18 March 2005
The plan last night was bar hopping. We couldn't decide which Saint Patrick's Day party to go to, but knew that the one at the Lube would be ending early to make room for Karaoke. So the plan was to pregame at Our Gang's to meet Tony, then head over to the Lube until they were done, and finish out the night at Chestnut Street Cafe. If Chestnut wasn't working for us we could always wander over to the Zoo.
The beginning of the plan went great. We all enjoyed the atmosphere and drink deals at Our Gang's and Tony got us some food and we were good and ready for the larger party downtown when we made our way out. We had all walked so we wouldn't have to deal with a designated driver, which was almost always me, so by the time we got to the Lube we were ready for more drinks and snacks. We'd been there maybe an hour when a woman about our age asked Mandy if she could sit with us while she waited for her friends to show up. Her name was Lori, and it came up as we were all talking that she was interested in mythology. I leaned into that a bit, and pretty soon the two of us were discussing the role of saints as a sort of modern pantheon and everyone else was tuning us out.
We talked for hours. The conversation drifted into the question of where one draws the line between folklore and mythology (I felt it was a matter of faith investment, she argued it had more to do with practical application) and the rise of neopaganism and the sudden appearance of ghosthunting shows and we decided to stay put when the rest of the group went to Chestnut because, after all, Lori couldn't leave yet. The karaoke started and we got to talking about our tastes in music and we each picked a song for the other to sing on the understanding we would find out what they were when we were called up. She liked the classics so I gave her a Beatles song; she picked Violent Femmes for me.
By the time we decided her friends weren't coming, we'd exchanged numbers and made arrangements to see each other again in a few days, after we'd recovered from St. Pat's. I walked her out to her cab and then wandered home. On the way I saw a pair of ravens that almost seemed like they were watching me. I yelled up to them that this had been the best St. Pat's I'd ever had, even if I had no idea where my friends were, and they cocked their heads as if listening but didn't seem terribly interested.
I could've sworn one of them was a little bit blue, but seeing as I passed out on my porch I can't honestly say I trust that part of the memory.
12 January 2005
I was pretty distracted when Jackie called to talk to me about Alethea. Dad had spent the last week explaining to me, on and off, who Jeremiah is, and I had spent most of my down time occupied with my own stuff or thinking about what I had been told. There was also time spent helping Dad around the house, since he was still a little sore and not yet ready to handle snow shoveling or other manual labor. I also wasn't entirely at my best at this exact moment and she seemed to pick up on my hesitation.
"Have you been working on this at all?" she asked. I was sitting on the side of my tub, having just turned off the shower I was about to climb into when the phone rang. I took a swig from the bottle of whiskey in my hand, set it down, and reached for my pack of smokes sitting on the side of the sink.
"I mean, kinda. I've had other problems, too."
"Look, I'm just saying. A guy named Matteson and his wife die under mysterious circumstances, and immediately afterward Alethea's dad goes crazy and drowns himself? This is all pretty scary stuff! What the hell do you have going on?"
"A half-spirit guy who's been murdering people since at least the 30s and has a particular distaste for my family."
"You almost got the name right," I said, then lit my cigarette.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Mostly just learning about him. But my dad had some kinda brush with death and still hasn't told me what happened or if this guy was involved."
"Is this just normal for you?"
"Not yet. But what did you have?"
"Well. Okay, see, I was possessed by Alethea, right? Because I had kinda bound myself to help her. I don't think that bond is completely gone." I groaned and grabbed the whiskey before climbing into the tub and taking another drink.
"Are your spider-senses tingling?"
"No, ass. But also no, and that's the problem. She isn't in Chicago anymore."
"How specific is this sense of yours?"
"Not very. I don't think I could pinpoint her with it, and I'm a bit fuzzy on when she even left the city. But I can tell that she isn't close anymore; and John, the point is, if she isn't here, I think she's on her way there."
"I'll be sure to watch for sex-crazed possessed women."
"This is serious!"
"Look, I don't know what you want me to do, okay? I can probably deal with her if she shows up, but I don't know shit about whatever it is you've been doing to track her. If she wants me, she'll have to come here eventually, and I'll figure that out when it comes."
"And how many people are gonna get hurt while you wait around?" I went to take another drink and found the bottle empty, so I dropped the butt of my cigarette in the bottle and set it on the floor outside the tub.
"I don't know! None, hopefully! But I can't exactly drive all over Indiana and Ohio with, I dunno, a neon sign or something telling her to come faster!"
"I just feel like you could do something."
"You have any ideas on what that would be that don't involve magic which, I would remind you, I absolutely cannot do?" I heard her pause, then sigh. "Look. I'm down to deal with this. I really am. But waiting is about all I got until I unlock some new power or find something in a book I never noticed before or get a better idea from you. Okay?"
