15 September 2016
Ultimately, the decision had been reached to change the layout of the rooms upstairs. Madeline needed a larger closet space, Jackie needed a room for her meditations that could house her assorted supplies, and there was no need for three bedrooms. After months of planning and layout discussions and ensuring they had the legal issues covered and she knew what she was doing, Jackie set about taking down the master bedroom wall to expand into the room next to it. She had only managed to work for about twenty minutes, however, before she was stopped by the sight of something tucked inside the wall.
It was a metal case, locked closed with rust on the hinges. Jackie set it aside and spent some time digging around in the walls for anything else that didn’t belong, but came back empty handed. There were no keys in the wall, and none of the keys she had that went with the house worked in it. She fiddled with it for the better part of an hour before deciding to just force it and, one carefully-phrased spell later, she found a cache of envelopes and cards inside. The cards were loose, having apparently been opened at some point; their own envelopes must have been discarded, as the envelopes in the case were letter-sized and unopened. Everything was addressed to John Matteson, while the return addresses listed either a Mary Matteson or, in later cases, Mary Roemer. Most had been sent from Seattle. Jackie flipped through the cards, and found them also written out to John and signed “Mom,” with the last one bearing a large twelve on the front.
She set the case down in front of her and stared at it for a few minutes, processing what she was seeing. Who hid these? Why? Did Matteson know? Was it really her place to tell him if he didn’t? That last one was the easiest, she decided, so she picked up her phone and sent him a text.
“I found something in the wall while doing the remodel,” she said.
Matteson replied immediately. “What is it?”
“Letters for you.” She attached a picture. Her phone sat silent for nearly five minutes. She didn’t move or stop staring at it the whole time.
“I’m on my way,” he finally replied.
She nodded, picked up the case, and walked down to the dining room table. She knew she had time to get some more work before he got there, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything but brace herself and wait.
16 June 2007
It had taken some effort to find it, but Jackie was sure she’d identified a promising site to reach across the hedge. According to the water spirits, there was a ley line that crossed the Shenango River outside a little town called Pulaski. She’d heard about it early after moving to the area, but didn’t have the means or a good reason to bother hunting it down before. But now, with the search for Rick in full swing, and since Matteson had basically given her Henry’s car once she had her license set up in PA and he wasn’t able to drive her around, she was finally prepared to go investigate.
She arrived just after dusk, having gone home to change and grab a few final supplies after work. The main thing had been the blood. With Hecate’s magic not getting the results she needed, Jackie had turned her focus to the rituals passed down by her grandmother, which included animal blood. She was thankful the local butcher hadn’t asked too many questions about why she needed the blood, and knew she couldn’t risk the conversations that would happen if she tried to leave it at work during her shift. So it was in the fridge at the house, and once she had it in hand, she was ready to go.
It took about an hour and a half to set the ritual up, between making sure everything was in the right place and chanting the incantations over various elements. When everything was finally ready she took her place and pulled the ring Rick had been hiding out of her pocket. She stood silent for a moment, closing her eyes and holding the ring up to her forehead, thinking about him. About his face, her feelings for him, the moment she realized what he was about to do. The last words she ever heard him say.
“Walaya,” she whispered. “Ansarasa Richard?” The ring began to glow faintly as she kissed it and moved it away, holding it at arm’s length directly ahead. “Ansarasa kupia?” The air began to crackle and hiss as she poured her focus into the spell. She saw a road begin to form before her in her mind’s eye, a path through the hedge that led directly to the Crossroads. She tried to focus, to push farther, but she couldn’t get any more information than that. No paths from the Crossroads became clear, it was just a jumble of different roads and trails, a maze that had no end. She strained against the resistance, biting her lip until she drew blood, the ring glowing bright as day and burning her fingers as the blood dripped down her chin and fell to the markings at her feet. She could feel him there, just beyond where she was looking, if she could just identify a road. Her head started to throb as she pushed harder, but nothing came into focus. She pushed, and cried, and screamed, and repeated her incantations until she had no energy left.
