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.
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.”
8 August 1979
Elizabeth had a hell of a day at work, and wanted nothing more than to slip into a more comfortable outfit, pour a drink, and listen to music until she passed out. Henry was still away, and she had just picked up a new record the day before, and she even had tomorrow off. It was shaping up to be a good night, despite everything. She walked into the dark living room, locked the door behind her, and threw her keys in the bowl on the little table nearby.
“You didn’t make yourself easy to find.” That voice. Elizabeth would never forget it as long as she lived. In one movement, she had spun to face it and drawn a pistol she kept under her dress just in case this moment ever came.
“And you still ain’t taking hints, Jeremiah,” she hissed. There was a click, the sound of the lamp, as Jeremiah turned it on. There he was, in the flesh, just sitting in her living room as if he belonged there. Elizabeth corrected her aim, now that she could see his forehead.
“I don’t mean to impose, Liz. But I have some concerns about our boy and thought I should try talking to you about it.” He tapped his fingers on the wound that was still healing across his face. “Where do you think Henry is right now?”
“Ain’t none of your business what I think or know about that boy anymore. You turned killer and ran off.”
“Can’t I show a little concern? For his safety?”
“Not now. Not ever. You had your chance, when I was in court, when we were driven out of my home, when we struggled to pull a life together here! You didn’t give a shit then, and you expect me to believe you give a shit now?”
“Now listen,” Jeremiah started, pressing his hands into the arm rests. Just as he started to push against them to stand, Elizabeth pulled the trigger. It was too high, she hadn’t adjusted properly when he started to lean forward, but it hit bone and left a bloody mess on the wall behind him. Jeremiah slumped back into the seat and grabbed his head, screaming curses.
“Why should I listen to you?”
“Henry did this!” He screamed, pointing at the older wound on his face. “He’s come after me, Liz, and I can’t have that, you hear me? You stupid fucking mortals are picking a fight you can’t win!”
“You bleed like someone who can lose to us mortals.” She cocked the hammer back and leveled the gun at him again. “You run along now, Cain, unless you wanna bleed some more. You lost your home, you got your mark, and don’t you ever forget that you earned it by what you did to your family.” They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jeremiah growled.
“You’ll regret this.” With that, he vanished.
“No,” she said, “I won’t.”
25 December 1975
Elizabeth couldn’t place an origin on Henry’s love of books and knack at study. He had loved the books she read to him as soon as he was old enough to show a reaction, and took a special interest in the various fairy tales Jeremiah would tell him, some of which were apparently drawn from his own experiences in the Metaphysical Realm. It wasn’t until Henry could read for himself that he noticed the difference between stories everyone else knew and stories that, near as he could tell, only he and Jeremiah could recall. Pursuit of more information on this matter ultimately led him to studying history, a subject he quickly excelled in.
When they first moved away from Erie, all of their belongings had been stored with friends and family, the important things brought down quickly when they secured their new home. Elizabeth had reverted to her maiden name to distance herself from what she dubbed ‘the Jeremiah problem,’ and as she began unpacking and answering questions about the rest of their things, she was just as eager to lose anything belonging to Jeremiah as she was to drop his name. There were very few things that could really even be considered his, one of which was the necklace of sand that Henry had already stolen away. But there was a much larger thing Elizabeth had to decide about.
When Henry awoke on their first Christmas in the new house, he was presented with a tree that had only two presents under it; one Elizabeth had managed to buy for her son, and one he had managed to buy for her using money from his new paper route. Elizabeth made the most of the morning, and then asked Henry to cover his eyes and take her hand. She led him down to the basement, where he hadn’t been allowed in a few months. When he opened his eyes, it was to the sight of Jeremiah’s books, originally belonging to Joanna. Elizabeth explained that they had been in storage basically all his life, things Jeremiah insisted on keeping but did not seem invested in using. With the help of her brother, she had set up a small library in the basement over the last six months for her bookworm son, and now the space was all his. She didn’t entirely know what the books were even about—some of them weren’t even in English—but she figured they were his by right and he was old enough now to decide their usefulness to him.
She can’t have realistically known how dark his mind had been since watching Jeremiah kill that salesman. Part of the problem, of course, is that she didn’t actually know he had seen it happen. The common understanding was that Henry had walked into the hallway just as Jeremiah fled, and then found the already dead body. She suspected there was more to it than that, based on the way he had acted about it, but basically assumed Jeremiah had said something before he left that rattled the boy. It seemed, to her, that if it had been worse than that, he would have reacted worse; or, at the very least, would have been honest with her when she asked what happened. But Henry had decided, then and there, that he was going to be the sort of man who kept secrets. There was nothing else for it. There was a lot he didn’t know about the world, but he certainly knew a fairy tale monster when he saw one in action, and he knew how the world looked at those who told fairy tales when they asked for history.
And now, out of the blue, he was being handed all the secrets of the universe. He could feel it. There was something big in this room. Something bigger than reality itself. Here, there was story. It practically crackled in the air as he ran his hands over the spines of the books. If knowledge is power, and it certainly must be in a world where something like Jeremiah Matteson exists, then he knew, that Christmas, that he was going to make himself powerful.
And he knew exactly who he would turn that power against.
