10 February 2006
Lori tried to go back to life as she remembered it, but it just wasn't there anymore. She couldn't really explain to her co-workers that it wasn't her who burned all those bridges between March and November. She couldn't bear to spend time with Bob now that he was so close to Charles, and Beth was willing to recognize that whatever caused the breakup was enough for her to need space from Matteson's friends but didn't understand how much space she really needed. The apartment felt like someone else's home, even after she got rid of the shrine and threw away anything new and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Mark was gone, and the guilt she felt over that haunted her constantly. Medically, her body was still recovering from the miscarriage and the injuries she suffered from being thrown at Matteson and Jackie by an angry ghost whose memories still flooded her dreams and occasionally ripped her out of her waking life. Everything reminded her of something, everywhere she went in Sharon and Hermitage had some story with Matteson and Alethea involved. And now she had Alethea's reactions to things, little things she wouldn't have expected, like the cutting board and the bathtub and the Beatles. She didn't even always know why these things meant what they meant, just that they hurt in a deep, visceral way that would break down any attempt to continue her day.
Whether out of some desire to force life back to normal, or a refusal to feel like the ghost had won, or some feeling that maybe none of this was real, Lori couldn't really tell; but she was, for a month and a half, committed to trying to put life back together. It was in trying to prepare for Christmas that she realized how alone, and hurt, and miserable she really was, and that was when the temptations to harm began in earnest. She was laying on her living room floor and crying when her cousin in Louisville, Kentucky, called to invite her to Christmas dinner.
"Your mom tells me you've had a rough year," he said, "so I thought maybe you'd want to get away for a bit, and it's been a while since we've seen you. The kids really miss you." Lori was in her car with some essentials and the few clothes she could tolerate looking at, driving southwest, within the hour.
Alex was accommodating and his family was warm and welcoming. She didn't know if she could tell them what had happened, at least not the whole story, but they slowly drew enough out of her to know that she couldn't go back to Sharon until she was ready. They had a spare room that was basically given to her, Alex negotiated with her old landlord to settle the terms of breaking the lease early, and her mom stored everything Lori didn't want anymore to put into a yard sale come spring and shipped whatever remained to her in January. Vanessa, Alex's wife, got Lori hired on when a secretary at her office left to go back to college. There were some benefits with the position, and both Alex and Vanessa urged Lori to see someone about her apparent PTSD and asked more than a couple times if her ex was to blame and needed to have a conversation with the police. She insisted that it wasn't his fault, it just...coincided with having him in her life, but they always seemed more like they were dropping it out of respect for her wishes more than believing her. She promised that as soon as she had some money set aside for the co-pay of a half dozen sessions or so she would try to find a therapist.
It wasn't until Vanessa tried to comfort her in the middle of an episode and she let slip that there was a ghost possession involved in all of this did they take direct action. The next night, when Lori got home from work, Alex and Vanessa sat down and explained they were having someone over for dinner that night. Alex explained that he wasn't sure if he really believed in all this supernatural stuff, but he did have a friend who claimed to have been assaulted by a fae once and had been helped by this one doctor. She was legit, Vanessa confirmed they had looked into her credentials, and she seemed to have a certain involvement with people who claimed supernatural trauma. Lori didn't have to tell her anything she didn't want to, but they wanted her to at least meet the doctor and know that there were people out there who understood more of what she was facing than they did.
A half hour later, Dr. Francesca Harris was welcomed in from the porch and a roast duck was set on the table. Lori and Dr. Harris sat opposite each other, and the kids asked her all kinds of questions about what she did and how she knew their parents and if she'd ever seen aliens. She laughed and entertained their questions, and Lori slowly got comfortable with the idea that, whatever else was true of Harris, she would probably at least believe her.
Once the kids were in bed and the adults were left to their wine in the living room, Lori finally broke down and told the whole story. It was the first time anyone had heard all of it, and she didn't even mean to. Once she started, it just all poured out. Alex and Vanessa listened, concerned, and clearly unsure how to respond; but Dr. Harris just waited, patiently and calmly, absorbing the story. When Lori was done, Vanessa began to rub her back as she cried, and Dr. Harris slowly set her glass down on the side table.
"Why do you think this happened?" she asked. Lori was silent for a moment, then wiped her cheek.
"I didn't stop her. It was my body, I...I should have stopped her." Harris nodded slightly and leaned back into her seat.
"It feels natural to see it that way. Here, let me tell you a bit about the supernatural." She then explained that she was the leader of a group called Mystics Anonymous, which had been formed after she and a priest dealt with a cult trying to summon dangerous beings into the world and left a community of hurting people in its wake. She talked about how they focused on supernatural trauma, using the best available research and practices from mainstream psychology and applying them to what they knew of spirits and ghosts and other legendary dangers. She assured Lori that not only would they believe her, but there would be people there who would know some part of what she went through, would have the same fears and concerns about getting treatment, and would be able to help.
