5 December 2005
I closed the door to the office at Laurel Detective Agency, as requested, and sat down across the desk from Mark Larmais, who was adjusting paperwork and didn't look up or speak for a solid few minutes. I waited, quietly, and tried not to make it obvious that I was glancing around at the decorations on the wall and shelves, some of which were commendations or letters of thanks for different cases he'd solved. I didn't really have time to read any of them, I was just skimming and thinking about the assortment available.
"Something seem off to you, John?" he finally asked, laying out a folder in front of himself and still not looking up as he opened it.
"You didn't solve the JonBenét Ramsey case. No one did." He laughed and finally looked at me.
"You'd be surprised how many people either don't notice or don't want to mention that one. How many ghosts are in this room?"
"Like...literal ghosts?" I asked, raising a brow.
"Uh...well, none right now. But why-"
"Right now?" I sighed.
"Yes, right now. There's a faint trail over there," I said, pointing at a small filing cabinet on the other side of the room, "but it's gotta be a day old or so by now."
"Probably Murray, the asshole," he muttered, pulling out a paper from the file. "Nice to meet you, kid. Why do you wanna work at a detective agency?"
"I like to look for things. And I hear it pays better than pizza."
"I'm sure at least one of those is true. Look, I'm gonna be straight with you. You're here because your dad and I go way back. He said you'd be good for the work, and he tends to know what he's talking about. But he also mentioned your little...thing, with spirits and shit."
"Is that a good or bad thing?"
"Depends on you. Here's the thing. Most work from private firms these days is just finding people. Occasionally it's uncovering an affair, but most of our money comes from collections agencies trying to track down someone who didn't leave a forwarding address. So don't expect it to be like the movies."
"Now as for your thing. If it's a tool that helps you finish a job, use it. That's fine. But I can't take that shit to court, so you better have used it to get me something I can. No one's really going to ask me how we found Joe Smith's new phone number, as long as we didn't break the law, so I won't ask you. But if by some turn of fate you get a murder case dropped in your lap, and you go find the victim's ghost and ask them how they died and call it a day, we're all fucked. You get useful information, got it? Weapon, witnesses, locations, anything that we can then use to build a case through conventional means." I nodded. "Good. Any questions?"
"You're just fine with this whole thing?"
"I've seen worse. You ready to start on Monday?"
"Good. Buy a tie."
17 November 2005
With my books returned and in light of recent events, I made the decision to become an expert at possession. Jackie was concerned that I was beating myself up a bit too much, but I reminded her that I can see spirits, and it shouldn't be hard to train that sense to see spirits inside people. And I can't let this happen again. Not if I can help it.
To that end, I had been reading one of my books at Pizza Joe's while I ate, and decided to take a short walk afterwards to think about what I had read before going back to Alpha in the Reyer's parking lot. I was on my way back, going down State Street toward the river, when my thoughts were interrupted by sudden silence. There seemed to be a pressure, not quite squeezing me, but almost as if it was squeezing something surrounding me. My head felt odd, almost like a headache, but not yet painful, so I stopped and rubbed my temple and looked around.
Everything was frozen in place. The cars, the birds, even an empty McDonald's cup about four feet ahead of me was just hanging perfectly still a few inches off the ground. There was no sound, no movement of any sort, just...me. I looked at the cup and took a few slow steps forward, and as soon as the cup was a little under to feet away it moved again as if carried by the wind, freezing in place less than a second later. I continued looking around for anything else that might be responding to the environment, and it was only then that I noticed the faint sound of waved lapping against something to my left. There was an alley there, which I knew to have nothing but apartment doors, the backs of a couple shops, and a pair of dumpsters. When I looked now, though, the alley faded away after about twenty feet and gave way to a series of flat, hexagon-shaped stones set into a flowing sea. A large black hound with red eyes and fur that seemed to start as hair but change to shadow as it grew away from the skin was sitting on the second stone, watching me.
"Do you talk?" I asked it. It cocked its head slightly to the side.
"I doubt you would understand," a woman's voice answered. It echoed through the alley, but seemed like it started somewhere out of sight and straight down that path.
"Try me." The hound looked back over its shoulder, as if waiting for permission, then to me.
"Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου." I knew the voice came from the hound, somehow, but it certainly didn't use its mouth to form the words.
