3 November 2006
The hall surrounding Henry’s office was empty of staff and students, the doors closed and office lights off, as everyone who worked there was either in class or at his funeral. The two agents passed by quietly, their eyes fixed on their target. When they reached Henry’s office door, one turned his back to the wall and watched for anyone passing by, while the other produced a key from a small envelope and used it to turn the lock. As soon as the door was open they both slipped inside and softly closed the door behind them. The second man put the key back into his envelope, and that into his breast pocket, before reaching inside his suit jacket and pulling out a list. The other man began opening drawers and pulling out plain-looking notebooks, scraps of paper, and trinkets. Each of them was briefly compared to the list, and placed either on one corner of the desk or returned to its place. They made fast work of the room, small as it was, and finished with one last pass to ensure they had checked everywhere. Two items on the list were still missing, and the man holding the list frowned at that, but the other set his focus to gathering everything into a box. The list was placed on top of the materials in the box, which was then taped shut. The hallway was checked and, being empty still, the agents exited the office. They locked the door again before walking away with the box, vanishing into a nearby stairwell.
The Mediterranean sun lazed across the sky, shimmering off the crests of the water and shining off white cliffs, filling the air with light. The only shade in sight rested under a small collection of broad umbrellas standing guard over small tables on a wooden balcony overlooking the sea. Most of the tables were empty, the tourists having left for now, leaving two women at one table alone with their discussion. One of them was tall and dark, with sharp features and sharper eyes that made the waiter feel like prey when they paused on him for a moment too long. The other was shorter, with a lighter complexion hidden under a wide hat and large sunglasses that hid everything but her perfectly sculpted body and invitingly warm lips. Both of them wore light, airy fabrics, in light shades; though the taller woman was showing less of her legs than the other. The waiter brought them their drinks, trying not to look directly at either of them for different reasons, then slipped back inside.
“He seems nice,” the shorter woman said, slowly running her finger down the side of the goblet and down its stem. “Do you want this one?”
“I have more important work than that this afternoon, Babylon.” Babylon huffed and delicately lifted her goblet to take a sip.
“You’re so much less fun since you stopped being a demon.”
“I didn’t want to be a demon in the first place. I was a goddess.”
“Yes, yes. Weren’t we all, in some way or another. The way my old priests and priestesses used to scream my name, I still get a rush just thinking about it. But you seemed fine with it while you were the Devil at the Crossroads.”
“Speaking of priests. How’s that son of yours doing?” Babylon sighed and set her drink down.
“He still follows his own path. Which is to be expected, I suppose, if he wasn’t such a little prick about it.”
“This is the problem you run into when you mate with mortals.”
“Don’t go acting like you’re little miss innocent yourself over there. I know all about you and your witches.”
“I don’t bear them little spawn to aggravate me decades later.”
“No, of course not. You like your pets to remain pets. I understand, there’s a certain appeal to it. Of course you know I’ve had my share of toys. On that note!” She turned and lowered her sunglasses to peek over them at the other woman. “I hear you’ve been on the trail of a new Anchor.”
“Where do you hear these things?”
“I have my ways, dear,” Babylon said, waving her hand as she leaned back into her chair. “People like talking to me, especially if they think I’m not really listening. Is he fun? Jules was fun.”
“I thought you usually just broke stubborn and left it in a heap.”
“This one is different.”
“Oh, so he is fun?” The taller woman glared sideways at Babylon, who giggled.
“He isn’t of much interest to you, I’m sure. He made that very clear. But he’s powerful. And there’s something off about him. I can’t place it, but there’s some way he feels…connected, in a more visceral way, to our realm than the others have.”
“You think this is going to be the one? After all these centuries?”
“Yes. He has the power I need, and I already have a witch working on him. He’s getting close.”
“And if you can’t get him to subscribe to your plan?”
“Then I’ll have to make him desperate.” The taller woman grabbed her drink, finally, and finished it in one tilt.
“There she is.”
“Who?” Babylon smiled and picked her goblet back up.
“The demon I started having these drinks with.” The other woman chuckled. “Listen, Hecate. All this stress, it isn’t good for you. What if you finally get to be a Spirit of the People again, but lose sight of what you want out of it?”
