1 November 2005
I had never taken the time to do anything about my rib from my previous encounter with Alethea, and I definitely felt it when I started trying to dodge her. She was coming at me with far greater fury than before, but she was limited in space. As soon as she entered the area Jackie had laid out with that powder of hers, she was unable to leave it, but didn't seem to have any restriction on height as she continued trying to fly and strike me as she passed. This seemed worse to me, as the lag between Alethea's actions and Lori's was increasing and their conflicting desires were becoming more pronounced. If she lost control of Lori while in the air, I wasn't sure I would be able to catch her safely, especially with everything flying around us. I had to make my move.
She was diving at me again. Nearly every time, she would aim to curve up again either just before or just after she hit me; this one looked like it would be just before. I timed it as best I could and took a single step forward, catching her right before she expected me to be there. My hands hit and clamped down on her shoulders and her momentum pushed me backward until my feet made contact with the wall of stones and branches that had been gathering around me. I braced myself against that and stopped us both, pushed against her until her legs were on the ground, then pressed my right hand against her forehead. She screamed, both voices screaming, loud and shrill and painful. The powder in the grass was suddenly glowing, and all of the wind beyond it suddenly stopped and sent everything it was carrying flying to the ground. All of the energy she had been spending gathered at the edges of the circle, whipping into a wind storm that sounded like a hurricane. I held her in place for a few moments, focusing on bringing order to the metaphysical realm just like Jackie had said, and then pushed forward with my right hand. It passed directly through Lori, who slumped to the side. In my hand was the top of Alethea's head; she was scared, crying, on her knees and staring up at me. The wind broke and sent out a shockwave that shattered the wall around us and put out all the fires.
I let go, and Alethea rocked back and forth, her head in her hands. I looked down at Lori, half conscious, bleeding from the small cuts and abrasions she'd picked up in the two encounters today. I knelt down and suddenly there was someone else, a park guard, running into view. I was still catching my breath and didn't manage to ask him what he was doing before he picked up Lori and ran in the direction of Jackie and Alpha. I watched them go for a moment, then turned back to Alethea.
"You...you were supposed to fix this," she said, softly and between sobs. I told Jackie I'd had a plan for what to do once Alethea was out of Lori's body, but that was at least partly a lie. I was planning to find something in my notebook, but I realized shortly after this started that I'd forgotten it in the car. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say.
I wrapped my arms around her, pulled her close, closed my eyes, and sat in silence as she wept on my chest.
1 November 2005
Jackie went to the hospital to get her burn and cuts cleaned up, which was enough of an excuse to get her out of work, and she left her backpack of supplies in Alpha's trunk. While she was there, I slipped over to Lori's apartment, hoping that whatever Alethea had her doing would keep her busy elsewhere. I had to slightly break in, but no one seemed to notice, and I had time to look around for something useful. It didn't take long; in her broom closet I found a whole shrine to me, with some paraphernalia that was probably tied to some mystical origin or another. Deciding I should quit while I was ahead, I grabbed whatever I could carry and slipped out the fire escape without looking elsewhere.
We arrived at Buhl Park shortly before it was scheduled to close, and pulled Alpha behind some trees to hide in the dark. After we saw the patrol go through to check for people and lock up, we slipped out and made our way to one of the lesser-used fields and got to work. She had a pouch of something she had gotten from a friend in Chicago, and spent some time spreading it in a specific shape, hidden in the grass. I kept watch as she spent time in preparation, using various things from her backpack. She said she'd been burned by magical backlash too much recently, and wanted to make sure she had everything she would need in place to do what we came to do and then clean up with as little risk to herself as possible. We only had to dip back into the trees to hide once, but the need to be constantly ready for it slowed her down enough that we weren't ready until after midnight.
Once everything was ready, Jackie went over to the car and began her rites as I walked to the center of the ritual. She had told me specific places to set the things I had taken from Lori's apartment, and seemed very interested in some of it; she said we would need to talk about that later, though. I laid the things out, stood in the spot she told me to stand, and prepared to wait. It did not take long.
