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.
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.
15 February 2006
I mostly did paperwork when I first started at Laurel, and was given my first case in late January. It was, by that time, mostly handled; I just had to connect a few last dots and hand it back, a case for a debt collector of some sort. My second case was more of a personal favor. Mark took me aside and explained that he and my dad had a mutual friend who'd started some kind of network, and occasionally Mark liked to keep an eye on it. He gave me the information he had on a Dr. Francesca Harris and a group called Mystics Anonymous, and asked me to just check on them.
His information was recent, just a few months old, and with some training on how to access some of the networks available to us, I was able to start getting some usable information. I told him I could say the group had started meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, and it looked like Dr. Harris was still there. He asked me to go to confirm, gave me access to a travel account, and the next day Alpha and I were heading southwest.
Mark warned me that he had never actually been asked by either dad, or their mutual friend, to check on this group, and wasn't entirely sure they would be fond of the work if they found out. But they had asked for help from a detective, he noted, and were just going to have to live with the consequences of that. "All the same," he said, "try not to let Harris think to ask them about it." I began to suspect this case was more of a test than anything.
I had some notes on how to find where someone was staying, even if it was just a hotel room, but thought I might as well try using my own options just to see if they would help. I arrived in town at night, and went wandering until I'd found a nexus, grabbed some chicory I'd brought along, and climbed out of Alpha. Gathering at the nexus was a small assortment of local spirits, carrying on their own conversations and gambles, and they stopped and looked toward me as I approached. I held the bundle of flowers and bag of ground root up with one hand and the picture of Harris with the other as I stopped.
"I'm sure someone here would like a bundle of good fortune," I said, with a smile, "and I might be convinced to part with it for information on this woman."
There were three places Dr. Harris frequented reliably; one was her hotel, another was a local coffeeshop, and the third was a church where she met with a group of other people every week. That weekly meeting was only two days away, so I spent my first day in town eyeing up the church and finding the best place to watch for the comings and goings of what I assumed would prove to be Mystics Anonymous.
I parked myself on a fire escape in an alley where I could see the door Harris and her group used a couple hours before the meeting, somewhere they wouldn't think to glance while entering unless they were being particularly paranoid, and waited with a camera. I brought some snacks and a book to pass the time. Right on schedule, I saw Harris arrive and unlock the door, so I zoomed in and got a couple pictures of her doing so. Shortly after, a group of three people came walking up together from the parking lot. From my angle, I couldn't see whether they'd come in one car or met there, but it didn't seem to much matter. I lifted my camera again to catch them as well, just in case, and then froze. I stared for a moment, breathing heavy, then closed my eyes and set the camera down beside me. I pulled out my phone and called Mark.
"I can confirm Harris is in Louisville, meeting with her group right now at the church I told you about," I said, as I watched Lori enter the building, "but I'm afraid that's all I can do for this case. I'll explain when I get back." Once I was sure they were inside and couldn't see me, I gathered my things, walked back to Alpha, and drove straight out of town.
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.
5 December 2005
I closed the door to the office at Laurel Detective Agency, as requested, and sat down across the desk from Mark Larmais, who was adjusting paperwork and didn't look up or speak for a solid few minutes. I waited, quietly, and tried not to make it obvious that I was glancing around at the decorations on the wall and shelves, some of which were commendations or letters of thanks for different cases he'd solved. I didn't really have time to read any of them, I was just skimming and thinking about the assortment available.
"Something seem off to you, John?" he finally asked, laying out a folder in front of himself and still not looking up as he opened it.
"You didn't solve the JonBenét Ramsey case. No one did." He laughed and finally looked at me.
"You'd be surprised how many people either don't notice or don't want to mention that one. How many ghosts are in this room?"
"Like...literal ghosts?" I asked, raising a brow.
"Uh...well, none right now. But why-"
"Right now?" I sighed.
"Yes, right now. There's a faint trail over there," I said, pointing at a small filing cabinet on the other side of the room, "but it's gotta be a day old or so by now."
"Probably Murray, the asshole," he muttered, pulling out a paper from the file. "Nice to meet you, kid. Why do you wanna work at a detective agency?"
"I like to look for things. And I hear it pays better than pizza."
"I'm sure at least one of those is true. Look, I'm gonna be straight with you. You're here because your dad and I go way back. He said you'd be good for the work, and he tends to know what he's talking about. But he also mentioned your little...thing, with spirits and shit."
"Is that a good or bad thing?"
"Depends on you. Here's the thing. Most work from private firms these days is just finding people. Occasionally it's uncovering an affair, but most of our money comes from collections agencies trying to track down someone who didn't leave a forwarding address. So don't expect it to be like the movies."
