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.
8 July 1936
The stolen car kicked up dirt as it drew to a stop on the edge of a stretch of road across the Ohio River from Midland, PA. It was getting dark, so Jeremiah glanced around for headlights before opening the back seat and pulling out a body wrapped in bed sheets. He made his way to the edge of the water, and carefully set Joanna down just barely beyond the reach of the water.
"Aaboukingon!" he shouted at the river. "Show yourself!" The water in front of him bubbled and churned, and soon the water parted and Aaboukingon emerged, in his human form.
"You're my son," he said, smiling as he extended his arms, "the messenger told me."
"It's a bit late for all that," Jeremiah replied, turning away. "Where have you been?" Aaboukingon stopped and sighed.
"It took me many years to recover from my time away from the river, and once I had, I was in no condition to leave again and look for you both. Even now, I can only manage to go a few feet inland before I grow dangerously weak."
"Good thing you don't have to go so far." With that, Jeremiah, pointed down to the body, and as realization dawned on Aaboukingon he nearly collapsed onto her. He pulled the blankets away, revealing her face, and laid his forehead on hers as he cried.
"Could you not help her? Oh, if I had found you, taught you-"
"I did help her. This world is no place for someone who lives with her heart among the spirits." Aaboukingon's gaze snapped to Jeremiah.
"What did you do?" he demanded, rising to his feet with his fists clenched.
"I don't want to hear it from you. She spent a lifetime suffering because of her devotion to you, and of the two of us I'm the only one who bothered to do anything about it!" Aaboukingon raised his hand and Jeremiah stiffened, gasping for breath.
"You killed her! I could have given her a better life, you could have given her a better life, but instead you killed her!" Jeremiah's eyes began to glow, and then he forced himself free of Aaboukingon's power and, with his own power, threw the river spirit at the water. Aaboukingon slid across the surface before coming to a stop and standing.
"You're still weak. No one calls the river by your name anymore. Soon no one will remember you. Then what will you be? Just another forgotten underling to the mighty Ohio? How does it feel to be an inferior water spirit to someone born of flesh?"
"You're no water spirit. You are hate, and rage, and death. I will ensure you never find any welcome in the River Network as long as you stay on this path!"
"There are better spirits than you to judge me, Aaboukingon." Jeremiah turned and walked back to the car before driving away. Aaboukingon returned to Joanna's body, lifted her into his arms, and together they disappeared beneath the river.
5 July 1936
Joanna woke from a fitful nap, coughed a deep and wet cough, and rolled over for her medicine to find it being held by Jeremiah.
"How long've you been there?" she asked, weakly. He poured the medicine into a spoon and served it to her before leaning back into his chair.
"Only a few minutes, mama. Probably what woke you." She rolled onto her back and pushed herself slightly upright against the wall.
"I been hearin' about you, you know. I tried to keep track, met some occultists who've helped me out." He closed the medicine and set it on the small table beside her bed, next to the necklace holding the vial of sand.
"And what've you been hearing?"
"You been murderin' people, boy?"
"Now come on, mama, I heard you was sick and came to see you and you wanna talk about strangers?"
"Don't play coy with me!" she snapped, turning her face to glare at him. "Did I raise a murderer, or didn't I?" He sighed and looked down at the side of the bed for a moment.
"I only done what I needed to. Some people got in the way." She huffed.
"Got in the way? And where d'you think you're going, like that?"
"I was trying to make a better life for both of us. I was always gonna come home, get you out of shacks like this," he answered, waving his hands out to indicate the old wooden structure surrounding them.
"Yeah? Waitin' til you was done, though, I guess?"
"I knew you wouldn't understand. Not until I did it. I've seen so much, mama. I've walked in the realm of spirits, I've held power over life and death in my hands, I-"
"All that power, lookin' out at the world as it is now, and you didn't think to help no one but yourself?" He stopped, then hit the arm of the chair and stood abruptly to turn away and look out the window. "Maybe you was named right, boy. All that follows after you is lamentation." She turned back to look toward the wall while he rested his fists on the window sill and stared out at the river.
"I came to help you," he finally said, softly.
"I always said I was gonna free you, from this life, from this misery. Give you something better. I know how to do it now."
"You know I'm ill."
