10 February 2006
Lori tried to go back to life as she remembered it, but it just wasn't there anymore. She couldn't really explain to her co-workers that it wasn't her who burned all those bridges between March and November. She couldn't bear to spend time with Bob now that he was so close to Charles, and Beth was willing to recognize that whatever caused the breakup was enough for her to need space from Matteson's friends but didn't understand how much space she really needed. The apartment felt like someone else's home, even after she got rid of the shrine and threw away anything new and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Mark was gone, and the guilt she felt over that haunted her constantly. Medically, her body was still recovering from the miscarriage and the injuries she suffered from being thrown at Matteson and Jackie by an angry ghost whose memories still flooded her dreams and occasionally ripped her out of her waking life. Everything reminded her of something, everywhere she went in Sharon and Hermitage had some story with Matteson and Alethea involved. And now she had Alethea's reactions to things, little things she wouldn't have expected, like the cutting board and the bathtub and the Beatles. She didn't even always know why these things meant what they meant, just that they hurt in a deep, visceral way that would break down any attempt to continue her day.
Whether out of some desire to force life back to normal, or a refusal to feel like the ghost had won, or some feeling that maybe none of this was real, Lori couldn't really tell; but she was, for a month and a half, committed to trying to put life back together. It was in trying to prepare for Christmas that she realized how alone, and hurt, and miserable she really was, and that was when the temptations to harm began in earnest. She was laying on her living room floor and crying when her cousin in Louisville, Kentucky, called to invite her to Christmas dinner.
"Your mom tells me you've had a rough year," he said, "so I thought maybe you'd want to get away for a bit, and it's been a while since we've seen you. The kids really miss you." Lori was in her car with some essentials and the few clothes she could tolerate looking at, driving southwest, within the hour.
Alex was accommodating and his family was warm and welcoming. She didn't know if she could tell them what had happened, at least not the whole story, but they slowly drew enough out of her to know that she couldn't go back to Sharon until she was ready. They had a spare room that was basically given to her, Alex negotiated with her old landlord to settle the terms of breaking the lease early, and her mom stored everything Lori didn't want anymore to put into a yard sale come spring and shipped whatever remained to her in January. Vanessa, Alex's wife, got Lori hired on when a secretary at her office left to go back to college. There were some benefits with the position, and both Alex and Vanessa urged Lori to see someone about her apparent PTSD and asked more than a couple times if her ex was to blame and needed to have a conversation with the police. She insisted that it wasn't his fault, it just...coincided with having him in her life, but they always seemed more like they were dropping it out of respect for her wishes more than believing her. She promised that as soon as she had some money set aside for the co-pay of a half dozen sessions or so she would try to find a therapist.
It wasn't until Vanessa tried to comfort her in the middle of an episode and she let slip that there was a ghost possession involved in all of this did they take direct action. The next night, when Lori got home from work, Alex and Vanessa sat down and explained they were having someone over for dinner that night. Alex explained that he wasn't sure if he really believed in all this supernatural stuff, but he did have a friend who claimed to have been assaulted by a fae once and had been helped by this one doctor. She was legit, Vanessa confirmed they had looked into her credentials, and she seemed to have a certain involvement with people who claimed supernatural trauma. Lori didn't have to tell her anything she didn't want to, but they wanted her to at least meet the doctor and know that there were people out there who understood more of what she was facing than they did.
A half hour later, Dr. Francesca Harris was welcomed in from the porch and a roast duck was set on the table. Lori and Dr. Harris sat opposite each other, and the kids asked her all kinds of questions about what she did and how she knew their parents and if she'd ever seen aliens. She laughed and entertained their questions, and Lori slowly got comfortable with the idea that, whatever else was true of Harris, she would probably at least believe her.
Once the kids were in bed and the adults were left to their wine in the living room, Lori finally broke down and told the whole story. It was the first time anyone had heard all of it, and she didn't even mean to. Once she started, it just all poured out. Alex and Vanessa listened, concerned, and clearly unsure how to respond; but Dr. Harris just waited, patiently and calmly, absorbing the story. When Lori was done, Vanessa began to rub her back as she cried, and Dr. Harris slowly set her glass down on the side table.
"Why do you think this happened?" she asked. Lori was silent for a moment, then wiped her cheek.