"As long as there's no 'fishers of men' speech at the end," I answered. The hound perked up, and I sighed and walked toward it. When I stepped on the first stone, it leaned forward and nuzzled me briefly until I scratched behind its ears, then it drew back with its tail wagging, turned, and led me down the path.
We walked until I could no longer see the alley behind me, surrounded only by the water and the smell and sounds of the open sea. I had to remove my jacket and roll up my sleeves as we continued as the weather was growing warmer and I could feel, but not see, a hot sun bearing down on us. The stones were laid out like a garden path, each a little offset from the ones before and after it, and when I stopped and looked into the water I could see fish passing beneath. I continued watching for a moment, and a mermaid at least ten feet long and proportioned to match drifted into view and waved at me. I waved back, and she dove deeper, so I straightened up and continued my walk.
The path ended at an island, a few dozen yards across in any given direction, with two more paths leading off to either side and another directly opposite mine. The island was rocky, breaking the waves that lazily tried to wash over it, with a lush green field in the center and a few short trees. In their shade was a marble slab, with animal skins laid out like a rug and a woman resting on them. Her back was against a tree, and she was eating grapes and staring off into the distance as we approached. Her skin was deeply bronzed, her hair black and loose with a slow curl to it, her dress ornately woven but made of such light material that I knew it would take very little staring to see clean through it. Her arms and most of her legs were bare. I knew that I could see three versions of her, or at least three faces, but they occupied the same space and I can't imagine how to describe anything about each that was different from the others. They were there, but they made one face in practice, and that was all there was to the matter in the end.
"You keep surprising me, John Matteson," she said, finally, once I stepped over the rocks and stood in the grass. The hound continued over and laid down beside her.
"I do that." She chuckled and turned her gaze to me.
"Do you have any idea how much power it takes to offset mine, even just the little bit you managed? I stopped time itself, and you, without realizing it, pushed back just enough to stay aware."
"I suppose I could guess, if you would be so kind as to give me your name."
"I will offer to give you much, human. You do not need to play such games here."
"Forgive me if I wait to determine that for myself." She nodded, then pointed to a place on the skins. I walked over and sat down, leaning back against another tree so we could look each other in the eyes.
"You know Greek. I'm sure you know me, then, as Hekate."
"I have to admit, I expected your realm to be a bit darker."
"The Crossroads you see says more about you than about me." I hummed in understanding and set my jacket down beside me. "How much do you know about what you are?"
"I cancel magic, unless I choose not to. I see spirits, regardless of my opinion on the matter."
"It works for me."
"Does it work for everyone around you?" I glared at her and straightened my back. "I can help you, Riverborn. I know everything there is to know about Anchors, such as yourself. They are, after all, mine."
"In what way?"
"I am the goddess of the liminal places. You are a liminal being, straddling the worlds of mortals and spirits. You are a gateway, a door that closes to keep the forces of one world from impacting the other. But I know all about that doorway, and those forces, and the keys made for you."
"So what, exactly, are you offering me?"
"Power, training, information. I can show you how to unlock your full potential, how to discover everything that comes with that gift in your blood. With raw power like yours, honed properly, you could stand against gods and demand respect few mortals could even imagine. I will give you the tools to see everything, to know anything you want to know, to control the flow of magic on a global scale if you wish. And," she said, absently adjusting the bottom hem of her dress to reveal just a little more thigh, "I know how to make education fun for you mortals."
"Why now?" I asked, keeping my eyes fixed on her face. "I've been an Anchor now over two decades."
"You've proven yourself useful."
"Ah," I said, smiling, "there it is." She let go of her dress and straightened up, setting her bowl of grapes down.
"There what is?"
"Your price. Useful for what, Hekate?" She smiled.
"I would have some work for you, of course. I doubt you would object to any of it." I looked out at the water, then picked up my jacket and stood.
"I'm not looking for work at this time. Not anything that gets me wrapped up in divine nonsense."
"I understand you're dealing with a lot right now, Riverborn. Take your time. I can wait; you are still mine, after all."
"Call me Matteson," I said, slipping my jacket on. "Just like everyone else." I stepped onto the first stone and found myself immediately standing on the sidewalk on State Street. Everything was moving again, picking up right where it had left off. I zipped up my jacket, grunted against the wind, and made my way back to Alpha.
