Her palm displayed tiny purple crescent shaped marks where her jagged nails had dug into her wind bruised skin. She traced them, the slowly fading proof of her anxiety and allowed her lungs a long intake of the sharp October air. Long night, time to go home, she thought. She toyed with the car keys in her parka pocket, squeezing the furry key chain through the fabric. A talisman, a memory. The simple motion eased her mind, relaxed her shoulders. Tugging her scarf securely around her neck she made her way towards her cab. Lights off, interior coated in dark. No, some light on, the lamp. The dark is too close still. Amelia listened to the engine. It was barely above the prolonged silence around her. No, not home. Not yet.
She parked the cab in front of the bar two blocks away from her apartment complex.
“Double,” she announced to the empty stools and the single woman working behind the bar. Dead night, cold weather. Not a soul to stay.
“Hey there. You’re early off tonight. Long shift?”
“Bad dream,” Amelia said, her voice hoarse. “A Lucid dream,” she added as she sat on the bar shivering from the adjustment of her cold cab and cold street to the booze fragranced coziness of the bar.
“A what?” Keely looked at her through the poor kaleidoscope created by a beer pitcher.
“Lucid dream. When you know that you are dreaming in your dream.”
Keely made a notable noise.
“I’ve heard about those. Some freaky shit, right? You want some coffee?”
Amelia shook her head.
“Something stronger and double. Has it ever happened to you?”
A shrug. She wore a lazy smile unscathed by bad dreams.
“You want to tell me about it?”
Amelia took the drink with thanks. It was over in one thirsty swallow. Amelia hadn’t realized how much she needed it.
“Not really.” She paused staring into the empty glass waiting for the burn to settle in her stomach and warm it. “Can I have another?”
The bottle tipped over the small glass pouring to the edge.
“It made me think of another…dream. I don’t know what to call it. All too real but still impossible. Lucid again? I don’t know. Funny I remembered it today or at all. It happened when I was about eight.”
“Was it a nightmare too?”
Amelia pressed two fingers on the spot between her eyes. Bullseye she thought as she massaged the throbbing dot.
“Most of my dreams are nightmares I think.” She smiled bittersweet, returning the condoling smile Keely offered her. “That one was different. For a long time I thought it wasn’t just a weird progression of my dream, that I had actually been awake in my room having all these thoughts and emotions. Being so scared…How could it have been a dream?”
Keely poured herself some of the same and joined Amelia with a small clink of glass on glass. “So, tell me about it.”
The noise had stirred Amelia from her sleep. It first existed there, tugging at her from the depths of her colorful REM, pretentious and demanding attention, averting Amelia’s thoughts from innocence to worry. If the noise was the music of her dream, Amelia wished it go away. But it persisted and she felt herself snuggle tighter against her blanket, the dream nearly over. She awoke, whatever sleep was left rolling off her eyelids like tears. The room was as it should, dark and hushed and after moments Amelia could see the outlines of her toys and her desk, and the wardrobe tightly shut. But she could also hear the noise and it wasn’t a part of her dream anymore. It was real. And it was coming from outside.
Amelia’s wide eyes traveled to the window. She pushed up the safety of the blanket and got up. The noise was outside but it vibrated heavily inside her, hurting her chest. The want to call for her mother or father was etched on her face, but Amelia found herself climbing on the window ledge, tiny feet and sweaty toes, small fingers clutching the windowpane.
From her window she could clearly see past the neat little garden and onto the brightly lit street visible through the naked autumn trees. There was a procession of seven hooded people walking up the street. They cast strange shadows and the more Amelia watched them, the more they seemed to be moving backwards, convulsing from some strain to detach themselves from their people. The street lights became hushed, faint with ill yellow light. As the group proceeded their shadows lagged back until they disappeared. Shadowless the figures glided further.
