by Bill Carr

Golden GateMike and Ellie decide that it’s easier to host two families at their house for Thanksgiving rather than shlep the grandkids all the way to the East Coast. Mike is my youngest son. Ellie is my daughter-in-law.

The grandkids are cute but rambunctious. It makes little sense for my wife, Marilyn, and me to go out to California for less than a week, so we fly into San Jose the previous Thursday and plan to leave the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Mike and Ellie have a small house in Los Gatos. Marilyn and I stay at a nearby Hampton Inn but usually go to Mike and Ellie’s right after breakfast. The grandkids are three and five. Marilyn is more into total immersion with them than I am. I like to play with them, read them stories, and take them to the nearby park, but I have to admit I sometimes get a little bored just hanging around Mike and Ellie’s living room all day.

On Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I’m sitting on the living room couch, reading the paper. Mike approaches me.

“I’m taking a day of vacation tomorrow,” he says. “I have to go into San Francisco. The kids are in preschool and kindergarten all day, and Ellie has some work to do at home. I was thinking maybe you and Mom would like to drive into Frisco with me.”

I’m immediately suspicious that he’s detected my occasional boredom. I don’t want him rearranging his schedule for me. In the midst of all this hospitality by him and Ellie, and entertainment by the kids, I’ve got no right to be bored.

“You have to go for work?”

“No,” he replies, “I just have to run an errand. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour, and then we can make a nice day of it. We can go to that Dim Sum restaurant that Mom likes and then do something else in the afternoon.”

Mike’s a good kid. Hard-working and very considerate. He used to be unbelievably skinny—a bag of bones. Everyone loved to hug him. That’s all changed now—he could almost stand to lose some weight. But the huggability is still there.

“It’s fine with me,” I say. “What kind of errand is it?”

“It’s a funny situation,” he explains. “I got this check in the mail. It’s made out to a Nancy Kuo in San Francisco. But the address on the envelope, which is mine, and the one on the check don’t match.”

“Why don’t you just mail the check to the right address?”

Mike frowns, like he’s already considered that possibility and felt uncomfortable with it. “The problem is that it’s a rather large check. I looked up Nancy Kuo in the directory. There’s a bunch of them, but none at the address on the check. I’d feel more comfortable hand-delivering the check and making sure I’m giving it to the right person.”

“Let’s plan on going then,” I say. “Maybe I can even help unravel this mystery.”

The truth is that despite my outward enthusiasm, I feel uneasy about this planned adventure. The problem is I’ve come across the name Nancy Kuo before, and in connection with San Francisco. I just can’t remember the circumstances.

Monday morning, however, my misgivings disappear. It’s a beautiful, bright day. We drive up Interstate 280 in Mike’s black Volvo—just Mike, Marilyn, and myself. I generally prefer Route 101 to I280; 101 is more straightforward, and most of the time I’m in a hurry to get to the airport.

Mike is right. I280 is far more scenic than 101. For a day like this, it’s just right.

As we pass near the San Francisco Airport, the skies start to darken. Soon it’s quite gray out. A wind starts gusting up outside, bending the small trees on the sides of the highway. Look, this is just the San Francisco ambiance, I tell myself.

Mike knows his way around the city. The address he has is of a store. It’s in a commercial area, not in a good neighborhood. The street seems deserted, with all sorts of newspapers and candy wrappers strewn about. The wind blows the papers around.

The GPS leads us to a cul-de-sac with the exit side blocked off by an eight-foot portable barricade.

“Has anyone ever figured out what the message is when half the entrance to a street is blocked off?” I ask Mike.

“Don’t know,” he replies, smiling. “Maybe it means you can get in but you can’t get out.”

The store is cramped and drab. It sells tourist items—bowls with first names inscribed in script, pictures of the San Francisco earthquake, coffee mugs in the form of a human face. Toward the back there’s a section with antique pots and kettles. At the counter up front is an elderly, small, gray-haired Chinese woman. She wears wire-frame, gray glasses.

Mike approaches the counter to explain his mission. The woman seems pleasant enough. Marilyn heads toward the antiques. I position myself midway between the two, examining the inscribed bowls.

