21 December 2006
We had done some more coordinating by text the next couple days, with Jackie commenting by Tuesday that she’d never seen me look at my phone so much. Alice told me it wasn’t a formal affair, but it was a classy one, so I made sure to wear a nice suit and give it a go with the iron before I headed out. There was a quick stop at a car wash to make sure Alpha was as nice as it gets, and then I picked Alice up at about 5. It took me a moment to compose myself and talk to her once I saw the dress she was wearing. I suddenly felt concerned that I was underdressed, but she insisted that I looked good and we left. Besides, there wasn’t much to do about it now, my closet was two hours away and the party was not.
We arrived at the college, with Alice directing me the whole way, about a half hour later. She seemed surprised I didn’t have a GPS, and I informed her that Alpha was bought out of a field and I’d only had enough money so far to get it running. Besides, I told her, I was way more interested in getting body work and some mechanical stuff done to it than adding new gadgets. She asked about some of the stuff I wanted to do with it, and I told her a couple things I knew were wrong and how I’d like to repaint it and stuff. I didn’t mention that the speedometer is screwy. I’ve found that bit of information is usually best taken while Alpha isn’t moving.
The party was probably the most swanky affair I’ve been to in recent memory. There was a proper punch bowl and everything. I met a number of her friends from class, and we danced some, and there was a whole door prize thing that we didn’t win, and they served one of those dinners where you just picked between chicken, beef, or fish and then they brought you whatever that meant. I picked beef. She picked chicken. We ended up trading.
I slipped out to a balcony for a smoke while she was off talking to some friends, and chatted with a couple other people out there smoking until they went inside. I was looking out toward the rivers and leaning on the railing when I saw Alice lean on the railing next to me.
“Those will kill you, you know,” she said.
“Nah, they won’t.”
“Why do you say that?”
“King and Queen told me that’s not how I die.” She turned and looked out toward the rivers with me.
“You really never get away from it, do you?”
“Away from what?”
“Do you ever wish you could?” I thought about that for a moment.
“It would probably be nice to turn it off, once in a while, I guess. But I don’t think I’d even know what to do if I pulled that off at this point. Would you turn off your ability to see in color, if you could?” She thought about that for a moment.
“Colors don’t almost burn my house down,” she said, jokingly, with a jab at my ribs. I chuckled.
“No, I suppose not.” We stared out at the night while I finished the cigarette.
“Why did you ask some spirits how you’ll die?”
“I didn’t. I was smoking and they were getting lippy and I asked if they were going to tell me the smokes would kill me and they said that that’s not how I die.”
“Is it because you quit before that happens?”
“I…didn’t think to ask that.”
“Well,” she said, turning me around and hooking her arm in mine, “maybe you should give it a shot.” I told her I’d consider it as we made our way back inside.
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the places to stumble upon on my very first case as some kind of professional paranormal investigator, it had to be the house where Joanna and Aaboukingon lived. Well, not the exact house. That specific house didn’t really survive this next few moments.
“We need to follow them,” I said, as the spectral man lifted his wife into his arms and made for the door.
“Why?” Alice asked, but she didn’t hesitate to move as soon as I started walking.
“Because the house where this happened burned down.”
“It’s not going to burn my house down, is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. But it definitely won’t if we get outside.” We went through the front door and down the stairs from the porch while the echoes we followed stayed at the level of the floor, finally reaching their own front door and doing the same.
“Why would that matter? What did you do?”
“I…well, I changed the rules a bit.”
“Look, it’s not easy to explain, but…just follow them, I think if we let the memory play out it’ll be easier to make it stop repeating.” The man stopped and fell to his knees, crying out to Joanna, until two ravens—one who looked normal, if a bit large, and the other glowing faintly blue—flew down and began talking to him, though for some reason I couldn’t quite make out their voices or words. Alice’s jaw fell open as they talked, and then the ravens were flying again and the man followed and we followed him. We made our way back to a creek in the trees behind Alice’s house, where Aaboukingon called the water up and onto Joanna and healed her wounds. The ravens, at this point, seemed to be looking right at us, and I found myself for the first time in a very long time deeply disturbed by the notion that what we were seeing might be able to see us. Having healed Joanna, Aaboukingon collapsed. Joanna screamed, grabbed him, and started to drag him away before the vision suddenly ended. Alice had her hands wrapped around my arm and was pressing in close to me, and we stood there in silence for a few minutes.
