21 November 1986
“I never wanted this,” Henry said.
“You want me to think that matters?” Mary was leaning on a railing, looking out at the lights of the city as the sun went down. Henry had just arrived, stepping out of the shadows with his hands tucked into his jacket pockets.
“Why wouldn’t it?” he asked, stopping beside her.
“Because it didn’t change anything! It doesn’t matter whether or not you wanted me to leave, what matters is what you were willing to do about it. And in the end, it was nothing.”
“I made sure you’d be safe.” He pulled out a vial with a small amount of blood in it. “I made sure nothing was going to touch you.”
“Could you have done that this whole time?” She waited for a response, but none came. “Did you protect our child in the process?” Another silent pause. “Did you think I was leaving because I don’t feel safe?”
“You made it very clear you couldn’t stomach what I do.”
“What you do?!?” She spun and jabbed her finger into his chest as he started to back away. “I have, from the very beginning, been fine with what you do. With your involvement in the supernatural, your dealing with problems, even your endless fucking war against your dad. I was on board! I was by your side!”
“It’s John! I can’t be a part of what you’re doing to him! That’s why I took him, for that month, you know. To keep him away from you and your twisted little plans to make him a child soldier. But I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t keep him away from it all, I couldn’t protect him. But with you, there’s no compromise. I can’t stop you from turning him into what you’ve decided, you won’t hear any alternative, you won’t even let me treat him like the child he is!”
“He needs to be ready.”
“He needs a childhood!”
“And you think leaving is going to give him that?”
She slapped him across the face, hard enough to send him staggering for a moment. “I think there’s nothing I can do now to help him; but I sure as hell will not participate in what you’ll do to him.”
“I’m not the monster you think I am, Mary.”
“No. You’ve just got far more of your father in your than you’re willing to admit.” She turned and stormed off, leaving Henry holding his cheek in silence.
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.
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.”
25 August 1979
Jeremiah knew a few things for certain. First, Elizabeth was going to be no help in getting Henry off his back, as she seemed perfectly content with the path Henry had chosen. Second, the oath Jeremiah had taken when Henry was born was somehow reflecting any damage he did to Henry back to him. Third, the books he’d inherited from his mother, which may have contained information he could use to circumvent that oath but which certainly contained information on hunting and killing supernatural creatures, was missing from where he had left it stored. Fourth, Jeremiah had never actually bothered reading any of those books, and therefore was woefully unprepared for how to handle someone who had. And finally, when Jeremiah returned to the house after seeking some healing magic and finding his books missing, it was warded against him; this seemed to indicate that either Elizabeth or Henry, or possibly both, were actively reading and using the books.
It wasn’t quite powerlessness that Jeremiah felt in the wake of these realizations, but it was a hell of a lot closer to it than he ever wanted to be. He found himself inching even closer to that point when he felt a bullet rip through his shoulder.
He was in Cincinnati by that point, considering his options and finding that he didn’t like any of them. There was nothing for it, he’d decided; like it or not, he was going to have to learn more about his nature and the world of magic. Thus far he’d only bothered with the stuff that was immediately useful to him, like his control of water and ability to sidestep reality. But now he didn’t know. Could he be killed so easily? If so, was it possible that the simpering little bastard he’d left behind, with no power to call on and no will to wield it, had now claimed the upper hand over him?
Is that all it took?
He was willing, albeit hesitantly, to explore that notion further, but suddenly found himself busy scrambling off a park bench and grasping the surprise wound. He frantically looked for the source of the shot, and found it when another was fired. This one just missed him, but more importantly, Jeremiah was watching where it had come from when the muzzle flashed. In one step he was out of the physical realm; then it was a mad dash aided by some water spirits hanging around for the river, and another step out to catch Henry turning to leave the roof.
Jeremiah threw a punch with the uninjured arm, sending Henry crashing to the ground. He felt the blow resonate across his own face, causing him to stumble backward. Before he regained his footing Henry was up again and landed a blow where the blood was starting to stain Jeremiah’s shirt. The pain shot through Jeremiah’s arm and chest, and he barely managed to focus his vision enough to dodge the kick from his son. He pushed, not directly against Henry, but willing the water in Henry’s body to throw him backward. It worked, and Henry crashed into the door of the roof access stairs. He felt the impact on his own back, but Jeremiah noted that he wasn’t also thrown. There were limits. He could work with limits.
