Over the Hedge
19 January 2007
My flight into Chicago landed shortly before dinner, so that evening was mostly spent catching up with Nan and Sergei. It wasn’t until morning, while we were all in the shop beneath their apartment, that I got to work. In the back room, I laid out the notes and images I’d brought, and showed them to Sergei.
“So Hecate is being bad now?” he asked, looking everything over.
“I don’t know. I know she wants something from me, but I don’t know what. I think it has to do with Matteson, but I don’t know why. And I know she’s willing to threaten or endanger me to get it.”
“But you don’t know how?”
“Oh no. I very clearly remember how.”
“Okay. So what you need is…what?”
“Well, there are a couple things. But the big one I would like from you, specifically, is your theory on Hecate taking on different names across history.” He gave me the biggest smile I can ever remember seeing from him.
“Oh yes,” he said, pointing at me as he started to jog for the stairs up to the apartment, “Yes, I have you.”
“It’s ‘I got you,’ Sergei.”
“Also that!” he yelled, vanishing into the stairway. He was gone only a few minutes before returning with his large poster, which he had made attempting to lay out the whole timeline for me. “Okay,” he said, unrolling it on the table, “we start at beginning.”
18 January 2007
When I left Chicago, I wasn’t sure how often I would bother coming back. I didn’t grow up in the city, though it was close enough that I’d been there occasionally for things like concerts or school outings. I’d only lived there a couple years, and while I had made some friends during that time, very few of them were strong enough relationships to last once I was away for an extended period. I had kept in touch with a couple people here and there, but most of those had faded somewhat as time went on. My roommates from the last apartment I stayed in there had mostly vanished while I was away. I had quickly begun to run out of reasons to be there on a personal visit; and as I walked through O’Hare for the first time in a long while, I knew only one person would be waiting for me, and she would know I was mostly here on business.
Though I doubt Nan would ever admit to something that sounded so cold.
She was waiting by the luggage return by the time I got there, and gave me a big hug as soon as I was close enough to grab. We talked about the flight and Pittsburgh’s airport while we waited for my bag to come—Nan had no idea there was a t-rex skeleton there and was reasonably surprised—but as soon as it did and we were in her car her demeanor shifted.
“What’s that boy done to you?” she asked, sternly, as the car started moving.
“What do you mean? Rick? He’s been great, mostly.”
“No, no, not the boyfriend—”
“Not really a boyfriend, we—”
“The Anchor.” I paused and looked at her for a moment, confused.
“What makes you think he’s done something to me?”
“It’s your aura, child! Did you think I wouldn’t notice? There’s something about it, something…limiting it.”
“Well, I hadn’t noticed.”
“I think you’ve been spending too much time with him. Like a goldfish.”
“A…goldfish.” She wagged her finger at me.
“Like a goldfish! You know! They only grow as big as their tank lets them! That boy’s aura is a powerful one, and it constricts yours, and then your energy gets used to it and stops trying to recover.”
“You think spending too much time around Matteson will have a permanent effect on me?”
“Nothing is permanent, darling. But you start finding it harder to do magic, you best get away from him for a good long while. You might not lose it forever, but you lose it long enough that you forget how to do it again? Might as well be forever.”
“I’ll…I guess I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that,” she said, patting my knee. “Now, tell me all about this not-a-boyfriend.”
15 November 2006
Matteson had been tearing through his dad’s books in the basement for a little over a week, and I finally determined to find out why. Part of me had assumed at the beginning that this was just some part of the mourning process for him, dealing with things his dad left behind, but it was starting to look unmistakably like research, and that probably meant he was trying to do something. It seemed like it was going to my place to make sure that something wasn’t something stupid.
When I got into the basement, I found the table covered in open books and pieces of paper with notes written on them in a massive pile. I couldn’t see any way to make sense of any of it, but there he was, poring over one book then reaching over to snatch up some note from under another book and making comparisons. This had to be one of those Matteson systems, that don’t make sense to anyone else.
“What’s all this?” I asked. He snapped upright to look at me, as if he hadn’t realized I was there. His eyes were a bit wide and unfocused, and I suddenly found myself wondering when he last slept.
“Reading…these books? Is your power?”
“No, no, it’s not…it’s what they say about my power. He never told me about this! He never told me he had these references! I had to find out about it from the priest!”
“Okay, okay,” I said, exaggerating the calm tone to try to offset his crazed one. I sat down. “And what do they say about your power?”
“Well, very little directly, I guess, but when you take them together…”
“Please do.” He took a deep breath and plopped backward into a chair.
“I want a cigarette. Maybe we should go upstairs.”
“There’s no smoking in the library.”
“Well, it’s…” he trailed off and then just sat there, staring off into space. Slowly, he started to look around the room, then he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. “Oh. Right. Well, uh…says me, now, I guess.” I started to wonder if that was really the right way to handle that, but before I could say anything to soften it he was up again and making his way to the stairs. I sighed and followed. “You remember the garbage truck? With the red spiral?” he asked as he stepped out of the stairway and into the kitchen. He grabbed his cigarettes off the counter and pulled one out.
“How could I forget?” He tapped his pockets for a second, then lit a burner on the stove and leaned over to light his cigarette from it.
“I told Benedict about it, when we met,” he explained, waving his hand around as he did so and walking into the living room. I turned off the stove and followed, grabbing my own cigarettes and lighter from the arm of the couch when we both sat down. He kept talking the whole time. “So he and Akshainie went to investigate, and they found out that that little ghost town had been taken over by the cult. They were doing some ritual, some kind of test, and they separated that town from the rest of the metaphysical realm.”
“That sounds…terrifying. But how is this relevant?”
