20 January 2020
It had taken me two weeks to find the key to the cipher. In one of the books I was studying, I found a letter that seemed at first to be nonsense, accompanied by a two of hearts. But something about it looked familiar, and I checked back in some of the other books where I thought I had seen something like it and where I had seen other cards marked, and started to piece together a code based on playing cards that I then used to decrypt the note. The note turned out to be a short letter written by Joanna, which explored the mortality of gods.
I had known, from some other scattered notes and statements by Dad, that she had taken an interest in learning how to kill spirits, especially very powerful ones, when Aaboukingon returned to the river. I had gathered from her own demeanor in telling me about that time that she was afraid, and ultimately was looking for a way to defend herself if the river gods turned against her for some reason. I never fully understood why she thought that was a possibility, but it did seem to be the reason this library exists today, so I’ll take her paranoia over any strain of sanity.
The letter didn’t offer much of anything new, really. She hadn’t found a way to kill a god, but felt that she was getting close, that there was something right at the very core of their being that could be exploited just right, if she could only find what that was. If she ever did, it’s in a note or a book I haven’t found yet.
But there was something interesting in the letter. She mentions two mysterious beings, her description vague and barely recognizable. I only suspected she was talking about King and Queen because I had personally met them and could see where she would get the terms she was using. She believed they would be the key, somehow the power they held could undo anything. This, it seems, was the power she was now searching for. She wanted to understand these two, to take hold of whatever they had that she didn’t, and use it as a weapon. I have no idea if that’s even possible, but more importantly, when did she meet them? I know they were there when my great-grandparents lost their home, but I had just learned she was unconscious the entire time they were involved. There are no other records that I’ve found that mention them. She didn’t say anything about them when she was haunting me. Was this letter written at the very end of her life, did she only see them when it was too late? If not, why did she keep it a secret?
Whatever encounter, or series of encounters, she had with them left her with a certain distrust. She describes their power as useful—though she never describes what she saw that made her think she knew what their power was—but described them more directly as questionable entities with unknowable motives and a possibility of being too much spirit to fully understand why a human would want to stand up to a god to begin with. She did not think she could call on them to defend her if it came to that; only that she could do it herself with access to their arsenal.
I set the letter down and read over the translation a couple more times to get it into my head, then took it and the document where I’d worked out the key upstairs and burned them. The original, with its card, was returned to its book and restored to the shelf. I made a mental note of where that book was, in case I ever needed that information, but honestly I can’t see what I would need with it. Killing a god is a fool’s errand, really, and I can’t imagine what it would even take for me to want to try.
More importantly, now I had some questions for King and Queen next time they decided to show up. There must be some reason they’re paying attention to my family. There must be some reason they slipped out of the memory of their involvement with Aaboukingon to talk to me last month. I need those answers so I know what to do with this information. Why didn’t Joanna trust them? What did she know that I don’t? Was she right?
I know Jackie’s been working on the mystery of these two. I’ll have to ask her for some input, and decide whether or not she needs to know about my great-grandmother’s opinion of them.
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the places to stumble upon on my very first case as some kind of professional paranormal investigator, it had to be the house where Joanna and Aaboukingon lived. Well, not the exact house. That specific house didn’t really survive this next few moments.
“We need to follow them,” I said, as the spectral man lifted his wife into his arms and made for the door.
“Why?” Alice asked, but she didn’t hesitate to move as soon as I started walking.
“Because the house where this happened burned down.”
“It’s not going to burn my house down, is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. But it definitely won’t if we get outside.” We went through the front door and down the stairs from the porch while the echoes we followed stayed at the level of the floor, finally reaching their own front door and doing the same.
“Why would that matter? What did you do?”
“I…well, I changed the rules a bit.”
“Look, it’s not easy to explain, but…just follow them, I think if we let the memory play out it’ll be easier to make it stop repeating.” The man stopped and fell to his knees, crying out to Joanna, until two ravens—one who looked normal, if a bit large, and the other glowing faintly blue—flew down and began talking to him, though for some reason I couldn’t quite make out their voices or words. Alice’s jaw fell open as they talked, and then the ravens were flying again and the man followed and we followed him. We made our way back to a creek in the trees behind Alice’s house, where Aaboukingon called the water up and onto Joanna and healed her wounds. The ravens, at this point, seemed to be looking right at us, and I found myself for the first time in a very long time deeply disturbed by the notion that what we were seeing might be able to see us. Having healed Joanna, Aaboukingon collapsed. Joanna screamed, grabbed him, and started to drag him away before the vision suddenly ended. Alice had her hands wrapped around my arm and was pressing in close to me, and we stood there in silence for a few minutes.