Henry was trying to catch his breath from the shock of the impact when Jeremiah produced a knife and lunged. He tried to pull himself away, but Jeremiah was faster than him. Jeremiah grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head against the door again. Henry’s vision was blurred from the impact, and Jeremiah pulled him close enough to smell his breath.
“How do you think this ends, boy?” Jeremiah hissed.
“You can’t kill me. Anything you do to me comes back on you. You’re marked.”
“And you think you can use my curse against me? You think you can use my mark to benefit yourself?” Jeremiah brought the blade in, slowly, and carefully cut a line down Henry’s face. Henry screamed, but Jeremiah pushed through the feeling of the same cut opening on himself. “Your mom may be right, Henry. I may be some kind of Cain. But you? You are no Lamech.”
Henry felt the knife pull away from his face and closed his eyes, focusing on setting the pain aside long enough to finish the task. When he opened them again, however, Jeremiah was gone.
3 November 2006
As the small crowd made its way around the room to speak to John Matteson at McGonigle Funeral Home, Jeremiah slipped passed them quietly to take a seat out of the way. He watched his grandson, and paid attention to the people who seemed to spend the most time checking in on him or helping him manage the flow of people. A young Latin woman stood out, and Jeremiah made note of her. When he got up, he hovered around groups of people until he picked up her name (Jackie) and then made his way to the casket. He made note of a couple other people that were clearly friends on his way, attempting to gauge their relationship to John by the way they handled themselves and their friend. He skipped the line entirely, avoiding the damned small talk expected of people at these things, and rested his hand on his son’s cheek.
“Thank you for showing me points of weakness,” he whispered. “Enjoy your rest.” With that, he quietly disappeared out the door and then out of the physical realm entirely.
29 October 2006
Henry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The nurse had gone to call Matteson, but they didn’t know if he would get there in time. He’d left a couple hours earlier, shortly after dinner, at Henry’s insistence. Before that, they had talked for hours. At first it was small talk, about what Matteson was doing when he wasn’t at the hospital, which hospital food Henry disliked less. Before long, though, Henry had grown more serious.
“Listen, John,” he’d begun, “he’s coming. He knows about you.”
“Who?” Matteson leaned forward and rested his hand on the rail of the bed.
“Your grandfather. I tried to keep your gift a secret.” Henry coughed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did, and he’s coming for you after I’m gone.”
“I’ll be ready for him.” Henry shook his head.
“No, no, you can’t assume that. Never assume that. It’s dangerous.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Much. But it isn’t always about what you know. Listen, Jeremiah is ruthless, and driven, and patient. He may wait years before he moves, but I assure you, during this time he’ll be looking for a way to strike at you that you can’t just blow off.”
“Anything you can tell me would help.” Henry was breathing heavy, and reached for his cup of water. Matteson got it for him, and the two sat in silence for a moment as he drank.
The monitors were showing signs of distress, and the nurses outside were just starting to move. They seemed like a dream, slowly rising to their feet. They looked urgent, and I’m sure for them they were rushing, but time was moving slow. Henry noticed, and wondered if this is what time always looked like in the moments before one dies.
“It isn’t,” the man answered. Henry turned to see a robed man, his hood low over his face, his hand reaching out to Henry’s. Beside him was a young woman, with faintly glowing blue skin engraved with flowing runes. “We told Death to let us handle this one.”
“Why?” Henry asked, his voice weak and hoarse. The woman gave a weak smile, then walked around to the other side of the bed. The second hand on the hallways clock finally ticked. As the man’s hand touched Henry’s, Henry was flooded with memories. The things he had told Matteson, everything he could recall to mention about Jeremiah. The things he had forgotten to tell him. The face of his ex-wife. The moment he first held his son. The memories came in a flash, and then were gone again, back into the depths of his mind as the man’s fingers curled around Henry’s palm. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned down and whispered into his ear, and as she spoke, Henry’s eyes grew wide. When she finished, he stared into her eyes, then turned his focus to the man. His eyes began to water.
“Yes,” the man answered. “We are.” Henry slipped his hand out of the man’s grasp and rested it on the man’s cheek, then did the same to the woman’s cheek with his other hand as tears began to roll down his own.
