“Welcome in.”

Through a cold metal door and past the ding-ding of a little bell, the greeting echoed across the cafe, prompted by Draya’s entrance. Her favorite coffee shop, The Plug, was close enough to campus that she could walk, but far enough away that there was no chance she’d run into someone she knew from class.

Great. No familiar faces. Better than great, even. I can’t handle facing someone I have to see regularly after being all up in their dirty sheets. Again.

She looked for her favorite barista, Huck, but he wasn't behind the bar. That was fine too. Huck was giving off weird vibes these days, and more than anything else she wanted to be left alone.

  

More and more Draya used these trips to The Plug to people watch. But for her that meant something different. When other people watch they make up stories about the people they see; not her. Draya didn’t make up stories. The woman with the inheritance. The man who was spying on the shop before he opened his own. The undercover detective trying to unravel a recent string of accidental drowning deaths. She could see it all in her minds' eye upon entering The Plug, scouting out a small table in the corner on her way to the register, when she collided with a shaggy-haired figure in a workwear apron…

Drowning… dying… struggling… a pair of hands wrapped around my throat, and water all around me.

She thrashed against the force holding her under the water by her neck, swinging her arms furiously, cutting through skin and flesh with her freshly manicured nails. HAH! Stiletto nails, amiright? Gotta be good for something other than accidentally stabbing myself in the eye every other day.

Her relaxed internal candor surprised her. The last time she found herself thrust into someone else’s memories, she had clawed at her own throat, suffocating under the weight of the projection. This time, she promised herself, I’ll ride it out.

She felt her body still as she faded into the black of the ocean floor, drifting lifeless, wondering whose murderous rage she just experienced.

***

“Draya! Draya! Are you okay?! Someone call 911!” Huck was standing over her. They'd barely bumped arms, and Draya had collapsed like a ton of bricks. The baristas and everyone else in the coffee shop stared at the scene, eyes wide, paralyzed by fear.

As Draya came to, she became aware of the moment: splayed out on the floor of the coffee shop, staring at the ceiling, the whole room watching her in disbelief. Huck ran over to her, and helped her up. “I'm fine,” she said, her voice shaky. “I'm fine…”

Huck stared at her, mouth wide open. “Draya…” he whispered, attempting to have a moment with her even as the rest of the cafe looked on. “What the hell was that?”

She wondered the same thing as she gestured, asking, “Can you?” Draya threw her hand out and shook it frantically, but was halfway up before he could oblige. “Huck… no one needs to call 911. I just had a spell. And besides, you never call the police on a Black woman.”

“A spell?” Huck asked, as Draya gathered herself and sat back down at the table. The cafe's atmosphere returned to normal, the sound of pages turning in books and a steam wand's whistle.

“Yes, back in the day, they’d call it a ‘spell' and lock me away… say I suffered from The Melancholia, you know? They wouldn’t call the police.”

What Huck didn't know—what no one else knew—was that Draya had had these visions all her life. Spells. Sometimes it was physical contact, other times an offhand remark; the smallest things could trigger Draya's ability to see the truth inside other people's minds, their memories, their truths, their deepest thoughts. Sometimes it revealed unspeakable evil.

Huck narrowed his eyes at Draya as she unpacked her bag. She lifted her gaze to meet Huck’s wide, concerned eyes. “COFFEE!” she yelped, causing everyone to look her way again.

“That… was supposed to be with a question mark.” She fumbled the straps on her backpack, continuing, “Coffee?” with extra emphasis on the proper voice inflection for the question. “That’s what it was supposed to sound like… not… whatever the fuck I just did. LISTEN, can you cut me some slack?” She knew she was beginning to sound desperate, but she also knew what she had just seen. Her visions were never wrong.

Huck went behind the bar, splashed a mug full of brewed coffee for Draya, and returned to the table, setting a cup of coffee down. “The usual,” he said to her, smiling. Draya smiled back, before the awkward energy seized the space between them.

“Come on, what the hell happened back there?” He looked at Draya, concern twinkling in his eyes.

“L-O-L that? THAT was EMBARRASSING,” Draya said. A horrid chuckle escaped her. “But it was almost like I was drowning… I can't explain it.”

“Drowning?”

“Yeah, like my head was being forced underwater or something.” Draya’s eyes narrowed on Huck as he nervously stared back. All of a sudden his expression was wild, nearly panicked. It was as though the word “drowning” had pierced his mask.

***

A loaded silence raged between them, dragging on for endless seconds. Draya saw him for what felt like the first time. There was something beneath the surface, something she couldn't explain but made her feel sick all the same.

Huck picked away at a sticky edge of a bandage on his arm.

“Hey, did you get a new tattoo?” She was glad to have found something else to talk about.

“Yes, I got a new tattoo,” Huck said, still alarmed. “No, it didn’t hurt that bad. Yes, I’ve wanted it for a while.”

“Oooh, let me see it. I know you have a picture!”

Huck pulled out his phone, swiping past a few pictures—lonely beach scenes—before landing on a brightly lit image of his forearm, glossy with healing ointment.

He scooted around the table, moving close enough to Draya that their elbows touched.

Draya was on the floor again instantly. Drowning… water everywhere… struggling… Huck grabbed Draya’s shoulders to try and shake her. She jolted awake from the vision, pushing his hands and arms away from her with maximum force—like prey escaping a predator—scooting into the corner and making herself as small as possible.

Draya knew what it all meant. She knew his dark secret, a secret the whole town lived in fear of. In the confusion, the bandage on his arm came undone. Beneath it, swollen red with fresh ink, was a cartoonish image of an octopus.

Huck stared at Draya, and Draya at Huck, their eyes locked in mutual fear and horror. Huck began to stammer and stutter.

“I just… I just… I really relate to them, you know?”

“I know you do,” Draya replied, her eyes never leaving him. She gathered her things from the table, careful not to bump or touch Huck in any way, and slowly began to back out of the cafe. She felt the cold metal door open and heard the little bell jingle. Then she began to run.

Micah Gause is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Phoenix. This is Micah Gause's first feature for Spudge.