It was a good forty-five minutes before we got through the next five miles of freeway. Apparently once all of the passengers were accounted for, they opened the two left lanes to start funneling the backed up traffic so they could get the tow trucks and ambulances through, as well to start to clean up the accident. I didn’t know any of this first hand however; Jodi explained it all to me once I finally came to as we pulled up alongside the curb in front of my house. Steven drove us to his house first to get his car and followed us to my place so he could give Jodi a ride home once she got me home. What would the world be like without best friends?
After my brief nap, I was calm enough to get myself up to the door and inside the house without any help from Jodi, although it took a lot of insisting on my part to get her to believe me. I think if she’d had it her way, she would have tucked me into bed. I did have some dignity after all. Some guardian angel I would be if I needed help brushing my teeth and getting changed for bed. I heard Jodi grumble something about stupid, pig-headed pride before I shut the front door, but I only smiled and shook my tired head. As if that wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black.
After such an exhausting night, I didn’t think I had the energy in me to dream, but when I woke, my forehead was beaded in sweat and my face was flush with heat. The light coming into my room told me it was almost noon, and even though that meant I had gotten at least eight hours of sleep, my dreams had been stressful, stealing any peace sleep would’ve brought me. At some point in the middle of the night, I had tossed off all of my covers, hoping to cool my heated body. I sat up in my bed, falling back to catch myself on my elbows.
“Shit,” I said through a loud breath, “might as well have skipped the damn shower last night.” Muttering to myself, I managed to untangle my ankles from the knots of my covers and get my legs swung over the side of the bed to leverage myself up. Once I found my feet, my exhaustion started to slip away from me, sinking down into the floor, through the foundation, and back to Earth.
“You can have it,” I added dryly as I took a step forward, feeling like I was stepping out of a puddle in the street. I couldn’t really remember my dream other than the intense heat that seemed to be everywhere. Something niggled in the back of my mind, trying to get me to remember more.
The sweat on my body was drying and making me chilly, so I rummaged through my drawers until I found a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and pulled them on, followed by an extremely oversized gray sweatshirt that read SENIORS in blue lettering outlined in white. After finding a pair of socks to protect my feet and quickly dragging a brush through my damp hair, I left my room hoping against hope there was still coffee.
It may be my winter break, but it was still the middle of the week, so my dad was off to work, leaving my mom and me home alone. When I came into the kitchen, I saw she’d already prepped dinner in the crock-pot to cook without her and the living room had been vacuumed. I cringed when I saw the dishes were also stacked in the drain board to dry; I was supposed to have done those last night. Well, I would’ve done it had I gotten home when I expected to, honestly I would have.
“Damn, I’m sorry, mom,” I said as I rounded the island in the kitchen where we kept the coffee pot. The pot was off, so I shot out my hand to pat the carafe to see if it was still hot, pulling my hand back almost too fast to feel anything, but my fingers were a little warm. I grabbed a coffee cup out of the cupboard and poured myself a cup, adding the appropriate amount of raw sugar and cream. Neither of my parents took sugar in their coffee, so it was my own personal stash. I sprung for the good stuff.
“Mom?” I looked up at her, realizing she was sitting at the kitchen table, not something she usually did, and more surprising yet, she had tarot cards laid out in front of her. My mother was especially adept at reading both tarot and medicine cards, and when I was a child, she often gave readings to friends and family. But most people don’t like to get bad news and even more don’t like to be the bearer of it; my mother was no exception. One day, after reading about the impending death of a friend’s brother, she packed her cards up in a box, waiting to pass them on to me when I wanted them, as was the tradition of the women in our family, and never read them again.
“Mom?” I pressed again, taking up my cup and walking around the island again to walk over to the kitchen table. She sat at the head where my dad usually sat during the rare family dinner. Her shoulders looked tight and worry lines creased her forehead as she bent towards the table. She had let her cigarette burn out on its own in the ashtray to her right and I suspected the coffee in her cup was now cold. When she still didn’t say anything, I leaned closer to look at the layout in front of her and realized the cards were in a wheel; she was looking for an answer to a question.
“What the hell?” I whispered. My mother never, never read for herself, asking me to do it when she had something important to ask, because reading for yourself was dangerous, especially for psychics like my mother. It was kind of like using an Ouija board; you were opening yourself up to the spiritual world, practically inviting anything within hearing distance to latch on to you. You risked having your own personal ghost haunting you or a poltergeist determined to drive you and you alone crazy.
