Shadow of Death Epilogue
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.
Shadow of Death, Part One
30 october 2005
"This is it, isn't it?" Huginn asked. The Two were in raven form, perched in a tree and watching the window of Lori's apartment where she was screaming and throwing things from her broom closet.
"Sure is," Muninn replied.
"How can you remember her memories, but not Aaboukingon's?"
"Aaboukingon is fully spirit. There was no human to access. But her..." The Two sat silent for a moment, as the screaming died down and was replaced with sobbing.
"Are you telling me Lori remembers all of this?" she asked, turning to the other raven.
"Everyone in her situation remembers. Not everyone chooses to recall." Huginn shuddered.
"That must be horrible!" Muninn nodded. "And you get stuck feeling all of that? From everyone? At the same time?"
"I also remember all of the good, all the time." Huginn sighed, and looked back to the window.
"I suppose that's something. For you, anyway. But for her-"
"She has complex feelings about the miscarriage," Muninn interrupted. He took a moment to scratch his beak with his foot, then turned to Huginn. "But that will become apparent very soon."
Golden Calf Epilogue
1 August 2005
Lori was sitting in her bedroom, humming along to the local Oldies station and hunched over her dresser poking holes in a couple wrapped condoms with a pin. Beside where she worked, a calendar lay open marked with phases of her menstrual cycle and the current date circled.
"Oh, tonight's the night. Can you feel it? Everything is finally coming together." She bobbed her head softly to the music for a moment, then laid the pin down and huffed. "Well no, I don't suppose you are, little miss hissy fit, but it's hardly your concern anyway." She rested her palms on the dresser and stood still, as if listening. "Well I don't know why you wouldn't," she said, forcefully, standing straight up and turning around, "he's magnificent, but like I said. I'm not leaving until it's done, and that includes delivery, so don't worry your pretty little head about it. You don't have to feel anything you don't want to." She leaned against the dresser and waited, then groaned and waved her hand dismissively. "Then you can go back to sleep. I have work to do." Her head drifted slowly to the side, then stopped when her gaze hit her bed. "And you, what are you doing here?"
Kastor stopped suddenly, his mouth wide open and prepared to bite into the memory of an apple. His eyes darted around the room, looking for anyone else she may have been speaking to.
"Yes, you, goatman," she said, the final word dripping like poison from her tongue. He lowered the apple and straightened up.
"So you CAN see me! I knew it!" he exclaimed, pointing at her.
"Did he send you? To spy on me?"
"Oh child, no one sends me anywhere. I'm not that kind of faun. But I suspect he'd be very interested to know what you're doing on that dresser there." She narrowed her eyes and leveled his gaze at him for a long moment, before slowly raising her hand and then snapping her fingers. Kastor raised an eyebrow, then his eyes slowly got wide as he heard a low growl behind him. He turned to find a massive black dog with red glowing eyes, its teeth bared and wispy shadows of fur raised. He jumped off the bed and stumbled backward. "The Hound! You--there's no way you have command of the Hound! You're not her!"
"Oh, that's true enough," she said, gracefully walking toward him, "but make no mistake. We have an arrangement, and if you do anything to threaten it, the Hound will be there." She leaned close to his ear and whispered, "and in that moment, you will wish I could really control him."
"Who...who are you in there? Really?"
"Give me one year, Kastor," she said, standing up and returning to the dresser. "If I so much as smell your horrid fur near Matteson for the next year, eternity ends for you."
"It was you, wasn't it? Everyone on my side knew that human, Mark, that his death wasn't natural. Did you do that?"
"I am not here to answer your theories, faun. But if you are wise, you will stay out of my way."
"A year and a day, fiend, and everything comes to light."
"Oh if you must, but it will be too late by then." The Hound drew closer to Kastor, who took a deep breath and backed up partly into the wall. "I suggest you go, now. My date will be arriving soon and I would hate to have to kill you on a technicality."
"Mark it. A year and a day, and you are undone." With that, Kastor vanished into the deeper parts of the Realm. The Hound sat and looked at Lori.
"I'm sure your mistress has other things for you to do. Thank you for your time." The Hound nodded, then slipped away into the shadows. "Well, I better get cleaned up. Big night tonight!"
Valley of Dry Bones Epilogue
23 December 2004
Alethea was sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, staring out at the water that had not yet begun to freeze, when a massive black dog walked up and sat next to her. She turned and looked at it. It wasn’t just black, she realized; it was almost as if its fur was composed of shadow rather than hair. Its eyes were red, and seemed to burn from inside its head, as it looked directly at her. In that moment, she was certain that not only did it know she was there, but it knew her, could see her in a more true and powerful way than anything else ever had. She recoiled at the notion.
“Now now, I know he’s imposing, but he’s just curious.” Alethea turned to find the source of the voice and caught sight of a massive woman, at least nine feet tall, with skin that shone like bronze and three faces with different crowns on each.
“Have you come to take me away?”
“Where to, my dear?”
“Well, it’s...I haven’t crossed over yet, and I thought that’s what was next for me.”
