to a woman crawling towards us. He’s going to save the others. Or at least, try.
“No,” James barks, pushing Anne and me towards the stairs. Grabbing a hold of Theo’s shirt, James drags him towards the stairs. Are we both going to live? No. No, deep in my heart I don’t believe we will. So, if James has chosen Theo, I will too. I rush to the woman’s side. Even though the ground is almost liquid beneath my feet, I manage to get to her.
“Grab my hand!” I shout. She does as I tell her, slapping her hand into mine. I pull her after me, swaying and tripping. But then the ground stills. The lack of movement should come as a relief, but my legs are wobbling. And the train station is settling. Light fixtures crack and swing, flailing above our heads. The walls are crumbling, bricks rolling around us. And the exposed wires I so dread whip out of the fixturing, striking randomly along the wall and floor.
“Hurry,” I gasp, still holding Theo’s tie to my mouth. The woman pushes her way across the ground. We duck beneath a hanging light fixture and stumble to the base of the stairs. Anne is nowhere to be seen, but James is still dragging Theo up the stairs. Theo looks beyond furious.
Glancing over my shoulder, I see two more people struggling to their feet. I’m about to crawl my way to the next person, an elderly man huddled in the corner. But my heart stops as the ground begins to rumble again. The man, unprepared for the movement, jolts forward. He falls down onto the train tracks as the entire station goes black. I scream.
All I can hear now is my own panting. There’s still light from the stairs, but it’s barely visible. Did they collapse in on themselves? Theo!
“Theo!” I cry out. I’m too scared to move. I can’t remember where the light fixture I’d crawled under is, and my fumbling hands are too hesitant to reach for it. Even if the power is out, will it still shock me? I can’t think straight. Especially now that Theo didn’t answer me.
“Theo?” I call out again. But there’s only silence. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I flop down on my stomach. Slowly. I can avoid the fixture if I stay low enough. I have to get to him. I crawl forward, dragging myself along the rubble on the ground. It’s painful, but I won’t stop. Continuing forward, I feel the fixture scrape my shoulders and suck in a sharp breath. When nothing else happens, I sigh.
Knowing now that the fixture is still, and that the exposed wires won’t hurt me, I bounce up into a crouch. I still have to be careful of other hanging debris, but I’m desperate to get to the stairs. Drawing myself up the first step, I find I can faintly see the stairs now. But there’s only rubble.
“Theo?” my voice is breaking now. I told him I couldn’t see him die. Frantically, I drag myself up the first pieces of stone. They’re too heavy to move on my own, but I can faintly see between them. So far, nothing.
“Theo!” I’m hoarse. My heart is shattering.
“Miriam?” I know that voice. I peer through the rocks and see Anne standing on the other side. “Is James with you?” No. No, that doesn’t mean anything. I push myself onto the next stone, fumbling to continue forward. And then I see him. I go limp.
“No!” I scream, hand clasping over my chest. Why does it hurt so bad? My heart is searing through my chest, burning up my throat. I think I’m going to vomit. But I can’t yet. Scrambling down between the rocks, I drop beside his body. I reach for his lifeless hand, pressing it to my chest.
“He’s not?” Anne’s soft voice wisps through the rubble over my head. I don’t see James anywhere. Just Theo. If James hadn’t stopped Theo from trying to save the others, Theo would have survived. And I would gladly have traded myself for him. Though I don’t know why.
His still warm hand fits perfectly between mine. And the feeling of holding it is unlike any affection I’ve had for another. It must be the dreams. I must have convinced myself I was dating him for the last three months because nothing else would explain how heartbroken I am. My fingers trace over his until I notice the ring on his finger. It’s not on his left hand, which for some sick reason relieves me, but it’s still on his ring finger. I tug it free. Between this ring and his tie, it’s all I’ll have left of him.
“Ma’am,” a husky, masculine voice calls over the rubble. “Can you hear us?” Is he talking to me?
“I’m here!” I gasp, clutching the ring tightly in my fingers. I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of Theo’s hand, even if they are here to rescue me.
“Can you fit through the gap?” the voice wonders. I know I’ll be able to, but I don’t want to. Theo.
“Yes,” I choke out, staring down at Theo’s pale face. I stroke my thumb across his cheek, wiping away the blood and dirt. He’s still unbelievably handsome, even lying dead. I want to memorize his features. I don’t think I’ll be dreaming of him again. And I don’t want to forget his face.
“We’re going to weave a rope through,” the voice above me now explains. “I want you to tie it around your waist.” I hurriedly fold Theo’s tie, tucking it into the pocket of my now shredded jacket. I then place the ring on my middle finger. It’s just tight enough to stay in place. But the action of placing his ring on my finger sends jolts of sorrow through me.
“Do you have it secured?” the voice above me wonders. I glance up and see the rope dangling just above me.
“Not yet,” I gasp out. I stand, my legs still wobbling, and grip the rope. Tying it around my waist, I pull myself out of the hole I’d dropped into. I want to glance back down at him, but if I do, I know I’ll never leave his side. All I can do for him now is live. That’s what I’d wanted for him.