1 November 2005
The ride to Lori's place was awkward and quiet. I didn't know what to say or how to begin saying it, and she seemed to only be interested in holding the blanket tight around herself, leaning away from me, and looking out the window. The only words exchanged the whole time were right when she got in, when she said he had a splitting headache and asked me to turn down the music; I just turned it off. I couldn't exactly blame her, I couldn't imagine what she'd been through these past few months. So we rode along, in silence. When I pulled up to her house, I put on the brake and we sat for a moment.
"Do you...is there anything you need? I can help you inside, or run to the store, or-"
"No," she said, in a very definitive tone. She sighed and looked down, then turned back to me. "But thank you."
"Of course." She turned back to the window, but neither of us moved for another minute. "Oh, um, I should tell you. We were able to summon Alethea, and you, because of stuff I stole from that...shrine in the broom closet. I'm sorry, I can bring it back."
"Right." She sighed, opened her door a little bit, and then closed it again before turning to me.
"What's your deal, John?"
"...I think I need you to be more specific."
"Why you?" I hummed and leaned back in my seat.
"I don't know. I think it's because, somehow, she saw me in her last moments?"
"Yes, I know all that. But why? Why are you important to all of this?"
"I don't know. I don't think I am." I tapped on the steering wheel a few times as I stared at the motionless speedometer. "This story might not even be about me." She exhaled hard and looked out the windshield, for a few moments, then shook her head.
"No. There's something about you. I don't think you take this all seriously enough to notice yet, but things are converging on you. And until you learn how to see them coming, more people are going to get hurt." I looked down and scratched the back of my neck.
"I'm sorry, Lori."
"I know." We sat for another minute in silence before she opened the door. She paused.
"Do you need some space?" She laughed and looked away, then took a sharp breath as she shook her head and held her fist up to her mouth.
"John, I...I never agreed to any of this. You must realize, it was never me. Not even the first time we met, it was always her. We're not..." She trailed off, then got out of Alpha and held the door as she looked at the sky. "Yeah. I need some space." I nodded. "Thanks for the help. And for the ride. See you around." She closed the door and made her way inside. I watched her go, until she was inside the building. Then I leaned back, lit a cigarette, swore at myself a bit, and then took a deep breath and drove to Denny's.
1 November 2005
Everything around us melted back into a normal sort of silence and it was just the two of us, sitting in the aftermath of a poltergeist's rage on the only scrap of undamaged ground in the clearing. I barely noticed Alethea changing as she continued to weep and softly protest the way things turned out, pressed against me, my arms wrapped around her and lightly rubbing her back. It had been so long since I saw her in that bathtub that I didn't even register how different she had looked, the decades of death and isolation and obsessive pain warping her into something larger, angrier, more wild and inhuman. When she finally pulled back a little and I saw her again, I was nearly startled by the forgotten realization that this was just a sixteen-year-old girl with soft cheeks and warm eyes and a button nose whose life had been destroyed before it had ever really had a chance to be enjoyed.
"I'm so sorry," I said, wiping her hair out of her eyes and behind her ear. It was the first time I'd ever seen it obey gravity. She wiped spectral tears from her cheeks.
"What do I do now? I don't know how else to fix this."
"There...Alethea, I was never going to be able to fix this. No one can." She sniffled a bit and looked at me with pleading eyes. "What happened to you was terrible, it was unjust, it was horrendous; and nothing I or anyone else can do will change that. You have to decide what to do with it." I took my hoodie off and slipped it onto her, and her acceptance of it let it stay as she slipped her arms into the sleeves and wrapped them around herself.
"I don't know how to move on from this."
"I don't think you ever really do. It just becomes a part of you that you have to give a healthy outlet. You were robbed of the chance to get the help you needed, and the metaphysical realm isn't kind to souls that linger long. But you've seen where this path leads, right?" She teared up again, but nodded. "Lori, and Jackie, they deserved better. But so did you. You didn't deserve any of what happened to you, do you know that?" Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she nodded again. I stood, took her hand, and helped her to her feet.
"I don't want to become that again. I don't...I can't stay here, can I?" Once she said that, a white door appeared about ten feet away, glowing bright. We both looked at it. "Is that...is this when I go?"
"I think that's up to you."
"What's over there?"
"I don't know, kid. But I like to think it's better than this. Maybe you'll find healing there." She pulled close, wrapping her arms around my arm and squeezing it against her.
