Over the Hedge
Babylon, Part Eight
3 November 2006
Today was Henry Matteson’s funeral. Turnout was small, but I didn’t manage to meet everyone; most of the ones I did were people who knew him from his job as an economics professor at the Penn State branch downtown. Matteson introduced me to a priest named Benedict, who I was told was a very old associate of Henry’s but didn’t look more than a few years older than us, and a similarly-aged woman named Akshainie who was with him. They, in turn, introduced me to a heavily-scarred man who looked to be in his thirties, named Tadzio. He talked about Henry as if they’d known each other since Henry was a boy, and I made a note to ask Matteson later exactly what kind of company his father had kept outside of work.
Henry didn’t have much family left, basically just Matteson, and it made me realize for the first time that this meant Matteson probably didn’t have any family left. I had never seen nor heard of anyone on his mom’s side, and neither Matteson nor his dad had any siblings. I had already agreed to move in with him now that he was inheriting his dad’s place, but it was only at the funeral when I realized how important it probably was for his friends to be there for him now.
And they were. His band, Rick, Charles, Bob, and an assortment of people I had never met and a few I had only met in passing came at least to pay respects at the viewing. Matteson told me later that even Kastor came by, but had trouble wrapping his head around the nature of the event.
The service was nice, and many people had good things to say about Henry. He had a plot already purchased in Oakwood Cemetery, and while the temperature was brisk the very slight amount of rain ended before we arrived. After that was a potluck at the house, and a group of us friends worked together to clean up and store food after people started filtering out. I sent Matteson upstairs to get a shower and change while we cleaned up, and by the time he returned I was the only person left. He sat down on the couch next to me, avoiding his dad’s recliner, and began to tell me about growing up in this house. I let him rest his head against me and wrapped my arm around him as he talked.
There, as the sun began to go down outside, he finally broke down and cried.
The Fates, Part Six
2 August 2006
“Sounds like you had a hell of a night,” Matteson said from the kitchen, where he was putting his plate from breakfast into the sink. I was sitting on the love seat and lighting a cigarette after explaining my time spent with the Fates. I heard water running, and after it shut off he came back drying his hands. “Does this mean you’re a few weeks older than you were yesterday?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a groan as I turned and laid down. He walked over, lifted my legs, sat down under them, and put my feet back on the arm of the seat. “That’s hardly the point, though.” He tossed the towel onto the coffee table and lit his own cigarette.
“You sure? It seems important.”
“Sure. Look, I’m coming to you about this partly because few other people would believe me, and partly because I’m concerned about what Hec—the goddess wants from you.”
“Oh, she already tried recruiting me.” He leaned his head back and I propped myself up.
“Yeah, it was,” he waved his cigarette around, as if trying to remember, “I dunno, a little after the Alethea situation. She stopped time around me, sent some dog, I met her on a tropical island. It was all very interesting.”
“And you never told me?!”
“Sorry, I thought I had. Besides, you didn’t mention Kastor having a message for me.”
“That seemed a bit less important.” He shrugged.
“Probably was. But yeah, I told her to take a hike, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I laid my head back down.
“She isn’t going to just give up, you know. She believes she owns you in some way.”
“Pft. Europeans.” I choked out a quick laugh. “But now we both know, and we can keep an eye out for it, right? You got my back.”
“As long as you got mine.” He gave me a fist bump, and then we sat in silence for a couple minutes.
“Who wants a drink!” he called, lifting my legs again and hopping up to his feet.
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“And I’m off today!” I sighed and considered the 'night' I’d had.
“Make me one of those things with the rum you whipped up last week.”
The Fates, Part Five
Before I left, Clotho handed me a small bit of unworked wool from her pile. It was translucent, giving the shapes behind it only a faint hint of color that changed as I moved it around in the light. It felt strong but light, and as I touched it I could feel it buzzing with potential. They explained that it was the raw substance of their threads, not yet assigned to a single life, and expressed their hope that it would help me find my way to access the knowledge I had while with them. I thanked them for all they had done, and made my way outside to where the hound sat waiting for me.
He stood without a sound as I stepped into the light, and with just a glance to ensure I was with him, turned and walked back down the path. I recognized that we were still in a realm of great power, and I could do things much more easily here, so I clutched the time wool and focused on the hound, whispering my desire in Spanish. As I walked and watched, a line of identical hounds came into vision, stretching all the way back to the one sitting at the edge of the cave and all the way forward to the horizon. I smiled, let go of the wool, and continued on my way as the past and future hounds vanished again into their proper places in time.
