Nothing irked Marianne more than a subway ride late at night. It was practically impossible to find a wagon that wasn’t taken over by party goers who reeked of drunkenness and sweat. The seats were all covered in filth from a day’s worth of spilled fast food and coffee, so sitting was simply not an option. Standing wasn’t glorious either: the steel poles must also have been contaminated by a thousand germs and unknown substances, and she would rather have died than be forced to come into any form of contact with them. She therefore stood in a triangular position, steady as a bridge with nothing to hang on to, while the club crowd grew increasingly rowdy around her.
The train came to a sudden stop, and the laws of physics were no longer in her favor. She found herself catapulted down the wagon and would have landed on the dirt-ridden subway floor if it wasn’t for her powers. Her lips uttered the incantation in a whisper.
Wind of yore I summon thee, from this plight come and save me.
For a split second, Marianne levitated without anybody noticing, just enough time for her to find her footing again. It wasn’t without a price however: an intoxicated college student who couldn’t hold his booze anymore barfed on her expensive scarlet jacket as she got back up. A monumental cleaning spell would be needed to get rid of the stain.
She got off at the next stop, unable to stand this prison of steel and bodies any longer. This was the last time she agreed to do overtime past nine. Demopolis was too much of a ruckus at night – not that it was any better during the day. No matter the time or place, a never-ending stream of humans filled every inch of every street (except for the space taken by the occasional rat), and not one person in the infinite crowd cared about the wellbeing of another in the slightest.
“Hey girl,” blurted out an ogler smoking a cigarette by a sketchy pub entrance to the delight of his toxic group of friends. “Looking for someone to spend the night with? Plenty of choice here! You can even take all of us if you want.”
My bed is not the one you seek, in the arms of Morpheus you shall sleep.
The ogler instantly collapsed, falling into a deep slumber on the sidewalk. His crew of followers gathered around him with puzzled looks, too drunk to be alarmed at the state of their leader. They couldn’t understand what had just happened, but they probably would never harass a woman in a scarlet coat again.
No wonder a warlock had cursed her to spend the rest of her life in this concrete jungle. It was just like being cursed to rot in Hell. The fumes emanating from the sewers were infernal flames. The sea of people was the Styx, overflowing with wretched souls. The bouncers at the entrance of every nightclub were Cerberuses in shades. The demons of the Ars Goetia stood still around the blissfully ignorant mortals in the form of skyscrapers.
The city was no place for a witch. Her link with nature had been broken. The stars in the sky were no longer visible amongst the light pollution. Most of her rituals simply could not be practiced. There was no space in her one-room apartment for an altar, and even if there was, her roommate would have been suspicious. Practitioners of the Craft had always been outsiders, but in Demopolis, the single outsider was trapped in the heart of the inside. If only there was another one just like her, someone she could confide into. The suffocation kept her awake at night, made her dread the following day.
So far as Marianne knew, she was the only witch in town. How she longed for the lush meadows in which her former Coven lived, for the inebriating sensation brought by the casting of enchantments in the silver moonlight by the pristine lake.
The young woman reached her apartment complex at the same time as Joel. He was the one person she did enjoy crossing paths with around here. Her twenty-something neighbor might not have been very talkative, but she felt a strong spirit in hiding behind his brooding eyes, underneath his raven hair.
“Good evening,” she said timidly.
This was the extent of their conversations. The introverted programmer was shy and rebuffed any kind of social interaction, yet she couldn’t help but smile in his presence. They walked together in awkwardness into the long entrance hall and Joel ran for his room. Marianne, alone again, entered her apartment with a glimmer of happiness from the brief exchange. It wasn’t much, but it was all she had.
Her roommate was already fast asleep. There was not much Marianne knew about the puzzling stranger in the bed next to hers. Her rent had gone up beyond her threshold of affordability a couple of years back, so the obvious solution had been to put out an ad for a roommate. Who knows, it might be someone I can talk to, she thought. Turns out, Vanessa was mute. They communicated only in writing. There was an inherent sadness to her, as if she wished to voice many stories of trauma and pain but could not. These secrets were locked deep inside her chest, never to be spoken of. She left early in the morning, came back early in the evening, and went to bed right after dinner, to the point where Marianne barely ever noticed her presence. Somehow, that night, there was something intriguing about the speechless woman. She seemed at peace.