"You won't be anymore." He turned around and walked to her side. She turned her gaze to him, and he gave a weak smile and placed his hands on either side of her head, leaned down, and kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes as he did so.
"You know I love you, boy. I know you can do good in this world, if you choose." A tear began to run down his cheek.
"I know, mama. I love you, too," he said. Then there was a crack as he snapped her neck, and the room fell silent as he lowered her head back onto the pillow and pulled himself away. "You'll see. It's not so bad as all this where the spirits live."
5 July 1936
Even within the metaphysical realm itself, the true spiritual nature of water is somewhat elusive. For most spirits going about their days on land or sky, the waters look much the same in that world as they do in ours. It is those few spirits who can dive deeper, slip not into the water but past it, that ever manage to find the true realm of water hidden behind the waves. There are a few distinct realms in Water; rain and clouds do not directly commune with rivers who work with but keep their distance from seas and oceans. They all work in concert, they all understand the importance of the others, and communication travels freely between them, but they are distinct and would remain so forever given the choice.
The River Network is as vast a plane as any in the metaphysical realm, stretching well past the borders of the actual rivers in the physical realm and branching out through underground aquifers and the artificial rivers mankind shapes with canals and pipes. It is a hectic, bustling realm, or collection of realms with oceans filling the enormous spaces between them. Scattered throughout the River Network are smaller waters, each governed by territorial spirits who cannot cross from one territory to another. The nature of these waters is a matter of ongoing dispute; in Africa, there is still a battle raging over whether the Upper and Lower Nile are two distinct waters or should be governed by one of the primary spirits in residence. A few other lands have access to the River Network, usually the homes of spirits associated with water but not part of it. Iravati is one such land, straddling the banks of many rivers near the Indus Valley.
Aaboukingon was once the sovereign over a river that shared his name, when the people he knew spoke of their river with no regard for the names it had further up or down its banks. When the white man came they renamed it the Allegheny, then debated among themselves for years before deciding the Allegheny ended at Pittsburgh where the Ohio was born. Aaboukingon, being out of commission for significant portions of this process, woke to found himself a very powerful resident of someone else's river. It took some convincing for him to reclaim his waters, even if under the authority of Ohio, and still retain the freedom to move among Ohio's other waters. As soon as he could, however, he sent out messengers to scour the River Network for Joanna. By that time, the pressures of society against her occult leanings had paired with the uncertainty of the Great Depression to drive her away from Ohio's banks.
When word returned that she had been located in a small cottage in Arkansas, he immediately went to petition Mississippi for passage. But Mississippi did not know Aaboukingon as Ohio did, and anyway, what is one mortal to a spirit as grand and powerful as Mississippi? After a great deal of pleading and rebuttals, Aaboukingon accepted that he did not have time to continue this route and instead sent one of his messengers to find her and tell her to come home, that he was waiting for her, that he would give her everything he had ever promised and more just to see her again. When the messenger arrived, Joanna was not at the bank of the river, and it called out for bird or land or any other spirit who could hear it and bring Joanna to receive her summons. All day and most of that night it called out, and as dawn began to break, a young man stopped at the edge of the water and knelt down.
"Who are you calling for?" he asked the water, softly to avoid drawing the attention of other mortals.
"Joanna Matteson, bride of Aaboukingon! He has been searching for her, and now would welcome her home; and I have been sent to bring her home, but alas, I cannot leave these waters," the spirit replied. "But you are Riverborn! Do you know her? Can you find her?"
"I know her," the man said, "she is my mother, and Aaboukingon my father. I am on my way to her now, I--" he paused and looked away for a moment, then turned back to the water. "She is not well. I will see what I can do for her, but you go. Tell my father I will bring her home, one way or another." The river spirit poured out thanks, and as Jeremiah stood and turned his back to the river, the spirit rushed north to carry its new message.
9 december 1929
The front of the bank was hectic, people arguing with each other and with clerks about money that was lost as the world made less and less sense to them. The Roaring Twenties were ending, not with a celebratory shout, but with a deafening howl. In a back room, two men were discussing a similar problem; and finding themselves in no better condition.
"Oh come on, Charlie! You can't do this to me!" Jeremiah railed, hitting his hat against the desk. Charlie, the unfortunate man who had just informed his sixth client of the day that they had no stocks of value remaining, was trying and failing to clean his glasses, if to take his mind off of what his job had become.
