By Lisabet Sarai
He may well be the love of my life, but I haven’t seen him in years. Now I sit beside a hospital bed where he lies pale, still and swathed in bandages. His chest rises and falls with his breath, but his eyes are closed. He doesn’t see me.
Something terrible has happened to him; I don’t know what. I hold his chill hand, willing comfort across this fragile physical link. A terrible grief overwhelms me. Sobs catch in my throat. I mustn’t cry. He needs me to be strong.
I wake from the dream disoriented, but the sadness lingers. This is long ago, long before email. I call him when I can grab a moment, long distance, a rare indulgence back then. He can barely speak. His father committed suicide last night, he tells me. Under my sympathetic pain there’s a flicker of wonder.
She’s a free spirit, my wild, artistic friend from California with whom I drove a thousand miles across the frozen west one icy winter, in order to spend New Years with our respective lovers. We’ve been out of touch for quite a while, though, since I returned to the East Coast. I know she has married a physicist, a deceptively normal guy whose order balances her chaos. She makes her living as a freelance journalist. She plays French horn in a rock band. She has a pet pig and a female store manikin she dresses in retro clothes and poses on her front lawn.
In the dream, over coffee, she tells me she’s pregnant. I can hardly believe that she would tie herself down with that sort of responsibility. Of course I keep quiet, but inwardly I marvel at how unlikely a mother she’d make.
Two days later, I receive her email. She and Dan are expecting a baby in six months’ time. She’s delighted but full of doubt. I am, too.
I’ve always had vivid dreams, the sort that haunt you after you wake. My dreams are like movies, with startling, brilliant images, exotic and mysterious locations and compelling characters, often but not always amalgams of people I know. Desire stalks me in many of my dreams; more than a few of my stories have been born from my night time visions.
I’ve had lucid dreams, where I know I’m dreaming, dreams I can control. In some of them, I have powers. I can fly. I have telekinetic abilities. If I concentrate my will on an object, it will fly across the room to my hand.
Yesterday while I was working out, I tried this on one of my weights, which had rolled away from my mat, out of reach. I wasn’t successful in drawing it back to me. However, the problem may have been insufficient mental focus or inadequate confidence rather than lack of ability.
When I was in grade school, I had a magic ring, adorned with a lovely faceted garnet, my birthstone. The ring granted wishes. With enough belief, I could cause a blizzard that would result in school being canceled. No homework! I lost that ring somehow when I entered junior high. By that time, though, my powers had shifted in new directions.
At the student summer carnival, I dressed as a gypsy and told fortunes. I’d studied the basics of palmistry, so I could identify the various lines. The process was anything but analytical, though. When I gazed at someone’s upheld palm, my predictions started to flow. I have no idea where the notions came from, but my clients seemed impressed.
And did the events I foretold come to pass? Of course I don’t know. As with the recalcitrant hand weight, I could be deceiving myself about the power I felt. Then again, maybe not.
My father told fortunes. He could read palms, tea leaves, crumpled paper. Once, at a party, I’m told that he read someone’s future in the bumps on a pineapple. We all laughed at this story, but his tight-lipped smile whenever someone brought it up made me wonder. He had a first cousin who made her living as a psychic.
Could it be that I have magic in my blood?
Could that be true of us all?
I do believe in magic, in the ability of mind to shape the material world. Too many of my desires have come to fruition for me to doubt that truth. The things we label as paranormal, in my view, are simple demonstrations of the fact that reality is a malleable construction of our collective consciousness. Our perceptions shape the world. We change our world by changing the way we see it.
All that sounds easy, but of course it’s not. Mystics and yogis have perfected techniques for controlling the mind and hence the world, but most of us only pierce the veil of illusion occasionally, as in my prescient dreams. I think it’s a mode of consciousness, not something to be achieved via intention or effort. My dreams reveal truths only about people with whom I have strong emotional connections. Love, not reason, is the origin of magic.
I’ve explored this view a bit in some of my stories. Right now I’m working on a story about a trio of witches. Two of them are aware of their power; they’re in the process of initiating the third. I don’t usually publish excerpts from works in progress, but this is so relevant I’ll make an exception.
