Original #12: Do You Believe In Clairvoyants?

Length: Medium

As described in a previous story, I serve as my campus’
midnight listener. During the day, I’m a student. But during the hours of
midnight and 2AM, I head up to my office – an old storage room, where I provide
listening services for students who need to express themselves anonymously
without fear of being judged or ridiculed. A thick, black curtain separates
myself and the students, providing maximum privacy.

Up til now, I’ve heard stories that intrigued, disgusted,
and impressed me. But none had actually changed my life. At least, not until I
met Carla.

It was 2.30AM, and I was finishing up yet another midnight
listener session. I was knackered from listening to an hour’s worth of
relationship laments, and was looking forward to retiring to my room in preparation
for my midterms the next afternoon. So you could imagine my annoyance when I
heard the door squeak open.

“Sorry, I’m done for the day. Come back tomorrow, please,” I
said.

“Please. I need to – I need to talk to someone. If I don’t,
I think I might go mad.” A female’s voice rang out.

Now, this wasn’t the first time I had students approach me
after my specified listening hours. However, I’ve almost always turned them
away. But there was something different about this voice that made me pause. Unlike
that of most other students, this voice was laced with a tinge of desperation
that I simply could not ignore.

“Okay. Okay but let’s keep this short, please. We can
continue tomorrow night if you want,” I sighed inwardly and settled back down
onto my chair.

“Thank you.” There was a shuffle of footsteps, and then a
slight creak as the student sat down across the curtain.

“How may I address you? You can use a fake name if you
want,” I asked.

A moment’s silence, and then: “Carla. It was my cat’s name.”

“Okay, Carla. Whenever you’re ready.”

“I… I’ve been having nightmares lately. Really bad ones. I
wake me up in the middle of the night, screaming, and I can’t go back to sleep.
I know my roommate thinks I’m going crazy. She doesn’t want to talk to me anymore,
doesn’t want to look at me anymore.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, have you tried speaking to her?”

Carla sighed loudly in irritation. “No. Look, I don’t want
to talk about her. I want to talk about my nightmares. It’s always of the same
thing. The same damn thing.”

“What is it about?”

“A fire. A big fire and I’m always in it. Sometimes the
nightmare begins when the fire first starts, but sometimes it just starts in
the middle. I’m in the middle of the fire, it’s so hot, everything is burning
and everyone is screaming. It’s foggy and I can’t see anything clearly.” As
Carla described her nightmare, her voice began to grow shrill in panic.

“Just shapes, running around! Screaming and crying. There’s
always books on the ground, going up in flames. Books, falling off their
shelves and catching fire! And I’m running around, trying to escape but there’s
no way out. There never is!”

Carla paused and I could hear her breathing heavily. It was
during this brief respite that I realised that I too, had been hooked up emotionally
into her story. I was sitting, quite literally, at the edge of my seat, and was
leaning forward in anticipation. I opened my mouth to speak, when Carla
continued.

“The air is thick and hot. I can’t breathe, I’m suffocating.
Everyone around me is falling to the ground. The flames are getting bigger and
bigger! I try to crawl for the exit, but I can never reach it.”

“And then what happens?” I croaked out.

“I wake up. I always wake up as soon as I pass out in the
dream. I wake up, and I’m screaming and I’m crying and I’m sweating and
thrashing. It takes me ages to calm down and I can never go back to sleep,”
Carla’s voice broke in mid-sentence.

For the first time in many sessions, I was at a loss for
words. I had so many questions in my mind. Eventually I spluttered out a
question.

“You said there were books in your dream?” Yes, a weird
question, I know. But it was bugging me.

“It’s always in the library. The fire. It starts there.”

“I see. Well – since these dreams are getting in the way of
your sleep, have you tried taking sleeping pills?”

“No pill can help me,” Carla laughed darkly and snarled. “Do
you want to know why?”

I winced involuntarily in my seat. Up until this point,
Carla had displayed a wide range of emotions. She had gone from desperate and
pleading, to panicky and shrill. Now, she exuded a sense of cockiness and
cynicism. I couldn’t get a handle on her at all.

“Sure. Why?”

Carla’s voice dropped into a harsh whisper. “Because the
dream is a sign.”

“A sign of?”

“A sign of the future.”

I frowned. I’m a pretty open-minded person and I believe in
the existence of the paranormal, but predictions of the future sounded like
something that belonged to movies, not real life. And certainly not at 3AM in
an old storage room. “Carla, look –“

“You don’t believe me, don’t you? I can tell!” Carla hissed.
“You think I’m mad. Admit it.”

“I don’t think you’re mad –“

“You do! But I can prove that I’m right.”

“Carla, please –“

“Mike O’Brien! You know what happened to him, right? Suicide
in his room. You’ve also heard the rumors, right? The police receiving an
anonymous phone call before they found him?”

“What are you saying?“

“I made that phone call! I knew that he had turned up in his
room. I just knew. All my life, I’ve
been getting visions of the future. Don’t ask me how – I just do. So this
dream, this fire – it’s going to happen.” Carla’s voice had grown panicky
again. “You have to believe me! No one else will.”

“Carla, I think you’re very sleep-deprived, perhaps we
should continue tomorrow –“

“Eighteen people!” She suddenly screamed. I jolted in my
seat in shock. “Eighteen people will die!”

