Pressure. Weight. Crushing me into the mattress. A dark, airless burden across my body, heavy like a man lying on top of me. I open my mouth, to breathe, to scream. No oxygen, no air at all. Cloying darkness fingers its way into my throat. Suffocation stoppers my thoughts, unleashes panic. I buck my body, push his weight off as I break the paralysis of sleep and claw my way into the unsympathetic night.
He plants a tiny kiss on my forehead and leaves.
Still blind in the blank darkness at the back of my room, I was smacked to full awareness by the dream's significance. I rolled off the bed onto the floor and hugged my knees.
I dropped my consciousness down to my pounding chest cavity and clicked my fingers three times. "Protect, protect, protect!"
The programmed violet light glowed inside my heart chakra and exploded through my centre, a wave of bright energy clearing away the metaphysical gunge of fear and anger left by the intrusion.
Across the dim room, a chink of morning light through the blinds gently formed familiar outlines, comforting in their stoic sameness. The desk below the window. The computer screen and the chair. Everything else a familiar jumble of possessions and clothes in my too-small room. Thanks to Indira's kindness, the guest-bedroom-cum-cloakroom of the rather posh apartment in a former stately home had become my haven after my ridiculous life sent me down yet another dead end.
The full length mirror across the room showed my defensive shape in the darkness, a shield of long brown hair for my face. I shook it back, still looking at myself and self-consciously straightened, chin raised, features yellowy in the dispersed crack of daylight.
I felt tenuously outwards for the intruder. No-one there. Not even a hint. No sense of him—whoever he was—but a genuine visitation for sure. The lingering adrenaline in my stomach, heart still knocking against my ribs—all were emotional residues, detritus rarely left by ordinary dreams. My interior being was shocked and empty. Vandalised and unclean.
Visitations, in my limited experience, normally come on the drift-off to sleep. Someone travels to you on the astral plane to tell you something important, usually unpleasant. This one was different. More real somehow, less fleeting, though I'd only become aware of him moments before I woke.
I'd known a few witches and pagans from hanging out with Caleb, a whole 'friendship group' of hippies and activists who welcomed me in when I was flavour of his year and cut me off the moment he started fucking about. I'd seen none of them since I ran away from that life and I didn't regret it. Trust is hard to come by. Most people don't work hard enough at it and none of Caleb's mates had. I doubted anyone from back then would bother to torment me. Not even one of his witchy exes. Was there someone I knew now who hadn't disclosed their magical interests?
A light pinged on in the living room, bright through the roller blind on my glass bedroom door, startling me out of my thoughts.
"Hi, Inayat, want a cup of tea?" Indira's voice was muffled through the closed door.
"Nah, I'll get a coffee." Tea in the morning, yuck.
Jumping up, I grabbed my woollen robe, sticking my arm through the wrong hole and bumping into the door frame as I awkwardly swapped the garment around. The grog fuzzed up my head and I lurched through the door into the wide open space of the living room, dragging my hair back behind my ears in an effort to see where I was going. Indira pulled the blinds at the massive windows and a beam of sunlight hit me painfully in the eyes. It physically knocked me backwards into the doorway.
David. It was David.
I gripped the door frame at the catch, grounding myself with the cold feel of the metal corners. The knowledge had slipped into my mind like an information injection.
Of all the sorry excuses I'd been out with, surely David was least likely to be a problem. A walking embodiment of 'mild-mannered', he worked for some kind of private charity 'helping indigenous peoples live the way they want'. Nice beneficial job, lots of money, just seriously lacking charisma. He kept the name of the charity from me, elusive without seeming secretive. Come to think of it, I knew pretty much nothing about him of any value.
I've seen some seriously challenging behaviour from men before, but I'd never been assaulted in my dreams. Creeping around on the astral plane was teen witch territory. I'd done it myself when I was experimenting with lucid dreaming, but who lies on top of someone? His weight had been too real.
"What's up, hun?" Never a morning person, Indira squinted sleepily at me, her fingers wrapped around a steaming mug as she leaned against the white mantelpiece of the retired fireplace, dwarfed by its immense size. I watched the smoky tendrils spiralling upwards towards the chandelier in the high ceiling, then focused on her puzzled expression.
"Someone came to see me," I blurted. See me. In my space. My head. Lying on top of me.
"In my dreams."
