Over the Hedge
When I woke up in the cabin, Rick was gone.
The events of the night before felt like a bad dream, but I rolled over and his pillow was cold. I cried for a little while as it all sank in. Knowing we’d left Rick and Alice to be taken. The fight. Watching him sacrifice himself to stop the cult. The interview with the police. The dead body in the cabin’s kitchen and bullet holes in the walls. We were up late dealing with that, telling our story over and over again, our carefully-crafted lie that didn’t talk about disrupting a ritual and watching my boyfriend fall into a different plane of reality that I couldn’t seem to reach.
Alice had asked Matteson on the way back why he didn’t just grab Rick from the other side and pull him back. He was having trouble catching his breath by that point, but he explained that it didn’t really work like that. What he could see an interact with was basically a ‘close’ part of the metaphysical realm, a spiritual mirror of our world with pathways that led to deeper realms. Wherever Rick was, it was a deeper realm, and it would take powerful magic to access it. He, personally, had no way of getting there. I also had to explain that I hadn’t yet figured out how to replicate the spell they’d used, and even once I did, I wasn’t sure I would be able to muster the mystical energy needed to pull it off without a significant amount of helpers or blood. But I promised I was going to try.
I slowly made my way to the shower, and then to the bedrooms. I had a lot of packing to do. The police let us sleep in the cabin that night because it was so late and we’d had such a rough night, but they demanded we stay out of the kitchen and seemed very eager to have the whole house available for their investigation as soon as possible. We agreed to leave as soon as we could.
When I carried my bag downstairs, I found Alice sitting in the living room. She came over and gave me a hug, and we just stood there holding each other for a while. She explained that her bag was already in Rick’s car and Matteson’s was in Alpha. I had agreed to drive Alpha to the hospital for Matteson, and she was going to follow me in Rick’s car and then give me a ride back to Sharon. We were going to talk to Rick’s family together.
Matteson was awake and quiet when we arrived. No one really knew what to say, and he thanked us for checking in and reminded us that we should hurry if we wanted to talk to Rick’s family. So we said our goodbyes and headed out. Went through a drive-thru for breakfast on the way.
We told Rick’s parents the same story we told the police, but really emphasized how much Rick fought back and how his doing so gave us an opportunity to get to safety. We told them that Matteson tried hard to get him free, too, but was too injured by that point. We apologized so much, and they reminded us that it wasn’t our fault, and we all cried together. Alice swore she would throw whatever resources she had available at finding him, and they thanked her.
I asked her about that when we got back to my place, and she explained that she meant it. In order to maintain the story, of course, she would have to throw money at aiding the investigation, maybe hire a private eye, and she was certain her family would support that plan. It was for Rick, after all. But she also knew that she had magic in her now, and if there was some way she could help me reach him where he is, I was to tell her and she would drop everything to come and lend a hand. I thanked her and told her I would do just that, and I went to take a nap. When I woke, she was gone.
I didn’t realize how bad Alice was taking all of this until she started throwing up. At that point, I had to turn my attention away from the fight and focus on helping her. I didn’t really know what she was going through in that moment, but I knew that she needed someone, and I was the only someone available. So I tried my best to help calm her down, though I doubted she was really paying that much attention. I did my best, though, and when she was finally calmed down enough I turned my attention back to the fight. Hopefully things hadn’t gone too far off course while I was failing to give magical support.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was the priest, standing in front of an open portal with an elder entity trying to reach through, holding Rick prisoner. The arm was translucent, and I realized it was still partially in the metaphysical realm. The spell wasn’t complete yet. It needed something more to push it over the edge, and there was a blade pressed against Rick’s neck. I let go of Alice and stepped forward into the clearing, just at the edge of the trees. Matteson was still opposite me, and the priest’s eyes were fixed on him. Rick looked at me, though, and gave a weak smile.
I tried to think of a spell that would help. Something I could cast to free him while the priest was occupied with Matteson. Something I could do to turn the tide. But as soon as my mind turned to magic, it went foggy. I couldn’t think straight, I could barely stand. I tried to push through it, but it was unyielding. I get it now. During the fight, when no one knew where the priest was, he must have been preparing. Setting a trap. Ensuring that my attempts to use magic against him would fail. I tried to take a step forward but the world started to spin and I fell to my knees. My vision was blurring slightly. I reached out toward Rick and could see tears coming down his cheeks.
