Over the Hedge
Tall Tales is currently on a medical hiatus as the author recovers from a sudden and extended issue that is not the current pandemic.
For more information and to consider submitting guest posts, please see the full statement.
22 April 2006
It was a hard day of work, traveling along the river and various small waterways and pipes that led into it, cleaning up whatever we could find. Turnout was a bit smaller than I was hoping for, but I could barely be surprised. When I'd asked Matteson's band if they were going, they all regarded the event as something that just kind of happens without individual thought or involvement, and I got the impression most people they knew felt that way.
"The river's dirty," Matteson said, with a shrug, when I asked later, "I guess we never really think much about the idea of it ever not being dirty." It took a little bit of effort, but I managed to convince him to get involved, on the grounds that he's considered Riverborn and it would be absurd for him to not care at least a little. We ended up assigned to different areas, and I was alone when a bit of water rose up before me. I realized there was something to it and, glancing around to make sure I wasn't being watched too closely, set my bag down and let out a quick ritual to see spirits more clearly that involved a sharp bite to draw a little blood.
"You are trying very hard to get our attention," it said. I pulled a small band-aid from my pocket and closed up the bite.
"This part is just because the river needs it. But is it working?"
"In a fashion. The Riverborn is here as well, did he convince you this would help?" I rolled my eyes and sighed.
"No, actually, it was the other way around. I think he's slightly confused about the expectations of being tied to an element." The spirit dipped below the surface of the water again, and then returned after a few moments.
"I've been informed that checks out." I chuckled, imagining a group of river spirits bickering about Matteson's lack of involvement in their affairs. "At any rate, mage, you have shown yourself committed to the health of these waters, and-"
"Oh! Now you're seeing spirits!" another voice exclaimed. The river spirit and I both looked up to see a satyr hopping down from the level of the street and pointing accusingly at me.
"Hello, Kastor," the spirit said in a tone that sounded suddenly very tired.
"Hey howsitgoin," he said, almost dismissively, before turning back to me. "Eight months! Eight months I've been trying to get your attention, and now you're just chatting away with the freaking river!"
"I'm sorry, who are you?" I asked. "Kastor?"
"You tellin' me Johnnie doesn't mention me? After all these years!" I thought back for a bit before recalling that Matteson had, indeed, mentioned having a faun that popped up in his life sometimes.
"It seems like you have other business," the river spirit said. "Next time you meditate on the river, know that we will be listening."
"Thank you very much," I said to the spirit as it vanished, then looked to Kastor. "Yes, sorry, I forgot. Matteson has mentioned you. What can I do for you?"
"Matteson's in danger!"
"Why not tell him? It has to be much easier to get his attention than mine."
"I...okay, look, that girlfriend of his, she's playing him for some scheme, and I almost got eaten and had to make an oath and the point is-"
"Wait, are you talking about Lori?" Kastor stopped and nodded slowly, as if I was being slow to keep up. I sighed and rubbed the bridge of my nose.
"We know about the ghost that was possessing Lori. This was handled back in November."
"You...you already took care of it?" I nodded. "Without me?"
"Look, I'm sure whatever arrangement you had with the ghost of Alethea is no longer binding. She's crossed over now. I'm sorry you weren't involved, but I had no way to contact you, maybe you should ask Matteson?"
"Huh-uh. I'm not risking that. You tell him I promised a year and a day, so this summer, he and I need to have a chat about the company he keeps." He humphed and turned away, then spun back around. "Except you, you're delightful. Sorry if I came off strong."
"It's quite alright. I'll be sure to pass your message along."
"You know, you can call me yourself sometime, if you ever-"
"I'll keep that in mind, Kastor. Have a good day." He exhaled hard before nodding and running off. I watched him for a moment, looked back to the river to see the spirit wasn't returning, then picked my bag up.
"How's it coming there, Jackie?" I looked up to see one of the organizers of the cleanup walking toward me along the level of the road.
"Fine. Sorry," I said, showing my band-aid, "just had to deal with this real quick."
