5 June 1986
“I told you not to bring none of this shit home with you, Henry!” Elizabeth yelled, reloading her revolver. As she did, a demon tore partway through the couch that had been blocking the doorway into the dining room. “You’re replacing that!”
“Let me focus, ma!” Henry shouted back, drawing sigils on the floor with salt.
“If I gotta die cause you wouldn’t listen to me, I’m damn well gonna go down telling you so!” She fired off two more shots, sending the demon scratching at its face.
“We’re not gonna die if you just let me focus!”
Behind them, Mary was holding John and trying to console him, but John was staring across the room. As she repeatedly promised everything would be alright and his daddy knew what he was doing, John started to wriggle and push. It took a moment of effort, but he slipped out of her arms and ran across the living room, kicking through salt as he went and ignoring the calls from both parents until he stood facing the demon.
“No!” John yelled. He crossed his arms and stomped his foot. “You go!” The demon staggered back, and everyone else stopped and stared silently. As the demon regained its footing and took a step forward again, John balled his fists and stomped again. “Go!” he screamed, his eyes glowing as the room started to shake. The demon roared as it fought to keep its footing, and then launched backward and vanished. The room was silent and still for a minute, and then Henry stepped forward and knelt beside John.
As Henry tried (and failed) to get information out of John about how he did that, and Elizabeth began cleaning up from the encounter, Mary stepped out onto the porch for some fresh air. Two ravens were sitting on the railing of the porch, and Mary didn’t even take the time to register that they weren’t flying away before she sat down and started to vent.
“What the hell is going on here?” she demanded of the air. “Is Henry really going to keep bringing shit like this home? Am I going to be expected to keep letting our son deal with it?” She turned to the ravens, who struck her as seeming like they were listening. “Is there any escape from this path he’s chosen? Is John really going to be a weapon?”
“Yes,” one of the ravens answered in a masculine voice. “John cannot escape this life. It will find him, no matter where he is, no matter what you do.”
“This can’t be happening.”
“Henry can prepare him to handle it and survive.”
“What are you?”
“A witness.” The raven hopped down from the railing to stand on her lap, and she hesitantly brought her hand forward. The raven didn’t move, and gradually, she rested her hand on its head as if to pet it. When she made contact, a burst of images went off in her mind, all of them of John. Here he was being followed by a massive beast, there he was charging through flames at a man with a serpentine face, there he stood before the great world tree. She gasped and drew back from the raven, and the two stared at each other for a moment as tears began to form at the corners of her eyes.
“I can’t,” she said, softly, “I can’t be a part of this.”
“Please don’t make me choose!”
“It’s too late for that, Mary.” The raven flapped its wings and then, instead of taking off, simply vanished. She looked and saw the other was gone, as well.
15 September 2016
Ultimately, the decision had been reached to change the layout of the rooms upstairs. Madeline needed a larger closet space, Jackie needed a room for her meditations that could house her assorted supplies, and there was no need for three bedrooms. After months of planning and layout discussions and ensuring they had the legal issues covered and she knew what she was doing, Jackie set about taking down the master bedroom wall to expand into the room next to it. She had only managed to work for about twenty minutes, however, before she was stopped by the sight of something tucked inside the wall.
It was a metal case, locked closed with rust on the hinges. Jackie set it aside and spent some time digging around in the walls for anything else that didn’t belong, but came back empty handed. There were no keys in the wall, and none of the keys she had that went with the house worked in it. She fiddled with it for the better part of an hour before deciding to just force it and, one carefully-phrased spell later, she found a cache of envelopes and cards inside. The cards were loose, having apparently been opened at some point; their own envelopes must have been discarded, as the envelopes in the case were letter-sized and unopened. Everything was addressed to John Matteson, while the return addresses listed either a Mary Matteson or, in later cases, Mary Roemer. Most had been sent from Seattle. Jackie flipped through the cards, and found them also written out to John and signed “Mom,” with the last one bearing a large twelve on the front.
She set the case down in front of her and stared at it for a few minutes, processing what she was seeing. Who hid these? Why? Did Matteson know? Was it really her place to tell him if he didn’t? That last one was the easiest, she decided, so she picked up her phone and sent him a text.
“I found something in the wall while doing the remodel,” she said.
Matteson replied immediately. “What is it?”
“Letters for you.” She attached a picture. Her phone sat silent for nearly five minutes. She didn’t move or stop staring at it the whole time.
“I’m on my way,” he finally replied.
She nodded, picked up the case, and walked down to the dining room table. She knew she had time to get some more work before he got there, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything but brace herself and wait.
16 June 2007
It had taken some effort to find it, but Jackie was sure she’d identified a promising site to reach across the hedge. According to the water spirits, there was a ley line that crossed the Shenango River outside a little town called Pulaski. She’d heard about it early after moving to the area, but didn’t have the means or a good reason to bother hunting it down before. But now, with the search for Rick in full swing, and since Matteson had basically given her Henry’s car once she had her license set up in PA and he wasn’t able to drive her around, she was finally prepared to go investigate.
She arrived just after dusk, having gone home to change and grab a few final supplies after work. The main thing had been the blood. With Hecate’s magic not getting the results she needed, Jackie had turned her focus to the rituals passed down by her grandmother, which included animal blood. She was thankful the local butcher hadn’t asked too many questions about why she needed the blood, and knew she couldn’t risk the conversations that would happen if she tried to leave it at work during her shift. So it was in the fridge at the house, and once she had it in hand, she was ready to go.
It took about an hour and a half to set the ritual up, between making sure everything was in the right place and chanting the incantations over various elements. When everything was finally ready she took her place and pulled the ring Rick had been hiding out of her pocket. She stood silent for a moment, closing her eyes and holding the ring up to her forehead, thinking about him. About his face, her feelings for him, the moment she realized what he was about to do. The last words she ever heard him say.
“Walaya,” she whispered. “Ansarasa Richard?” The ring began to glow faintly as she kissed it and moved it away, holding it at arm’s length directly ahead. “Ansarasa kupia?” The air began to crackle and hiss as she poured her focus into the spell. She saw a road begin to form before her in her mind’s eye, a path through the hedge that led directly to the Crossroads. She tried to focus, to push farther, but she couldn’t get any more information than that. No paths from the Crossroads became clear, it was just a jumble of different roads and trails, a maze that had no end. She strained against the resistance, biting her lip until she drew blood, the ring glowing bright as day and burning her fingers as the blood dripped down her chin and fell to the markings at her feet. She could feel him there, just beyond where she was looking, if she could just identify a road. Her head started to throb as she pushed harder, but nothing came into focus. She pushed, and cried, and screamed, and repeated her incantations until she had no energy left.
As the vision suddenly departed and the ring fell from her hands, she fell to her knees and opened her eyes. Her head was spinning, her vision unclear, her body weak. She brought her burnt and shaking hands to her eyes as she cried, rocking back and forth as she battled to hold onto the last shreds of hope in her ability to find him. If this took everything she had, she reasoned, and it wasn’t enough…
“Impressive,” a male voice said. She looked up but couldn’t make out details of the man standing before her. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair looked long and dark, maybe with areas of gray, but it was hard to tell through the exhaustion and tears. “Jacqueline, was it? You’ve certainly made a name for yourself among the water spirits around here. Jacqueline the water witch, galavanting around with the Riverborn Anchor. Has he told you about me, young lady?” He knelt down before her, leaning his head close enough that she was finally able to make out some familiar features on his weathered face. “Have you heard about John’s dear old grandfather?”
Her eyes went wide as she realized this was Jeremiah, and she immediately reached out and began trying to utter a curse. But her voice was strained, and her body was weak, and she only got two syllables out before she fell over, coughing.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, pulling away to dodge her hand and then standing. He looked her over as he brushed the dirt from his knee. “You have considerable skill, I’ll grant you that. But you’re far outside of your league, and made of an awful lot of water.” He raised his hand and she felt her body lift off the ground as she fought for air. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t serve my purposes to kill you right now. I just need you to be a message to John.”
She whimpered as she felt her body being pushed and pulled, her muscles being kneaded like dough. Her lungs struggled to hold what little oxygen she could get in through her gasping breath, and her heart strained against her chest as her vision started to fade.
“Sleep well, little witch,” he said, just before she blacked out.
18 June 1981
“You know,” Mary started, pushing aside a branch as she tried to keep up, “when you said you were investigating a haunted site, I kind of expected it to be a house.” Ahead of her was Henry, wearing a pack of camping gear on his back and looking through a crystal as he pressed into the woods. It was getting late in the day, but not yet late enough that they needed flashlights, and they were exploring a forest in western Connecticut.
“Well, there are houses here,” he said, stopping to look around, “but mostly they’re just foundations now.”
“So no beds or freshly-brewed coffee.”
“No, none of that out here.”
“What’s the deal with this place, anyway?”
“Dudleytown was a settlement founded by a British family who allegedly carried a curse with them when they came to the New World. Word has it the residents fell into madness and the site into disrepair until it was ultimately abandoned. The Warrens came by a few years ago and said it was definitely demon possessed.”
“And this is the type of thing you do? Go looking for demons and curses to expose yourself to?”
“I hunt them. The things that threaten mankind, the creatures that pose a danger to our safety, I track them down and I do what I can to protect people from them.”
“And this pays the bills somehow?”
“Well…no. Not really.”
“So when you asked me to marry you, how were you planning on keeping us fed and housed?”
Henry stopped and lowered the crystal before turning to her. “I suppose that is something we should talk about.”
“Yes. Yes, we should.” She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him, leaning in as he returned the hug. “I believe you when you say you’ll keep me safe in situations like this, but there’s a whole rest of our lives to be concerned about.”
“I can’t exactly do this type of work with the hours the mills demand.”
“I know, and I get it. Didn’t you say that other couple makes a living doing paranormal investigations?”
