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!"
27 May 2005
The sunset had not changed in human memory. A constant red sky, with a warm and welcoming sun blazing directly opposite the coastline, hovered over a wine-dark sea. Waves beat loudly against an unchanging cliff face, keeping a steady rhythm that gave structure to the sirens singing on the rocks at the base of the cliff. Rocky crags and cave openings dotted the cliff face, each decorated with nests made from the remains of ships spanning centuries and cultures and inhabited by water spirits and things that almost resembled sea birds; at a distance one could nearly mistake them for albatross and pelicans, but up close they had a form best described as assorted sea birds drawn by an alien armed with third-hand references and an unhealthy exposure to the works of Boris Groh and the book of Ezekiel. The creatures of the sea scattered from a portion of the coast as the water began to swirl and rise, forming a column that stretched nearly ten feet above the top of the cliff and licked against the grass at the very edge. Jeremiah stepped out from within the tower, adjusting his dry suit jacket as he walked over to a shuddering imp and the water collapsed into the sea.
"You're late," Jeremiah said, stopping in front of the two-foot-tall creature. The imp huffed and put its fists to its hips in an attempt to look defiant. A manilla folder was tucked under its arm.
"Well, I had to walk. The things here hunt anything in the sky or sea, you know."
"You poor thing."
"Perhaps if you want speedy favors, you should come to the office next time."
"Perhaps your boss should send creatures that know when to stop next time." Jeremiah held out his hand as the imp snorted. "Is that for me?"
"Yes," the imp replied, jamming the folder into his hand, "but you hardly seem like you deserve it." Jeremiah took the folder and opened it, flipping absently through.
"Your behavior is hardly the sort of professional air I would expect from someone in your position. Your disrespect will be noted."
"And what are you gonna do about it, mortal? You think walking on our side overrides the fact that you're just animated meat?" Jeremiah glared at the imp over the paperwork, then pulled out a copy of John Matteson's birth certificate and began looking it over.
"This folder has everything on the target?"
"That's right. Known addresses, associates, travel history, the whole deal." Jeremiah nodded. "Now, are we done? Or are you gonna ask us to handle this human for you?" the imp asked, sneering.
"No. This is a family affair." The column of water rose again over the edge of the cliff as Jeremiah continued to read. The imp waved his hand dismissively and turned to leave, when the top of the column formed into a massive hand and reached forward. It grabbed the imp and, in one swift movement, dragged it back to the edge of the cliff and threw it over. Jeremiah ignored the sounds of screeching, screams, and tearing as he flipped through the pages. When the air again returned to its normal sound, he took a deep breath and pulled out a driver's license picture of John. "Now. Let's look into what kind of a man Henry managed to raise."
17 May 2005
Bob was standing in front of his open closet in a pair of boxers, comparing two shirts on hangers, when his phone rang. Glancing over and seeing it was Lori, he paused and glanced to the shirts and back to the phone, before setting the shirts down on the bed with a sigh and answering. He answered, expecting to hear from Lori about something Mark had said the night before, but was met instead with Matteson's voice. He put his hand to his other ear to block out the sound of the shower running in the attached restroom, and asked what was going on. After a few moments, his face went pale, and he nearly fell into sitting on the bed.
"...how?" he asked. He sat in silence, listening for a bit. The shower turned off. "Do we know about the services yet?" He nodded as Matteson explained, then thanked him and hung up. He was sitting on his bed, holding his phone with his back to the restroom door, when the door opened. Charles walked out, wearing a towel tied around his waist.
"Okay, so, I know I said I'd tell my family this weekend, and I'm sorry, but-"
"Charles." Charles stopped and watched as Bob set the phone down and turned around. He was crying.
"Hey!" Charles said, rushing over to sit beside him. "Hey, what's going on?"
"It's Mark. He...he..." Bob trailed off and wrapped his arms around Charles, crying into his shoulder. Charles hesitated for a moment, then reached around and slowly patted Bob's back.
"Take your time, okay? Just let it out for now, you can tell me the details later."
16 May 2005
Trivia night had wrapped up around 10, and Mark had spent the next fifteen minutes staring into space and rocking in his chair. Matteson and Lori left as soon as it was over. Mark overheard Matteson tell her he had something to do in the morning and would just be dropping her off. Beth leaned over and tapped on his shoulder.
"Hey," she said. "What's on your mind?"
"I'm just...sorry, I'm just concerned," he answered.
"Look, we get it," Bob said. "She seems obsessive about him. Like, beyond what you would expect."
"I've been afraid to mention it, you know, but...something really does seem off about them," Beth said, softly.
"And she's changed a lot since meeting him," Bob added. "And not all of it for the better."
"Has she said anything? To anyone?" Mark asked. The other two shook their heads. "She promised she would talk to one of us, months ago. Said she was going through a rough patch, swore it wasn't his fault, but..."
"It hasn't gotten better." They all sat in silence for a moment, then Mark slapped his hands down onto the table and stood up.
"I have to try again."
"Mark, wait-" Beth began.
"No! There's something wrong and I think it has to do with him. We can't keep sitting by and watching it happen!"
"Just...just be careful, okay? It's going to be difficult to handle this well," Bob said.
"Are you sure we can't just go, all together, and do this tomorrow?" Beth asked. Mark shook his head and grabbed his jacket, then tossed some cash on the table.
"If that doesn't cover me I'll pay you back tomorrow, alright?" The others reluctantly nodded, then watched as Mark vanished out the door.
Mark arrived at Lori's apartment a few minutes later, checking the parking lot to verify Matteson's car was gone. When he knocked on the door, it fell open, and he jumped back. He waited a moment, then poked his head in to look around. Everything looked normal, and he thought he could hear the shower running. He stepped inside and closed the door, making sure it latched this time.