1 February, 1975
There was no way to avoid the fact that Elizabeth had a dead white man laying on her lawn. By the time police arrived, word had spread around the neighborhood about the incident, and damage control among the community was being hotly debated. As a community organizer, the police were eager to charge Elizabeth and make a spectacle of her case, but there was simply too much evidence provided that pointed instead to her fleeing husband. The DA recognized that maybe the case against her would fly in other states, but Pennsylvania was trying to maintain a more progressive image, so the worst they could slap her with was conspiracy to murder and, possibly, aiding in Jeremiah’s escape. It was a flimsy case, and they knew it; there was no reason to believe Jeremiah had planned the murder or even knew the victim ahead of time, and Elizabeth was very willing to cooperate.
The trial attempted to cast all of her work in the community in the light of her alleged goals of white murder. The prosecution tried to bring Henry’s school records into the matter as evidence that he was being raised in a household that encouraged violence, but there was little there they could use. The ACLU provided a defense, which focused on the the glaring holes in the prosecution’s logic, Jeremiah’s mysterious origins and sudden disappearance after signs of agitation at his job, and the positive work Elizabeth had dedicated herself to carrying out in Erie.
It was a happy surprise when Elizabeth was found not guilty, but everyone knew remaining in Erie was going to be impossible for her and Henry from that point on. Instead of a celebration welcoming her home from the ordeal, the neighborhood helped them prepare to move and said their goodbyes. They stayed with cousins outside of the city for a time until their old house was sold, and then moved on to a little house in Sharon.
It was here that Elizabeth finally sat Henry down and explained what she knew of Jeremiah’s true nature.
Editor's Note: That new tracker on the sidebar of every blog is tracking donations I've received for Extra Life! Extra Life is a 24-hour gaming marathon in which players raise money for their local Children's Miracle Network hospital. I play for Boston Children's Hospital, and every cent I raise goes straight to them! To learn more or to participate in Extra Life, click here. To donate to my fundraiser, click the button below or on the sidebar. Thank you!
28 May 1974
Working at the docks was alright as work went. For people living in Jeremiah's neighborhood, there wasn't much available that was better, at least. As a nephil, he was stronger than the rest of the crew, which helped; and his connection to the water meant that working on the lake was a source of comfort in his life. But everything else about the job, from the actual work involved to the way the foreman treated the crew, was terrible. And outside of work, Jeremiah felt like his life was slipping further out of his control and settling into a much more mundane, hollow ritual than he had signed up for.
Elizabeth was still active in the community, of course. But with the death of so many people she had invested hope in and the dwindling influence of the Black Panthers, she was growing visibly jaded and sometimes seemed to just be going through the motions. The spark that had drawn him to stay in Erie with her was fading, and he didn't know how to reignite it. Henry was powerless; Jeremiah wasn't sure what he had expected his son to be able to do, but his perfectly human approach to life and blindness to spirits felt like an insult to Jeremiah. Life was growing repetitive, dry, normal. Jeremiah was growing resentful.
He was eating dinner and half listening as Henry told them about his day, mostly thinking about the foreman running his mouth earlier and how he was going to have to brace himself for more of the same tomorrow, when there was a knock on the door. Jeremiah snapped out of his reverie and looked across the table to Elizabeth, who looked worried. She'd been concerned lately about someone coming to the house because of her activities, and they weren't expecting guests. Bracing himself for the possibility that she was right, he stood and made his way to the door.
The salesman was lean, white, and wearing a suit that looked like it had been top of the line three owners ago. His deals were at least as fake as his smile, and he was clearly used to throwing people off and getting a good bit of his pitch in before his victims knew how to respond. He certainly caught Jeremiah off guard, since he was expecting something very different, and nearly managed to weasel his way in to perform a demonstration before Jeremiah's hand had him up off the ground by his collar. The man squeaked as Jeremiah's eyes narrowed on him.
"We're having dinner," Jeremiah hissed. "Have you no respect?"
"Oh, no, certainly, sir," the man replied, fumbling over his words as he adjusted to the situation. "I certainly have respect. I have nothing but respect! That's why I'm here, you see."
"I doubt that."
"I-I mean it! Really! You know, around the office, they talk about this neighborhood as a zoo. They do, can you believe that! They told me, they said, 'Jim, there's nothing there but dumb animals, you won't make no money there,' but I said, look here, now, these are hardworking people who've been trying to get a better life, right? Surely they'll want to know about-"
"Is this supposed to make you sound like the good guy?"
"Now, now, see, I'm trying to offer you something better, see, and you're just being threatening! Is this how you treat people offering you a chance to prove you're better than they say?" Jeremiah growled. "Fine! Fine, maybe I should just take these amazing offers back to-"
"Then you should hurry!" Jeremiah yelled, then threw the man back at the sidewalk. He didn't think about the way he threw him, or how much strength he used, until he heard the crack against the concrete and watched as blood started to pool around the salesman's motionless head. He was breathing deeply, clenching and unclenching his fists, when he heard the floor creak slightly behind him.
"...Dad? What did you do to him?" Jeremiah stood up stock straight and turned around to find Henry. The boy was shaking, his eyes wide with tears starting to gather in the corners. Jeremiah didn't know what to say. In that moment, he realized the life he had been dragging himself through was over. He turned back to glance at the man he'd just killed, then to his powerless, weak, mumbling son. Henry was waiting for an answer, or comfort, or something; Jeremiah wasn't sure what, exactly, he could offer at this point. So he took a deep breath, adjusted his shirt, and then nodded to Henry. The boy looked at him confused for a moment, before Jeremiah vanished into the metaphysical realm.
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.