“Crossed over? Oh you poor thing, you should know by now you can’t do that until your business on Earth is complete” Alethea turned back and looked out at the lake.
“But he’s dead.”
“Is that all you wanted, though? Did you really stay bound to this world for so many years just to kill an old man?” Alethea rested her hands on her belly and looked down.
“I...well, no, but—” She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find the three-faced woman now a normal height and kneeling beside her.
“Roger was not the only man who let you down, was he?”
“How do you know?”
“I know much, my child. I know about you, and I know about John Matteson; and I know how to bring you together, if you will let me help you.” She removed her hand from Alethea’s shoulder and stood, then held her hand out as if inviting Alethea to take it. The girl began to reach out, then stopped and looked up at the woman.
“What do you get out of helping me?”
“Is there a price too high to finally bring your child into the world, and be free of all this pain and these men?” Alethea paused, then took her hand, and they vanished.
Valley of Dry Bones, Part Eight
15 December 2004
You know you have this coming.
“Unappreciative little brat,” Roger muttered, his eyes glazed over and staring into space. “I fed you, clothed you, did everything that was asked of me. You could have had it so much worse!” He suddenly found himself clear-headed, his vision normal, and sitting in a wheelchair. The nurse walking along beside him was looking down at him with concern, holding a clipboard and a set of keys. He was moving, and as he looked back he could see that another nurse was pushing his chair.
“Mr. Bilson? Can you hear me? Who are you talking to?”
“I...I was having a bad dream.”
“I suppose it must’ve been.” They were passing through the lobby, Roger realized, and about a half dozen people were staring at him as he passed.
They know. They all heard you.
“No, no,” he whispered, lowering his head and holding up his hands to block his face.
Do you even remember what you just confessed to? He didn’t. Everything was now a blur since the hallway of his apartment.
“What...where are we going?”
“You’ve been approved for some more direct care, sir. We’re taking you to a new apartment where you can get the help you need.”
No, they’re not.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“It’s a nursing home, Mr. Bilson. You’re going to need a lot of help with that ankle and the nasty hit to your head. We’ll take good care of you there.” They passed through the doors to the cold night outside, where a van was waiting.
They’re not taking you anywhere. It’s time. Roger gasped as he felt his entire body go cold and then begin moving without his control. An elbow to one nurse, a punch to the other. It all happened so fast, and so much harder than he thought his body could hit. He heard screams but couldn’t place them. Then he had the keys, and he heard his ankle snap as he ran around to the door of the van. He wanted to scream, to stop, to sit down and let them take him and just pray his final days would be comfortable, but his body climbed into the van and started it. He raced away from the hospital, tearing through the neighborhood with reckless abandon.
When the van slammed into the side of a building, he could feel bones shatter and the wind get knocked out of his lungs. Everything felt like it was on fire, blood trickling down his arms and legs. He kicked the door clean off the van and stumbled out, walking straight for the water.
“No, no, please! Not like this!” He suddenly had his voice again, but nothing else. On a telephone pole he found a coat left for the homeless, and his body grabbed it and put it on as he passed. He continued to plead, but heard no answer and felt no change. He made promises, laid curses, screamed in agony as the pain from all his wounds continued to grow.
When he came to the wide rocky shore, he began grabbing rocks and shoving them into his pockets as he yelled for help. No one came as he crossed the distance from Chicago to Lake Michigan. No one came as he stepped into the lake and walked forward. No one heard his last scream for release before his mouth went under the water.
No one ever saw Roger Bilson again.
Golden Calf, Part One
27 February 2005
Six bodies lay strewn about the room. Two of them were barely recognizable as human, just dry husks whose shriveled faces were frozen into screams. The others had died of stabbing or slashing wounds, the room covered with splatters of blood and bullet holes. In the center of the room stood a man with hair that was just barely starting to gray on the edges of his sharp, light bronzed face. He waved his hand slowly over a knife, and the blood on it rose from the blade to follow.
"I did warn you," he said, flicking his wrist so the floating blood flew into the face of a dead man in a suit. "I told you it was dangerous to get in my way, that pushing me would not end well for you." He straightened his posture and tucked the knife into a holster in his jacket. "Really, you've no one to blame but yourself. Pity you had to take your associates with you." He turned to walk out when a woman's scream ripped through the room. He turned suddenly, raising his hand in the same posture as it had been over the knife, and found the ghost of a young woman. Her hair was blonde and drifted through the air as if it was in water.
"Matteson!" She yelled, floating toward him.
"Who are you? What business do you have with me?"
"I smell him! Where is Matteson?!"
"I am Jeremiah Matteson," he said, lowering his hand, "and I would appreciate some answers." She stopped just in front of him, her toes danging a foot off the ground so her eyes could be level with his.
"Where is John Matteson?"
"John? I don't...wait, Henry. Did Henry have a son? A son who draws the attention of ghosts?" She took a deep sniff of him, then scowled.
"You share blood with him, but you have nothing more of value to me." She began to float away from him.
