Single Character Short Story Competition - Runner Up

Laura Jane Siddiky

Runner Up
The Future is Coming
Single Character Short Story Competition


Jane lives in the suburbs of Liverpool with her husband and three quirky children and, having left behind a career in Audit and Risk, is currently a devoted full-time mum. When not reading, writing or simply enjoying the chaos of family life, Jane helps out at a local primary school and is working towards a qualification in teaching and learning support.

The Future is Coming By Laura Jane Siddiky

It’s 26th January, 1 year, 170 days since I last spoke to another human being. That’s the digital age for you. I’ll be one of those people who dies and the neighbours, if they ever find me, will describe me as someone who kept himself to himself. That’s exactly what I do – keep myself to myself. Self-preservation. That’s all it is. It’s not that I don’t like people. I miss them massively if I’m honest but really, it’s easier like this, out of sight, out of mind and all that. And okay, so I’d be lying if I said my family, my friends, never crossed my mind but it’s not like at the start, in those first few months.
Lately it’s been harder. I think it’s because it seems closer. Obviously, it’s always been getting closer, ever since I’ve known, but it’s different now. Somehow. Since New Year. Now, when I think about it, I think, it’s next year! I mean, next year, that’s close right? Suddenly it’s like, real.
I’ve known for longer. I mean, I didn’t cut myself off straightaway. But it was so hard. I felt like I was constantly acting, keeping up a pretence. And the few people that knew about me, about my gift, I had to lie to them. I could avoid telling them, but when they asked, when they wanted to know things… I felt like it was written all over my face, like they could see it in my eyes, that there was something I wasn’t telling them… that I was scared.
I have dreams you see. Premonitions. I see things that are going to happen, and they do happen. There is nothing I can do to change that. Sometimes I don’t know when they’ll happen and they take me by surprise. Other times I know dates, times. It all just depends really.
The first time it happened was at school: I went to bed panicking. My maths exam was the next day and I knew I hadn’t done enough revision. Then the night before the exam I started looking through stuff, doing some practice questions. A quick recap it was meant to be. Only I found that I didn’t know half of what I thought I knew. I was still up at 2:30 am trying to cram, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep right there, textbook open on top of me. That’s when I had the dream. I walked into the exam room, sat down and opened the paper. I saw the questions and somehow, I felt confident, like I’d prepared for those exact questions.  
I woke early the next morning, scribbled down everything I could remember from my dream - looking things up in the textbook, studying the methods - and I went to the exam.
As I walked into the exam hall, I instantly felt a sense of déjà vu. The seats looked familiar, I recognised the invigilators, I even recalled the instant when a pencil dropped near me and I was so engrossed in a question on simultaneous equations that the woody clatter it made as it hit the floor, made me jump.
The questions which I had seen in my dream came up and my early morning cramming paid off. I was able to complete many of them comfortably, just as I had visualised.
But the dream I had almost 2 years ago was unlike any I’d had previously and I woke from it feverish, sweating, shaking, with tears rolling uncontrollably down my cheeks. I had seen the end of the world and it was horrible. It wasn’t like the films: No asteroid hit the Earth; we weren’t taken over by alien beings; nor was it a grand scale natural disaster caused by global warming and our failure to repair the planet we have recently set about destroying. No, this was more like the Black Death I’d learnt about at school; only it was worldwide! I watched the people I love suffering, in agony for weeks, even months, it was hard to tell. I wasn’t sure if I was there myself, sharing in their tragedy or if I was seeing the events unfold, from outside, like television footage. The only date I am certain of is December 1st next year, the date of the newsflash that warned everyone. Stay indoors! Limit human contact! All flights and public transport cancelled. Imports and exports strictly forbidden. From what I could tell from my strange viewpoint and the images that flashed before me, a viral pandemic had hit the Earth; one which was immune to antibiotics and antibacterial agents. No amount of handwashing would prevent its spread and as yet, no treatment was having any effect.
