The full moon held court in the summit of the bright starless sky and was quickly hidden by thickening clouds that also smothered the sun as it moved quickly to challenge its usurper. Melissa saw enough of the two luminaries to spark lucidity and recognized that she was dreaming again.
As shadows seeped up from pores in the ground under her feet, she held her hand to her chest which brightened as her heart glowed with solar blessings. The landscape around her darkened and dissolved into ghostly scattered blocks of imagined landmarks. If she glanced this way, she might see the outline of a shuttered restaurant. If she glanced that way, she might see the shadow of a mansion framed by cypress trees.
The dreamscape wibbled and wobbled as it tried to complete what her mind thought it recognized in the abstract shapes. But Melissa knew that pareidolia can be humorously misleading when awake and the seeds of terror when asleep. She pinched a glob of light from the glow over her sternum and flicked it in front of her almost carelessly.
Her command was soft and short. “Let the light of day reveal all.”
She closed her eyes as the glob burst into a brightness that pierced the shadows enveloping her. Soundlessly, the dreamscape was scoured of all shapes as anything not of her immediate imagination was purged. She stepped forward and walked on something like ground because that is what her immediate imagination provided. She took a deep breath and felt something like air in her lungs because that is what her imagination of her body expected.
She opened her eyes and looked around. Though the sun held the summit of the sky in triumph, the sky that attended it was black and starless. The ground at her feet was gray as ash. It extended as flat as her mood towards the distant horizon where the seam joining earth and sky was visible only because she wanted to see it for herself.
“This shit has got to stop.” She spoke what was both a statement of confirmation and a command that went unacknowledged. Melissa knew that she could end the dream at will now that she was completely lucid. But she held back and waited for something, anything, to insert itself into her willfully blank landscape as she wondered if she was as alone as she felt.
The sun kept its unmoving vigil as Melissa turned slowly in place. Her chest continued its impossible glow and she kept one hand there at the ready to pinch and throw more globs of light.
From the nothingness around her, came a voice. “Why do you reject me? I have the power you are seeking!”
She threw another glob of light at the direction the voice came from before she began to turn. By the time she was facing that direction, the grenade of light had already purged whatever was once there.
The voice came again from the vacant space in front of her. “Yield to me, Lisa. Let me guide you, Lisa. Let me stoke your power, Lisa.”
Hearing the nickname forced upon her by her aunt stoked the glow in her chest into a fierce brightness that illuminated more of the dreamscape around her. She took a step forward with intent to challenge the disembodied voice. She did not notice that the shadow of her body that had been made by the burst of light had not faded with the burst itself.
She took another step, yelling a challenge for anyone within earshot to come forward. She did not see that she had stepped out of and away from her shadow and that it was now standing up behind her. Soundlessly it leapt forward and engulfed her, throwing her to the dustless ground.
“Hush, Lisa. Stop fighting, Lisa. This is not your battle to win, Lisa. Yield to me, and I will help you become who you were meant to be, Lisa. But first, you must yield to me, Lisa.” The shadow’s body vibrated as the voice emanated from every inch of it even as the clinging darkness continued to spread over Melissa’s prone and captive body. It spoke with a tone that celebrated Melissa eventual submission to the power that had animated it.
Melissa realized her rage had literally blinded her to a portion of the dreamscape. She struggled against the thickening bonds for a moment before realizing her fundamental and critical mistake: Treating the dreamscape as if it had the same rules as the physical world.
For all the threats whispered by the disembodied voice and for all the restraint imposed upon her by her own shadow, Melissa still had her mind and her wits. She stopped struggling and with a resigned sigh, committed to the action she realized she should have taken the moment she became lucid.
“Yea, this shit has got to fucking stop. Time to wake up.”
She opened her eyes and looked ahead of her. Harshly efficient hues of LED streetlights were reflected from the street below through her slightly opened window and onto the rough textured ceiling of Melissa’s bedroom. She remained in the same position as she woke up in and studied how the lights spoiled her ceiling with streaks of faint blue.
“Asshole ain’t letting up, is he.”
