Over the Hedge
Do No Harm, Part Nine
16 December 2004
"That was it, wasn't it?" I asked, looking at the newspaper sitting between me and Sergei. "I felt her attacking her father."
"Could be," he replied. "Could well be."
"How are you feeling?" Nan asked.
"I had to lay down the rest of that day. It was too much. But I'm better now." She nodded.
"Now, about these other beings you saw."
"The ravens! Are you familiar with them?"
"These are Odin's," Sergei offered.
"Well," Nan said, giving him a side-eyed glance, "maybe. Their exact nature is less clear, but I did ask some spirits and one said that Huginn has a blue glow in all her forms, one prominent one being a raven."
"And she travels with Muninn," he said, pointing at me.
"Yes, yes. But we don't know if that was her, or Muninn, or what their actual relationship to Odin would be. Huginn and Muninn are hardly the only raven spirits in the world. Though if it was them, it's worth noting that the spirits I met with were very hesitant to invoke their names, or even vague titles, which is highly unusual."
"Maybe it was them, though. What were they doing there? Why did they help me?"
"It's hard to know if what they did really counts as 'helping,' but unless they show up again there's little point worrying about it. We should make a note of it and focus on what we've learned about Alethea." Nan sat down next to me and rested her hand on my knee. "I think we need to consider the possibility that she has become something more like a poltergeist."
"No, no. She has to be someone we can still help!"
"She's killing people, Jackie."
"The abuser who killed her! I think that falls within what can be expected from a ghost."
"What about the Mattesons?"
"We don't know if she actually killed them, but even if she did, we don't know why. But we know she was scared and recently unbound and may not have been in her right state of mind at the time."
"My concern is that we don't really know what the right state of mind for a fifty-year-old trauma ghost even is. And if she did kill them, your friend and anyone else who reminds her of him may be in trouble." I stood up and started pacing.
"I can't. I can't just give up on her. I helped create this situation, don't you see? I have to try to make it right!"
"Maybe making it right means facing her as an enemy instead of a lost soul."
"Are you willing to assume that? To go after her like some terrible spirit instead of the victim of a terrible situation that she still hasn't escaped?" Nan took a deep breath and leaned on the counter. She looked down for a moment, then finally met my gaze.
"All I'm saying is that we shouldn't rule it out. Just give me that much. For your safety." I rested my hands on my hips and stared off toward the drifting colors on the ceiling. Finally, I crossed my arms and looked at Nan and Sergei.
"Fine. We'll consider it a possibility. But I'm not ready to give up on trying to save her." Nan nodded, then turned to the counter and patted the chair next to her.
"Good. Now, let's work on some plans."
Do No Harm, Part Eight
13 December 2004
I was standing across the street from an apartment building in Rogers Park, where the newspaper in my hand said a married couple named Matteson had been killed. I closed my eyes and took slow, deep breaths, trying to sense the bond between me and Alethea. I didn't have high hopes, being that I couldn't guarantee she had killed them and if she had it was two days earlier. But if she had been there, and I could pick up some trace, maybe I could use that to clarify my sense of her. After a few moments I managed to slip into something like a light trance, and I knew she was close. I still couldn't tell how far, exactly, but I could feel this tug as though there was a rope tied to my ribs and leading across the street. It was far stronger than I expected. Was she still there? Why would she still be there?
I reached into my bag and clutched a dried eagle's eye and began to whisper an incantation. I opened my eyes to find the street much more busy than before. Waves of emotion and thought rippling out from every human being made it hard to focus, and the ghosts and spirits walking around seemed like they were avoiding the larger flows. I could still see the cars and buildings, though their movement past me left fleeting echoes of where they had just been that I needed to separate from the things that were still there. I did not see the connection I felt in my chest, but took that to mean that it was on a different level than the one I was observing. I watched for a couple minutes, trying to get a sense of how to navigate it all, with the back of my mind wondering if this is what people like John see all the time.
Once I was sure I could safely cross the street, I made to do so. I had only taken one step, though, when a flood of powerful emotion hit me like a brick wall, too strong to even try piecing together what emotion it was. I fell to my knees, and when I looked up I could see spirits scattering from the area and bursts of light from a few windows all next to each other on an upper floor. Each burst was met with another wave of emotion, and I couldn't get my bearings enough to stand or step forward. The wind was knocked out of me with one burst, which felt like it actually pushed me backward.
Feel it, Jackie. Explore it. You will only gain control of it when you can understand it.
I didn't recognize the voice, a feminine one. I could tell it was meant to be coming from beside me, but it felt like it was strictly inside my head. I tried to catch my breath and turned my head, to see two ravens on the sidewalk. One looked normal, if a bit large, and was intently watching the building. The other looked almost normal, but for the blue light faintly glowing from under its feathers. It was staring at me, its beak only a few inches from my face.