A heavy pause followed. Me–shell-shocked as the implications poured in–slumping against the wall because it was holding me up. The space in the room was overwhelming, weighing heavily on me. Exposure swamped me. He was only there for one reason. The same reason any man might creep secretly into a woman's bed. But why me, why me, why me? All I wanted was a normal life. Something that I could call ordinary. No out-of-control relationships and feeling like shit because I never understand why people behave the way they do to me. I was so fucking sick of not understanding.
Indira peered at me, perhaps searching for sense in my face. She placed her mug on the mantel and pulled her black hair into a loose pony tail.
"Kettle's boiled, hun."
I took a long, deep breath and busied myself with a shitty instant coffee at the breakfast bar. As I threw in four heaped teaspoons of sugar, my mind grasped at everything and came up with nothing. Was he in love with me? How could he be? He didn't know me. He'd been stood up by his internet date and I'd felt sorry for him. All I did was pretend–for his sake–to be his friend a couple of times. Probably no better than a super-cheap dial-a-date escort, paid only in free wine and dinner. I felt a bit sick. At least I hadn't slept with him.
He obviously thought I should have.
Indira said nothing, just sipped her tea and stared. For a moment I wondered how she really felt about me. I couldn't tell by looking, though I was fairly sure she cared. She lived with me for a start–we were now in our ninth month and hadn't ripped each other's heads off. We'd met at a yoga class that Leah had made me go to and Indira had bugged me to live with her from the second month I knew her. Actions always spoke louder than facial expressions, but sometimes I didn't feel like she was totally with me. Just didn't get me really.
I leaned on my elbows and sipped sugary coffee. It tasted like Marmite. "Remind me to get some proper coffee tonight. I hate this stuff."
Her black eyes examined my face. "What are you on about, hun? You going through a weird patch again?"
"I think someone did a kind of visitation on me last night."
She frowned. "What's a visitation?"
I took another gulp of coffee. "He came to see me in the ether, on the astral plane." My spiritual leanings weren't news to Indira, but she didn't always know the terms. She didn't really believe any of it, so she didn't hold it against me. She just thought I was a bit strange. Endured my superstitions on her good days, pooh-poohed them on the bad ones. Religion mostly didn't interest her.
"Hmmm." Indira sank on to a big cushion on the solid parquet floor and huddled in her robe, sipping her tea. She was settling into the drama–her natural habitat–no doubt psychoanalysing me.
"Don't you think the more you mess with that stuff, the more you kid yourself that everyone else is doing it?"
I scowled. "I haven't been messing with anything. And I didn't think he was into that stuff." He never gave even a hint. For a moment, I doubted myself. Probably shouldn't have said anything about it to him at all. He'd read my palm, as a 'joke' after I'd hinted I was into magical stuff, but never said he knew anything about magic himself. Didn't get my personality right according to my palm, if that was anything to go by. I didn't go too far with what I knew anyway. I did operate some common sense here and there. Right. Maybe the visit was him just playing about. Either way, the visitor was him. I'd been handed the information. All I had to do was confirm it.
And then what?
I pictured his greasy, pale face and dank, mousy hair as he quipped something mildly amusing in his Edinburgh accent. He had been desperate to impress me, but I just couldn't bring myself to take it a step beyond whatever label was appropriate for our brief friendship. A couple of platonic dates were one thing–but I didn't want to lead him on, that was the point. When he asked me out again at the end of the second I'd been straight with him. To know someone isn't interested is far better than hanging on for months, wondering.
So much for honesty.
Indira couldn't bear my silence. "You know who it was?" Her tiny elf nose wrinkled and her brown freckles seemed to pop off her face as her eyes widened with excitement. "It wasn't that guy you finished with last week, was it?"
My cup slipped in my hand and sticky beige coffee slopped on to the work surface. It spattered the car insurance papers and fuel bills spread across the counter near the wall.
"How do you do that?" I demanded as I mopped up the mess with a tea towel.
"Do what?" She swallowed some tea and folded her legs beneath her, gaze intent on me.
"You didn't even meet him, how do you know things? I thought I was the psychic one." I picked up my cup again, holding it more carefully. "It was him. I don't know how I know, I just do. He came and lay on top of me." I took a sip. He'd been there physically, I remembered his weight upon me. It wasn't just in my head.
Indira made a puking face. "Eww. I told you not to lead him on. What do you expect if you carry on like you're going to marry them? Men don't have an off-switch you know."
Nausea rolled in my belly. "It was only a couple of dates!"
I didn't offer him sex. Didn't make myself available. Thought that was better than past performance. Did that mean I'd led him on? Of course it did. Served me fucking right once again.