As the vision suddenly departed and the ring fell from her hands, she fell to her knees and opened her eyes. Her head was spinning, her vision unclear, her body weak. She brought her burnt and shaking hands to her eyes as she cried, rocking back and forth as she battled to hold onto the last shreds of hope in her ability to find him. If this took everything she had, she reasoned, and it wasn’t enough…
“Impressive,” a male voice said. She looked up but couldn’t make out details of the man standing before her. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair looked long and dark, maybe with areas of gray, but it was hard to tell through the exhaustion and tears. “Jacqueline, was it? You’ve certainly made a name for yourself among the water spirits around here. Jacqueline the water witch, galavanting around with the Riverborn Anchor. Has he told you about me, young lady?” He knelt down before her, leaning his head close enough that she was finally able to make out some familiar features on his weathered face. “Have you heard about John’s dear old grandfather?”
Her eyes went wide as she realized this was Jeremiah, and she immediately reached out and began trying to utter a curse. But her voice was strained, and her body was weak, and she only got two syllables out before she fell over, coughing.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, pulling away to dodge her hand and then standing. He looked her over as he brushed the dirt from his knee. “You have considerable skill, I’ll grant you that. But you’re far outside of your league, and made of an awful lot of water.” He raised his hand and she felt her body lift off the ground as she fought for air. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t serve my purposes to kill you right now. I just need you to be a message to John.”
She whimpered as she felt her body being pushed and pulled, her muscles being kneaded like dough. Her lungs struggled to hold what little oxygen she could get in through her gasping breath, and her heart strained against her chest as her vision started to fade.
“Sleep well, little witch,” he said, just before she blacked out.
Hecate had been very insightful. Jeremiah was unfamiliar with the concept of an Anchor before, but once it was explained to him, he understood why Henry had promised the boy would be more prepared to face Jeremiah than Henry had been. He’s assumed this whole time that was just an exaggeration, or possibly just hopeful arrogance about the way he’d raised John, but it sounded like he could be a real problem. Jeremiah was ecstatic.
Not at the prospect of having to fight an Anchor, of course, but rather the redemption of his bloodline. Jeremiah had spent decades believing his only surviving legacy in the world was a frail, albeit resourceful, mortal. That no matter what he managed to accomplish in his life, it would all go to dust the moment he died and his memory was held only by a human who hated him. It had affected his drive after a while. It almost seemed pointless to seek anything grand or magnificent, if there was no way to secure it long-term, while his own flesh and blood was constantly harassing him. But the knowledge that there was an Anchor out there, who didn’t yet know him, who might yet be turned to continue his purposes, that lit a fire in Jeremiah’s chest. It was time to step out of the shadows. To begin pulling on the threads he’d been weaving for so long, and make real changes to his fortunes. With Henry gone, and a grandson who could make real waves in both the physical and metaphysical realms, there was something approaching hope.
And, hey. If he refused, if he insisted on chasing his father’s folly, then Jeremiah would have something interesting to do with his time. And a true conquest over an Anchor was bound to improve his standing in the world of spirits. However this played out, Jeremiah intended to take the opportunity to get what he deserved. The tricky part, however, was knowing how to confront John.
He tried to go to the house, first, since it was listed as John’s inherited residence. To scout around and learn more about his grandson. Stop by some time when he wasn’t home, pop out of the metaphysical realm in the house, dig through some information, and leave to formulate a plan. His suspicions were verified when he tried; having an Anchor living in the house had completely destroyed the wards keeping him out for so long. What he hadn’t anticipated, though, was that having an Anchor living in the house also made it impossible for him to step sideways on the property. Or within a few dozen yards of the property. He could get in, of course. Locks and doors and windows were only so strong, after all. But that path would require damage, and damage was too much of a risk. He couldn’t show his hand that clearly just yet.
Then he saw the girl from the funeral come out of the house and head down the street.