"Lori?" he called out.
"Matteson? Is that you?" he heard back.
"I'll be right out, just wait there!" He went to answer, but decided instead to just wait for her. He took a deep breath, started muttering to himself what he would say, and began pacing around her living room. As he focused on what he was saying, he lost track of where he swung his hands, and accidentally knocked over a glass of pop. He swore softly to himself and dove down to pick up the glass, then looked around for a paper towel. When he didn't see a roll out, he decided to check the broom closet. He opened the door to the broom closet and froze.
There were no cleaning supplies in the closet. Instead, he was faced with dozen of pictures of John Matteson. Most looked recent, but some looked like they had been printed off a website somewhere or pulled out of wherever his childhood pictures were kept. A small altar consisting of a bowl and supported by three women's faces, was set up on a low shelf, with a bag of incense on one side and some ashes in the bowl. The pictures of Matteson were surrounded and interspersed with moon and death imagery.
"You're not supposed to be in there!" he heard Lori yell, and suddenly realized the sound of the shower had stopped. He stepped back from the door and faced her. She was wearing one towel over her body, and had another one coiled up on her head, her legs still dripping water on the carpet. "Mark?!"
"Lori, I was trying to clean up a spill, and-"
"What are you doing here?!"
"We're all concerned, okay? Something about this, this...thing you have with Matteson didn't seem healthy! And this? THIS?" he yelled, pointing at the closet. "This is proof! Lori, something is terribly wrong here!"
"Get OUT!" she screamed. Her eyes flashed white and Mark stumbled backward. Before he could say anything else, she was at his side, holding his arm so tight he screamed and felt his hand growing numb. She threw him, and he crashed into the wall next to the door. When he looked back, she was floating a few inches off the ground, her hair out in all directions and the towel from her head crumpled on the floor. She started to move toward him, and he threw the door open and ran out on all fours, only able to push himself to his feet and run once he was in the hallway. Other doors were opening, but he didn't wait to see who was watching him. He jumped into his car and started the engine, his heart racing, his breath quick and shallow. He punched the gas and tore out of the parking lot down the street, trying to piece together what he'd seen. He barely registered it when the radio station cut to static.
"You won't ruin this for me, Mark!" a strange woman's voice called out from the radio. He screamed and glanced over, only to see the radio still reading 101.1. He felt his entire body go cold.
"Who are you? What do you want?" He cried.
"No one gets in my way ever again!" A bolt of electricity sparked from the radio and shocked his hand, causing him to yank his hands away. The wheel turned sharply, and as Mark reached out to correct it the car spun sideways. The rear wheel caught a pothole at high speed and the car flipped onto its roof, sliding about twenty feet. Mark only briefly heard the sound of the truck's horn as his car landed directly in front of it.
Lori was kneeling in front of the altar, a bit of incense burning. She sat perfectly still, her eyes open and fixed straight ahead and glazed over. Suddenly, she took a deep breath, and fell backwards. She stood, cracked her knuckles, and blinked a couple times until her eyes were back to normal. She heard a knock on the door and, making sure her towel was fixed, she went to answer.
"Hey, is everything alright?" It was one of her neighbors, she recognized him from the hallway. "We heard a lot of noise, and then this guy-"
"Everything is fine now, thanks," she said with a smile. "It was just a misunderstanding."
"Are...are you sure?"
"Yes. Thank you, and sorry for all the noise. Good night." With that she closed the door, then walked back to her altar, and resumed kneeling. "Very soon," she whispered, looking up at the pictures, "all of this will be sorted out for good."
29 March 2005
There was a knock on the door to Lori's apartment. She glanced from around the door to her broom closet, then closed it. After checking that the latch was secure, she opened the front door to find Mark Hendricks.
"Lori! Are you okay?"
"You missed trivia night again. Last week you said you were sick but this week no one could even get a hold of you and we've been a team for two years and you've never missed a night and we were all concerned." She sighed and leaned on the doorframe.
"I'm sorry, Mark. I was hanging out with Matteson and I guess I forgot."
"And forgot to answer your phone?"
"Is this really about trivia?" He opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped and exhaled hard through the nose as he looked at her.
"Look, can I at least come in? If we have to do this I don't want it to be in the hallway." She stepped aside and dramatically waved her hand to point him in. He walked past her and turned to the living room, where he sat down on the couch. She closed the door and made her way to the recliner.
"What's going on with you?"
"With me? Nothing. But there's clearly something going on with you."
"What do you mean?"
"Look it's, these past two weeks, you've been acting really weird. Blowing people off, forgetting names. You've seemed a bit more...tense, as well. Now I don't know if it's this guy or some other thing in your life that happened around the same time, but the timing-"
"Are you accusing Matteson of something?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't know, okay?" he nearly yelled, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Whatever it is, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I just want you to talk to me. Or Beth. Or anyone, just...something is wrong, we can all tell. And we care about you. Whatever is going on, we want to be there for you." She leaned back in her seat and stared off toward the window for a moment.
"Okay. Thank you. I've been under a lot of stress lately. It will pass, I promise, and this new thing with Matteson has been helping. Just...have some patience with me? I'll explain when I'm ready." Mark leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands together. Finally, he turned his head up to face her.
"You promise you'll talk to one of us?"
"I promise." He sat up, took a deep breath, and then nodded.
"Okay. Just try not to be too much of a stranger during this time?" She nodded and smiled, and he stood. "Alright. Thanks. Look, I gotta go help Bob with something. Should we expect you at Beth's tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I'll be there." He nodded, then walked out of the apartment. As soon as she heard the door close, she groaned and laid the recliner back.
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.