Near the perimeter of the ritual area, the air started to crackle shoot lightning into the grass. I watched as reality warped and bent at a spot about six feet off the ground, the source of the lightning, until Lori appeared with a loud crack. She was floating above the ground, her eyes glowing, her hair flowing out as though she was underwater. Her arm raised to point at me, first Alethea's spectral arm and then Lori's physical one. The lag told me Alethea was losing her hold on Lori, and the look on her face told me that battle was incredibly painful for her.
"Matteson!" both of their voiced cried out, as they floated closer. At the same time, Alethea cried out threats against me while Lori begged for help. I stayed in place and waited as they continued to approach. The wind around them picked up, quickly becoming a whirlwind that was lifting rocks and branches and tearing apart the blackberry bushes nearby. The edge of the whirlwind reached and then passed me, but everything within about five meet of me remained unaffected.
"Come on!" I yelled. "Is that all you've come to do?" She screamed, both of them screamed. The whirlwind picked up, ripping up dirt and cracking the trunks of the closest trees. Lightning shot out in every direction, setting small fires in the dry grass; and then she stopped floating and instead flew at me like a dart.
31 October 2005
"You couldn't request the night off?" I asked, setting the bags of liquor on the counter to begin unpacking from our run to the brew thru.
"It's Halloween, and I work at a haunted house," Jackie answered. She was setting up various sized glasses on a table we'd set up in my study, leaving room for the pizzas I had ordered for tonight. "Besides, if what I hear of your house parties is true, there will be plenty for me to enjoy when I get back." I agreed that was fair, and went to dig the paper plates out of the cabinet when I heard the front door open. I went out and found Lori, who looked like hell. She had clearly not slept, her makeup was smeared as though she'd been crying, her hair was wild and tangled, and she was barefoot. She snapped her attention to me with crazed eyes, then lunged forward.
The first punch caught me off guard, and I heard a rib crack as she made contact with my side. I started trying to dodge as she continued punching and kicking; I was slower than usual as the pain spread from my side and having trouble catching my breath, but she was obviously unskilled at what she was doing and I mostly avoided further contact as I tried to back away.
"You son of a bitch!" she yelled as she continued her onslaught. "You were supposed to fix this!"
"What are you on about?" I demanded. Jackie came out of the study and froze in the doorway, clearly unsure how to handle the situation. Lori's eyes started to glow, and then she buckled over and grabbed her gut as she stumbled backwards. I saw Alethea's head rise out of her back and scream, cracking the windows and forcing me to cover my ears. Lori's face tilted up slightly, tears streaming down her face, as she mouthed, "help me."
"Alethea!" I yelled. Lori snapped back upright and fell backwards against the wall as Alethea vanished back into her. Jackie stepped forward, calling out something in another language, and sent a bolt of energy at Lori. Lori ripped the front door off the hinges and blocked the shot with it, shattering the door. Her arms her shaking under the strain, and I saw cuts open in her clothes and skin as the pieces of the door flew against her. I ran toward her, not really thinking of what I would do when I got to her; but before I got very far she rose off the ground, screamed one more time, and sent out a shockwave through the room. My tv was destroyed, the windows blew out, and Jackie was thrown backwards into the study. I didn't feel it, and it didn't slow me down, so when she suddenly vanished from in front of me I was going too fast to stop. I slammed into the wall and blacked out.
15 September 2005
Charles remained in the car as promised, while the rest of us snuck up to the side of the building. We had parked on the far end, with the hopes that whoever was in there would be unable to hear Alpha driving over the gravel and the engine running. We found a man door that did not, itself, have light coming from under it, but was near the section that did. Rick and I were arguing about the best way to pop the lock when Jackie reached past us and opened the door, which was apparently never latched.
