Chapter One – Fiumicino
I had the dream in the early, still dark, hours of a cold November morning. In the dream I was in a nameless cathedral. There were no pews or chapels or statues or frescoes. There were no smells. There was just me standing on an expanse of cold, hard stone. There was a dome above my head and between me and the dome an oval catwalk. In my dream faceless creatures lined the catwalk. One by one they let themselves plummet toward me. In my dream the terror was not for me, but for the world. My terror was for all of you. Even in the sleepy miasma of that November morning, I knew that dream was the foretelling of some ghastly, apocalyptic happening and that I had been forced to glimpse the awfulness that was coming.
That vision was mine alone. When I awoke from my dream the world was unchanged. Coffee pots gurgled, dogs barked, leaf blowers droned against an unrelenting onslaught of falling leaves. On MSBC the panelists droned on like the leaf blowers about the tightening presidential race. Three days before the election there was no news but political news. Perhaps if our airwaves and our thoughts were not so saturated with punditry, so preoccupied with living on the precipice of history, someone might have noticed the subtle signs but no one did and soon I forgot the dream and joined the rest of the world in their comfortable stupor. I fell into the patterns of my usual Saturday morning routine. Kevin went to yoga while I threw a load of dirty clothes into the washer. I sat in the kitchen listening to the laundry slosh and the dogs scratch. The remnants of my dream crept back into my mind. I remembered the precision with which the demons swooped down, hovered and attacked. One or two miscalculated and crashed through the stone floor and turned to stone themselves.
* * *
Philomena Reyes tried to shake off the remnants of the bizarre dreams she’d had on the flight. The drive from Key West to Miami had been grueling and she’d caught her flight with moments to spare. Adrenalin had kept her awake during the flight from Miami to Dulles but on the trip from Dulles to Rome, she’d fallen into a deep sleep minutes after takeoff and didn’t wake until the captain announced they were beginning their descent into Leonardo DiVinci Fiumicino. Ignoring the seatbelt sign, Philomena rushed to the lavatory where she brushed her teeth and applied peach colored lipstick. She was smoothing a few dark tendrils that had escaped from her chignon when the stewardess tapped on the door. “Please return to your seat. We are about to land.”
Philomena waited a full minute before opening the door and walking slowly back to her seat. As she buckled her seatbelt she tried to make sense of the dream. In the dream she’s been strapped to a table in a brightly lit room. On a nearby table another woman was similarly restrained. The woman appeared to be attached to a heart monitor. Philomena became aware that she was connected to the same machine. She watched the rhythm of their heart beats on the monitors. Twin lines marched across the screen. Then the rhythms began to slow. The valleys between the peaks became wider and wider. The peaks became smaller until they finally turned into straight lines. In the dream Philomena tried to warn the other woman what was happening. She cried out but when the woman turned to look at her Philomena realized that she was looking into her own face. “Time of deaths: nine forty three” The pronouncement come from somewhere behind Philomena. She strained to see the speaker and tried to shout that she was still alive in spite of what the heart monitor showed. The woman on the other table had gone limp. Philomena had the eerie sensation of watching her own face settle into a death mask. Three people approached her. They were gowned and masks. They silently removed the wires and loosened her restraints. She tried to speak – to raise her hands but both her arms and tongue were paralyzed. Hands gently, almost lovingly, moved her from the table to a gurney and wheeled her out of the brightly lit room. As she was pushed through the corridors she caught fleeting glimpses of herself in the overhead light fixtures. She appeared distorted and then when the gurney was pushed into the mirrored ceiling reflected a clear image. But the image it reflected was a stranger.
As the jet descended into Fiumicino Philomena removed her compact from her purse and stared at her reflection in the mirror. It looked like her, but she felt different. It was more than the remnant of an odd dream. Behind the dark eyes that stared back at her she was vaguely aware of a second presence. Not a malevolent presence but a confused cohabitant. She put her compact away and closed her eyes. Second later she felt the thud as the wheels of the DC10 touched down. She retrieved her carryon from the overhead compartment and was among the first to exit the plan.
Philomena pushed her way past the other passengers in International Arrivals and hurried out of the terminal. Outside the heat of the late Roman summer hit her with a force that made her gasp. The sensation reminded her again of the dream in which she had experienced her heart beating slower and slower, her final exhalation, the reflection of the stranger on the gurney in the elevator.
Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted. “Philomena! Veni Qua!”
She turned. A burly bearded man stood at the curb next to a Fiat Bravo. He ambled toward her and took her travel bag and kissed her quickly on both cheeks. Then he grasped her elbow and walked her to the car. “Did you have a pleasant trip, Philomena?”