A VISION OF DAWNS YET TO COME • by William Shadbolt

I know how this will end.

Even before Michael asks his question, as he toys with his hay-colored hair — “Cassandra, hey, I was wondering, um, if you’d ever like to, you know, go out?” — I know I’ll say yes.

I know that for our first date he’ll take me to a local diner, a small establishment with the greasiest food I’ve ever had, and that it will be a disaster. Michael will spill water all over my dinner — a gyro with a small side salad — and my floral dress.

He’ll feel awful. He’ll desperately want to ask me on a second date, but embarrassment stops him.

I wait a few days before reaching out, and our next date goes far more smoothly. We meet in a nearby park and enjoy a walk. It’s beautiful outside: no clouds in the sky, and the foliage has clothed itself in bright green for the summer. The majority of our conversation consists of us catching up — we were acquaintances in high school, lost contact in college, and both of us recently graduated and moved back to our hometown. We also majored in the same field, mathematics, though neither knows what to do with it.

At the end of the date, I stare into Michael’s face, so thin, so handsome, and, both of us shivering like arctic explorers, we kiss.

We go on more dates. We become girlfriend and boyfriend. We find jobs — as accountants. And after a few months, we move in together.

There are plenty of fights, mostly over dumb things, like cooking meals or the laundry, though in the moment they seem of the utmost importance.

At one point I get so mad I stay with my parents for a week.

My mother always shakes her head. She never truly warms to Michael — I think she doesn’t want to get too close to him because, like me, she knows what’s coming.

She can see it, the same way she knew the family’s power would be passed down to me. That’s why she named me Cassandra, after a Greek oracle who could see the future. But it’s Greek mythology, so there’s an obligatory catch: she could never change it, like us.

Even after the worst fights, Michael and I never lose our love; we always forgive each other. And I try not to think too much about the future.

After we’ve been together a few years, he proposes and we get married on a nice spring day. Those are the happiest months of my life, that marriage — I can see it like a movie montage, complete with pop music.

We dance, we cook with each other, we go to wineries, together we go on our own personalized odysseys each day.

But a few months is all it is.

That autumn, during a lightning storm, I get a call from the police: Michael’s been in a car accident, taken to Two Sticks Hospital.

I hurry there, but not too quickly. I knew this would happen. Knew it from the moment Michael first asked me on a date. And I know that even if I drive as fast as the rain bullets down, I won’t get there in time, that all I’ll see is the bruised and broken corpse of the man I love enough to switch places with.

I see all this.

But my mother’s wrong. I can change the future if I want to — albeit only in small, minute ways.

I can say yes to Michael, and have everything play out just as I see it, or I can say no, and none of what I’ve just witnessed will come to pass. No dates, no wedding, no mourning. No pain. Michael shall still have an early death — I can sense that — but the mists of time are too murky to make out any of the specifics.

I know how this will end. But I can’t help but feel a lightness when I think of Michael, of cooking with him, of giggling all afternoon with him, of hugging him, of dancing with him, of gaming with him until roses of dawn bloom on night’s horizon, of, of, of…

And after Michael asks me his question in a shaky voice, I answer in an equally nervous tone, “Yes, of course.”

Will Shadbolt has been dreaming up stories for as long as he can remember. His short fiction has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Nanoism, and other venues.

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