“There! Four crows on the wall. I told you!”
“How on earth do you do it?”
As we were driving along the country road we passed the four cawing crows on top of the red-brick wall, the exact same picture that had appeared in my mind’s eye a few seconds before we’d seen it.
“I haven’t got a clue. I just occasionally I get these flashes into the future – normally as a kind of picture or vignette in my mind. Like the time when we came upon that car crash. A few moments before we heard the noise of the cars colliding, I had already got an image of the crash scene in my mind, and the next moment we saw it for real.”
“How do you explain it?”
“I can’t. It’s one of those crazy mysteries that makes life so exciting.”
“I think it’s scary.”
“Not really, it just feels kind of natural to me. It’s happened to me as far back as I can remember – when I was a child I thought everyone could do it. And don’t worry, it hardly ever happens, thank goodness.”
Jane and I were on our way to a weekend break in the countryside. It was a kind of celebration that we were actually ‘an item’, and as is usual when you’re newly in love everything seemed fresh, wonderful and exciting.
“You’re a very complicated person, Paul,” Jane told me. “And I think you’ve made the right decision, you really have.”
“I haven’t finally decided to accept that job from your father.”
“But you will, won’t you?”
Ever since I was young I had wanted to be a clergyman, and had been accepted to study theology at Uni next year, with a view to being ordained. My ‘year out’, working for a cutlery company in Sheffield, had changed all that. For the first time in my life I had been earning a decent salary, and had fallen in love with the boss’s daughter and was seriously considering a very different, more prosperous, future than that of struggling on a vicar’s salary.
“Just because you’re not going into the church doesn’t mean you have to stop working with the Samaritans, helping at the homeless centre, and all the other things you do,” Jane went on. “You’ll still be the kind of person who’d share his last crust with a stranger, and who helps people whenever you can – that’s one of the reasons I love you. But just think of all the people you can help when you’ve got a good income from a lucrative job in the cutlery trade. After all, Bill Gates instigated vaccination programmes for children in Africa, and sees it as his mission to use his money for good causes all over the world.”
“Yes, but I’m not Bill Gates. And I’m still undecided. I always believed I had a vocation.”
“For goodness sake, Paul, we’ve been through this so many times! Surely your vocation should be to make me happy, shouldn’t it?”
Right at that moment it started to rain, heavy thunderous drops crashing into the windscreen, coinciding with the frosty atmosphere that had suddenly arisen between us. We passed the sign saying ‘Lynley village welcomes careful drivers’.
“Sorry,” Jane went on after a while, “I know I said I wouldn’t go on about it during our holiday. Can I ask you something about your clairvoyant gift?”
“Ask away, but frankly it’s more of a curse than a gift.”
“Well, it’s clear that sometimes you can predict what’s going to happen, a few seconds or a minute before it happens, yeah?”
“So supposing you were to see something horrible was going to happen – like that car crash, for instance. Do you think you would you be able to intervene somehow, to use that time to change the future, so that it doesn’t happen at all?”
“Obviously not,” I told her. “I mean, if I can see the future, it must have already happened.”
“The future has already happened?” She shook her head. “That’s too deep for me.”
“I haven’t got any answers. I should think even a clever bloke like Professor Brian Cox would be stumped too.” I smiled, glad to have defused the tension between us. “I’ve read lots of books about time, they’re usually full of mathematical equations, and theories about relativity and the speed of light, even quantum physics and black holes, and it’s all triple Dutch to me. I just accept that no one knows. That’s why my faith is so strong – I know there’s someone all-powerful, who understands everything, and that he’s watching over us.”
She smiled, meaning ‘Here we go again’, in other words she thought I was talking nonsense.
We found the hotel in the village but by now it was pouring with rain. Jane cursed out loud, announcing that one of her migraines had come on. With many apologies, she insisted that the only answer was to go and lie down alone and close her eyes for an hour or two in the hope it went away.
So after we’d got settled into the hotel bedroom and I’d helped her to bed, I was unexpectedly on my own that afternoon. The rain had stopped and the sun had come out, and I realised that Lynley really was an idyllic little village. Wandering along the lanes I saw a sign to a castle, and since I’ve always loved old buildings I made my way up the steep hill.
As I reached the outer entrance of the ruined shell of the medieval keep I saw a man of about my own age hurrying on ahead of me, his head down, tears running down his cheeks, apparently oblivious to anything but his troubles.
And then it happened again.
I had a vivid image of this same man in a crumpled broken bloody heap, dead at the foot of a high stone wall from which he’d clearly jumped.
A kind of madness took over, and I raced after him as he disappeared up the spiral staircase leading to the top of the highest tower that I recognised from my clairvoyant vision. Taking the stairs two at a time I was panting by the time I made it to the top and as I dived towards him I heard his scream of terror as he fell.
Just as he was going over I managed to grab his wrist, then gritted my teeth as the jerk of his full weight nearly dragged me down too. As he was staring up at me I felt my strength ebbing away, and knew I couldn’t hold on.
And in that second I prayed like I’ve never prayed in my life before. I begged God to help us.
Then, as his feet scrabbled frantically against the old stone, I felt a tremendous surge of power entering me, giving me just enough strength to hold on and pull. Simultaneously he managed to get a purchase with his feet against the masonry surface. And as I hauled with all my might, he managed to get enough strength to help, and, after seconds of a nightmare struggle he was alongside me, both of us lying on our backs, panting frantically, my tears as copious as his.
“My girlfriend just died,” he managed to splutter eventually. “So I’d decided to come here and end it all. And then, just as I was going to jump, I heard her voice, telling me not to do it. It was such a shock, that in my amazement, I didn’t realise how slippery the rain-soaked stone was and I slipped and went over anyway. If you hadn’t been here—”
“Tell me about your girlfriend,” I said, trying to calm him down. “What happened?”
He told me at length all about how after a riding accident she’d been in a coma for a week, and him and her family had made the decision to turn off the machines that afternoon. And how he’d felt his life wasn’t worth going on with. He didn’t believe in a God that could allow such a thing to happen to such a marvellous woman, who had never done anyone any harm.
“But do you know the strangest thing?” he went on, “I’m not so sure now. After all, I swear I did hear her voice. I feel as if she’s living on somewhere.”
“I believe she is. I believe she was watching over you.”
“Well, someone certainly was, mate. Someone sent you.”
I went back down the spiral stairs with him and accompanied him to his flat, a few hundred yards away. We sat and chatted for a long time over cups of tea and cakes, and I could see the tension leave his face and body as he talked on and on.
“Blimey, my friend, you not only saved my life, but do you know something? Our talk just now, it’s really made me feel so much better, you kind of lifted a huge weight off me,” he told me as we were parting at his door. “There’s something special about you. You’ve got a gift for helping people. For saying just the right thing to make some of the pain go away. You’ve given me hope to go on.”
“Phone me any time you want to talk,” I told him. He nodded, and we even did a rather embarrassing ‘man hug’ as we promised to keep in touch.
When I was on my own it hit me.
I had seen his dead body in my premonition.
Yet I had stopped him dying.
I had seen the future. Yet I’d altered it.
How did any of it make sense?
When I saw Jane at the hotel I told her what had happened.
And I finally knew what I had to do with the rest of my life.
(image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay)