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.
1 november 2004
I'd never actually bothered figuring out how to exorcise a ghost from a location before. As I flipped through the book I'd been compiling since high school, I ranted a bit to myself about the fact that it hadn't occurred to me to research what seemed now to be an obvious concern that would have come up eventually. At least I'd thought to bring my book at all, I figured, and maybe I could cobble something together from what notes I did have. Especially with the help of someone who actually understands magic.
Jackie and I were alone in the apartment, and she had agreed to see what we could work up after she had a bath. It had apparently been an exhausting few days for her, I was convinced she wasn't getting enough sleep and was concerned her mentor had something to do with it, but she wasn't telling me anything to confirm any of that. At any rate, she wasn't sure she'd be up for it after her bath, but she knew she wouldn't be able to focus before it, and off she went some time ago. I was trying to figure out what all was involved in the runic circle I did have in my book for exorcising a demon from a possessed person, something I hadn't encountered but had assumed I would some day, so I kept flipping back to that page and then over to others. I was hoping enough of the pieces were universal that we could extract a ritual for kicking a ghost out of a bathroom from it. So far, I'd been completely unsuccessful. The bathroom door opened and Jackie stepped out, and I glanced up to see her walking toward me in just her towel.
"Oh," I said, setting the book down on the floor and looking around. "Did you forget your clothes? I know you had them right over here somewhere before you went in-"
"I don't need them right now," she replied, continuing straight toward me. "I need your help, Matteson."
"You...with what? You have trouble getting some of the paint off or something? I thought it was water-based and would just come right off." She stopped about a foot away from me and dropped the towel. "I, uh...no, it looks like it all came off?"
"I see how the two of you are. I know you like what you see." She stepped closer, then slid down and sat on my lap. She pushed my chest until I was reclined to the back of the couch, and brought her face close to mine. "Will you help me?" She asked softly, bringing her mouth to my ear and then moving down to kiss my neck.
"Oh, well, with what, exactly?" She reached down and pulled my shirt up over my head and tossed it aside, then began exploring my chest and stomach with her hands and mouth.
"Don't play coy with me," she breathed out between kisses. She slid her body up mine until she was looking me in the eyes. "You know what was taken from me." She gently ran one hand down the side of my face and along my jaw. "I've known since I saw you that you could give it back." She kissed me deeply on the lips and began to grind herself against me. In the midst of everything, it took me a little longer than I'd expect to piece together what she was saying. I pulled away from the kiss and took a deep breath.
"Wait...Jackie?" She sat up and pushed me to the side as she turned, until I was flat on my back on the couch.
"She agreed to help me," she replied, rubbing her hands down my stomach until she reached my pants, which she slowly began to open. "Won't you?"
"You...oh God, you were pregnant when you died."
"Now you're getting it. It's time, Matteson. Don't worry, I know how to make sure you enjoy this."
"I don't...your experience wasn't...exactly healthy," I offered between breaths as she pulled my pants down and began to rub against my boxers.
"What's health? I'm dead. But it seems to have been effective so far."
"I'm not sure...that's better." She slid back up my body and kissed me again, grabbing my left hand and pulling it to her breast.
"You're trying too hard. I know how men are, and she gave me license. Just enjoy this. Her body is." I let my right arm dangle off the couch as she nibbled at my neck, and felt my hand brush against the book. The book! What page was I open to? Given the way I was going before she emerged, there was probably a 50/50 shot. I don't know what arrangements Alethea made with Jackie, but I knew she'd never bothered to tell me anything about it. That seemed like too much of an oversight to ignore.
I grabbed her by the waist and rolled us over so I was on top of her. She gasped, and smiled, and spread herself invitingly. I ran my right hand into her hair and glanced over. The book was on the right page. I leaned down and kissed her with as much passion as I could muster, and felt her fully embrace the moment. I slowly reached down and grabbed the book with my left hand. Once I had it, I lifted her head slightly with my right hand and moved my head to kiss her neck. She moaned, completely oblivious. Good. I quickly lifted the book and placed it under her head, then let go of her and sat up. I grabbed her jaw and looked into her suddenly wide-open eyes, and saw the runes on the page begin to glow.
"Leave her!" I shouted. "Come out of this body and leave this place!" She screamed and the air grew cold.
"Matteson!" Some of the runes began to blink. I remembered that the circle was specifically for casting out demons. Maybe it would still work, but it wasn't going to be easy. "I've waited fifty years for you!" she cried, Jackie's voice and her own in unison. She grabbed my boxers and tore them off me, ripping them in half. "Don't deny me now!"
