Over the Hedge
“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.
The road gradually changed, and after maybe a half hour of walking it had become a dirt path at the base of a cliff overlooking a dark and motionless sea. The path tilted up, and soon we were climbing back and forth along outcroppings of the cliff until we came to a dark cave far above the water. I looked up, but was unable to see anywhere the cliff ended. Hecate later told me this was the base of Mount Olympus itself, and there was no path that high available to mortals.
The cave was long and winding, digging deep into the mountain. There was a fork in the road, one path leading deeper down and the other curving back up. We took the latter, and finally emerged into a chamber bustling with activity. Three women worked quickly here; one spinning thread, another measuring out its length, and a third cutting it. The Fates, the Greek pseudodeities who were believed by their culture to determine the destiny and duration of every life, glanced up and smiled as if expecting me. And, of course, I suppose they were. It didn’t seem to much matter whether or not I held to the religion of the ancient Greeks. The Fates exist, whether as a distinct set of people or as but one manifestation of a deeper concept, and by existing they must have at least some insight into the destinies of individuals.
It made me wonder, as I revisited the topic later, about the nature of Hecate herself. She is Hecate, and she is also the Mistress of Magic, and the Queen of the Crossroads, and the Goddess of Liminal Spaces. But are those titles for a single being called Hecate, or is Hecate a title for a single being who is fundamentally the Goddess of Liminal Spaces? The name is easier to work with, and a recognizable form, but that doesn’t mean that is her true identity. I may have to revisit Sergei’s ideas about the many faces of Hecate through the ages. This idea was bolstered later by the Fates themselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was brought before the Fates, and Hecate informed them that I was interested in learning the secrets of time. Clotho, the first woman, explained that theirs was not the whole of time, but the allotment of an individual’s portion of time. Atropos, the third, pointed out that this gave them insight into the past and future, and therefore could teach me to use that insight, but it would only be part of the whole if I wished to truly master the flow of time itself. I explained that it was my desire to understand, and therefore insight seems the most natural place for me to begin.
“She will see how it all began,” answered Lachesis, the woman measuring the thread. “Her destiny includes sight of the past and future, and witnessing the rise and fall of the eternal.” Hecate rested her hand on my shoulder, and when I turned back to look, she was smiling.
“Very well,” she said to the three, “I leave her in your hands. The Hound will wait outside and see her home when you are done with her.” With that, she left, and the Hound made its way outside the cave.
“Thought she’d never leave,” Clotho grumbled.
“No you didn’t,” Atropos said, and they all laughed.
“Come come, sit down,” Lachesis said, waving a hand to me without turning her focus away from the thread. “There is much work to be done.”
“What did you mean, that I would see how it all began?” I asked, moving forward and sitting on a large, smooth rock. “Am I really going to see that far back?”
“Back?!” Clotho shouted with a laugh. I must have shown my confusion, because Atropos gave me a comforting smile.
“The beginning has not happened yet, dear,” she said, calmly. “You will find time to be more complicated than you realize.”
1 August 2006
It had been a long day, and I was ready to crash for the night. I got up to my bedroom a little after 11, and as soon as I closed the door I saw the Hound sitting next to my bed.
“Don’t you usually wait til I’m asleep?” I asked. It cocked its head, then stood and turned around. The wall behind my bed folded out into a forest path overlooking the sea, and the Hound began walking. I yawned, stretched, and followed.
I wasn’t sure whether it was simply because I was going to the Crossroads physically for the first time, or if I had really changed so much that my experience of the Crossroads had to be completely redesigned, but the path seemed much more real than it ever had before. It was partly the senses; the smell of Central American flowers and ocean air, the feel of the ground under my feet, the sound of birds lilting through the trees. But there was something else, something that felt much more surprising: the path no longer looked magical. Before, it had always had an air of mystery to it, a sense that it couldn’t possibly exist in the real world, and of course it couldn’t, not with the ocean hovering overhead and the path forming and disappearing in response to my steps. But this, this felt like home, a home of which I only had very sparse, fleeting memories, from so many years ago.
What was Hecate playing at?