"I didn't stop her. It was my body, I...I should have stopped her." Harris nodded slightly and leaned back into her seat.
"It feels natural to see it that way. Here, let me tell you a bit about the supernatural." She then explained that she was the leader of a group called Mystics Anonymous, which had been formed after she and a priest dealt with a cult trying to summon dangerous beings into the world and left a community of hurting people in its wake. She talked about how they focused on supernatural trauma, using the best available research and practices from mainstream psychology and applying them to what they knew of spirits and ghosts and other legendary dangers. She assured Lori that not only would they believe her, but there would be people there who would know some part of what she went through, would have the same fears and concerns about getting treatment, and would be able to help.
Before she left, Dr. Harris gave Lori information on when and where Mystics Anonymous met in Louisville, her own contact information, and an encouragement to take some time to process everything she had said that night and ask herself why she believed she should have been able to repel a ghost. She also reminded Alex and Vanessa that the most important thing they could do for Lori right now was to listen, and believe, and not push her any more than they already have. Lori thanked her, and with some prompting by Vanessa made a note in her calendar to attend the meeting scheduled for the following week.
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.
30 october 2005
"This is it, isn't it?" Huginn asked. The Two were in raven form, perched in a tree and watching the window of Lori's apartment where she was screaming and throwing things from her broom closet.
"Sure is," Muninn replied.
"How can you remember her memories, but not Aaboukingon's?"
"Aaboukingon is fully spirit. There was no human to access. But her..." The Two sat silent for a moment, as the screaming died down and was replaced with sobbing.
"Are you telling me Lori remembers all of this?" she asked, turning to the other raven.
"Everyone in her situation remembers. Not everyone chooses to recall." Huginn shuddered.
"That must be horrible!" Muninn nodded. "And you get stuck feeling all of that? From everyone? At the same time?"
"I also remember all of the good, all the time." Huginn sighed, and looked back to the window.
"I suppose that's something. For you, anyway. But for her-"
"She has complex feelings about the miscarriage," Muninn interrupted. He took a moment to scratch his beak with his foot, then turned to Huginn. "But that will become apparent very soon."
1 August 2005
Lori was sitting in her bedroom, humming along to the local Oldies station and hunched over her dresser poking holes in a couple wrapped condoms with a pin. Beside where she worked, a calendar lay open marked with phases of her menstrual cycle and the current date circled.
"Oh, tonight's the night. Can you feel it? Everything is finally coming together." She bobbed her head softly to the music for a moment, then laid the pin down and huffed. "Well no, I don't suppose you are, little miss hissy fit, but it's hardly your concern anyway." She rested her palms on the dresser and stood still, as if listening. "Well I don't know why you wouldn't," she said, forcefully, standing straight up and turning around, "he's magnificent, but like I said. I'm not leaving until it's done, and that includes delivery, so don't worry your pretty little head about it. You don't have to feel anything you don't want to." She leaned against the dresser and waited, then groaned and waved her hand dismissively. "Then you can go back to sleep. I have work to do." Her head drifted slowly to the side, then stopped when her gaze hit her bed. "And you, what are you doing here?"
Kastor stopped suddenly, his mouth wide open and prepared to bite into the memory of an apple. His eyes darted around the room, looking for anyone else she may have been speaking to.
"Yes, you, goatman," she said, the final word dripping like poison from her tongue. He lowered the apple and straightened up.
"So you CAN see me! I knew it!" he exclaimed, pointing at her.
"Did he send you? To spy on me?"
"Oh child, no one sends me anywhere. I'm not that kind of faun. But I suspect he'd be very interested to know what you're doing on that dresser there." She narrowed her eyes and leveled his gaze at him for a long moment, before slowly raising her hand and then snapping her fingers. Kastor raised an eyebrow, then his eyes slowly got wide as he heard a low growl behind him. He turned to find a massive black dog with red glowing eyes, its teeth bared and wispy shadows of fur raised. He jumped off the bed and stumbled backward. "The Hound! You--there's no way you have command of the Hound! You're not her!"
"Oh, that's true enough," she said, gracefully walking toward him, "but make no mistake. We have an arrangement, and if you do anything to threaten it, the Hound will be there." She leaned close to his ear and whispered, "and in that moment, you will wish I could really control him."
