Over the Hedge
29 August 2005
I had grown so used to Chicago's transit system that I was caught off guard when I tried to check on bus schedules to get to an interview downtown and found out there were none. I tried to ask Matteson but he just waved it off and said he'd seen a bus occasionally at the Giant Eagle and the mall, but hadn't ever seen it anywhere else and wasn't convinced it actually carried passengers. He was able to drop me off on his way to work, but I was a few hours early, so I went to the river to meditate for a bit before making my way back to Main Ave.
It was a bit confusing to suddenly learn that Sharon had a Main Ave. In my mind, any road called Main is, well, the main road for the town. Here, that was East State Street, though I didn't realize that was its name until I'd been here for a month since all the locals pronounce it as Estate Street and none of the signs spell 'east' out. I only figured it out when I noticed it become W State Street near the house and asked about it. But Main was tucked away, completely unseen in all of my previous attempts to explore the town. Matteson explained its location to me, but was so vague that I ended up having him drop me off on the road so I could just retrace my steps back from the river.
One side of Main is just railroad tracks, beyond which lay a large parking lot and a red brick church to match. The other side was dominated by a couple long brick walls, worn down and cracked in their best places and actively crumbling at their worst. There were a few doors dotted along the walls, with sparse but large windows between them. One was a bar, or at least claimed to be; the others included a barbershop and shaving parlor, a tattoo shop, and a place that seemed to be a restaurant but gave no identifying information. Between them were a couple random houses and a much newer-looking diner. It felt old, older than the rest of the town, and despite seeing a couple people in the shops there were no people on the sidewalks or cars on the road. Really, it was the perfect place for a haunted house.
At the far end of the road from West State Street, on a corner across from a hardware store and a shifty-looking gas station, was a third brick building attached, through a garage well set off the road, to a brick house. Both structures had wood over all the windows, peeling paint, faded and discolored bricks, and sat among cracked pavement and spotty grass. Half of the house's facade was covered in a very ambitious vine, and the other building had a black sign with green and white lettering designed to look like dripping blood that read "Ghoul Mansion" and, below that between two large bones, "Scarin', PA." I stood in front of the structure, unsure which of the boarded-off doors I was supposed to enter, until a woman came walking around from behind the house. She looked completely out of place against the setting, like a cheery realtor trying to sell the Addams Mansion.
"Jackie?" she asked. I smiled and greeted her, and we shook hands on the sidewalk before she turned and looked at the structure with me.
"It's bigger than I expected," I said. She chuckled.
"You should see the inside!" With that, she led me into the building, and I got a tour of the whole place. By the end, it was apparent that the interview was something of a formality, as they had already decided to hire me based partly on my application and partly on Rick talking to one of the long-time staffers about my magic. A lot of the staff, though certainly not all, were some kind of pagan, she explained. I asked if this was a conscious decision on the part of the owners, and she explained that it was largely due to them all knowing each other, so once one was in the rest just found it easier to get hired.
I was there a little over an hour, seeing the site and signing paperwork, and walked to the McDonald's for dinner, where I met up with Rick and got a ride home. I felt like something was following me, but when I got home and did a short ritual to see local spirits I couldn't find anything.
1 August 2005
I was used to communing with the spirits of a Great Lake, and while I still had one available, it was now a two hour drive away and I didn’t yet have a car. My choices had become a small, heavily polluted river running through Sharon or the reservoir on that same river a few towns north. I had tried both, but my attempts to meet whatever slept in Sharon’s waters had been fruitless. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the river was even still alive. The pop machine in the McDonald’s next to the river always smelled like sulfur, to the point where Matteson and his friends would only buy food and then cross the street to buy drinks at a news stand.
But today, I found myself outside of Pittsburgh, having taken a ride from Rick who wanted to visit some friends he knew nearby. We had arranged to meet in a few hours, and I intended to use the time to seek a connection with the Ohio River. Surely, this one would have active spirits in it.
I was there meditating on the very edge of the water nearly a half hour before something began to stir. The water itself seemed to rise up into a vaguely humanoid shape and I dropped backward and scrambled back to my feet. The form moved to the edge of the water, its face drawing close enough that I could feel the mist on the edge of its form.
“What do you want? Why are you afraid?” it asked.
“I...sorry, sorry, it’s just, the spirits in Lake Michigan only ever spoke to me, I never saw them, it was-”
“I am not a lake spirit.”
“Yes. Right! Of course! Sorry.” We both stared at each other for a long moment.
“What do you want?”
“Right! I just seek a connection,” I offered, “my element is water, you see, and the spirits of the closest river have been ignoring me, and I just wanted to ask, I guess?”
“I know of you. They know of you. They do not trust you.”
“You have acquired the scent of a Riverborn. But you are not Riverborn.”
“Riverborn? What--I don’t understand.”
“There are very few children we have in the world. Somehow, you have acquired their scent. Their river has taken a great deal of damage, and they are worried about your intentions with the Riverborn and with them.”
“I don’t even...wait. You mean Matteson?” The spirit stood bolt upright at that, pulling away and towering over me.
