Nabila opened her eyes to a grey mist that twisted around her legs as though trying to tie her down. Its touch was cold and damp on her bare skin, making her shiver and wrap her arms around herself, wishing that for once she could dream the future in clothing. Shaking her hair out of her face, she started walking forward, waiting for the mist to resolve itself into whatever she was supposed to see.
She came out abruptly onto an enormous flat plain, the ground under her feet strangely hard and painted the red of dried blood. She knelt down and knocked on it lightly with her knuckles, confirming by the hollow sound that it was some sort of wood. Walking forward, she saw that the red wood was set in a roughly square shape, easily the size of a two-storey house, and bordered on three sides by other squares of blue, green, and white. She crossed over onto the blue square and spotted a shadowy shape in the distance, rising high into the thinning mist.
As she approached it the mist thinned further, allowing her to see that what she’d thought was some sort of tower was actually a statue of a person, some sort of game piece for the giant board she was standing on. The statue was male, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, one hand outstretched as though towards someone just out of sight. Dark hair fell over one eye but the other was open, staring sightlessly along the line of his arm. Nabila shivered at the anguished look on his face and gently touched the long line of the bare foot in front of her, feeling nothing but marble beneath her fingertips.
She passed the statue and continued on, taking deep breaths to try and calm the nervous fluttering of her heart. The next statue was another young man barely older than her favourite cousin, who had just left his teens behind the week before. The statue was down on his knees, his hands bound behind his back and his face turned up to the sky with an expression that was both terrified and rapturous. She looked up automatically but saw nothing except endless grey clouds above them, stretching out to all sides past the boundary of her sight. Shivering a little with the cold dampness, she passed the kneeling statue and approached the next, not yet trying to understand what it all meant.
The next statue was twice the size of the first, a warrior woman wielding a deadly-looking spear in a defensive posture. When she followed this one’s line of sight she found a pair of statues: a slim young man with his hands over his ears and his eyes wide open, standing between the massive forefeet of a dragon that stretched up so high its head was lost in the clouds. As she eased past them, clutching at her own arms hard enough to dimple the skin just above her elbows, she thought she saw the boy turn his head to look at her. Her heart slammed painfully in her chest and she jerked away, moaning low in her throat, but when she looked at him again he was still in the same position, his wide eyes fixed on something away from her.
“This is not a nice place,” she muttered, just to hear a living voice in that silent place of statues and mist. Even her bare feet made no noise against the coloured wooden squares as she kept walking, wishing now that she could wake up back in the warmth and safety of the bed she shared with her girlfriend, above their shop in downtown Toronto.
As though the thought had summoned it, she abruptly came on the next statue, flinching at the sight of such a familiar face wrought in marble so much larger than life. Jagged lightning twisted through the strands of the statue’s dandelion curls and she had been carved with a rod in one hand, written over with runes that Nabila couldn’t read. She kissed her fingers and pressed them to one cold ankle, forcing herself to walk a little further, though she was growing tired and her teeth were beginning to chatter with the cold.
The last statue was the worst, a young man on his knees with his back arched painfully, both hands clutching his head and his mouth open in a frozen silent scream. She blinked and he writhed, nails digging into his skull; blinked again and he jerked back, his spine bowing so far she was sure it had to break. She stepped forward automatically, but the board and its statues began to shrink around her, until she was standing over something barely bigger than a child’s toy. Something moved in the darkness beyond the board and she sank down crosslegged, placing her hands on her knees, waiting for it to reveal itself.
A pale hand came out of the darkness, fingers impossibly long and gnarled, its fingernails curved like claws. As she watched, unable to move, it slid the writhing statue gently into the center of the board, so that the other game pieces ringed it like the points on a star, with Nabila herself at its head. A high keening wail filled her mind and she flinched, fighting against the force holding her down and helpless as the hand flicked over the other statues one after the other, until they all lay broken on the brightly coloured squares of the board.
Nabila jerked upright in bed, letting out a breath in a rush of air, the skin all over her body raised up in goosebumps beneath her pyjama pants and tank top. Beside her Shoshanna muttered a sleepy inquiry, pushing herself up on one elbow and blowing a fluff of black curl out of her face. Nabila made a ‘go back to sleep’ motion and pushed herself to her feet, going into the bathroom to empty her bladder and wash her face. When she closed her eyes she could still see the statue of the young man writhing in soundless agony, and she jumped so hard she banged her knee off the cupboard under the sink when Shoshanna knocked on the closed bathroom door.
“Here.” Shoshanna handed her a steaming cup of tea when she came out, scratching absently at one hip. “Had a vision?”
“Yeah.” Nabila took the mug and blew on the hot liquid to cool it. “Since you’re up, come sit with me and I’ll tell you about it.” They moved to the table in the tiny kitchenette and Nabila explained what she’d seen, finishing with, “So obviously it’s some sort of game, but I don’t know where or why. You were the only person I recognized and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a dragon in downtown Toronto.”
“Well, it could represent something else.” Shoshanna chewed on her bottom lip and rolled her eyes up towards the ceiling, as though it held the answers she sought. “What do dragons represent? Greed? Gold and jewels, hoarding? Something big and mean and scary?”