“Okay,” she finally said, between deep breaths. “Now. I think you owe me one hell of an explanation.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay. Let me just clean this up first.” She exhaled hard and finally let go of me, adjusted her shawl, and then stood bolt upright.
“I will be in the house. Where it’s warm.” With that, she was gone, and I began trying to reverse what I had done to make the echoes more visible. As I did so, I realized the ravens were still there.
“Do you need help?” the blue one asked.
“You don’t happen to be that King and Queen, do you?”
“We are.” I groaned and paced around in a circle.
“What’s your deal, exactly?”
“It’s not time to answer that question.”
“Fine. Then what are you offering?”
“You’re trying to stop this echo from repeating, yes?” I nodded. “Then we can help you do that.”
“Yeah? How’re you gonna do that?” The blue raven flew closer, suddenly becoming the woman from the beach and floating just above the snow in front of me. She reached out and touched my forehead.
“Let me show you. I cannot affect an Anchor without permission.”
“Oh, the great and mighty King and Queen, don’t have purview over me?”
“It is complicated. Just, let me in.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to drop my guard as much as I could. Finally, there was just new information, suddenly there, in my head. I knew exactly how to make the echoes stop. I snapped my eyes open, and both of them were gone. I reached my hand out, closed my fist, focused on the echo, and felt something in reality pop. I went into the house, to where the scene had begun, and did the same thing. On my way by I saw Alice sitting on the couch with a new coffee and a blanket, so when I was done ensuring there would be no more noises anywhere in the house, I returned to the loveseat. There was a hot tea on the coffee table in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said, softly, testing it. She had already sweetened it.
“Tell me what you did,” she said, coldly. I cleared my throat.
“Um, okay. So it goes like this.” I explained that I’m an Anchor, and everything I now knew that meant. I didn’t mean to go into too much detail, but I just kind of started talking and then couldn’t stop. She listened, attentively, almost never stopping to ask any questions. Just taking it all in. I told her how I had recently learned that I may be able to alter the rules of an area in the metaphysical realm, and how what I had done here was try to enforce a new set of rules that amplified the echo and made it visible so we could both find out what was happening, and how I had finished up by adjusting the rules again so the echo was gone, or at least, pushed deep enough that even if it did happen again no one on this side of the hedge would know it. “I’m still kind of learning what I did just here,” I confessed.
“So was there really any danger of my house burning down?”
“I don’t think so. The bullet didn’t affect us.”
“Oh shit! The bullet! You didn’t think to warn me we might get shot?”
“I…well, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize that was the scene until it was kind of too late.”
“So. Tell me about these two. The man and the woman. And the ravens! I want to know about the ravens.”
“You and me both,” I grumbled, raising my mug for a sip. “Do you mind if I smoke?” She pulled a clean ashtray out of a cabinet under the tv and handed it to me. For guests, she explained. So I told her everything. I told her everything I knew about Aaboukingon and Joanna, and what had happened here, and who those men were. I told her about Joanna coming to me as a ghost, when I was a child, and telling me all these stories, and how they had a son together, and that was my grandpa, and she didn’t trust him one bit, and how my dad had been in some kind of battle with him that I only recently realized he had been training me to pick up. I just poured everything out. I cried, when we got to the bit about my dad’s recent death, and how that was when I found his books and pieced some of this together. I told her about meeting the ravens in Erie, and what had happened just then outside her house. We talked for hours, she had so many questions and I didn’t realize how badly I’d needed to talk about some of this stuff. She heated up some food for us both, and we talked well into the night, and by then it was getting so late and I was so tired that she insisted I sleep there on the couch instead of driving the two hours back or, God forbid, being stopped by the cops again after dark.
When I woke in the morning, there was an envelope on the coffee table addressed to me. I opened it to find a check and a note. The check was for well more than I would have thought to ask for. The note informed me that she had something important to handle that morning, and explained that we hadn’t come to an agreement on price so she just made her best guess. I grabbed my coat and hat, locked the door behind me, and went home.
30 October 2006
By the time I arrived at the hospital, Dad was gone. Really, truly, gone. Because I had been working on my skill with tracking ghosts, I was able to pick up a faint trace of him in the hallway with something…else. Something powerful. But about two doors down, the trail just ended. Wherever he went beyond that point, and for that matter wherever else the other presence went, was beyond my ability to sense.