"You promise you're serious about this? You're going to do something about it as soon as you know where she is?"
"I promise, Jackie."
"Fine. Look, I gotta start getting ready for work. Just...be safe, okay?"
"Yeah. You, too," I said, before hanging up. I dropped the phone onto the floor and laid there for a minute, before finally getting up and turning the water back on.
4 January 2005
"You gonna talk or what?" I asked. We were sitting in a small booth at the Denny's in Cranberry, and so far Dad hadn't said anything of consequence since I met him at the airport. He sighed and closed his menu. "This was your idea, after all."
"It did sound more pressing when I was recovering from what should've been a fatal injury."
"Would've been, if Akshainie didn't have healing magic." I leaned back and threw my arms out.
"And who the hell is Akshainie!?"
"I don't know, really. She was with Benedict." I stared at him, waiting for him to explain who Benedict was, but he waved his hand as if dismissing the whole topic. "I need to read up a bit more on her kind. The point is, I took a bad blow, and when I woke up in the hospital and found out what happened I got concerned about what was going to happen if I die before you're ready."
"Ready for what?" Dad leaned back and smiled as the waitress brought our drinks to the table and took our orders, and we thanked her, then sat in silence until she was gone. Dad watched her go, probably to make sure he knew who was listening, while I started putting sugar in my tea.
"My father," he said, somberly.
"I thought you were gonna tell me something about mom."
"I am telling you something about your mother." He paused to take a drink from his black coffee.
"And it has something to do with Jeremiah?" He snapped his gaze to me.
"We don't use his name, boy."
"Look, I get it. You don't like talking about him, grandma liked to spit at the mention of him, even great-grandma's ghost seemed on edge when she remembered him. What's this asshole's deal, anyway?"
"He's a murderer, and a powerful one. I have dedicated the better part of my life to hunting him down, and have barely ever accomplished more than slowing him down. Saved some lives, but...always at a cost."
"You know I've pieced that much together," I said, leaning forward. "Get to the new stuff."
"We'll talk about how much you think you know another time. I already had a couple encounters with my father by the time I met Mary. She thought it was cool that I had all this interest in obscure topics, weird books and stuff. She liked my stories, said I was adventurous. She liked adventurous, when we were dating." He stared into his coffee for a long moment. "Anyway. Shortly after we were married, he came to find me. Try to catch me off guard for once instead of the other way around, and it very nearly worked. I managed to hold him off, get her to safety, but I think she realized then how serious this all was."
"What did she think it was before?"
"A hobby, I guess? She seemed to think it was just some weird academic interest, didn't realize there was the possibility I'd bring it home with me. That I was out there actually fighting anything that posed a real threat."
"But she didn't leave then." He shook his head.
"No. We fought about it for a bit, she wanted me to leave it all alone. Find some way to get off his radar and just live our lives. Maybe turn him over to the police. I tried to explain that wouldn't work, they couldn't handle him. We, John. We know what he is, what he's capable of, how to deal with him; this was a family affair, and it has to stay that way. Someone needs to save the world from him and others like him, and it ain't gonna be some pig."
"You don't think I know what he's capable of."
"You don't. Not yet. But we'll work on that, and you got a better protection against him than anyone I ever met. But no. She didn't leave right away, we had to fight about it first. Then she found she was pregnant, and when you came along, you know, she thought maybe I'd stop. For you. If I wouldn't stop to keep her safe, maybe I'd stop to keep my son safe. She didn't realize that not stopping was what kept you both safe."
"'Safe' seems like the wrong term."
"It was the closest we were ever gonna get with his blood in us."
"Did you tell her that?"
"I tried. But then I'd have to go deal with a case, or repay a favor, or stop some scheme I found out he was up to, and she was mad all over again that I hadn't quit yet." We paused and cleared our parts of the table as we saw the waitress approaching, thanked her again, and both watched to make sure we knew the moment she was back in the kitchen.
"So what happened?"
"You turned out to be what you are." He sighed and turned back to me. "Look. Don't think this was your fault. It wasn't. But you should know, when she realized you were seeing spirits without going looking for them? When she realized you were part of the system she wanted to avoid, and there was no way to break you free from it? We'd already been going back and forth about this for years, and she knew, then, that there was no way out for us. It didn't matter if she won, if she got me to stop somehow, it was always going to be part of our home, and I was always going to have to be on guard for it. She had to decide whether that was a price she was willing to pay to keep her family." He scooted his omelette around absently with his fork. "In the end, she decided it wasn't."
"What happened to her?"
"I don't know. I went hunting after she filed, left you with your grandmother. Did some favors, got information I needed, then I tracked him down. I extracted a blood oath, I made damn sure it'd be binding, that she would be safe from his machinations now that she was leaving. After that, well. She never called to tell me what she was up to. I don't even know where I'd look to find out, now." We sat quiet for a few minutes, staring at our plates.