Jackie, he had learned her name was. He watched her from the side of the road and considered a very short list of reasons she would be at the house when John wasn’t. The particulars didn’t matter, however; what mattered was that they were close, very close, and that gave him an opportunity.
So he tracked her for a couple days, forming a plan. It wasn’t difficult, ultimately. She was quickly shown to be a mage of some sort, one who was actively seeking out loci and trying hard to reach through to the spiritual realm. It seemed like she was looking for something. Jeremiah didn’t know what, and didn’t much care. He got his hands on a map of the local ley network, sorted out how she was searching, and which sites had the best chance of success. Some local spirits knew of a locus that was particularly weak, one she would surely be able to punch through, one she would spend time at. One where he would be very powerful. One where he could prepare to confront his grandson.
On June 16, she arrived at the site. And Jeremiah was already in the metaphysical realm, waiting for her.
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.
2 August 2006
Matteson was awakened by a swift kick to his ribs. It wasn’t hard enough to do any damage, but enough to send him sitting straight up in his bed with his fists ready to strike. On the floor next to his bed was the faun, having just landed, glaring at Matteson with his arms crossed. The Anchor grumbled and laid back down.
“What is it, Kastor?” he muttered.
“What did I say, huh? Back at that Apple Trees place?”
“‘That girl is trouble,’ I said! ‘Something seems off about her,’ I said! But what did you do?” Matteson rolled over so his back was to Kastor.
“Can this wait until some other time? Like in Hell?”
“You decided to ignore me and get all involved with her!” Kastor climbed onto the bed and over Matteson as he carried on, plopping down on the mattress and leaning back against the wall. “What do you call it, dating? And then! And then you, the great John Matteson, who knows fucking everything, don’t notice while she’s using you and killing people who get too close to figuring it out!”
“What are you on about? Who’d she kill?”
“I don’t know everyone’s names! But I asked around, see. After she threatened me—which you never even checked in on, by the way—I asked around, and I found out that the ghost lady killed her friend, with the, what is it. The loud chariot.” Matteson sat up.
“Yeah, that’s the one!” Matteson’s eyes darted back and forth for a moment as he considered that.
“You have that on good authority?” Kastor nodded, and Matteson got up and began pacing around the room. “Shit.”
“You should be happy I brought this to you at all! After you blew me off and didn’t even bother finding out why I was avoiding you.”
“Why were you avoiding me?”
“That woman! She was going to send the Hound after me! I had to give her a year a day, that’s what we agreed, a year and a day I couldn’t come talk to you. So I tried talking to that mage girl, you know, and you could be a real pal and put in a good word for me there by the way—”
“She’s with Rick.”
“I’m not asking her to commit to anything, Johnny!” Matteson leveled a narrow-eyed glare at the faun, who ignored it and jumped down off the bed. “But I tried to talk to her, to warn you, but I couldn’t track her all the time, and when I could was usually around the house, but I couldn’t come into the house, and she wasn’t bothering to look at spirits out on the sidewalk or anything!”
“She said you got through to her eventually.
“Yeah, took her long enough to notice. Dryads notice me, Johnny! If I’m good enough for a dryad—”
“Focus,” Matteson grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. “What did you find out about her?”
“About?” Kastor whistled and jammed his thumb in the direction of Jackie’s room.
“Oh! The other one. Nothing you don’t already know, now. You know, I could’ve helped if you’d asked.”
“Well, I don’t know! Guess we won’t find out now, huh?” Matteson sighed and rubbed his face with his hands, then moved back to sit on the bed.
“Okay, fine. Sorry, Kastor. I’ll be sure to consider your words before deciding they’re wrong next time.” Kastor gave a single stern nod.
“Damn right. And don’t you forget it.”
“Yeah. Seriously, about the mage, just something positive, you know, you don’t have to try too hard, this body can do most of the heavy lifting with the ladies,” he said, striking a pose that he thought showed his good side.
“Kastor, look, I don’t think she’s interested, especially not while she’s in a relationship.” Kastor waved him off.
“Just, you know, just ask. And don’t worry, I know all about her and Rich.”