We entered a hallway and could hear what sounded like distant chanting, but couldn't make out any of what was being said. The floor was cracked and filthy, the walls covered in the remains of peeling paint and rusted signs. One door was hanging half off its hinges, and we slipped as quietly as we could into the room behind it. Here we found a few desks stacked up against one wall, papers and scraps of garbage and broken glass scattered across the floor. The glass, it turned out, was largely from a panel of windows on the far wall, looking out over a mill floor depressed into the ground by about ten feet from the level we were on. When we peeked through the windows, we saw about a dozen robed figures standing on a large spiral embedded into the floor, filled with blood, with a large stone altar in the center. On the altar was a naked woman, not moving, blood dripping from her wrists and throat into the spiral. The chanting was coming from that room, and there was a ball of light hovering over the altar. Jackie grabbed her head and slid down the wall to sit on the floor and take deep breaths.
"What is it?" Rick asked softly, kneeling down and putting his hand on her shoulder. "Is it the murder? I think they murdered someone, guys."
"The other side of that--" she started, then groaned and began rubbing her temples.
"Other side of what?" he asked, turning to me. I was scowling.
"The portal. I can see enough to know it isn't good," I said.
"What does that mean!?"
"They're trying to summon something. Whatever it is is coming from deeper in the Realm than I can see, but there's a lot of darkness involved in drawing it out."
"Holy shit," he muttered, sitting down beside Jackie. "Oh holy shit. Is this happening?" I nodded and sat down on Jackie's other side, lighting a cigarette and then putting my arm around her shoulder. She let go of her head and leaned on my chest.
"You can't keep blocking me from this," she said, "not if we're going in there."
"I'm sorry, did she say we were going in there?"
"You don't have to," I answered, "but she's right. As far as we know, we're the only people available to stop whatever it is they're trying to bring here, and I can promise you someone needs to stop it." He began breathing heavily and fiddling with his fingers.
"Okay! Okay. I can do this. I can help you guys."
"I don't see how. Look, maybe you should go tell Charles, figure out what to do if this goes wrong."
"Oh yeah, let me just call the fucking cops, tell them there's a demon they need to arrest!"
"Keep it down, and no, please don't call the cops."
"Because they'll think it's bullshit!?"
"Because they don't tend to respond well to a black man at a murder scene." Jackie punched me lightly, and then got up to crouching and headed back toward the hallway.
"Give me some space for a minute," she said, "so I can prep some defenses, and then I'll be set, okay?" I nodded and we watched her slip into the hall before Rick slid over to me.
"Hey, look, if we survive this, could you be a little less handsy? I think I have a shot with this girl, but you know, you two kinda have this thing--"
"Just asking! Just thought I'd ask." We sat in silence for a minute, before he whispered again, "is that a yes?"
"Go to the fucking car," I said, heading out to the hallway. I caught up to Jackie and we both watched as Rick slipped into the hallway, waved to her, and then left the building. I turned to Jackie.
"You think he knows I could hear him?" she asked.
"Nope. Does he really have a chance?"
"Well not tonight. Why, you want him to?" I chuckled and offered her a cigarette.
"I don't care."
"Mhm," she replied, flicking her lighter. Once she had her cigarette lit, we made our way down to the mill floor.
At the bottom of the stairs we found a small alcove with three other bodies in it, all cut open, none of them still bleeding. The pile startled both of us, and after we caught our breath again we rounded the corner to find ourselves looking directly across the room to the group. I went out along the wall a ways, to give her room, then stopped and watched for her to be ready. When she nodded to me, I took a deep breath, muttered something vaguely similar to a prayer, and rushed forward.