“John Matteson. He’s a friend of mine, I actually rent a house with him right now which I suppose probably smells like him. His family, he told me he comes from-”
“Wait here,” the spirit said, before vanishing back under the water. I leaned forward, resting my hands on my knees, as I caught my breath. It was only a couple minutes before the spirit appeared again, this time only about as tall as I am. “They say they have seen you walking with John Matteson. You are friends?”
“How is he?”
“Do...do you know him?” I asked. The spirit stood silent for a moment, then the water around its head pulled back and I saw what appeared to be a male Native American face.
“We have not met, but those trusted by John Matteson are welcome here. You may call me Abe. Please. Tell me about his family.”
7 July 2005
I had been here for a month and found nothing so far. All of my cursory searches had turned up no sign of Alethea, surprisingly few ghosts in general, and I was digging deep into my notes to find any last resort tests. I didn't want to be desperate about it, but I also didn't want to feel like I'd up and moved halfway across the country for no reason.
I called Nan and got some input, and she dug around the shop and called me back later with a test I could do that would turn up any ghost activity that had happened in the last couple months. It was complicated, a ritual and some herbs and a questionable potion, but she assured me that if it didn't turn up anything, there was nothing to find. She also warned me not to drink the potion on an empty stomach.
It took me a couple days of looking to find all the ingredients, and I finally started the ritual this morning. After a hearty lunch, I knocked back the potion, inhaled the smoke from the herbs, and finished the last few steps of the ritual with my eyes closed. When I opened them, I nearly fell out of my chair.
The entire house was glowing, to the point where it was almost painful to look at. I made my way through the house, clutching my head as the brightness stabbed into my eyes, and tried to take in everywhere the ghost had been. It was easier, in the end, to note where it hadn't been: our roommate's bedroom was the only place untouched by the presence. I stumbled back to the living room, the sheer energy of everything beginning to overwhelm me, and fumbled in my bag for my kit. I had to know whether it was Alethea or not. I had to know why this was all so well hidden, how I hadn't seen any trace of it before when it had clearly been absolutely everywhere. I groaned and tried to shake the fog from my mind that was beginning to grow as the light continued to assault me. I finally found the kit, but apparently passed out from the stimulus before managing to use it.
When I woke on the couch, it was because Lori was shaking my shoulder and asking if I was okay. The kit was spilled open on the floor under my hand. The spell had worn off, but my eyes were still blurry and the sun was coming in the window and it all made Lori look like she was faintly glowing. I jerked back, rubbed my eyes, and when I looked again she seemed perfectly normal. I told her I was okay, now, but thanks, and she went to go find Matteson who had apparently come home while I was out and thought I was taking a nap. I spent the rest of the day debating about whether or not to try again, but just the thought of how strong that sensation had been turned my stomach.
I had proof, though. I knew something was going on. I just needed another way to find out what it was.
17 June 2005
“So…you’re a witch, Jackie?” Lori was supposed to be meeting with John today, but he was running late from work and she was stuck waiting at the house with me. “What does that even mean?”
“I practice magic.” I sat down at the table opposite her, sliding her coffee over, then the sugar when I was done adding it to mine.
“Right. But, does that work? Like, is it real magic?”
“How have I never seen magic before? Is there some conspiracy to hide it, like in the movies?” I sighed and looked into my mug for a long moment before turning back to her.
“No, it’s–it’s just difficult. There’s always a cost involved. So very few people who pursue it stick it out, and the rest just, I don’t know, never notice it? I think people who don’t actually deal with magic think of it as something big and flashy, witches flying by on brooms and wizards calling down lightning and magic just generally serving as a sort of wild card to complicate our lives. So everything that isn’t that gets overlooked.”
“And that’s not accurate? You can’t fly?”
“I mean, I probably could, if I worked with an air or bird spirit or paid a pretty heavy toll. The fundamental forces don’t particularly like to be toyed with. I’ve never found it worth the effort to try, I guess.”
“So what do you do?”
“Mostly I study the flow of energy, or commune with spirits. Other stuff is more rare, honestly, I do it when I have to but that basic stuff is really the only reason I can at all. Like, I animated a statue once, but I wouldn’t do it again unless I really had to.”
“Most of that doesn’t sound like magic.”
“What do you think magic is?” I asked before taking a drink.
“It’s power, isn’t it? Raw influence over the world, control of the elements, a force barely contained by your vast learning and will?”
“That’s nice for movies,” I said with a chuckle, “but really, it’s just a connection to the other world. There’s a spiritual backstage to reality, and changing things there can change them here. Sometimes it’s more efficient to make changes if you’re working with the spiritual side than with the physical side, and sometimes it isn’t. Magic just gives us the option.” We sat in silence for a few minutes while she looked into her mug and slowly rubbed her hands over the ceramic.
“Do you help people with it?” she finally asked. I took a deep breath.
“Well. I try. Sometimes I can’t, and sometimes–sometimes what people think is helping isn’t, really.”
“Maybe that isn’t your place to say,“ she snapped. I went to say something, but then stopped. Before I found an answer, we heard the door open, and knew the conversation was over.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.