Inhuman, Part Four
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.
Cain Abroad, Part Two
2 May 2007
Jeremiah stepped out of the metaphysical realm into a clearing in the Allegheny National Forest. The energy in the site was deadly calm, but focused on a low stone altar in the center of the clearing. He made a wide arc through the clearing, looking at footprints and the remains of magical signatures. Those remnants were the most interesting aspect of all to him; usually when someone used magic in a site, even a weak spellcaster, the mark of their magic remained loud and clear on the site for weeks at minimum.
“It wasn’t time that degraded these signatures, was it?” he asked, mostly to himself.
“No,” a feminine voice answered. He spun around and looked into the trees for some sign of who was talking to him. “Did you come here because you thought it was?” There. Two ravens sitting on a branch, one with a faint blue glow beneath its feathers, both unmistakably spirits.
“What business is this of yours?” he demanded. The blue, apparently female, raven laughed. The other, in a masculine voice, answered.
“All things are our business, Jeremiah. What business is it of yours?” he asked.
“It’s a family affair.” Jeremiah turned back and began walking toward the altar.
“Oh yes. Always a family affair with you people,” the blue raven said. Both ravens took flight, making a spiral around the clearing and landing on the altar. Jeremiah stopped and put his hands in his pockets.
“How do you know me?”
“We know everyone. That’s part of the deal.”
“The deal that allows things like you to exist,” she answered. Jeremiah quickly pulled his hand from his pocket and clenched his fist in their direction. Nothing happened. “Oh, you didn’t think we were made of wet matter like normal birds, did you?”
“It was worth a shot.”
“I very much doubt that.”
“What happened here?”
“I don’t think that concerns you yet.”
“Will you tell me when it does concern me?”
“We won’t have to,” the other raven replied. “Besides, you’re not really here to learn about all that. You’re here because you’re trying to find your grandson.”
“Is he near?”
“Not near enough to be a danger to you.”
“He is no danger to me.”
“If you insist.” The bird began preening as Jeremiah stepped forward, running his hand along the edge of the altar.
“He did this?”
“Not all of it,” the blue raven answered. “But he did destroy the magic at play here.”
“Is that not all of it?”
“That’s never all of it.”
“It must have strained him to do this much damage to this much magic.”
“Why do you only talk in circles?”
“We don’t. Sometimes we give people direct information. Sometimes we say nothing.”
“And why do I not deserve direct information?”
“It isn’t a matter of deserving. It’s a matter of the way things must be.”
“And how must they be?”
“You,” the other raven said, looking back to Jeremiah, “must take a lesson from this and prepare yourself accordingly.”
“And what lesson is that?”
“Your magic will not save you from him.” The ravens took flight again, this time circling Jeremiah once and then going straight up and vanishing from the world. Jeremiah watched them, then touched the stone again.
“Then I suppose I shall have to find something that will.” He placed his hands back into his pockets, turned away from the altar, and walked to the edge of the clearing where he disappeared.
Skin and Bones, Part Fifteen
It was the following night before Akshainie and Benedict managed to arrive on the small island Huginn had told them about. The ravens were waiting for them, perched on a low branch, as they made their way ashore from the small fishing boat, Benedict carrying a shovel.
“Took you long enough,” Huginn said. Muninn nodded.
“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Benedict asked.
“Oh, always somewhere else to be. Nothing you need to worry about.” The ravens took flight and circled the other two a few times before Huginn landed on Benedict’s shoulder. “But for now, I suppose we should get moving.”
“What’s your interest in this matter? Or in us, in general?” Akshainie asked. Huginn shrugged.
“You’re interesting. You know where we’re going, Muninn?” she yelled. The other raven cawed and changed direction, flying away from the beach. Benedict hesitated a moment, and Akshainie grabbed his hand.
“You coming, priest?” she asked. Benedict blinked in surprise, looked at the hand she was still holding, and blushed a little. He started to follow, and Akshainie let go and continued on. Benedict glanced back to his shoulder to find Huginn staring at him. He could almost swear she winked, though nothing about her eyes actually seemed to change.
They followed Muninn inland, around a rocky outcropping, and up a hill to a small cemetery with weathered gravestones. Muninn landed on one stone and began preening as he waited for the others to catch up. Akshainie arrived first, kneeling down and wiping at the moss on the stone as best she could before pulling out a small flashlight and reading what was left of the engraving.
“This looks to be it!” she called back to Benedict, who was still a few yards off. Huginn left his shoulder and landed next to Muninn as Akshainie thanked him. He cawed in response. “Does he talk?”