"Not like this," I muttered, "I can't do this to her." The runes around the circle flickered wildly and a cold wind began to whip around us. I could feel her hands on me, working toward her goal.
"She promised to help! Please, Matteson, I need to finish this!" I leaned down and pressed my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. It would be so easy, and she did want to help...
"Jackie," I whispered, "I need your help. The runes are wrong."
"My child won't be taken from me! Not again!" She grabbed my hips and pulled me closer until I could feel her under me. She gasped, and her eyes began to glow. The two voices suddenly began speaking from her mouth again, but they were saying different things. I couldn't understand either of them, but when I lifted my head and looked, I saw that the runes on the page were changing. As they settled, they started to glow solid.
"You changed the ritual." I braced myself against the couch with my left arm to pull away and grabbed her face again with my right. "Alethea Bilson, I'm sorry for what you've lost. I'm so sorry, but not like this. Leave this body now!" There was a flash and a strong wind with a sound like a distant scream mixed with a train, and then the room went back to normal and the book stopped glowing.
31 october 2004
I helped clean up the apartment and run to the store with Jacob to grab drinks for the party before vanishing into the restroom to change into my costume. My options were limited, since I had to pack everything I'd need in my regular luggage for the trip, and I decided to go as an android. A pretty simple shirt I made at home with a couple drawn panels and buttons, gray pants, some stage makeup. I shaved off my facial hair alone, but Jackie helped me shave my arms and apply the makeup to look as plastic as I could. I agreed to help her in exchange, and once I was ready, I relinquished the room to her. After about ten minutes she called me in, and I found her sitting on the side of the tub with fabric bunched at her waist and laying over her lap, holding up a towel to cover her chest and her bare back turned toward me. I closed the door.
"I can't apply the paint on my back," she said, indicating with her free hand to the water-based paints on the sink. "Just a solid color is fine, if you want." I looked at the four colors on the sink, three different blues and an off-white.
"Are you doing solid color everywhere else?"
"No, I was going for a water effect. See?" She switched hands and showed me the other one, and I saw that she had figured out the design on the back of her hand. I pulled up the little step stool and grabbed the brush.
"Then I'll go for that." She nodded, returned her hand to her towel, and straightened up. I opened the first blue, then stopped. "This seems an awful lot like you've decided to trust me, after all."
"I'm considering it." I chuckled and began to paint. It took me almost twenty minutes to do her design, with occasional feedback when she'd turn to look at the mirror beside us, and then I was kicked out again so she could finish the rest. By the time she emerged a half hour or so after that, I was helping set up drinks in the kitchen. She was a nymph, a white gown standing out against the watery look of her painted skin. I stopped as I watched her walk toward us. "You alright, there?" she finally asked, stopped in front of me.
"Sorry, I...water-themed things catch my attention."
"Maybe it's that bit of river in your blood," she offered, absently poking the buttons on the chest of my costume.
"Well. Just don't blow a circuit over it," she said, pushing me back slightly and then walking away. Jacob sidled up to me as she left earshot.
"So you two seem to be getting rather close," he said.
"She's playing a nymph, Jacob." I turned back to the drinks and resumed my duties. "It's part of the shtick."
"Yeah, well. I guess we'll see if she plays one for anyone else," he said, laughing as he turned back to his task.
30 october 2004
Jackie had to run to the restaurant to pick up her paycheck, and had invited me to come along. So I got ready, and went to wait near the door to the fire escape, and found myself growing bored when she was taking longer than expected to grab things downstairs. I went to lean on the wall, and the only open space I could find was the slender patch of wall between the haunted bathroom and Jacob's bedroom. Neither was occupied, so I took it. While leaning my head back against the wall, I closed my eyes.
Instead of the normal black, it looked like I was staring at a wall of water. Just beneath, or behind, the surface was a young woman. Her green eyes were locked on mine, her blond hair floating out in every direction. Between some shadows falling on the water, and the rippling surface, and the fact that I couldn't quite look away from her eyes, it was hard to make out the rest of her form. I could feel, more than hear, her calling out for help.
I snapped my eyes open and stood for a moment, looking around. The apartment looked normal, though no one was on this floor, so I turned and went into the bathroom without bothering to turn on the lights. I left the door open so Jackie could find me if she came by while I was there. I walked slowly around the little space that was available, looking for some sign of the ghost, or anything out of place. What caught my eye were some of the tiles on the wall near the ceiling. I stepped up onto the side of the tub and looked at a small patch of them, a different color and faded less than the ones around them. When I looked across I saw a matching set of tiles on the other wall. I reached up to touch the tiles next to me, and when I did I found my hand suddenly inside a shower curtain bar that hadn't existed a moment earlier.