“Thank you for visiting. Are you going to take me, too?” The Two both nodded, and Henry smiled. The second hand ticked again.
The nurses ran into the room just after the monitors around Henry’s bed began to sound alarms. They moved around his bed, pushing Matteson’s empty chair aside to access their patient and see if anything else could be done for him. Just on the other side of the doorway, Henry and The Two watched.
“Will John be okay? Do I need to stick around?” The man shook his head, and the woman took Henry’s hand and patted it.
“Your son will be fine,” she said. “You’ve trained him well, you’ve left him excellent records, and you’ve earned your rest.” He looked back toward the room, then slowly nodded, and the three of them walked away.
18 August 2006
Behind the Winner, overlooking the Shenango River, are a few seldom-used park benches under some trees. Henry liked to have his lunch there on days when he was out in town, just him and the water and the birds, looking toward the relatively busy area over by the bank and the old Army/Navy store and the Reyer’s Outlet. Even the relative bustle of downtown had been waning, it seemed, as Hermitage continued to build up its own commerce center a few miles up the road and Jim Winner’s fabulous failure, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, sat occupying nearly an entire block without drawing any traffic. He didn’t tend to look up when he heard footsteps coming. Generally, it was just someone taking a shortcut from one bridge to the other, or the rare resident genuinely interested in using the little balconies to look down on the green water below. But this time, he sensed magic, and he looked up just in time to see Jeremiah sit next to him on the bench, unwrapping the paper around his own burger on his lap.
“I’m not wrong often in my life,” Jeremiah said, “but when I first tried a McDonald’s burger, back when they were fifteen cents, I fully believed they would never catch on.” He looked too young to remember such a thing. For the last decade or two, he’s looked younger than his own son. But there was gray in that hair now, and even the slowly aging nephilim show the years in their eyes.
“Of all the things you’ve been mistaken about, you pick that one to confess.”
“Still teaching history, Henry?”
“Well. ‘Teaching’ implies someone is learning from it.” Jeremiah chuckled and bit into his burger, and the two watched the cars across the river for a long, tense moment. “What are you doing here?”
“Look at us. Sons of devils, bickering about intentions. Can’t an old man have a nice lunch with his son once a century?”
“Depends on the old man.”
“And the son.” They both ate some more of their food in silence. “You’ve done well, you know,” Jeremiah finally said.
“Hiding my grandson from me.” Henry stopped and set his food on his lap, but showed no other reaction to the words. “And his power.”
“What do you know?”
“I know he has a gift, a great and mighty gift. One that may even make him worth the name you’ve carried so fruitlessly all these years.”
“You won’t touch him.”
“And I know you won’t be here to stop me much longer.” Henry turned to face Jeremiah for the first time since the man had sat down. “When I heard, of course, I thought about just killing you and getting it over with, making sure I had the last move in our little game. But I fear that would be too satisfying of an end for you. But cancer.” He popped the last bite of burger into his mouth, shoved the balled up paper into his pocket, and then stood and dusted himself off. “Cancer must feel like futility. Like a fight you can never really win, even as every ounce of your being demands you keep fighting. And that, I thought, sounded too fitting to interfere with.”
“You came just to gloat? About something you didn’t even do?”
“No, Henry. I came to say goodbye, and assure you that little Jonathan will be in good hands after you’re gone.”
“He’ll be more ready for you than I ever was, Jeremiah.”
“Good. I miss having a challenge.” With that, Jeremiah turned and walked away, leaving Henry to seethe over the remains of his lunch.
5 august 1979
Elizabeth believed Henry when he said he was going camping, and there was even a certain degree to which he was telling the truth. He did sleep in a tent most nights, but he was not spending time in campgrounds. This summer, he was hunting.
He hadn’t been sure exactly what he was looking for at first, until this past spring when he came upon a tracking spell in one of his books. It was imperfect; he would have to be a mage to use it accurately, and he would need something of the target’s to narrow the focus. His aim was to find Jeremiah, and the only things he had with any remaining connection to Jeremiah were the books, the necklace, and himself. He tried the books first, but they were apparently much more connected to him than to his father. The necklace just took him to a quiet spot on the Ohio River, and he didn’t really know why. When he tried to use himself as the focus, however, he learned that there was something still binding them together. He wasn’t sure if it was just blood relation or if there was more to it, but he didn’t much care. At that point, the only objective was to prepare for a fight and follow the trail.