She sighed and attempted to turn over in her bed. Discovering that she had entangled the sheets with her feet during her sleep, she was forced to sit up to free herself. Sitting up reminded her body of other obligations and with an utterance that was one part grunt and one part expletive, Melissa left the bed for the bathroom to fulfill those obligations.
The flow of water as she washed her hands reminded her of the smooth writing fountain pen on her nightstand beside her bed. She sat and picked up both the pen and the dream journal it sat on. Flipping to the first open page, she wrote a date before double checking the clock.
“It’s fucking two fucking o’clock in the fucking morning? God damn, this shit really has got to fucking stop. I’d like to sleep through the night, please and fucking thank you.”
After completing the morning’s entry, she flipped through completed pages and noticed that while the dream entries have become shorter over time, the intensity and frequency of so-called memorable dreams has increased. This past week alone, all of the dreams she has remembered have been of the same subject: A mysterious and magical figure hellbent on subjugating her.
Melissa closed the book and looked at the subtle pink cover. “Dream Journal” was foil embossed in a generic script font. She scribbled over the word “Dream” and sharply engraved the word “NIGHTMARE” above it.
It took her a few moments to realize that the reason she was having such satisfying time scratching at the cover is because she was using the steel nib of her fountain pen to do it. She wiped the mistreated nib with a tissue and flipped the journal back open to an unused page to test the nib.
The sturdy nib passed her impromptu writing test, but the cool sensation on her skin under the opened cover informed her of another consequence of acting out in anger. She closed the journal and watched helplessly as the excess ink that had transferred from the cover to her skin soaked in quickly and stained the inside of her left wrist a brilliant and semi-permanent blue.
She closed her eyes and took a deep and calming breath. “Why, yes, this morning could get worse, and by acknowledging that, nothing worse is going to happen because I’m prepared for it. Right, Fortune? Right.”
She looked back at the stain. “I should get this off, anyway. Knowing my luck, it’s going to rub off on the first white cloth I touch, or worse, on someone else’s clothes!”
She knew from experience that trying to just scrub at the stain would not budge it from her skin. This would require constant exposure to water until her waterlogged skin released the ink and allowed it to be flushed away. A nice long shower would do the trick and allow her the opportunity to wash more than ink down the drain.
Now that it was past midnight, it has been three weeks to the day since Melissa completed the challenge of the Major Arcana of the Tarot and took back the most important thing that her aunt had stolen from her. A few days past two weeks since she started work as an intern downtown. Twenty days since her mother returned to her and her sister. And it still wasn’t until Melissa was in the shower with the water running as hot as she could bear it that she could let her fears rise to the surface and her tears be washed away.
Melissa hadn’t been much of a lucid dreamer until she experienced the tarot cards as ordeals to walk through. After the dream encounter with her aunt’s diviner and magician, she researched lucid dreaming to better arm herself for future challenges. She expected the dream assaults to come to an immediate end once her aunt’s access to the trust had been closed.
She knew that her aunt could be vindictive at times. She knew that her aunt could be single-minded at times. She completely underestimated how dedicated her aunt would be to getting her way come hell and high water.
Melissa tried not to think about how she had been having nightmares long before encountering tarot cards or even before encountering Rebecca. They were nearly constant after she graduated from high school, but she never remembered anything more than just being deeply frightened. What if those nightmares were her aunt’s magician having his way with her psyche? What if she had been under his control for so long that she doesn’t know who she is after all?
What if she’s really not free of him and he’s just letting her think she is so he can really fuck her up later?
As the water flowing over her cooled from scathing to temperate despite her having turned the temperature knob to maximum hot, she finally allowed herself to check her wrist. As she had hoped, the ink stain had been washed away.
She dressed in a clean set of pajamas and went to the kitchen for something to drink before going back to bed. At least, that’s what she told herself. Really, she was stalling for time and trying to not go back to bed at all. She realized her intent when going to the kitchen for a drink turned into going into the fridge for a midnight meal.
She shoved a slice of lunch meat and a slice of cheese in her mouth and checked everything one more time before making the adult decision to go back to bed. Door locks, oven, fridge door, cell phone, and door locks again because one can’t be too careful, right?