"Oh! Should I go get someone?"
"I think I have it handled, thanks." He nodded, gave me an update on how things were going and a team that was moving over to help with my section of the river, and I let myself focus on the work at hand.
20 April 2006
We learned this week that The Lube was going to let us put on a few short acts during Small Ships Revue. I had no idea what that was, so the rest of the group explained that every year there's a race down the Shenango River from the north side of town to the Lube, the only rule being that there could be no motors involved, and this largely took the form of wild floats made to drift down the river while crowds lined up on the streets and bridges above, everyone involved is drinking, and it ends with a massive block party. The theatre remodel group, which included most of us anyway, had commissioned a float already, but now we were actually getting the use of a stage area during some of the party.
We decided on a couple short comedy scenes, things that people could wander over and enjoy without following a whole story. I had Matteson come to the meeting today, and he informed the group that his band was willing to do music for us but needed to know what that would include so they could practice. So we dug out the musical scores for the one scene that had them, and worked out some idea of how the rest should work, and he left with that and copies of the scripts so they could start working on things, and we all agreed on a time to meet and practice with the actors and the band.
I'm very excited to see how this all plays out.
2 March 2006
I was laying in Rick's bed, his comforter shielding me against the lingering winter chill and his absurd habit of keeping a fan on "just for the noise." When I half jokingly threatened to only sleep with him at my place if he was going to keep that up, he replaced his old and worn fleece blanket with this comforter. My comforter, in practice. I considered it an acceptable compromise, for now.
"How's the spirits?" he asked as he returned from the bathroom. I had delayed coming over today to spend some time meditating under the abandoned trestle bridge just off downtown.
"Getting used to me," I answered, "but it's clear they're still a bit leery about mankind in general. I think they'd warm to me faster if I could do something about the pollution." He climbed into the bed and I rolled over, laying my arm across his stomach.
"I'd need them on board already to do any magic that big, and the cost..." I shuddered.
"Well. You could do that Earth Day cleanup. The spirits might like seeing you there."
"What Earth Day cleanup?"
"The, uh...oh, what're they called...the Shenango River Watchers. They do a big community cleanup of the river and I think local creeks and that on Earth Day." I sat up.
"There's a group committed to cleaning up the Shenango River watershed once a year?"
"Well, no. They do cleanings all year, it's just that on Earth Day other people are willing to help out. My uncle's wrapped up with them, I think he's usually out doing stuff at least once a month."
"Why didn't you tell me about this!?"
"Well, I dunno. You don't talk about being big on environmentalism, you know."
"I talk about the condition of the river all the time!"
"You talk about the condition of the river spirits. I have no idea how much they have to do with one another."
"They have quite a lot to do with one another!"
"Well, maybe you could teach me some magic," he said, smiling and poking my breast, "and I would know shit like this."
"Oh, no," I said with a chuckle, pushing his hand away. "You had trouble understanding why a woman born in Honduras might be chilly with a fan on and snow on the ground. I don't think you'd be a very good student." I let out an 'eep' as he rolled over on top of me.
"Well," he said, "is there anything you think you could teach me?"
"Hmm. I think I could find something," I said, smiling.
12 February 2006
We had finally managed to get a season scheduled. It wouldn't begin until August, but we had a great deal of preparation to do, so I was at a meeting with the other three stage hands we had managed to pick up. The issue of the day was getting a set together for A Winter's Tale that we could move off-site, since the venue we'd managed to secure didn't give us enough time to build our set there before the show. The backstage area of the Columbia was clean enough now that we could turn it into our workshop, so we at least had somewhere dry to build it and deal with disassembly after. Peter arrived, looking haggard as he always did these days, and lit up when he saw us arguing over designs. He called me over.
"How's it coming over there?" he asked, setting a stack of papers and folders down on a pile of milk crates that passed for a table.
"If we let Marz have their say, our sets will just be painted sheets we carry in with laundry baskets."
