10 December 2006
Rick was finishing a smoke and talking on his phone when he came in the door, and gave us a half wave and nod when Jackie and I glanced over at him. We turned our attention back to the movie while he chatted about something to do with work on his way to the kitchen, and by the time he returned with a can of pop and sat next to Jackie on the couch the phone was back in his pocket. She leaned over and he put his arm around her as she grabbed his smoke and took a drag.
“How was Pittsburgh?” I asked.
“Pretty good. That’s actually what I came over to talk to you about.” He turned to Jackie and said to her, “We were all pretty disappointed you couldn’t be there.”
“You wanted to talk to me about being disappointed Jackie was at work?”
“No, no,” he said, accepting his cigarette back and taking one last drag before snuffing it out in the ashtray. “She’s got a ghost problem.”
“Is that why they were disappointed I wasn’t there?” Jackie asked, pinching him. He yelped a little.
“Alice just wanted to meet you, I’m sure.”
“What kind of ghost problem?” I asked.
“A ‘they scream in the night and she thought someone was breaking in’ ghost problem.”
“Did that happen while you were there?” He nodded. “Wasn’t Mandy with you?”
“Bet she loved that.”
“Didn’t sleep a wink.” I grabbed the remote and paused the movie, then turned to face him.
“Alright. What’re we doing?”
“Well, actually, it’s mostly just you. She wants to hire you.” I raised a brow.
“For…ghost, stuff, I guess! She said if you can do something about the ghosts she best pay you for it.”
“Professional services are usually paid work,” Jackie said. “Really, this shouldn’t be a radical idea for you.”
“I’m not some kind of supernatural plumber,” I said, sitting back. “Guess I never thought of it that way, anyway.”
“Well, whatever, but her family has money so it isn’t like it would inconvenience her at all,” he said. “Will you just call her? She’s a good friend and needs help here.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll call her.” I tossed him my phone, which Jackie caught and handed him. “Just put her number in there.”
“It’ll be under Alice,” he said, tapping away.
“Could you include a last name, just in case? I like to have whole names in my phone.”
“Fine. It’ll be under Alice Templeton.” I nodded and turned the movie back on.
23 November 2006
I decided to host Thanksgiving this year, with Jackie’s help. We worked hard on it this morning, with no idea who was showing up from the list of people we’d reached out to. I knew most of them would probably have to spend the day with their families, but I couldn’t bear to do it alone. So we invited basically everyone, and cooked as though they were all coming, but didn’t know what would actually come of it.
It was actually a really good turnout. Everyone from the band, except Tony, came by. Rick and Charles and Bob, and probably about a third of the theatre troop, and a couple people from work rounded off the gathering. We had a lot of fun, played some music, ate good food (probably about half the people who showed up brought something with them), and Charles dug out some board games and those of us that remained had a few rounds of those after dinner. It was late when we wrapped up, and Rick stayed over with Jackie while Bob and Charles crashed on the couch.
It was a good day, probably the best I’d had this month.
It took me a moment longer to recover before Bob was able to help me to my feet. As my senses returned to normal, I dusted myself off and looked in the direction that Rick and Charles were busy debating about in hushed tones. Somewhere in the distance, barely visible through the trees and faint enough we’d have never seen it with the flashlights on, was a distant point with a reddish glow. I groaned and rubbed my head as we all looked at it.
“What do you think it is?” Rick asked, turning to me. Now that I had a moment to look them over, I realized how bloody and torn up we all were. Charles was holding his arm, and Bob went over to see if he was okay. Everyone was tense; it seemed like they remembered everything they had said and done. I took a deep breath and looked back toward the light.
“It’s new,” I said, “and that means it may just be worth checking out.” I turned and looked each man in the eyes in turn. “You guys with me on that?” Everyone agreed, Rick picked up the now blown-out flashlight, and we made for the red light.
We had walked for probably a half hour or so, at our best guess, when we came across a new line of jaggerbushes. By that point, I was sick of dealing with all of it, and not about to risk being redirected again. I found a branch with some weight to it, and dove into the bushes, smashing and stomping them down enough that we could scramble through to the other side. From then on, everything was a blur. I remember finding more bushes, and more, and swinging and stomping and climbing. I remember the red light never leaving my vision, always moving forward, refusing to shift even a little to one side or the other. I was lost in the movement, the destruction, the screaming as I took out every bit of rage and pain and loss on the thorns, the blood as they bit me back in the process. I remember trudging through what felt like a mountain of them, the sound of the branch breaking little by little, the way my friends’ voices grew more hushed and distant as I threw myself into the work of tearing every obstacle down, eventually dropping what little was left of the stick to grab and shove and tear and snap the bushes by hand. I don’t know how much time passed. I don’t know how mad I looked. I don’t know how I endured all the stabs and cuts. The next thing I remember with anything approaching clarity was storming through what little remained of a bush and falling down a short hill, crashing right into a fence.