"Who...who are you in there? Really?"
"Give me one year, Kastor," she said, standing up and returning to the dresser. "If I so much as smell your horrid fur near Matteson for the next year, eternity ends for you."
"It was you, wasn't it? Everyone on my side knew that human, Mark, that his death wasn't natural. Did you do that?"
"I am not here to answer your theories, faun. But if you are wise, you will stay out of my way."
"A year and a day, fiend, and everything comes to light."
"Oh if you must, but it will be too late by then." The Hound drew closer to Kastor, who took a deep breath and backed up partly into the wall. "I suggest you go, now. My date will be arriving soon and I would hate to have to kill you on a technicality."
"Mark it. A year and a day, and you are undone." With that, Kastor vanished into the deeper parts of the Realm. The Hound sat and looked at Lori.
"I'm sure your mistress has other things for you to do. Thank you for your time." The Hound nodded, then slipped away into the shadows. "Well, I better get cleaned up. Big night tonight!"
16 May 2005
Trivia night had wrapped up around 10, and Mark had spent the next fifteen minutes staring into space and rocking in his chair. Matteson and Lori left as soon as it was over. Mark overheard Matteson tell her he had something to do in the morning and would just be dropping her off. Beth leaned over and tapped on his shoulder.
"Hey," she said. "What's on your mind?"
"I'm just...sorry, I'm just concerned," he answered.
"Look, we get it," Bob said. "She seems obsessive about him. Like, beyond what you would expect."
"I've been afraid to mention it, you know, but...something really does seem off about them," Beth said, softly.
"And she's changed a lot since meeting him," Bob added. "And not all of it for the better."
"Has she said anything? To anyone?" Mark asked. The other two shook their heads. "She promised she would talk to one of us, months ago. Said she was going through a rough patch, swore it wasn't his fault, but..."
"It hasn't gotten better." They all sat in silence for a moment, then Mark slapped his hands down onto the table and stood up.
"I have to try again."
"Mark, wait-" Beth began.
"No! There's something wrong and I think it has to do with him. We can't keep sitting by and watching it happen!"
"Just...just be careful, okay? It's going to be difficult to handle this well," Bob said.
"Are you sure we can't just go, all together, and do this tomorrow?" Beth asked. Mark shook his head and grabbed his jacket, then tossed some cash on the table.
"If that doesn't cover me I'll pay you back tomorrow, alright?" The others reluctantly nodded, then watched as Mark vanished out the door.
Mark arrived at Lori's apartment a few minutes later, checking the parking lot to verify Matteson's car was gone. When he knocked on the door, it fell open, and he jumped back. He waited a moment, then poked his head in to look around. Everything looked normal, and he thought he could hear the shower running. He stepped inside and closed the door, making sure it latched this time.
"Lori?" he called out.
"Matteson? Is that you?" he heard back.
"I'll be right out, just wait there!" He went to answer, but decided instead to just wait for her. He took a deep breath, started muttering to himself what he would say, and began pacing around her living room. As he focused on what he was saying, he lost track of where he swung his hands, and accidentally knocked over a glass of pop. He swore softly to himself and dove down to pick up the glass, then looked around for a paper towel. When he didn't see a roll out, he decided to check the broom closet. He opened the door to the broom closet and froze.
There were no cleaning supplies in the closet. Instead, he was faced with dozen of pictures of John Matteson. Most looked recent, but some looked like they had been printed off a website somewhere or pulled out of wherever his childhood pictures were kept. A small altar consisting of a bowl and supported by three women's faces, was set up on a low shelf, with a bag of incense on one side and some ashes in the bowl. The pictures of Matteson were surrounded and interspersed with moon and death imagery.
"You're not supposed to be in there!" he heard Lori yell, and suddenly realized the sound of the shower had stopped. He stepped back from the door and faced her. She was wearing one towel over her body, and had another one coiled up on her head, her legs still dripping water on the carpet. "Mark?!"
"Lori, I was trying to clean up a spill, and-"
"What are you doing here?!"
"We're all concerned, okay? Something about this, this...thing you have with Matteson didn't seem healthy! And this? THIS?" he yelled, pointing at the closet. "This is proof! Lori, something is terribly wrong here!"