“That’s rare, and they do work that’s more marketable than mine. I don’t really know what marketable skills I have that would give me the freedom to do what I need to do.”
Mary pulled away and took his hand. As they started walking again, she asking him to tell her more about the Dudleys. Over the next hour, as they searched through the woods, he explained their alleged tie to a man killed for treason, and the settlement of the region. He talked about the site and the local settlements, how Dudleytown fit into the region, the madness and the suicides that claimed so many of its residents. Mary got their campfire going while he set up the tent, and when he finally sat down and stopped talking she smiled over to him. “You should go to school.”
“You should enroll in classes when we get back,” she said, digging some dried meat out of the bag for both of them, “history classes. Get a degree as a history teacher.”
“And why do you think I should be a history teacher?”
“It’s your real passion. I mean, I get it, the supernatural stuff is something you feel you need to do, a calling you can’t ignore, and that’s fine. But your mind is always in the past. I constantly see you reading up on history, and you talk about it constantly. You love it, and you’re good at explaining it. There’s a real shot at a career there.”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“So give it a shot. Maybe while you’re there, you’ll find a different field more appealing, and we can sort that out. But at least you’ll have a track.”
“Okay, yeah. I’ll look into some schools as soon as we get home.”
They sat in silence for a moment, before Henry stopped and looked around. “Do you hear that?” he asked.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Listen!” They both listened for a couple minutes. “It’s absolutely silent. No animals, no wind, nothing.”
“Is that normal?”
“I think it’s what we came looking for. Come on, let’s investigate.”
Mary rose, took his hand, and followed him into the trees.
12 August 1985
“What the fuck is a bob-cha?” Mary demanded, her hands on her hips, as Henry walked in the door. They were in Elizabeth’s house in Sharon, where they were staying while Henry focused on finishing his degree and Mary picked up hours down at Mike’s Corner Market.
“Hello dear, class was fine, thanks for asking, how were things here?” Henry answered, setting his briefcase by the door and hanging up his hat.
“Things here were fine until Johnny started throwing a fit because I had gotten him a drink when he apparently wanted some ‘bob-cha’ thing to do it!”
“Sounds like you’re trying to say ‘babcia.’”
“Is that not what I just said?”
Henry hummed, in the way Mary had learned meant he wanted to disagree but wasn’t going to start, as he slipped past her into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. “Yeah alright.”
“What the fuck is it, Henry?”
“It’s a Polish name for one’s grandma.”
“And where did our son learn a Polish name for a grandma? And why was he pointing at thin air as if someone was there?”
Henry stopped, stood silent for a moment, then set the glass down. “He did what?”
“What do you know, Henry? What aren’t you telling me here?”
“I…don’t know yet. We need to check something. Where’s the boy?”
“He’s in the back yard.”
“Please go get him. I need to find a book.”
Mary, John, and Elizabeth sat in the living room for close to five minutes before Henry walked in with a photo album. Elizabeth was watching television, and John was sitting on Mary’s lap focused on the screen. Mary’s eyes didn’t shift away from Henry as he made his way into the room and knelt in front of her. He opened it to a page with a number of images of a woman, all of them in black and white, but spanning various ages of her life.
“Johnny,” he said, tapping John on the arm. When John looked, he turned the book toward the boy. “Do you know her?”
John pointed to one of the pictures, when she looked to be in her forties. “Babcia!”
Henry sighed and closed the book. “And is Babcia here now?”
John looked around and shook his head.
“Who is that?” Mary asked.
“My paternal grandmother, Joanna.”
“You talked to him about that bastard’s family?” Elizabeth demanded. “I said his name was not to come up in this house!”
“No, I didn’t.” Henry stood and closed the book. “I think Joanna has.”
“I don’t want no haunting bullshit in my house! Can’t you do something about it? With all those books of yours?”
Henry watched John as the boy’s attention drifted back to the television. “I haven’t been able to do anything supernatural around Johnny since he was in the womb. I didn’t think much of it, but now…”
“Now what?” Mary asked, after he fell silent.
“If he’s seeing ghosts so easily, and blocking magic, I have to consider the possibility he’s something else.”
“Something inhuman?” Elizabeth asked. “Like that son of a bitch father of yours?”
“No. Not like him. But maybe useful against him. Something that can stop him.”
“This is our son,” Mary hissed, blocking John’s ears. “He isn’t a weapon, he’s a child!”
“He won’t be a child forever.”
“Oh my God!” Mary picked John up and stood. “I…I can’t even imagine what’s going through your head right now!”
“Mary, look, it’s just—”
“No! We’re going to go start on dinner. You wait here and think about what you’re suggesting. We can talk about this later.” She stormed off toward the kitchen, asking John if he wanted to help her make some food. As she left, Henry sat down and rubbed his hand over the album.
“You think he really poses some threat to your father?” Elizabeth asked, softly.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Like, a real threat? Able to end this?”
“Then train him.”
“You pick what’s important here, Henry. And you pay what it costs.”