"I'm not doing it to you, sir," he replied, in an even tone. "I'm sorry to say that the world is in something of a panic right now, and those of us who have invested in the stock market are dealing with rather unprecedented failures."
"I didn't fail nothin! I put my money where it was supposed to go, and now you're telling me it's just flittered away?"
"That is not the best description of what has happened, but I suppose it will do." Jeremiah leaned over the desk and began jabbing it with his finger for emphasis. Charlie leaned back slightly in response.
"Now listen here, I worked hard for that money, and I need it to get through this thing!"
"Yes, well, that puts you in the same boat as everyone else, I'm afraid. We are all the same in the end, Mr. Matteson, and I suppose we are suddenly in this mess together." Jeremiah growled and glared at Charlie, who suddenly found his vision growing impaired and his breaths growing more difficult.
"The one time a mortal actually thinks we're the same," he muttered, as the left side of Charlie's face began to droop and his arm went numb, "and it's some sniveling little roach who thinks I need more suffering in this life."
"I am sick and tired of every trace of humanity being nothing but weakness and loss! I'm done with you, all of you, do you hear me? From now on, I claim my rightful place!" Jeremiah stood up straight as Charlie tried reaching out, weakly, with his right hand. Jeremiah looked down at the hand, then scowled and waved his hand in front of Charlie's face. Instantly, Charlie's eyes glazed over and he froze, just for a moment, before blood began leaking from his ears and nose and his face fell onto his desk. Jeremiah turned toward the door, then stopped. "If I am spirit," he muttered, "maybe I can travel as one." He took a slow, measured breath, reached his hands out slowly, and stepped forward into the metaphysical realm.
28 February 1925
Joanna slammed the door shut as she entered her home, a small shack on the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Jeremiah was sitting at the small table that occupied nearly half of the main room, and looked up from his newspaper when he heard the door.
"What did you do?!" she yelled, storming up to him and then standing, arms crossed tight across her stomach.
"Now, mama, you have to know-" he started.
"Just answer me, boy!" He sighed and set the newspaper down, then turned to face her.
"I saved our house is what I did, and got nearly a year's wages out of it."
"You nearly killed Mr. Robbins! I've only just managed to establish a life for us here, and if he turns against us-"
"What kind of life is it?" Jeremiah screamed, standing so rapidly his chair slid back and fell over. "All of my life has been spent in tiny shacks, with barely enough food, watching you work a string of meager jobs for people that hate us! Why won't you let me find a better path for us?"
"Because there's a darkness in you, Jeremiah, and your attempts to 'fix' this invariably include hurting people who look at you funny for your skin or your mom's habits."
"They mean nothing! They're little, pathetic things, running around acting like everything of value is built on these little kingdoms they manage, ignorant of the world that exists all around them!"
"These are human beings you're talking about, now."
"And what good is that? I have the power to take this entire river off its course, and I need to play along to their rules? Fit in to their society? Who put them in charge of this?" he finally screamed, holding out his hands and floating as all the water in the sink and his glass rose up with him.
"They matter because they're people! All that power don't make you more important than them!"
"And all them books you lug around and read don't make you any different! You're punishing yourself! You'd rather keep people like Robbins happy while you waste your life away waiting for a man who'll never return, than let yourself have even a taste of what his power can give you! I think you prefer having him gone!" Joanna slapped Jeremiah hard across the face, and as he snapped out of his trance and fell the water in the air splashed to the ground.
"You don't talk to me like that, boy. You don't know what I go through every single day." They both stayed where they are, Joanna standing next to the table and Jeremiah sitting on the floor, and stared at each other catching their breath.
"You're never going to leave this river, are you?" he finally asked, softly.
"I made my choice. I took my vows. I keep my word." He sat in silence another few moments, then slowly stood and dusted himself off.
"I'm done, mom. I can't do this anymore."
"Can't do what?"
"Wait for him. Hide what I am. Live this life," he answered, indicating the cramped house with his hands. "It's time I go live my life." Tears started to form on Joanna's eyes.