“You think I’m working too hard. But you weren’t made second act to a bunch of upstart, petty little kings from another land.”
“I think you’ll find I’ve had many kings try to get one over on me.”
“Were you under them at the time?”
“Sometimes. But the point is, you need to make sure this is the goddess you want to be when you get what you want. Because once those people lock you into whatever you’ve been showing them…”
“I remember.” Babylon nodded, then waved toward the door. Soon the waiter slipped back out, picking up the empty glasses.
“Another for you ladies today?” he asked. Babylon looked to Hecate, who thought for a moment before giving a faint nod.
“That would be delightful, young man,” Babylon said, smiling, as she slid her finger across his arm. “As long as it’s you bringing it.” He smiled, then cleared his throat, nodded briskly, and ran back inside.
“Don’t break him before you get what you want from him,” Hecate said.
“Do you need help with your new pet?”
“I don’t think so. But I’ll remember you offered.” Babylon purred and turned to face the water.
“Good. I miss Jules. Another Anchor might be nice.”
3 November 2006
As the small crowd made its way around the room to speak to John Matteson at McGonigle Funeral Home, Jeremiah slipped passed them quietly to take a seat out of the way. He watched his grandson, and paid attention to the people who seemed to spend the most time checking in on him or helping him manage the flow of people. A young Latin woman stood out, and Jeremiah made note of her. When he got up, he hovered around groups of people until he picked up her name (Jackie) and then made his way to the casket. He made note of a couple other people that were clearly friends on his way, attempting to gauge their relationship to John by the way they handled themselves and their friend. He skipped the line entirely, avoiding the damned small talk expected of people at these things, and rested his hand on his son’s cheek.
“Thank you for showing me points of weakness,” he whispered. “Enjoy your rest.” With that, he quietly disappeared out the door and then out of the physical realm entirely.
2 August 2006
Kastor emerged on a rooftop across the street from Matteson’s rented house and sat down next to the ravens.
“You really must explain to me some time why you care so much about the Mattesons,” he said, watching through the window as the Anchor climbed back out of the bed, threw some clothes on, and stormed out of the room.
“We owe you no such thing,” the blue raven said.
“Oh, come on! I mean, I get it, you guys take an interest in basically everything that humans do, but you can’t deny there’s something special about the way you handle John and his dad.”
“We wouldn’t dream of denying it,” the other raven answered.
“But you aren’t going to explain it.”
“It will be obvious in due time.” With that, the ravens took flight, and Kastor sighed and returned to the grove.
2 August 2006
Matteson was awakened by a swift kick to his ribs. It wasn’t hard enough to do any damage, but enough to send him sitting straight up in his bed with his fists ready to strike. On the floor next to his bed was the faun, having just landed, glaring at Matteson with his arms crossed. The Anchor grumbled and laid back down.
“What is it, Kastor?” he muttered.
“What did I say, huh? Back at that Apple Trees place?”
“‘That girl is trouble,’ I said! ‘Something seems off about her,’ I said! But what did you do?” Matteson rolled over so his back was to Kastor.
“Can this wait until some other time? Like in Hell?”
“You decided to ignore me and get all involved with her!” Kastor climbed onto the bed and over Matteson as he carried on, plopping down on the mattress and leaning back against the wall. “What do you call it, dating? And then! And then you, the great John Matteson, who knows fucking everything, don’t notice while she’s using you and killing people who get too close to figuring it out!”
“What are you on about? Who’d she kill?”
“I don’t know everyone’s names! But I asked around, see. After she threatened me—which you never even checked in on, by the way—I asked around, and I found out that the ghost lady killed her friend, with the, what is it. The loud chariot.” Matteson sat up.
“Yeah, that’s the one!” Matteson’s eyes darted back and forth for a moment as he considered that.
“You have that on good authority?” Kastor nodded, and Matteson got up and began pacing around the room. “Shit.”
“You should be happy I brought this to you at all! After you blew me off and didn’t even bother finding out why I was avoiding you.”
“Why were you avoiding me?”
“That woman! She was going to send the Hound after me! I had to give her a year a day, that’s what we agreed, a year and a day I couldn’t come talk to you. So I tried talking to that mage girl, you know, and you could be a real pal and put in a good word for me there by the way—”
“She’s with Rick.”
