11 September 1972
Jeremiah's birthday passed with a small party in which Elizabeth jokingly referred to him as his correct age. No one else present knew that he was actually turning 66 that day, but they knew he had been growing a bit irritable lately and she give him a little light-hearted ribbing for becoming a grumpy old man.
As he stood out in the backyard later, staring at the sky, he thought about why that joke had landed so well. He had been incredibly frustrated lately, but he hadn't wanted to think about why. He had tried hard not to dwell on how he seemed stuck in the same kind of poverty he'd turned his back on so long ago. He was constantly pushing thoughts out of his mind about how limited he felt living as human, how powerless he felt with dark skin in the wake of King's death, how little of the world he got to see now that he was tied down to a house and a wife and a child who showed no sign of inheriting anything extraordinary from him. He didn't want to dwell on how time just dragged and crawled while he did the same endless work over and over again to provide food for his family.
Jeremiah told himself he loved his wife, and his son, more than anything; and he really believed it. But he was growing to hate what it meant to be with them, to play along to the rules of a government that viewed him as lower than human when he was so eager to show himself superior. He hated the community he and Elizabeth were trying to save. He hated his little house and his little city and his little life.
An old fire was burning in his chest, and he didn't know how long he could contain it.
5 February 1963
Henry James Matteson was born in the bathtub of his parents' home, delivered by his maternal grandmother. When Elizabeth went into labor, Mama Kline was immediately called, and she shot off a phone call of her own before making her way over. By the time Jeremiah emerged to get a pitcher of water and some glasses, nearly every Kline (and some accepted additions) he had ever met was gathered in the living room and kitchen.
The years of fighting about racial equality were beginning to get under his skin, and Jeremiah had begun to focus more and more internally ever since Elizabeth informed him she was pregnant. As such, he was loathe to be out of that bathroom for any length of time. His concerns about the absence of Aaboukingon in his own youth stung most fiercely as he spent more and more time aware of his pending fatherhood, and while he knew he couldn't be there for everything his son would face, he felt he needed to at least be present for Henry's first glimpse of light.
But there were others in the house now who knew far more about delivering a child than Jeremiah did, and there was no room beside that tub for spectators. With promises that he would be brought in as soon as possible, Jeremiah found himself slowly relegated to the living room for congratulations, excited discussion, and well-meaning but largely repetitive advice. He greeted people who popped by just to check on progress and deliver a plate of something or another, and tried to drift between rooms, and by the time he was called back into the bathroom he felt like he'd aged a decade.
But as he stood beside the tub, holding his newborn son, he whispered a short blessing and oath he had learned in his travels, then looked to Elizabeth with a smile, and everything seemed like it had finally come together.
9 April 1961
For decades, Jeremiah drifted in and out of the metaphysical realm. He spent most of his time among spirits, wandering deeper and deeper into their realm, learning their ways and customs, making connections, but never finding quite what he was looking for. The more time he spent away from the world of man, the more he wondered what it even was that he wanted. When he set out, it had been about money and a comfortable life, or at least that's what he told himself. When the economy collapsed and he stepped into the world of spirits, he realized that money would never be secure enough to meet his desire. So he sought power, but his rejection from the River Network and his human nature closed too many doors. In the later half of the 1950s, he finally returned to the physical realm for an extended period, to remind himself what he was missing and refocus on whatever it was he had always been searching after.
Not all waters are part of the River Network, and they have varying views on how to deal with the edicts of one another. So he found himself settling among the Great Lakes, their freshwater welcoming his blood and their independence from the River Network preventing his utter rejection. He still found hatred from mankind, however, for his dark skin and long, straight hair; but there was a civil rights movement underway, and he was able to find acceptance among black people to match the hatred he received from the whites. It was in these days that he met Elizabeth Kline, a black woman living in Erie and seeking opportunities for community action. She was stern and fierce with those who stood against her, and patient with those who, like Jeremiah, had never fully considered the larger impacts of race in his country but was willing to learn.
They spent a great deal of time together, with Jeremiah slowly getting involved in Elizabeth's community. He avoided using his powers, or revealing much about his true nature, but he began to find himself otherwise surprisingly open with her. It was a couple years before they began dating, and more information on his nature and history began to arise in their conversations, and a little over a year into that relationship he finally began to piece together what he wanted out of life. From his father that never rose from the river, and his mother that wanted him to be someone he wasn't, and his communities that feared him and the spirits that turned their backs to him; in Elizabeth, for the first time as he reckoned it, he found an acceptance that did not demand him to give up half of himself or play by rules that seemed designed to keep him out. In her community, he found people more interested in his commitment to them than in his origins. He gathered his mother's books from the place he had hidden them, and at Elizabeth's urging began adding his own notes on the things he found in his years away from the physical realm. He managed to secure a house, and on April 9, 1961, they were married and she moved in. She kept her name, as she had expressed desire to do and he wished to respect her identity as much as she respected his, but it was agreed their children would get his name if only because no one else could pass it along.
