Over the Hedge
1 August 2002
I gasped for air as she pushed the sphere into me, the world spinning wildly around. I couldn't concentrate on where I was or what was happening, and could barely make out anything but swirling colors and blinding light. I felt the ground under my hands, and as my vision began to clear I realized I had fallen to my hands and knees and was barely holding myself that far up. I felt Hecate's hand lightly grasp my chin and raise my face to look at her. I could, for the first time, clearly see her three faces. The crone, the mother, and the maiden all looked at me from one place, and it felt natural. She seemed to be the night sky given life, deep and dark and illuminated by the soft light of an invisible moon. Flecks of light, like stars, seemed to pass through her, but it was nearly impossible to identify them individually. I felt like I could fall into her, and somewhere in the great void of her being find my way anywhere I would ever want to go. I knew in that moment that the Crossroads was not where she lived, but a true expression of her self, a form that was both within and outside of her, where all things meet within a darkness that makes all visitors equal beneath her.
"What do you see, child?"
"I think, if I could see deeper, I could see everything," I answered in a near whisper, staring at her. She smiled, then turned my head slightly until I could see the statue. I realized that it looked as much like stone as it ever had, the only thing here that looked the same, but beneath it flowed two great streams of energy. I inhaled sharply and rose to my feet. The movement of the energy was almost intoxicating, and as I walked closer I could see that they met under the place where the statue had been built.
"Do you see them?"
"Are those...ley lines? Is this statue a nexus?"
"Very good." I felt her hand rest on my shoulder. "It was one, once. Look closer." I knelt and examined the base of the statue, and realized that there was a wellspring of energy rising from the intersection of the lines that was being blocked by something within the statue itself.
"What's this blocking it?"
"That is the remnant of a great work of unbelief," she explained. "There are things in this world that work against us, Jacqueline. The forces that erected the walls between worlds have not died out, they've only changed. If you are not careful, you will find yourself opposed by enemies who would see all the magic left in this world die. One such enemy was here, years ago, and what should have been a source of magic for everyone in this area has instead become a burden on those sensitive to what it was meant to be."
"What can we do?"
"I am here to observe. You are here to do." I turned and looked at her, concerned.
"I...are you sure I'm ready for this?"
"You're no ordinary beginner, my dear. You've been dealing with magic all your life, you've seen the true nature of the world, and you have power available to you right now that even an experienced mage would struggle to muster on one of the nights when the worlds are primed to collide. I have stacked the deck in your favor as much as I can without doing the work for you. This is your test. Free the energy, let it flow into the statue, then use that statue to share the magic with your world."
1 August 2002
For a couple weeks Hecate summoned me, four nights a week, sending her hound to rouse me from my sleep and travel to the Crossroads. She showed me an entirely new perspective on magic, methods and avenues I never would have encountered on the track I was already on. The first thing she taught me was a brief spell, something simple with low cost, that would allow me to see over the hedge that divided the worlds. She told me the walls between worlds used to be thinner, and in most of the world didn't exist at all, until certain European notions pushed old ideas aside and enforced their will around the world. The hedge, she insisted, was a development of that sensibility, and so many of the old ways had failed to adapt to its presence that they were growing unreliable.
On the other side I was able to see so much of what I had always known to be true. The world of spirits, as Abuela had described it, was still intact; just farther away, less accessible, than she had been taught. Hecate condemned the Greeks who had stolen her from her people, and the cultures they inspired who ripped the world in two. She encouraged me to continue with the ways I knew, and to use what she taught to supplement the old ways or help them find their way through the hedge.
The more I learned, the more the statue bothered me. It was becoming obvious to me that whatever was wrong with it was something I was growing more sensitive to. It was on this night, when the hound came for me, that I finally had some answers.
We walked the same path to the Crossroads, but my mentor was not there. When I stopped to ask why, the hound continued down a different path, and I had to run to catch up. After another long walk, we emerged in the square under a full moon in a clear sky, the sharp lines of Hecate's features glowing in the silver light as she stood looking at the statue. For a moment, it was hard to believe she wasn't one herself.
"You've been spending a great deal of time considering this monument," she said, not turning away from it but lowering her hand to scratch behind the hound's ears as it sat down at her side.
"Yes, mistress. It's...wrong, somehow." She nodded, then raised her hand until it was open, her palm a few inches from her face, her fingers cupped toward her. She breathed out a line of shimmering energy, which pooled into a rough sphere in her hand. When it was about the size of my fist, she stopped and began rolling the ball around in her hand until it was perfectly round and glowing bright. She turned, finally, and looked down to me.