"Now as for your thing. If it's a tool that helps you finish a job, use it. That's fine. But I can't take that shit to court, so you better have used it to get me something I can. No one's really going to ask me how we found Joe Smith's new phone number, as long as we didn't break the law, so I won't ask you. But if by some turn of fate you get a murder case dropped in your lap, and you go find the victim's ghost and ask them how they died and call it a day, we're all fucked. You get useful information, got it? Weapon, witnesses, locations, anything that we can then use to build a case through conventional means." I nodded. "Good. Any questions?"
"You're just fine with this whole thing?"
"I've seen worse. You ready to start on Monday?"
"Good. Buy a tie."
17 November 2005
With my books returned and in light of recent events, I made the decision to become an expert at possession. Jackie was concerned that I was beating myself up a bit too much, but I reminded her that I can see spirits, and it shouldn't be hard to train that sense to see spirits inside people. And I can't let this happen again. Not if I can help it.
To that end, I had been reading one of my books at Pizza Joe's while I ate, and decided to take a short walk afterwards to think about what I had read before going back to Alpha in the Reyer's parking lot. I was on my way back, going down State Street toward the river, when my thoughts were interrupted by sudden silence. There seemed to be a pressure, not quite squeezing me, but almost as if it was squeezing something surrounding me. My head felt odd, almost like a headache, but not yet painful, so I stopped and rubbed my temple and looked around.
Everything was frozen in place. The cars, the birds, even an empty McDonald's cup about four feet ahead of me was just hanging perfectly still a few inches off the ground. There was no sound, no movement of any sort, just...me. I looked at the cup and took a few slow steps forward, and as soon as the cup was a little under to feet away it moved again as if carried by the wind, freezing in place less than a second later. I continued looking around for anything else that might be responding to the environment, and it was only then that I noticed the faint sound of waved lapping against something to my left. There was an alley there, which I knew to have nothing but apartment doors, the backs of a couple shops, and a pair of dumpsters. When I looked now, though, the alley faded away after about twenty feet and gave way to a series of flat, hexagon-shaped stones set into a flowing sea. A large black hound with red eyes and fur that seemed to start as hair but change to shadow as it grew away from the skin was sitting on the second stone, watching me.
"Do you talk?" I asked it. It cocked its head slightly to the side.
"I doubt you would understand," a woman's voice answered. It echoed through the alley, but seemed like it started somewhere out of sight and straight down that path.
"Try me." The hound looked back over its shoulder, as if waiting for permission, then to me.
"Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου." I knew the voice came from the hound, somehow, but it certainly didn't use its mouth to form the words.
"As long as there's no 'fishers of men' speech at the end," I answered. The hound perked up, and I sighed and walked toward it. When I stepped on the first stone, it leaned forward and nuzzled me briefly until I scratched behind its ears, then it drew back with its tail wagging, turned, and led me down the path.
We walked until I could no longer see the alley behind me, surrounded only by the water and the smell and sounds of the open sea. I had to remove my jacket and roll up my sleeves as we continued as the weather was growing warmer and I could feel, but not see, a hot sun bearing down on us. The stones were laid out like a garden path, each a little offset from the ones before and after it, and when I stopped and looked into the water I could see fish passing beneath. I continued watching for a moment, and a mermaid at least ten feet long and proportioned to match drifted into view and waved at me. I waved back, and she dove deeper, so I straightened up and continued my walk.
The path ended at an island, a few dozen yards across in any given direction, with two more paths leading off to either side and another directly opposite mine. The island was rocky, breaking the waves that lazily tried to wash over it, with a lush green field in the center and a few short trees. In their shade was a marble slab, with animal skins laid out like a rug and a woman resting on them. Her back was against a tree, and she was eating grapes and staring off into the distance as we approached. Her skin was deeply bronzed, her hair black and loose with a slow curl to it, her dress ornately woven but made of such light material that I knew it would take very little staring to see clean through it. Her arms and most of her legs were bare. I knew that I could see three versions of her, or at least three faces, but they occupied the same space and I can't imagine how to describe anything about each that was different from the others. They were there, but they made one face in practice, and that was all there was to the matter in the end.
"You keep surprising me, John Matteson," she said, finally, once I stepped over the rocks and stood in the grass. The hound continued over and laid down beside her.
"I do that." She chuckled and turned her gaze to me.
"Do you have any idea how much power it takes to offset mine, even just the little bit you managed? I stopped time itself, and you, without realizing it, pushed back just enough to stay aware."
"I suppose I could guess, if you would be so kind as to give me your name."
"I will offer to give you much, human. You do not need to play such games here."
"Forgive me if I wait to determine that for myself." She nodded, then pointed to a place on the skins. I walked over and sat down, leaning back against another tree so we could look each other in the eyes.
"You know Greek. I'm sure you know me, then, as Hekate."
"I have to admit, I expected your realm to be a bit darker."
"The Crossroads you see says more about you than about me." I hummed in understanding and set my jacket down beside me. "How much do you know about what you are?"
"I cancel magic, unless I choose not to. I see spirits, regardless of my opinion on the matter."
