1 March 2020
Being that we were going to be working together, and they clearly had access to magic of some sort, I warned them about bringing any magic too close to me and apparently that was enough to make Akshainie want to kill me. I had known some spirits liked me more than others; to some, I was a handy means to access the physical realm, and to others I was some kind of generalized danger, but the latter group never spoke to me enough to know what their problem was. I was thinking about what she'd said, about people like me being destructive, while Benedict tried to calm her down. As I was thinking this over and made my way toward the hallway door, I thought I heard crying.
When I looked back to tell them, they were having a heated conversation in some language I'd never heard, so I decided to leave them to it and head off to investigate. The noise was coming from somewhere down a side hall, so I crept along, trying to trace the echoes to a specific room. The hallway turned a corner, and I stopped to peek around the edge just in case before continuing. Right at the start of that hallway was a thick metal doorframe, as if this whole hallway had been closed off by strong doors at some point. There was what looked to have been a poorly-removed circuit panel next to the frame. Near the end of that hall, I found a closed door.
The rest of the rooms I'd seen so far had had doors at some point, of course. Most were gone, a few wooden ones were still attached to a hinge or two but clearly broken. This hall, however, still had almost all of its doors, and they were all metal. Only one of those doors was closed, however; and it was the one with the crying.
I glanced in the others as I passed. The mess of previous visitors was nearly impossible to distinguish from the mess that must have been left behind by occupants, especially with the drawings on the walls. But this area was less vandalized than others, and I suspected that other people who won the bet did so by deciding this hall was not worth looking into. As I got to the door, I noticed Benedict and Akshainie find the end of the hallway and follow me down. I tried to test the door before they got there, but it was locked. I explained that to them when they arrived, and Benedict focused for a moment and then walked right into the door and bounced back, rubbing his head.
"What the hell was that!?" I asked, pointing at the door.
"I usually...ow, usually I can make myself pass through stuff like that."
"It's him," Akshainie hissed, glaring at me. I raised my hands then backed away. Once I was about six feet or so from them, I lit a cigarette while Benedict took a breath and did it again, this time walking right past the door into the room.
"So," I said, "what do you do? Where are you from?"
"I kill things that need to die. And that is no concern of yours." I shrugged and leaned against the wall for a moment, before we heard a loud scream come from the room and the door was blown off and slammed into the wall across the hall from it, Benedict landing hard on it.
"Not this shit again!"
"It's been a rough year, murder hobo! Get those swords ready!" She drew her swords and I dropped my backpack, pulling out my notebook as the ghost of a man floated into the hallway. His face was twisted in pain and his body was covered in arcane markings. His arms bent the wrong way and in more places than they should have, and his legs hung limp from his body, waving in a way that looked like they had no bones. Which, admittedly, they didn't, but usually you can tell in ghosts that the person had bones when they were still alive. Benedict coughed and stood.
"Oh, what did they do to you?" he asked as he caught his breath. The ghost screamed again and a pulse of energy blew away all the debris on the floor and pushed Benedict and Akshainie back. I stood, flipping through my notebook, until I found the sigil page I was looking for. I waited until the shockwave had finished and the ghost was moving again as I held my hand over the page, then I threw the notebook onto the ground just in front of the ghost. It moved forward just a few inches until it was over the page, then the sigils began to glow and the ghost stopped like it had hit a brick wall. It screamed again, the air around it and above the notebook swirling wildly, but not reaching any of us. Akshainie screamed and lunged forward, slicing at the ghost in a series of rapid strikes I could barely keep up to watch. When she stopped, the ghost gasped and broke apart, fading into nothing. It was as I was watching it disappear that I was able to pay enough attention to it to realize that it was not, in fact, a ghost, but an echo.
"Let me just slip by you," I said, walking past Akshainie and picking my notebook up again. She mumbled a brief thing that sounded like a vague thanks as she put her swords away, and we all turned to look in the room.
The walls of the room were lined with arcane scribblings, not unlike those on the body of the echo. They were certainly more extensive, and I recognized some sets as showing up in various summoning rites I'd seen in my dad's books. These were mixed in with drawings, mostly of inhuman faces, with faces too long or with too many eyes or noses or ears, some of them completely alien, some of them serpentine. The cot was torn to shreds, and there was a blood-stained depression in the wall where it looked like someone had desperately tried to claw through the stone but hadn't made it all the way through. Under that was a body, largely decayed, but mostly human. Its two human arms were bent in a multitude of ways, its human legs shriveled and useless. It had four additional legs which resembled those of a spider, large and still generally intact. What was left of the face looked like it had been warped into a form that would have been terrible to behold while there was still flesh on it.
"I guess that supports the experimental testing theory," I muttered, taking notes.
1 March 2006
Tony had picked up a job out in Girard, and after a couple months there he began to hear stories from some of his coworkers who had grown up over there. One of these stories involved an allegedly haunted building out by the Vienna air force base. The rumor was that the site had originally been a small hospital as part of the base, then shifted into use as a mental hospital which was supposed to be related to some kind of testing the military had carried out, until it was sold by the government to a private enterprise who used it as a nursing home for a couple years. That nursing home was wracked with problems, which were blamed on the restless dead from among those who had been experimented on and then locked away there, and the company that owned it abandoned it and left it to decay as the woods slowly reclaimed the property.