Amelia knew they carried the noise. At first it was a chant, a low gibberish sounding one, wordless words that came in whistles and breathy whispers, choked syllables that frightened her, just like in her dream, but now Amelia could understand them and they called upon The Witch. They didn’t seem to have faces underneath the brown hoods and Amelia wondered where the sound came from. It grew so strong her whole body began hurting. She opened her mouth to scream, but the thunder of their chant was so powerful, Amelia wasn’t sure she had made any noise at all.
The group of seven plucked their invisible hands deep into their robes and produced black candles which were lit and burned with the brightest and cruelest flame Amelia had seen.
The leading figure was taller than the rest. He was tightly bound in chains, visible pale hands clasped in a prayer close to his chest. With a gasp Amelia realized he was their prisoner. The chant flowed still, speaking words of blood magick and consecration, of his blood tasted on the old tongue of The Witch for immortality, for knowledge, for power.
It had become so cold not in her room but inside her. Amelia’s teeth chattered audibly. She didn’t want to hear no more of the bad words. They frightened her so much and brought impossible images into her mind which made her shiver. Her tiny voice rang out in a long and squeaky scream. The chant broke and the procession stopped. She counted seven heads turn towards her in unison. They stared she knew as she could feel whatever eyes were hidden beneath those hoods pierce her. Amelia thought she would wet herself.
She felt the tears, the huge wet droplets trickle down her freezing cheeks, the bubble of saliva forming on her thin pink lips, the running snot from her nose. She hoped they couldn’t see her truly, couldn’t hear her cry, the bad men, the evil women, the shapeless ones. But even if they had they slowly averted their concealed faces away from her. Only the tall figure watched her still. His hood slipped showing the faintest trace of blue lips on a pale skin. They curved into a smile for the shortest moment but she caught the briefness of that contact. A smile, just for her. The prisoner turned his head away as the procession assumed their chanting glide along the asphalt. The street lights blinked away from submission. They lit the road as brightly as before.
“So, what happened next?”
Amelia pinned the last shot to her wet lips and tipped its continence down her sore throat.
“It was daytime. I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember anything at all after that up until my mom came in the room.”
Keely dabbed her hands on a clean cloth. They were bright pink from the hot water she had been working ash trays underneath.
“It’s creepy, I’ll give you that. But you know how they say we don’t remember things accurately. Our minds easily trick us with false information. I betcha’ something like that happened to you.”
Amelia jiggled her car keys in her pocket feeling for the lucky key chain. “Like I imagined it?”
“Yeah, maybe. Otherwise…” Keely left her thought unfinished. She circled the bar and reached for the small button shutting off the “Last call for alcohol” blue neon sign hanging above the bar. She put an arm around Amelia and the two went out into the damp autumn cold.
“You want a ride?”
Keely shook her head as she worked the lock.
“I’m trying to walk more, get some exercise. Even downloaded some app on my phone measuring how many steps I’ve walked during the day.”
Amelia made a snorting sound.
“We’ll see who’s laughing when your ass can’t fit into that cab seat no more.”
Amelia chuckled and waved Keely a good-bye.
She followed the voice back to her friend. Keely, skinny frame huddled in a large jacket, looking at her with those silver eyes.
“I could be real. It could be that you lived through that and saw those people. Who knows? It shouldn’t be denied as a possibility. I get told many stories when I’m behind that bar but they are hardly ever sincere. They are mangled, put through a grinder. None of them sound possible. You got emotional when you told yours. I trust emotions like that, especially fear. Fear is possible. So, I believe you.”
Amelia took a step back from her cab. “You believe my dream was real? Or that it’s just a story?”
Keely shrugged. Neither.
“I believe that you saw those people and they saw you. Goodnight, Amy.”
Keely’s fingers gestured a wave and she disappeared behind the corner. Amelia pulled the key chain from her pocket and unlocked the cab. She slipped inside its unwelcoming coldness and sat there while the lights changed red to yellow to green and again. There was a burning tingle in her palm like sharp needles. When she eased her fingers loose the purple crescent marks had reappeared.