“It was...” Nabila considered. “If I’m the good guy—don’t smirk, Shanna—then whoever owned that gross hand was the bad guy, my opponent. The guy he moved into the middle was his piece, but the others were mine. Which means the dragon was one of mine.”
“Or it could be a drawback. Like those Magic: The Gathering games, where you can play a card that puts limits on your opponent’s turn. It’s the monkey on that piece’s back. Or the dragon, rather.”
“Maybe.” Nabila sighed, taking a sip of her tea—hot and sugary, just the way she liked it. “I wish visions came with an instruction manual. If you saw a dragon, turn to page 43.”
“Life doesn’t, don’t see why visions would.” Shoshanna got up and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m going back to bed. I have to get up at 7 to open the store for 8 or I’m sure we’ll get patchouli-scented complaints again. Coming or staying out here for a bit longer?”
“I’m just going to sit for a couple of minutes. I’ll try not to wake you again when I come in.”
“Not unless you’re planning to entertain me to apologize.” Shoshanna waggled her eyebrows and wandered back through to the bedroom.
Smiling, Nabila turned back to her tea, swinging the cup in a slight circle to mix it up before drinking again. She let herself relax, muscles slowly unknotting from the base of her skull down her shoulders and back, then down the line of her legs to her toes. Leaning comfortably back in her chair, she held the warm cup between her fingers and studied the orange streetlights outside the kitchen window, trying to let her subconscious go to work. Minutes ticked by without a breakthrough, and eventually she finished the rest of her tea and went back to bed to try and catch a few more hours of sleep.
She slept almost until lunchtime, dragging herself groggily out of bed once the sun coming through the window woke her with its light. Pulling on her robe and belting it around her waist, she went into the kitchenette to make lunch, picking up her empty mug from the table and studying it thoughtfully. In the daylight the vision seemed less real than it had in the darkest part of the night, though it hadn’t faded like most normal dreams. She made a mental note to flip through her dream interpretation book, which was surprisingly effective at helping her interpret her visions. At first she’d thought that meant she wasn’t actually seeing a representation of the future at all—despite twenty years worth of predictions that came true more than 90% of the time, starting when she was six—but Shoshanna had argued that her subconscious was only translating whatever she was sent into something she could actually understand. That had led to an argument about where Nabila was even receiving the visions from; Shoshanna was still religious enough to think there was a higher power, but Nabila had dropped that idea when she was still a teenager. As far as she was concerned, the visions came from her own mind, some sort of evolutionary trick that allowed her to see the future, albeit in a cryptic and sometimes nonsensical way.
She brought lunch—a salad with ranch dressing for Shoshanna and a grilled cheese sandwich for herself—down to the shop below their apartment and they ate behind the counter, snickering over a regular customer who had come in that morning to buy more candles for a ‘summoning’ ritual.
“You know she wants to summon some romance book hot stud to sweep her off her feet,” Shoshanna said, curling a long piece of lettuce around her fork. “The only thing she’s managing to summon is her fire alarm though. I blame The Craft.”
“The movie?” Nabila peeked around the counter at the sound of the bells on the door, waving to the mailman and taking the envelopes he handed her.
“Yeah, the movie,” Shoshanna said once the mailman had gone. “Now every idiot who doesn’t fit in thinks they can be a witch, like it’s just candles and incense and really, really wanting to be special.”
“Well, you do say that it takes a lot of willpower to cast spells.” Nabila grinned at the look Shoshanna shot her. “The movie came out years ago. Let it go.”
“Never.” Shoshanna stood up with her empty salad bowl in one hand. “You okay to watch the place for a bit while I go take a break?”
“Sure.” Nabila handed over her own empty plate, turning her face up to let Shoshanna give her a quick kiss. “See you in a bit.”
The rest of the afternoon ticked by in sleepy silence. A few customers came in, mostly regulars stopping by to replenish their herb and charms supplies, and once a couple of giggly teenage boys egged each other through the front door. Back downstairs by then, Shoshanna greeted them with a bright smile that still seemed to unnerve them, sliding one hand down behind the counter to pick up her favourite anchor, a piece of jade carved in the shape of a fertility idol. Nabila watched in amusement as one of the boys gathered the courage to ask her if she was a real witch, scoffing and snickering with his friends when she said yes.
“So, like, you’re Harry Potter?” the boy asked, still giggling. “Try and turn me into a toad if you’re a real witch.”
“There’d be no difference, you already look like one,” Shoshanna replied sweetly.
The boy flushed, though his friends seemed to find the comment hilarious. Squaring his shoulders, the boy swaggered towards the counter, reaching out as though to knock a display of delicate crystals to the floor. Even as Nabila moved to grab them, Shoshanna leaned over the counter and snarled, “Go away.”
Nabila caught only a glimpse of the sudden snarling beast that covered Shoshanna’s pretty features, but the boys went pale and fled in a gangling group, nearly getting jammed in the doorway like a slapstick comedy act. Shoshanna sat back in her chair and smiled, her face completely back to normal, gently placing the anchor back in its niche behind the counter.
“Subtle,” Nabila said, then turned towards the door again as the bells rang gently. There was no one there but she felt a cool breeze touch her face, brushing through her hair like fingers. “Hey, Shanna? Brace yourself. We’re going to have visitors.”