“Oh, yes,” Huginn said, nudging him. Muninn grunted and straightened up. “He’s just very picky about who hears him.”
“Which doesn’t include us.”
“For good reason, don’t worry, it isn’t about you so much as about him.”
“Right,” Benedict said, stabbing the shovel into the ground next to Akshainie and leaning on it. “So we just bring it up, then?”
“I would be mindful of how you disturb him. Wouldn’t want to produce a ghost in the process.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Humans believe it is,” Huginn answered. Benedict grumbled and then lifted the shovel again. Akshainie moved aside and began to sing a low, soft song in Sanskrit.
“What’s that?” Benedict asked as he began to dig.
“A lullaby,” Huginn answered as Akshainie continued to sing, “intended to keep the soul at peace while you work.” Akshainie nodded, never breaking the tune.
“Does it work?”
“Depends on whether or not you start bitching about it.” Akshainie barely stopped herself from laughing, missing a beat in the process, but then resumed. Benedict made short work of the grave, heaving massive piles of dirt at a time and straining the shovel’s handle with the weight. He struck wood on the third verse, the noise of which caused Akshainie and the ravens to peer over the edge of the hole as Benedict laid the shovel aside and cleared enough space with his hands to open the box. Inside was a skeleton, its clothes barely still discernible, with a large piece of fine white fur clutched to its ribs. The fur looked like it had just been placed there, not even carrying any stains or marks from the body that had decomposed around it. Benedict carefully removed the fur and replaced the skeleton’s arms, then the cover, before grabbing the shovel and leaping out of the hole. Akshainie continued to sing as she took the shovel and filled the hole again, then finished the last verse as she stood over the freshly-buried plot.
“It is a beautiful song,” Benedict said, softly, once she was done.
“Thank you,” Akshainie answered, laying the shovel across her shoulder. “My mother sang it to me when I was young. Didn’t know when I’d have opportunity to sing it myself.”
“Well!” Huginn announced, hopping slightly to the side to center herself between Benedict and Akshainie, “I suppose that’s it, then. Enjoy!” The two ravens took to the air, and before the pair of grave robbers could respond, they were gone.
“What do you think their deal is?” Akshainie asked, as they turned to make their way back to the boat.
“I suppose, with all of eternity to flit about in, one has to find their entertainment where they can,” Benedict answered.
Skin and Bones, Part Fourteen
It wasn’t until Benedict and Akshainie were in town that they realized they actually had very little information to guide them to Lambert’s grave. Benedict assumed Lambert was his last name, and they knew his role and ship at the end of the seventeenth century, but that was it. Deciding against going back to the boat for more information, partly because Akshainie suspected it would be faster to find it themselves, the pair split up. Akshainie went searching for a Lambert family plot, in the hopes that the fleece would just be there. Benedict dug around in town for a bit until he found an internet cafe, where he began searching for information on the captain. As evening fell, they met at a local pub to grab dinner and see what they’d learned.
“Well, if there’s a Lambert family plot, I haven’t found it,” Akshainie said, before knocking back half her beer. “How’d you fare with that…thing you said you were going to consult?”
“The internet,” Benedict grumbled. He took a bite of his fish and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, finally continuing after he’d swallowed. “It had very little useful information. It seems this ship failed to make it into the pirate folklore that persisted, though I can’t imagine why.”
“Do you think maybe Tidh exaggerated its importance?”
“I suspect Tidh exaggerated quite a lot. But that doesn’t help us reach Iravati.” He sighed and returned to his meal as Akshainie considered his words.
“Well, it has to be here, right? This town is Orkney, isn’t it?”
“No. Orkney isn’t the name of the town, it’s the name of this group of islands. I don’t even know if we’re on the right island, let alone the right town.”
“Are you fucking with me, priest?” Akshainie demanded. Benedict shook his head, and she groaned. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes, before Akshainie spoke up. “Maybe we should find those damned spirits that talked to Tidh and see if they know anything.”
“And how would we do that?” Benedict asked. “We don’t have any information we could use to summon them.”
“We can’t really be summoned, anyway,” a voice said. Akshainie and Benedict both paused for a moment, recognizing it as the voice of the raven who helped them travel from Yggdrasil. They both turned to find The Two standing next to their table. “We just kind of exist everywhere.”