“I’m not asking her to commit to anything, Johnny!” Matteson leveled a narrow-eyed glare at the faun, who ignored it and jumped down off the bed. “But I tried to talk to her, to warn you, but I couldn’t track her all the time, and when I could was usually around the house, but I couldn’t come into the house, and she wasn’t bothering to look at spirits out on the sidewalk or anything!”
“She said you got through to her eventually.
“Yeah, took her long enough to notice. Dryads notice me, Johnny! If I’m good enough for a dryad—”
“Focus,” Matteson grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. “What did you find out about her?”
“About?” Kastor whistled and jammed his thumb in the direction of Jackie’s room.
“Oh! The other one. Nothing you don’t already know, now. You know, I could’ve helped if you’d asked.”
“Well, I don’t know! Guess we won’t find out now, huh?” Matteson sighed and rubbed his face with his hands, then moved back to sit on the bed.
“Okay, fine. Sorry, Kastor. I’ll be sure to consider your words before deciding they’re wrong next time.” Kastor gave a single stern nod.
“Damn right. And don’t you forget it.”
“Yeah. Seriously, about the mage, just something positive, you know, you don’t have to try too hard, this body can do most of the heavy lifting with the ladies,” he said, striking a pose that he thought showed his good side.
“Kastor, look, I don’t think she’s interested, especially not while she’s in a relationship.” Kastor waved him off.
“Just, you know, just ask. And don’t worry, I know all about her and Rich.”
“That’s what I said. I probably know more about it than you do.”
“I was trying to get her attention! It’s not my fault she was otherwise…occupied!”
“Get the fuck out!”
“Yeah, yeah. See you soon!” Kastor slipped away deeper into the Realm, and Matteson laid back down on his bed.
“Shit,” he said again, softly.
1 August 2006
The light from Helios shimmered on the surface of the water, reflecting bright flickering shapes on the figures dancing under the shade of nearby trees. Kastor was playing an aulos as he pranced around, accompanied by four other satyrs with instruments, keeping time to the clapping of nymphs and dryads. Other satyrs laid among the nature spirits, the whole assembly sharing fruit and laughing along to a tale being spun to the music by a centaur. Mid-dance, Kastor stopped playing and caught a hitch in his breath. He stepped aside from the group, who continued on without interruption, and glanced over to a tree from which two ravens were watching.
“It’s time, isn’t it? Is that what that feeling meant?” he asked. Muninn nodded.
“Your year has passed. You are relieved of your promise to Alethea-as-Lori,” Huginn answered. Kastor grumbled, looking back to the party with a longing stare, then turned back to the Two.
“The witch said he was okay though, right? It isn’t a pressing issue anymore, is it?”
“We will not decide what is important for you,” Muninn said. “I will only tell you that Alethea poses no further threat to John Matteson.” Kastor looked to the dancing figures again, then cursed under his breath and set his aulos down.
“I better check in on him, anyway. Fool human,” he muttered, walking away into the forest.
29 October 2006
Henry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The nurse had gone to call Matteson, but they didn’t know if he would get there in time. He’d left a couple hours earlier, shortly after dinner, at Henry’s insistence. Before that, they had talked for hours. At first it was small talk, about what Matteson was doing when he wasn’t at the hospital, which hospital food Henry disliked less. Before long, though, Henry had grown more serious.
“Listen, John,” he’d begun, “he’s coming. He knows about you.”
“Who?” Matteson leaned forward and rested his hand on the rail of the bed.
“Your grandfather. I tried to keep your gift a secret.” Henry coughed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did, and he’s coming for you after I’m gone.”
“I’ll be ready for him.” Henry shook his head.
“No, no, you can’t assume that. Never assume that. It’s dangerous.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Much. But it isn’t always about what you know. Listen, Jeremiah is ruthless, and driven, and patient. He may wait years before he moves, but I assure you, during this time he’ll be looking for a way to strike at you that you can’t just blow off.”
“Anything you can tell me would help.” Henry was breathing heavy, and reached for his cup of water. Matteson got it for him, and the two sat in silence for a moment as he drank.