Mike turns toward me. He looks a little disconcerted.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “this is not going to be as straightforward as I hoped. It may be a little difficult to track down Ms. Kuo.”

Mike doesn’t rattle easily. He’s a development manager for Solar Plus, the big West Coast energy development company.

“Look,” I say, “it’s still only mid-morning. We can work up an appetite for lunch.”

Mike smiles. “Nancy Kuo used to work here and lived with the owner until she got her own apartment. The problem is that Mrs. Yu isn’t sure what Nancy’s current address is. But I think I can verify the address with my iPhone.”

I have the sensation of time standing still.

“Dad, are you all right?”

I snap out of it. “Sorry,” I say. “Something just occurred to me.”

“We’ll get going soon. I just have to ask Mrs. Yu a few more questions.”

He turns toward the counter and I walk toward Marilyn.

“You look a little pale,” she says.

“Marilyn, I’ve had an exact premonition of this situation.”

Surprisingly, she does not dismiss this. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. It was in a dream—the check for Ms. Kuo, the trip to San Francisco, the bad neighborhood, the dingy store, the difficulty in finding Ms. Kuo, and a strange vision. It’s a depressing dream. We get separated. No matter what we do, we just can’t make contact with each other. It’s time to return home, and our only hope is to meet at the airport. That’s when the dream ends.”

“Don’t worry,” she says, putting her hand on my shoulder. “It’s just a dream. An interesting one but still a dream. With the whole world getting wired and wirelessly connected, the chances of not being able to contact each other are pretty remote.”

Mike is still at the counter, talking to the store owner. I pass in back of him and go out the front door. Outside the wind is swirling more strongly now, whipping the papers around the street. Suddenly the papers stop blowing and coalesce into a sheet of ice. The barricade we saw as we entered extends around the entire cul-de-sac.

I try to resist the vision that’s next but it’s no use. The skaters come on the ice. One team wears bright blue with red lettering and trim, and the other is in black and gray. The players dash up and down the ice, pounding their opponents into the boards, deftly passing the puck to each other and firing the puck at the net at incredible speeds. It’s not that the scene is upsetting. I’m just a spectator. You have to admire the athleticism of these guys. I tried ice skating once and spent most of the time on my butt.

The problem is I’ve seen the image of this game before—in that dream.

I’ve got to get out of here. Mike will understand. It’s a slight case of your dad going nuts. I turn and start walking back toward the store.

The ancients believed in the predictive power of dreams. However, the dreams required some clever interpretation. This one’s a no-brainer. The events I’ve experienced today are a point-for-point fulfillment of that dream.

I get an idea. It’s only thirty yards to the store, but I’ll give Mike and Marilyn a call. I’ll tell them I want to start heading back. I know it’s ridiculously superstitious, but if I can break this one-to-one correlation of events in the dream to real life, maybe I’ll at least be rid of this headache I’m starting to get.

There was definitely no cell phone call in the dream. I don’t use the cell as much as Mike and Ellie, but I still make a fair amount of calls. Cell phones, however, have never appeared even once in my dreams. Maybe the subconscious turns up its nose at that technology. After all, why should it even consider cell phones when it can communicate telepathically.

Mike’s message is succinct. “Hey, it’s Mike. Can’t take your call. Leave me a message.” Marilyn’s is a little more amiable. “Hello, you’ve reached Marilyn, but I can’t take your call right now. At the tone, leave a message and I’ll call you back.”

I pass by Mike’s car and see the reason. Mike’s cell is on its holder on the dashboard. Marilyn’s is on the front passenger’s seat. The car is empty.

I’m right in front of the store. The front door is wide open. With this weather, that’s unusual. I remember closing it when I went out. I enter the store. It’s completely empty. Even the shop owner is gone.

They must be in the back. For some reason the shopkeeper must have taken them to a storeroom in the back. I know I’m trespassing but this is getting serious. There’s a small room in back with a cot against the far wall, some boxes stacked to the right, and a bathroom to the left. There’s no one in the whole store.

Marilyn and Mike would never have just gone off and left me without saying anything. Something must have happened. I go down the street, searching in all the stores. But there’s absolutely no one in any of them. I’m completely alone.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing