3 May 2007
The air just before dawn was crisp, the last vestiges of chilly mornings still holding on despite the fact that the weather said it would be pushing 70 by the end of the day. Jackie and I were sitting on Alpha’s hood, smoking and staring out over Sharon from the top of West Hill, when we heard a car approach. We both turned and watched as the car parked and Bob and Charles got out. They both walked over and leaned against the car, looking toward the eastern horizon.
“I was afraid you’d be here,” Charles said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because if you’re here, now, then Rick is really gone.” There was a cold silence for a little while after that.
“We’re trying to find him,” Jackie finally said.
“Not in the woods, I suppose.”
“What are you getting at?” I asked.
“I want to know the truth.”
“I mean it, John!” He pushed off from the car and stepped directly in front of me. “He was my best friend for as long as I can remember. I’ve been on too many stupid ghost hunts to be fooled by your stupid fucking story. What happened to Rick? Was he really taken?”
I sighed. “That red spiral cult.”
He threw his arms in the air and stormed off, then turned around and stormed right back. “This is your fault, you know!”
“Charles, wait,” Bob said, reaching for him. Charles shoved his hands out of the way and jammed his finger in my face.
“You got him into all this shit, you got the attention of that fucking cult, you dragged him into whatever mess was going on out there in the woods, and now he’s gone and it’s all your fucking fault! Is he even alive?”
“As far as we know,” I said, softly.
“As far as you know. Great. That’s comforting.” He put his hands on his side and turned his back to me, fuming quietly for a minute or two. “How many others?”
“How many others?” He spun around. “How many other people have been hurt by the shit you get involved in, huh? What happened to Lori, or Alice? Do you know anything about Mark’s mysterious car accident?”
“Charles, please,” Bob said, but he sounded less committed than he did the last time.
“I want to fucking know!”
“Lori was possessed,” I said. Bob stopped and turned to me. “The ghost wanted something from me and was trying to use Lori to get it. I don’t know what happened to Mark.”
“But it might have been related?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know what, fine. Don’t tell me. But don’t you fucking tell me anything else either, got it?” Charles demanded, then pointed at Jackie. “If you find Rick, you tell me. But other than that? I don’t want to see or hear from either of you ever again! I don’t want any more of this shit in my life!” He stormed off toward the other car, but Bob hesitated.
“How long have you known?” he asked, softly, after Charles was in the car.
“Not long enough, I’m afraid.”
He stood there for a moment, then nodded. “Right. Fuck off, Matteson.” With that, he walked to the car, and then they drove away.
“I don’t think it was your fault,” Jackie said, after they were gone.
“How could it not be?” I asked.
“That portal, it took a lot of effort to keep it open. It probably just closed because the Barzai wasn’t focused on it anymore.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t know.”
We didn’t say anything else after that. Just sat on the hood of Alpha, waiting for the sun to rise again.
End of Volume Two
Volume Three begins August 1, 2022. In the meantime, join us on Discord for updates, discussion, and a (soon-to-be-ready) Tall Tales roleplay!
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1 May 2007
It was instinct that drove me to try and catch Rick, and I hadn’t even registered what that would do to the portal until it was too late. It exploded, and I jumped up onto the altar and reached out, hoping somehow, maybe, he was still there. But it was just empty air.
I stood silent for a while, trying to process what had just happened. I slowly turned to look at the rest of the clearing. Alice was laying on the ground crying. There were five people laying around the clearing, and it was hard to tell from where I was, but they didn’t look like they were breathing or moving at all. Any other cultists that were able to move had already disappeared into the trees. Jackie was approaching the altar, visibly trying to hold back tears.
“I need you to move,” she said. I nodded and stepped down, then ran over to Alice. I tried to comfort her, but there was nothing I could find to say. So I just sat next to her rubbing her back, and she cried into my lap.
Jackie was trying desperately to reverse-engineer the spell that opened the portal, but it wasn’t working. We stayed there a while watching her try over and over again, growing more and more angry the whole time, until finally she collapsed on the altar and wept. Alice had stopped by this point, so I helped her up and we both went over and gave Jackie a hand off the altar. I could barely move at that point, with the knife still in my side, so we all leaned on each other the whole way back to the cabin. We agreed on a story as we went; strangers in masks had invaded the cabin and kidnapped us, we fought back, Rick had a gun, we ultimately managed to escape somewhere in the woods but they disappeared with Rick. No mention of the portal.