“Okay,” she finally said, between deep breaths. “Now. I think you owe me one hell of an explanation.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay. Let me just clean this up first.” She exhaled hard and finally let go of me, adjusted her shawl, and then stood bolt upright.
“I will be in the house. Where it’s warm.” With that, she was gone, and I began trying to reverse what I had done to make the echoes more visible. As I did so, I realized the ravens were still there.
“Do you need help?” the blue one asked.
“You don’t happen to be that King and Queen, do you?”
“We are.” I groaned and paced around in a circle.
“What’s your deal, exactly?”
“It’s not time to answer that question.”
“Fine. Then what are you offering?”
“You’re trying to stop this echo from repeating, yes?” I nodded. “Then we can help you do that.”
“Yeah? How’re you gonna do that?” The blue raven flew closer, suddenly becoming the woman from the beach and floating just above the snow in front of me. She reached out and touched my forehead.
“Let me show you. I cannot affect an Anchor without permission.”
“Oh, the great and mighty King and Queen, don’t have purview over me?”
“It is complicated. Just, let me in.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to drop my guard as much as I could. Finally, there was just new information, suddenly there, in my head. I knew exactly how to make the echoes stop. I snapped my eyes open, and both of them were gone. I reached my hand out, closed my fist, focused on the echo, and felt something in reality pop. I went into the house, to where the scene had begun, and did the same thing. On my way by I saw Alice sitting on the couch with a new coffee and a blanket, so when I was done ensuring there would be no more noises anywhere in the house, I returned to the loveseat. There was a hot tea on the coffee table in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said, softly, testing it. She had already sweetened it.
“Tell me what you did,” she said, coldly. I cleared my throat.
“Um, okay. So it goes like this.” I explained that I’m an Anchor, and everything I now knew that meant. I didn’t mean to go into too much detail, but I just kind of started talking and then couldn’t stop. She listened, attentively, almost never stopping to ask any questions. Just taking it all in. I told her how I had recently learned that I may be able to alter the rules of an area in the metaphysical realm, and how what I had done here was try to enforce a new set of rules that amplified the echo and made it visible so we could both find out what was happening, and how I had finished up by adjusting the rules again so the echo was gone, or at least, pushed deep enough that even if it did happen again no one on this side of the hedge would know it. “I’m still kind of learning what I did just here,” I confessed.
“So was there really any danger of my house burning down?”
“I don’t think so. The bullet didn’t affect us.”
“Oh shit! The bullet! You didn’t think to warn me we might get shot?”
“I…well, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize that was the scene until it was kind of too late.”
“So. Tell me about these two. The man and the woman. And the ravens! I want to know about the ravens.”
“You and me both,” I grumbled, raising my mug for a sip. “Do you mind if I smoke?” She pulled a clean ashtray out of a cabinet under the tv and handed it to me. For guests, she explained. So I told her everything. I told her everything I knew about Aaboukingon and Joanna, and what had happened here, and who those men were. I told her about Joanna coming to me as a ghost, when I was a child, and telling me all these stories, and how they had a son together, and that was my grandpa, and she didn’t trust him one bit, and how my dad had been in some kind of battle with him that I only recently realized he had been training me to pick up. I just poured everything out. I cried, when we got to the bit about my dad’s recent death, and how that was when I found his books and pieced some of this together. I told her about meeting the ravens in Erie, and what had happened just then outside her house. We talked for hours, she had so many questions and I didn’t realize how badly I’d needed to talk about some of this stuff. She heated up some food for us both, and we talked well into the night, and by then it was getting so late and I was so tired that she insisted I sleep there on the couch instead of driving the two hours back or, God forbid, being stopped by the cops again after dark.
When I woke in the morning, there was an envelope on the coffee table addressed to me. I opened it to find a check and a note. The check was for well more than I would have thought to ask for. The note informed me that she had something important to handle that morning, and explained that we hadn’t come to an agreement on price so she just made her best guess. I grabbed my coat and hat, locked the door behind me, and went home.
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.
The blog of John Matteson.