Melissa straightened the sheets and blanket as best as their current state would allow and turned off the light before hunkering down. She thought of the large stuffed animals she had as a child and wished she could have one now. She did not notice when she fell asleep or the shadow of something like a small child’s hand appearing as if it were lying over her own.
When she woke up, it was mid-morning and the room had warmed from the sunlight spreading itself across the floor through the slightly open window. She forced herself to remember the fading dream of a small girl’s tea party. She remembered a large teddy bear. She remembered a small girl. But she couldn’t remember if the small girl were her or someone else.
It wasn’t until Melissa was making coffee that she remembered the spirit of the Death tarot card appeared to her as a small child holding a teddy bear larger than her.
“Three weeks, to the day, since that all happened. And I’m forgetting it like it was last year. So much has changed, but the nightmares stay the same.” She took her mug and turned around in the kitchen to face the small dining table where her tarot cards and notes were sitting. “I need help. But who can I talk to about all this without being committed?”
She stared at the decks as she took a deep drink of her coffee. She knew only one person who she could be honest about everything that had happened since she accepted the tarot cards, and that person would be holding court in the coffeehouse starting in about an hour.
Melissa drank up her morning coffee as fast as she could. If she hurried, she would be able to grab one of the more comfortable, yet discreet, chairs inside the coffeehouse. She made sure to bring extra cash with her in case she would have to purchase an hour of a card reader’s time for the opportunity to ask the questions she should have received answers for already.
The table that Rebecca would normally have occupied by now was being held by two college students. Their laptops and study books were scattered across the table’s surface and the way their half-eaten muffins were dissected on napkins and papers told Melissa that Rebecca won’t be sitting at that table today.
She stood in line anyway, even though she would be ordering a decaf coffee. Getting out of the apartment made her feel better and the brisk walk along the way encouraged her to look at things from different perspectives. Melissa was so settled in her thoughts that she didn’t notice a person walking up to her until that person had shoved a ten-dollar bill in her face.
“Well, if you’re going to shadow me, then at least buy my coffee. If you don’t mind, that is.” Rebecca’s mirth followed the money’s intrusion into Melissa’s awareness.
She took the bill and gestured with it to the corner table. “Yea, sure. Did you get here late? They got your table.”
Rebecca looked past Melissa and chuckled. “I got here the same time I usually do. From what I was told, they were here waiting for staff to open the door. It’s semester finals season. I am not going to begrudge them whatever they need to get that passing grade.”
Melissa did not respond but moved closer to the barista as the line took care of itself. Rebecca moved with her in mutual silence but studied Melissa’s body language closely. The card reader kept her silence until they picked up their drinks from the ready bar.
“It’s a nice day out. The sun is being gentle. If you’re up to it, we can sit out on the patio and you can tell me why you’re balling your fists so tight, that you’re about to snap a fingernail.”
Rebecca turned away and left for the patio while Melissa painfully uncurled her free hand. She worked out the fingernail imprint behind her back rather than immediately admit that she was that worked up.
They sat on a concrete bench next to a planter filled with late-blooming roses. Rebecca kept her silence and rested amidst the comforting scent and the constant hum of the bees working around roses, persons, and all. Melissa attempted to also take a restful moment but kept glancing up. It was not clear if she was looking at the regular lanes of sky visible between the tops of the tall buildings around them or the buildings themselves.
“The nightmares haven’t stopped.” Rebecca’s quiet observation startled Melissa and the younger woman almost dropped her coffee in fright. Instead, she held her coffee tighter and nodded just as softly. “You’re looking up to see if the full moon is visible in the daytime sky. This is not good, Melissa.”
Melissa held her cup to her face but did not drink from it. After a while, she allowed her voice to fill the space behind it. “Yea. I know. But I don’t know what to do. I’ve gotten better at becoming lucid, but he just doesn’t let up. I’ve got to get back at that bastard some way.”