"I think you've already been through the worst of it." We stood in silence for a moment, before she nodded.
"Tell them I'm sorry?"
"Can you...will you come with me?"
"As far as I can." She let go of my arm and pressed herself against my side, and I wrapped my arm around her as we started to walk forward. The door swung itself open as we approached, and on the other side I saw only bright white light. It was silent for me, but she smiled like she saw or heard something familiar. When we reached the threshold we stopped, and she turned her face toward me.
"I guess you were what I needed, after all." I smiled, let go of her, and rustled her hair a bit.
"What you needed was to remember who you are. Good bye, Alethea." She gave me a quick peck on the cheek, took a determined breath, and stepped forward.
1 November 2005
I had never taken the time to do anything about my rib from my previous encounter with Alethea, and I definitely felt it when I started trying to dodge her. She was coming at me with far greater fury than before, but she was limited in space. As soon as she entered the area Jackie had laid out with that powder of hers, she was unable to leave it, but didn't seem to have any restriction on height as she continued trying to fly and strike me as she passed. This seemed worse to me, as the lag between Alethea's actions and Lori's was increasing and their conflicting desires were becoming more pronounced. If she lost control of Lori while in the air, I wasn't sure I would be able to catch her safely, especially with everything flying around us. I had to make my move.
She was diving at me again. Nearly every time, she would aim to curve up again either just before or just after she hit me; this one looked like it would be just before. I timed it as best I could and took a single step forward, catching her right before she expected me to be there. My hands hit and clamped down on her shoulders and her momentum pushed me backward until my feet made contact with the wall of stones and branches that had been gathering around me. I braced myself against that and stopped us both, pushed against her until her legs were on the ground, then pressed my right hand against her forehead. She screamed, both voices screaming, loud and shrill and painful. The powder in the grass was suddenly glowing, and all of the wind beyond it suddenly stopped and sent everything it was carrying flying to the ground. All of the energy she had been spending gathered at the edges of the circle, whipping into a wind storm that sounded like a hurricane. I held her in place for a few moments, focusing on bringing order to the metaphysical realm just like Jackie had said, and then pushed forward with my right hand. It passed directly through Lori, who slumped to the side. In my hand was the top of Alethea's head; she was scared, crying, on her knees and staring up at me. The wind broke and sent out a shockwave that shattered the wall around us and put out all the fires.
I let go, and Alethea rocked back and forth, her head in her hands. I looked down at Lori, half conscious, bleeding from the small cuts and abrasions she'd picked up in the two encounters today. I knelt down and suddenly there was someone else, a park guard, running into view. I was still catching my breath and didn't manage to ask him what he was doing before he picked up Lori and ran in the direction of Jackie and Alpha. I watched them go for a moment, then turned back to Alethea.
"You...you were supposed to fix this," she said, softly and between sobs. I told Jackie I'd had a plan for what to do once Alethea was out of Lori's body, but that was at least partly a lie. I was planning to find something in my notebook, but I realized shortly after this started that I'd forgotten it in the car. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say.
I wrapped my arms around her, pulled her close, closed my eyes, and sat in silence as she wept on my chest.
1 November 2005
Jackie went to the hospital to get her burn and cuts cleaned up, which was enough of an excuse to get her out of work, and she left her backpack of supplies in Alpha's trunk. While she was there, I slipped over to Lori's apartment, hoping that whatever Alethea had her doing would keep her busy elsewhere. I had to slightly break in, but no one seemed to notice, and I had time to look around for something useful. It didn't take long; in her broom closet I found a whole shrine to me, with some paraphernalia that was probably tied to some mystical origin or another. Deciding I should quit while I was ahead, I grabbed whatever I could carry and slipped out the fire escape without looking elsewhere.
We arrived at Buhl Park shortly before it was scheduled to close, and pulled Alpha behind some trees to hide in the dark. After we saw the patrol go through to check for people and lock up, we slipped out and made our way to one of the lesser-used fields and got to work. She had a pouch of something she had gotten from a friend in Chicago, and spent some time spreading it in a specific shape, hidden in the grass. I kept watch as she spent time in preparation, using various things from her backpack. She said she'd been burned by magical backlash too much recently, and wanted to make sure she had everything she would need in place to do what we came to do and then clean up with as little risk to herself as possible. We only had to dip back into the trees to hide once, but the need to be constantly ready for it slowed her down enough that we weren't ready until after midnight.