I drilled into the back of the closest robed figure and knocked them forward into another one, both of them crashing to the floor as I turned to close the distance and punch another. I felt their rib give way and stomped at their kneecap; by the time they screamed and went down, the chanting had stopped and the rest of the figures were moving toward me. The portal shifted and started to close slightly, when one of the figures suddenly turned to look in Jackie's direction and, without a word, threw a fireball toward where I knew she was. I reached my hand in its direction and closed my fist, and the fireball vanished in a puff of smoke. The figure who threw it recoiled and his hood fell, revealing a man with a massive burn mark over half his face. When he looked at me his eyes were like a snake's, and he growled and raised his hands, igniting all the air around me. None of it could get more than a few feet from me, so I charged forward through it and emerged from the edge of it just in time to drive a fist into his jaw. All of the fire vanished as he stumbled backward.
The portal quivered and contracted again as the man wiped a spot of blood from the corner of his mouth. The rest of the figures backed away, watching us. I flexed my hand a couple times in an attempt to ignore the pain of the last punch, and the man's eyes glowed for a moment before he started to laugh.
"It's you!" He screamed, cackling. "The Omen!"
"What are you on about?" I asked, stepping forward.
"Your coming has been foretold, Omen. You are the key, the end of our quest comes through you!" The rest of the figures gasped and started whispering among themselves as they slowly made their way forward again.
"Nobody move!" Rick yelled, stepping out of the shadows on the other side of the room. He was holding a gun, pointed at the crowd, but his hands were shaking.
"Motherfucker," I muttered.
15 September 2005
I maintain that I did not know Rick had lied to Charles in order to get him back into Alpha to go look for that town again, but it probably should have been suspicious when he agreed to come. I had reattached my mirror and Jackie had grabbed supplies to help her casting if we needed to hide again or, God forbid, fight. Rick said he was ready for whatever, but all he seemed to bring was snacks. Which were appreciated, but hardly seemed special in any way.
I made a point of memorizing the path we took to get to the town, and the path out of it again, so we could hopefully get there quickly and have some time to poke around and see if we could find any explanation for it. I decided to try the way we had gotten out first, since it was easier, but as soon as Charles figured out what we were doing he started arguing about it. We had to actually pull over just off 224 to calm him down before continuing. Once we resumed, however, we found the path not as easy as before. I was certain we were going the right way, and we all recognized things we were passing for a while, but then we were certain we'd gone to far and never saw it. We tried another pass, and again knew exactly when we were driving through an area we had been in before, but there was no sign of the town on the road and no large empty area where the town could have been.
After those two passes, we decided to try the dirt path we were on when we found the town in the first place. By this point it was starting to get dark, and Charles was growing more impatient with us. We found the dirt road and turned down it, right around the time he decided to stop running his mouth and just ignore us in favor of looking out the window. I asked Rick, who by now had confessed to lying to Charles, why he put in that effort when it would have just been better not to, and he just laughed.
I'm beginning to suspect Rick is a legitimate asshole.
It was about a mile down that road when we suddenly came to a barrier line blocking the entire road, in front of a large dirt hill. The path curved slightly into a haggard garage, marked with faded railroad signs. I stopped Alpha and we all got out, except Charles, and walked up to the top of the hill.
"Did they make this overnight or something?" Rick asked.
"Did who make it?" I asked.
"I dunno! Some...villager? With a backhoe?"
"Well the answer is no either way," Jackie said, pointing ahead. Where the road should have continued was just a field, with grass that looked like it hadn't been mowed all summer.
"Was this magic?" Rick asked, excitedly. "Can you see if it's magic?"
"Well I can't," I said, "unless it's an ongoing effect I could interrupt."
"Like an illusion!"
"Yes. Like an illusion." I turned and looked at Jackie, who looked at me and shrugged. I sighed and walked down the hill and into the grass, and once I was about five feet deep into the field I turned around and threw my arms out. Nothing changed around me. Rick turned to Jackie.
"Can you check?"
"You seem really excited about this," she said.
"It's exciting stuff!" She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of glasses. I could see her eyes close and her mouth moving while she put them on, but couldn't hear what she was saying. Once she was done, she opened her eyes, screamed, and grabbed her face as she stumbled backward. Rick caught her and started asking if she was okay while I ran up the hill toward them.