Deadline, Part One
1 August 2006
The light from Helios shimmered on the surface of the water, reflecting bright flickering shapes on the figures dancing under the shade of nearby trees. Kastor was playing an aulos as he pranced around, accompanied by four other satyrs with instruments, keeping time to the clapping of nymphs and dryads. Other satyrs laid among the nature spirits, the whole assembly sharing fruit and laughing along to a tale being spun to the music by a centaur. Mid-dance, Kastor stopped playing and caught a hitch in his breath. He stepped aside from the group, who continued on without interruption, and glanced over to a tree from which two ravens were watching.
“It’s time, isn’t it? Is that what that feeling meant?” he asked. Muninn nodded.
“Your year has passed. You are relieved of your promise to Alethea-as-Lori,” Huginn answered. Kastor grumbled, looking back to the party with a longing stare, then turned back to the Two.
“The witch said he was okay though, right? It isn’t a pressing issue anymore, is it?”
“We will not decide what is important for you,” Muninn said. “I will only tell you that Alethea poses no further threat to John Matteson.” Kastor looked to the dancing figures again, then cursed under his breath and set his aulos down.
“I better check in on him, anyway. Fool human,” he muttered, walking away into the forest.
Babylon, Part Three
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.
Shadow of Death, Part One
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."
Road to perdition, part one
23 august 2005
There are places in the Metaphysical Realm that are barren for a season. Sometimes a culture will dream up a land for their dead, or their stories, or their heroes, and then slowly forget or die off and leave the realm of their imaginations untended. Sometimes the Ravens fly silently over a waking void, a place they know will soon house some new dream that is only barely beginning to form in the mind of a single individual. These places are generally avoided by spirits, or at least those who know how to access them at all. They are reminders of the frailty of dreams, the reliance the spirits have on the whims and imaginations and fears of a race that could not truly see them even if they wanted to. For the Ravens, though, these lands are scattered oases, wellsprings of energy and lonesome creativity, places where they can fly without worry, walk without hassle, live in quiet connection to the fundamental nature of the Realm itself. They are quiet, isolated, secure.
"Look, the deal was just that I didn't tell him anything, right? So maybe you could?" Kastor was standing on a massive stone, floating in the void. Above, the moons were constantly changing, some vanishing, some being created, some shifting in size or shape or brightness. A purple tree with orange leaves floated nearby, in which the Ravens sat.
"Why would we do that?" Huginn asked. "This sounds like a personal problem."
"Look, I don't know what your connection is to this, but it's no secret that you both seem awfully invested in the Mattesons. Hell, I only met John because of a bet about who could find out what was so interesting about them to you."
"Did you win the bet?"
"You're damn right I did! Admittedly, the standards for success were not high. But the point is, you care about this guy, and there's some spirit trying to do...something evil with him! Or to him! Or whatever!"
"Ghost," Muninn said, glancing up from preening his wing. "She's not a spirit."
"So you've been paying attention! Why is this not concerning to you?"
"It's already done. She confirmed her pregnancy today, with a test from Walgreens."
"Wait, she what? She just wanted to get pregnant? She threatened me just to get a cub?"
"No, but it need not concern you. We are aware of the situation and will act if necessary."
"Thank you for your concern," Huginn said. "Keep your distance, as promised."
"Okay, but if this goes south, I want you both to know I'll hold you personally responsible!" Kastor said, straightening up and putting his hands on his hips.
"Mm. And what will you do about it?" He stood for a moment longer, then slouched slightly, then stood straight again and wagged his finger at them.
"I will be very disappointed in you both! And I'm Mediterranean! Don't think my disappointment can be ignored!"
"We will be sure to bear that in mind, Kastor."
"Good! Good," he said, nodding. He turned around as if to storm off, then stopped and looked around. "How do I get out of here?"
"You could wait til the author finishes worldbuilding and just walk out?" Muninn offered. Kastor threw his head back and groaned.
"Oh come on! Authors are the worst! You didn't tell me this was some potential novel!"
"We didn't invite you!"
"Just jump into the void," Huginn said with a sigh, "it's still in a rough enough state that you'll land somewhere else." Kastor grumbled as he walked to the edge of his stone, then pointed at the Ravens as if to remind them he was watching, then dove off and vanished. "Does this book ever get written?" she asked, after he was gone.
"No," Muninn replied. She took to the air.
"You're cruel! What if he'd actually stayed here?" He laughed and followed her.
"Kastor doesn't stay anywhere, and you know it!" They vanished, and the moons continued their slow shift in silence.
Deal at the Crossroads
15 May 2005
Jackie Veracruz arrived at the Crossroads, led by Hecate's hound, as Hecate sat on an ornate throne made of the still-moving limbs and occasional head of the undead. The Queen of Magic waited silently, sipping from a goblet of wine and looking out over her realm. As the hound made its way to sit beside the throne, Jackie hesitated.