We called 911 as soon as Jackie had reception, and there was an ambulance arriving at the cabin for me when we emerged from the forest. The police ran over to check on the girls and collect their stories, and I was rushed to the hospital. There, while confirming my identity, a nurse asked my birth date. I told her, and she looked at the time and date on the computer.
“Oh, honey,” she said, “I’m so sorry you have to spend it like this.”
“It’s not your fault,” I told her, before I was wheeled in for surgery to remove the knife and stitch up whatever damage it, and my continuing to move and fight with it in me, had done.
“John!” Rick called. I paused and held my hand to my side, discovering the knife was still there. I thought maybe I should leave it there. When I looked back to him, though, he was pointing. I turned away from the cultist I’d just laid out to the portal. It was still there. I didn’t know why. If their chanting had been holding it open, and we’d already silenced over half of them, why wasn’t it closing? Jackie said it would take a lot of cultists, or a lot of…
I looked at the blood on my hands.
I looked around at the clearing around me.
There was blood everywhere.
I looked back up at the portal and finally saw what Rick must’ve seen better from his angle. There was something starting to reach through the portal. It was grayish, with splotches of black and deep red over it. It wouldn’t be wrong to call it a tentacle, but it certainly wouldn’t be right, either. It was smooth and thick like one, and even had some shapes on one side that kinda resembled one? But there was a clawed, three-fingered hand at the end, just starting to grasp the altar. They were succeeding. Something was coming through! I turned back to Rick to tell him to concentrate whatever shots he had left on that…thing, whatever it was, but he wasn’t there. I turned back and found that lead priest standing in front of the altar. With one arm he was holding Rick against himself, and with the other he was holding a knife to Rick’s throat. His back was to the portal and he was staring at me.
“Do you see, Omen!” he cried out, over the rumbling sound of whatever was dragging itself closer to the portal. “Do you see how you are the key to our victory? You delivered this into our hands today!”
“Like hell I will,” I answered, stepping toward him. He pressed the blade against Rick’s neck.
“One more step, and his blood joins ours! We’re so close. Do you really think you can close this portal before your friend’s blood brings the ritual to completion?” There wasn’t time. I knew that. I was still too far away. I saw Jackie emerge from the trees out of the corner of my eye. Maybe she could do something. Maybe she could help. I resisted the urge to look at her and see what she was planning, and instead stood tall and put my hands on my head. I had to trust the others now. Just as long as his attention was focused on me, maybe it would work.
As soon as I saw that Rick and Alice were the sacrifice, any plans went out the window. I don’t even really remember starting to move. One moment I was talking to Jackie about how we were going to handle the scene, and the next I was on my feet and breaking the tree line. One cultist stepped slightly in my way, and I punched them directly in the face without slowing down. I barely even registered the sound of them hitting the ground behind me before I was gone again, making a bee line for the three robed figures holding Rick and Alice. I didn’t notice one of them had a gun until my left shoulder erupted in pain.
I’ve since read that people don’t fall when they’re shot because the shot actually knocks them down. It happens, sure, but that’s usually only the case when the shot kills them. Mostly people fall when shot because of a combination of shock and a cultural understanding that that’s what happens to people when a bullet hits them. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but I wasn’t thinking about cultural expectations and certainly didn’t have time for shock. I kept going, and the shooter made the mistake of hesitating when they didn’t see me drop. They scrambled to make a second shot, but it was too late. I had the wrist of their shooting arm by the time they pulled the trigger again, and I felt their arm snap in my hands when I went to disarm them. They dropped the gun and fell backward, screaming and holding their arm, and I kicked the next cultist away. I grabbed the third and threw them at the second, and then turned my attention to untying Alice.
“Holy shit, dude,” Rick said, looking around. “I didn’t know you could do that!” A cultist was running at us with a knife, but was stopped when they ran into an invisible barrier about ten feet away. The others drew weapons and approached more slowly, continuing to chant. I got the ropes off Alice, and she started to run toward where I knew Jackie was waiting. I turned to Rick and focused on his hands, a bit less gently. As soon as his hands were free, he dove over and grabbed the gun.
“How many more shots you got?” I asked, catching my breath as the cultists drew closer. I counted about ten moving toward us, and then noticed the asshole with the burned face and snake eyes next to the altar.
“Six, I think.”
“I was under a spell for a while there, you know!”
“Fine. Six. You ready?” I asked, clenching my fists. He raised his gun.