She didn’t behave as if she noticed the difference in the realm when we reached her, and she certainly didn’t present herself any differently in reaction to context. It was strange, looking upon a Greek goddess standing tall in a wilderness half a world away from the mountain her kind called home, carrying herself as if this was her own personal temple. And, well, it was. Whatever the Crossroads looked like to me, it remained the Crossroads, and that made it hers. But the effect was jarring, and my new doubts about her intentions after negotiating with my life prevented me from simply dismissing that incongruity.
“Jacqueline,” she said, her voice dripping with honey. I bowed.
“I’ve been thinking about you, you know.” She sat on her throne, which hadn’t existed before and looked like black marble carved by Aegean sculptors. I stood upright. “About your skill for magic and desire for knowledge. You, my dear, did not stop developing and studying when I stopped calling on you.”
“I don’t see why I would have.”
“You’d be surprised, child. Everyone has their own goals, and those whose goals truly center on me lose their way quickly when I give them space. But others, they truly believe in something. They truly desire something, something I am happy to give in exchange for their service. I think it only right to offer you new knowledge, in honor of your development so far and as a sign of good faith as we continue.” The Hound was sitting by her side by now, and she gracefully slipped her hand down to scratch at the back of its neck. I stood silent for a moment, processing.
“What new knowledge did you have in mind?” She smiled broadly then, baring teeth that seemed to be just a bit more sharp than I remembered.
“What would you like, dear?” My breath caught for a second. I could choose? Would she accept anything I chose? I briefly considered my options, before a common trait of all of them came to mind. I straightened my posture and met her gaze.
“I want knowledge of time magic,” I said, firmly. “I want to know how to see the past and future, and ultimately, how to travel between them.” She chuckled and leaned back into her seat.
“Are you sure? Time is a complicated thing.”
“I’m sure.” She considered me for a moment, then clapped her hands together and stood.
“Very well! Come, come, let me show you the way.” She turned toward one of the other roads leading away from the Crossroads, and it suddenly seemed like there were hundreds of them. As she walked, the Hound rose to join her, and I began to follow.
24 July 2006
I didn’t get to see the actual race for Small Ships Revue because I was busy getting everything we would need for our set organized and in a safe location near the stage to allow for quick set up. When I asked later how we did to a few of the actors who had already begun drinking, I was reminded that winning the race isn’t really the point, so I assume we did pretty poorly.
The event was much larger than I expected, and I was informed that people come from all over the area to attend. It certainly looked like there were more people than I realized had even lived in Sharon; in retrospect, I should have probably expected that the area was more populated than it looked from the low number of people I generally saw wandering around downtown, but I was still thinking in terms of my years in Chicago and didn’t think it through. At any rate, the bar and the massive parking lot behind the Lube were packed with people the entire day, and Rick made a point of showing me around to all the normal attractions that tended to be included. When it came time to get ready for our set, I met the rest of the group and Matteson’s band near the stage area and we went over the order of things one last time.
The set was well received, the music was helpful, but Rick and Charles said that whoever was mixing the audio put too much of the band in and there were a couple bits that were hard to hear. Still, we raised a couple hundred dollars for the theater and the band drummed up interest in their CDs, so we considered it a success. At the end of the set, I was introduced for the first time as a full member of the theater troop, and for me, that was the highlight of the day.
1 June 2006
Work was progressing in Columbia Theatre, and today we were working on updating and expanding the fly system. I was standing on a scaffolding, running lines through the system in the ceiling and trying not to look down. Backstage, Marz was testing the lines that had already been finished and helping determine what we needed for counterweights and if we would need to order more. Neither of us was here when the pulleys were mapped out and installed, so it was also taking extra time for us to figure out where everything was supposed to be. We had been warned that some of it was not actually ready for our work yet, and we had taken some guesses about which parts of the system were affected based on the notes left for us. The possibility that we had been mistaken on some of those guesses suddenly occurred to me when I heard a crack, and then a snap, from my right.
