11 September 1906
PORTIONS OF THE DAMAGED DIARY OF JOANNA WOZNIAK, AS RECOVERED BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT OF ERIE, PA, ON THE EVENING OF MAY 28, 1974.
Today I bore a son. I have named him Jeremiah Bazyli Matteson, he is strong and healthy and feeds well. I can see so much of his father in him, it almost hurts.
12 September, 1906
The reverend had his hands full ever since taking over for the late Rev. Liam Halzberg. With the people of Allegheny fighting against Pittsburgh's attempts to annex the city, the fall of the Wozniak estate and its associated drama, and the usual issues of taking over a church in the wake of a beloved leader's death, he felt like he was always in the middle of some mess or another. He didn't particularly want to add the birth of the Matteson boy to his plate, but with pressure from his congregation that had been building for the past three months he felt it was in his best interest to do something.
He was welcomed in by the doctor and led to Joanna's room, where he was warned that the child had recently fallen asleep and asked not to disturb him. The reverend agreed, then softly entered. He made his way to an armchair in the room and sat down.
"Good morning, Ms. Matteson," he said, just loud enough for her to hear, while removing his hat. "I don't believe we've formally met."
"I know who you are, Reverend, and a little of your opinion of me. The city does love to talk."
"My congregation has told me about the circumstances surrounding your marriage, yes."
"I can imagine how kind they were about it, seeing how they've treated my parents." He sighed, lowering his gaze and brushing some imaginary dust off his hat.
"I have tried, of course. But I don't yet have the respect to really stop them. I doubt it will be an issue much longer, I'm told they're leaving the city."
"And does that suit you, Reverend? To see them leave in disgrace and poor fortune, so long as you don't have to deal with it anymore?"
"That is not-"
"Why have you come?" He looked back at her and was met with a firm gaze. He swallowed hard, then attempted to meet her stare and brace himself against it.
"The child." She turned, smiling as she placed her hand on the edge of Jeremiah's basket.
"I'm sure it's not what you see, but he's beautiful, isn't he?"
"I think we both know, ma'am, that he isn't...human."
"He's human enough. I should know."
"Joanna, his father-" Her face snapped back to the reverend, and he flinched as her gaze borrowed into his skull.
"His father is gone, maybe forever, because of this mindset. This hatred for what you don't understand, this rejection of people who need your help but don't see the world how you do. Are you like them, Reverend? Are you here to condemn a lost man and his son whose only sin was being born? Is that all your collar is good for?" He glanced to Jeremiah, who stirred a bit at her tone.
"Look me in the eye and say what you've come to say." He turned his face to her, straightened his back and hardened his voice.
"There is no place in this community for that demon-spawn, and there never will be. Your desire to carry it to term is admirable, if misguided, but now you must choose whether to turn it aside and return to the people who care about your soul, or commit fully to this godless path you've been walking." They stared at each other for a long moment.
"I will raise my son, Reverend." Her voice was cold and steady. "With or without you, with or without his father. I will not abandon my own flesh and blood to appease those who have already rejected me. Good day, sir."
"Ms. Matteson, you must consider-"
"I said good day." She turned to soothe Jeremiah, who was beginning to fuss in his sleep. The reverend stood, put his hat back on, and straightened his shirt. His eyes narrowed at he looked at the child, then he turned and left the room.
2 November 2004
It was just after midnight, and the great black hound was whimpering as it nudged the couch with its nose. As it felt its master's hand rest on its head, the hound went silent and looked up. Hecate began scratching behind its ears as she looked at Jackie, asleep in John's arms.
"You were right to show me," she said, the eyes on one of her faces scanning the pair of humans. "This is most unsettling. It seems our ward here has chosen to toss us aside in favor of this Anchor."
The hound began to growl at John. "Now now. He's just misguided," she said, lightly rubbing one finger along his cheek, "poor dear probably has no idea what he owes me." John shifted slightly as she pulled her hand away, and she slowly walked around to their feet. The hound followed, then whined inquisitively.
"Oh, yes," she answered, "I'll have to decide what to do with the girl. But that can wait. I have use for a liminal being like him, as soon as I know how to bring him to heel. But it seems Miss Veracruz has been holding out on us." The hound looked up at her. She smiled down at it and patted its head. "I trust you can find another useful source?" The hound began to sniff around, then barked excitedly, its tail wagging. "Very good. Lead the way."