“I’m good. You gonna be okay with that shoulder wound?”
“Let’s do this.” I ran forward at some cultists, and heard shots fired as I did. I dodged an attack from the first person and drove my knee into their gut before tossing them aside, and felt a knife stab into my side. I spun around and drove my elbow into the head of the cultist behind me, throwing them to the ground. When I looked up, the apparent leader was already gone. I grumbled and made for the next person in line as I saw a cultist to my right catch fire. The cultist ahead charged at me, and I let them get close before I stepped aside and kicked them in the ribs. I heard multiple cracks as they hit the ground and rolled away. I glanced over and saw that the portal was shrinking and growing more unstable. I smiled and charged the next robe I saw.
28 April 2007
My birthday was coming up, and Alice had made arrangements for the two of us, along with Jackie and Rick, to spend a few days at a cabin her family owned or had a timeshare on or something, I don’t remember, up in the Allegheny State Forest. It sounded nice, and she was very excited about the idea, and I liked the thought of getting out and doing something, especially something away from town, so we’d secured the days off. Alice stayed at my place the night before we were supposed to leave so we could all go up together first thing in the morning, but Rick had some appointment in Ohio that he couldn’t break so it was just the three of us who left on time. Rick swore up and down he’d go straight to the cabin from the appointment, and Jackie called to remind him in the morning to have his luggage in the car before he left.
Alice and I took the master bedroom, and Jackie set off to pick one of the two other rooms for her and Rick. I asked Alice if it would be weird for us to have sex in the bed her parents usually used on their family camping trips, and she said “only if you fucking talk about it,” so I dropped the subject. There was a large living room, with a small balcony overlooking it that served as the place for the stairs and the upstairs hallway to meet. The rooms Jackie was looking at, and a bathroom, were up there. Honestly, the place was way larger than I expected, and I was convinced it was only considered a ‘cabin’ because it was made mostly of logs.
“I’m pretty sure this place is as big as my actual house,” I’d commented.
“Well, yeah, it’s meant to house a family,” Alice had answered.
“It’s meant to be a vacation home for a family. I feel like that’s different. Like it should be smaller.”
“Yeah. It is smaller than my family home.” I couldn’t really argue with that.
I cooked us some lunch on a grill on the back porch. Well, she called it a porch. It was a deck. I had friends in Sharon whose entire backyards were the size of this deck. But she’d corrected me when I called it the deck, and I decided I was not going to spend my birthday weekend fighting about rich people semantics with my amazing girlfriend who brought me to a beautiful spot in the woods, so apparently it’s a porch. And it was beautiful. The yard, which had been mowed by someone, sloped down away from the house which ensured that the trees at the end of it were low enough not to block the sight of the rolling hills off in the distance. There were some hiking trails in those woods, Alice said, and an outlook spot down one of them that gave an amazing view of a nearby river. We’d all agreed to check that out tomorrow.
True to his word, Rick showed up a couple hours later. By then we were all out on the porch drinking, and he jumped right in on that. He’d brought some weed, too, and was certain he had enough that we could enjoy a blunt right away and still smoke me up on my actual birthday. Well, we weren’t about to turn that down. So we spent a little while smoking and drinking and carrying on, and I cooked us some burgers on the grill, and we rolled into the cabin a little after dusk and disappeared into our respective rooms.
I was only half awake a few hours later, with Alice asleep and half laying on me, when I was startled by some noises in the woods. I listened for a minute, and thought they didn’t sound natural, so I jumped out of the bed and made my way to the window. I couldn’t see anything in the dark out there.
“Are you okay?” Alice asked, barely coherent.
“I thought I heard something.”
“There’s always noises. It’s a forest.”
“But this sounded different.”
“Everything sounds different in the forest. Come back to bed.”
I looked around again, but the sound had stopped and was definitely distant to begin with, and I had to admit that Alice spent a lot more time in the woods at night than I had. I slipped back into the bed and fell asleep.
17 March 2007
I finished my shower and spent a little time checking my hair at the mirror before wrapping the towel around myself and heading down the hall to my room. When I passed the top of the stairs, I could hear Jackie and Alice chatting downstairs. I didn’t know Alice was here already, and made a mental note to hurry up a bit instead of leaving her waiting. She’d been a bit tense ever since England, and I was looking forward to taking her out to the St. Pat’s celebrations downtown with some friends. Hopefully a night of not thinking would help put her at ease. I entered my room and closed the door to find the woman from the alley island, naked, sprawled out on my bed.