“Mom!” I said more firmly, hitting the table with the flat of my hand to shock her back to reality. A knot in my chest loosened when she started, blinking rapidly before realizing I was standing in front of her.
“Jesus Christ!” she swore, bringing her free hand to her chest as if her heart would burst through and she could stop it. “Shay, don’t do that!”
“Don’t do that?” I set my cup down, afraid I’d spill it as a wave of impatience hit me from her. “What the hell are you doing reading for yourself?” I demanded, waving my hand at the table.
Her wave of impatience washed away from me just as quickly as she glanced down at the cards in front of her. For a moment, I had a strange feeling of disconnect as if she were the child and I were the adult and I had caught her breaking a rule.
“Right,” she said slowly, switching the remaining cards from her right hand to her left. She reached for her cigarette, bringing it to her lips before she realized it wasn’t lit anymore.
“Well?” I pressed, grabbing a chair and pulling it out so I could sit down. “What the hell?” She had stopped berating me for swearing when I turned eighteen, both her and my dad more comfortable with it all of a sudden; it was nice not having to censor myself so much anymore. She reached for the open pack of menthol cigarettes, pulling one out and lighting it all in swift, practiced motions with one hand before she answered me.
“I just had this weird dream last night,” she finally said after taking a long drag from her cigarette, careful to blow the smoke away from me. She lifted her left hand and set the cards on the table and leaned her shoulders back against her chair, crossing her left arm over her chest and resting her right elbow on her left hand, holding the cigarette up and out of her face.
“So?” I asked, sliding my cup in front of me to take a sip, watching her over the rim, making sure she didn’t slip back into the reading trance. I probably should have been more careful getting her attention, but seeing her with her cards after so many years was almost disturbing.
“I don’t know,” she said softly, still looking at the cards, but not actually trying to read them. “It just really bothered me, more of a nightmare really; I guess I was just afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I don’t know.” She lifted a shoulder and let it fall in a half shrug before taking another drag.
“Bullshit,” I said, setting my cup down and raising halfway out of my chair to reach across the table to grab the remaining cards and start shuffling them almost before I was back in the seat.
The cards were so old they were practically soft to the touch, more like cloth now than paper. They had belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, but amazingly the pictures depicted on their faces were still as bright as if a modern day press had stamped them. The edges were outlined in gold and when I tranced out to read them, I swear the gold turned to liquid fire and danced on the paper.
I didn’t read much; my dreams were always a stronger conduit for my prophetic gifts passed down to me and I didn’t like the vulnerable feeling of being lost in thought with someone else sitting there with me. But even though it had been awhile for me, the magic in the cards still answered my call and I felt it tingle in my hands. After a few deft shuffles, I felt the distinct tremble telling me to stop, so I did.
I laid out five cards in the shape of a cross without really looking at them and then two more on either side of the bottom card. I blinked and looked down at the cards, watching the gold lines quiver as my second sight kicked in and the pictures leapt up at me. I read them as quickly as reading a child’s picture book. I was reading for my mother, which kept me safe and closed off to the entities that might have been drawn in by my mother’s first reading. I didn’t really think anything could breach my shields on the house, but with magic, it was always better to be safe than sorry. Just because you’ve never been in a car accident doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to buckle your seatbelt.
“You dreamt of me,” I said matter-of-factly and didn’t need to look at her to see if I was right. “And of fire,” I said more softly this time, remembering the heat from my dreams last night.
Although I was more closed off because I was reading the cards, I could feel my mother’s anxiety crawling on my left arm, the one closest to her. I blocked out the sensation and laid out two cards, one crossing on top of the other.
“Pain,” I said, my voice a breathy whisper. “You dreamt of losing me in a fire,” I said finally and set the remaining cards down, not wanting the horrific details of death by fire and a mother’s pain of losing a child. My imagination was good enough for that. I glanced at the card representing my mother for the final piece and I nodded in understanding. “You wanted to know if it was just a nightmare or something more.”
My mother didn’t have prophetic dreams like I did; that ability had skipped both her and her mother. It was rough on me growing up because my great-grandmother passed away before I was born, so my mother didn’t know how to help me control the dreams, or at least deal with them, since she’d never had them. This had to have been a really bad nightmare for her to worry that it was possibly a warning of something to come.
“It’s silly,” she said finally, tapping the ashes of her cigarette on the edge of her ashtray.