“No. You don’t. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Melissa, you’ve been through a lot these past three weeks, and I’m not talking about magic and tarot. Your mother came back from the dead, for fuck’s sake! It’s been, what, ten years since you laid eyes on her? You were a child! And now you have to undo all that you’ve been told, all that you assumed and believed, all that other people have expected you to become in her absence and try to reopen a wound that I don’t think ever really healed? Jesus Fucking Christ, Melissa, that’s not something you treat like a high school reunion!”
Melissa closed her eyes to squeeze away the tears that threatened to undo her demeanor. “Yea.” Her voice revealed her turmoil instead. “I thought going through the Majors was shaking shit up, but yea. Mom’s back. Mom’s home. She’s here. And…”
She took a long drink of her coffee to settle her voice. “And, to be honest, I thought the nightmares would stop. You know I started having them when she disappeared. And they got worse after Dad died. So, I thought, they would at least ease up now that she’s… here. But they didn’t. And you know what, Rebecca?”
She finished off her drink in big gulps. “You know what’s the fuckery of it? Now that I’ve confronted that fucker in my dreams, when I look back at the nightmares I had as a kid, he was there, too! It wasn’t always the same face and it wasn’t always the same commands, but the smothering terror, the reaching shadows, the way that the only option I had to make it stop was to let the shadows take me, it was all there! HE was all there! And this shit has got to stop but I don’t know anything about magic to do it!”
Melissa slammed the empty cup on the bench beside her. Her face was bursting with the impetus of the question that she wanted to throw into the space between the two women but she was more afraid of the answer than she was of daring to ask.
Rebecca closed her eyes as she took a sip of her cooling mocha. Her silence answered Melissa’s own and lowered the expectation of a response so when Rebecca did speak, she startled Melissa anew. “Okay. Let’s go there. To a limit. The Sun?”
Melissa looked down before glancing at Rebecca. “She reminded me that I can not only call on her in my dreams, but that I can call on my own fire. I do that a lot, and it breaks him, but it doesn’t banish him or keep him away for long.”
Rebecca closed her eyes. “Hmm. Okay. The Star?”
Melissa’s smile struggled to conquer her face. “I don’t want hope, I want understanding. What use is a star in the sky when the night is darker than shadows? I don’t know enough to know when Elpis should stay in the jar, so I don’t try with that card at all.”
Rebecca nodded. “Okay.” She tilted her head slightly as if listening to a distant song. “Death.”
Melissa wasn’t sure if Rebecca was asking about the tarot card or summoning the spirit of the tarot card. She was sure that she suddenly felt very cold. She found herself without any words to answer Rebecca with and picked up the empty coffee cup so she would have something to keep her hands occupied.
Rebecca kept her head slightly tilted and opened her eyes to look at the younger woman. There was no mirth in her study and her facial expression was so severe that Melissa was embarrassed and afraid to be under her inspection.
“Okay.” Rebecca took a sip of the now tepid mocha. She grimaced and measured the worth of the drink for a moment before drinking the entire cup with a series of impolite gulps. “Cups made for inside use don’t hold up well when used outside. Funny how what served us properly under one set of conditions can completely fail us when under another.”
Melissa heard Rebecca’s words, but it still took a few moments before she realized that Rebecca wasn’t just talking about cheap paper cups. She tried to look up at the older woman. The action released the tears she was ashamed to be subject to.
“Melissa.” Rebecca’s voice softened and lowered as she leaned in slightly. “Remember what I told you when you asked for the cards? That tarot is a tool? Remember I warned you that there are limits to what the cards can do? You’re running into one of them. Your life has changed in ways that normally take decades if not an entire lifetime. You have been subject to terrible abuse and the return of your mother has not been as kind to you as you have imagined it would be. You need help that the cards cannot give.”
“I’M NOT CRAZY AND I DON’T NEED A SHRINK!” Melissa jumped to her feet as she barely kept herself from shouting. She intended to stomp her feet and make further declarations until she realized she was replaying the same childish script that she used to distance herself from any sort of accountability.
She lowered her foot and looked through tear-warped vision at the still, patient, and quiet friend that was waiting for her to finish her knee-jerk reaction. When Rebecca didn’t leave, Melissa sat back down on the bench next to her, leaned her head on the older woman’s shoulder, and silently sobbed.