"Wait! What do you know about John Matteson?"
"You are not him." With that, she vanished. Jeremiah stood for a moment, then smiled.
"It's been a long time, Henry. Perhaps too long." He turned and, with a wave of his hand, vanished.
Valley of Dry Bones, Part Three
11 December 2004
Roger Bilson had lived alone ever since his wife died. He sold the house a few years later and moved into a little apartment downtown, where he wasn't responsible for all the maintenance and had relatively easy access to all his necessities. The money from the house gave him a bit of a head start and the retirement checks kept him afloat, but the apartment was beginning to show the effects of his limited income and mobility. His armchair was ragged and vaguely brown, the pictures on the wall hadn't been dusted in at least five years, and the table next to the chair was covered in medications, remotes, and the containers from three tv dinners.
The pictures were old, but a close examination would reveal a significant gap. There was a remnant from his wedding, in 1938, but then nothing until the 1970s. Then assorted pictures of church events, retirement, and vacations all the way up until shortly before his wife's death. Then, nothing again.
The television was showing the nightly news with the volume cranked up. Roger still kept the station on for the national news, but had started to lose interest in the affairs of the rest of the nation some time ago. Besides, by the time Dan Rather came on, Roger was growing tired, and he would usually fall asleep in front of whatever came on after. As the latest news from Washington was being explained, Roger was in the restroom, brushing his teeth.
He looked up from rinsing his toothbrush and suddenly saw Alethea in the mirror, standing behind him. He screamed, dropped his toothbrush, and blinked, and she was gone. When he turned, he saw nothing. He held the edges of the sink tightly, staring at the mirror until he was certain there was nothing there. Once he had caught his breath and calmed down, he slowly turned and made his way back to the chair and his nightly medications.
Valley of Dry Bones, Part Two
11 December 2004
The murder-suicide of Rufus and Elaine Matteson drew the attention of the local news, not least because the circumstances seemed highly unusual. The damage to the apartment and the way Rufus was damaged was enough to prove that forces other than the knife in her hand were involved, and no one could quite place what they were. A local paranormal blog had begun offering suggestions, but police were disinterested in those suspicions.
In their attempts to get the best coverage of the event, the local news had turned to interviewing anyone who might have had insight into Rufus, Elaine, or the event itself. One neighbor was of particular interest for having claimed to hear terrible noises coming from the apartment, noises that seemed entirely unnatural. He was an elderly man, a widower of twenty years, who had not drawn the attention of anyone since his daughter went missing in 1961. He explained to the news crew, as well as the police, that it sounded like a tornado had ripped through the Matteson apartment, along with screams no earthly voice could muster. There was, of course, significant doubt about his story. It made for good television, but the police could hardly do anything with ethereal screaming.
One thing that did catch the attention of the people walking past one little electronics store uptown, however, is that when he came on screen and his name was given, they heard a similar scream which shattered the windows of the shop. Without any discussion among them, each witness quietly chose to forget the incident and get home quickly. From a nearby rooftop, two ravens observed the shop and then one's gaze followed down the street, tracking something no mortal eyes present could see. The other looked to a massive black dog, hiding in an alley and watching.
Valley of Dry Bones, Part One
10 December 2004
Rufus Matteson was a young man who, as it happens, had absolutely no connection to John Matteson. His ancestry was completely unrelated to John's, and was actually given their name on purpose. Really, the ways that completely disconnected bloodlines can end up with the same name can get fascinating if you're into that sort of thing; but let's assume for the moment you aren't. What matters here is that Rufus had very little in common with John. He was a fairly responsible young man, for one thing, and not given to ghost hunts or other trappings of the paranormal. He had married young to a woman named Elaine, picked up a stable job, and due to a medical condition they had no children but had discussed the possibility of adopting someday. The only reason that Rufus and Elaine intersect with our story at all, in fact, is that he happened to be named Matteson, in Chicago, when Alethea was seeking a new way to accomplish her goals and thought maybe the name was what mattered.
Rufus had noticed over the past few weeks that Elaine was acting odd. She was forgetful of things he knew she cared about, distracted, moody, and wasn't sleeping well. This was paired with a heightened libido, almost hypersexuality, which he didn't much mind but did note as unusual. He had attempted to ask about the whole package of changes, but she was resistant to acknowledge that anything was off and he wasn't sure how to help her see it without upsetting her.
He grew more worried when he found her crying. He tried to comfort her, but when she demanded to know why they weren't conceiving, he sat down and tried to remind her that they couldn't. This was the last straw, he knew it. If she couldn't remember even that, then something was deeply wrong. He reached for his phone and she screamed at him to stop. The noise had a tangible force behind it, and he fell to his side and hit the floor hard. When he turned back, she was floating, her eyes glowing and her hair gently waving away from her as though she was underwater. He crawled backward away from her as she began yelling, in two voices, about how he'd failed her, how all men knew how to do was fail her. He begged her to stop, to leave, to do anything other than this. She lunged at him.
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