"Open your eyes, child. Tell me what you see."
I took a deep breath and went to check my pockets, to find I was holding a sewing needle in my hand despite never seeing it before. I clutched the needle, began muttering the ritual she had taught me, and as I neared the end I dug it into my left arm to draw enough blood to power the sight. When I opened my eyes, I could see the statue, cold stone with almost a complete absence of magic hanging on it. Most things have something, some trace of spirits interacting or magic that was stored in it some time in the past. This, however, was like it had been drained, completely dry in a way I couldn't quite explain. I tried, I fumbled over my words and pointed out the contrast with the rest of the square, but nothing I said seemed to hold the full power of how devoid of power the statue was. She stepped forward, kneeling down in front of me.
"The realm of spirits has a depth," she explained, when her face was at the same level as mine. It was the closest we'd ever been, and I could feel my pulse quicken. "There is the border between the worlds, but there's also a distance away from it to each. There are things in your world, things so physically real that even we gods may have trouble discerning them. And there are things in my world, so ethereal that they look nothing like what you know and cannot be accessed without a source of true power. Do you understand?" I nodded, keeping my eyes locked on her. "Good." She brought her hand forward and slowly pushed the ball of energy into my chest.
13 July 2002
There was something off about the statue. I could feel it ever since I'd moved to town, like it was somehow...wrong, that it interacted with magic but not in the way it was intended. I couldn't shake the nagging thought that there was something that needed to be done, and I just knew I had to be the one to do it.
None of the rituals seemed to be working quite like they should, and I could remember nothing in Abuela’s teachings that could help me figure out why. There had to be something to the nature of magic, or the spiritual realm itself, that wasn’t covered by the rituals and practices I knew. I considered the possibility that other traditions had explored this aspect of magic, traditions where the basic maintenance of mystical energy was seen as something in which humans could participate rather than a purview of the gods.
I had spent seven months digging around in what I could find, and while some avenues seemed promising, nothing had produced fruit. I found a small magic shop, got to know the owners a bit, but when I asked if anyone knew anything about the statue they just gave me mundane history. I passed out last night surrounded by books and notes. As the information I had gathered bounced around in my head, trying to find a place to land, I was approached by a black dog, strong and long-haired with a glimmer of intelligence in its eyes. As my mind fixed on it, everything else seemed to melt away, until I felt I was standing with it in a real space.
"You wish to know how the worlds meet," it said, as though it were answering a question rather than asking one.
"Can you tell me?" I asked.
"I am a guard and a shepherd. My mistress gives answers." I saw now that the dog sat at the edge of a road which seemed to stretch on forever beyond it. The closer I looked at the road the more it resembled a river, but it never lost the sense of being solid. I turned back and saw a forest behind me.
"Is this a dream?"
"Does it matter?" I turned back to the dog and exhaled sharply to brace myself.
"Lead, and I will follow."
We walked the road for a long time, neither speaking to the other, with no landscape in sight. It seemed the road just existed, surrounded by void, and even the thought of looking at it for any length of time was painful. Finally, some land began to appear, empty but for rocks and craggy trees. Then we reached an intersection, where three roads met in the midst of a field, barren but for small plots of wild grass. Standing in the center of the intersection was a woman in a black, finely-tailored suit. Her black hair was in a tight braid riding her brow like a crown, and she held a torch that provided the only light to this place. When I tried to focus on the details of her face, it began to seem as though she had three, and I found it difficult to maintain the focus long. Her features were strong, bronzed, and I would later learn they betrayed an eastern Mediterranean origin. She had to have been eight feet tall, with finely-crafted muscles and eyes that burned with a restrained passion that almost hurt to stare deeply into. I felt my breath catch at her form and turned my eyes down and my attention to centering myself again.
"Welcome, child," she said, extending a hand as though to lead me further. I stepped slightly forward as the dog sat by her side.
"Thank you. Where are we?"
"The Crossroads. This is where all things meet."
"Who are you? Is this your realm?"
"I am Hekate, Goddess of the Threefold Crossroads, Lady of the Liminal Spaces, Mistress of Magic, Keeper of the Night and Its Ghosts. This is one form my realm may take." I shuddered at the title and took another hesitant step forward.
"I understand you have answers."
"Yes. If you will become my disciple, I can reveal the flow of magic itself to you." I looked at her hand, still open to me, but now I saw it held a key. I looked into her eyes and knew she could deliver what she promised. I took a deep breath before reaching out and taking her hand.