“Rebecca, remember I said that my world was dying, and I didn’t know how to survive it? Well, everything is now so much better, and I don’t know how to live in it.” She sat up and wiped her face on rough napkins. The scouring restored her bravado. “If I could just fucking sleep through the god damn night, I wouldn’t be such a god damn mess now.”
“It’s the nightmares, Rebecca! It’s Aunt Helen’s pet bastard and he just won’t fucking let up! I’ve tried using what I know of the tarot cards, but I might as well be trying to build a rocket ship with thoughts and prayers. I need something that will knock him on his ass and out of my dreams for good!”
Melissa willfully ignored the pained and caring expression on her friend’s face. She was this close to asking for the one thing she knew she needed to make her new life truly hers and by hell, she was going to get what she came for.
“I know what you do.” Melissa glanced around and quieted her voice. “That you’re a magician and an occultist. And I’m willing to bet that the reason I’ve been able to get my head out of my ass these past six months is that you’ve been working on breaking some of the magic leashes he’s put on me.”
Rebecca held out a hand to interrupt. “Melissa.”
Melissa looked away to not acknowledge Rebecca’s patience and gripped her purse as if it were an anchor to pull against. “Look, I’m not asking for the knowledge and understanding of the universe, here. I’m just asking for the chance to finish what was started!”
Rebecca lifted her hand to touch Melissa’s arm. The younger woman flinched slightly at the touch. “And what the hell do you think was started?”
Melissa looked back at Rebecca with a determined stare. “Breaking him the way he broke me.”
“No.” Rebecca pulled back her hand. “You have no idea what you’re asking for and you’re not in a good place to begin finding out.”
“But!” Melissa started to reach for Rebecca’s receding hand but thought twice after she began the motion and gripped her own purse with both hands, instead.
“No buts! And no ifs, ands, or what-abouts either! I have been where you are and where you are is dangerous to yourself and to the new world that is settling itself around you. Remember I said that if I had given you the cards six months ago that you would have cut your own throat with them? If you’re asking for what I think you’re asking for, indulging your fear will be like giving you a bouquet of datura blooms and trusting you to wash your hands.”
Melissa gripped her purse even tighter and felt the contents that she had forgotten about until now. “I have money… I can pay my way and your time.”
“I have to do something. These dreams, these nightmares, they are undoing everything I had taken back, Rebecca.”
Rebecca laid her hands over Melissa’s. “They can’t take your name, Melissa. But yes, you do have to do something, but that something isn’t going to be going after revenge. I know you have medical benefits through your internship. Take advantage of it. When my life upended, I wound up sitting for some sessions myself. Don’t think it’s something shameful or weak.”
Melissa pulled her hands from under Rebecca’s. “No. It’s… complicated. I couldn’t. Not here, anyway.”
Rebecca pulled herself back to sit upright. “You’re quite correct about not doing that here, for one thing, we’re in public, and for another, I’m not a therapist.”
“You know what I mean, Rebecca!”
“No, I don’t. And we’re going in circles around each other so it’s time to lay the cards on the table and speak plain. Melissa Débora Arroyo. Why are you here?”
Melissa looked up as sharply as Rebecca’s tone when she spoke her name. She almost looked down just as fast. She had not seen Rebecca’s face with that expression before, not with a stare fixed tighter than any star and with lips tight enough to press blood from a turnip. She knew that Rebecca already knew the answer to her question but wanted to hear the question drip from Melissa’s mouth so the answer would have greater weight.
Melissa forgot about the tarot deck in her purse, forgot about the notes on her phone, forgot about the medical benefits she could take advantage of, and almost forgot about the chain of events that brought her to this moment.
All of her thoughts shaped themselves into three words that slipped between suddenly numbed lips. “Teach me magic.”
Rebecca closed her eyes and tilted her head up slightly as if to address the powers above her. She took a deep breath and lowered her face before opening her eyes and piercing Melissa with her stare as she responded.
Missed a chapter? Go to the A Deeply Planted Seed Masterpost or use the navigation links to read chapter by chapter.