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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.