Before I could react to the noise, a fly passing in front of me stopped in the air, its wings stuck mid-stroke. I breathed heavy and looked around, and found a heavy metal pulley that had broken off the ceiling and stopped in place about a foot away from my neck. I knew, immediately, that if it had continued on its arc either I would have died; either from the initial impact, or from the unavoidable fall that would have followed it. I swallowed hard and tried to step aside, but found that I could only move my head. I turned to my left again, and saw the Hound sitting on the scaffolding and watching me. I opened my mouth to speak, but a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye drew my attention away again. As I turned to look forward, I found Hecate. She was standing on the stage, but so tall that her eyes were level with my face. I took a deep breath. Why now, after all this time?
“Mistress,” I whispered, my voice unsteady. She smiled.
“Am I, still?” I furrowed my brow and tried to formulate a question about that, but nothing coherent came out before she smiled and continued. “I saw how you handled that ghost, and cleaning up the park afterward. You seemed confident in your ability to proceed without invoking me.” She looked to my left, and I followed her gaze to the pulley. “Yet you do not seem so confident now.”
“I had not heard from you in a year, Mistress. I didn’t know anymore if you were even listening.”
“I suppose I can understand such fickleness from mortals, a year must seem like such a long time to you. But you must know better than to believe that about me. Besides,” she blinked, and her eyes were replaced by the sight of me in Chicago, laying on that couch in John’s arms. “You clearly wanted some space from me. Am I not free to give my mortal instruments what they desire?”
“I’m sorry. I was recovering from a moment of weakness and just…” I sighed and lowered my head. “I’m sorry.”
“Will you show me?” Her eyes returned to normal, or what passed for normal from her.
“I want to see that you are sorry, not simply hear it.”
“I have a job for you to do. But not yet. For now, it will be enough for you to swear to me that you will do it. And your continued usefulness, of course, is a great encouragement to keep you around.” My eyes widened as I realized why I couldn’t move the rest of my body. I was being given a choice between power and death.
“I swear, Mistress.”
“Very good. I shall call on you when I am ready.” I felt my body unfreeze as she and the Hound vanished, and I quickly shifted around the pulley to stand behind it. As soon as I was in the clear, the pulley snapped back into motion and crashed against the wall, sending scraps of wood and drywall flying. I was breathing heavy, and the noise of the impact had left my ears ringing for a moment before I heard Marz calling to me. I pressed my hand to my heart, exhaled hard, then peeked down.
“I’m okay. But I think we should take a break.” They gave a few quick nods, and I began to climb down.
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22 April 2006
It was a hard day of work, traveling along the river and various small waterways and pipes that led into it, cleaning up whatever we could find. Turnout was a bit smaller than I was hoping for, but I could barely be surprised. When I'd asked Matteson's band if they were going, they all regarded the event as something that just kind of happens without individual thought or involvement, and I got the impression most people they knew felt that way.
"The river's dirty," Matteson said, with a shrug, when I asked later, "I guess we never really think much about the idea of it ever not being dirty." It took a little bit of effort, but I managed to convince him to get involved, on the grounds that he's considered Riverborn and it would be absurd for him to not care at least a little. We ended up assigned to different areas, and I was alone when a bit of water rose up before me. I realized there was something to it and, glancing around to make sure I wasn't being watched too closely, set my bag down and let out a quick ritual to see spirits more clearly that involved a sharp bite to draw a little blood.
"You are trying very hard to get our attention," it said. I pulled a small band-aid from my pocket and closed up the bite.
"This part is just because the river needs it. But is it working?"
"In a fashion. The Riverborn is here as well, did he convince you this would help?" I rolled my eyes and sighed.
"No, actually, it was the other way around. I think he's slightly confused about the expectations of being tied to an element." The spirit dipped below the surface of the water again, and then returned after a few moments.
"I've been informed that checks out." I chuckled, imagining a group of river spirits bickering about Matteson's lack of involvement in their affairs. "At any rate, mage, you have shown yourself committed to the health of these waters, and-"
"Oh! Now you're seeing spirits!" another voice exclaimed. The river spirit and I both looked up to see a satyr hopping down from the level of the street and pointing accusingly at me.
"Hello, Kastor," the spirit said in a tone that sounded suddenly very tired.