Since he was not, in fact, a mage, and was using a decidedly inferior connection to his target, the best he could do was a general area. So now he was in Connecticut, driving into Hartford each day and looking for information that might help him narrow his search. At first, it was mostly about newspapers, but he quickly realized that he would need to find something strange to know for sure that it was Jeremiah, and the only people who are willing to own up to the really strange details are people comfortable with being taken as strange themselves.
That’s when he fell in with a group of homeless people. For the most part, he had found, homelessness was just a sign of economic difficulties that may or may not get sorted out, and the majority of that population was not going to help him in any way he needed. But once he found a smaller section of the homeless population, the ones just unbalanced enough to carry the weight of the crazed hobo stereotype, he latched on and listened intently. For their part, they were mostly happy someone was listening, and the lunch he brought each day helped as well.
Through their stories, he learned that the mob had taken to working with some mysterious stranger, but the relationship had turned south, and now they were being targeted. Most of the deaths were pretty mundane, knives mostly, and that much was being covered in the news. But there were a few that didn’t line up with the prevailing theory of a rival gang. An enforcer reduced to a dessicated husk when he had only just stepped away to use the restroom. A gangster’s wife, drowned in her perfectly dry bed. Her husband found a week later with his spine ripped out. Someone, some thing, was angry, and powerful, and vindictive. It was over a week of the stories and rumors and ravings before he was able to piece together enough to verify that it sounded like Jeremiah’s work and who he might strike next. Of course, tailing a member of the mafia was not going to be safe, either, especially if that guy was presently terrified of someone tracking him down, but Henry was young enough to believe it would be fine.
He was only partly wrong. The mark did catch on that he was being tailed, almost immediately. And he did catch Henry, and he was fully prepared to kill Henry on the assumption that the boy was spying for whoever had killed his associates. The mystic books he was carrying did not help his case. And he certainly would have died that night, if it hadn’t been the exact night Jeremiah arrived to strike his next target.
Henry wasn’t able to get loose from the rope in time to save the mobster, and in moments when he was honest with himself he would admit that he might have been if he’d been a bit more concerned about actually saving him. One of his eyes was already practically closed from the swelling, the places left by two newly missing teeth stung like hell, and the blood running down his arms was somewhat distracting, but Henry managed to get to his books and his captor’s knives before Jeremiah turned on him. But the boy wasn’t trained for this, and the man he faced off against had been killing people and fighting with spirits for decades. It wasn’t long until Jeremiah got his first hit in, a swipe of the knife that Henry barely dodged enough to ensure it wouldn’t be fatal. To everyone’s surprise, however, when the knife sliced across Henry’s face, a matching wound suddenly appeared on Jeremiah’s. The man stumbled back, grabbing at his face and staring angrily at Henry.
“What did you do?” he hissed, his grip on the knife tightening. Henry was breathing hard, and holding his own knife all wrong. And as the years of rage and pain flashed across Henry’s eyes, Jeremiah finally recognized his son. It hadn’t been that long, of course; but children grow fast, and Jeremiah had made it a point not to think about the life he’d left behind. “Henry?” Henry lunged forward and swung at Jeremiah again, the surprise of the moment giving him just enough of an opening to connect and draw blood from Jeremiah’s stomach. The older man growled and grabbed Henry’s hand, snapping two fingers before recoiling at the sensation of his own breaking as well. That was when Jeremiah understood, when he remembered. He shoved Henry backward and stepped to add more distance between them.
“I’m going to stop you. I know what you are, and I am going to make you pay.” Henry spat the words out, along with some blood. Jeremiah grabbed the place where his gut was bleeding and smiled.
“If so, child, you better be more prepared next time.” Henry went to reply, but before he could, Jeremiah stepped sideways out of reality and was gone. Henry stayed on guard for a few more minutes, but there was no sign of his father returning. And then he realized he was bleeding, holding a knife, and standing in a room with a man recently stabbed to death. He stole the knife, grabbed his books, and ran.
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.