The Unwitting Soothsayer
by P.S.Gifford
forum: The Unwitting Soothsayer
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Unwitting Soothsayer


          Ah there you are… Finally. Please forgive my disposition today… I barely got any sleep last night. You see, my nightmare has returned… Identical to the one I had several months back.

          But of course… You would not know about that. How would you? Please allow me to enlighten you—and you will soon enough understand its significance

          My life had been plodding along on at a relatively normal and contented clip. My career was going exceptionally well, and I was getting some serious writing accomplished, finally making a name for myself.

          Then it happened, completely out of the blue—a dream that was going to repeat itself over three increasingly harrowing nights. I feel I should mention that I had never before been haunted by nightmares or night-terrors, so this came as quit a fright.

          The first night of the dream, I found that in it I was casually strolling in the nearby park, as I am in the regular habit of doing. It clears my mind, and the light exercise invigorates my imagination. I was unsure as to what time of day it was… Perhaps early afternoon. The air was crisp, but comfortable, and there was a generous splattering of clouds in the sky. All at once they appear, from nowhere… Four excessively tall gentlemen with striking bald heads contrasting their nondescript facial features. They were dressed in matching old-fashioned black long tuxedos and were marching with remarkable speed towards me, and I needed to dart out of the way to avoid being knocked down… On their shoulders was balanced a coffin. Not an expensive coffin, mind you; no, this one appeared to be made entirely from pine, and had nothing on it other than the most basic of hardware.

          It was at that moment I awoke, slightly amused by the vivid nightmare, but not completely alarmed by it. It was only a matter of minutes until I fell back into a more restful sleep.

          I did not think much about the nightmare as I went about my daily routine the next day. Not until I once more lay in bed, that is. For when I rested my head on my pillow, tightened the bedclothes about me and closed my eyes, the image of the coffin kept popping into my mind's eye. Normally, the clarity of dreams have faded… until forgotten. Yet this image of the four peculiar fellows carrying the casket was remarkably clear.

          I tried to dismiss the disturbing mental picture as I fidgeted awkwardly. Finally, I did succumb to sleep… and that dream once more manifested itself within my slumbering mind… Initiating with precisely the same odd series of events from the night before… Only this time it continued further. For some reason I felt compelled to follow the curious pall bearers, and I had to almost trot to keep up with them. They seemed thankfully oblivious to my being there. They marched purposefully through the park, past the Bowling Green, where several old gentlemen dressed in shirts and ties with flat claps on their heads grinned menacingly as we went, and saluted us. Then on near a muddy soccer pitch, where young boys of about nine or ten with muddied faces and muddied knees stopped playing their game and began pointing and laughing hysterically as the four men, the coffin, and I marched on by.

          The procession continued along the gravel path and on out of the main gates of the park and down the high street… then I abruptly awoke, to discover I was once more contained safely in my bed…

          This time I was not amused by the nightmare, as I discovered myself to be in a cold prickly sweat.

          I promptly took a warm shower, to calm my nerves.

          Then I returned to bed… and after a short while of fighting back horrible thoughts fell into a peaceful sleep.

          The following night as I lay there in the darkness of my bedroom, I wondered if again I would have my nightmare, and I wondered further if I was going to discover who was in the coffin…

          It took a little while to finally fall asleep. As I had suspected, the nightmare did indeed come back… Once again we were in the park; once again I followed the coffin, and once more the bowlers grinned and saluted and the pale faced youngsters stopped kicking their ball and sneered and cackled as we went past them. Once more we continued on out of the park and along the main street, and then I saw it—a hand painted sign, just a few shops ahead.

          "Birching and Watts Funeral Parlor—serving the City of Birmingham since 1896"

          As they marched up to the premises, the heavy doors of its imposing entranceway swung open, seemingly by themselves, and they continued on inside, along a wooden corridor towards the rear of the property. Despite the stamping of boots against the wooden floor, there was no discernable sound to be heard. I followed immediately behind them and into a large sized room at the rear of the building.

          They placed the coffin onto a long narrow table standing about three feet high draped in faded, moth bitten black velvet.

          I studied the room. It had no windows, its dark wooden walls cracking and showing their age, and a small fireplace on the back wall of the room. The room was softly illuminated by black candles in simple, old-fashioned sconces on each of the room's four walls. I breathed in the air, which smelled dank and stale. It occurred to me that the room could have been taken from a Charles Dickens novel.

          As I stood there, I abruptly turned around and realized that the door I had entered through was no longer there. I stared blankly at the dusty wood-covered walls where the door had been moments before. I began to spin my body about feverishly in alarm. All I could see were the candles flickering away on the walls, the unlit fireplace, and the coffin set on the table.

