I hesitated, put out my cigarette, and leaned forward.
“Lori is…she’s this girl I met, two years ago. We dated most of that year, but it turns out she was being controlled, so Jackie and I had to break her free from that and then she promptly skipped town.” I wrung my hands for a moment, thinking about what to say next, then looked over to Alice. “Jackie told me after her trip to Chicago that she saw Hecate was behind the whole thing, but it didn’t seem like a big deal, you know?”
“No, John, I absolutely do not know,” Alice said, crossing her arms. “Maybe you should enlighten me on why I shouldn’t be concerned about a goddess manipulating people around you in some elaborate power play that she hasn’t given up on.”
“I don’t know. Maybe you should be a bit concerned, but. Look, Jackie, she’s been under Hecate’s teaching for a long time. She thinks the world of her, and primarily sees her in the context of being a source of power and information. But that’s not that big a deal! I know how to deal with spirits, I know how to deal with magic. She only has as much power in my life as I give her.”
“But that isn’t true. Did you give her power to manipulate Lori?”
“Yes, dammit!” I pounded my fist on my knee and Alice jumped. We both sat silent for a moment as I rubbed my face. “I didn’t stop it. I didn’t see. I should have seen she was possessed, I know how to do that now, but I didn’t ever think to do it then. I left an opening in my knowledge and she used it.” I leaned back and lit a cigarette. “I failed her, Alice. I failed her, and I played along with what Alethea was doing to her, and I didn’t do anything to help her until it was already so bad. So much worse than it ever should have been.”
“Who’s Alethea?” she asked, softly. “What happened?”
“Alethea was a ghost. She died while she was pregnant and she was obsessive about bringing that baby to term. That was her goal with Lori, to use a body to produce a child. And when…” I hesitated again, took a few more drags, and felt a few tears on my cheeks. “When she lost the baby,” I said, quietly, “she snapped. Tried to kill me. Her grip on Lori weakened and that was when I learned she was there.”
“Oh my God.”
“I’m never letting it happen again. I promise, I learned from what happened. I learned how to never let it happen again. And now that I know Hecate was behind it…I don’t care what she wants from me, Alice.” I turned to face her. “I will never let her have it. I don’t care what she is, I don’t care what I have to do to stop her. No one does that and gets what they want from me out of it.”
“Is this why Jackie is so afraid of her trying to contact you?”
“It’s a lot harder for Jackie to stand against her than it is for me.”
Neither of us said anything for a long while, and then she got up and went downstairs. I waited, because I didn’t know what she was doing, for about a half hour.
18 March 2007
By the time Alice woke me, she was fully dressed and had breakfast from Dunkin sitting on my nightstand. She was sitting next to me, drinking her coffee, and poking me until I rolled over.
“What time is it?” I muttered. She looked over at the clock on my dresser.
“Almost noon,” she said. I groaned and pulled myself up to sit against the wall, and she handed me a chai and a bag. “Today is a workout day for you, right?”
“Uh, yeah, why?”
“I want to try something. Tell me, have you ever worked out with someone else? Like at a gym or something?”
“Jackie has hung out and chatted while I was lifting,” I answered, fishing out some hashbrowns from the bag.
“No, I mean, where they were also working out and you could tell how much weight they were lifting. Have you ever spotted someone?”
“Oh. No. Why, you want to get in on it?”
“No, I was just wondering if you had a frame of reference for what people your size and weight generally can lift.”
“I’ve never thought about it.”
“I have!” She hopped off the bed, set the coffee down, and rested her hands on her hips. “You know those tables you moved in the Hudson library normally take two men with some equipment to lift and move?” I shook my head. “I have a theory about this, but I need actual numbers.”
“And that means you need to monitor my workout routine?”
“Not just your workout routine. I need you to push yourself. I need your actual limits. You think you’re up for that today?”
“I’m not up for much of anything until I’ve eaten this sandwich.”
“You and I both know that’s not true,” she said with a wry smile. I chuckled.
“Okay, well. I’m not up for anything outside of this bed until I’ve had my breakfast.” She sat back down and grabbed a second bag, from which she produced another sandwich for herself.
“That’s fine. When you’re ready, we’ll head downstairs. I already have a clipboard with my notes on it waiting there.”
“How long have you been up?”
“Just eat your food.”
It was the weirdest workout I’ve ever had. Dad had, of course, been present when he was teaching me how to do it, and Alice herself sometimes hung around and occasionally her and Jackie would trade commentary, but this was the first time anyone actively checked every single thing I did and checked my heart rate between things and wrote stuff down and sometimes made thoughtful noises without telling me what the hell she was doing. Jackie found the whole thing fascinating, and made a point to hang around and occasionally look over Alice’s shoulder and whisper something to her, which sometimes elicited another thoughtful noise from Alice and more notes. It was, frankly, hard to concentrate with all that going on. I did what she asked, and pushed myself on certain exercises to see where my limit was, and when I was finally done she told me she needed to check and finalize her notes while I got a shower and we could talk afterward. So I went to do that, and when I was done she and Jackie were sitting in the living room waiting for me.
“So,” I said, sitting down and lighting a smoke, “what’s the verdict?”
“Okay, so first off, you lift way more than you should be able to,” Alice said. “I mean, okay, so this isn’t my specialty within biology, but I’ve been looking up numbers for comparison. And there are different classes of ability one can have in weightlifting, so I’m using the ‘advanced’ numbers for you since you’ve been at this for a while.”
“Uh huh. And?”
“And you’re generally lifting much higher weights than those numbers! Your normal routine is almost twice as heavy as the standard for an advanced weightlifter of your size, and your limits are similar.”
“This was all related to a theory, I thought you said.”
“Yes! Okay, so I don’t know if I can account for it physically. I’d have to do a whole battery of tests to be certain about that, but your muscles aren’t more defined and don’t seem more dense than someone with more standard numbers.”
“What are you basing that on?”
“I know what your body feels like, dear. But the point is, and I’d have to check some other factors to be certain, but I was talking to Jackie about the ontological gap, and I think what’s happening is that your spiritual aspect is so closely infused with your physical aspect that it grants you additional physical power. I’d like to compare these numbers to Benedict some time, since he should have more of his spiritual nature infused into his physical nature—”
“Well, no. I don’t know if Akshainie follows the same rules. She’s a naga, her physical form is generated by her own magic, so it wouldn’t necessarily follow the same biological structures, you know?”
“Okay well I don’t think her results would help me understand the matter more because she’s fundamentally not human, even when she looks human.”
“Well!” Jackie said, slapping her knees and then standing. “It’s about time for me to head to work. You two have fun! I’d love to hear more about this when you have more data!” And then she was gone, and Alice was putting her notes aside.
“So what now?”
“Oh, nothing,” Alice said. “I’ll have to determine my testing parameters and what specifically I need to do to see if my theory is correct, which I’m not going to do now.”
“Oh, alright. You wanna go out or something, then?”
“No.” She leaned back, crossed her legs, and rested her hands on her knee. “I want you to tell me about Lori and Hecate.”
The blog of John Matteson.