For the first time, Jeremiah was happy.
28 April 2007
As you drive east, along one of the ways between Youngstown and New Castle, there is on one road a location where you pass out of Ohio about a hundred feet before you pass into Pennsylvania. No map shows a distinction here, and it only exists in this one location; but the signs that welcome you to each state are spaced accordingly, and no one owns or collects taxes on the small shop that sits directly between them. For years at a time, the shop looks abandoned. There are no signs on the front or on the broken post at the edge of the road, the grass grows through the gravel parking lot unhindered, the windows and door are boarded over and there are never any lights that shine on the property. What it used to be, if it can be certain to have ever been anything, is unclear. It has the general look of a convenience store, though admittedly one without gas, but the wood lattice creating a small hallway in front of the store resembles something generally found on a farm store or small grocer. The roof slopes slightly down toward the back, and the building seems longer than could really be accounted for without some additional purpose. It definitely seems designed to sell something, but no one who lives nearby could tell you what.
Not that they would think to. People drive past it all day, never glancing at it or making remark. The trucking company next door, squarely within Ohio state borders, never parks any vehicles on its lot or turns its lights to illuminate that side of their property in a way that would cross over the line to the shop's property. It is one of the only buildings nearby with no graffiti of any sort, certainly the only abandoned building to claim such an honor.
Rick was driving east down that very road, on the way back from a final errand before his weekend away with some friends at Alice's family cabin. He was on the phone with Matteson, confirming plans, when he realized how thirsty he was and how much farther he had to go. With a promise to see the others soon, he hung up the phone and began watching for somewhere to stop for a bottle or two of pop. As he drew near the Pennsylvania line, he noticed, for the first time, a shop on his left. It looked warm and inviting, the gravel parking lot well maintained and the windows covered in signs that advertised some unspecified sale. "Gob's Market," the sign above the latticework read. He pulled into the lot and got out, glancing to the "Welcome to Ohio" sign facing him from one direction and the "Pennsylvania Welcomes You" sign facing him from the other. With a chuckle, he walked toward the door, reminding himself to only buy what he needed for the drive since he and the others had already stocked for the weekend.
The inside of the store was brightly lit, but small. Across from the door was a short and lanky man, standing behind a metal office desk with a till on it that looked like it was newly made, but of a style that hadn't been in use for nearly a century. The desk looked second-hand, like it had been dropped at a donations shop after an office determined the spots of rust were unsafe for their space, but the till had fine gold filigree covering its edges. The man gave Rick a toothy smile and waved him in.
"Come, buy!" he said.
"Yes, thanks," Rick answered, looking at the man with concern. "I just need some-" he turned to where the merchandise would be and found only one cooler, a single glass door between him and the store's entire stock of four kinds of pop; all of which were common picks for Rick at stores that had more variety. "-uh, yeah. That." He turned and opened the door, grabbing out two bottles of Dr. Pepper, and walked over to set them on the desk. The man nodded as if they were sharing a secret, and began typing quickly on the till. The price popped up, and Rick pulled out his card before looking around at the desk. "I don't suppose you take credit here?"
"No credit. You buy," the man said, slapping the desk. Rick raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath as he shook his head slightly, then pulled a few dollars from his wallet. He handed them to the man, who looked over them for a moment, sniffed them, and then counted and huffed. He opened the drawer of the desk, and Rick noticed an assortment of gold coins and foreign-looking currency and a gemstone. The man threw the bills into the drawer and dug around for a bit, pulling out two quarters, giving them a bite as if checking them, and then handing them to Rick with a nod.
"Uh, okay. Thanks!" Rick said, picking up his drinks and leaving. He paused at the door and gave one last glance to the man, as if making sure he wouldn't follow, but the man seemed preoccupied with typing into his till again. Rick shook his head and left. After the sound of tires on gravel moved away from the building and was replaced by the roar of an engine entering traffic, the man absently reached up and pulled at an invisible string above his head. There was a click, and the shop went completely dark. Outside, it looked just as abandoned and unmarked as it ever had, the grass in the gravel lot swaying in the wind.