There was a challenge, among kids from over that way, that was proposed to people who made too much of a show of not being afraid of anything. A pool of money would be gathered, and a bet would be made that the person in question couldn't spend the whole night there alone. If they pulled it off, they'd get all the money; if they refused or failed to spend the whole night there, they'd get nothing. Tony's coworkers could only name one person who had actually made any money on this venture. A flashlight was allowed, and some water, but nothing else. This apparently came up in the context of Tony telling stories about his friend who believed he could see ghosts and looked into things like this.
And that was how, at the end of February, I was suddenly offered a little over a thousand dollars if I could spend the night in a haunted hospital I'd never heard of by people I'd never met.
Tony and a couple of his coworkers were camped out in a couple cars already when I pulled up in Alpha. There had to be witnesses, it was explained, to prove that no one else had joined me, that I did not leave and return, and that I had only taken the approved materials. Once we were all clear on the rules and I was found acceptable (I managed to convince them to let me bring my cigarettes and a lighter as well), I climbed the fence left in place by the military and made my way through the tall grass to the collapsed front door.
There was certainly a presence, I realized as I approached. I didn't see any specific ghosts, and very few remaining impressions of anything. But there was something here, or very nearby and connected to this place, and it felt evil. I had originally planned to find somewhere comfortable to hang out and maybe get some sleep, talk to some spirits if necessary, and that would be that. But now I had to do some investigating.
The rooms on the ground floor were a mess. There were the remains of other attempts to stay the night among the fallen plaster and remnants of archaic hospital equipment. In one closet, I found a stack of folded papers that had been overlooked by previous visitors, which turned out to be an inspection report on some local fallout shelters from 1957. I decided to keep that, maybe hang it up at home. From the outside, the building only looked to have one full floor and one partial above it, but as I explored I found that there was one also one floor beneath the ground. I decided to explore that last, and continued on my way deeper into the main floor of the building. The upper floor was office space and what I gathered was a private staff lunch room, which had been raided long ago. I took a smoke break on what was left of a bench there, and as I made my way back down to the ground floor I suddenly heard a few footsteps and something dragging along the ground in a nearby room. I suspected it was Tony and his lot trying to scare me off, so I went to confront them.
What I actually found when I entered the doorway and shined the flashlight was a white Catholic priest, standing next to a woman who had the look of someone from near or in India and a serpent's body from about the belly down. Her top barely covered anything, and she had swords strapped to her side and nothing covering the serpent part of her. We all stopped and looked at one another, and I shone the light at the woman.
"What are you supposed to be, a naga or something?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "I'm a naga." I grumbled and lit another cigarette.
"Always something. Did the people outside see you two come in here?"
"I can't see how they would have," the priest answered, in a German accent, "why would that matter?"
"I got a thousand bucks riding on staying the night by myself, and I don't want you two fucking it up just cause you needed somewhere to hide whatever," I waved my light between them, "this is."
"This," he answered, emphatically, "is an investigation into a dangerous cult. Which should take some priority over your poor gambling choices." I eyed him up. Something about him wasn't right, but I couldn't put my finger on it yet. But she was absolutely a spirit, walking around in the real world. Or at least what passed for walking.
"Is this about the presence here?" She moved forward, her eyes wide.
"You know of it already?" She seemed very excited to ask.
"I've got a knack for these things."
"Wait," the priest said, "you...we're near the Pennsylvania line, yes?" I nodded. "And you do look...are you Henry Matteson's boy?"
"Aw hell, you're his secret priest friend, aren't you?" I pointed at the naga. "Dad said he was warning you about fucking around with the naga!"
"Henry warned you about me?" she asked, turning back to him.
"He said your kind may be dangerous, which I would remind you is true," he answered. She looked like she was considering that for a moment, then shrugged and nodded. "And does your dad know you're out poking around places like this, young man?"
"Oh, no, we're not doing that," I said, pointing at him. "I'm a grown ass man, priest, and he's got enough shit to deal with right now." The naga held up a hand toward each of us.
"I am Akshainie," she said, turning her head to face me, "it is a pleasure to meet you."
"Call me Matteson. Dad says you healed him."
"It was the least I could do."
"Yeah. You got a name, priest?"
"You can call me Father Benedict."
"I don't do titles. Well, Akshainie, Benedict. Sounds like we've got new plans for the evening."
15 February 2006
I mostly did paperwork when I first started at Laurel, and was given my first case in late January. It was, by that time, mostly handled; I just had to connect a few last dots and hand it back, a case for a debt collector of some sort. My second case was more of a personal favor. Mark took me aside and explained that he and my dad had a mutual friend who'd started some kind of network, and occasionally Mark liked to keep an eye on it. He gave me the information he had on a Dr. Francesca Harris and a group called Mystics Anonymous, and asked me to just check on them.
His information was recent, just a few months old, and with some training on how to access some of the networks available to us, I was able to start getting some usable information. I told him I could say the group had started meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, and it looked like Dr. Harris was still there. He asked me to go to confirm, gave me access to a travel account, and the next day Alpha and I were heading southwest.