I stood and looked around, taking a moment to get my bearings and refocus, as the others carefully made their way down the hill toward me. The moon was not directly overhead, and when I found it it was only half full. The woods loomed menacingly over us at the top of the small rise, but ahead was a ten-foot-tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire, with a shorter fence inside, and then a large field housing a barn. I don’t remember if we talked about what to do next, but I do remember climbing that fence. I felt the wire cut at me, but I pressed on, and by the time I had made my way past the inner fence I was starting to come down and stood catching my breath until the others caught up to me. We walked across the field, noticing that the tall and dangerous fence didn’t continue to the sides facing away from the forest. At this point, we didn’t feel the need to walk straight toward the light anymore, so we picked a part of the field away from the house to make our exit and scurry down to the road. We followed the sound of traffic back to 18, and when we got there made sure to glance over to find out what light had led us to safety.
It was the neon sign for Headliner’s, the strip club Mitch had wanted to go to instead of the Devil’s Church.
We made a note to tell him about it, then turned away to walk back to Alpha. It started to lightly rain, and we all started to walk a little lighter and a little more confidently as the water started rinsing some of the blood off of us. We noticed a road we had to cross on the way back, and recognized that it runs far enough up that we must have crossed it at some point in the woods, but decided not to dwell on it. By the time we got back to Alpha, we were all soaked, all of the wet blood washed away and most of the dried stuff starting to fade. We climbed into our seats and rested in silence for a minute, before lighting cigarettes and turning on the engine. The clock on the stereo kicked on, and we realized we had only been gone for forty minutes. I put the car in reverse, then sat for a moment with my foot on the brakes, then put it back into park.
“Look,” I said, “about tonight.”
“You were a madman out there at the end, man,” Rick said. “It was kind of impressive. I mean, I know we wanted out, but like. What got into you?” I sighed.
“My dad died last night.” I heard someone in the back take in a deep breath. “I…I couldn’t find his ghost, and then some spirits showed up and told me he had crossed over and that I needed to focus because big things were coming, and I was so mad and felt like I needed to step up and remembered this place and…I’m sorry, guys. I really am.” They took turns trying to convince me it was okay, and they understood, and then we pulled out and went to Denny’s. No one ever asks why you’re bleeding at Denny’s.
I stood still for a moment, trying to fight the intense desire to move forward. The voice was still trying to whisper in my ear, along with a discordant stream of other voices, but I was so absorbed in the moment that I could barely even make out what any of them said. I tried to push it aside, to silence the call of whatever waited in that field, but it was getting difficult until I noticed a figure move beside me. When I turned to look I saw Bob, his eyes wide and fixed somewhere in the distance, slowly moving to walk past me. I grabbed him and looked back, to see Rick and Charles in a daze but not moving. Was it not calling them? Was it calling Bob? He was still trying to get past me. I knew it wasn’t safe in there, that this was a mistake, that we weren’t ready to face whatever this was. I used both hands now to hold onto Bob, who now couldn’t move but was still trying.
“Guys, we need to go!” I cried out. No one answered. Rick furrowed his brow as if trying to understand, but Charles didn’t react at all. Bob was still trying to press forward.
“It’s too late,” the voice said, “they’re already mine.”
“Such weak things. But I’ll have fun with you, my little fighter.”
“No.” I pushed Bob back, sending him crashing into Rick and Charles, all landing in a heap on the ground. They slowly started trying to get up. I caught my breath and realized I was standing in the clearing, just at the very edge of it. When had I moved backward?
“We’re waiting for you, Jonathan Peter Matteson.” I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists, but found I was smiling despite myself. Did it really think I would fall for that?
“That’s not my name.”
“Don’t play games with me. As if we don’t know who you are.”
“That’s not my true name.” A pause. It didn’t know what to do with that. “Run!” I screamed as I stepped forward.
“They can’t hear you now, Jona-”
“Get back!” As I shouted the last word I felt the atmosphere change around me. The voices fell silent, the call to dive deeper into the Devil’s Church broke, the guys suddenly looked clear and alert and a swath of jaggerbushes behind them fell into heaps of thorns and wood. “We’re going!” I said before breaking into a sprint. The others scrambled to their feet and joined me, jumping over the pile and tearing into the woods.