John partially opened his eyes and slightly sat up to look at the now-empty room. Jackie whined and turned over.
"What is it?" she asked weakly, still mostly asleep.
"Sorry, thought I heard something." He turned back, pulled her close, and drifted back to sleep.
It was, at first, a slight surprise to the ravens to realize how rarely anyone seemed to notice them. Sure, they made no overt attempts to be seen, but they somewhat expected humans to look around more, take in their environments more, bother to care about what was happening around them. They should have known better, and they very quickly did, but that first time warranted some excitable discussion between them.
The one made some sense, at least. He looked normal, if a bit large; but his companion had a distinct blue tint to her, flowing strips of faintly glowing color just barely perceptible among the black feathers. If nothing else, the idea that people could glance right past a bird with an otherworldly, shifting glow, and never seem to notice was a testament to something buried deep in the minds of mankind.
They were always together, just out of sight. On the night when a single woman first uttered the name of Hekate and a goddess was born, the ravens were there to greet her. When Father Josef Klappenger went scurrying down the side of Hörselberg hill clutching an infant, they were in a tree that he leaned on to catch his breath and resist the urge to look back. When Jackie Veracruz and John Matteson first stood on the fire escape of an apartment in Chicago, the ravens rested on a roof directly ahead of the humans, among a flock resting on its way south. When Father Benedict de Monte walked silently away from the fire outside of Southport, North Carolina, thinking himself the only living soul to know how the blaze began, the ravens were turning their attention to another form moving through the water.
That is not to say they were never seen. The annals of human history record them, sometimes in a manner that would reflect on the species as a whole, sometimes as a singular or dual part of the supernatural world. They were not the archetypes of ravens; whatever ensured that ravens would exist seemed to take little notice of them. But they were the Ravens, the mold by which much of human thought on ravens would be fashioned. As mankind found less and less reason to know every living thing observing them, the ancient witnesses drifted further into the background. Eventually, they were lost to even the most observant eyes, becoming little more than ambiance. The ravens did not seem to mind. They continued to watch, selecting their entertainment with no apparent system or guide that any human would be able to detect. It would be a long time before anything changed much for them. But change was coming, and they had known it for some time.
It was part of the long night in Norway. The ravens were preening when a cleft opened in the side of a mountain and three figures stumbled out into the snow. Benedict and Daniel were on either side of Matteson, his arms over their shoulders and his left eye bleeding. The black raven turned away. The other leaned over to him.
“It’s nearly time,” she whispered. Voices carry in this place, she knew, and it was not suitable for the humans, or near-humans, to hear her now. “Are you ready for this?” There was a long pause.
“Yes.” Benedict, Daniel, and Matteson passed under the ravens and managed to find the car they had left waiting. Benedict was urgently explaining the dangers Matteson faced with his wound exposed to this weather. Daniel was trying to offer comfort. Matteson didn't seem to hear either of them.
“You don’t seem ready,” she said as the car started and then drove away.
“I…I’ll be fine. It’s just hard.”
“We aren't trapped in this flow yet. We can go somewhere else for a while if you need.”
“No. It’s nearly time. We move forward.”
“You mean I move forward.”
“I'm with you a little while longer, yet.” As the car vanished into the long night, she sighed.
“To the next moment, then.” The birds took to the air, and then vanished.
2 December 2002
Robert Partridge never seemed to get the impressive bucks. Sure, he’d get a deer each year, but it was rarely anything worth mounting. The meat was good, but this year he desperately wanted to get something he could show off to his friends without fear they’d have bagged a better one.
He lived on a state road outside of town and knew about a large wooded tract of land that rarely anyone drove by. He’d spent the summer and fall poking around, and was now very certain there were deer worth his attention hiding behind those trees. He also knew no one else was hunting there; the No Trespassing signs and rumors in town about an overly protective owner, as well as state game lands nearby, kept most hunters occupied enough. But when he looked into the owner to try and get permission to hunt there, he found it apparently unclaimed, the signs having been posted without the proper legal process to make them binding. It seemed he was probably in the clear to go there, but he knew it would be worth his time to check with the guys who seemed to know everything about the lands surrounding the town center.
