18 February 2007
“So wait,” Bob said at this point, setting down his beer, “where does everyone else come in?”
“Like who?” Rick asked. They were sitting in his living room, waiting on Charles, who had slipped out to pick up the pizza. Rick’s beer was nearly empty, and he looked down the bottle as he mentally debated whether to wait for the pizza before grabbing another.
“Like Matteson. You guys are always hanging out with Matteson and he wasn’t even mentioned.”
“Oh, pfft. That’s because we didn’t meet him until eighth grade. He grew up over on the other side of town. But see he knew Tony, I think from scouts or something, and Tony’s mom was in my mom’s book club, so we knew Tony from way back.”
“And then when you all ended up in high school, Tony introduced you.”
“Yeah. And Charles couldn’t stand the guy! He was all ‘this guy’s weird and creepy’ and Tony was like ‘don’t be racist’ and Charles was going ‘weird and creepy isn’t a race’ and I thought it was hilarious.”
“I mean, he is weird and creepy.”
“Of course he is! The dude is like, constantly haunted!”
“So how’d you guys end up with him?” Bob leaned back in his seat and swirled his beer a bit. He always did that. Rick couldn’t figure out why. Before he answered, though, the door opened and in came Charles with dinner.
“You never told your boyfriend why we started hanging out with Matteson?” Rick asked, watching over his shoulder as Charles shut the door with his feet and handed him the pizzas.
“Don’t rush to get up or anything,” Charles said. “And why would I?”
“I don’t know, I thought it was funny.”
“You would.” Charles pulled off his boots and hung his coat on the railing before making his way around and snuggling in close to Bob. “Hold me, I’m cold.” Bob set his beer down, grabbed a slice of pizza, then wrapped his arm around Charles.
“So what happened?” Bob asked. Charles snatched the pizza from Bob, who sighed and grabbed another piece from the box.
“Okay okay, so,” Rick started, leaning forward, “it was coming up on Halloween, right, so we were going to one of those haunted corn mazes over in Ohio, you know the ones. And then we were gonna stay over at Tony’s, so my dad gives me and Charles a ride over and we’re gonna meet Tony and do the maze and then afterward his dad is gonna drive us back to his place. But when we get there, it’s Tony and Matteson. Seems he’d also been invited but we didn’t know.”
“Tony did shit like that,” Charles mumbled through a bite of food.
“Yeah, he does. Anyway, so, we do the maze, but we get a bit lost, and Matteson’s talking to the fucking corn, and Tony had told us about how Matteson saw spirits but we didn’t believe him so we’re kinda making fun of him, but he got the right information and led us through the maze like he knew the way. It was great.”
“Doesn’t sound very funny,” Bob said.
“I’m not there yet. So after that we get McDonald’s and go to Tony’s and after his folks are in bed Tony busts out this Ouija board he’d borrowed from someone at school, his parents would’ve flipped if they knew he had it, so it’d been hiding under the couch. And he and I start doing it, you know, the thing with the questions and it’s moving around and Charles is sitting there with us and he won’t touch it, but Matteson’s just sitting on the other side of the room looking like he’s bored with the idea before it even starts. So we’re talking to this spirit, and Tony’s telling us it must be the ghost of this guy that got murdered in the house in like the thirties, he’d found out about it and that’s why he got the board. And Matteson finally turns to the thin air next to him and goes ‘you know, this would be more plausible if you were at least over there,’ and we just look at him, and Charles goes ‘you’re being weird and creepy again, why do you keep pretending there’s someone there, don’t you know imaginary friends are for kids, you still piss the bed too?’ and on and on like this and Matteson just grumbles and looks back to the empty space and goes ‘can you just do a thing please?’ and then the Ouija board, I promise you, this thing lifts right up into the air! And Charles starts trying to scramble away but the whole board just gets hurled at him, hits him clean in the face!” Rick cracked up, and Bob just stared at him.
“Is…is that the funny part?” he asked.
“THANK you!” Charles said, rolling his eyes. “I nearly shit myself over that, and he’s been laughing about it for years!”
“Well fine,” Rick said, composing himself. “At any rate, we realized then that there was something going on with Matteson, and I wanted to know what it was, so we started hanging out with him more, and eventually got to encounter some spirits, and that was that.”
“And the best thing to come out of that so far is that I met you.”
“Aww, thanks,” Bob said, “hope that makes it all worth it.”
“You’re adorable, really,” Rick said, standing and dusting himself off, “I’m just taking this chance to get a new beer for completely unrelated reasons.”
“Wasn’t Jackie coming over?” Charles called after him as Rick made his way to the kitchen.
“Yeah! She should be here soon.”
“It’ll be good for you to gawk at something else.”
“You know what, I bet it would.”
19 May 1985
Peter and Abigail Whitman had a hell of a time getting into their first home. The projects they had been in since their wedding kept pace with their attempts to bring in more money, ensuring they could never quite set aside the cash they’d need to move out. Ultimately, Peter had to pick up an extra job and arrange to be paid under the table. It wasn’t legal, admittedly, but they avoided notice long enough to scrape together the bare minimum to secure a house on Sharon’s west hill. It needed some work, and Peter was probably going to have to walk to work for a while, and it only had two bedrooms, one of which would need to be shared between their young son and the child in Abigail’s womb, but it was theirs. That was enough.
They were in the house a month before they managed to have any real conversations with the neighbors, what with the pregnancy and Peter’s hours and all the work involved in moving in and sorting out a plumbing issue that was more of a hassle than they’d been led to believe. It was another week before the couple next door arranged to have a few other neighbors come by the house with food to help the Whitmans acclimate to the place. At this meeting, Abigail was surprised to encounter Janet Pawluk, now Janet Fielding, who had been a good friend in high school before leaving for college and losing touch with basically everyone Abigail knew. She’d recently moved back to the area with her husband and son, who Abigail just had to meet. So it was, the next day, that young Rick Fielding was plopped down in the living room in front of young Charles Whitman to entertain one another while their mothers slipped into the kitchen to catch up. The following Tuesday, the couples got together to play Rummy and the boys, already in their pajamas in case they fell asleep since it was almost eight already, found themselves staring at each other once again, this time in the Fieldings’ den.