As I struggled for a neutral, non-offending reply, Carla
broke down into tears. I could hear her sobbing and sniffing loudly, her cries
coming out with jagged breaths.

“You have to believe me,” she wailed.

“Okay. Okay, look,” I started, as I tried to get some sort
of control over the situation. “Carla, you’re obviously very upset and tired.
Your emotions are running all over the place. I can’t say I believe you, okay?
That would be lying. But you do sound very convincing. But I can’t help you,
I’m not a therapist. You should speak with someone professional about your
nightmares.”

Silence ensued in the room. I could tell she wasn’t pleased
with my response, but that was the best I could come up with. After all, I was
a listener, not a talker. Carla’s situation was something beyond my skills.

“Fine. Fine!” She spat. Taken aback by the sudden change in
her personality again, I offered no reply.

“I’ll leave. But just promise me one thing. Can you do
that?”

I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration. “What is
it?”

“Promise me you won’t go to the library.” Her voice grew
shrill as I stayed silent. “Promise me! Please!”

Finally, I relented. Carla’s conversation had drained my
energy. I was exhausted. “Okay. Okay, I promise.”

And that, apparently, was good enough for Carla. Perhaps she
had sensed that I was truly sceptical about her “vision”. Perhaps she too, had
grown tired of this conversation. I don’t know. All I knew was that after my
reply, she immediately stood up and stomped out of the room. The door slammed
loudly shut behind her.

I let out a breath that I didn’t realise I was holding. That
was without a doubt, one of the most stressful and confusing sessions I’d ever
had. I didn’t know whether to believe Carla or not. I wanted to, but she exuded
a sense of manic energy that had undermined the credibility of her vision.

Sleep didn’t come easy for me that night. I laid in bed
tossing and turning, as I ran through Carla’s words in my mind – eighteen people will die.

The next morning, thanks to my unexpectedly late night, I
overslept. I’d woken up late and barely had time for breakfast, never mind a
revision session before my test. Carla’s session was at the last thing on my
mind as I focused my energy on making it in time for my test.

But as I neared my classroom, I realised that I need not
have bothered – the class was cancelled.

In my rush this morning, I’d hadn’t even have the time to
turn on my handphone. If I did, I would have seen the wave of messages from my
friends.

The messages about a fire in the campus library, and how
several students in my class were currently missing.

Carla was right.

I quickly replied to the messages, indicating that I was
fine. That eased the tension in the group chat, but only for a minute. There
were still many people missing. One of them was Nigel, a close friend who I’d
worked on many group projects with.

As I neared the campus library, I could see the area being
cordoned off by fire fighters. Campus staff members were running around,
getting students to head back to their dormitories. Small groups of students
were sitting on the ground, crying. Others stood around, staring at the burning
building in shock. Seeing as I would provide nothing but a hindrance to the
situation, I turned away and headed back to my dormitory, all the while
scrolling through Whatsapp for any updates. Speculations were rife. Nobody
seemed to know what exactly had happened. All we knew for sure was that there
were students from our class that were still unaccounted for.

That night, we gathered at the campus’ main building for a
candle light vigil. As I stood in line to pick up my candles, I could hear the
low buzzing of noise around me as students around me shared information about
the fire. Bit by bit, I pieced it all together.

The fire had begun in the second floor of the library. For
unknown reasons, the electrical box at the back of the library had sparked,
causing the surrounding book shelves to catch fire. By the time students had
noticed, the staircase – the only exit in the second floor – had already been
ablaze. Panicked, students began to rush for the narrow staircase. In the
chaos, many were pushed to the ground and onto furniture. It was believed that
it were these unlucky students that had perished in the fire. Due to the loud
commotion caused by the stampeding students, news of the fire quickly spread,
and all of the students in the lower levels of the library successfully escaped.

How ironic, I thought wryly, that the panic and chaos had
both simultaneously doomed and saved lives.

I reached the head of the queue, collected the candles, and
joined the slowly shuffling line of students as they made their way along the
pictures of the victims. Near the end of the line was a picture of Nigel, who
had been uncontactable throughout the day. I bowed my head solemnly.

It was only until I was preparing to leave the vigil that I
realised that there were seventeen photos laid out on the ground.

Seventeen photos. Seventeen victims.

My mind flashed back to Carla, and her panicked cry of
“eighteen people will die!”

I know what you’re thinking. Carla was right about the fire,
but she was wrong about the number of victims.

But here’s the thing. She wasn’t wrong at all.

You see, back in my freshman year when I’d first met Nigel,
we grew a habit of meeting up with each other for a quick revision session
before every test we have together. Call it superstitious, call it coincidence,
but we always seemed to ace our tests after our meetings together.

During the morning of the fire, Nigel had been waiting for
me for our revision session. It was only later in the day that I scrolled back
down to a message from him, sent early in the morning:

“Hey bud. See you in
the library. Same spot as last time!”

A week before, we had scored a nice, quiet table at the back
of the library. It was on the second floor.

I hadn’t seen his message in the morning because I’d
overslept. If I did, I would have warned him.

But thanks to Carla, I didn’t make my meeting with Nigel.

Indeed, Carla had been right about everything.

There was a fire.

It happened in a library.

And there were supposed to be eighteen victims.

So I’ll ask you again. Do you believe in clairvoyants?

I do now, because I think one might have just saved my life.