We didn’t know which way we were going, and we didn’t care. As long as it was away, as long as it was somewhere outside of these woods. But whatever I did wasn’t permanent, and soon the draw back to the clearing was pulling at me again and jaggerbushes were starting to get in our way. The chorus of voices was back. We would try to dodge them, to get around, sometimes just barely skirting by while the thorns ripped at our arms or the edges of our clothes. I ran until my lungs burned, until my throat was dry, until my legs screamed for rest. And when I shoved through a wall of underbrush, I found myself staring at the clearing, directly opposite the two pines with the threatening moon. Charles collapsed behind me, gasping for air. Rick was bent over, his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Bob, probably in the best shape of all of us, was leaning against a tree.
“No, it can’t be,” Bob said, looking past me to the clearing. “We were running away from it!”
“Not well enough, it seems,” I answered. I turned back and walked toward the others, recovering mere feet from a new line of thorns. We each took swigs from our drinks, Rick helped Charles up, and we walked toward the jaggerbushes.
“Can you open them up again?” Rick asked.
“I don’t know how I did it the first time.”
“Well, we can try this,” Bob said. We all turned toward him, Rick and Charles fixing their flashlights on a large stone Bob was resting his hand on. It was taller than the bushes, and they weren’t growing on it. No one agreed out loud, but we all made our way over and began scrambling up its rounded side until we could drop down on the other. With a line of jaggerbushes between us and the clearing, we pressed forward.
“You can’t run forever,” one voice taunted above the din of the others.
“Is there someone here?” Charles asked. “I mean, I don’t want to freak anyone else out, but I keep hearing voices, and Matteson is supposed to see spirits, and…” He trailed off, and I sighed.
“I’m hearing voices, too, but I don’t see anyone here. I don’t know how they’re doing it.” Rick and Bob confirmed they were also hearing things, and we huddled together to make a plan. It wasn’t much of a plan; basically we just agreed to keep moving away from the clearing until we found some way to get somewhere else. We pressed on.
It felt like another hour of walking before we found ourselves at the clearing again, in the exact same spot, staring at that moon between the twin pines. The stone was gone, but we found a slight passage between trees to escape. It was maybe fifteen minutes before we were at the clearing again. After that we stopped trying to track the time as we found ourselves at the clearing another six times. We were on our way away from it again when we stumbled on a patch of ground maybe ten feet across with just pine needles and mushrooms on it. We stopped there to take stock. We had all finished our drinks. We were tired, and sore, and bleeding through tears in our clothes from all the encounters with thorns. Everyone sat down, leaning back against one of the trees surrounding our little patch of peace, and the only sound for a few minutes was our heavy breathing and the endless stream of incomprehensible voices.
“Are we going to die here?” Bob asked. I shook my head. “Well how can you know?”
“We can’t believe that,” I told him. “We can’t let ourselves believe that.”
“I’m sick of this shit from you!” Charles yelled, throwing the flashlight at me. It missed and broke against the trunk of the tree above me. I tried to shield myself from the bits of broken plastic and glass, but still managed to have one of the batteries hit me square on the top of my head. He stood, pointing angrily at me. “What the fuck is this all about, huh? You never did tell us! Just suddenly up and decided we needed to go to the one place we all agreed wasn’t worth the effort?”
“Charles, look,” I said, standing. It was hard to see his expression in the dim light, but he seemed to be looking past me.
“What the fuck, man!” Rick exclaimed, jumping up. “We don’t have very many of those flashlights, you know!”
“Fuck you!” Charles yelled, turning on Rick and pushing him away. “Fuck you for dragging me out here, and fuck you,” he said, pointing to Bob, “for going along with this bullshit!”
“Don’t you snap at me, you coward!” Bob yelled as he stood. The ambient voices in the forest changed their tone, bickering and leering and laughing in their terrible cacophony.
“Don’t you touch me!” Rick swung at Charles, who barely dodged. Charles threw himself forward, tackling Rick into a jaggerbush and sending the lone remaining flashlight rolling along the ground. Bob followed, screaming accusations at Charles for having no spine and Rick for convincing both of them to come along. I went to step in, but they were all soon tearing at each other, rolling around in the thorns that bit deeply into them. I grabbed my head as the voices grew louder, demanding my attention, urging me to do something, to take charge, to end this madness by beating them all down.