And so it went, week after week the couples played cards and the boys were gradually accompanied by younger siblings. And then they were riding bikes together, and playing on the same Little League team, and finally in third grade got assigned the same teacher. And then they were tearing through the neighborhood together, sometimes with a friend from Charles’ church or the kid of someone from Janet’s book club and sometimes with a stray cousin, but always Rick and Charles. Sleepovers and music lessons and little wrestler figurines that seemed to drift from one house to the other without the parents having any idea which kid they actually belonged to. Charles was the first person to know about Rick’s crush on Rebecca Williams, and Rick was the first person to know that Charles might actually be gay, yes, like Elton John, but probably not quite like Elton John, whatever that meant, but that was later.
Because somewhere along the line they realized that West Hill Elementary ended after sixth grade and then they were going to be in the high school, with all those annoying brats from Musser and the stuck up pricks from Case and they didn’t really know what that meant but they did know it involved a whole lot of new people. New people who might like that show Rick laughed at and Charles didn’t, or had similar ideas about music that Charles tried to explain but Rick didn’t really understand. So they made a pact that they were going to be best friends forever, and not let anyone at that high school come between them, and they pricked their hands with safety pins until there was blood and spit on the blood and shared a secret handshake and that made it official. And they saw the little band aids on each others’ hands at school the next day and knew for certain that they really meant it.
28 April 2007
As you drive east, along one of the ways between Youngstown and New Castle, there is on one road a location where you pass out of Ohio about a hundred feet before you pass into Pennsylvania. No map shows a distinction here, and it only exists in this one location; but the signs that welcome you to each state are spaced accordingly, and no one owns or collects taxes on the small shop that sits directly between them. For years at a time, the shop looks abandoned. There are no signs on the front or on the broken post at the edge of the road, the grass grows through the gravel parking lot unhindered, the windows and door are boarded over and there are never any lights that shine on the property. What it used to be, if it can be certain to have ever been anything, is unclear. It has the general look of a convenience store, though admittedly one without gas, but the wood lattice creating a small hallway in front of the store resembles something generally found on a farm store or small grocer. The roof slopes slightly down toward the back, and the building seems longer than could really be accounted for without some additional purpose. It definitely seems designed to sell something, but no one who lives nearby could tell you what.
Not that they would think to. People drive past it all day, never glancing at it or making remark. The trucking company next door, squarely within Ohio state borders, never parks any vehicles on its lot or turns its lights to illuminate that side of their property in a way that would cross over the line to the shop's property. It is one of the only buildings nearby with no graffiti of any sort, certainly the only abandoned building to claim such an honor.
Rick was driving east down that very road, on the way back from a final errand before his weekend away with some friends at Alice's family cabin. He was on the phone with Matteson, confirming plans, when he realized how thirsty he was and how much farther he had to go. With a promise to see the others soon, he hung up the phone and began watching for somewhere to stop for a bottle or two of pop. As he drew near the Pennsylvania line, he noticed, for the first time, a shop on his left. It looked warm and inviting, the gravel parking lot well maintained and the windows covered in signs that advertised some unspecified sale. "Gob's Market," the sign above the latticework read. He pulled into the lot and got out, glancing to the "Welcome to Ohio" sign facing him from one direction and the "Pennsylvania Welcomes You" sign facing him from the other. With a chuckle, he walked toward the door, reminding himself to only buy what he needed for the drive since he and the others had already stocked for the weekend.
The inside of the store was brightly lit, but small. Across from the door was a short and lanky man, standing behind a metal office desk with a till on it that looked like it was newly made, but of a style that hadn't been in use for nearly a century. The desk looked second-hand, like it had been dropped at a donations shop after an office determined the spots of rust were unsafe for their space, but the till had fine gold filigree covering its edges. The man gave Rick a toothy smile and waved him in.
"Come, buy!" he said.
"Yes, thanks," Rick answered, looking at the man with concern. "I just need some-" he turned to where the merchandise would be and found only one cooler, a single glass door between him and the store's entire stock of four kinds of pop; all of which were common picks for Rick at stores that had more variety. "-uh, yeah. That." He turned and opened the door, grabbing out two bottles of Dr. Pepper, and walked over to set them on the desk. The man nodded as if they were sharing a secret, and began typing quickly on the till. The price popped up, and Rick pulled out his card before looking around at the desk. "I don't suppose you take credit here?"
"No credit. You buy," the man said, slapping the desk. Rick raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath as he shook his head slightly, then pulled a few dollars from his wallet. He handed them to the man, who looked over them for a moment, sniffed them, and then counted and huffed. He opened the drawer of the desk, and Rick noticed an assortment of gold coins and foreign-looking currency and a gemstone. The man threw the bills into the drawer and dug around for a bit, pulling out two quarters, giving them a bite as if checking them, and then handing them to Rick with a nod.
"Uh, okay. Thanks!" Rick said, picking up his drinks and leaving. He paused at the door and gave one last glance to the man, as if making sure he wouldn't follow, but the man seemed preoccupied with typing into his till again. Rick shook his head and left. After the sound of tires on gravel moved away from the building and was replaced by the roar of an engine entering traffic, the man absently reached up and pulled at an invisible string above his head. There was a click, and the shop went completely dark. Outside, it looked just as abandoned and unmarked as it ever had, the grass in the gravel lot swaying in the wind.
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.