"Hey howsitgoin," he said, almost dismissively, before turning back to me. "Eight months! Eight months I've been trying to get your attention, and now you're just chatting away with the freaking river!"
"I'm sorry, who are you?" I asked. "Kastor?"
"You tellin' me Johnnie doesn't mention me? After all these years!" I thought back for a bit before recalling that Matteson had, indeed, mentioned having a faun that popped up in his life sometimes.
"It seems like you have other business," the river spirit said. "Next time you meditate on the river, know that we will be listening."
"Thank you very much," I said to the spirit as it vanished, then looked to Kastor. "Yes, sorry, I forgot. Matteson has mentioned you. What can I do for you?"
"Matteson's in danger!"
"Why not tell him? It has to be much easier to get his attention than mine."
"I...okay, look, that girlfriend of his, she's playing him for some scheme, and I almost got eaten and had to make an oath and the point is-"
"Wait, are you talking about Lori?" Kastor stopped and nodded slowly, as if I was being slow to keep up. I sighed and rubbed the bridge of my nose.
"We know about the ghost that was possessing Lori. This was handled back in November."
"You...you already took care of it?" I nodded. "Without me?"
"Look, I'm sure whatever arrangement you had with the ghost of Alethea is no longer binding. She's crossed over now. I'm sorry you weren't involved, but I had no way to contact you, maybe you should ask Matteson?"
"Huh-uh. I'm not risking that. You tell him I promised a year and a day, so this summer, he and I need to have a chat about the company he keeps." He humphed and turned away, then spun back around. "Except you, you're delightful. Sorry if I came off strong."
"It's quite alright. I'll be sure to pass your message along."
"You know, you can call me yourself sometime, if you ever-"
"I'll keep that in mind, Kastor. Have a good day." He exhaled hard before nodding and running off. I watched him for a moment, looked back to the river to see the spirit wasn't returning, then picked my bag up.
"How's it coming there, Jackie?" I looked up to see one of the organizers of the cleanup walking toward me along the level of the road.
"Fine. Sorry," I said, showing my band-aid, "just had to deal with this real quick."
"Oh! Should I go get someone?"
"I think I have it handled, thanks." He nodded, gave me an update on how things were going and a team that was moving over to help with my section of the river, and I let myself focus on the work at hand.
20 April 2006
We learned this week that The Lube was going to let us put on a few short acts during Small Ships Revue. I had no idea what that was, so the rest of the group explained that every year there's a race down the Shenango River from the north side of town to the Lube, the only rule being that there could be no motors involved, and this largely took the form of wild floats made to drift down the river while crowds lined up on the streets and bridges above, everyone involved is drinking, and it ends with a massive block party. The theatre remodel group, which included most of us anyway, had commissioned a float already, but now we were actually getting the use of a stage area during some of the party.
We decided on a couple short comedy scenes, things that people could wander over and enjoy without following a whole story. I had Matteson come to the meeting today, and he informed the group that his band was willing to do music for us but needed to know what that would include so they could practice. So we dug out the musical scores for the one scene that had them, and worked out some idea of how the rest should work, and he left with that and copies of the scripts so they could start working on things, and we all agreed on a time to meet and practice with the actors and the band.
I'm very excited to see how this all plays out.
2 March 2006
I was laying in Rick's bed, his comforter shielding me against the lingering winter chill and his absurd habit of keeping a fan on "just for the noise." When I half jokingly threatened to only sleep with him at my place if he was going to keep that up, he replaced his old and worn fleece blanket with this comforter. My comforter, in practice. I considered it an acceptable compromise, for now.
"How's the spirits?" he asked as he returned from the bathroom. I had delayed coming over today to spend some time meditating under the abandoned trestle bridge just off downtown.
"Getting used to me," I answered, "but it's clear they're still a bit leery about mankind in general. I think they'd warm to me faster if I could do something about the pollution." He climbed into the bed and I rolled over, laying my arm across his stomach.
"I'd need them on board already to do any magic that big, and the cost..." I shuddered.
"Well. You could do that Earth Day cleanup. The spirits might like seeing you there."
"What Earth Day cleanup?"
"The, uh...oh, what're they called...the Shenango River Watchers. They do a big community cleanup of the river and I think local creeks and that on Earth Day." I sat up.
