18 december 2004
The hollow on Hogback is distinct both because of the rickety wooden one-lane bridge at the bottom and the local story surrounding the name. The former is dangerous because, with the trees and curves on the way down into the hollow from either end, you can't really see the bridge or anyone else hoping to cross it until you're dangerously close. This depends somewhat on the speed you drive through it, of course, but it's almost a rite of passage for local kids to go tearing through it as fast as they dare, and an unrelated rite to stop in the dead center of the bridge and watch for the ghost.
Thankfully, both events very rarely happen at the same time.
The story is actually fairly unimaginative and more than a little misogynistic. Dude pays a hog as dowry to a farmer up the road, marries the farmer's daughter, wife turns out to be a bitch, dude kills his wife and carries her body to the farmer demanding his hog back, road gets named in honor of that guy for reasons no one seems to know. There are variants, but the ones I've heard largely follow that formula (except one in which she kills herself because he's a bitch, which seems almost sensible in light of the other one). It probably isn't true but the fact is no one is as interested in the story as they are in the rumor that the wife's ghost hangs around the bridge. This claim is, itself, something of a disappointment, both because no one even seems to believe she does anything interesting other than hang around, and because she isn't there. People keep dragging me into these damn woods to confirm the ghost is there, and I always have to decide whether it's better to play along or tell them the truth.
"So there's nothing here?" Rick asked, rolling a blunt.
"God I hope so," Charles offered. We had actually parked in the dirt beside the road and walked out to the middle of the bridge, and Charles was leaning on the side and looking down at the creek. The light was growing dim and we were all talking quietly enough to listen for an engine coming.
"I didn't say nothing," I answered, as Rick put the blunt to his lips and got it lit, "I said there's no ghost." Rick let out the smoke as he passed to his cousin, Mandy.
"How can you be sure?" Rick asked.
"I've been here a dozen times, and there's no sign of her. Just kind of an...echo." Mandy handed off to me and I took my turn.
"What's an echo?" I signed for him to wait as I passed to Charles and then exhaled.
"It's like...there seem to be things that only exist because people think they exist. And they're only as real as the amount of people making them real. I call them echoes."
"So there is a ghost, just not a, uh, real ghost?"
"More or less."
"Your friend is weird, Rick," Mandy muttered.
"Your cousin is rude, Rick." She sneered at me as Rick smoked. He coughed a little as he visibly tried not to laugh.
"I think that still counts as a ghost," Charles said, inching closer to the group. Rick passed.
"Yeah! Isn't that ghost enough, John?"
"Well, look. I can't talk to it, it can't possess anyone, and near as I can tell it just stands over there," I gestured toward a tree on the side of the creek opposite where we'd parked, "so if you wanna call it a ghost, fine, but it hardly seems worth it." Charles quickly looked to the tree.
"Is it there now?" he asked, with a quiver in his voice. Rick laughed.
"You're afraid! Look at you, it isn't even really a ghost and you're terrified!"
"You agreed it was a ghost!"
"Guys," I said, exhaling and passing. "Chill."
"I'm going back to Alpha," Charles said. "We can smoke just fine there."
"Hardly seems like your decision." Charles waved me off as he hurried back off the bridge. I turned to the others and saw Rick was still laughing and Mandy sighed. "I guess we might as well go get some food." With that, we all headed over and climbed into Alpha. I started the engine and we listened to the music as we finished the blunt. Right when I began to pull out, a rusty Chevette came tearing out of the trees and across the bridge, honking and veering as it passed us. It just clipped the front corner of Alpha and kept going, vanishing into the woods behind us. I grumbled, turned up the music, and punched the gas.
2 december 2004
It had taken Dad years to convert the basement of his house into a study. The process began almost as soon as he bought the place, had been dragged to a standstill when Mom expressed displeasure with it, and only resumed in earnest after she left us. As I sat in an armchair that I hadn't seen before, I was reminded that he probably wouldn't ever be done to his satisfaction.
About a third of the books lining the walls were from my great-grandma Joanna, collected during her lifetime and travels, with her notes scribbled in the margins. Maybe a half dozen or so were added by my grandpa, Jeremiah, who was apparently much less of a reader than the rest of us. I really knew very little about him, aside from the fear both dad and the ghost of Joanna seemed to have at the need to say his name. I had added probably twice as much as him already, left here so I could use them when I had easy access to the rest of the library. That left the bulk of the books, added by my dad, and covering a much more broad range of paranormal topics and folklore from around the world.