"Jackie!" I called. "What's going on?" Rick helped her sit down, and she pulled the glasses off. When I got to about ten feet from them she visibly relaxed, and when I got closer I could see tears of blood trailing from her closed eyes. She was rubbing her temples.
"I never thought I'd be so glad for you to suddenly end one of my own spells," she whispered.
"What did you see?" She opened her eyes and Rick and I both gasped as we realized one was now blue.
"What? What is it?" she asked. I opened my mouth to answer, but happened to glance up and notice and cloud of dust coming closer on the road. I stood up and focused on it, and realized that it was coming from a black, roughly garbage truck sized block heading down the road toward us.
"Back to Alpha! Now!" Rick looked back and swore under his breath, and we both helped Jackie to her feet and ran down the hill. I hadn't turned the car off, so as soon as we all dove in I threw Alpha into gear and punched the gas, cutting the wheel to turn around half in the grass while Rick was still pulling his door closed.
13 september 2005
Apparently one of the search engines has satellite maps now, and I was able to track down where we’d been the night before. I had difficulty finding the quarry, or whatever it was, where we saw the standing stones; but I did manage to retrace our steps enough to find the strange field. There was what appeared to be a service road running alongside the railroad at one end of the field, on the side opposite the lights, but what caught my attention were the two large black circles in the grain next to the service road.
I grabbed a notebook and wrote down the coordinates so I could find it again, and went to meet up with Rick and Charles. We cruised around, hung out at the park, basically just killed the day, until Jackie got off work. When we picked her up, I told them what I’d found, and they wanted to see for themselves. We went back to the house and I found the location again. The field, however, looked normal, or at least only slightly altered, with no sign of the marks.
“Are you sure it was here?” Rick asked.
“Yes! They were right there! Look, it even looks a little...off, in the picture.”
“I’m not seeing it.” We argued for a few minutes until I offered to just drive us there so we could check. Having nothing better to do, everyone else agreed, and we piled back into my car and headed out. It took about forty-five minutes, with us stopping for drinks on the way, before we got back to the field. It was after dark, and the fall fog was laying thick on the road. Thick enough that we actually missed the service road and had to turn around and head back. Once we found it, however, we pulled in slowly and watched out the side for any opening in the grain. It didn’t take long before we saw a dark space on the passenger side, and I pulled over.
“Shit, man,” Charles whined. “I dunno about this.”
“You’re gonna do this now?” Rick asked.
“I’m just...it looks pretty dark. Did anyone bring a flashlight?”
“I think I have one in the glove compartment,” I offered, looking to Jackie. She sighed and opened it, pulling out a small maglite. “Yeah, here we go.”
“Great. What do the rest of us use?”
“Are you guys always so prepared for these things?” Jackie asked.
“No, no,” I said, opening my door, “usually we’re also drunk.”
“How you’ve managed to pull this shit off for so long is beyond me. Matteson, you keep your distance.” With that, she stepped out of the car and pulled something out of her pocket. Holding it tight in her hand, she whispered something, and then blew on it. It was then I could see it was a crystal, and it was now glowing like some kind of torch.
“You gotta teach me how to do that!” Rick said, sidling up to her.
“You don’t have half the will for magic.”
“She’s not wrong,” Charles said, hugging close to her. I pushed the button on my flashlight a couple times, then smacked it until it turned on. When I caught up to the others, they were standing in the middle of a perfect circle, probably about thirty feet across, which had been burned into the field.
“So they...have a fire pit?” Rick offered. “Maybe they burn garbage here?”
“There’s no garbage here. Usually there’d be remnants of something.”
“Maybe they burned, I dunno, paper? Only?”
“Why would they have two of them?” I asked, pointing my flashlight at one side of the circle where it overlapped briefly with another, equally large and equally empty circle.
“Do you guys think this was aliens?” Charles asked. We all turned to look at him, and then Rick began to pinch the bridge of his nose. Jackie lowered her crystal and knelt down to touch the ground.