“Because they did so by mimicking what I do. This wasn’t some special spell designed just for that town, this was some power they pulled from their knowledge of Anchors, apparently. Or at least theory that lines up with us.”
“I thought you said you just break magic.”
“I did say that! Because I thought that! But according to Dad’s notes and some of his books, that isn’t true. And he never told me. I don’t know why he never told me.” He sat in silence for a moment, and I reached over with one hand and rubbed his back a bit to remind him he wasn’t alone. He took a few more drags before continuing. “Anyway. So now Benedict and Akshainie are off looking for more sites like that.”
“Okay, so, what is it exactly that you now believe you do when you encounter magic?”
“According to these records, I reshape reality. Sort of. Not really, but that seems to be the best way some of these sources describe it? Basically, there’s this wild and chaotic nature to the metaphysical realm, and this ordered and structured nature to the natural world, and—”
“Anchors impose order on the metaphysical and Warlocks bring chaos into the physical.”
“That is a way more simple way to describe it.”
“Hec—she, my mentor, said it. I didn’t really know what she meant, but this all makes sense now.”
“Well, first, tell me more about this ritual at the town.”
“Okay, so, according to Benedict, they were trying to separate the town from the rest of the metaphysical realm, and have it operate according to their own design. A couple of the books downstairs theorize that this could be done if someone was able to create a stable form of my, well, somewhat uncontrolled aura. And Dad speculated that if the cult could create such a stable bubble, and was able to find a way to create one large enough, they could create an entirely new metaphysical realm over a significant area and use that to separate the people in that area from the existing gods and warp their minds.”
“Which would give them incredible power over the people in it.”
“Power, nothing. This would make an entire new kind of person. A group of humans completely independent from the unifying experience of humanity and the collected mythos of all of mankind. I mean, these are the templates we all pull from, these are the archetypes Jung pointed to, these are the dreams and nightmares we all share. Creating a stable bubble which contains a lot of living people in it would make them a blank slate, with none of those common influences seeping in.”
“Which is why you were able to keep her away from me in Chicago. You severed me from the realm of the gods that night. But wait, why are you affected by the common mythos of mankind?”
“Well, I didn’t set any rules for the thing I’m imposing on the world, I guess? Since I didn’t design this…bubble, I guess, around me, it doesn’t work in exactly the same way. But when I actively try to shut down a specific magic, I guess I do it by willing it not to exist in the part of the realm I control.”
“Can you do that? Could you, if you wanted to, make yourself completely independent of the global metaphysical realm?”
“Hecate seemed to think I could.”
“She said I have a lot of potential, could stand against gods if I wanted to. She seemed kind of impressed that I was able to shake off her own magic when she stopped time around me.”
“But what would she want with that?” He shrugged.
“Beats me. Maybe she’s pissed at Zeus. Either way, the fact that the cult not only wants that power, but seems to already have it to a degree, seems like the bigger problem.”
“I suppose so.” We both sat thinking for a moment, then he patted my knee and stood.
“Well, anyway. Now we know what we’re dealing with, maybe, we need to start figuring out what to do about it.” I agreed, and we returned to the basement to start studying together.
2 November 2006
As soon as Matteson left to handle his tasks for the day concerning his father’s funeral, I called Rick and Marz and told them to get over to the house. It was maybe ten minutes later when Rick pulled up in a moving truck we had rented, and Marz showed up shortly thereafter with a carload of people from the Columbia. Over the next half hour the rest of Matteson’s band and assorted friends arrived and jumped in on the work.
The night before, after Matteson and I made plans with Kyle to facilitate moving out of this place to his dad’s house, I had started making plans. The fact is, Matteson wasn’t going to be up to doing this work, at least not any time soon, and he really needed something good in his life right now. Getting everyone to show up and help was actually fairly easy, as soon as I made the right calls, and thankfully the UHaul place had a truck available for today. We split into two teams, one moving furniture and the other grabbing all of the assorted stuff Matteson or I owned and throwing it into boxes. His books were the biggest challenge, but Charles showed up with a collection of milk crates and he and Bob made relatively short work of that.
We beat the pizza delivery to the new house by about fifteen minutes, and took a break to eat while I called Matteson and asked about the things he had to finish for the day. He said he’d probably be a while yet, and I reminded him to eat before returning to work myself. The challenge here was really knowing how much stuff already in the house we could really move. The milk crates full of books went straight to the basement, where his dad’s books were already kept, and the bookcases were put down there as well. None of us was willing to take on the task of actually unpacking the books—whatever system Matteson used to organize his books, it wasn’t very well understood by any of us, so we figured it was best if we didn’t guess.
But it was a three-bedroom house, and Henry had only been occupying one ever since Matteson moved out. One was basically just storage, so we moved that stuff to the attic to be sorted out later and moved my stuff in there. The other had been Matteson’s when he lived there, and was mostly empty except for some things he’d left behind and never got around to picking up, so we unpacked Matteson there. I closed off Henry’s bedroom and we made a point not to touch anything there. I’m sure he’ll want to go through everything and rearrange, but that can wait until he’s ready.
We had another meal delivered at 6, and I got a call from Kyle at 6:20 that Matteson’s car had pulled up to the old house and, before Kyle could tell him to come here, pulled away again. Sure enough, Matteson arrived a few minutes after that, and when he came in we all greeted him and encouraged him to sit down and eat. The funeral is tomorrow, after all. Can’t have him worrying about stuff or losing his energy now. He was confused, at first, but very thankful once he saw what we had done.
After everyone else left, we watched a movie and talked about anything but tomorrow. He even tried to explain his system for organizing books. I think it’s more confusing now than it was before.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.