"Get OUT!" she screamed. Her eyes flashed white and Mark stumbled backward. Before he could say anything else, she was at his side, holding his arm so tight he screamed and felt his hand growing numb. She threw him, and he crashed into the wall next to the door. When he looked back, she was floating a few inches off the ground, her hair out in all directions and the towel from her head crumpled on the floor. She started to move toward him, and he threw the door open and ran out on all fours, only able to push himself to his feet and run once he was in the hallway. Other doors were opening, but he didn't wait to see who was watching him. He jumped into his car and started the engine, his heart racing, his breath quick and shallow. He punched the gas and tore out of the parking lot down the street, trying to piece together what he'd seen. He barely registered it when the radio station cut to static.
"You won't ruin this for me, Mark!" a strange woman's voice called out from the radio. He screamed and glanced over, only to see the radio still reading 101.1. He felt his entire body go cold.
"Who are you? What do you want?" He cried.
"No one gets in my way ever again!" A bolt of electricity sparked from the radio and shocked his hand, causing him to yank his hands away. The wheel turned sharply, and as Mark reached out to correct it the car spun sideways. The rear wheel caught a pothole at high speed and the car flipped onto its roof, sliding about twenty feet. Mark only briefly heard the sound of the truck's horn as his car landed directly in front of it.
Lori was kneeling in front of the altar, a bit of incense burning. She sat perfectly still, her eyes open and fixed straight ahead and glazed over. Suddenly, she took a deep breath, and fell backwards. She stood, cracked her knuckles, and blinked a couple times until her eyes were back to normal. She heard a knock on the door and, making sure her towel was fixed, she went to answer.
"Hey, is everything alright?" It was one of her neighbors, she recognized him from the hallway. "We heard a lot of noise, and then this guy-"
"Everything is fine now, thanks," she said with a smile. "It was just a misunderstanding."
"Are...are you sure?"
"Yes. Thank you, and sorry for all the noise. Good night." With that she closed the door, then walked back to her altar, and resumed kneeling. "Very soon," she whispered, looking up at the pictures, "all of this will be sorted out for good."
29 March 2005
There was a knock on the door to Lori's apartment. She glanced from around the door to her broom closet, then closed it. After checking that the latch was secure, she opened the front door to find Mark Hendricks.
"Lori! Are you okay?"
"You missed trivia night again. Last week you said you were sick but this week no one could even get a hold of you and we've been a team for two years and you've never missed a night and we were all concerned." She sighed and leaned on the doorframe.
"I'm sorry, Mark. I was hanging out with Matteson and I guess I forgot."
"And forgot to answer your phone?"
"Is this really about trivia?" He opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped and exhaled hard through the nose as he looked at her.
"Look, can I at least come in? If we have to do this I don't want it to be in the hallway." She stepped aside and dramatically waved her hand to point him in. He walked past her and turned to the living room, where he sat down on the couch. She closed the door and made her way to the recliner.
"What's going on with you?"
"With me? Nothing. But there's clearly something going on with you."
"What do you mean?"
"Look it's, these past two weeks, you've been acting really weird. Blowing people off, forgetting names. You've seemed a bit more...tense, as well. Now I don't know if it's this guy or some other thing in your life that happened around the same time, but the timing-"
"Are you accusing Matteson of something?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't know, okay?" he nearly yelled, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Whatever it is, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I just want you to talk to me. Or Beth. Or anyone, just...something is wrong, we can all tell. And we care about you. Whatever is going on, we want to be there for you." She leaned back in her seat and stared off toward the window for a moment.
"Okay. Thank you. I've been under a lot of stress lately. It will pass, I promise, and this new thing with Matteson has been helping. Just...have some patience with me? I'll explain when I'm ready." Mark leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands together. Finally, he turned his head up to face her.
"You promise you'll talk to one of us?"
"I promise." He sat up, took a deep breath, and then nodded.
"Okay. Just try not to be too much of a stranger during this time?" She nodded and smiled, and he stood. "Alright. Thanks. Look, I gotta go help Bob with something. Should we expect you at Beth's tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I'll be there." He nodded, then walked out of the apartment. As soon as she heard the door close, she groaned and laid the recliner back.