"If you will have me, Mistress." She smiled.
"I would not have invited you otherwise. It will be some nights before you have the answers you seek; rest, for now. We shall meet more in your dreams."
I opened my eyes to daylight, surrounded by books and notes.
2 november 2004
I had the best sleep I'd had in a week last night, completely uninterrupted by ghosts or gods or anything between. Jacob wanted to talk about finding me in John's arms this morning, but I had brushed him off. He wanted a story I couldn't, and wouldn't, give him. Nothing had happened, and that was exactly what I was hoping for.
When he wasn't around, John and I exchanged numbers so we could keep in touch about Alethea or other spiritual matters one of us might need from the other. I went with them to the airport to send John off, and now Jacob and I were on the L on our way back. I excused myself at an early stop, telling him I needed to look into something before work, and slipped out while he waved.
I transferred to another train, which would take me closer to work and near a shop that sold ritual supplies. I didn't know what I would need, not yet. But the people there had been a valuable resource ever since I'd moved to Chicago, and the only people I'd met who knew anything about the Crossroads. Or, at least, had some notions about it. Sergei, who lived above the shop and ran it as much for somewhere to practice his beliefs as to make money, thought it was the same crossroads the Blues singers talked about, and associated Hekate with the devil who dwelt there. I was unconvinced, but had to admit there did seem to be some similarity in how seriously she took deals made with her. Deals that were, near as I could tell, always made at the Crossroads. He was still trying to convince me and would occasionally pull out a timeline he was working on to explain what happened to the old gods and what names they may have used through the years as found in assorted legends and folklore. Where he didn't know the English yet, he wrote in Russian and breezed over to get to what I would understand.
It was always very interesting, but I was relieved to find his wife, Nancy, behind the counter instead when I arrived. She looked over the edge of her magazine when the door chimes softly rang. Her eyes lit up and she closed the magazine, setting it down on the counter as she stood from her stool.
"Jackie! Where have you been?" She came around the counter and gave me a hug, then held her hands on my shoulders and looked me over. "Are you okay?"
"It's been a hell of a week, Nan." I smiled at her as best I could. "I came by a couple weeks ago to prepare for the full moon, but I guess you were out."
"Yes, yes, he told me you said hi." She let go of my shoulders and waved me over as she went to the couches where they do consultations. "What happened this week? You want some tea?"
"I'm alright, thank you," I said, following her over and sitting down. "I have a little time before work. I just, I had a situation with a ghost."
"One situation?" I chuckled.
"Maybe I would take some tea. If you don't mind." She slapped her knees and then stood, heading into the back.
"Nonsense, child! You're family." I leaned back on the couch, looking up at the shards of colored glass hung from the ceiling that spun slowly and cast the sun from the windows all over the room. They had always been comforting to me, a thing I could fix my attention on that was alive enough to connect with, calm and warm enough to ease my mind. The first time I walked into this store I was nervous, and lost, and just starting to look for any knowledge that I hadn't picked up at home. The slow, patient rhythm of the colors flowing through the room were what made me feel comfortable to stick around and finally ask for a little bit of advice, which Sergei and Nancy had always been gracious to provide.
She returned with my tea and I thanked her, then began explaining the events with Alethea. I meant to give an overview, but found myself spilling everything, and I began to cry when I described the feeling of helplessness and distance when I was possessed. Nan scooted over and held me, waiting until I was ready to continue. When I finished, she rested her hand on my shoulder.
"So, this Alethea, you have no idea where she is now?" I shook my head. She nodded, looking off into the shop. "Okay. Okay, this is going to be difficult, but we may have something for it." She got up and walked over, shuffling through stock and muttering to herself. I sat for a moment, then tried to take a sip of my tea and found it cold. I sighed and stood, walking over to her.
"What are you looking for?"
"It's a powder, mixed it up a while ago but haven't needed it really. If I did it right, it should hold a ghost in one place, which would hopefully give you a chance to do...something to help, I guess."
"I have to find her first."
"We can work on that. But we want to know what to do when we find her before he go charging in again, yes?" She was half buried in a cabinet by this point, yelling out to me. I leaned on the edge of the cabinet and lightly ran my hand over the display case on it.
"Ah! Here it is!" She pulled out of the cabinet and leapt up to her feet, holding out a burlap pouch tied with twine. "Yes, this stuff, probably won't need all of it, just enough for a perimeter, really." I held out my hand and she set the pouch in it, then closed the cabinet and walked over to the counter.