The monitors were showing signs of distress, and the nurses outside were just starting to move. They seemed like a dream, slowly rising to their feet. They looked urgent, and I’m sure for them they were rushing, but time was moving slow. Henry noticed, and wondered if this is what time always looked like in the moments before one dies.
“It isn’t,” the man answered. Henry turned to see a robed man, his hood low over his face, his hand reaching out to Henry’s. Beside him was a young woman, with faintly glowing blue skin engraved with flowing runes. “We told Death to let us handle this one.”
“Why?” Henry asked, his voice weak and hoarse. The woman gave a weak smile, then walked around to the other side of the bed. The second hand on the hallways clock finally ticked. As the man’s hand touched Henry’s, Henry was flooded with memories. The things he had told Matteson, everything he could recall to mention about Jeremiah. The things he had forgotten to tell him. The face of his ex-wife. The moment he first held his son. The memories came in a flash, and then were gone again, back into the depths of his mind as the man’s fingers curled around Henry’s palm. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned down and whispered into his ear, and as she spoke, Henry’s eyes grew wide. When she finished, he stared into her eyes, then turned his focus to the man. His eyes began to water.
“Yes,” the man answered. “We are.” Henry slipped his hand out of the man’s grasp and rested it on the man’s cheek, then did the same to the woman’s cheek with his other hand as tears began to roll down his own.
“Thank you for visiting. Are you going to take me, too?” The Two both nodded, and Henry smiled. The second hand ticked again.
The nurses ran into the room just after the monitors around Henry’s bed began to sound alarms. They moved around his bed, pushing Matteson’s empty chair aside to access their patient and see if anything else could be done for him. Just on the other side of the doorway, Henry and The Two watched.
“Will John be okay? Do I need to stick around?” The man shook his head, and the woman took Henry’s hand and patted it.
“Your son will be fine,” she said. “You’ve trained him well, you’ve left him excellent records, and you’ve earned your rest.” He looked back toward the room, then slowly nodded, and the three of them walked away.
18 August 2006
Behind the Winner, overlooking the Shenango River, are a few seldom-used park benches under some trees. Henry liked to have his lunch there on days when he was out in town, just him and the water and the birds, looking toward the relatively busy area over by the bank and the old Army/Navy store and the Reyer’s Outlet. Even the relative bustle of downtown had been waning, it seemed, as Hermitage continued to build up its own commerce center a few miles up the road and Jim Winner’s fabulous failure, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, sat occupying nearly an entire block without drawing any traffic. He didn’t tend to look up when he heard footsteps coming. Generally, it was just someone taking a shortcut from one bridge to the other, or the rare resident genuinely interested in using the little balconies to look down on the green water below. But this time, he sensed magic, and he looked up just in time to see Jeremiah sit next to him on the bench, unwrapping the paper around his own burger on his lap.
“I’m not wrong often in my life,” Jeremiah said, “but when I first tried a McDonald’s burger, back when they were fifteen cents, I fully believed they would never catch on.” He looked too young to remember such a thing. For the last decade or two, he’s looked younger than his own son. But there was gray in that hair now, and even the slowly aging nephilim show the years in their eyes.
“Of all the things you’ve been mistaken about, you pick that one to confess.”
“Still teaching history, Henry?”
“Well. ‘Teaching’ implies someone is learning from it.” Jeremiah chuckled and bit into his burger, and the two watched the cars across the river for a long, tense moment. “What are you doing here?”
“Look at us. Sons of devils, bickering about intentions. Can’t an old man have a nice lunch with his son once a century?”
“Depends on the old man.”
“And the son.” They both ate some more of their food in silence. “You’ve done well, you know,” Jeremiah finally said.
“Hiding my grandson from me.” Henry stopped and set his food on his lap, but showed no other reaction to the words. “And his power.”
“What do you know?”
“I know he has a gift, a great and mighty gift. One that may even make him worth the name you’ve carried so fruitlessly all these years.”
“You won’t touch him.”
“And I know you won’t be here to stop me much longer.” Henry turned to face Jeremiah for the first time since the man had sat down. “When I heard, of course, I thought about just killing you and getting it over with, making sure I had the last move in our little game. But I fear that would be too satisfying of an end for you. But cancer.” He popped the last bite of burger into his mouth, shoved the balled up paper into his pocket, and then stood and dusted himself off. “Cancer must feel like futility. Like a fight you can never really win, even as every ounce of your being demands you keep fighting. And that, I thought, sounded too fitting to interfere with.”