“No,” Jackie said, flatly. “There was magic here. I can feel it.”
“Would that be better?!” Rick yelled, throwing his arms in the air. “Would you sleep better at night thinking there were alien wizards visiting our farms?”
“At least they’d leave when they’re done,” Charles muttered.
“Can you tell us anything else about it?” I asked Jackie.
“No. Not really. It feels...the magic was recently performed, but it was very, very ancient magic.”
“Awesome. Love ancient magic. Nothing sinister about ancient magic burning giant holes in fields and then having them vanish from satellite pictures. You guys wanna see where this road leads? Maybe it’s related”
“Can I vote no?” Charles asked.
“You can vote whatever you want, but I’m driving.” He groaned and followed me back to the car alongside the others. Once Jackie’s light was out and the car was started, we pulled off into the fog. Once again, the radio went dead. We drove for a few minutes, slowly watching for anything else of note, until we came to a paved road. Ahead, the service road seemed to vanish into a garage. As there seemed little more to find that way, I turned and we followed the paved road around in a wide loop, riding along the edge of the farm, until we got back to where we’d entered the service road. I stopped and looked, and we saw the service road head off in the other direction.
“Please do!” Rick countered, leaning forward and patting my shoulder. I looked to Jackie.
“I’m off tomorrow,” she said with a shrug. I smiled and cut the wheel to head off down the dirt path.
12 September 2005
Rick, Charles, Jackie, and I were playing Rock Band at the house and talking about something better to do. Nothing good was happening at the local bars, there were no shows scheduled for the night, and none of us were due to be in early for any reason. We were an hour and a half in before Rick mentioned a lake he'd heard about down in Lawrence County that used to be a quarry. It wasn't safe to swim in, of course, but none of us had ever seen a quarry lake and decided looking for it was better than sitting around. Well, most of us decided that.
"This sounds like a terrible idea," Jackie said, putting on her jacket. "Someone is going to die."
"And yet, you're getting ready to go," I replied, tying my boots.
"Excuse me, I would remind you that I'm the hot girl that makes it to the end of the movie, and you're the token black guy." I put my hand to my chest in mock offense.
"Token?! This story is clearly about me."
"Yes, you're both very important people of color," Rick said, crossing his arms by the door, "can we go now?" As we all made our way to the car, Jackie leaned over to me.
"Why are all your friends white, anyway?" she whispered.
"Black folks have enough trouble with dead white people," I whispered back. "It's very hard to find any that want to go looking for them." She snorted and tried to stifle a laugh, and we all loaded into Alpha and set off.
We stopped in West Middlesex for smokes, drinks, and snacks, then turned down 551 and tried to make sense of Rick's vague, half-remembered directions. When that shallow well ran dry, I decided to just start looking for places where a quarry might be. By this time it was dark, and there was a light fog rolling in, so we took it slower on the unlit side roads to look for anything interesting. We were wandering for a little while before I noticed we were driving alongside a low ridge with a fence over it, that went on a good ways. I stopped and pointed it out, and we decided to try and find an entrance.
We followed the fence until it cut abruptly into the trees, but there was no road to take the same turn. I had to go on a bit further to find a road that went in that direction, then look for anything that may lead back to the fence. We finally found an abandoned dirt road, and I took it. As soon as I turned onto the road, the radio cut out, and I started fiddling with the volume to see what was going on with it. As we rounded a curve with low branches hanging over the road, we found ourselves confronted by two standing stones. I stopped the car and pulled my hand back from the radio as we all looked the stones over.
They were dark, probably ten feet tall and five feet wide, each with a red spiral engraved into it near the top. There were no other markings, no words or signs or anything to tell us what that spiral was supposed to mean. We discussed the possibility that it was some kind of corporate logo, but had to admit that those are usually paired with more information. There was no fence between the stones, but there was also no visibility as the fog was much thicker ahead than it was around us. With Charles balking and Jackie suggesting she was very uncomfortable going forward, I hesitantly agreed to turn around and head back.