“Or,” the whisper of that first voice cut through all the noise, “you could give yourself to me, and I’ll free them.” I fell to my knees as the noise grew louder, throbbing in my head, giving me a headache so bad that my vision was beginning to blur.
“None of us,” I muttered, punching the ground. “You get no one tonight.”
“I will have my tithe.” I pounded my fist into the ground again as I tried to push the voices away.
“You get nothing. Not tonight.” I heard one of the guys scream in pain, but distantly, as if through a tunnel.
“Three mortals, or one Anchor.” I pressed my forehead against the ground. My entire body was beginning to feel hot. I felt my hand hit the ground again, and then again.
“Nothing!” I screamed. I sat up and stared ahead, resting my fists against the ground. “You get nothing!” I could feel pressure build around me, as if something was trying to push back, but then the heat felt like it exploded off of me. What remained of the jaggerbushes collapsed. The guys grabbed their heads and screamed. The moon flickered and the trees shifted, ever so slightly, for just a moment. The voices all stopped. The bulb in the flashlight popped and went dark. I gasped for air and fell onto my side, my vision blurry and my ears ringing. I could see the vague shapes of the others, rolling up to sitting positions and then slowly, carefully, climbing to their feet and out of the pile of thorns. One of them limped over to me, and I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Guys?” I heard Charles say as sound from outside began to filter back into my ears. “what’s that?”
By the time I pulled into the graveyard, it had been about 22 hours since I got the call from the hospital, and I had only had a half hour of sleep in that window. I spent my entire day focused on finding any trace I could of Dad, or researching what I could about King and Queen (which was not much), or trying to focus on controlling my ability more carefully. Before Jackie left for work she expressed concern about me, and offered to call out if I needed anything, but she wasn’t willing to do it to come to the Devil’s Church. It was very apparent that she felt this was a poor use of my time and that I should be home dealing with my emotions and probably sleeping. She would have gladly helped me with that; but not with this.
When I arrived at Rick’s to pick him up, Charles and Bob were with him. Charles was hesitant to actually go along to the Devil’s Church, but Bob and Rick had convinced him shortly before I arrived. I don’t know if they knew about my dad. Maybe Jackie had told Rick, or maybe one of them heard some other way, or maybe they had no idea. I know I didn’t tell them, but in retrospect it really seems like Charles would not have agreed if he didn’t at least suspect it was a favor of some sort. We made a point to bring flashlights this time, to help ease his concerns and because the half moon out that night wouldn’t give near enough light. He also brought along a cheap machete, but somewhere along the half hour drive he apparently forgot it. When we emerged from Alpha, we only had two flashlights, our cigarettes and lighters, and each of us had a drink in hand.
There was a path leading off of the graveyard and along the edge of the woods, which had clearly been made by cars but was not used often enough to avoid grass from growing in it. We decided to take that path and watch for an opening in the trees to enter instead of plunging straight in, and went probably forty feet or so down that way before finding a place that seemed easier to enter. It was dark, but the trees were farther apart here than in other places and the grass was short, and the ground looked pretty even. It seemed about the best place we would find to start, so we took it. We walked in, past the first half dozen trees or so, before Charles remembered that he’d left his machete and asked if we could go back for it. We agreed it was probably worth it to turn back while we were still so close to the entrance. We turned around to leave and found the path back completely blocked by thick jaggerbushes five or six feet tall.
“That…was the way we just came from, right?” Charles asked. We all confirmed it was. We slowly turned to look in every other direction to find more of those bushes, their thorns long and woody and threatening, on every side except the one that led deeper into the forest. We all agreed that the machete would, indeed, have been a good choice, but it was clearly too late for that now. We pressed on.
We soon found ourselves facing a thick section of the woods and, deeming it better than the bushes that seemed to keep popping up just outside our field of vision, we spent a good half hour stumbling over roots and dodging branches and squeezing between trunks. When we finally emerged into a somewhat more sparse region, we paused to light cigarettes and take drinks. It was then that Bob looked up and paused.
“Hey guys, you see that?” he asked, pointing. We turned and looked up and realized he was pointing at the full moon.
“Yeah,” Rick said, “it’s the moon.”
“It wasn’t full when we came in,” I said.
“That’s what I thought! And it shouldn’t be that high yet either, right?” Bob was getting excited. I had to remember that this was all new to him.
“What does that mean?” Charles asked.