As for Marianne, she had never felt so empty. In this small apartment covered in peeling beige paint, devoid of any finery or embellishment, the walls seemed to draw in closer to her, ready to crush her bones. A wave of claustrophobia flooded the witch from head to toe. She knew; it was time. Time to do what her mother had done fifteen years ago. She had to break free from the earthly chains that bound her to this cruel reality, and this could only be achieved through Astral Projection. Tonight, she was going to Project out of her body and Ascend towards the Spirit Realm, leaving behind her Demopolis cage forever.
It was a simple ritual, one of the few she was capable of performing without direct contact with nature. Twisted into the lotus position on her bedsheets, she first aligned her chakras. The Crown was always difficult to line up, so she concentrated all of her spiritual energy towards thoughts of freedom. The meadows materialized before her eyes. The surface of the pristine lake glistened in the silver moonlight. The leaves fluttered left and right, guided into an airy waltz by the call of the Nymphs. Winds of change carried the scent of eternal renewal as the Coven danced with nomadic steps, free from routine, free from shackles, free from the weight of soul-crushing depression. All of these things were of course only taking place in her mind, but they felt more real than anything she had experienced in the five years since the curse had begun.
All chakras were now aligned. She did as the Coven’s Great Book prescribed, taking the feather of a dove in her left hand, and the feather of a crow in her right. Her feet sinking deeply into the sheets as if they were dipping into rich and vibrant soil, she spoke the words:
Bird of light and bird of night,
Make my soul fly with might.
Her body collapsed onto the squeaky mattress. Marianne found herself hovering over it in her spirit form, translucid, ethereal. All she had to do now was ascend. Light as a feather, she felt herself drift towards the ceiling, but something caught her attention, stopping the ascension midway: a cloud.
There was a cloud suspended over Vanessa’s head, tied to her hair by a golden thread. Of course, how did she not think of it? In the Spirit Plane, dreams were visible. Dreams were nothing but condensation of spirit energy above a person’s body. What could her mysterious roommate be dreaming of?
Marianne came back down and peered into the depths of the cloud. Beneath its fluffy whiteness, there were meadows. Lakes. Waterfalls. Constellations. Vanessa dreamed of escaping the City too. Had she been able to speak, the two women might have been able to share their pain, their isolation. Alas, it was never meant to be.
Another thought came to her. Joel must also be dreaming by now. She absent-mindedly drifted towards her apartment door, passing right through it. A minute later, she found herself into Joel’s bedroom. There he was, a cloud tied to his hair by a silver string. Inside the cumulus, she saw herself walking up to a door. He was dreaming of her. Her dream-self knocked, and Joel opened. They stared at each other for a moment, then began to passionately kiss. He liked her too. The two neighbors remained intertwined, bound together by love, a love Marianne had no clue to be reciprocal. Suddenly, the scene dissipated. Dream-Joel found himself back at his computer, cornered into a desk. The cumulus turned to a nimbus. Spirit rain fell over his face to the terrifying sound of thunder.
Marianne’s spirit stepped away. They shared the exact same desires, the exact same fears. The Spirit Realm now seemed much less tempting, but she had been out of her body for too long already. She lifted her head and saw through the ceiling the dancing auroras of the world waiting for her. It pulled her soul with an irrepressible force, dragging her away from a place she no longer wanted to leave. She wanted to stay, to tell Joel how she felt, to physically experience the embrace from the dream. With the last drop of strength left in her, she tried to fight it off, but to no avail. Her destiny was sealed.
Bird of light and bird of night,
Time has come to stop the flight.
The pull vanished; so did the auroras. Marianne drifted back down. Someone had spoken these words, but it wasn’t her. She turned. Vanessa’s spirit stood before her, translucid, ethereal.
“Every witch has a voice in the Spirit Plane,” she said with a beaming smile. “Even me.” Her voice echoed mystically in a tone filled with power.
“You’re… You’re a witch?” Marianne muttered in disbelief. “That’s impossible. Why did you never…”
Before another word could be said, Vanessa snapped her fingers. Marianne found herself back in her body and woke up in cold sweat. She looked around. Her roommate still appeared to be sleeping soundly, as if nothing had happened. Had this all been a product of her imagination? Thankfully, two feathers swirled over Vanessa’s head, carried into their dance by a crafty wind, and Marianne understood that it was not. She sunk her head into her pillow. Her roommate was a witch. How had she lost her voice? Why was she trapped in the City? By what coincidence did they end up sharing the same apartment?
The questions would remain unanswered that night, but that was okay. For the first time in five years, Marianne knew there was someone she could confide in. There was also someone she could love. For the first time, she looked forward to tomorrow. And so that night, inside the small apartment covered in peeling beige paint, devoid of any finery or embellishment, on that squeaky mattress in the heart of Demopolis, she slept soundly.