During our dates his clammy fingers had scraped my hand a few times for one reason or another. Even when he'd read my palm, his touch made me shudder. Two dates was enough. I wasn't that lonely and dating without caring was a slippery slope.
"At least I didn't give the milk away for free."
She tutted. "It doesn't work unless you don't lead them on either. A single date's one thing, but two? You can't just give them hope and then tell them nope. It isn't fair."
So much for standing beside me.
"How else am I supposed to work out if they're okay?"
"Can't you tell if you fancy them before you start?"
The tears rose and I couldn't look at her. She was right. Of course I could tell. But I didn't fall in love with a body, I fell for their minds. Just sometimes the ones that seemed to have nothing might turn out to be everything. But that had never yet happened conclusively. The ones that were everything never wanted me.
Her voice softened a little. "Don't cry, for heaven's sake. All you did was dream about him."
I dared to glance at her, but couldn't say it fully. "He–came to–" The lump in my throat filled my voice box. "He lay on top of me."
The distaste was clear in her downturned mouth. "In your dream. Ugh."
"It wasn't just a dream," I snapped. "Visitations are different."
She sighed. "You're nuts, you know that, right? What're you saying? He tried to rape you spiritually? Is that even a thing?" She looked sad. "How do you think that kind of thing up?"
Bile rose from my belly and I considered a dash to the bathroom, but calmed myself again. I drew in a long, deep breath, dropped my consciousness down to my centre and into the ground and steadied my stomach. More coffee. A rush of cold shivers overtook me. He came to rape me. I hoped I woke up in time.
"Creepy bastard." It wasn't like I could just go to the police, but I wasn't without resources. "You're not supposed to do that kind of thing in magic. It's totally unethical."
Indira's tone was full-on common-sense mode. "Babe, what you did to him was pretty unethical, never mind magic. If you mess with dangerous people, they'll always bite you first. You've got to start looking after yourself better. No-one else will. Stop looking for Mr. Right. He won't be out there until you give it up." Her well-meaning lecture was everything I'd heard before and it triggered me, but I didn't need a row on top of everything else. I tuned her out a little so I could think.
What would Leah do? The thought popped into my head, unbidden. I hadn't seen her for a few weeks, but I knew what she'd do anyway. No way would she let him get away without saying something. But she'd do it on the phone. I could go one better.
"I know." I would confirm it was him, let him know I knew what he'd done. Maybe he'd stay away then. If there was one thing I was good at, it was making a fuss in public.
Indira read my face instantly with apprehension. "Oh no. What are you going to do?"
I narrowed my eyes, enjoying the conspiratorial feel of my decision. I would have a good story to tell Leah when I saw her.
"Oh hi, I–I didn't think you would call again." His soft accent, tinny over the phone, irritated the hell out of me, but I swallowed stomach acid and grinned my hardest. You can always hear a person's expression down the phone. Luckily, you can't hear them keeping vomit down.
"Well, you know, I thought it might be nice to see you one last time. We can meet up this evening if you want?" And you can buy me dinner, I thought.
He took the bait, a cheerful tone in his voice. "That's great. How about the Snooty Fox at seven o'clock? Do you want–?"
"–I'll meet you there, that's fab." Puke. Leeds had dozens of pubs, but the Snooty Fox was near Roundhay Park, frequented by middle-class ale aficionados. Safe enough and the scene of our previous meetings.
"I've got that white sage I wanted to give you anyway, so I'll bring that with me."
The relief at his agreement set my heart pounding. "Great. That's so kind of you." He could shove his white sage into his deepest, darkest orifice.
I put the phone down and Indira was back in her position on the floor cushion, fully dressed, her chef's whites stuffed into a holdall, the bag gaping open beside her. I realised she was up early because she must have the lunch time shift.
She sounded kinder now, less annoyed with me. "What you doing, babe? You're not getting yourself in trouble are you?"
I grinned genuinely now. "At least he'll know I know about his little journey. Might put him off doing it again to me or someone else. A bit of public humiliation."
Indira's eyes sparkled with excitement, but tried to maintain a stern expression. "Do you think it's a good idea doing it publicly?"
"Best place for it! You don't get to just walk into someone's private space and fuck them. It's not ethical. It's not right in anyone's universe. How dare he–?"
She sighed. "It isn't like he really did rape you though, is it?"
"It's just as real on the astral plane as it is in real life," I snapped. She really didn't believe in magic. And anyway, I had no idea if he did or not. I didn't even know how you could tell.