3:04

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Laura Castle bolted up in bed. As her heart pounded and she gasped for air, she looked at the alarm clock at her bedside. It was 3:04. The alarm had not sounded. She had set if for 6:00 a.m. It was another horrific nightmare that had caused her to wake up, just one of many terrifying dreams that she had been having every night for several days in a row. Each dream was different, but always carried the same theme of her pending death. This time she had fallen through an ice-covered pond, and just before drowning she suddenly woke up. The other nights she was either being stabbed to death or was in a car crash, but she was always saved by waking up, and it was always at 3:04 a.m.

What in the hell is going on? she wondered. The lack of restful sleep was physically and mentally draining, and was starting to take its toll. This was the last thing she needed in her life right now. She was up for a big promotion in her job at Lone Star Life and Casualty Company in Dallas. She had worked hard to get ahead in the company, but her lethargy and forgetfulness was beginning to affect her daily job performance, and could jeopardize her chances for promotion.

When Laura arrived at work later that morning, her co-worker was the first to notice her dragged-out appearance. “Dang girl!” The outspoken Jasmine commented. “You got circles under your eyes like a raccoon. You party all night?”

Laura rolled her reddened eyes at Jasmine and shook her head. “No. I just can’t sleep these days.”

She began to tell the quizative Jasmine about her ongoing nightmares. After venting for several minutes, Jasmine said, “I think you should see a doctor.”

“Oh, my doctor would just give me some pills and that would make it worse,” Laura replied.

“No, I mean a head doctor,” Jasmine clarified.

“A shrink? No way! That would definitely kill my chances for a promotion. If the big shots found out I was seeing a psychiatrist. . .no, that’s out of the question! I’ve worked my butt off for that regional job, and I’m going to get it!”

Jasmine could see Laura’s determination. “Well, I tell you girl, you better take those nightmares as an omen and watch your step.”

“Do you really think it could be an omen about something?” Laura asked.

“Well, I’m from Louisiana. We take omens as serious as a heart attack,” said Jasmine.

“Thanks, now I will worry,” Laura frowned.

Laura’s phone started ringing. It was her boss, Gerald, wanting to see her in his office. As she reached his door, he motioned for her to come in and take a seat across from him at his desk. She felt uncomfortable as he stared at her, and wondered if he noticed the tiredness in her face.

“Laura, as you probably already know, we have been considering you for a promotion for quite some time now.” Her heart began to sink as she waited for him to tell her she was not going to be promoted. “I just want to tell you how pleased I have been with your hard work and dedication to the company. I have been in touch with the home office and a regional position has opened up in the Southwest. I have recommended you to fill that slot.”

Laura began to beam from ear to ear. “The Southwest? Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!”

“I know this is short notice but could you fly out tonight to San Francisco and meet with the directors at the home office first thing in the morning?” he asked. “It’s just a formality. They like to personally meet new appointees, and welcome you aboard.”

“Oh sure. No problem. I can’t wait!” Laura replied.

“I’ll have my secretary make your travel arrangements, and congratulations. You deserve it!” Gerald shook Laura’s hand.

“Thank you, Gerald!”

Laura returned to her cubicle and told Jasmine the good news. They agreed to celebrate with a drink when she returned from San Francisco. With all the excitement, Laura forgot how tired she was as she finished up her afternoon at work. She was too excited to let sleepiness damper her elation. Before she left, Gerald’s secretary called and told her the travel arrangements were made for an 8:10 p.m. flight on Delta. She said she would send an e-mail to Laura with the specific flight information.

Laura arrived home to her apartment around 5:30 and began to pack an overnight bag for the trip. Later, she called her mother in Fayetteville, Arkansas and told her the good news. Not wanting to worry her elderly mother, she specifically didn’t mention anything about the nightmares to her. Her mother told her she was so proud of her and that she intended to notify her friend at the local newspaper, so she could write a piece about the promotion of her daughter.

After a quick shower, she drove to the airport and parked in the parking garage across from the terminal. As she rolled her carry-on bag across the street, she looked at her watch. It was 6:40. Perfect timing, she thought.

The line at the Delta counter was fairly short. Laura handed her driver’s license to the ticket agent. “Yes, I have it right here, Ms. Castle. Round trip to San Francisco, departing Dallas at 8:10 p.m., Delta flight #304, arriving San Francisco at 11:32 p.m.”

“Flight #304?” Laura blurted out.

“Yes, that’s correct. Is something wrong?”

Laura started sweating and could barely speak. She was having a panic attack. “I can’t take this flight,” she uttered. “Is there another one?”

The bewildered agent typed on the keyboard. “The only one is the redeye departing at 12:15 and arriving at 3:37.”

“What’s the flight number?” Laura asked.

“#512,” the agent replied with a perplexed expression on his face.

“I’ll take that flight. Change my ticket please.”

The agent made the ticket change and didn’t ask any questions, but it was obvious to him that this strange passenger had a problem with the flight number for some reason. Another weirdo, he thought. It must be a full moon out tonight.

With the new boarding pass in hand, Laura took a seat in the terminal area to gather her thoughts. Jasmine’s voice echoed through her mind. . . “We take omens as serious as a heart attack.”  Well, I took this one serious too, Laura thought. What was the odds of the flight number being #304? Better safe than sorry, she assured herself.

She had so much time to kill before her flight, so she decided to get her car and go out for a bite to eat on the way to Wal-Mart just down the road. She made a list that included lip gloss, Visine, Tylenol, and a magazine. She stuffed the scribbled list into her purse and grabbed her rolling carry-on and headed for the exit door of the airport. Her cell phone beeped with a text message as she walked. She reached into her purse to check the text. It was from Jasmine and said to have a great flight. Laura stepped off the curb. Tires screeched and a horn blared as the vehicle impacted her. Laura became airborne. Her body smashed the windshield and was thrown over the top of the car and landed on the trunk lid. She slowly rolled off onto the pavement. Blood was pooling from her head. A shaken cabby exited his vehicle. Bystanders screamed in horror and ran to the scene to try to help the stricken Laura, as faces of strangers gawked from the terminal windows. Sirens screamed in the distance as Laura drew her last breath.

The coroner arrived and pronounced her dead and the police officer began his report. Eyewitnesses stated that Laura was looking at her phone as she walked straight into the path of the oncoming taxicab.

An investigation at the scene was conducted and the tragedy was ruled an accident. No charges were filed against United Cab Company or the driver of cab #304.

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