Once everything was ready, Jackie went over to the car and began her rites as I walked to the center of the ritual. She had told me specific places to set the things I had taken from Lori's apartment, and seemed very interested in some of it; she said we would need to talk about that later, though. I laid the things out, stood in the spot she told me to stand, and prepared to wait. It did not take long.
Near the perimeter of the ritual area, the air started to crackle shoot lightning into the grass. I watched as reality warped and bent at a spot about six feet off the ground, the source of the lightning, until Lori appeared with a loud crack. She was floating above the ground, her eyes glowing, her hair flowing out as though she was underwater. Her arm raised to point at me, first Alethea's spectral arm and then Lori's physical one. The lag told me Alethea was losing her hold on Lori, and the look on her face told me that battle was incredibly painful for her.
"Matteson!" both of their voiced cried out, as they floated closer. At the same time, Alethea cried out threats against me while Lori begged for help. I stayed in place and waited as they continued to approach. The wind around them picked up, quickly becoming a whirlwind that was lifting rocks and branches and tearing apart the blackberry bushes nearby. The edge of the whirlwind reached and then passed me, but everything within about five meet of me remained unaffected.
"Come on!" I yelled. "Is that all you've come to do?" She screamed, both of them screamed. The whirlwind picked up, ripping up dirt and cracking the trunks of the closest trees. Lightning shot out in every direction, setting small fires in the dry grass; and then she stopped floating and instead flew at me like a dart.
31 October 2005
"You couldn't request the night off?" I asked, setting the bags of liquor on the counter to begin unpacking from our run to the brew thru.
"It's Halloween, and I work at a haunted house," Jackie answered. She was setting up various sized glasses on a table we'd set up in my study, leaving room for the pizzas I had ordered for tonight. "Besides, if what I hear of your house parties is true, there will be plenty for me to enjoy when I get back." I agreed that was fair, and went to dig the paper plates out of the cabinet when I heard the front door open. I went out and found Lori, who looked like hell. She had clearly not slept, her makeup was smeared as though she'd been crying, her hair was wild and tangled, and she was barefoot. She snapped her attention to me with crazed eyes, then lunged forward.
The first punch caught me off guard, and I heard a rib crack as she made contact with my side. I started trying to dodge as she continued punching and kicking; I was slower than usual as the pain spread from my side and having trouble catching my breath, but she was obviously unskilled at what she was doing and I mostly avoided further contact as I tried to back away.
"You son of a bitch!" she yelled as she continued her onslaught. "You were supposed to fix this!"
"What are you on about?" I demanded. Jackie came out of the study and froze in the doorway, clearly unsure how to handle the situation. Lori's eyes started to glow, and then she buckled over and grabbed her gut as she stumbled backwards. I saw Alethea's head rise out of her back and scream, cracking the windows and forcing me to cover my ears. Lori's face tilted up slightly, tears streaming down her face, as she mouthed, "help me."
"Alethea!" I yelled. Lori snapped back upright and fell backwards against the wall as Alethea vanished back into her. Jackie stepped forward, calling out something in another language, and sent a bolt of energy at Lori. Lori ripped the front door off the hinges and blocked the shot with it, shattering the door. Her arms her shaking under the strain, and I saw cuts open in her clothes and skin as the pieces of the door flew against her. I ran toward her, not really thinking of what I would do when I got to her; but before I got very far she rose off the ground, screamed one more time, and sent out a shockwave through the room. My tv was destroyed, the windows blew out, and Jackie was thrown backwards into the study. I didn't feel it, and it didn't slow me down, so when she suddenly vanished from in front of me I was going too fast to stop. I slammed into the wall and blacked out.
15 September 2005
Charles remained in the car as promised, while the rest of us snuck up to the side of the building. We had parked on the far end, with the hopes that whoever was in there would be unable to hear Alpha driving over the gravel and the engine running. We found a man door that did not, itself, have light coming from under it, but was near the section that did. Rick and I were arguing about the best way to pop the lock when Jackie reached past us and opened the door, which was apparently never latched.