"No, please, Jeremiah, I'm sorry, I-"
"It's not your fault. Not really. We just don't fit in the same world anymore." She reached for him, but he turned and walked into the side room. By the time he returned with a bag packed, she was sitting on the floor and sobbing. He paused, then flicked his fingers. The liquid from the tears came out of her clothes and off her face and landed in his cup. She looked up at him and opened her mouth to speak, but he just gave a weak smile before turning and walking out.
22 december 1921
Joanna was sitting by the fire knitting in her house just outside of Milton, Kentucky, when Jeremiah finally burst through the door. His arm was slung around Orville's shoulder and they were both laughing as Orville was trying to tell a story that quickly tapered off when he saw Joanna very calmly but decisively set her needles down and turn to glare at them.
"Ma'am," he said, clearing his throat and removing his hat. Jeremiah groaned and stood up straight next to him. "Mighty sorry 'bout it bein so late an'all, didn't mean to disturb ya."
"You're quite alright, Orville. But if you wanna stay that way you best get home and leave my boy to set down right here for a talk." Orville nodded, then gave Jeremiah an apologetic look before slipping out into the night. Jeremiah made his way into the living room and sat down on the other chair facing the stone fireplace.
"It was harmless, Ma. We was just out-"
"Ain't worried about tonight, boy. You know damned well I don't mind Orville. It's about somethin happened at the railroad yesterday." Jeremiah sunk slightly further into his chair and fixed his eyes on the fire. Joanna watched him for a moment, then sighed. "You remember why we gotta keep moving so much, right?"
"I could control my power better if you let me use it!" he said, sitting bolt upright.
"Oh not this again! You know full well I let you use it just fine, just-"
"'Not to get my own way,' I know, Ma. But what was I gonna do? They already been itchin to get rid of me over my skin, if that tank fell over I'd been out a job and probably worse, and where'd we be then?"
"We got by just fine before the Pennsylvania Railroad came to town, we could get by again." She leaned over and put the knitting aside.
"Oh, what, moving again? I don't even know what business you had hearin about it while you was down at the river all day anyway."
"It was my anniversary, and I spent it with as much of my husband as I could! And if you don't want me hearing about your business you need to stop makin it so loud!"
"Your husband, listen to yourself! He's gone! He ain't comin back, why we gotta keep waitin for him?"
"I swore to God, Jeremiah, to be his til one of us dies, and ain't neither of us dead!" He stood and threw his hat at the wall.
"He may as well be! What good's a husband can't keep his family fed, anyway?!" He stormed out of the room as Joanna tried to call him back. Once it was clear he wasn't returning, she sat and watched the fire for a few minutes before rising, putting on her coat and shoes, and walking down to the river.
"Oh Abe," she said, sitting down on the beach. "Please, wherever you are, please come help me with this." It was two hours later when Jeremiah wandered down to the river's edge to find his mother asleep.
"See what you've done now," he muttered at the water. He carried her inside, covered her up by the fire, and went to bed.
14 September 1918
PORTIONS OF THE DAMAGED DIARY OF JOANNA WOZNIAK, AS RECOVERED BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT OF ERIE, PA, ON THE EVENING OF MAY 28, 1974.
Yester-day, Jeremiah had some conflict with a child at school and, in his rage, screamed at the other child. There are conflicting reports on exactly what happened next, but somehow the other child was thrown across the schoolyard and broke his arm. I could not help but remember the first time Abe met Rev. Halzberg and accidentally gave him the same injury. I don't need to know whether or not he touched the boy to understand what happened. I can now be certain he has his father's power. I apologized for his behavior, promised to address it, and we left in a hurry.
I spent some time praying at home before we went to the river. I sat on the bank and told Abe all that had happened, and begged him to return and help me. I don't know how to raise a child who can do the things he can do. I don't know how to help him. I don't even know where we can live without fear of condemnation. The river did not stir. No answers came, though we fell asleep on the shore waiting for them.
The other families are avoiding us. I feared this day would come. There had already been rumors, thanks to a few times I was caught talking to the river, but now the people have made decisions about us. We must move, if we are to be safe. I've learned that much. But I cannot leave the river, not yet. We have packed our essentials and my books into the car and I identified a small town further downstream that I hope will be far enough to have not heard about us. I've explained the situation to Jeremiah. He's so bright, that boy, he seemed to understand implicitly and agreed to be more careful in future. I will go back to the river, tell Abe where he can find us before we set out. Lord, please let him respond this time.
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."
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.