Unfortunately, by this point we weren't entirely sure how to actually get back, and ended up driving around aimlessly for a little while longer until we spotted an access road next to some train tracks. Out of curiosity we turned down the road, and found ourselves quickly surrounded by a corn field. There were a couple openings in the grain near the beginning of the path, but it was too dark to see anything in them, and we kept on going. When we reached another road, we turned off and drove around to the front of the field where a large farmhouse stood. It looked empty, with broken Halloween decorations hanging in the trees and a single illuminated cross in the back yard. There were tombstones, not decorative ones but clearly real, near the cross, and a rusted and half-collapsed swing set nearby. It was clearly the house that went with the field, we'd all seen enough farms to recognize that, but the corn was perfectly maintained while the house didn't look like anyone had been there for decades and there was no sign of farm equipment. We stopped and stared at the house, and the radio kicked back on. The volume was all the way up, and the local rock station was just getting to the chorus for Metallica's "Enter Sandman."
I punched the gas as Jackie turned the volume down. Charles screamed. We found our way home, debating the whole way about whether or not to go back and check out that house or possibly the site of the standing stones. We hadn't come to a decision before I dropped the guys off at their places.
"You're going to do it, aren't you?" Jackie asked as we pulled up to the house.
"Yeah. You in?" She sat for a moment, then sighed.
"Tell me tomorrow what you have planned. I'll think about it."
10 August 2005
"You do this every day, huh?" Jackie asked over the music. "Two months, and I don't think I've seen you miss it more than once." I was beating up on the heavy punching bag hanging in the basement, and she was laying on my weight bench, reading.
"Mostly every day, yeah. Though people don't tend to hang out down here while I do."
"I can't imagine Lori would miss it on days she's here. Not if you always do it shirtless."
"She...doesn't like the idea that I hit things," I said, taking a step back and grabbing my water bottle. She hummed and nodded.
"I honestly hadn't taken you for a fitness nut when you were in Chicago."
"I'm not into fitness. I'm into fighting. It was something very important to my dad, and he made sure it was important to me."
"Well, mostly because of Grandpa, you know. Just in case he ever showed up at the house or something, we had to be ready. But given that I can touch spirits and they can touch me, he was pretty concerned about my well-being."
"Is this grandpa of yours really so bad?" I waved my hand for her to move, and she slid her legs off the side of the bench and sat up. I sat down next to her.
"He...I don't know, really. I've never met him. But the stories I've heard paint quite the picture. He's a nephil, son of a human woman and river spirit, and believes he's entitled to a better life than mere mortals. Apparently he's very willing to cause all kinds of problems, including murder, to get what he wants."
"But why you guys?"
"Dad says it's partly because he was a disappointment. You know, someone whose identity is built on power, who values power above all else, might have problems with his only child having no power at all."
"Your dad isn't like you?"
"No. But then, on top of that, my dad has taken it upon himself to oppose his dad, you know, the idea that if you know who the monster is you don't just let someone else handle it. That it's a family affair."
"So your dad made a very powerful enemy by opposing his father, and now you get to deal with it? I mean, not for much longer, right? How old is this guy?"
"Oh, he's about 100 now, but remember that he's a nephil. He doesn't age like normal humans. He might look younger than my dad, for all I know."
"So he shows up, and what? You just punch him a lot?"
"And kick. I think the biggest thing is that he relies on his power, and I take that option away from him. Dad told me that if either of us had a real chance of stopping him, it would be me, because I can actually stand up to him in ways he can't." I took a drink of my water and we both sat in silence for a minute, staring off into space.
"Well. I need to get ready for work, but if there's some way I can help with this family affair, let me know, okay?" I nodded and she left, and I returned to my routine.