We entered a hallway and could hear what sounded like distant chanting, but couldn't make out any of what was being said. The floor was cracked and filthy, the walls covered in the remains of peeling paint and rusted signs. One door was hanging half off its hinges, and we slipped as quietly as we could into the room behind it. Here we found a few desks stacked up against one wall, papers and scraps of garbage and broken glass scattered across the floor. The glass, it turned out, was largely from a panel of windows on the far wall, looking out over a mill floor depressed into the ground by about ten feet from the level we were on. When we peeked through the windows, we saw about a dozen robed figures standing on a large spiral embedded into the floor, filled with blood, with a large stone altar in the center. On the altar was a naked woman, not moving, blood dripping from her wrists and throat into the spiral. The chanting was coming from that room, and there was a ball of light hovering over the altar. Jackie grabbed her head and slid down the wall to sit on the floor and take deep breaths.
"What is it?" Rick asked softly, kneeling down and putting his hand on her shoulder. "Is it the murder? I think they murdered someone, guys."
"The other side of that--" she started, then groaned and began rubbing her temples.
"Other side of what?" he asked, turning to me. I was scowling.
"The portal. I can see enough to know it isn't good," I said.
"What does that mean!?"
"They're trying to summon something. Whatever it is is coming from deeper in the Realm than I can see, but there's a lot of darkness involved in drawing it out."
"Holy shit," he muttered, sitting down beside Jackie. "Oh holy shit. Is this happening?" I nodded and sat down on Jackie's other side, lighting a cigarette and then putting my arm around her shoulder. She let go of her head and leaned on my chest.
"You can't keep blocking me from this," she said, "not if we're going in there."
"I'm sorry, did she say we were going in there?"
"You don't have to," I answered, "but she's right. As far as we know, we're the only people available to stop whatever it is they're trying to bring here, and I can promise you someone needs to stop it." He began breathing heavily and fiddling with his fingers.
"Okay! Okay. I can do this. I can help you guys."
"I don't see how. Look, maybe you should go tell Charles, figure out what to do if this goes wrong."
"Oh yeah, let me just call the fucking cops, tell them there's a demon they need to arrest!"
"Keep it down, and no, please don't call the cops."
"Because they'll think it's bullshit!?"
"Because they don't tend to respond well to a black man at a murder scene." Jackie punched me lightly, and then got up to crouching and headed back toward the hallway.
"Give me some space for a minute," she said, "so I can prep some defenses, and then I'll be set, okay?" I nodded and we watched her slip into the hall before Rick slid over to me.
"Hey, look, if we survive this, could you be a little less handsy? I think I have a shot with this girl, but you know, you two kinda have this thing--"
"Just asking! Just thought I'd ask." We sat in silence for a minute, before he whispered again, "is that a yes?"
"Go to the fucking car," I said, heading out to the hallway. I caught up to Jackie and we both watched as Rick slipped into the hallway, waved to her, and then left the building. I turned to Jackie.
"You think he knows I could hear him?" she asked.
"Nope. Does he really have a chance?"
"Well not tonight. Why, you want him to?" I chuckled and offered her a cigarette.
"I don't care."
"Mhm," she replied, flicking her lighter. Once she had her cigarette lit, we made our way down to the mill floor.
At the bottom of the stairs we found a small alcove with three other bodies in it, all cut open, none of them still bleeding. The pile startled both of us, and after we caught our breath again we rounded the corner to find ourselves looking directly across the room to the group. I went out along the wall a ways, to give her room, then stopped and watched for her to be ready. When she nodded to me, I took a deep breath, muttered something vaguely similar to a prayer, and rushed forward.
I drilled into the back of the closest robed figure and knocked them forward into another one, both of them crashing to the floor as I turned to close the distance and punch another. I felt their rib give way and stomped at their kneecap; by the time they screamed and went down, the chanting had stopped and the rest of the figures were moving toward me. The portal shifted and started to close slightly, when one of the figures suddenly turned to look in Jackie's direction and, without a word, threw a fireball toward where I knew she was. I reached my hand in its direction and closed my fist, and the fireball vanished in a puff of smoke. The figure who threw it recoiled and his hood fell, revealing a man with a massive burn mark over half his face. When he looked at me his eyes were like a snake's, and he growled and raised his hands, igniting all the air around me. None of it could get more than a few feet from me, so I charged forward through it and emerged from the edge of it just in time to drive a fist into his jaw. All of the fire vanished as he stumbled backward.
The portal quivered and contracted again as the man wiped a spot of blood from the corner of his mouth. The rest of the figures backed away, watching us. I flexed my hand a couple times in an attempt to ignore the pain of the last punch, and the man's eyes glowed for a moment before he started to laugh.