"Bah," Peter said, waving his hand dismissively, "it's always sheets with them. Look, I don't want to keep you, but you did the haunted house thing, yeah?"
"Yeah, Peter. We talk about this every other week."
"Right, right. Look, I need you to pick up a small part."
"Pete, if I'm doing stage-"
"A tiny little part, I promise, just...very little." I sighed.
"What is it?"
"You know that famous line, 'exit, pursued by bear'?"
"I need a bear," he said, handing me a script. I blinked a few times in surprise as I looked down at the script, then looked back up. He was already halfway down the hall.
"Thanks! Tell Marz we have a two sheet maximum!" I groaned, slapped the script against my hip, and went back to the designs.
31 December 2005
It was a lot of work, but we managed to get the house repaired and ready in time for the New Year's Eve party. I had invited people from the theatre group, and of course Rick and Charles and Bob and Matteson's band were all planning to be there, and Matteson explained that there was almost always at least a few people that would show up as a friend-of-a-friend that he had never met before. I offered to cancel when I saw how bad Matteson was taking things over the past week, but he insisted he could use the distraction and refused to cancel another major party.
I knew this likely meant he would not be as invested as usual, but since I knew almost everyone coming by this time, I figured I could handle it. He helped set up and greet people, but as soon as there were enough people that they could largely entertain themselves I pretended not to notice him slip away.
After about an hour, Rick asked a couple people from the troupe about improv. Some had experience with it, others didn't, but with a few more drinks they were all willing to give it a go. He started soliciting prompts from the rest of the party and throwing them at the actors, who pretty quickly occupied the living room and made use of anything they could find there or have handed to them. We never turned the music off, so sometimes that was part of the bit and sometimes it wasn't. Some of it was abysmal, but there were some amazing highlights and Rick managed to keep it interesting and get people invested throughout. By midnight, basically everyone was involved in some way or another, even if it was just handing people more drinks and snacks or yelling out some new element Rick would decide whether or not to give to the actors. I was, if I'm honest, a bit impressed.
During the last half hour before midnight, Rick was pretending to be Dick Van Dyke and narrating the various forms of entertainment happening at his wild New Year's Eve countdown while the actors tried to keep up. We'd lost four to sleep or the need to rest and throw up by then. I had jumped in to replace one. We were painfully loud at the stroke of midnight, and when people grabbed someone nearby to kiss at 0, I turned to find Rick and made the split second decision that maybe there was more to him than I'd assumed.
I don't remember what time everyone else left. Some people were trickling out by one o'clock, some people just crashed on the couches and floor. I left the party at about 1:30, leading Rick by hand to my room.
14 November 2005
We had mostly finished closing down the haunted house for the season. I was under the impression the staff did other things during the year, though I didn't know what; but I needed some time away from the whole scene and while no one knew why, they seemed to understand. Jerry asked me to consider helping out at the theater if I was interested in continuing at least some of the work I'd done at Ghoul Mansion.
On State Street, set back from the road behind what promised to be a beautiful garden and squeezed between two shops, was Columbia Theatre. I was informed that the building had been left to decay for some years, but was the subject of a spotty and generally volunteer remodeling project hoping to bring a new spark to the city. As part of the disputes surrounding the direction such a project should take, and in partnership with the largely defunct Vocal Group Hall of Fame, a group of actors and stage hands calling themselves the Poison River Players had formed somewhat unofficially and were hopeful they could get an actual play season launched soon. These would mostly happen in open-air environments and rented spaces, like the high school auditorium, but a portion of the money raised by such shows was designated to go toward Columbia Theatre with the hope of it being the eventual home of the troupe.
"Look," Jerry had said, "you seem to care about lost causes, and you did great work with makeup and some of the prop work here, and you aren't half bad at acting. I think they'd be glad to have you." Well. How could I turn down a glowing recommendation like that? And while I hadn't done it before, I really did find myself enjoying the work at the haunted house while it lasted. So now I was sitting on a stone bench in front of the theatre, waiting. It was about ten minutes before Jerry came walking around the corner with another man, talking among themselves until they noticed me. The other man stepped forward and extended a hand, smiling.