“You came just to gloat? About something you didn’t even do?”
“No, Henry. I came to say goodbye, and assure you that little Jonathan will be in good hands after you’re gone.”
“He’ll be more ready for you than I ever was, Jeremiah.”
“Good. I miss having a challenge.” With that, Jeremiah turned and walked away, leaving Henry to seethe over the remains of his lunch.
5 august 1979
Elizabeth believed Henry when he said he was going camping, and there was even a certain degree to which he was telling the truth. He did sleep in a tent most nights, but he was not spending time in campgrounds. This summer, he was hunting.
He hadn’t been sure exactly what he was looking for at first, until this past spring when he came upon a tracking spell in one of his books. It was imperfect; he would have to be a mage to use it accurately, and he would need something of the target’s to narrow the focus. His aim was to find Jeremiah, and the only things he had with any remaining connection to Jeremiah were the books, the necklace, and himself. He tried the books first, but they were apparently much more connected to him than to his father. The necklace just took him to a quiet spot on the Ohio River, and he didn’t really know why. When he tried to use himself as the focus, however, he learned that there was something still binding them together. He wasn’t sure if it was just blood relation or if there was more to it, but he didn’t much care. At that point, the only objective was to prepare for a fight and follow the trail.
Since he was not, in fact, a mage, and was using a decidedly inferior connection to his target, the best he could do was a general area. So now he was in Connecticut, driving into Hartford each day and looking for information that might help him narrow his search. At first, it was mostly about newspapers, but he quickly realized that he would need to find something strange to know for sure that it was Jeremiah, and the only people who are willing to own up to the really strange details are people comfortable with being taken as strange themselves.
That’s when he fell in with a group of homeless people. For the most part, he had found, homelessness was just a sign of economic difficulties that may or may not get sorted out, and the majority of that population was not going to help him in any way he needed. But once he found a smaller section of the homeless population, the ones just unbalanced enough to carry the weight of the crazed hobo stereotype, he latched on and listened intently. For their part, they were mostly happy someone was listening, and the lunch he brought each day helped as well.
Through their stories, he learned that the mob had taken to working with some mysterious stranger, but the relationship had turned south, and now they were being targeted. Most of the deaths were pretty mundane, knives mostly, and that much was being covered in the news. But there were a few that didn’t line up with the prevailing theory of a rival gang. An enforcer reduced to a dessicated husk when he had only just stepped away to use the restroom. A gangster’s wife, drowned in her perfectly dry bed. Her husband found a week later with his spine ripped out. Someone, some thing, was angry, and powerful, and vindictive. It was over a week of the stories and rumors and ravings before he was able to piece together enough to verify that it sounded like Jeremiah’s work and who he might strike next. Of course, tailing a member of the mafia was not going to be safe, either, especially if that guy was presently terrified of someone tracking him down, but Henry was young enough to believe it would be fine.
He was only partly wrong. The mark did catch on that he was being tailed, almost immediately. And he did catch Henry, and he was fully prepared to kill Henry on the assumption that the boy was spying for whoever had killed his associates. The mystic books he was carrying did not help his case. And he certainly would have died that night, if it hadn’t been the exact night Jeremiah arrived to strike his next target.
Henry wasn’t able to get loose from the rope in time to save the mobster, and in moments when he was honest with himself he would admit that he might have been if he’d been a bit more concerned about actually saving him. One of his eyes was already practically closed from the swelling, the places left by two newly missing teeth stung like hell, and the blood running down his arms was somewhat distracting, but Henry managed to get to his books and his captor’s knives before Jeremiah turned on him. But the boy wasn’t trained for this, and the man he faced off against had been killing people and fighting with spirits for decades. It wasn’t long until Jeremiah got his first hit in, a swipe of the knife that Henry barely dodged enough to ensure it wouldn’t be fatal. To everyone’s surprise, however, when the knife sliced across Henry’s face, a matching wound suddenly appeared on Jeremiah’s. The man stumbled back, grabbing at his face and staring angrily at Henry.