“Didn’t you try this already?” I asked, walking past her to open my closet and look for a suitably green shirt.
“I was curious if it was really that useless. Maybe if circumstances were different, if you would react differently.”
“Hecate, was it?” I asked, grabbing a shirt and tossing it beside her on the bed as I went to my dresser. “If that was your goal, you should have tried it when my girlfriend wasn’t sitting downstairs waiting for me.”
“You know full well I can give us all the time in the world,” she said, standing up as a robe materialized on her. “Which I have done, by the way.” I looked at her for a moment, then out the window, where I saw a bird frozen in mid-flight.
“You like recycling your tricks.”
“I like not being rushed by mortals who think their agendas are more important than the will of a god.”
“I guess I could see where you’d get that.” I dropped the towel and grabbed a pair of boxers from the dresser. Hecate straightened up and took a sharp breath. “Oh don’t play coy now,” I groaned, pulling on the underwear and kneeling down to grab some pants from the lowest drawer.
“Is my presence such little concern for you?”
“I am a mortal with an agenda, remember.”
“John Matteson, I would remind you that I am offering you incredible power—”
“Yeah, yeah, power to stand even against gods.” I put on an undershirt and tucked it in before securing my pants. “I decided to start with you.” I brushed past her to grab my shirt, and she grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. It stung, but I refused to show that to her.
“You do not want me as an enemy, Anchor. I can make your life very painful.”
“Why? You think you have some right to boss me around?”
“I have every right!” she screamed, spinning me to face her. I met her gaze and silently slipped my shirt on as she continued. “I am the goddess of liminal beings! You are under my purview, your very existence hinges on my favor, and you dare question what authority I have to command your use of my gifts?”
“If you can take my power away, then do it.” I stood with my arms out, waiting, as she glared at me. “No?” I finally asked. She growled. “I think this story’s a bit more complicated than you want me to believe. And I think you need me more than I need you. Now, as for tonight?” I brought my hands together in a loud clap, focusing all my energy on it, and heard it ripple through the house. Hecate’s robe blew as if in a wind, and the air crackled, and the bird outside my window resumed its flight. “I have somewhere to be.” I turned away from her and reached for the door.
“Mark my words. You will have me, John Matteson, or you will have no one.”
“Next time, you should try something new. I’d be curious what you have to offer besides sex and parlor tricks.” I opened the door and headed downstairs.
12 January 2007
Jackie had found a shop where she could get some incense, crystals, or whatever else she needed for her magic, and for whatever reason decided to invite Alice and me to come check it out with her. They entered, excitedly talking about some of the questions Alice had and heading straight upstairs, while I milled around the register area trying not to touch anything. I found a small altar off to the side, with a sign warning that it was neither for display nor sale, and to please leave it alone as the owners of the shop used it for their own purposes. The things that resided near it hissed as I stood there reading the sign.
“Fine, fine. I get it. Just give me a second.” I went upstairs and told them I was going to wait outside, then headed out and lit a cigarette. I was leaning on the window smoking when an older lady rounded the corner, walking her dog. They stopped in front of me and seemed to be reading the window.
“How much does it cost?” she asked. I narrowed my eyes and looked around.
“How much does what cost?”
“The tarot readings,” she said, pointing at some words I hadn’t noticed next to me. “Do you do those?”
“Oh, no. I don’t work here. I’m just waiting for some people inside,” I said, pointing vaguely toward the window with my cigarette.
“Oh. You looked like you work here. Why don’t you wait inside?”
“It’s...not really for me, in there. Why are you asking about the readings?”
“Well, I--I wanted to get one.”
“To, uh...to know the future, I guess.” I tossed the butt away.
“Where’s the adventure in that?!” She adjusted her grip on the leash and seemed to be holding it a little tighter.
“The...adventure?” she asked, taking a half step backward.
“What’s the point of knowing the future? What’s good about that? There’s no fun, there’s no surprise, just the same old crap. And that’s if you actually get told your future instead of scammed. Knowing the future is overrated, we as a species need to learn how to appreciate the mystery.” She opened her mouth, then watched me for a moment, closed it again, and led her dog briskly across the street and down the block. Alice and Jackie came out as I was lighting another cigarette.
“I hope you weren’t too bored,” Alice said as they approached.
“Nah,” I replied, “There’s always something to do.”
