“What are you saying? You can show me how to do astral projection? How much does something like that cost? I don’t have much to spare,” I said cautiously.
“Maybe we can work out a barter.”
“What kind of barter? Unless you want me to sweep the place up, I don’t think I’d be very effective working here in the store. I don’t know anything about magic.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Raven enigmatically.
The speculative way she eyed me was a little strange. There was an unpleasant gleam in her eyes. I wasn’t sure, but she appeared to suppress a grin. The look was gone as quickly as it surfaced and any uneasiness was blotted out by my excitement. Raven came from behind the counter and moved past me to lock the front door. I could barely keep my cool. She told me to leave my purse on the counter because it would only get in the way, then led me into a small room at the back of the store.
It was a sparsely furnished narrow room with a chair bolted to the floor, in front of an antique looking vertically mounted mirror which took up half of one wall. The candy apple red lacquered frame was very ornate. I was fascinated by the partially clothed figures carved into the gleaming wood. Staring at them made me feel a little weird, so I averted my eyes.
Raven gestured for me to sit in the chair. I complied and heard her open a cabinet door behind me. She returned to my side with black straps in her hand and began using them to lash my left arm and chest to the chair. A thrill of alarm raced through me. Yet, I was reluctant to speak up. She might get angry and call the whole thing off.
The prospect of bumbling around on my own, defenseless and pursued by two witches kept me quiet. The voice of reason in my head was screaming, say something stupid! Speak up before she straps your other arm down! In the end, it was fear and not courage which made me to finally say something. Raven just smiled reassuringly and moved to strap down my right arm.
“I know this seems strange. Trust me, it’s for your safety. When your consciousness projects up and out of your body, it will slump forward. You would fall out of the chair, without the straps. I’ll take them off, as soon as we’re done. Now, sit back and try to relax. I just have to get something from the other room.”
Raven walked out and I tried desperately to be reassured by her explanation. Thinking about the tightness of the straps made me nervous. Belatedly, I asked myself how much I really knew about Raven. Beyond her name and appearance, I knew nothing about her. Admitting that much sent my heart into palpitations. My eyes frantically roamed around the room, seeking something to take my mind off of the panic driving up my heart rate.
I detected movement and looked over at the mirror. My eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of the entire frame writhing like overlapping snakes. The figures which previously appeared to be contorted in the throes of passion were actually turning and twisting in agony. The entire frame was a shifting mass of squirming bodies.
The smallest sound reached my disbelieving ears as I sat gaping at the mirror. It sounded like the faint buzz of a beehive, which grew in volume until I realized that the buzzing was actually the sound of human voices. It grew louder and louder, until the agonized cries became an ear-splitting cacophony of screaming.
I couldn’t lift my arms and use my hands to block out the noise. In another moment, the pain had me whipping my head from side to side. I closed my eyes to block out the torturous sight of the mirror. Relentless pain from the assault on my eardrums built up a tremendous amount of pressure inside my head, until I was sure it would split open. An involuntary howl rose from somewhere deep inside of me.
Subconsciously, I began thrusting the unbearable pressure outward. The mirror began vibrating, tapping softly and then forcefully against the wall behind it, until it shattered, raining shards of glass everywhere. I turned my head to the side, in an attempt to shield my face from the glass projectiles. Raven came rushing back into the room. Her stunned eyes traveled from the shattered remains of the mirror to me.
“What the hell happened in here?”
“I don’t know. The figures on the mirror started moving and then they were screaming…”
“Are you saying the figures on the mirror came alive?”
“Yes, I know it sounds crazy. Is that an enchanted mirror or something?”
“No, it’s antique but it’s just a regular old mirror. I mean it used to be a regular mirror. My boss is going to kill me!”
“Raven, I saw the figures moving. Are you screwing with me?”
“I’m telling you…wait a minute! Were you upset right before the figures started moving?”
“Yes, I was a little nervous about being strapped to this chair.”
Raven clapped a hand to her forehead, “I’m such an idiot! Why didn’t I see it before? You looked so harmless, it never dawned on me. The clues were right in front of my face. The sensitivity in your eyes…”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think you’re a manifestive empath.”
“An empath that can manifest things when something sets you off emotionally. The mirror isn’t enchanted. You made those figures move with your mind. The screaming you heard was all in your own head. I guess strapping you to the chair must have triggered something in you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“Any of it. What’s an empath?”
“An empath is someone who can psychically tune into the emotional experience of others. Don’t you see what this means? You made the ghost of that dead woman appear.”
“I did not! I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and when I came back out, she was standing in front of me on fire.”
“I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how it happened. I’m guessing that when you got up, you probably still weren’t fully awake. You could have been having a nightmare or experiencing some sort of remorse about her death. Whatever it was, brought that woman to you. No wonder that witch is trying to get rid of you! You have the potential to be very powerful and…dangerous. Look what you did to that mirror without even trying.”