“What did you do?” he hissed, his grip on the knife tightening. Henry was breathing hard, and holding his own knife all wrong. And as the years of rage and pain flashed across Henry’s eyes, Jeremiah finally recognized his son. It hadn’t been that long, of course; but children grow fast, and Jeremiah had made it a point not to think about the life he’d left behind. “Henry?” Henry lunged forward and swung at Jeremiah again, the surprise of the moment giving him just enough of an opening to connect and draw blood from Jeremiah’s stomach. The older man growled and grabbed Henry’s hand, snapping two fingers before recoiling at the sensation of his own breaking as well. That was when Jeremiah understood, when he remembered. He shoved Henry backward and stepped to add more distance between them.
“I’m going to stop you. I know what you are, and I am going to make you pay.” Henry spat the words out, along with some blood. Jeremiah grabbed the place where his gut was bleeding and smiled.
“If so, child, you better be more prepared next time.” Henry went to reply, but before he could, Jeremiah stepped sideways out of reality and was gone. Henry stayed on guard for a few more minutes, but there was no sign of his father returning. And then he realized he was bleeding, holding a knife, and standing in a room with a man recently stabbed to death. He stole the knife, grabbed his books, and ran.
25 December 1975
Elizabeth couldn’t place an origin on Henry’s love of books and knack at study. He had loved the books she read to him as soon as he was old enough to show a reaction, and took a special interest in the various fairy tales Jeremiah would tell him, some of which were apparently drawn from his own experiences in the Metaphysical Realm. It wasn’t until Henry could read for himself that he noticed the difference between stories everyone else knew and stories that, near as he could tell, only he and Jeremiah could recall. Pursuit of more information on this matter ultimately led him to studying history, a subject he quickly excelled in.
When they first moved away from Erie, all of their belongings had been stored with friends and family, the important things brought down quickly when they secured their new home. Elizabeth had reverted to her maiden name to distance herself from what she dubbed ‘the Jeremiah problem,’ and as she began unpacking and answering questions about the rest of their things, she was just as eager to lose anything belonging to Jeremiah as she was to drop his name. There were very few things that could really even be considered his, one of which was the necklace of sand that Henry had already stolen away. But there was a much larger thing Elizabeth had to decide about.
When Henry awoke on their first Christmas in the new house, he was presented with a tree that had only two presents under it; one Elizabeth had managed to buy for her son, and one he had managed to buy for her using money from his new paper route. Elizabeth made the most of the morning, and then asked Henry to cover his eyes and take her hand. She led him down to the basement, where he hadn’t been allowed in a few months. When he opened his eyes, it was to the sight of Jeremiah’s books, originally belonging to Joanna. Elizabeth explained that they had been in storage basically all his life, things Jeremiah insisted on keeping but did not seem invested in using. With the help of her brother, she had set up a small library in the basement over the last six months for her bookworm son, and now the space was all his. She didn’t entirely know what the books were even about—some of them weren’t even in English—but she figured they were his by right and he was old enough now to decide their usefulness to him.
She can’t have realistically known how dark his mind had been since watching Jeremiah kill that salesman. Part of the problem, of course, is that she didn’t actually know he had seen it happen. The common understanding was that Henry had walked into the hallway just as Jeremiah fled, and then found the already dead body. She suspected there was more to it than that, based on the way he had acted about it, but basically assumed Jeremiah had said something before he left that rattled the boy. It seemed, to her, that if it had been worse than that, he would have reacted worse; or, at the very least, would have been honest with her when she asked what happened. But Henry had decided, then and there, that he was going to be the sort of man who kept secrets. There was nothing else for it. There was a lot he didn’t know about the world, but he certainly knew a fairy tale monster when he saw one in action, and he knew how the world looked at those who told fairy tales when they asked for history.
And now, out of the blue, he was being handed all the secrets of the universe. He could feel it. There was something big in this room. Something bigger than reality itself. Here, there was story. It practically crackled in the air as he ran his hands over the spines of the books. If knowledge is power, and it certainly must be in a world where something like Jeremiah Matteson exists, then he knew, that Christmas, that he was going to make himself powerful.
And he knew exactly who he would turn that power against.