“It’s not silly,” I said, scooping up the cards I had laid out, putting them back into the deck, and giving it a quick shuffle, trying to erase what I had seen. “Do you mind?” I asked, motioning to the wheel layout in front of her.
“What?” She blinked at me and then looked back at the table. “Oh, yeah, I guess you should.” I leaned forward and started dragging the cards towards me, breaking the layout she had drawn, and reformed the deck, tapping it on the table to straighten out the cards.
“Mom, you know you’re not supposed to read for yourself,” I said as I managed to get all of the cards going in the same direction and started shuffling again.
“I know,” she said blandly, as if just answering because she was expected to.
“Mom,” I said, making my voice a little harsher. I could have tried to open the channel between us and compelled her out of this state, but having just read for herself, she’d be more vulnerable and I didn’t want to hurt her. “Fine,” I said with an exasperated sigh, “do you want me to read for you?”
“Maybe,” she answered after a moment. I could hear the question in her voice. I reached for my cup and took a sip of the coffee, realizing it was hotter now than when I poured it.
“Don’t really want to know if it was real, right?” I said, quirking an eyebrow at her. “If it’s not real, that would be great, just a terrible nightmare, but,” I paused, shuffling the cards, feeling the tingle growing in my hands, “if it was real, would it be better to know or not know?”
“That’s always the question,” she said, pressing her cigarette to her lips again. “Fine,” she said as she exhaled the smoke, again turning her face away from me as she did.
“If you’re sure,” I said, but the sensation telling me to stop shuffling had already hit me. I set the deck between us and my mother reached out to cut the deck like we were just going to play a simple game. I picked the deck back up and began to lay them out, with no particular layout in mind, but once I was done, I saw I had laid out a wheel just like my mother had. Now came the weird part: letting my consciousness slip into the fuzzy state – that’s what I’d called it when I was child.
The gold ticking shimmered before me and the pictures danced just above the cards as I looked at them. I realized a knot had started to form in my stomach, and I knew it had nothing to do with the knot in my mother’s stomach. Did I want to know my mother had a prophetic dream about me dying in a fire?
“Yes,” I answered out loud, hearing my voice like a whisper through a wall. That was another weird thing about reading; it was like separating from your physical self.
“Yes, what?” my mother asked, her voice pitching in worry.
“Sorry,” I said with a slow shake of my head, “talking to myself.” Or was I? I wondered if sometimes the questions that came to mind when reading the cards were the cards asking for permission to reveal their secrets, not wanting to give them away to someone who wouldn’t heed their warnings. But I had said yes, and just as quickly as I gave that answer did the cards speak to me. I could hear a low noise somewhere in the distance, like a violin being strummed slowly, and the pictures on the cards sharpened as I watched, waiting patiently for the answers to come.
“You dreamt of fire and pain, terrible fears you harbor in your mind,” I said and felt my mother sit up straighter as I spoke. “Even more terrible is the thought of losing your only child. What worse way to lose her than through pain?” I heard my mother hiss at my words, but it was as if I wasn’t the one speaking.
“Was it a warning? Could that really happen?” she asked, leaning closer towards me.
“Anything can happen,” I said, again feeling like I wasn’t the one speaking.
“I know that,” she responded impatiently.
“Then you must ask the right questions,” I corrected her, and I could almost hear her grinding her teeth.
“Is it a warning?”
“Will what I saw happen?”
“That is yet to be seen,” I said, and my stomach flipped. “There are many paths for your daughter, the Earth Mother, to follow. Her destiny is not written, for each day she changes paths, changing her future.”
“Can she do something to make sure she doesn’t take the path that leads to pain and fire?” she asked, and I realized we were speaking as if I wasn’t really there. I felt like my consciousness was split in two and I was separate from this, like I was listening through a closed door.
“Meddling in the future is dangerous,” came my vague reply.
“But I’m a mother, I meddle,” she said, trying to lighten the mood, but failing as her heart sped up and her breath caught.
“She will have to choose whether or not saving another is as important as keeping herself safe. You would choose that she keep herself safe, but she would choose danger and risk to try and save another life.”
“But she’ll die!” My mother almost stood up, but caught herself and stayed seated, afraid to break my trance.
“Perhaps; it is not known. You only dreamt of one possibility.” My mother’s hands were trembling. I didn’t really want to hear much more, but temptation is the root of all evil, so I let the trance have its way with me to hear the rest.