We took a different path away from the cliff than the one we took to arrive, and after a much shorter walk I found myself in my bedroom again. On the bed was a small scroll, and the hound turned and left as I reached down to grab it. It was a reminder, from Hecate, that she had given me what I sought, and soon it would be time for me to give her what she seeks. I felt a shudder run down my spine as I considered the goddess I saw in the Crossroads while peering through time, the woman whose ends were unknown to me and slowly seeming less and less benevolent. I plugged in my phone, its battery draining long ago in the cave, and as it began to start up I sat on the bed and waited.
August 2, 2006. Seven in the morning. All of that, and as far as the world was concerned, I had simply walked into my room for bed and emerged again, refreshed, in the morning. I got ready to take a bath, and as I slipped into the water, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should warn Matteson and what, exactly, I would be warning him about.
The Fates, Part Four
I couldn’t tell how long I was in the cave, since we were too deep to see the sun and we were fiddling with my sense of time. But we tried again, with the same point on the same thread, a couple dozen or so times. Each time I would get a little closer to clarity, and then pass out, have some food and drink and time to rest once I woke up, discuss what I was seeing with the Fates, and then try again. I was starting to understand why they didn’t tend to teach others how to do this, and appreciate that they were taking the effort to teach me.
During the downtime, when I was recovering from one attempt and preparing for another, they would give me tips on ways to ignore certain kinds of things, and how to navigate once I was in, and occasionally slip into their versions of various Greek myths. They told me that once I had a proper understanding of how to see within a person’s thread, I would have to learn for myself how to access those threads from beyond the cave. They could do it, of course—they said that it was as easy for them as breathing was for me—but they were not skilled in magic and did not know what it would take for a mortal to access that same skill. I explained my understanding that magic was just the act of connecting to one side of reality and using it to influence the other, and they seemed to think they might have an idea for me before I left.
By this point I was getting some sense of what I was looking for. By filtering out so much extra information, I was able to piece together that I was peering into my own thread, probably somewhere in my past. By focusing on those things I now knew, I was making much faster progress at getting a clear view of what I was being shown. It was still a few more tries before I was able to actually see the scene. Finally, after so much trouble, I saw me, my face blank, my body raised above the ground. I still felt a certain resistance, and when I pushed through, everything changed.
I was no longer on the outside, looking at my face as though through a window. I was standing in the moment, in the Crossroads, and the Fates were standing there with me. The Crossroads looked different, though, and sat in a vast empty plain. Millions of little paths stretched off from it in every direction, some even going straight up into the sky and others directly into the ground. In the center of it all sat Hecate, as I had never seen her, her faces showing both vitality and death, youth and old age, wisdom and desperation. She sat on a throne of animated bone, at least twenty feet tall, holding her hand up toward me. I was floating such that my eyes were at the same level as hers, and she looked to be mid-sentence. From behind her, the ravens were entering the space, but seemed to be coming from the space itself rather than any of the roads. I don’t know how I knew that, but it seemed so obvious somehow.
“Is this what the Crossroads really looks like?” I asked.
“Well, no,” Clotho said. “This is just your mind trying to make sense of what it sees. But it is more like what the Crossroads truly looks like than you have ever seen.”
“Because you are not really here, so it is not reacting to your expectations or comfort,” Lachesis answered. I walked around, taking everything in, while the Fates waited and watched me.
“I thought this was going to be somewhere in my past.”
“It is,” Atropos said.
“Why don’t I remember this?”
“Perhaps,” Clotho offered, walking over and resting her hand on my shoulder, “you should try to see the scene in action.” I remembered that they said I would need to learn how to manipulate the flow of events. I considered how I would do that, and without consciously deciding it, I reached out with my hand and began to turn it counterclockwise like a dial. Hecate’s mouth moved as slowly as my hand turned, and the ravens began to move backward and melt back into the scenery. I watched as I was lowered back toward the ground. I turned my hand the other way, a bit faster, and saw everything continue moving forward at the new rate. I backed up again, and then pushed my hand forward as though pressing the dial.
I watched the whole scene play out. I watched as Hecate told me to lead Matteson to her. I watched as she commanded me to forget the encounter, and I paused it again as the ravens took human form and I was leaving. I took some deep breaths, trying to calm down, and felt the weight of time on the scene pressing into me a bit again. It took a few minutes of focus to push that aside again, while I paced quickly through the Crossroads.
“What is this? Why would she do that?” I asked, to no one in particular.
