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.
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.
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."
The blog of John Matteson.