"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Phone Call From the Future

Assia Smaguine Riley, via https://issuu.com/lesliehindman/docs/sale_338


“Crisis apparitions”--cases where ghosts of the recently deceased supposedly visit loved ones to announce their passing--are quite common.  However, the following account is an unusual twist on the genre.

John Powell Riley was a successful electrical engineer.  During the 1950s and 60s, he was married to a beautiful Russian socialite, Anastasia “Assia” Smaguine.  They spent much of their married life in Geneva, Switzerland, where they socialized a great deal with the local community of Russian exiles.  Among the most popular of this colony of “White Russians” was a small family whose last name Riley discreetly declined to provide.  It consisted of a woman named Tamara, her 25-year-old daughter Mara, and Tamara’s mother Baboussia.  

Mara--the breadwinner of the family--was an exceptional young woman.  She was a gifted linguist who worked as a translator for the United Nations.  Mara was beautiful, charming, and kindly, well-loved by everyone who knew her.

Eventually, Riley’s marriage to Assia ended when she left him for her first love, a Frenchman named Pierre Saunier.  He moved back to America, losing contact with Mara and her family.  Despite the divorce, Riley and Assia remained on very friendly terms, and spoke often on the phone.  (The two eventually remarried in 1998.)

Some years passed.  Then, early one morning, Assia phoned.  She was sobbing.  “Oh, Johnny,” she gasped, “something terrible has just happened.  Mara died."

Riley was shocked.  As far as he knew, the young woman had been in perfect health.  Assia explained that while Mara had friends over for lunch, she choked on an olive pit, dying before help could arrive.  She had married only a month before.

Riley felt a lingering sadness over the tragic event.  To have such an fine person, with so much to live for, die suddenly in such bizarre circumstances, made him question what life was really all about.  He shared the story of Mara’s sad end with friends, and they all endeavored to find any sort of logic and reason in the ways of this world.

In an article he wrote in 1995 for “Fate Magazine,” Riley mused, “One thing seems certain.  We live in a world of consequences where the physical laws of the universe prevail without exception.  Not even God rescinds them.  You can be the best person in the world, but if I push you off a cliff, you will fall to your death and all your goodness will not save you.  If you absentmindedly step in front of a speeding car, nothing in your character will have any bearing on the inevitable outcome.”

A far more elegant way of saying “S--- happens.”

Riley and Assia did not discuss Mara again.  Then, about a year later, she phoned him.  He could instantly tell she was very upset.

Assia said, “Oh, Johnny, something terrible has happened.  Mara died.”

The confused Riley replied.  “I know that, darling.  She choked on an olive pit.”  He reminded Assia that she had told him the news a year ago.

Assia stated that this was impossible.  Mara had died just the day before.


  1. I have never heard something like this.

  2. That's very strange. What makes it eerie is that a living person did the announcing, and did it the same way twice.

  3. So how did she die? Did she choke on the Olive?

  4. I have a similar story, slightly more complex, and with personal documentation and witnesses: we were visiting some friends for dinner; we’ve known them about 17 years. This was in early 2020. Other guests were at their house, and we were chatting with them when our host received a phone call announcing that his brother had just died. He spent the rest of the evening on the phone, and the rest of us carried on eating and talking, but we all left early for obvious reasons. It was very clear that this was a major event, and we told numerous times that his brother just died.

    We visited them again in September 2020, and during dinner I brought up the incident. He and his wife looked confused at us, and said that his brother died many years ago. I said, no, last time we saw you (about 8 months earlier)? They insisted we wrong. We did not peruse the issue since it was sensitive.

    When we got home that evening, I asked my wife and my daughter if we were off on the death date? They both recalled the evening, the people there, the conversation (about the future elections), we had with said guests, and definitely the last time we saw them.

    Regardless, I keep a remarkable family history / diary in MS Excel that cover’s every major event and interesting factoid of our lives – just simple one-line entries, including older material pre-computer era material I researched form photos and other diaries of the the families. Now an easy and searchable database, simple and brief covering 70-years of mine and our family histories, it only takes about 5-min a week to keep it updated. So I looked up our last meeting with them, and there it was, in black-and glowing computer screen white – his brother died on the date that we last visited them. The entry noted the conversations with the guests on that date as well. I have no idea what strange thing happened to change that time-line.


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