Before she left, Dr. Harris gave Lori information on when and where Mystics Anonymous met in Louisville, her own contact information, and an encouragement to take some time to process everything she had said that night and ask herself why she believed she should have been able to repel a ghost. She also reminded Alex and Vanessa that the most important thing they could do for Lori right now was to listen, and believe, and not push her any more than they already have. Lori thanked her, and with some prompting by Vanessa made a note in her calendar to attend the meeting scheduled for the following week.
1 November 2005
The field was engulfed in swirling, wrathful, chaotic energy as Hecate stood in the darkness of the trees across the street. The hound sat next to her, and with one hand she slowly scratched the short, shadowy fur behind its ears. The burst of energy when Alethea was stopped sent debris in every direction, and while none of it reached the pair, the hound's fur slightly shifted in the pulse of energy while the goddess' robes remained unaffected. They watched in silence as Matteson took the ghost into his arms, as Lori was rushed off the scene, and then as Matteson and Alethea finally stood. The hound whined.
"Yes," Hecate said, eyes fixed on the pair as they approached the newly-formed gateway to the Other Side. "This is a very promising specimen, indeed. That degree of power, that kind of power, honed to the right purpose, could be just what we need." The hound nodded, then turned his gaze to Jackie. "Hm? Oh, yes. I suppose we should show our little witch some appreciation. But her work is far from over; for now, let us see how she handles this mess." They returned to their silent vigil, glancing away only briefly to see Matteson leave before watching Jackie begin the rites to repair the land.
31 October 2005
Rick had come down the hill, and didn't think to look at the front of the house as he pulled into the driveway. He noticed Alpha was gone and, assuming Matteson was out grabbing a few more things, pulled as far forward and to the side as possible to leave room for Alpha and how ever many other cars their friends could cram into the space. He climbed out, went around to his passenger side to grab the small stack of pizzas and breadsticks, and continued whistling the tune that had been on the radio as he made his way onto the porch. He hadn't even thought to look where he was going until he approached the door, which he suddenly realized was torn from the hinges and broken inside the house. He froze for a moment, then glanced around and noticed the living room windows shattered with all the glass on the outside of the house and scattered on the porch. He looked back and forth between the door, the windows, and the broken glass, his mouth moving silently as he tried to find words to react appropriately. Finally deciding he needed to at least move, he slipped inside the doorway, gingerly stepping over the pieces of the door, and set the boxes down on the couch as he took in the room.
There was a large chunk of broken drywall next to the love seat, the television was broken, and the XBox looked like it would prove no better if he bothered to put it back in place and try turning it on. He confirmed that all of the glass was blown outward, with no shards remaining inside the house. He yelled for Matteson and Jackie, and ran into the next room where he found a broken table with shattered glasses, broken alcohol bottles, spilled liquor, and blood stains. He screamed their names again, and as he ran back into the living room he froze at the sight of a large, bearded man carrying an empty mug and looking around confused. He turned to Rick, his eyes narrowing.
"What the hell did you people do?"
"What do you mean!? Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Kyle!" The two stared at each other for a moment, Rick's expression blank, until the larger man groaned. "I fucking live here! We've met!"
"Oh! You're the other roommate!"
"The other--MY NAME IS ON THE BILLS!"
"I mean, I don't see how I could possibly-"
"What the fuck did you do to my house?"
"Okay, so, one, I literally just got here, I promise the place looked like this when I arrived. So I mean, I'm sorry you came home to find this, but it wasn't me."
"I was off today."
"Wait, you were here for whatever did this, and you didn't notice?"
"I was in a raid," Kyle muttered, before sighing and pushing past Rick to get to the kitchen. He started brewing a new cup of coffee and looked around. "There goes our security deposit."
"Matteson said you guys didn't have a security deposit."
"Oh, you know that, but you can't be bothered to remember who lives here?"
"I feel like you're really trying to hold me accountable for all of this, and I'd like to remind you we don't even know if Matteson and Jackie are alive, so, you know. Priorities." There was a crunch in the living room and both men spun around to find Charles and Bob, looking around. When he noticed Rick and Kyle, Charles walked toward them.
"Hey Kyle, you finish that raid today?" Kyle nodded. "Cool. Rick, hey, uh...did Matteson say what the theme for this party was? Because I'm not sure he pulled it off."
"No party," Kyle said, waving one hand while he stirred cream into his coffee with the other. "Tell everyone party's canceled. We need to call the cops." Charles went pale as he realized the situation was not under control, but pulled out his phone and, taking a deep breath, began typing a group text.
"Oooo, uh, about that," Rick said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Matteson really doesn't like cops, and if I'm honest, this doesn't look natural."
"And what do you suggest?"
"Let me just, you know, call one of them first? See if they can explain?" Kyle sighed and waved his hand.