"Peter," he said, "and you must be the Jackie I've heard about."
"I suppose that depends on what you've heard," I said with a smile. He laughed and slapped Jerry hard on the back before sitting down on another bench. I retook my seat, and Jerry, stretched his shoulders a bit as if shacking off the sting.
"Well, you guys have at it, I've got paperwork back at the mansion." We both waved, and he was gone. Peter sighed as he turned to me.
"You understand there's probably no money in this."
"Probably?" I asked.
"Well. There is a small percentage of the income that's designated as pay for everyone involved in a given show, but between the cost of doing shows all over God's green earth and supplies and money for this," he said, waving a hand toward the theatre, "the percentage isn't as high as it would be in an established troupe. And being that we aren't established and have no idea how the community will feel about us, we don't even know if there will be any money to allocate."
"I have a day job," I answered. It was theoretically the truth; I had left the pizza shop to give the haunted house enough hours, and hadn't yet returned, but they did promise they would have me back as soon as I was free.
"That's good, that's good. Better than some. So Jerry tells me you kind of tried your hand at most of what we do. Was there some aspect of your work that you most clicked with?"
"The sets. I liked the part well enough, and they seemed to think I really took to the makeup, but if I'm honest it was adjusting the sets and props and maintenance of that stuff that I found myself really enjoying more than anything else."
"Well, we could definitely use that. I think most people that come to us forget that that position exists."
"Are there many people that come to you?"
"No," he said, laughing. I chuckled as well. He cleared his throat. "This really is an experiment. I don't know what will happen with it, if anything. But I'd be glad to have you alongside the rest of us giving it the old college try, if you're serious about it."
"I don't sit out in the cold for just anyone, Peter." He laughed again, stood, and offered me another handshake. I stood and accepted it, and then he reached into his pockets and pulled out a flyer.
"Okay, well, we have biweekly meetings on Tuesdays right now, hammering out the details for our first season. Up at the library. This has all the info," he said, handing me the flyer, "and I guess we'll see you then!" I thanked him, he thanked me, and we parted ways.
4 November 2005
Matteson and Kyle, our other roommate, had a rather heated discussion at some point before I got home from Buhl Park and, while I didn't know exactly how it went, I do know that Matteson and I had spent the last couple days replacing the door and patching the walls and blocking off the windows with plastic until he could convince the landlord to get new ones. He insisted I didn't use magic, partly because he was concerned about the amount of effort I'd spent lately and the fact that my eye was now, apparently, permanently blue. I didn't tell him it was an incredible amount of effort to do any magic in the house anyway, since he had been living here long enough that the place itself seemed to take on some amount of his resistance to magic.
Truth is, he hadn't asked for my help at all, and seemed very hesitant to accept it. But I couldn't very well let him handle all of this alone, and he was away at work in the afternoon while I was painting over the last of the patches on the wall and heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, which was a little difficult because we had hung the door slightly crooked--an issue we were planning to correct that night--but when I got it open I found Lori standing there with a box.
"Lori! Please, come in!" I took the box and led her inside, sitting down on the couch while she stood near the door. "How are you holding up, hon?"
"I'm not sure yet." She crossed her arms and slinked in, sitting on the arm of the love seat.
"Right. Well, Matteson isn't here right now, he-"
"He's at work. I know, that's why I came now."
"Ah. Okay." I opened the box and found a stack of pictures, a shirt, and a bunch of old books.
"She...the other one, she stole all his books on possession and exorcism and ghosts, you know. I knew where she put them, of course, so I thought I'd return them."
"That does explain a lot. Look, Lori-"
"I'm not ready to have the conversation you want to have. I appreciate all you did for me, but...not yet." I stopped, then nodded. "Thank you." She turned to leave.
"Stay safe out there." She paused, then turned to me with a weak smile.
"You, too. Thanks for everything." She closed the door on her way out, and I carried the box into the study.