“Come, sit. Across from me, that’s right. We’re going to play a game.”
“A game? What kind of game?” Memories of high school spin-the-bottle flashed through Emmeline’s mind. I wouldn’t mind kissing Beryl, she mused. Or Marguerite either. She’d never been attracted to women before – at least not consciously – but now the notion seemed almost natural.
“Cards,” Marguerite answered. She lowered herself to join them on the floor, tucking her legs underneath her, then placed an over-sized deck in the center of the triangle formed by their bodies. An intricate design decorated the back of the cards, full of stars and planets, fanciful animals and twining vines. The illustration, plus the size of the cards, led Emmeline to expect a tarot deck, but when Marguerite turned over the top card, it was an ordinary three of hearts.
“Take a good look at this card, Emmy. Fix it in your mind. Close your eyes and visualize it.”
Card tricks? Spin the bottle sounded like more fun. Brushing the thought away, Emmeline did as Marguerite instructed.
“Can you picture it?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Now open your eyes. I’ve hidden the card somewhere in the deck. I want you to find it.”
“Don’t be silly!”
“I think you can do it, Emmeline.” Beryl fixed her with that penetrating green-gray stare of hers. “Concentrate. Send your mind out seeking that three of hearts. Listen until you hear it call.”
“Please! I don’t have any kind of psychic abilities or anything.” The two women stared at her, focusing on her face. Their scrutiny sent hot blood climbing into her cheeks. “Aside from a couple of strange dreams that seemed to predict the future... Honestly, I can’t.”
“I believe you can,” said Marguerite, her voice rich and sweet as whipped cream. “You can if you try.”
“Do it for me, Emmeline.” Beryl leaned forward. Her blouse gaped at the neckline, revealing the symmetric curves of her bare breasts. Emmeline’s own nipples snapped into aching knots.
She heard authority in Beryl’s voice, power that had been cloaked until now. It simply wasn’t possible to refuse.
“Okay, okay...” Emmeline shut her eyes once again and summoned the image of the card.
Some force tugged at her hand. At first she tried to ignore it, but as the pull grew stronger, she gave in. With the three of hearts blazing behind her closed lids, she reached for the deck, gripping it with her thumb and forefinger about a third of the way down. She cut the cards, laying the part of the deck she’d removed on the floor. When she opened her eyes, a ten of clubs lay at the top of the deck.
“You see? I told you...”
Marguerite’s voice was almost inaudible “Look at the bottom card of the stack you removed, Emmeline.”
She flipped the pile over to reveal the three of hearts.
Fear, excitement and lust washed through her in alternating waves. She pushed the exultation away. “It’s just random luck,” she said, wanting but not daring to believe. That force, that attraction – she’d imagined it. She was suggestible – Richard had always said so – and these two women had formidable wills.
“Try again,” Beryl urged.
The two of spades, the Jack of diamonds, the ace of hearts – she found them all, one after the other. The pull of the card she sought grew stronger each time.
“What does it mean?” she asked at last. She sounded small and scared to her own ears.
“Let’s try something else first.” Marguerite drew a card from the deck, gazed at it for a moment, then placed it face down in front of her. “Tell me which card I just picked.”
The answer came to her almost before the tawny beauty had asked her question, with no effort at all. “Four of diamonds.”
“Now me.” Beryl selected not one but three cards, setting them out in a row. “You know what to do, Emmeline.”
The messages weren’t so clear this time. She felt as though several different people were shouting in her head. Images of cards flashed by, too fast and indistinct for her to decipher. “I don’t know,” she whimpered. “I can’t...”
Beryl seized her by the wrist across the gap. Power jolted through her. The pictures snapped into focus. “Nine of spades, six of clubs, Queen of hearts. Oh my God...”
Marguerite gathered Emmeline into her arms as the girl burst into ragged tears.
Of course I identify with Emmeline. It would be scary to discover irrefutable evidence of one’s own magic powers.
But thrilling, too.