“It means,” I said, shoving my drink back into my jacket pocket, “we should probably keep an eye on it.” I didn’t mention the call I was still sensing. I was trying to ignore it, but it had been growing stronger ever since we entered the woods and I knew whatever it was, we were getting closer. I knew I needed to face it, but I was growing less convinced that I was really ready to do that. Two large black birds took to flight over us and vanished into the trees. Charles jumped when they did, and Bob began talking softly to him. I didn’t hear what he said, but I recognized the look Charles has when someone is trying to calm him down and he’s considering whether or not to try it.
“What was that?” Rick asked, shining a flashlight in the direction they’d gone.
“Probably just ravens,” I said, finishing my cigarette and smashing the butt to death with my shoe. “This is more their territory than ours.” He hummed in agreement, and Charles and Bob walked the few feet back over to us.
“Where do we go from here?” Bob asked.
“Not the way we came,” Rick answered. “I ain’t doing that shit again if I can help it.”
“If the trees would even let us anyway,” Charles muttered, looking around with the other flashlight. I looked deeper into the woods, the direction I knew something wanted to pull me. Then I looked left of that and saw a line of jaggerbushes. I turned to look to the right, and saw a clearing. There was more dark forest, and it wasn’t exactly the way the forest wanted us to go. But it was open.
“That way,” I said.
“Why that way?” Rick asked.
“I feel better about it.” With that I started walking again, and the others followed. It’s not like anyone else had any better ideas.
We went along for maybe five minutes before we found jaggerbushes blocking our path. We turned back, but that was blocked, too. The only way ahead was to go deeper into the forest. Closer to the source. Something, or someone, was drawing us in. I suspected that wherever we were being led would have the church itself waiting.
“What’d you say?” Bob asked. We all stopped.
“What?” I asked.
“Someone, I don’t know which one of you, said something, but I must not have been paying attention because I missed most of it.”
“No one said anything,” Rick offered. “Are you sure you heard us say something?”
“Well…I mean, I assumed it was you, right? No one else is here.” Rick and Charles did a sweep with the flashlights but saw only trees and thorns.
“Seems that way.”
“Okay,” Bob said softly, and we continued a bit more slowly.
“Have you come to join us, John?” a female voice whispered in my ear. I spun around, expecting to see a spirit, but only the guys were there.
“You alright?” Rick asked.
“I think I know what Bob heard,” I answered.
“Oh, was it a bird or something?” Charles asked hopefully.
“No. It is definitely not a bird. Be careful, everyone.” Charles moved closer to Bob, and Rick suggested that we avoid silence to see if that would help. We all agreed, but I wasn’t much in the mood for it, so the three of them began telling stories and jokes as we progressed. I checked the sky again, and the moon was still full directly overhead.
“They don’t understand, do they?” the voice in my ear returned. I ignored it and kept walking. “It’s all a game to them. But this is so much bigger than they realize. Your fate lies ahead. Are you man enough to claim it?” I slipped between two large trees trying to avoid two more lines of jaggerbushes and stopped. Ahead of me was a few feet of tall grass, and then a large clearing. It was oddly shaped, clearly defined by the trees rather than people. On the opposite side of the clearing were two massive pine trees, jutting up above the canopy around them, and perfectly framing the full moon which had a moment ago been above us. It glared down on us like the eye of a cold god, and the sensation I couldn’t shake of something pulling me forward felt almost irresistible here. This was it. This was the heart of the site, the place where the earth swallowed the Devil’s Church, the core of whatever power was calling to me. According to the voice, my fate waited in that clearing.
I knew, somewhere deep down, that I wasn’t ready for it yet.
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.
26 October 2006
Dad had been admitted into the hospital, and we were fairly sure he wasn’t going to come out alive. I tried to stay with him, but he insisted that I needed to get out sometimes, give him a little space and take some time to myself. I fought, at first, but once he made his wishes known to the nurses there wasn’t much of a choice left for me.
Rick decided that I needed something interesting to occupy my time, and managed to convince Charles and Jackie to join us on a little adventure. I told him I wasn’t up for it, but he already had everyone ready, and I had little strength to fight him on it, so I quickly found myself riding shotgun in my own car as Rick took us to his surprise.
Charles realized where we were going before I did, as my mind had started to wander somewhere along 18. I snapped out of it after he told Jackie and she demanded to know if he was right.
“What exactly is this Devil’s Church, anyway?” she asked after Rick sighed and confirmed that as our destination.
“It’s a local legend, is all,” he answered, waving it off as he took the left turn off the freeway.
“About an evil site that was consumed by the earth itself and now curses anyone who approaches!” Charles was getting frantic, and Jackie reached over to calm him.