"The question," I said, "is whether or not she's become something other than a ghost." I could hear Jackie sigh on the other end of the call. "What do we do if she's like, a poltergeist or something?"
"I guess we'll just have to prepare for whatever," she said. I heard her turn the pages of a book. "But I'm concerned that if we spend too much time with that we won't ever get around to finding her."
"You mean you won't. Remember, I can't just up and fly over to Chicago on the drop of a hat."
"Aww, are you worried your beloved Omega won't make it all the way out here? The way you talked about it on the L--"
"Her name is Alpha, thank you, and she'd be fine. It's the time off work and my rent I'm concerned about." I set the book on the little table next to my chair and leaned back into the cushion.
"Alpha the Omega?"
"You're the worst." I laughed, and I thought for sure I heard her chuckle just a little. "Look, just, promise you'll try? This involves you as much as me, you know."
"Yeah, yeah, of course. I'll see what I can do. It's just, if you find her, and then call me, it's still gonna be seven hours at best before I show up. I want to know you'll be okay during that time."
"I'll be fine, John. Just...set some money aside, or something, if you can. I really don't know what we'll be walking into."
"I will. Stay safe."
19 november 2004
So Rick and I were at a local cemetery today staking a vampire to the ground, as you do, and Rick was standing guard while I had to pound the stake in.
"Can't your antimagic thing just, like, kill the vampire?" As opposed to keeping it from waking up while I was working, "Why are we doing all this extra work?" he asked.
"We're doing extra work? You're literally just standing there with a beer."
"But this is important? This is how you kill a vampire, just kinda...nail it into the coffin?"
"Oh, no. This doesn't kill it. It's already dead."
"This is a dead body, Rick. The parrot is no more! He's ceased to be."
"Are you seriously quoting Monty Python to me right now?" I stood up and looked at him.
"Would you have preferred Terry Pratchett?" I asked.
"Kinda, yeah. You got something?" We both just looked at each other for a few seconds before I sighed.
"No, the moment's passed now." I heard him grumble as I knelt down to shove the garlic we'd brought into the vampire's mouth.
2 november 2004
When I arrived at the luggage return in Pittsburgh, Dad was already sitting there skimming through one of his old books. I sat down next to him, setting my carry-on down at my feet and glancing over to see if it was in English. It wasn't.
"You know this is why people think you're practicing voodoo," I said, leaning back and watching for the luggage return to turn on.
"They think it's voodoo because they're racists," he replied, turning the page and not looking at me.
"What are you doing, anyway? What language is that?"
"Sanskrit. Looking up some information on the naga for a friend." I nodded. Dad's friends were largely a mystery to me. Whatever it was Henry Matteson was up to most of the time, he didn't involve me. I think after Mom got sick of his 'work' and me talking to the ghost of my great-grandmother and left us, he got paranoid about my response if I was brought in too far. The fact that I started to dabble on my own may have softened his concern, but it clearly never overcame it. "How was your trip?"
"It was good. I like Chicago."
"I take it something interesting happened?" he asked, closing his book and reaching into the bag next to him. He pulled out a different book and handed it to me. I nodded as I took it, leaning forward to put it in my own backpack.
"Met a girl. Dealt with a haunting. Had a Halloween party."
"Were any of those related?"
"Yup." He chuckled and we both glanced over as the light began to flash and then the luggage return began to move. I handed him my backpack and then walked over to grab my suitcase. It took a minute or two of standing there before I saw it coming around, and by the time I had it and returned he had his face back in his book. "Find anything interesting?" He closed the book, put it in his bag, and stood as he handed me mine.
"I wouldn't want to mess with the naga."
"Here's hoping they know what they're doing, then."
"He knows almost as much as he thinks he does, which is better than most of us can claim. Still," he said, putting his hands into his pockets as we walked toward the door, "I'll have to call him when I get home."
1 november 2004
Jackie and I hadn't spoken since she went to get dressed, and most everyone living at the apartment was home within an hour of the incident. We'd all spent the evening playing games over pizza, but Jackie kept to herself. I was out on the fire escape at dusk, smoking and sending a text when she came outside.
"Hey," she said, leaning on the railing next to me. I offered her my lighter and she gave a weak smile before taking it and lighting her cigarette.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked after she blew out the first line of smoke.
"I don't know. But thanks."