"It works for me."
"Does it work for everyone around you?" I glared at her and straightened my back. "I can help you, Riverborn. I know everything there is to know about Anchors, such as yourself. They are, after all, mine."
"In what way?"
"I am the goddess of the liminal places. You are a liminal being, straddling the worlds of mortals and spirits. You are a gateway, a door that closes to keep the forces of one world from impacting the other. But I know all about that doorway, and those forces, and the keys made for you."
"So what, exactly, are you offering me?"
"Power, training, information. I can show you how to unlock your full potential, how to discover everything that comes with that gift in your blood. With raw power like yours, honed properly, you could stand against gods and demand respect few mortals could even imagine. I will give you the tools to see everything, to know anything you want to know, to control the flow of magic on a global scale if you wish. And," she said, absently adjusting the bottom hem of her dress to reveal just a little more thigh, "I know how to make education fun for you mortals."
"Why now?" I asked, keeping my eyes fixed on her face. "I've been an Anchor now over two decades."
"You've proven yourself useful."
"Ah," I said, smiling, "there it is." She let go of her dress and straightened up, setting her bowl of grapes down.
"There what is?"
"Your price. Useful for what, Hekate?" She smiled.
"I would have some work for you, of course. I doubt you would object to any of it." I looked out at the water, then picked up my jacket and stood.
"I'm not looking for work at this time. Not anything that gets me wrapped up in divine nonsense."
"I understand you're dealing with a lot right now, Riverborn. Take your time. I can wait; you are still mine, after all."
"Call me Matteson," I said, slipping my jacket on. "Just like everyone else." I stepped onto the first stone and found myself immediately standing on the sidewalk on State Street. Everything was moving again, picking up right where it had left off. I zipped up my jacket, grunted against the wind, and made my way back to Alpha.
12 January 2005
I was pretty distracted when Jackie called to talk to me about Alethea. Dad had spent the last week explaining to me, on and off, who Jeremiah is, and I had spent most of my down time occupied with my own stuff or thinking about what I had been told. There was also time spent helping Dad around the house, since he was still a little sore and not yet ready to handle snow shoveling or other manual labor. I also wasn't entirely at my best at this exact moment and she seemed to pick up on my hesitation.
"Have you been working on this at all?" she asked. I was sitting on the side of my tub, having just turned off the shower I was about to climb into when the phone rang. I took a swig from the bottle of whiskey in my hand, set it down, and reached for my pack of smokes sitting on the side of the sink.
"I mean, kinda. I've had other problems, too."
"Look, I'm just saying. A guy named Matteson and his wife die under mysterious circumstances, and immediately afterward Alethea's dad goes crazy and drowns himself? This is all pretty scary stuff! What the hell do you have going on?"
"A half-spirit guy who's been murdering people since at least the 30s and has a particular distaste for my family."
"You almost got the name right," I said, then lit my cigarette.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Mostly just learning about him. But my dad had some kinda brush with death and still hasn't told me what happened or if this guy was involved."
"Is this just normal for you?"
"Not yet. But what did you have?"
"Well. Okay, see, I was possessed by Alethea, right? Because I had kinda bound myself to help her. I don't think that bond is completely gone." I groaned and grabbed the whiskey before climbing into the tub and taking another drink.
"Are your spider-senses tingling?"
"No, ass. But also no, and that's the problem. She isn't in Chicago anymore."
"How specific is this sense of yours?"
"Not very. I don't think I could pinpoint her with it, and I'm a bit fuzzy on when she even left the city. But I can tell that she isn't close anymore; and John, the point is, if she isn't here, I think she's on her way there."
"I'll be sure to watch for sex-crazed possessed women."
"This is serious!"
"Look, I don't know what you want me to do, okay? I can probably deal with her if she shows up, but I don't know shit about whatever it is you've been doing to track her. If she wants me, she'll have to come here eventually, and I'll figure that out when it comes."
"And how many people are gonna get hurt while you wait around?" I went to take another drink and found the bottle empty, so I dropped the butt of my cigarette in the bottle and set it on the floor outside the tub.
"I don't know! None, hopefully! But I can't exactly drive all over Indiana and Ohio with, I dunno, a neon sign or something telling her to come faster!"
"I just feel like you could do something."
"You have any ideas on what that would be that don't involve magic which, I would remind you, I absolutely cannot do?" I heard her pause, then sigh. "Look. I'm down to deal with this. I really am. But waiting is about all I got until I unlock some new power or find something in a book I never noticed before or get a better idea from you. Okay?"
"You promise you're serious about this? You're going to do something about it as soon as you know where she is?"
"I promise, Jackie."
"Fine. Look, I gotta start getting ready for work. Just...be safe, okay?"
"Yeah. You, too," I said, before hanging up. I dropped the phone onto the floor and laid there for a minute, before finally getting up and turning the water back on.
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.
The blog of John Matteson.