You must think I’m a coward, shutting myself away from the rest of the world, to prevent me from having to witness in reality what I had witnessed in my dreams, maybe even to prevent the deadly disease from reaching me – it is true that I’ve stocked up a good load of food in my little house, and I’m still getting more delivered onto my porch every week. You probably think I should be warning people. Believe me - if I thought that I could do any good by warning people, I would. I tried…once. I had a doctor friend who had seen my gift. He knew it was real. Occasionally I had been able to diagnose things which he had not foreseen. So, he started giving me photos of patients and their records (totally unethical of course) in the hope that I would dream about them and predict their outcomes or solve the mystery of their unusual symptoms. It was no use. My clairvoyance was out of my control and external prompts seemed unable to influence it. Despite that, he believed in me completely. When I told him what I had seen, it was in the hope that he could start work, research whatever, to prevent it. I guess he knew, like I did, that if I had foreseen it, then no amount of intervention could prevent it. He killed himself days later.
So now I live alone. I told people - family, friends - that I was going away to travel the world; a voyage of self discovery I called it. In reality, I moved up North on a voyage of self preservation.
I have never since dreamt of those forthcoming events. This isn’t unusual. Often, I have premonitions only once. But occasionally, I do wonder, even hope, that I was wrong. Perhaps I was just ill with a fever and the nightmare was just that, a nightmare.
1 year later.
I have stopped the deliveries now. I just manage with what I have. I don’t feel great to be honest. I don’t go outside anymore; it seems too risky. I take vitamins and on dry days I go to the loft and open the skylight and just lie there, in the square of sunlight for an hour or so. I got a cold last month. It really scared me. I thought, how on Earth can I be getting a cold when I have no contact with anyone? That’s when I stopped the deliveries.  I’m not too concerned. I’ve stocked up on plenty of tinned goods, they’ll last me at least 2 years, provided I’m careful.  
I walk up and down the stairs 10 times each day, as quickly as I can, for exercise. I used to run but I slipped and fell one time and, although it just gave me a swollen ankle for a few days, the thought of injuring myself properly and lying their unable to move, or worse still, having to go to a hospital, doesn’t bear thinking about. Safer to walk, and keep hold of the bannister.
6 months later – 26th July.
I’ve not heard yet, of anyone getting sick. There’s nothing on the news yet. I feel it can’t be long before the first cases arise. I sat last night with two boxes of paracetamol and a glass of water. I thought about taking them all. Then I got scared in case I passed out before dying and somebody heard a thud and called an ambulance or I just had to lie there starving to death. I don’t want to die, but this…this isn’t life.
3 months later – 26th October
I had a dream last night.  It was Halloween. The doorbell rang. The clock read 7:25. Trick or treaters I guessed, though I couldn’t understand why. It’s not like I’d put pumpkins out or even had lights on at the front of the house. But they rang and rang. I could hear some sort of spooky music playing in the background. Eventually it went quiet but, when I went into the hall I could make out, in the dim haze of the street lights, that they’d put something through the door. I guessed this was the trick because they hadn’t got a treat. I stepped warily closer. On the mat lay a chocolate bar in its wrapper. I got a tissue and picked it up holding it at arm’s length. It really was just an unopened chocolate bar. It was ages since I’d tasted chocolate and the desire to open and eat it right there, was overwhelming. Then I awoke.
6 days later – 1st November
Last night was Halloween. As it went dark, I sat in the back room in anticipation. At 7:25, the doorbell rang. It rang and rang and as I edged closer, I could hear the same spooky music as I’d heard in my dream. When it finally went quiet, I waited a minute before creeping into the hall. What I saw made me freeze, a cold shiver sweeping through my body. On the mat lay a picture of a pumpkin. I went closer. Happy Halloween it read. There was no chocolate bar. My dream had been wrong.
I picked up the picture. I unlocked the front door and opened it. I walked outside and took a big gulp of fresh air. Then I sat down in my path and wept.


Judges Comments

An interior monologue is a terrific vehicle for conveying the singular viewpoint of an unreliable narrator. In The Future is Coming, the runner up in WM's competition for single character short stories, the narrator is convinced they're clairvoyant and paranoid about a pandemic they're sure they've predicted.

Jane Siddiky does a convincing job of conveying an interior logic that makes complete sense to the narrator, and has induced them  to take drastic action in isolating themself – and that the reader is shown is based purely on the character's tenuous belief in their ability to predict the future through dreaming. We are only told of one predictive dream that worked - the first one, where the exam questions were revealed. It's neatly done, so that as readers, we are less convinced of the reliability of the clairvoyance than the narrator is.

Jane takes the reader through the narrator's increasingly obsessive behaviour as they attempt to keep the world at bay, all the while giving voice to the character's single-minded conviction that there is method in their madness. We see how the combination of isolation and deprivation heightens the narrator's conviction - it is cleverly done that it is only when the real world intrudes, in the form of human contact, that the narrator is obliged to reassess their position.