“I said I wouldn’t hesitate,” he said. The priest looked at him and then at me, and smiled. He turned his attention back to Matteson. The closest thing to a threat in the clearing.
“What?” I asked. He smiled again.
“I love you, Jackie.” With that, he bent forward slightly, and then pushed off against the ground. He pushed back against the priest, who was too caught off-guard to react, and they both hit the low stone altar and rolled backward into the portal. There was a blood-curdling scream, and the arm of the creature reaching through the portal fell back into it after them.
Matteson charged forward and I suddenly had to make do with whatever plan I could scrape together on the fly. Everything we had talked about was out of the question as soon as he was in the middle of things. So I felt around on the ground for a stone and, once I found it, I invoked its strength in a protection spell to buy him time to free the others. I knew I couldn’t put it too close to them, so I created it a little ways out, between them and the cultists that Matteson wasn’t already thrashing. One cultist ran full steam into the protection spell, and I felt it shatter as my focus was split trying to find more components. I was about to try again when I saw that the other cultists were taking their time, and then focused on Alice as she ran toward me. Two cultists made a break for her, and were close enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to help her in time. Before I could cast anything, though, two large roots burst out of the ground. Each one grabbed a cultist and pulled them underground, kicking and screaming, and Alice stopped and stared wide-eyed.
“Alice!” I yelled. She turned to me and I waved her over. She ran into the woods and dropped next to me, and we began crawling through the underbrush to get away from where anyone might have heard me calling her.
“Did you do that?” she asked, quietly.
“Nope. I think that was you.”
“I thought it was, too, but that seemed like…a lot, you know?”
“Well, you were in danger.” I peeked up again after taking cover behind a log, and saw Matteson attacking someone while Rick took a shot and a step backward. “Roderick did say your magic would defend you, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She leaned against the log. “I don’t know if I’m really ready for all this, Jackie.”
“You don’t have to be.” One of the cultists moving toward Rick pulled out a hatchet and drew back as if to throw it. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood and then lit his ass on fire. I checked the portal. It was wavering slightly, but it was still open. I couldn’t figure out why at first, and then looked again at the people Rick and Matteson were attacking. There was blood everywhere.
Being spilled in the middle of a ritual.
“Oh no,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“You weren’t the bulk of the sacrifice,” I said, pointing. She looked over the log and I saw realization dawn on her face. “They were!”
One of the things that had concerned me most about Matteson’s knowledge of the supernatural is that, despite access to a wide array of information about magic and spellcasting, he seemed to have only really studied the stuff he found personally relevant. This included an extensive knowledge of supernatural creatures and the ability to recognize many situations that could arise with them, but it didn’t include much about actually dealing with a spell as it was being cast beyond rushing in and breaking the magic. Which, admittedly, is a useful skill to have; but it gets in the way when one’s handling of the magic is reliant on understanding what the spellcaster is actually doing.
So I had to stop him from barging in the moment magic was actually being cast, and then again when the portal opened. Opening the portal, I knew, wasn’t particularly easy, but I did note the way they were doing it. The magic looked familiar, like they had learned it from some of the same sources as I’d learned my magic. It looked like it was connected to the modes and norms I had learned from Hecate. I needed to look into that connection. Either their understanding of magic was by chance in the same broad category as Hecate’s, which would suggest it originated somewhere in the Hellenized world, or they had learned this spell directly from Hecate herself. Either way, of course, recognizing that enabled me to more easily predict where they were going and what they were doing. The portal was open, and it took most of their energy to do that, based on the number of people they currently had available. If they wanted to then draw anything through, especially under their control, they were going to need more spellcasters and, I estimated, the blood of at least three adult humans.
We had to wait for the sacrifices to arrive before we could make our move. If we showed our hand too early, we could create a bigger problem.
Thankfully Matteson saw where I was going with this thought, and he resumed waiting with me. It was another five minutes or so of the cult holding the portal open before we started to see other figures emerge from the trees. From our vantage point, it was hard to tell much about them, except that there were two of them not wearing robes. I figured those would have to be the sacrifices, but two really didn’t seem like enough. I was sure they were going to need a third, at least. But now that they were here, and clearly not dressed as part of the cult or as willing sacrifices, we needed to establish a plan of attack. We whispered to each other about what angle to come at them from, and started to creep closer. As they drew nearer to the altar and we approached, we were finally able to make out more detail about the intended sacrifices.
They were Alice and Rick.
“Oh, fuck,” I muttered. Before the words were fully out of my mouth, Matteson was up and charging.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.