"Welcome back, Jacqueline." Jackie took a deep breath and looked up at the goddess, who was now so large that the mortal had to keep a bit of distance just to see up and over her knees.
"Thank you, mistress. I was growing concerned."
"As you should. You're fortunate I called you back here at all, after you hid from me in the arms of that Anchor."
"Don't bother, child. I gave you power, and knowledge. I invested in you for years, turning your feeble attempts at magic into a force that has changed lives. I watched you grow from a scared child to a formidable young woman. I warned you about the greatest danger to magic that exists in this world when it was right in front of you, and you repaid it all by using him to hide from me. There is nothing you can say that will make that action acceptable to me." She glared down at Jackie, who was now trembling and looking down at the ground in front of the throne. "But, there is something you can do that I will accept as payment." Jackie slowly looked back up to meet her gaze.
"What is it?"
"You will bring him to me."
"You...you mean John? The Anchor?"
"I told you that Anchors and Warlocks are mine. He is a liminal being, and as such under my purview. I have use for him."
"Right, yes. But, how?"
"You must go to him. Nudge him, guide him. Make sure that he finds his way to me."
"What if he doesn't want to?"
"He is mine, child, just like you. I will use him while he is useful and discard him if he is not, do you understand?"
"I...but that-" Hecate snapped her fingers, and Jackie froze. Her eyes glazed over and she stood, upright, staring blankly forward.
"I have waited too long for someone as useful as him to come along, and don't have time for your hesitations." Hecate held out her hand, palm up, and as she curled her fingers in Jackie began to float up and toward her face. When she was finally hovering at eye level, only a few feet from Hecate's face, the goddess smiled. "Now then. You will go to live near John. You will watch him, you will guide him to me, and you will do it all without delay. Do you understand?" Jackie slowly nodded. "Good. And to make sure you behave, you will not remember anything from this visit except that you have been welcomed back. Is that agreeable to you?"
"Good. Now go. You have much to do." Hecate flicked her hand, and Jackie went flying. She landed softly, as if the road were made of cushions, and then slowly stood and continued to stare in her daze. The hound moved forward and led her slowly back down the path from which she came.
"You're very interested in this boy, Hecate." She growled.
"And you're very interested in trespassing on my realm, Muninn." The Two, in human form and as tall as Hecate, stepped out from the shadows behind her throne and made their way around to face her. Muninn, the man, smiled.
"All realms are our realms. All roads are our roads."
"What do you want?"
"She is of interest to us," the woman said, glancing down the road. "And I wonder if you aren't a bit harsh on her."
"I should wish I could be as harsh with you, Huginn. What business do you have with her?"
"That is our business. But I would advise you to not let your distrust of ravens make you forget your place."
"I assure you I have never forgotten my place. But it has changed before, and it may yet change again."
"Yes," Muninn said, turning away. "I'm sure it will." With that, the two visitors became ravens and flew out of the Crossroads. Hecate threw her goblet in their direction, then leaned back in her throne to think.
Valley of Dry Bones, Part Two
11 December 2004
The murder-suicide of Rufus and Elaine Matteson drew the attention of the local news, not least because the circumstances seemed highly unusual. The damage to the apartment and the way Rufus was damaged was enough to prove that forces other than the knife in her hand were involved, and no one could quite place what they were. A local paranormal blog had begun offering suggestions, but police were disinterested in those suspicions.
In their attempts to get the best coverage of the event, the local news had turned to interviewing anyone who might have had insight into Rufus, Elaine, or the event itself. One neighbor was of particular interest for having claimed to hear terrible noises coming from the apartment, noises that seemed entirely unnatural. He was an elderly man, a widower of twenty years, who had not drawn the attention of anyone since his daughter went missing in 1961. He explained to the news crew, as well as the police, that it sounded like a tornado had ripped through the Matteson apartment, along with screams no earthly voice could muster. There was, of course, significant doubt about his story. It made for good television, but the police could hardly do anything with ethereal screaming.
One thing that did catch the attention of the people walking past one little electronics store uptown, however, is that when he came on screen and his name was given, they heard a similar scream which shattered the windows of the shop. Without any discussion among them, each witness quietly chose to forget the incident and get home quickly. From a nearby rooftop, two ravens observed the shop and then one's gaze followed down the street, tracking something no mortal eyes present could see. The other looked to a massive black dog, hiding in an alley and watching.
Boost on TopWebFiction
Tall Tales: Volume Two Now available