"It's you!" He screamed, cackling. "The Omen!"
"What are you on about?" I asked, stepping forward.
"Your coming has been foretold, Omen. You are the key, the end of our quest comes through you!" The rest of the figures gasped and started whispering among themselves as they slowly made their way forward again.
"Nobody move!" Rick yelled, stepping out of the shadows on the other side of the room. He was holding a gun, pointed at the crowd, but his hands were shaking.
"Motherfucker," I muttered.
15 September 2005
I maintain that I did not know Rick had lied to Charles in order to get him back into Alpha to go look for that town again, but it probably should have been suspicious when he agreed to come. I had reattached my mirror and Jackie had grabbed supplies to help her casting if we needed to hide again or, God forbid, fight. Rick said he was ready for whatever, but all he seemed to bring was snacks. Which were appreciated, but hardly seemed special in any way.
I made a point of memorizing the path we took to get to the town, and the path out of it again, so we could hopefully get there quickly and have some time to poke around and see if we could find any explanation for it. I decided to try the way we had gotten out first, since it was easier, but as soon as Charles figured out what we were doing he started arguing about it. We had to actually pull over just off 224 to calm him down before continuing. Once we resumed, however, we found the path not as easy as before. I was certain we were going the right way, and we all recognized things we were passing for a while, but then we were certain we'd gone to far and never saw it. We tried another pass, and again knew exactly when we were driving through an area we had been in before, but there was no sign of the town on the road and no large empty area where the town could have been.
After those two passes, we decided to try the dirt path we were on when we found the town in the first place. By this point it was starting to get dark, and Charles was growing more impatient with us. We found the dirt road and turned down it, right around the time he decided to stop running his mouth and just ignore us in favor of looking out the window. I asked Rick, who by now had confessed to lying to Charles, why he put in that effort when it would have just been better not to, and he just laughed.
I'm beginning to suspect Rick is a legitimate asshole.
It was about a mile down that road when we suddenly came to a barrier line blocking the entire road, in front of a large dirt hill. The path curved slightly into a haggard garage, marked with faded railroad signs. I stopped Alpha and we all got out, except Charles, and walked up to the top of the hill.
"Did they make this overnight or something?" Rick asked.
"Did who make it?" I asked.
"I dunno! Some...villager? With a backhoe?"
"Well the answer is no either way," Jackie said, pointing ahead. Where the road should have continued was just a field, with grass that looked like it hadn't been mowed all summer.
"Was this magic?" Rick asked, excitedly. "Can you see if it's magic?"
"Well I can't," I said, "unless it's an ongoing effect I could interrupt."
"Like an illusion!"
"Yes. Like an illusion." I turned and looked at Jackie, who looked at me and shrugged. I sighed and walked down the hill and into the grass, and once I was about five feet deep into the field I turned around and threw my arms out. Nothing changed around me. Rick turned to Jackie.
"Can you check?"
"You seem really excited about this," she said.
"It's exciting stuff!" She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of glasses. I could see her eyes close and her mouth moving while she put them on, but couldn't hear what she was saying. Once she was done, she opened her eyes, screamed, and grabbed her face as she stumbled backward. Rick caught her and started asking if she was okay while I ran up the hill toward them.
"Jackie!" I called. "What's going on?" Rick helped her sit down, and she pulled the glasses off. When I got to about ten feet from them she visibly relaxed, and when I got closer I could see tears of blood trailing from her closed eyes. She was rubbing her temples.
"I never thought I'd be so glad for you to suddenly end one of my own spells," she whispered.
"What did you see?" She opened her eyes and Rick and I both gasped as we realized one was now blue.
"What? What is it?" she asked. I opened my mouth to answer, but happened to glance up and notice and cloud of dust coming closer on the road. I stood up and focused on it, and realized that it was coming from a black, roughly garbage truck sized block heading down the road toward us.
"Back to Alpha! Now!" Rick looked back and swore under his breath, and we both helped Jackie to her feet and ran down the hill. I hadn't turned the car off, so as soon as we all dove in I threw Alpha into gear and punched the gas, cutting the wheel to turn around half in the grass while Rick was still pulling his door closed.