The room was brightly lit, the tiles on the wall looked much more new, and the shower curtain was passing through my body. I turned and saw the young woman from the hall, sitting naked in the full bathtub and crying. She was leaning forward a bit, her face nearly on her knees, and I could just barely see that her stomach was interfering ever so little. She sniffled and looked up, her eyes locking onto mine. I suddenly knew what was happening, why she was crying, who put that baby in her. A shadow appeared, looming in the shower curtain, and she reached out to me. I returned the gesture, my hand passing through hers just before the curtain closed on her.
It was her father, using the curtain to muffle her as he shoved her backwards under the water. I screamed and took a swing at him, which accomplished nothing. She struggled, and as he fought her, the shower curtain bar tore out of the wall. I lunged at him, trying my hardest to be felt, to do something, and crashed headfirst onto the floor.
I rolled onto my back, holding my head and groaning. When I opened my eyes, I found I was laying in the middle of the bathroom floor, the lights off, alone. I slowly got to my feet and looked at the empty bathtub, before turning and leaving the room.
"You alright?" Jacob asked, standing in front of the couch. "I heard a crash."
"I'm fine, yeah, where's Jackie?"
"She went outside looking for you," he said, pointing to the fire escape door. I nodded and headed out as fast as I could manage. Jackie was there, smoking a cigarette and checking her watch.
"There you are!" she said, turning at the sound of the door. I walked over and grabbed her shoulders, staring her in the eye.
"I know what happened to Alethea."
29 october 2004
"So, what do we know about this ghost?" I asked, putting a cigarette to my mouth and offering her one. We were on the fire escape before Jackie had to leave for work, and I knew she was planning to pick up a new pack on her way.
"Why do you ask?" I flicked at my lighter until she reached over with hers and lit my cigarette.
"Thanks. I like to look into these things, I guess."
"If you're stuck with it anyway?" I shrugged.
"Pretty much. It's that or be afraid of it all, or be crazy, you know?"
"Who says you're not crazy?" she asked with a chuckle. I smiled and nudged her with my elbow.
"Okay, maybe they're more like venn diagrams; but you're in here with me, Sabrina."
"Oh! Oh I see how it is. Okay." I laughed and leaned forward onto the railing.
"You haven't answered my question, though. What do we know about this ghost?"
"Well, 'we' know basically nothing. I know...a little bit. But not enough."
"I gather you don't want to tell me about it."
"Look, the thing is, it took a lot of effort to get what little I have. She isn't trusting. I don't want to sabotage that work by bringing in someone she hasn't invited."
"They're all like that," I muttered, before standing up fully and looking to her. "How many ghosts have you dealt with so far?"
"She'll be my second, actually. I don't generally try to mess with that...particular brand of magic. Why, how about you?"
"I don't bother counting. But they're everywhere. And there's something about being a ghost, for a long time, that changes them. They're all obsessive about something, I don't know if that's due to being a ghost or why they become ghosts or what, but it's been true of all of them."
"Even your grandmother?"
"Great-grandmother. And yeah. She was bitter, old enough that she was starting to seem less like a ghost and more like a spirit of bitterness. That seems to be what happens, they latch onto something about their deaths, or their lives leading up to it, and that becomes what they are. And when you spend decades, centuries, fully wrapped up in just one obsession, it warps you. Makes you something...else."
"What was she bitter about?"
"Who knows?" I offered, waving my hand dismissively. "Certainly not her. She only remembered parts of the story, or at least only told me a few parts, and they seemed exaggerated by her own anger and distance from them. Most of what I know for certain are from notes she scribbled in books we have at home, or records my dad managed to gather. The only thing one can really be certain a ghost will remember clearly is their death, and she never bothered telling me about that."
"She said nothing about it?"
"Nothing specific." She stared off into the alley thoughtfully for a moment, before checking her watch.
"Oh! My bus will be here soon!" And with that the cigarettes were in the alley and she was gone. On my way inside, I stopped at the door of the bathroom, glancing in. Satisfied the ghost wasn't there at the moment, I continued on to the living room.
29 october 2004
At the diner, after everyone else went back to start their day, Jackie and I were finishing our breakfasts and she began telling me about her mentor. It seems she has a spiritual guide, who calls her into an astral form and teaches her magic. Last night, she went, and when she came back she needed help getting back into her body, and decided to hop into my dreams.
"I don't remember any of that happening," I said, cutting up the last of my my french toast.
