If I Die Before I Wake



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Scene Title If I Die Before I Wake
Synopsis No longer the shape of things to come, Eileen experiences a vision courtesy of a someone who knows the future — or what it might have been, anyway.
Date May 17, 2009


She's been here before.

There is a clay vase overflowing with apple blossoms on the kitchen table, branches like a dryad's fingers, petals the colour of unbleached linen — like everything that rots, the flowers smell the strongest when wilting, coming together to join with familiar scents of mildew and old varnish, faded leather, patchouli and rich, damp earth. Pyrus coronaria, someone told her once, the Michigan state flower. And although she's never been to Michigan, she instinctively knows the blooms are her favourite, just as she knows she's been here before—

— but she isn't supposed to be here now.

She could leave. Turn around and walk back out the same way she came in — all with a just a simple twist of the front door's ornate brass handle‚Ķ

"You have to be ready."

Rain gathers as beads on the window pane, thick rivulets of water running down it and simultaneously obscuring her view of the outside world. There are trees with pale bark and even paler greenery, trees with white blooms and trees with pink, trees with no foliage at all, all shimmering iridescent behind a wrought-iron fence that separates the garden from the street beyond it where lamp light gathers in luminous pools on the pavement.

She could leave.

"I'd give you more time, but they won't." The voice is familiar, but it's one she can't name, can't put a face to in spite of the foreign nature of its tongue. How many Italians does she know? Two? "I can't talk to you like this."

Moving toward the voice is like wading through fog, invisible eddies of thought and memory swirling up from the floorboards and cocooning her in emotions that are not her own.



When the second voice joins the first, she recognizes it immediately and just as quickly understands why it makes her feel this way. "What makes you think we have anything to talk about?" it asks as she ventures closer, deeper into the house.

"She's alive. Ten years ago, she's alive. She could stay that way for a long time—"

The wooden floors do not give or creak or groan beneath her weight. Bare feet whisper, and she is weightless. When she passes a mirror, her shape casts no reflection in it, though this isn't quite as interesting as what she finds hanging beside it.

The first thing she notices about the wedding portrait is that it's framed in glass, and that this seems like something she would do. No hard borders. No box to contain, limit or define. The figures it depicts are almost incidental in comparison: a woman in ivory, a man in black and a small boy with eyes like coal between them. Their dark hair and faces are slick, wet, yet the bride still smiles from behind her plastered veil, looking not at the camera but instead up at the groom. A full head taller than the woman whose delicate hands his much larger ones encompass, he appears at ease in monochrome, which may be why he and his wife chose to have the photograph taken in black-and-white. More likely, the decision was made in honour of their family name, immortalizing the moment entirely in shades of—

"You killed her."

Like a gunshot, she cracks awake, or at least as close to awake as one can come in such a place without actually leaving it. The mirror's pristine surface flicks, distorts, and as she reaches out to brush the tips of its fingers against its frame, a shadow comes into focus, looming up from behind her with empty pits where eyes should be.

"You killed her," the shadow says again, "and you spared me. For this."

She turns to face her accuser, only there is none, no shadow — just Teodoro Laudani, pinned to the opposite wall by an invisible weight bearing down on his chest, crushing the breath from his lungs. The words grind past his teeth, jaw working fervently to speak: "I used the knife — because I wan— ted her to have a face wh— when— you buried her."

He's there, too. The man in the photograph. Instead of a suit, a gray sweater and washed out jeans cling to his long lean form, but it isn't his svelte limbs or the barrel of his chest that her eyes are attracted to — it's his face, and the livid expression he wears. "Spare me," Gabriel says. "You failed to save the world, you know. Guess it won't matter for either of us."

His hand outstretched, two fingers drawn together into singular gesture — there is no time to utter even the most primitive or guttural of warning. Instead: a swift flourish of wrist and the sound of something squealing, squelching through bone.

Blood spatters across the wall in a crimson arc and a moment later she's tasting it, hot and sticky, in her mouth.

This time, when Eileen jerks awake, it isn't a false semblance of the real thing. Sweat pours down her face and shines in her hair, bonds the bedsheets to her bare skin and discolours the clothes hanging off her frame. As she sucks down air, the dreary concrete walls of Hotel California flood back into sight through her peripheral vision.

The paint is peeling. The night is stale. Somewhere, there are rats, but there isn't any blood in her mouth—

— and she's alone.

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