“That’s what I said. I probably know more about it than you do.”
“I was trying to get her attention! It’s not my fault she was otherwise…occupied!”
“Get the fuck out!”
“Yeah, yeah. See you soon!” Kastor slipped away deeper into the Realm, and Matteson laid back down on his bed.
“Shit,” he said again, softly.
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.
15 May 2005
Jackie Veracruz arrived at the Crossroads, led by Hecate's hound, as Hecate sat on an ornate throne made of the still-moving limbs and occasional head of the undead. The Queen of Magic waited silently, sipping from a goblet of wine and looking out over her realm. As the hound made its way to sit beside the throne, Jackie hesitated.
"Welcome back, Jacqueline." Jackie took a deep breath and looked up at the goddess, who was now so large that the mortal had to keep a bit of distance just to see up and over her knees.
"Thank you, mistress. I was growing concerned."
"As you should. You're fortunate I called you back here at all, after you hid from me in the arms of that Anchor."
"Don't bother, child. I gave you power, and knowledge. I invested in you for years, turning your feeble attempts at magic into a force that has changed lives. I watched you grow from a scared child to a formidable young woman. I warned you about the greatest danger to magic that exists in this world when it was right in front of you, and you repaid it all by using him to hide from me. There is nothing you can say that will make that action acceptable to me." She glared down at Jackie, who was now trembling and looking down at the ground in front of the throne. "But, there is something you can do that I will accept as payment." Jackie slowly looked back up to meet her gaze.
"What is it?"
"You will bring him to me."
"You...you mean John? The Anchor?"
"I told you that Anchors and Warlocks are mine. He is a liminal being, and as such under my purview. I have use for him."
"Right, yes. But, how?"
"You must go to him. Nudge him, guide him. Make sure that he finds his way to me."
"What if he doesn't want to?"
"He is mine, child, just like you. I will use him while he is useful and discard him if he is not, do you understand?"
"I...but that-" Hecate snapped her fingers, and Jackie froze. Her eyes glazed over and she stood, upright, staring blankly forward.
"I have waited too long for someone as useful as him to come along, and don't have time for your hesitations." Hecate held out her hand, palm up, and as she curled her fingers in Jackie began to float up and toward her face. When she was finally hovering at eye level, only a few feet from Hecate's face, the goddess smiled. "Now then. You will go to live near John. You will watch him, you will guide him to me, and you will do it all without delay. Do you understand?" Jackie slowly nodded. "Good. And to make sure you behave, you will not remember anything from this visit except that you have been welcomed back. Is that agreeable to you?"
"Good. Now go. You have much to do." Hecate flicked her hand, and Jackie went flying. She landed softly, as if the road were made of cushions, and then slowly stood and continued to stare in her daze. The hound moved forward and led her slowly back down the path from which she came.
"You're very interested in this boy, Hecate." She growled.
"And you're very interested in trespassing on my realm, Muninn." The Two, in human form and as tall as Hecate, stepped out from the shadows behind her throne and made their way around to face her. Muninn, the man, smiled.
"All realms are our realms. All roads are our roads."
"What do you want?"
"She is of interest to us," the woman said, glancing down the road. "And I wonder if you aren't a bit harsh on her."
"I should wish I could be as harsh with you, Huginn. What business do you have with her?"
"That is our business. But I would advise you to not let your distrust of ravens make you forget your place."
"I assure you I have never forgotten my place. But it has changed before, and it may yet change again."
"Yes," Muninn said, turning away. "I'm sure it will." With that, the two visitors became ravens and flew out of the Crossroads. Hecate threw her goblet in their direction, then leaned back in her throne to think.
2 November 2004
It was just after midnight, and the great black hound was whimpering as it nudged the couch with its nose. As it felt its master's hand rest on its head, the hound went silent and looked up. Hecate began scratching behind its ears as she looked at Jackie, asleep in John's arms.
"You were right to show me," she said, the eyes on one of her faces scanning the pair of humans. "This is most unsettling. It seems our ward here has chosen to toss us aside in favor of this Anchor."