My mind went racing ahead, connecting the dots. An empath…so all those times I saw unpleasant things swimming around in people’s eyes was not me being paranoid or insecure. How many times growing up had my father dismissed my observations as the product of an overactive imagination? That belief had become ingrained so in me that any time I made eye contact with someone and saw something that contradicted the words coming out of their mouths, I made excuses for them and dismissed it.
No wonder people’s behavior constantly caught me off guard. Countless times, I wished that I had trusted my gut feelings about someone. If what Raven said was true, then I wasn’t completely helpless. That hopeful thought buoyed my low spirits. I needed time to things through and figure out how to use this revelation to my advantage. The best thing to do was to go back to Tammy’s apartment where I wouldn’t be disturbed.
“Take these straps off of me Raven. I changed my mind about the astral projection thing.”
“I’ll take them off in a minute.”
The guarded look she shot me caused unease to ripple through me. I tried to look her in the eyes, but her gaze fled to the floor. Something bad was about to happen. I tried to free my arms and only succeeded in causing the tight straps to bite into my wrists. Fear washed over me. I looked back at Raven and realized some of those feelings were emanating from her. Surprise made me speak without thinking.
“You’re nervous aren’t you Raven? Why would you be nervous unless…you did something didn’t you? What did you do?”
Raven was startled into looking up at me. The sensation of her fear washed over me again and quickly receded. I watched her expression harden into an unpleasant smirk.
“Not bad for a rookie. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to clue you in on a few things. They’ll be here soon anyway. See, when you bragged about stealing…”
“I wasn’t bragging. I was just explaining…”
“Whatever… it doesn’t matter. When you told me that you had taken something that two witches wanted, I figured it must be valuable. So, I decided to make a few calls and see if that information was worth anything. I couldn’t risk you toddling off while I was on the phone, so I strapped you down first. Turns out there’s a price on your head and I intend to collect.”
“Look, if it’s money you want then let me go and I’ll bring you the chit. It’s worth far more than any chump change a price on my head would fetch. I’m harmless. You said it yourself, I’m just a rookie.”
“Oh, I’m sure this chit you keep yammering about is valuable. It’s worth so much that someone is willing to kill you, in order to get it back. If I was stupid enough to accept something that hot, then I probably wouldn’t live long enough to spend any money I got from selling it. Besides, I’ll wager that thing isn’t really a chit at all.”
“But Hiromi said it was a chit.”
“Is Hiromi the same genius who told you about the rotten fruit curse?”
“It wasn’t called rotten fruit…”
“Whatever…the point I’m trying to make is that she’s a liar. Sounds to me like that so-called chit is a page ripped out of a book of spells.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that no underground bank would recognize it as a chit and no spell caster worth their salt would touch it.”
Raven looked out towards the store entrance as though she heard something. I tried desperately to free myself, growing more panicky by the second. The thought of what Plum would do once she got her hands on me made me want to gnaw off my own hand to get free. Pressure was building up inside my head again. Raven turned back to me with a shrug and I heaved a shaky sigh of relief. Whomever she was waiting for hadn’t arrived.
My panic-stricken expression amused her. Raven chuckled and I felt the first stirrings of anger. I started thinking about all of the times through the years, I had been bullied both as a child and as an adult. Most people saw kindness as weakness. I was raised to be trusting, considerate and turn the other cheek. For that, I should be punished?
I glared at Raven and years of dormant anger rose up inside of me. She smirked and I strained against the restraints, wanting desperately to forcibly wipe that smug look off her face. My eyes moved down to the black leather choker around her neck and a sudden image of it twisting tightly against her windpipe flashed in my mind’s eye.
The vision eased some of the pressure inside my head. I thought about it again, slowly pushing the pressure inside my head outward and felt more relief. A small strangled sound escaped from Raven. It broke my concentration. I looked up into her bewildered eyes. Raven’s hands flew to her throat. The memory of the mirror exploding flashed in my mind’s eye and I suddenly understood what was happening. It gave me an idea.
“If you don’t release me from this chair, I’m going to strangle you Raven.”
She turned away and I envisioned the little strip of leather tightening. Raven reversed course and moved towards me unsteadily, clawing at her neck. I gave her an impatient look and she started removing the straps. Haste made her fingers clumsy. She unclasped my left arm and sank to her knees, almost losing consciousness. I unbuckled the strap on my left arm, helped Raven to her feet and sat her in the chair. She looked alarmed when I began buckling the straps around her arms, torso and legs. The struggle to breathe robbed Raven of the power of speech and the strength to resist. She tried grabbing my arms and shook her head vigorously, looking beseechingly up at me.
For one scary moment, she started turning blue. I realized that I didn’t know how to relieve the pressure on her neck. Her eyes were rolling back in her head when occurred to me that I should just envision myself releasing it. Raven gasped raggedly with her chest heaving when she could breathe freely again. I stood there a moment longer entertaining evil thoughts.
The idea of permanently paying Raven back for her treachery was very tempting. Eventually, I came to my senses and got moving. It wouldn’t be good for me to still be there when Plum or whoever Raven had called showed up. I stood looking down at her a moment longer. It was my turn to be amused at the frightened expression on her face. I grabbed my purse from the counter and hightailed it out of there.