31 December 2006
The music was throbbing through the whole house, Alice was having a great time meeting the rest of my friends and no one was walking on eggshells around me as if they were trying to avoid reminding me of my father, which was a nice change. Jackie’s theater people were here and pitching the idea that some improv show they apparently did the year before could be a tradition. The New Year’s Eve party was going really well, and I was glad for it, but I was outside with a beer and a smoke, leaning on the porch railing that Dad and I had built, staring up at the stars.
What a fucking year. It seemed like the whole thing had been overshadowed by Dad’s cancer and death. I could barely put half of what happened this year in order in my head, and I knew that part of it was simply the fact that I hadn’t even had time to process what happened with Lori, or Alethea, or whatever before I was dealing with Dad, and I wasn’t entirely sure now that I ever did process it. And now some goddess is on my ass? I’d’ve completely forgotten that bit if Jackie hadn’t reminded me. What kind of a mess has this year been, that something like that would seem like a minor issue? I heard the door open and glanced over to see Alice peeking out.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Do you need to do that alone?” I smiled to her.
“I’ll be back inside in just a minute.” She gave me a weak smile back, but went inside. I flicked the butt of my cigarette into the street and finished off my beer. Hey, whatever else happened, this year also brought me into contact with proper allies in Benedict and Akshainie, and helped me learn more about my power and what my dad was training me for, and now there’s Alice. I don’t know where that’s going, but it feels good so far. I looked up to the stars again. “Let’s do this,” I muttered, before heading back inside.
10 December 2006
Rick was finishing a smoke and talking on his phone when he came in the door, and gave us a half wave and nod when Jackie and I glanced over at him. We turned our attention back to the movie while he chatted about something to do with work on his way to the kitchen, and by the time he returned with a can of pop and sat next to Jackie on the couch the phone was back in his pocket. She leaned over and he put his arm around her as she grabbed his smoke and took a drag.
“How was Pittsburgh?” I asked.
“Pretty good. That’s actually what I came over to talk to you about.” He turned to Jackie and said to her, “We were all pretty disappointed you couldn’t be there.”
“You wanted to talk to me about being disappointed Jackie was at work?”
“No, no,” he said, accepting his cigarette back and taking one last drag before snuffing it out in the ashtray. “She’s got a ghost problem.”
“Is that why they were disappointed I wasn’t there?” Jackie asked, pinching him. He yelped a little.
“Alice just wanted to meet you, I’m sure.”
“What kind of ghost problem?” I asked.
“A ‘they scream in the night and she thought someone was breaking in’ ghost problem.”
“Did that happen while you were there?” He nodded. “Wasn’t Mandy with you?”
“Bet she loved that.”
“Didn’t sleep a wink.” I grabbed the remote and paused the movie, then turned to face him.
“Alright. What’re we doing?”
“Well, actually, it’s mostly just you. She wants to hire you.” I raised a brow.
“For…ghost, stuff, I guess! She said if you can do something about the ghosts she best pay you for it.”
“Professional services are usually paid work,” Jackie said. “Really, this shouldn’t be a radical idea for you.”
“I’m not some kind of supernatural plumber,” I said, sitting back. “Guess I never thought of it that way, anyway.”
“Well, whatever, but her family has money so it isn’t like it would inconvenience her at all,” he said. “Will you just call her? She’s a good friend and needs help here.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll call her.” I tossed him my phone, which Jackie caught and handed him. “Just put her number in there.”
“It’ll be under Alice,” he said, tapping away.
“Could you include a last name, just in case? I like to have whole names in my phone.”
“Fine. It’ll be under Alice Templeton.” I nodded and turned the movie back on.
23 November 2006
I decided to host Thanksgiving this year, with Jackie’s help. We worked hard on it this morning, with no idea who was showing up from the list of people we’d reached out to. I knew most of them would probably have to spend the day with their families, but I couldn’t bear to do it alone. So we invited basically everyone, and cooked as though they were all coming, but didn’t know what would actually come of it.
It was actually a really good turnout. Everyone from the band, except Tony, came by. Rick and Charles and Bob, and probably about a third of the theatre troop, and a couple people from work rounded off the gathering. We had a lot of fun, played some music, ate good food (probably about half the people who showed up brought something with them), and Charles dug out some board games and those of us that remained had a few rounds of those after dinner. It was late when we wrapped up, and Rick stayed over with Jackie while Bob and Charles crashed on the couch.
It was a good day, probably the best I’d had this month.
The blog of John Matteson.