Finally, I took a deep breath, and began cutting up my french toast.
"So. Tell me what he's capable of."
"Later. I'm tired, John. Let's just eat and go home." I looked up, and saw he was zoning out.
"Yeah. Yeah, okay, Dad. Just make sure you eat." He nodded and gave a weak smile. We finished the meal, and then the drive, without a word.
31 December 2004
Our band, The Mighty Morphin Power Brasstones, was one of six local punk and ska bands who went in on renting warehouse space to throw a massive New Year's Eve party and show. It was a bit of a gamble on whether or not we would make our money back, but I got a discount on food from work and we had people bring their own alcohol. The stated reason was that we were avoiding any liquor license issues, but the fact is no one had the money to shell out for that much booze on the vague hope they'd still manage to turn a profit. But the number of people who told us they were coming seemed promising, and the crowd of young folks in leather or checkerboard print milling around the neighborhood was taken as confirmation this was going to work out.
We were the third band in the line up, so we would have the 8:00-8:45 window, but there was a lot of work to do before we even opened the doors. Mandy was off talking to the other drummers about how best to ensure we can do set changes in 15 minutes, and I was pretty sure they had settled on some system of sharing drum set pieces where possible. Charles, Mitch, Karen, and I were with the other brass players that were all getting together at the end of the night to close out the show. Courtney and Tony were off tuning their bass and guitars, respectively, while answering questions from the sound guy. My phone rang in my pocket, and when I saw it was my dad, I excused myself and stepped outside to answer.
"How's your trip going?" I asked. I heard a weak laugh from the other end of the line.
"Oh, better now."
"Wait, what's going on?"
"This job was a bit more difficult than I expected," he said, before coughing, but distantly, as though he had pulled the phone away from his face first. "Sorry."
"What the hell happened? Are you okay?"
"I will be. They said they expect I'll be released in a day or two and then I can catch a flight home. I'll let you know when to pick me up from the airport. But look, son, I realized that I'm getting slower out here, and there are things we needed to talk about that I couldn't ever tell you if I die."
"Like why Mom left? You finally gonna tell me something about that?"
"Yes. And why I had to let her. And how that plays into all of this." I groaned and lowered by head, rubbing my forehead with my free hand. He was silent, as if waiting for me to respond.
"Why now? How bad was this job, Dad?"
"I said I'll be fine, dammit. You go enjoy your show. We'll talk when I get home." With that, he hung up, and I fought the urge to throw my phone. I stood and closed my eyes, turned my head to the sky, and screamed.
"Make sure you bring that energy to the stage," Mandy said from behind me. I opened my eyes and spun around.
"How long have you been there?"
"Not long enough, apparently. I just heard you were outside and assumed we were taking a smoke break."
"Well. I'm a bit tight at the moment, you know, so..." I sighed and pulled out my Newports, pulling one out for me and one for her. "Thanks! I almost thought I'd have to blow you for one again."
"Well," I said, switching the box for the lighter in my pocket, "let's see how many you bum before we settle anything." She laughed and slapped my arm.
"You ready to ring in a new year?"
"More than you know," I said, glancing at my phone before putting it away.
20 December 2004
I groaned as I reached over to the ringing phone, only barely turning my head from my pillow to be able to see the screen. It was Rick. I let out a low growl as I answered.
"Were you asleep, John?"
"It's two in the afternoon!" I grumbled and rolled onto my back.
"I had a long night," I said, pushing myself up to sit with my back against the headboard. "Were you calling for any specific reason?"
"We're on for the Devil's Church! Tony is getting some people together, they're going to meet us at the D'Onofrio's parking lot in about an hour. You coming?" Mandy groaned and rolled over, laying her arm across my waist.
"Uh, let me check. I may have to do something real quick first."
"But you'll be there? Charles and I need a ride, he's here at my place."
"Yeah. I'll come get you." I hung up and leaned my head back against the wall for a moment, before putting the phone down and grabbing my smokes and a lighter.
"Who was that?" she asked, her voice soft and still half asleep.
"Your cousin." I lit my cigarette and breathed deep, blowing the smoke toward the ceiling. "We're gonna go investigate the Devil's Church."
"Oooo, that cursed place up past Headliner's?"
"The same." She began to trace her finger around my belly button as she scooted up to lean her head on my side.
"Can I come?"
"I think we've established you can." She lightly slapped my stomach and sat up, placing herself on my lap and facing me.
"Are you in a hurry?"
"We have an hour to get dressed, pick up Rick and Charles, and be up to D'Onofrio's." She hummed, running her hands down my sides and sliding herself down to slowly ease the blanket off me.
"I think we can make that work."
