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  • Hour Thirteen
  • Jen Hirt (bio)

I had this thought upon learning that my fifth-grade math teacher was applying to be the first teacher in space: The space shuttle will explode.

I didn’t know what to do with this thought because it was so confident and so future tense and so informative. But was it really information? I was an imaginative girl and what the adults would say I already knew. Every time my family flew, I quelled a cousin demon: The plane will crash. Foolish, anxious me, never in a plane crash. So I dismissed the worry and by January 28, 1986, had even forgotten it until my reading teacher was called to the office just past noon.

When she returned, the news whispered in my thoughts before she spoke explosion and my premonition met its event in a tiny collision, like a half-drawn circle finished fast by an unseen hand. Yet I felt complete too—I had been right—and in this excitement I had to remind myself into sadness and concern.

Our class was to gather in front of the library’s television, which sat high on a cart that students were not allowed to push because in some other school a little girl had yanked a cart and the tv had tipped like a monolith and crushed her head, a freak accident that no one saw coming.

So we stood in front of that tv with its many warning signs and watched the countdown against the blue sky, and the roar of propulsion and ingenuity and America and science, then the soft puffs of annihilation blooming in a doodle. It was the first time I stood with a group and watched a disaster on tv. I slipped to the back and scuffed my shoes on the gray carpet.

I didn’t want to keep watching.

I didn’t want to tell anyone anything.

From “Precognition of Disaster,” a 1970 article published in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research: [End Page 65]

Two central premonitions bureaus have been set up in London and New York. These bureaus receive reports of ostensible precognition sent in by percipients before the related events have happened. It may be possible to use the premonitions like a distant early warning system, alerting persons or communities threatened with some disaster.

One morning in the month of the twenty-five-year mark of the Challenger explosion, a neighbor told me she’d thought about a body in the river and then there was a body in the river and wasn’t that the damndest thing.

We had crossed paths while walking our dogs along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At first we had the usual chat: I had been out of town for the holidays, happy to get back to my own bed last night; she and her sister had visited lovely neighborhood parties. The river was almost thawed and weren’t the shattered ice floes marvelous against the cold, abandoned islands? Our dogs played big like gladiators.

She then shared her extraordinary secret: A few days after Christmas, she had been out with the dog, as usual, but she had a random thought about a body. Then she believed she saw an arm about fifty feet offshore, saluting from the ice.

Three times to look, then four, from different angles. But it was just a branch and a trick of light, she was sure. Not an arm.

She continued: The next day someone else spotted the body for real—fully clothed, angled as if standing but not standing. EMTs pulled off the flannel and jeans and boots, awaited the coroner, the police. A cursory examination (right there on the sidewalk where we all walk our dogs) showed no trauma.

When she finished her story, her dog trotted to the slushy water and she frantically called him back, saying that the river was no good today, as if it were tainted. The premonition must [End Page 66] have haunted her, although she didn’t say as much, not calling it an outright premonition (instead repeating how she’d had a feeling), but I could hear it in...


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