4 July 2005
Lori, Beth, and Bob were getting back to normal, but clearly still in mourning. I was running through ideas on how to cheer them up while Jackie and I were going through my books the other day, and suggested hosting a cookout for the Fourth of July. When I suggested it, Jackie put her book down and rested her hand on my shoulder.
"John," she said, then waited until I was looking at her. "Listen, I don't know what it's like for you, but you need to understand that for most of us, death is permanent."
"No, I get that, I just--"
"Do you? I mean, you've clearly been trying to comfort Lori through a difficult loss, and that's great, but you just seem like you expect it to go faster than it really should. They have had to grapple with saying goodbye to their close friend for the last time, and under particularly difficult circumstances. There are no ghosts in their daily experience, no conversations they can have with those they've lost. Death is the end." I set my book down and stared at it for a little while.
"Not everyone sticks around, you know," I finally said. "They have to have a reason. Otherwise, it's just...echoes, scraps, little bits of them laying around in the aether. My...I've lost people, too."
"We don't even get that, you know. Those memories, those echoes, those little pieces of them in the metaphysical realm. We have only what's in our own heads, and the objects they leave behind. It's not the same."
"So you think the cookout is a bad idea?"
"No, no, not really. It's just, make sure you're mindful of where they are while you do it, okay? It'll be nice for things to feel normal, but some cookout isn't going to fix things. And if this Mark was fond of the holiday, it may be extra difficult for them. Just...be careful, yeah?" I nodded, and we went back to what we were doing.
We did end up hosting the cookout today, and it went really well. Lori, Bob, and Beth all seemed to appreciate it, and I tried to give them space when they needed it. Rick insisted on working the grill, which was fine for burgers and hot dogs, but I made certain I knew exactly how the barbecue chicken was seasoned and cooked. The whole band was there, and we ended up playing a few songs when it was getting dark. It was fun, and by the end everyone seemed to leave in a good mood. Lori kept a little distance from Jackie, but she stayed over for the first time in weeks. I really think things are starting to turn around for all of us.
17 May 2005
I woke to a phone call from Lori, who was crying as she told me about the police coming by. I could barely make out what she was saying, except that it had to do with Mark and she felt terrible. I told her I'd be right over.
When I got to her place she was sitting in the living room, still crying, and holding a VHS tape. I held her for a while until she was ready to talk, and she began to explain that the tape was from a school play in second grade where she and Mark had met after being given parts that mostly appeared in the same scenes. I didn't understand why that was important enough to be bringing up at this point, and she freaked out at me when I asked. She got up and stormed to the middle of the room, where she started pacing. Something really weird was happening with the ripples she left in the world, but I couldn't quite place them. It wasn't like anything I'd really seen before, almost like multiple very strong emotions were trying to cancel each other out.
I explained that I couldn't understand what she was saying on the phone, and she finally calmed down enough to tell me that Mark had died the night before. It seems he had arrived drunk at her place some time after I dropped her off, got inside the apartment, and started some fight with her. She said she saw him run off, and didn't hear anything else until the police came by to ask about a noise complaint from a neighbor. She told them what she knew, and when they realized she was talking about him they informed her that he had been in a fatal crash just a couple blocks away, and she broke down again while telling me about it.
I comforted her for a while, then let her go clean up and change so we could go to his mom's house. While she was in her room, I noticed a cup on the floor that had apparently spilled a while ago and put it in the kitchen for her. I offered to clean up the apartment for her, but she said it could wait, so instead I just waited for her and we headed out.
Mark's mom and stepdad already knew, as the police had called shortly after finding him. Lori spent some time talking with them while I tried to just be supportive and made phone calls to people she told me should know, and we left when they were due to go talk to the funeral director about plans for the ceremony. She was reluctant to go home, saying that all she could think about there was the fight they had as their last interaction. I brought her to my house, made sure she got some rest, and once she was asleep I went back to her place to grab some things she would need for the week. Jackie called while I was there, to talk about Alethea, but I didn't really have time for that. I suspect I won't have time for much of anything for a bit.
The blog of John Matteson.