When Rick and Charles came out the door on hearing my horn, they were bickering about who would ride shotgun. I had my window down in case I'd need to yell to them, and was lighting another Newport. Mandy leaned over.
"Chicks get shotgun in Alpha, you know that!" she yelled out my window. Rick jogged down and leaned against my door to peer in as Charles grumbled and moved around to climb in the seat behind her.
"Mandy! John picked you up on the way?"
"No," I said. She laughed and winked, then sat back up in her seat. He looked puzzled for a moment, then concern washed over his face. "Get in or we're gonna be late." With that, I began rolling up my window and turned my attention forward. Rick stood upright, paused, then got in the back behind me. He tried to bum a smoke off Mandy but she reminded him we were going to a store and he could get his own, and he was quiet the rest of the trip.
D'Onofrio's is a standalone grocery store on the northern edge of the business district in Hermitage, and the last real stop before 18 becomes a freeway the whole way to Greenville, or at least the last one we acknowledge. For those of us who grew up in Sharon, it was an unstated fact that our home region ended at the store, and everything north was country. When we arrived, Tony's car wasn't there. Rick and I went in to get drinks and smokes while we waited.
"John," he finally said, softly, once we were out of earshot of the car and the store, "did you fuck my cousin?"
"Yes." He clenched his fists and took a deep breath.
"It was her idea. I didn't induce her to anything."
"Fine. But, please, did you at least-"
"I'm not answering any questions about how I had sex with your cousin." We were silent the whole time we were inside, and when we returned Tony's car was parked next to Alpha and Olivia was talking to Mandy through their open windows. As we got closer we saw that he also brought Karen, Mitch, and Rob. Mitch suggested we stop by Headliner's while we were up that way, citing his belief that strippers are always more friendly to a group that includes other women. He was soundly voted down. Rick and Olivia switched cars. After Tony and I confirmed we both knew where we were going, we set out.
We joked and carried on the whole way, and judging by the way they were laughing as they got out of the car I suspected the rest of them did roughly the same. Even Rick seemed to be in a better mood. Karen went straight for Olivia and Mandy and they began talking among themselves near Alpha as the rest of us gathered next to a headstone with letters faded beyond recognition in the dying winter light.
"What's the deal with this place, anyway?" Tony asked.
"Wait, they didn't tell you?" I asked, looking to the group.
"I thought he knew," Rick said with a shrug.
"I thought everyone knew," Rob said.
"Yeah, it's haunted, right?" Mitch offered.
"More than that." Rick was nearly jumping when he cut back in. "It's called the Devil's Church because there's a real church in there, somewhere in the haunted woods! They went dark, started worshiping the Devil, hosting orgies, human sacrifices, the whole thing. They got so corrupt that the Earth opened up and swallowed them whole; and now, the souls of the people who died wander the woods, tempting and tormenting people that enter!"
"And...why are we entering?" Tony asked, his brow furrowing.
"Because! We're gonna find the church!"
"No one has ever found the church itself," Rob said. "Everyone who tries falls to the spirits, and those who die there join the ghostly army."
"They're gonna try to kill us?!" Charles blurted out.
"Only if we don't join them willingly."
"That's not better!"
"They get people to do all kinds of things," Mandy said as the girls approached us. "They say groups who go in there can be best friends, but somewhere in the woods they start killing each other, or going mad. Sometimes eating each other!"
"Some stories include rape," Rob offered. I raised my brow.
"There...some very compelling reason you guys wanted to come along?" I asked the girls.
"Oh come on, you don't really believe the stories, do you?" Olivia asked.
"Besides," Mandy said, walking over to me. "If we were gonna start believing the stories, we should also believe you can just," she started fake punching the air in front of me, "break the curse and keep us safe, right?" The others laughed.
"John's our ringer, guys," Rick said. "We're gonna be the first ones to find that church cause nothing gets by him." I sighed and pointed my cigarette toward the trees.
"Fine. Lead the way."
"I will!" With that, Rick started walking toward the woods, and we all fell into groups following him. As we got closer and closer to the trees, Karen was growing visibly more hesitant. Finally, when Rick was just past the tree line, she stopped dead in her tracks and started to shake. We all stopped and turned to face her, as Rob and Olivia tried to calm her down. She started to protest going any further, and when Rob put his hands on her shoulders and told her it'd be okay she kicked him square in the balls. He stumbled backwards and she fell to her knees, crying. Olivia and Mandy swooped down to her. I looked around.
"You know, guys," I said, "it uh, it looks like no one brought a flashlight and it's getting dark. Maybe another time?"
"Yeah," Tony said, weakly, "Another time."
"Headliner's?" Mitch offered.
"How about Denny's." We all agreed to Tony's suggestion, and started heading back to the cars.
The blog of John Matteson.