The staff were kind and gave me a little bit of time to say goodbye, but it felt hollow knowing that he wasn’t anywhere nearby. Once they took his body away and I had no reason to be in the hospital anymore, I drove to his house and checked around. There was no sign of him there, except the normal traces left just from him living there as long as he did. I drove to Erie to check the neighborhood where he lived with Grandma and Jeremiah back in the 70s, but found no sign of him there at all. As I sat on the shore of Lake Erie and watched the sun rise, I tried to sort out anywhere else he could be.
“What’re you thinking about?” a female voice asked. I turned and saw a blue woman with runes moving around on her body standing with a man in robes that mostly hid what seemed to be armor and a hood that cast his entire face in shadow. They were clearly spirits, and I immediately recognized their mark on the Realm.
“You!” I said, jumping to my feet. “You were with my dad, last night, when he died! Is that what you are, some kind of fancy death?” I looked to the man and waved my hand up and down in his direction. “And, I guess, regular death?”
“We’re not death. We don’t normally collect the dying, but we had something to say to Henry Matteson.”
“Yeah? What was that?”
“We delivered our message to its recipient, and it was not you.” I clenched my fist and felt my teeth begin to grind, then turned around and kicked some sand before I began pacing. “You seem troubled.”
“My fucking dad died last night, and I don’t know if you know this, but the fact that I can’t find his spirit anywhere is kind of a new thing for me!”
“Well, yes, there is that. But there seems to be something else on your mind.” I turned back toward them and threw my arms out.
“Oh yeah?! You picked up on that? You must be psychic or something!”
“Well, he does remember everything most mortals remember,” she said, pointing to the robed man, “but Anchors are…tricky. Either way, you are being very obvious.”
“What’s your deal?” I asked, storming back toward them. “You don’t normally take the dead, but you decided to escort my dad wherever he’s gone to, and then you show up to fuck with me? Is this some kind of game for you?”
“No, John Matteson. It was time for you to meet us. For us to help you stay on track.”
“On track for what?”
“We cannot say.”
“We? He seems like he cannot say anything about anything,” I said, pointing at the man again. I leaned over to look closer at him, but if he had any features at all they were completely consumed by the shadow. “Do you speak?”
“He speaks quite a lot, when he has occasion to.”
“Hm. Do you two have names?”
“We have many.” I groaned and rolled my eyes.
“What should I call you?”
“That is up to you.” My fists shook in front of my face. I lowered my arms, took a few deep breaths, and then looked her in the eyes again.
“Give me something I can use here. He remembers things? Is that his whole shtick?”
“He is the memory, order, and structure of the Metaphysical Realm. I am the flow, life, and chaos of the Metaphysical Realm.”
“You—you two are in charge of the Realm?”
“Something like that.”
“Fine. Fine. King and Queen, how does that work?”
“Good! Queen, what the fuck is going on here?”
“Matteson, you are entering a very dangerous time. The forces arrayed against you are already closing in. Your father is on the Other Side, you will not find him here. And you cannot afford to be distracted by that which you cannot find.”
“And you know all that, huh? Even though dark and broody here can’t remember me?”
“He remembers you. He does not—”
“Remember what I remember, yeah, I got it.” I groaned, then dropped back down to sit in the sand. “This all important to you somehow?”
“We cannot say.” I laughed as I pulled out my cigarettes. I lit one, looked out over the water, and took a few drags as King and Queen stood waiting.
“You’re not gonna warn me about these things killing me while you’re at it?” I asked, dryly.
“That’s not how you die.” I considered that for a moment, then shrugged and took another drag. “Matteson, please—”
“Get my shit in order, yeah, I heard you. And how do you suggest I do that?”
“You must prepare to face great forces. You must learn to resist a trap laid for you. But you must decide how you do that.” I nodded, then rubbed my eyes against the growing light. When I opened them again, the spirits were gone. I looked around for a bit, then stood and dusted the sand off myself. I walked back to Alpha thinking about their words, and once I reached the car I pulled out my phone and called Rick. He was sure to be asleep, but he was a light sleeper.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice weak and confused.
“Rick, it’s Matteson.”
“Yeah, yeah, what’s up?”
“Devil’s Church. Tonight.” I hung up, took the last drag off my cigarette, and threw it aside before I climbed in and drove away.
The blog of John Matteson.