13 september 2005
Apparently one of the search engines has satellite maps now, and I was able to track down where we’d been the night before. I had difficulty finding the quarry, or whatever it was, where we saw the standing stones; but I did manage to retrace our steps enough to find the strange field. There was what appeared to be a service road running alongside the railroad at one end of the field, on the side opposite the lights, but what caught my attention were the two large black circles in the grain next to the service road.
I grabbed a notebook and wrote down the coordinates so I could find it again, and went to meet up with Rick and Charles. We cruised around, hung out at the park, basically just killed the day, until Jackie got off work. When we picked her up, I told them what I’d found, and they wanted to see for themselves. We went back to the house and I found the location again. The field, however, looked normal, or at least only slightly altered, with no sign of the marks.
“Are you sure it was here?” Rick asked.
“Yes! They were right there! Look, it even looks a little...off, in the picture.”
“I’m not seeing it.” We argued for a few minutes until I offered to just drive us there so we could check. Having nothing better to do, everyone else agreed, and we piled back into my car and headed out. It took about forty-five minutes, with us stopping for drinks on the way, before we got back to the field. It was after dark, and the fall fog was laying thick on the road. Thick enough that we actually missed the service road and had to turn around and head back. Once we found it, however, we pulled in slowly and watched out the side for any opening in the grain. It didn’t take long before we saw a dark space on the passenger side, and I pulled over.
“Shit, man,” Charles whined. “I dunno about this.”
“You’re gonna do this now?” Rick asked.
“I’m just...it looks pretty dark. Did anyone bring a flashlight?”
“I think I have one in the glove compartment,” I offered, looking to Jackie. She sighed and opened it, pulling out a small maglite. “Yeah, here we go.”
“Great. What do the rest of us use?”
“Are you guys always so prepared for these things?” Jackie asked.
“No, no,” I said, opening my door, “usually we’re also drunk.”
“How you’ve managed to pull this shit off for so long is beyond me. Matteson, you keep your distance.” With that, she stepped out of the car and pulled something out of her pocket. Holding it tight in her hand, she whispered something, and then blew on it. It was then I could see it was a crystal, and it was now glowing like some kind of torch.
“You gotta teach me how to do that!” Rick said, sidling up to her.
“You don’t have half the will for magic.”
“She’s not wrong,” Charles said, hugging close to her. I pushed the button on my flashlight a couple times, then smacked it until it turned on. When I caught up to the others, they were standing in the middle of a perfect circle, probably about thirty feet across, which had been burned into the field.
“So they...have a fire pit?” Rick offered. “Maybe they burn garbage here?”
“There’s no garbage here. Usually there’d be remnants of something.”
“Maybe they burned, I dunno, paper? Only?”
“Why would they have two of them?” I asked, pointing my flashlight at one side of the circle where it overlapped briefly with another, equally large and equally empty circle.
“Do you guys think this was aliens?” Charles asked. We all turned to look at him, and then Rick began to pinch the bridge of his nose. Jackie lowered her crystal and knelt down to touch the ground.
“No,” Jackie said, flatly. “There was magic here. I can feel it.”
“Would that be better?!” Rick yelled, throwing his arms in the air. “Would you sleep better at night thinking there were alien wizards visiting our farms?”
“At least they’d leave when they’re done,” Charles muttered.
“Can you tell us anything else about it?” I asked Jackie.
“No. Not really. It feels...the magic was recently performed, but it was very, very ancient magic.”
“Awesome. Love ancient magic. Nothing sinister about ancient magic burning giant holes in fields and then having them vanish from satellite pictures. You guys wanna see where this road leads? Maybe it’s related”
“Can I vote no?” Charles asked.
“You can vote whatever you want, but I’m driving.” He groaned and followed me back to the car alongside the others. Once Jackie’s light was out and the car was started, we pulled off into the fog. Once again, the radio went dead. We drove for a few minutes, slowly watching for anything else of note, until we came to a paved road. Ahead, the service road seemed to vanish into a garage. As there seemed little more to find that way, I turned and we followed the paved road around in a wide loop, riding along the edge of the farm, until we got back to where we’d entered the service road. I stopped and looked, and we saw the service road head off in the other direction.
“Please do!” Rick countered, leaning forward and patting my shoulder. I looked to Jackie.
“I’m off tomorrow,” she said with a shrug. I smiled and cut the wheel to head off down the dirt path.
The blog of John Matteson.