The hound began to growl at John. "Now now. He's just misguided," she said, lightly rubbing one finger along his cheek, "poor dear probably has no idea what he owes me." John shifted slightly as she pulled her hand away, and she slowly walked around to their feet. The hound followed, then whined inquisitively.
"Oh, yes," she answered, "I'll have to decide what to do with the girl. But that can wait. I have use for a liminal being like him, as soon as I know how to bring him to heel. But it seems Miss Veracruz has been holding out on us." The hound looked up at her. She smiled down at it and patted its head. "I trust you can find another useful source?" The hound began to sniff around, then barked excitedly, its tail wagging. "Very good. Lead the way."
John partially opened his eyes and slightly sat up to look at the now-empty room. Jackie whined and turned over.
"What is it?" she asked weakly, still mostly asleep.
"Sorry, thought I heard something." He turned back, pulled her close, and drifted back to sleep.
It was, at first, a slight surprise to the ravens to realize how rarely anyone seemed to notice them. Sure, they made no overt attempts to be seen, but they somewhat expected humans to look around more, take in their environments more, bother to care about what was happening around them. They should have known better, and they very quickly did, but that first time warranted some excitable discussion between them.
The one made some sense, at least. He looked normal, if a bit large; but his companion had a distinct blue tint to her, flowing strips of faintly glowing color just barely perceptible among the black feathers. If nothing else, the idea that people could glance right past a bird with an otherworldly, shifting glow, and never seem to notice was a testament to something buried deep in the minds of mankind.
They were always together, just out of sight. On the night when a single woman first uttered the name of Hekate and a goddess was born, the ravens were there to greet her. When Father Josef Klappenger went scurrying down the side of Hörselberg hill clutching an infant, they were in a tree that he leaned on to catch his breath and resist the urge to look back. When Jackie Veracruz and John Matteson first stood on the fire escape of an apartment in Chicago, the ravens rested on a roof directly ahead of the humans, among a flock resting on its way south. When Father Benedict de Monte walked silently away from the fire outside of Southport, North Carolina, thinking himself the only living soul to know how the blaze began, the ravens were turning their attention to another form moving through the water.
That is not to say they were never seen. The annals of human history record them, sometimes in a manner that would reflect on the species as a whole, sometimes as a singular or dual part of the supernatural world. They were not the archetypes of ravens; whatever ensured that ravens would exist seemed to take little notice of them. But they were the Ravens, the mold by which much of human thought on ravens would be fashioned. As mankind found less and less reason to know every living thing observing them, the ancient witnesses drifted further into the background. Eventually, they were lost to even the most observant eyes, becoming little more than ambiance. The ravens did not seem to mind. They continued to watch, selecting their entertainment with no apparent system or guide that any human would be able to detect. It would be a long time before anything changed much for them. But change was coming, and they had known it for some time.
It was part of the long night in Norway. The ravens were preening when a cleft opened in the side of a mountain and three figures stumbled out into the snow. Benedict and Daniel were on either side of Matteson, his arms over their shoulders and his left eye bleeding. The black raven turned away. The other leaned over to him.
“It’s nearly time,” she whispered. Voices carry in this place, she knew, and it was not suitable for the humans, or near-humans, to hear her now. “Are you ready for this?” There was a long pause.
“Yes.” Benedict, Daniel, and Matteson passed under the ravens and managed to find the car they had left waiting. Benedict was urgently explaining the dangers Matteson faced with his wound exposed to this weather. Daniel was trying to offer comfort. Matteson didn't seem to hear either of them.
“You don’t seem ready,” she said as the car started and then drove away.
“I…I’ll be fine. It’s just hard.”
“We aren't trapped in this flow yet. We can go somewhere else for a while if you need.”
“No. It’s nearly time. We move forward.”
“You mean I move forward.”
“I'm with you a little while longer, yet.” As the car vanished into the long night, she sighed.
“To the next moment, then.” The birds took to the air, and then vanished.