"Who...who are you?" I asked.
"Not now. Focus." It was the same voice, coming from the blue raven, whose beak moved unnaturally like a pair of lips. I took some deep breaths, and closed my eyes again to focus. I could feel the energy, like a fire burning at my skin, and it took all my willpower to lean into it and let it reach farther into me. I held back a scream as it surged through my body, and suddenly I knew. It was rage, and pain, and vengeance. It was Alethea's fury, informed and shaped by all she had experienced in life and death. I knew her sense of violation, of fear, of loneliness. I could feel the way her pain and desire to create a new life, for herself or someone else, consumed her for decades. I leaned in farther until I feared I may get lost in it, in what she had become over all those years trapped in one room.
Then, suddenly, it stopped. I gasped and opened my eyes to find myself laying on the sidewalk, my cheeks wet, my vision blurred.
"What are you doing here?" Alethea asked. I wiped my face and looked up. She was floating just above the sidewalk, water still dripping from her body, her hair flowing in unseen currents. The spirits were all gone, even the ravens, and everything in the physical realm seemed like it was nearly frozen in time. I looked closer at a car and could see it was just barely moving, but any change to the people was too slow for me to notice. I stood, slowly, until I was face to face with her.
"I came to find you. What have you done?"
"What is that to you?"
"Look, this, this thing that's happened to you, you can't let it control you. Please! We should not use magic to cause harm! The weight of that-"
"Oh, that's rich coming from you. Is that what helps you sleep at night, after tearing away the only thing I need and banishing me from my own home? You tell yourself that you did no real harm?"
"John wasn't what you need, Alethea. Please, you have to understand-"
"No more! You broke your word and failed me, witch. And now that I'm free, I intend to fix this mess myself."
"No, please, listen!" I stepped forward as I reached out to her and suddenly everything was back to normal. The spirits, the ripples, Alethea, all of it was gone. The people and cars were moving at normal speed. I almost stumbled over as everything snapped back into place, and felt a terrible headache hit me. As I reached for my face, I noticed my hand brush something wet. As I looked at the stain on my hand and realized my nose was bleeding, everything started to go dim. I stumbled to the side of the nearest building and leaned on that, getting my breathing under control and digging around in my bag for some aspirin. As soon as the world came into focus, I left.
Do No Harm, Part Seven
18 November 2004
I'm running. I'm jumping. I can hear the large stone sword crack the street behind me. I take a sharp left and feel my foot go out from under me; rather than fall flat, I push out with the other foot so I can roll. Pieces of asphalt fly around me and I shield my face with one hand as I use the other to push off the ground and scramble. I know She's telling me to focus. I can't hear her, but I feel myself trying to process her words. She wants me to know where the statue is, to think through my actions, to begin fighting back. I need to fight back.
I'm four years old and running through the trees with the roar of death behind me. I need to get away but I feel Her, even here, nudging me. Know your enemy.
I'm six years old in the desert with Abuela. She's tired and thirsty and trying to find words in a new language. I see a military uniform and try to run. She isn't as fast as she used to be and uses magic to catch me. I want to know why she didn't use it to save them. I scream.
The ground buckles under my feet. I jump. I can see it, now. The statue is staring right at me and I meet its gaze. She is beyond it, watching. Waiting. I know she isn't going to save me. I need to see the path myself.
Abuela teaches me to open my eyes and see the way. I'm afraid of the Hedge. The thorns only bite if you push against the Hedge. Let them guide you, learn to move with them instead of against them.
The world is breaking apart. I have trouble finding my footing. The flowing energy of the Realm is like a strong wind that refuses to slow down and be caught in the lungs. It bites to push against it. I'm not listening.
I take a deep breath and reach out with tiny hands and run my palm slowly along a thorn. I know which way it goes. I look at the other thorns and begin to see a path between them.
The statue is full of energy but not life. It moves without knowing how to move. I'm moving without remembering how to move. I see it struggle to turn the wrong way. I know what to do.
Abuela rests her hand on my shoulder and points. I see the path. I see the house in the clearing away from the soldiers. I see the way the world flows. I throw myself along the path. I reach out with adult hands and run my palm through the wind. The statue spins when I'm not where it expects. It raises its sword but not this time. This time I bring the storm with me. The roar of death follows me but I know this time it does not come for me.
I exhale, and close my eyes to feel the way. I know my enemy. I know what force I bring with me. I scream.
Nan looks at me in silence for a few minutes, then smiles.