1 November 2005
Once we all recovered from the flash, I saw Matteson walking toward us. He was holding his side and limping slightly, and missing his hoodie. The guard was done tending to Lori, so he stood and turned to Matteson with his fists on his hips.
"What the hell was all that!?" he demanded, waving a hand toward the destroyed clearing.
"Death," Matteson said, walking past him and dropping down into the grass in front of Lori and me. He grunted when he landed, and the guard continued surveying the damage.
"Are you okay?" I asked. He waved the question off and looked at Lori.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm not sure yet," she answered, softly, before looking Matteson over. "Where's your hoodie?"
"Wasn't that your favorite hoodie?"
"Yes, it was. I take it you remember everything, then?" She nodded, and he groaned and leaned forward.
"I'm sorry. I swear, if I'd known-"
"I know," she said, looking down again and pulling the blanket tighter. "I also have some of her memories. Including how you responded to her first attempt in Chicago." We were all silent for a few minutes, until the guard turned back to us.
"I gather this is a very difficult moment for all of you, but I really need some idea how I'm supposed to explain this shit to the Trust." I stood up.
"You don't have to worry about that. I came prepared to clean up this mess," I answered, then looked over at the clearing. "Though it may be slightly more difficult than I expected."
"How're you gonna do that!?"
"Forgive me if I wait here to see it for myself."
"That's fine. You may be able to help, even. But first," I turned back to the others, "do you guys need anything?"
"I want to go home," Lori said. Matteson stood up with a grunt.
"I can give you a ride, if that's okay," he said. She nodded, and he helped her to her feet. "Should I come back for you?" he asked me.
"No. This is going to be difficult enough, you stay as far away as you can. I'll call Rick if I need a ride home." He nodded, then helped Lori as they walked back to Alpha. I set my backpack on the ground and began pulling out materials. "Now, officer. If you would be so kind as to grab some of the wood and stone that was thrown around?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Because they remember what this place was earlier today. You'll see." He rubbed his temples, groaned, then walked off to grab supplies while muttering.
1 November 2005
We watched as Matteson and Alethea/Lori continued their fight, as Matteson took one hit after another and started to stumble. I was growing afraid that he was falling when he suddenly stepped forward, but instead he caught her on a pass and screamed as his back was slammed against the stones and wood that had formed a small wall behind him. The wind around us died, and we took cover from the things that suddenly weren't being pulled into a circle anymore. There were trees breaking and one of Alpha's windows was taken out by a stray rock as we hid behind the car. We waited a moment to make sure it was over, then heard what sounded like an explosion as another volley of rocks and dirt and wood erupted in every direction. We glanced over the hood and trunk to see Lori laying in the grass next to Matteson, who was kneeling on the ground. I didn't even have time to say anything about it before the guard was off, running directly into the middle of everything. I stood, ready to help him if Alethea attacked while he was out in the open, but he lifted Lori without incident and started running toward his SUV. I realized he likely had a first aid kit in there, and ran over to meet him there and help.
He set her down, sitting on the road with her back against his tire, and asked me to check on her while he ran around the other side to get the kit from his glove compartment. I sat down next to her, and she turned and looked at me for a moment before breaking down. I wrapped my arm around her, and she buried her face in my neck as she cried. The guard returned and asked her if she was ready for him to tend her wounds, and she sniffled and wiped her cheeks and nodded. I kept my right arm around her shoulders, and held her hand with my left hand as the guard went about his work.
"I...I knew what she was doing, Jackie. I couldn't stop her."
"No one could have expected you to. I'm so sorry we didn't realize it sooner."
"I can still feel her. It's like...and I can remember. I remember her memories, the things that happened to her, the decades in isolation, the..." she trailed off and started crying again, and I asked the guard if he had a blanket for her. He told me where it was in the SUV, and I got up to grab it and wrap it around her. We looked over toward Matteson who seemed to be talking to, we presumed, Alethea, but we were too far away to hear. We were still watching when a bright light engulfed him and forced us to turn away.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.