"I should pay for this and get going. I still have to work today."
"It isn't inventory, just take it. But come back soon! I'll look for something we can use to find your ghost. In the meantime," she said, leaning on the counter toward me as I approached, "I suggest avoiding this new friend of yours, at least until you have an idea on what to do about her, okay?"
"That'll be easy. He flew back to Pittsburgh an hour ago."
"Good. But listen, if she's so keen on him, keep an eye out for people who may remind her of him. That might give you your trail."
"Thanks," I said, putting the pouch into my bag. "I hadn't thought of that."
"You haven't had time yet to think, dear. Be safe out there." She gave me one more hug and then sent me on my way, both of us waving as I went through the door.
1 november 2004
It's hard to describe how it feels to suddenly be in control of your own body again, but it is a very distinct feeling and as soon as I experienced it I knew what it was. John was on top of me, his hand holding my jaw, our eyes locked together.
"John, you...I thought you were going to do it," I answered.
"Sorry," he said, practically jumping off me. He quickly grabbed my towel and handed it to me. "I couldn't let her see what I was doing, with the book you know, and it seemed the only thing that would work." He was looking away as he pulled on his pants. I sat up, pulling the towel tightly around myself and looking over to see the book that had been under my head.
"It's...it's okay, John. Thank you. I was just scared, I guess, that you were going to-" I looked up and realized he was still avoiding looking at me. "I'm covered now. Not that it much matters anymore." He glanced over, then sighed and sat down on the opposite end of the couch.
"It wasn't you. Sorry I didn't see it sooner. But I couldn't do it. Not once I knew it wasn't you." We sat in silence for far longer than was comfortable. "Are you okay?" he whispered.
"No. Not really. But it isn't your fault. I'm just glad you could resist and had this book handy."
"Well, resistance isn't that hard. It's just sex, right?" He gave me a weak smile. I stared at him for a moment.
"I mean, sex, you know? It's fine, but it's not that big a deal." He waved his hand dismissively. "It's just a thing people do."
"It's just--we'll want to talk about that later. I have a lot to process here." We sat in silence again, me hugging my towel tightly to my body and him twiddling his thumbs. The curtains were a mess, his clothes scattered around the floor near the couch, a pair of boxers torn in half. Papers that had been in the room were scattered everywhere, and even a few books from the bookcase by the TV were on the floor and open to random pages. I slowly picked up the notebook and looked at the symbols on the page.
"You did it, you know. My notes were wrong, or at least they were for the wrong thing. That was for a demon exorcism, you changed it so it would work."
"I remember. But how? And why did I stay possessed at all? Shouldn't proximity to you have prevented," I swung my hand to indicate the mess of the room, "all of this?"
"Power freely given." I set the book down.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"My dad was afraid, something he saw in one of his books. When he realized what I can do, he warned me that some of his notes suggested I couldn't break power freely given. I can't, without help, kick out someone that was invited to be there, I can't break a bond that was willfully forged, not without difficulty. Maybe when you gave her unspecified and unlimited power over you, you also shielded her from my...ability. It's why I keep my true name secret, giving it to someone is freely giving them a certain kind of power over me."
"Wait. You have a true name?"
"Dad has always been pretty paranoid. It's not that big a deal, a secret part of my name that was given to me at birth but not written on any records so my full name couldn't be accessed easily. It's not even on my birth certificate."
"Clever. But I was able to cast a spell while...touching you."
"I allowed it."
"You can do that?"
"Apparently. I wasn't sure, but evidence says so now." I chuckled and wiped the hair from my face.
"I was weak," I said. "My mentor...she didn't want you to know, but she's been calling me every night the past few days. Always looking for information on you. I haven't been sleeping and that means Alethea was able to catch me off guard and I had already promised to help and this was all a big mess."
"Look, we're both dealing with something new here, right?" I nodded. "So let's not beat ourselves up over it, yeah? I better start cleaning up. You should get dressed. Last thing we need is to have Jacob find us like this, I get the impression he already thinks we're sleeping together." I stood, slowly, bracing myself against the arm of the couch. I took a deep breath, then started walking to the bathroom.
"I'm a bisexual Latina, John. Everyone thinks I'm sleeping with someone they know." He laughed, and as I stopped in the bathroom doorway and glanced back, I saw him kneel and begin cleaning up the papers scattered around the room. "Hey." He stopped and looked up at me. "Thanks." He smiled, and I slipped into the bathroom to get dressed.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.