Mark warned me that he had never actually been asked by either dad, or their mutual friend, to check on this group, and wasn't entirely sure they would be fond of the work if they found out. But they had asked for help from a detective, he noted, and were just going to have to live with the consequences of that. "All the same," he said, "try not to let Harris think to ask them about it." I began to suspect this case was more of a test than anything.
I had some notes on how to find where someone was staying, even if it was just a hotel room, but thought I might as well try using my own options just to see if they would help. I arrived in town at night, and went wandering until I'd found a nexus, grabbed some chicory I'd brought along, and climbed out of Alpha. Gathering at the nexus was a small assortment of local spirits, carrying on their own conversations and gambles, and they stopped and looked toward me as I approached. I held the bundle of flowers and bag of ground root up with one hand and the picture of Harris with the other as I stopped.
"I'm sure someone here would like a bundle of good fortune," I said, with a smile, "and I might be convinced to part with it for information on this woman."
There were three places Dr. Harris frequented reliably; one was her hotel, another was a local coffeeshop, and the third was a church where she met with a group of other people every week. That weekly meeting was only two days away, so I spent my first day in town eyeing up the church and finding the best place to watch for the comings and goings of what I assumed would prove to be Mystics Anonymous.
I parked myself on a fire escape in an alley where I could see the door Harris and her group used a couple hours before the meeting, somewhere they wouldn't think to glance while entering unless they were being particularly paranoid, and waited with a camera. I brought some snacks and a book to pass the time. Right on schedule, I saw Harris arrive and unlock the door, so I zoomed in and got a couple pictures of her doing so. Shortly after, a group of three people came walking up together from the parking lot. From my angle, I couldn't see whether they'd come in one car or met there, but it didn't seem to much matter. I lifted my camera again to catch them as well, just in case, and then froze. I stared for a moment, breathing heavy, then closed my eyes and set the camera down beside me. I pulled out my phone and called Mark.
"I can confirm Harris is in Louisville, meeting with her group right now at the church I told you about," I said, as I watched Lori enter the building, "but I'm afraid that's all I can do for this case. I'll explain when I get back." Once I was sure they were inside and couldn't see me, I gathered my things, walked back to Alpha, and drove straight out of town.
26 December 2005
Christmas was weird. Usually I'd swing by dad's, at least for an early dinner, and we'd hang out and talk and spend some time together. Ever since I'd grown, there weren't always presents involved, and ever since grandma died there wasn't much of a larger family aspect to it, but it was pretty steady. This year, though, he asked me to wait a day. Come by the day after Christmas instead.
When I got there, he was in the process of cooking and I jumped in to help. He seemed to be moving a little slower than usual, had been recently, and I knew he was supposed to have seen a doctor recently about it. I asked him if he'd done so, and he waved the question off and pointed me toward the potatoes. So we kept working, listening to music, and he mostly asked if anything new was going on and if I had heard anything from Lori yet, which I hadn't and confessed I was starting to suspect I wouldn't.
We had dinner and joked a bit, and he asked how my study of possession and my new job were going. I told him about my encounter with Hecate and he commended me for not taking the bait, reminding me yet again that nothing from spirits ever comes without a price. Then he stopped, and set his fork down, and just stared at the table for a while.
"Dad?" I asked, setting mine down.
"Look, John. I...you remember last year, when I called you from the hospital and admitted that I had had some magical healing?"
"That wasn't the first time, or the last time, I let myself accept a bit of cleaning up from magic. And it gets easy to forget there's a price for something so small, and so common, and so...natural."
"What are you getting at?" He sighed, and got up from the table and walked into the living room. I waited a moment, then followed him. He had one of his books open on the table, in one of the languages he hadn't taught me. He pointed at one paragraph as I sat down next to him.
"A lot of healing magic works by just speeding up what your body can do on its own, John. Close a wound a bit faster, regrow normal tissue, that sort of thing." I nodded. "And too much of it can teach your body some habits it shouldn't have."
"Is this about your doctor's appointment?"
"What'd they say?"
"John." He closed the book and sighed. "I have cancer." I leaned back in the seat and covered my mouth. "I didn't want to tell you on Christmas. I don't know if a day makes any difference, but..." He trailed off, then reached under the coffee table and pulled out a metal box. "I want you to know what's coming next, and what I want you to do...after."
"Look, did they say it was terminal? People beat cancer, you know."
"Not like this. I'm gonna fight, stick around as long as I can, but, no. I knew what this meant as soon as they called me to come in and discuss my test results." He opened the box and pulled out some paperwork. There was a treatment plan, with dates highlighted. A will. A hand-bound book. Some bags and jars filled with stuff. He began to walk me through all of it; what the doctors were going to do, what he wanted his final arrangements to be like, his cipher on reading through all his notes on Jeremiah and spirits, how he used the materials in the case to defend himself or push back against supernatural forces. We spent hours going through everything, with me eventually heating up our plates in the microwave and bringing them into the living room. As we ate our reheated Christmas dinner, we planned for a future we both knew only one of us would see.
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."
The blog of John Matteson.