“It will be a hard road to travel, with many twists and turns; each choice will provide a new twist, a different turn. She will have to decide without your influence because if she ignores the cries of help, she will surely go mad with guilt long before her days are over. You know this; it was the risk you took having this child. Tell her of your dream; let her hear the warning, let her make her own choices.”
Slowly my senses came back to me as the trance began to wear off. The pictures faded back to their cards and the gold around the edges stilled and lost their glow, leaving flat, unmoving cards laid out in front of me. The feeling of sharing my consciousness with another faded as well, leaving me alone in my head and the far off sound of music was gone. I blinked and shook my head to clear out the fuzzy feeling left and then looked at my mother.
“So, what was the dream?” I asked, taking the direct route.
“Yes,” she said reluctantly. She cleared her throat and took a sip of her cold coffee, snubbing out her cigarette with her other hand. I watched and knew she was itching to light another, but she didn’t chain smoke, so she stilled her hands and reined in the craving. She really only wanted it because of her nerves.
“Just do it fast, like a Band-Aid,” I suggested.
“Well, the end of it, you didn’t make it out of the fire,” she said and her voice threatened to break at the end. “I didn’t see you burn, thank god, but I think I heard you scream.”
“Well, I’m not sure if it was you screaming or me, so yeah, I think I heard you screaming,” she explained and I watched as a shiver ran up her body. “But I don’t really remember most of it. I know it was a much longer dream than I can remember, but I just can’t get it all.”
“The harder you try, the less you remember,” I said, wrapping my trembling fingers around my coffee cup, grateful it was still hot.
“Right,” she said with a sigh and finally gave into the urge and pulled out another cigarette and lit it before going on. “Anyway, I don’t think you were alone.” A sweat broke out on the small of my back.
“Was I being chased?”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I think you were trying to get to someone, someone trapped in the fire. That’s probably what the reading meant. You knew someone was in the fire and you were close enough to try to save them, so you did, but you didn’t make it out.”
“Did whoever it was I was going after?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered that, as if it hurt to realize my sacrifice might’ve been for nothing. But I knew better; I was an empath and could feel peoples’ emotions. Pain and fear are the two headiest emotions. If I knew someone was burning alive, I would have no choice but to try and help them. The reading was right about that. If I stood by and listened to someone die while their skin bubbled off of their bones, I would lose my mind; it would destroy me.
“Okay, well, that doesn’t give us much to go on,” I said, remembering the tricks to working out my own prophetic dreams. It was best to try and analyze them with as little emotion as possible so you could separate yourself from them.
“How old did I look?” I asked, looking up at her. “Did I look the same as I do now? Anything different, like length of hair maybe?”
“Actually, a bit,” she said with a nod.
“You looked thinner, like you’d lost your baby fat, and I think there was something a little different about your hair, but I’m not sure what,” she said, her brows drawn together as she looked me over.
“Baby fat?” I demanded, glancing down at myself.
“Shayna,” my mom said, rolling her eyes at me.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “All right, thinner and my hair was a little different. So it probably wasn’t anytime soon.” I took a sip of my coffee before saying, “Do you know what the weather was like?”
“No, but it was nighttime,” she offered. “At least, it looked like nighttime; the fire could’ve played tricks with the light.”
“Yeah, the smoke could make the sky look dark.”
“Exactly,” she nodded.
“Was anyone running with me?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head and closed her eyes, rubbing them with her forefinger and thumb.
“Not much to go on,” I said and she let out a laugh, but it wasn’t a pretty sound. “It’s fine, mom,” I said, reaching out to take her hand and give it a squeeze before I pushed away from the table to stand up. “It’s not like there’s a fire raging anywhere nearby anyway, right?”
“Right,” she agreed, but as I looked down into her face, I knew neither one of us felt fine about the situation at all. The sound of my own voice warning my mother to let me make my own decisions echoed in my mind. Let me risk my life to save someone with the possibility of being swallowed up by an inferno or risk my sanity. Some days it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.
“I’m always careful,” I said, bending to give her a hug around her shoulders, “you know that.”
“I know, baby,” she said quietly, hugging me back. “But if you kill yourself, you better believe I’ll be following you to the afterlife to kick your skinny butt.”
“I know it, mom,” I said with a smile and grabbed my coffee to head back to my room. After a morning like that, or was it midday now, I needed to meditate and get my center back. Nothing like a cup of coffee and possibility of death by fire to wake you up in the morning.