"Look. As long as this shit gets cleaned up, and I don't have to pay for it, you assholes do whatever you need. Stay safe, Charles." With that he vanished back upstairs, as Rick began dialing.
8 July 1936
The stolen car kicked up dirt as it drew to a stop on the edge of a stretch of road across the Ohio River from Midland, PA. It was getting dark, so Jeremiah glanced around for headlights before opening the back seat and pulling out a body wrapped in bed sheets. He made his way to the edge of the water, and carefully set Joanna down just barely beyond the reach of the water.
"Aaboukingon!" he shouted at the river. "Show yourself!" The water in front of him bubbled and churned, and soon the water parted and Aaboukingon emerged, in his human form.
"You're my son," he said, smiling as he extended his arms, "the messenger told me."
"It's a bit late for all that," Jeremiah replied, turning away. "Where have you been?" Aaboukingon stopped and sighed.
"It took me many years to recover from my time away from the river, and once I had, I was in no condition to leave again and look for you both. Even now, I can only manage to go a few feet inland before I grow dangerously weak."
"Good thing you don't have to go so far." With that, Jeremiah, pointed down to the body, and as realization dawned on Aaboukingon he nearly collapsed onto her. He pulled the blankets away, revealing her face, and laid his forehead on hers as he cried.
"Could you not help her? Oh, if I had found you, taught you-"
"I did help her. This world is no place for someone who lives with her heart among the spirits." Aaboukingon's gaze snapped to Jeremiah.
"What did you do?" he demanded, rising to his feet with his fists clenched.
"I don't want to hear it from you. She spent a lifetime suffering because of her devotion to you, and of the two of us I'm the only one who bothered to do anything about it!" Aaboukingon raised his hand and Jeremiah stiffened, gasping for breath.
"You killed her! I could have given her a better life, you could have given her a better life, but instead you killed her!" Jeremiah's eyes began to glow, and then he forced himself free of Aaboukingon's power and, with his own power, threw the river spirit at the water. Aaboukingon slid across the surface before coming to a stop and standing.
"You're still weak. No one calls the river by your name anymore. Soon no one will remember you. Then what will you be? Just another forgotten underling to the mighty Ohio? How does it feel to be an inferior water spirit to someone born of flesh?"
"You're no water spirit. You are hate, and rage, and death. I will ensure you never find any welcome in the River Network as long as you stay on this path!"
"There are better spirits than you to judge me, Aaboukingon." Jeremiah turned and walked back to the car before driving away. Aaboukingon returned to Joanna's body, lifted her into his arms, and together they disappeared beneath the river.
5 July 1936
Joanna woke from a fitful nap, coughed a deep and wet cough, and rolled over for her medicine to find it being held by Jeremiah.
"How long've you been there?" she asked, weakly. He poured the medicine into a spoon and served it to her before leaning back into his chair.
"Only a few minutes, mama. Probably what woke you." She rolled onto her back and pushed herself slightly upright against the wall.
"I been hearin' about you, you know. I tried to keep track, met some occultists who've helped me out." He closed the medicine and set it on the small table beside her bed, next to the necklace holding the vial of sand.
"And what've you been hearing?"
"You been murderin' people, boy?"
"Now come on, mama, I heard you was sick and came to see you and you wanna talk about strangers?"
"Don't play coy with me!" she snapped, turning her face to glare at him. "Did I raise a murderer, or didn't I?" He sighed and looked down at the side of the bed for a moment.
"I only done what I needed to. Some people got in the way." She huffed.
"Got in the way? And where d'you think you're going, like that?"
"I was trying to make a better life for both of us. I was always gonna come home, get you out of shacks like this," he answered, waving his hands out to indicate the old wooden structure surrounding them.
"Yeah? Waitin' til you was done, though, I guess?"
"I knew you wouldn't understand. Not until I did it. I've seen so much, mama. I've walked in the realm of spirits, I've held power over life and death in my hands, I-"
"All that power, lookin' out at the world as it is now, and you didn't think to help no one but yourself?" He stopped, then hit the arm of the chair and stood abruptly to turn away and look out the window. "Maybe you was named right, boy. All that follows after you is lamentation." She turned back to look toward the wall while he rested his fists on the window sill and stared out at the river.
"I came to help you," he finally said, softly.
"I always said I was gonna free you, from this life, from this misery. Give you something better. I know how to do it now."
"You know I'm ill."
"You won't be anymore." He turned around and walked to her side. She turned her gaze to him, and he gave a weak smile and placed his hands on either side of her head, leaned down, and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes as he did so.
"You know I love you, boy. I know you can do good in this world, if you choose." A tear began to run down his cheek.
"I know, mama. I love you, too," he said. Then there was a crack as he snapped her neck, and the room fell silent as he lowered her head back onto the pillow and pulled himself away. "You'll see. It's not so bad as all this where the spirits live."