“The Hecate you know is not the Hecate we know,” Lachesis said. “Your experience of her has been limited to what you want from each other. But there is so much you do not know about her goals, and her methods, and where all of this leads.”
“Will I know?”
“Yes,” Lachesis answered, “you will see the ultimate end of her thousands of years of work. It will be painful, and difficult, but you will be there when she makes her move.”
“What is all of this about?”
“You have learned all we have to teach you,” Atropos said, firmly, and with a snap of her fingers we were back in the cave, with no sign of the Crossroads or even the tapestry. “Be mindful, dear mortal. As you search the unknown, never forget that there is far more of it than you can ever expect.”
The Fates, Part Three
“The first thing you must do is forget about learning to see time,” Clotho said, standing from her spinning wheel and resting her hand on the stone wall. It lit up with a brilliant tapestry, its form completely alien to me, that stretched on as far as I could see in every direction. It was so all-consuming that I could no longer even make out the cave. There was only the four of us, standing in the midst of the great image. “Time is too big, too senseless, too…unformed. It is vast and raw and chaotic, and if you truly succeeded at seeing it for what it is you would go mad.”
“Then what am I learning?” I asked, as I made my way over to look at the tapestry.
“To follow the threads,” Lachesis answered. She plucked at one thread in the tapestry, and it resonated like the sound of an unearthly guitar and rippled through the whole structure. “You cannot think anything so broad as looking at a time, or even a time and a place. There are so many things at play that you cannot possibly prepare yourself to experience that way. Instead, you learn to trace a single line, and see what it contains.”
“Even the King sees history in this way,” Atropos added, “through one set of eyes at a time.”
“The king?” I asked. “King of what?”
“Of us,” Clotho said. “And of nothing. The name is not perfectly accurate, but it was a name given by the one who named him. You have met the King and Queen already.” I thought for a moment.
“The ravens?” Clotho nodded. “I was told they were Muininn and Huginn.”
“Like all of us, they are known by many terms and take many forms,” Lachesis said. “It is not important which of their names you use, what matters is that he has seen all of time, he remembers all and recalls all.”
“If you don’t mind the tangent, I have been very curious about them for some time, and—”
“There is but one thing you need to know of them from us,” Atropos cut in, “and that is how they relate to the vision you seek. In a sense, she is the chaos of time, and he is the threads woven from it. We see in a manner that he permits and establishes, though it is not exactly as he sees. This is the skill we will teach you.” I took a deep breath, then nodded. Clotho took my hand and guided it toward a single thread, which suddenly seemed larger and more distinct, as if it was yearning to be touched by me, stopping just before making contact.
“You must learn how to see only what you need to see,” she said. “To peer at even a single moment in a person’s life is to see the full weight of the forces that have shaped and are being shaped by that moment. It is too much for mortal minds to grasp. You must learn to focus, to filter out all of the noise of causality and simply see what you are seeing.”
“How long does it usually take mortals to do this?” I asked. Clotho shrugged.
“We’ve never shown it to a mortal before,” Lachesis said, “and we never will again. But it is destined for you to learn it.”
“I thought you determined destiny.”
“When it comes to destiny,” Atropos said, staring off into space, “there is little difference between seeing and deciding.” Clotho nodded, then touched my hand to the thread.
The initial experience of touching that thread was like standing between a train and an airplane as they collided. There was deafening noise, impossible pressure squeezing me, rapid and fractured movement, flashes of light and color and parts of faces, of places, of moments. I heard the voices of the Fates urging me to focus, and I tried. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I searched for something solid, something secure, some point at which all of this was fixed upon. They said that the weight of causality would surround even a single moment, but that must mean that there is something at the core of all of this, that everything I was experiencing was built on the thing I was supposed to see. I tried to look deeper, to ignore everything, to see only what I came to see.
It was impossible to tell how long it took. I was feeling the movement of so much time that it felt like I spent centuries fixed in that one spot, but I don’t know how much of that was time that actually passed for me and how much was just the weight of the time I was trying to sift through. I kept trying to focus, trying to filter my experience, trying to dig and find the core, and I made some progress. I found some things I was able to block out of my senses, and things got ever slightly more clear. I kept pushing and pushing and pushing…
And then I collapsed. The experience left me entirely, and I found myself laying on the floor of the cave with the Fates standing over me. My nose was bleeding, my vision was blurry, and I was exhausted. One of the Fates, I couldn’t tell which, laid a platter of fruit and cheese in front of me, and I ate a couple grapes and a few olives before passing out.
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