So he spent part of last evening in the Four Winds Bar, waiting for Thompson. They weren’t close, but he knew Thompson well enough from nights at this bar to know he’d be by, and he’d have answers. It was three beers and two lost games of pool before Thompson arrived, and Robert was getting antsy.
“What is it, Bob?” Thompson asked, having barely taken a seat before the younger man was sidling up to him.
“I was wondering about that stretch off 949,” Robert said, taking a seat and waving for another Yuengling.
“You know, the one no one hunts.”
“For good reason, kid. What’re you thinkin?”
“I looked it up, and it ain’t owned. The signs ain’t legal or nothin.”
“By who? No one ever goes there, there’s no house nearby, everyone talks about some owner but no one seems to know who they are!” The bartender delivered their drinks and gave Thompson a look that asked about Robert. Thompson waved him off and finally looked at Robert.
“Look kid. Not everything is on some book somewhere, not everyone who got a claim likes to come into town. I’m tellin you, leave it be.” The two went back and forth for another twenty minutes, Robert wanting answers and Thompson having nothing more solid than what he’d already offered. Annoyed, Robert left to get some rest and prepare for the season to start the next morning. Thompson, the bartender, and three others watched him go, the streetlights catching in their eyes like a flashlight in the eyes of a cat.
Now Robert was in a tree, looking out over a rocky brook and a small clearing that looked like it hadn’t been touched since the Earth was new. It was surprisingly warm, as the brook lacked any ice and there were still some flowers in bloom. The dawn was just starting to threaten the horizon when he finally spotted a deer approaching the water. He pulled his gun up to line up the shot and confirm it had a suitable rack. With his attention focused on the deer, he had no chance to see the arrow coming that buried itself in his shoulder.
He screamed, dropped his gun, and fell out of the stand. He heard a loud crack and, checking, he was convinced his leg was broken. He took short, sharp breaths, trying to avoid making too much noise or passing out from the pain, as he tried to drag himself toward the water. Hooves came into his field of vision, and his gaze followed them up to see what owned them.
The body was certainly that of an elk, large and muscular, with patches of moss and mushrooms apparently growing in its fur. Where the neck should have been was a lean humanoid torso, dark like the forest. Its head, for Robert couldn’t tell a gender from anything he saw, had pointed ears, long hair woven with flowers and leaves, and massive antlers with spider webs and vines hanging between their points. It was holding a crude bow and glaring down at him.
“You come to kill,” it said, clearly but sounding more like a branch breaking than a voice.
“I-I’m sorry, please, I didn’t mean-”
“You didn’t mean to get caught. You have broken the ancient pact.”
“I didn’t know! What pact?! What-please, let me go, I’ll do anything, I swear, just-” he paused, trying to catch his breath.
“Yes. I believe you will.” The fae raised its hand, and shimmering light began to gather like sand in its palm from the nearby flowers.
“Is-is that...pixie dust?”
“You humans insist on naming everything, as if you have the right to define it.” The fae blew at the substance, which flew over and landed all over Robert’s body. He took a deep breath, waiting for it to heal him, but instead he began to feel pressure building around his legs. When he looked back at them, there were roots emerging from the ground and wrapping around him.
“What-no! What is this?!” The roots lifted him upright, causing him to scream as they applied pressure to his broken leg. The fae seemed to be looking beyond him, and as he regained focus with shallow breaths he managed to turn his head enough to see vines and sticks coming together into a tight bundle that started to move on its own and stand upright. He could feel the tightness moving up his body and, looking down, saw that everything from his waist down was buried in the bottom of a tree. He looked frantically between the fae and the slowly animating bundle of material as it gained moss and grass, giving it a more defined form.
He begged, as the wood covered more of his body and pinned his arms. The fae ignored him, walking over and touching the bundle. It was a changeling, he began to remember from old stories, as it took its first breath and molded into a clearly human shape. He tried to scream but no one was listening. The last thing he saw before the wood closed over his eyes was himself, turning and walking out of the forest, the morning sun flashing in the changeling's eyes like a cat’s.