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.
The blog of John Matteson.