"You wouldn't. I couldn't get anywhere near you!" She was basically just down to coffee, which the waitress showed up to refill. She thanked her and then, lowering her voice and leaning in, she continued. "John, trying to access your mind was like hitting a brick wall. I've never seen anything like it. I couldn't get within a couple feet of you."
"Huh. Spirits seem able to touch me just fine."
"They're not there by magic. I was. I was just, like, a magical version of myself."
"Ha! A magical girl. We're in an anime."
"I'm serious, John! It freaked me out, okay? I just..." She sat for a moment, staring into her mug. "I just need to know why you do it. What about magic makes you destroy it." I set my fork down and tapped her hand. She looked back up at me.
"Hey. Sorry, look, I don't have control of that, not really. I mean, I can choose to do an exorcism or to damage a magical effect that I can see, but once stuff gets too close, that's just what happens."
"Magic is important to me, and while you're here, you know, we're going to be in close proximity, and I--I dunno."
"You need to know if you can trust me." She nodded and I sighed. "I don't think there's anything I can say that would handle that, but for what it's worth, I won't do anything against you, okay? Just let me know if you need to do something and I'll give you the space to do it. I have no desire to harm you or do some...control tactic." That bit must have come out sharper than I intended, because her eyes hardened as she stared at me.
"What was that supposed to mean?"
"Sorry, probably not the best time. I just-"
"No. Tell me." I took a deep breath and sat up.
"I don't trust anyone that controls your ability to access your own body as some power trip. You do what you want, learn from who you want to, I have no place to say anything about it, I just. There's always a cost when you make deals with spirits. Be sure you know it, really know it. Be careful, please."
"What do you know about making deals with spirits?" I sat for a moment, fiddling with my fork, before I took a bite of my french toast, pulling out my necklace while I chewed. I set the small vial of sand and its chain on the table, turned so she could see the faded note that said 'Abe.'
"The first ghost I had any real conversation with was my great-grandmother. She told me where to find this. It's a reminder that nothing the spirits give is free, and they cannot be expected to play by our rules." She slowly reached over, and when I removed my hand, she picked the vial up and looked it over.
"What is this? What happened?"
"That," I said, turning back to my breakfast, "is a very long story."
28 october 2004
When I woke up yesterday I got to meet everyone and then we went to a diner a few blocks over for breakfast. It seems they go there a lot, we had breakfast there today, too.
I spent the rest of the day yesterday hanging out with Jacob and his roommates, mostly the girl on the other couch. Her name is Jackie, and apparently she's a witch. Basically everyone here are Wiccans or druids or some sort of neo-pagan, though Jackie specifically said she mostly does traditional stuff from her family in Mexico and Central America. I don't know if there's a name for that.
We hung out a lot. She had a short shift, and we're the only people here who smoke (which we have to do outside on a fire escape, so we tended to go together), so I saw a lot more of her than of basically anyone else. The highlight of the day was definitely the marathon of some ghost hunter show we watched. They asked if I'd seen it, and I said I hadn't heard about it because I don't actually have tv stations at home, and Jacob insisted it would be something I'd enjoy. I gave it a shot, it was pretty fun, but it seemed pretty obvious that half of it was just them overreacting to things that weren't really there.
Jackie asked me about ghosts and we talked a little bit. She told me the one bathroom is haunted here, and I told her I can see ghosts when they're kicking around. I haven't noticed one in the bathroom yet, but time seems weird in the metaphysical realm so maybe she just isn't there all the time. There is absolutely a ghost roaming around outside, though. Dude seems pissed. I've tried to avoid paying him enough attention to really know his deal, because he seems the sort that just will not leave me alone if he realizes I can see and hear him. He's not speaking English, so there's only so much I can make out, but based on his behavior and the general look of him I think maybe he was here before the city was and is not happy with what we've done with the place.
I kinda get it, honestly.
Anyway. Today was her day off so her, Jacob, and I went downtown and acted all touristy and I got to eat a proper deep-dish Chicago pizza, so that was fun. When we were walking around, Jacob started by telling me what everything was, the usual sights and that. Then an alley caught my attention and I mentioned it and Jackie got all excited because it looked interesting and Jacob tagged along but he was more quiet after that and Jackie and I ended up carrying on about the weird bits of the city that caught our attention and magic and ghosts and how spirits in the city are different from spirits in the country. If I'm honest, I think I'm starting to get along better with Jackie than Jacob. Like, Jacob and I, we joke around and stuff and we have history through this game, but it really seems like in person her and I have more in common. I think he's noticed, but he doesn't seem to mind. I hope. That would be pretty rude of me if he did, right?
The blog of John Matteson.