          I stopped spinning and stared at it blankly. I made my way over to it.

          I studied it keenly as I ran the fingers of my right hand over the cheap coarse wood. There were no nails or screws securing the top, I noted with a combination of delight and dread. I felt a sudden sharp pain and realized that I had managed to implant a splinter in my index finger.

          Undeterred, I gradually placed my fingertips under the top and lifted it up, just an inch.

          I then took a big breath and held it as I lifted it further and peered inside.

          I screamed, dropped the lid and instantly recoiled at the face gazing up at me, beaming through badly applied makeup, empty eyes still wide open… It was the face of my editor and dearest friend— Constance Cooper.

          I immediately awoke, to discover that I was indeed screaming… As I once more attempted to calm my nervousness, this time without success, in the shower, I noticed a throbbing in my right hand, and discovered with further horror and complete disbelief that a splinter was there.

          I could not bring myself to sleep for the rest of the night, despite it being only a little after two… I simply went downstairs to my kitchen and made a pot of strong tea.

          As I sat there depleting the pot of tea, I kept replaying the terrible scene over and over again in my head… and kept considering the splinter, which was as real as anything and still in my finger.

          "Surelys it has a rational explanation," I muttered out loud in an attempt to convince myself. "I must have gotten the splinter without realizing it, and then incorporated into my dream. That can be the only explanation."

          I watched the clock ticking away the hours… Three, four, five… six… I sat there silently as the morning sun awoke and cast its soft morning glow over my kitchen.

          Just another ordinary day, I considered, doubting the words as quickly as they formed.

          Finally, it was nine… My editor was always at her desk by that time in the morning.

          My head dizzy from the disruptive combination of lack of sleep, anxiety and the large quantity of caffeine, with trembling fingers, I dialed my editor's number.

          It was on the fifth ring that the phone was answered… by Constance.

          I told her about the dream, and she joked about my imagination always working overtime—and that I should stick to just writing speculative fiction and not dreaming it. I laughed, and my mind was eased.

          What a preposterous notion indeed, predicting someone's death in a dream.

          However, I wish I could tell you that that was the last of it. Alas, the most shocking is yet to come. It was a few days later when I had a question for Constance, and once more dialed her number. The phone was answered, after the sixth ring, but not with Constance's usual cheery voice meeting my ear—it was the voice of her young assistant June.

          "Oh my goodness," she said and I could tell that she was crying, "there has been a terrible car accident this morning. Police are here right now asking all sorts of meaningless questions… Constance's Jaguar, according to what they have said, apparently skidded out of control… and she's... She's… dead. They want me to go with them, to make the final verification, and—"

          All at once my mind was filled with the haunting, disturbing vision of Constance's distorted face I had seen in my nightmare… and I must have fainted and collapsed on to the ground, hitting my head on the cold marble tile in the process.

          I awoke in a hospital bed, heavily sedated, with a pretty redheaded nurse smiling down at me.

          She told me, as she held my hand, that I had suffered a bit of a breakdown, by the shock of losing a close friend and that I had been out for almost a week… Even missing the funeral.

          She went on to inform me that I had been talking about the dream I had experienced in my semi unconscious state… and how I had kept repeating the scene over and over again.

          She added with appropriate help, my life would resume to normal within a matter of weeks, telling me how resilient humans are.

          The last few months have been awful, absolutely awful. My writing fell apart, I have been visiting a therapist three times a week, and the only way I can get myself to sleep these days is by a prescription… But at least the dreams went away.

          Well, that is till a few days ago.

          The dream was precisely as I remembered it.

          On the first night, there I was once more in the park… And once more saw the menacing pall bearers, and yet again I darted out of their way to avoid being knocked over.

          On the second night, we once more headed out of the park—and again the bowlers sneered and the young boys scoffed and pointed their grubby fingers at us.

          And on the third night, just as we had done before, once more we continued out of the park, through the main gates up the main street, and I saw the Birching and Watts Funeral Parlor sign… and I followed the procession inside.

          Again, the door vanished, and again I spun about frantically… until I finally focused my attention on the coffin.

          Once more I made my way over to it and studied the cheap brackets and hinges… Again I saw there were no screws or nails keeping the top in place.

          I ran my right finger over it, and got another splinter.

          Then I placed the tips of my fingers underneath the lid and gradually eased it upward.

          As I peered inside, the candle light flickered eerily about me… And as my terrified eyes met the face of the person lying there, I screamed… Then I awoke in my bed, just as shaken, and just as terrified as before.

          That is why I needed to contact you so desperately… For that face lying there in that cheap pine coffin… It was yours.




copyright 2006 P.S.Gifford.

P.S.Gifford is a writer based in Southern California. His work has appeared in many a dark place of the web. For a recent interview, check out