"Saying it out loud helps, doesn't it?" I nod. "Do you know what you need to do?" I sit up, when did I start leaning forward? I sit up and look her in the eyes.
"I think I do. Thank you."
Do No Harm, Part Six
18 November 2004
"The problem," I said, laying the book down on the counter, "is that I have no idea what I'm looking for." Sergei was standing on the other side of the counter, looking through a newspaper while Nan counted the money for the day in the back. The shop had closed twenty minutes earlier, but she had invited me to come by and work on 'our project,' as they called it. We were still trying to find Alethea.
"And this girl, she is for sure problem?" he asked.
"I don't know! I mean, maybe? She certainly was when she was trapped at the apartment. But I mean, I still feel like I owe it to her to help, you know?"
"Is good of you. But how long do we give?"
"She waited fifty years for John to turn up. I don't think we can assume she's in a rush now."
"And you are looking where he is?"
"He says he is, but I don't know what he's doing about that." Sergei gave a concerned hum and turned the page of his newspaper. "To be honest, though, I suspect she's still in Chicago. Or nearby."
"It's like...it's almost like a gut feeling, you know? That she's not too far away."
"This is real sense, or worry?"
"I don't know yet."
"And your Mistress? Would she know?"
"She...I haven't seen her all month."
"This is odd?"
"Yes. I don't know what's going on with that, usually I'd see her at least a few times a week."
"She is busy, maybe?" I gave him a tired look and he laughed.
"I'm concerned it's about John."
"Your little night together?" I nodded. "Is she..." He waved his hand, as if trying to remember the word.
"Jealous?" He nodded and pointed at me. "She hasn't been in the past, but...I don't think she much likes him, personally. But I mean, I had just had a terrible day! I was dealing with some shit, you know? I just...I couldn't do another of her games, not that night. I had to try to get a break, just for one night. Sometimes I wonder if the gods really understand what they're doing to us."
"You trust her, though."
"Well, yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Ever since that statue."
"You know, I've been dreaming about that lately. Probably trying to deal with not getting any summons."
"Maybe. Nan!" She peeked out of the office.
"What?" He yelled back something in Russian and she held up a finger and then went back into the office. He nodded at me, then turned back to watch for her. When she emerged, she had her binder for dream interpretation, and walked straight for the counter.
"Oh, no, that's not necessary," I started, but she waved me off as she set the binder on the counter. Sergei rested his hand on her shoulder as he leaned in and kissed her cheek, then headed off to the office.
"Your magic attunes you to the universe, Jackie; and sometimes when it speaks, only our subconscious can hear it. It's worth the little bit of effort to interrogate our dreams a bit when we're wrestling with a big problem." I sighed, and hesitantly nodded. She was right, I just didn't really want to admit it. She gave a single definitive nod and opened her binder. "Now, darling. Tell me all about it."
Do No Harm, Part Five
1 August 2002
I knelt and placed my hands at the base of the statue. Abuela had spoken at length when I was a kid about feeling the flow of energy through the natural world, connecting with the pulse of the Earth, going with the current rather than forcing it into a new direction. I closed my eyes and whispered the incantation, slowing my breathing until I began to feel the movement through me. My breath fell into the rhythm of the pulsing energy, my heartbeat followed suit, and soon I felt as though I was in the flow itself, fully immersed and part of the cycle of magic, drifting along with it. And that's when I felt the resistance.
It was like a catch in my throat, or a bit of food going down the wrong way. I started to cough, and rubbed my hands along the base of the statue as if pushing the blockage out of the way. It began to move, ever so slightly, and as it did my breathing grew easier. As soon as I could, I began a new chant, one aimed at helping to clear the way for the magic to flow. It felt so smooth, almost effortless, to work with the magical energy Hecate had given me instead of sacrificing something. I felt the blockage pop out of place, and the energy rush into the statue like a torrent that nearly swept me away with it. I stepped back and watched as the statue began to glow and take on a more ethereal form, and smiled until I noticed that the energy wasn't escaping the statue at all.
Then it turned and faced me.
"Oh, shit," I whispered, as it took a step off its stand and reached for its sword. As it cleared the base, I realized the magic that had been flowing into it now flowed into the area surrounding us, and that the energy contained in it was remaining in it.
"What do you see, child?" Hecate asked, from behind me.
"There's still something blocking the magic, but inside the statue." I was moving backward, trying to keep enough distance to decide my next move before it struck. "I need to clear that path and then the statue should return to normal."
"And then what?" I paused, and looked to her.
"I doubt the mortals would be very happy to have this statue laying in the middle of the road come dawn." She was right. It wasn't enough to release the magic, I had to put everything back. I turned back in time to see the sword coming down at me and dive out of the way.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.
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