"I hope you haven't just been dwelling on it. I'm no expert but that sounds unhelpful."
"I haven't." I nodded and we both stared off at the alley. We watched as one cat entered the alley and caught the attention of another, and after a brief and tense standoff, the newcomer was driven out. I flicked my butt down and the other cat scurried away from it back into the shadows from whence it came. The sky was growing dark, or at least as dark as it gets in a neighborhood this packed. I squeezed the railing and rocked back and forth for a moment.
"So." She took the last drag from her cigarette and flicked it into the alley.
"We did it wrong." She didn't even look at me as she said it. I took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds.
"The exorcism. The rest was...appropriately awkward." I coughed out half a laugh before catching myself and putting my hand up to my mouth. I looked down at the alley again and leaned on the railing.
"Hm. Yes. Okay. Well, I haven't done very many of those."
"This was my first, yes." She nodded and wrung her hands on the railing.
"Yeah," she said, "me too."
"So, well, admittedly, the only thing I had on hand was for driving out a demon, and if I'm completely honest I've never actually tested it for that purpose either, so I'm not sure it would even work properly for that, it's just-"
"That's not what I mean. It did what the ritual was intended to do. Probably what we needed to do, given the circumstances."
"So...what's wrong?" I turned to her, but she was still staring off into space. When she didn't answer, I pulled out my pack and lit another cigarette before offering her one.
"Thanks," she said, finally turning to accept it and a light. Once we were both smoking again, she looked me in the eye for the first time all evening. "We didn't help her, John. She's just been kicked out of me, and this house. She's untethered, out there somewhere," she waved her arm to indicate the city beyond the alley, "with no resolution and probably insanely angry and I don't know if we'll even be able to find her again, let alone help her cross over." She said it all so fast that it took her a moment to catch her breath afterward, and as soon as she had she took another drag and looked out toward the buildings outside of the alley, turning her back to me. "She's lost and hurt and we promised to do better than that, and I...I don't know how to fix this." I went to put my hand on her shoulder, but stopped short and, deciding she'd probably touched me enough for one day, pulled my hand back.
"I mean, we could...go, or something, if you think we could find her?"
"And do what?"
"I don't know." I stared at the back of her head for a moment, as if I would find some clarity in her hair or something, and then turned and leaned on the railing again to take a drag. "I just know I'm flying home tomorrow," I said, softly. "Can't imagine I'll be of much use after that." After a moment, she turned back, and rested her hand on mine.
"That's fine. I'm not sure what your presence would do to her right now. But I...do have a favor to ask of you." I looked at her hand, then let my gaze follow up her arm and neck until I was looking into her face.
"What is it?"
"Look, I. I don't even know if it'll work."
"I need just one good night's sleep. But, between Alethea and my mentor, it's just been..." She straightened up and inhaled sharply before staring at me. "I want to sleep on your couch with you tonight. I don't know if your...thing extends to other people, but when I tried to hop into your dream I was stopped a good distance from you, so I suspect that there's a proximity effect and I think it's worth a shot." I went to speak, then exhaled, and looked away, then turned back to her.
"I have to say, I didn't really see that coming."
"Neither did I, but, I really just want to be left alone. I can't deal with it all tonight. Not tonight."
"Okay. I just...the couch isn't very big, you know."
"Are you against cuddling now?" I straightened up and raised my hands defensively.
"I never said I was against any of it. I'm just concerned with your comfort being so intimate with me right now."
"You've shown yourself trustworthy. And besides, I wonder if you aren't asexual."
"I...what? That's not a thing."
"It is a thing. There's nothing wrong with it." I leaned in closer.
"I've had sex."
"Okay." She leaned on the railing and gave me a side-eye look. "Have you ever had sexual desire?"
"I've...found people attractive."
"In what way?"
"I don't know! Like, art, I guess?" She chuckled and took a drag from her cigarette.
"You should look into asexuality."
"Maybe later. Look, about tonight, though."
"Do you want me to ask formally or something?"
"No. I'm fine with it if you are." She nodded.
"Good." She smashed her cigarette against the wall of the building and then chucked the butt over her shoulder into the alley as she walked back to the door. "I'll see you inside, John." I watched her until the door closed behind her, then checked my phone. One new text message from my dad.
"I have a couple books about possession. I'll bring them to the airport tomorrow." I thanked him, finished my cigarette, and went back in.
The blog of John Matteson.