“I don’t know if ‘curses’ is the right word,” I said, sitting up and looking around, “but the stories do not describe it as a particularly safe or friendly place.”
“This is your idea of getting Matteson’s mind off of things?!” Jackie demanded. Rick winced.
“Well, I mean, he did, you know, want to visit it, right?” Rick muddled through the question, and I sighed and leaned my head back against the seat.
“I did express some interest in seeing if there was anything really here, yes.” I turned to look at Jackie. “We tried to go, once. It didn’t work out.”
“Karen backed out,” Charles said. “Violently. I bet Rick’s balls still ache at the memory of it. It’s surprising he wanted to do this at all.” Rick pulled into the graveyard and parked, then turned and looked around at all of us.
“Look,” he said, “this is one of the greatest mysteries around here, and if anything is gonna shake things up, it’s gonna be the Devil’s Church. It feels…” he turned and looked out the windshield at the trees illuminated by Alpha’s headlights, “important.” Jackie sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“Fine,” she said, firmly. “Just don’t pull something like this again, okay?” He nodded and turned the engine off, tossing the keys into my lap before he climbed out into the night. By the time I emerged, Rick had turned on a flashlight and Charles was hanging close to him, probably to avoid getting too far from the light, and they had begun looking at headstones. I felt a hand on my arm, and turned to find Jackie trying to offer a comforting smile. “Do you want to talk about it?” I took a deep breath and looked back to the guys.
“Not here,” I said, softly. “Not now.” She nodded and pulled her jacket tight around herself.
“Do you feel it?”
“No.” I opened my mouth to answer, then closed it again and nodded. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I sensed it last time, too. Karen picked up on it, somehow, and that’s why she refused to go any further.”
“Is Karen a witch or something?” I shrugged.
“She’s never mentioned it to me.”
“Interesting. Did anyone else sense it?”
“They didn’t seem to.”
“You guys coming?” Rick called, turning the flashlight on us. We each shielded our eyes.
“Not with that light in our faces!” I answered. Jackie chuckled as Rick lowered the light. I closed the door and we started to move forward. Rick was telling Charles a story, probably about the site, but I wasn’t really listening. The forest seemed to be calling me. I found myself drawn forward, just like I had last time. Something in there wanted me, personally, to go deeper. I was pretty sure I didn’t trust whatever that was, but I couldn’t shake the desire to at least find out what it wanted. Jackie wrapped her arm around mine, a move that at first seemed to be an attempt to offer emotional support; but soon, I could feel her begin to tense and hold tighter as we approached the woods. We were maybe five feet from the tree line when she stopped dead in her tracks. I stopped, and when I turned I saw her face was going pale.
“Rick,” she hissed. He stopped and looked to us again. He and Charles were right at the edge of the field. “I think we should go.”
“Oh, come on! Not you, too!” he whined, his shoulders dropping before he threw his arms out wide. “This is your thing!”
“My thing,” she said, sternly, “involves a lot of recognizing what is and is not okay to dabble in. And this,” she said, waving her free hand at the trees, “is not something to dabble in!”
“Why not? What’s going on?”
“There’s something in there,” I said. “Something powerful.”
“Okay, but we’ve faced a crazy cult summoning some kind of god! We’ve seen powerful things, man!”
“Not like this.”
“And more importantly,” Jackie said, “we had taken some precautions before, which we haven’t taken tonight because you didn’t tell us what we were dealing with.”
“Well, okay, but-” Rick began. Jackie interrupted him.
“AND, it bears noting, that Matteson is probably our best defense if we get into real trouble, and I suspect his power is at least a little bit tied to emotion, and he is not emotionally prepared for this right now!”
“Well-” I started.
“We’re right here!” Rick was getting frustrated. “I could literally turn around and put my hand into the woods, and now we’re backing off again? Because of some…thing you guys say you’re sensing?”
“It’s a pretty good reason!” Jackie answered.
“And what, you’re just assuming Matteson’s broke or something? Because of his dad? We already knew his dad was dying, Jackie, that’s why we’re fucking here!” Charles took in a sharp breath at that, and I shrugged Jackie off and walked back to Alpha. I sat down in the driver’s seat and lit a cigarette, ashing out the open door as I stared blankly at the instrument panel. I was about halfway through it when the other doors opened. Jackie slipped into the passenger seat, followed by Rick and Charles climbing into the back.
“Sorry,” Rick muttered. I nodded, closed my door, and started the engine.
“Denny’s?” I asked. I got a round of soft agreements, decided that was good enough, and we left.
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.
The blog of John Matteson.