"There's a group committed to cleaning up the Shenango River watershed once a year?"
"Well, no. They do cleanings all year, it's just that on Earth Day other people are willing to help out. My uncle's wrapped up with them, I think he's usually out doing stuff at least once a month."
"Why didn't you tell me about this!?"
"Well, I dunno. You don't talk about being big on environmentalism, you know."
"I talk about the condition of the river all the time!"
"You talk about the condition of the river spirits. I have no idea how much they have to do with one another."
"They have quite a lot to do with one another!"
"Well, maybe you could teach me some magic," he said, smiling and poking my breast, "and I would know shit like this."
"Oh, no," I said with a chuckle, pushing his hand away. "You had trouble understanding why a woman born in Honduras might be chilly with a fan on and snow on the ground. I don't think you'd be a very good student." I let out an 'eep' as he rolled over on top of me.
"Well," he said, "is there anything you think you could teach me?"
"Hmm. I think I could find something," I said, smiling.
12 February 2006
We had finally managed to get a season scheduled. It wouldn't begin until August, but we had a great deal of preparation to do, so I was at a meeting with the other three stage hands we had managed to pick up. The issue of the day was getting a set together for A Winter's Tale that we could move off-site, since the venue we'd managed to secure didn't give us enough time to build our set there before the show. The backstage area of the Columbia was clean enough now that we could turn it into our workshop, so we at least had somewhere dry to build it and deal with disassembly after. Peter arrived, looking haggard as he always did these days, and lit up when he saw us arguing over designs. He called me over.
"How's it coming over there?" he asked, setting a stack of papers and folders down on a pile of milk crates that passed for a table.
"If we let Marz have their say, our sets will just be painted sheets we carry in with laundry baskets."
"Bah," Peter said, waving his hand dismissively, "it's always sheets with them. Look, I don't want to keep you, but you did the haunted house thing, yeah?"
"Yeah, Peter. We talk about this every other week."
"Right, right. Look, I need you to pick up a small part."
"Pete, if I'm doing stage-"
"A tiny little part, I promise, just...very little." I sighed.
"What is it?"
"You know that famous line, 'exit, pursued by bear'?"
"I need a bear," he said, handing me a script. I blinked a few times in surprise as I looked down at the script, then looked back up. He was already halfway down the hall.
"Thanks! Tell Marz we have a two sheet maximum!" I groaned, slapped the script against my hip, and went back to the designs.
31 December 2005
It was a lot of work, but we managed to get the house repaired and ready in time for the New Year's Eve party. I had invited people from the theatre group, and of course Rick and Charles and Bob and Matteson's band were all planning to be there, and Matteson explained that there was almost always at least a few people that would show up as a friend-of-a-friend that he had never met before. I offered to cancel when I saw how bad Matteson was taking things over the past week, but he insisted he could use the distraction and refused to cancel another major party.
I knew this likely meant he would not be as invested as usual, but since I knew almost everyone coming by this time, I figured I could handle it. He helped set up and greet people, but as soon as there were enough people that they could largely entertain themselves I pretended not to notice him slip away.
After about an hour, Rick asked a couple people from the troupe about improv. Some had experience with it, others didn't, but with a few more drinks they were all willing to give it a go. He started soliciting prompts from the rest of the party and throwing them at the actors, who pretty quickly occupied the living room and made use of anything they could find there or have handed to them. We never turned the music off, so sometimes that was part of the bit and sometimes it wasn't. Some of it was abysmal, but there were some amazing highlights and Rick managed to keep it interesting and get people invested throughout. By midnight, basically everyone was involved in some way or another, even if it was just handing people more drinks and snacks or yelling out some new element Rick would decide whether or not to give to the actors. I was, if I'm honest, a bit impressed.
During the last half hour before midnight, Rick was pretending to be Dick Van Dyke and narrating the various forms of entertainment happening at his wild New Year's Eve countdown while the actors tried to keep up. We'd lost four to sleep or the need to rest and throw up by then. I had jumped in to replace one. We were painfully loud at the stroke of midnight, and when people grabbed someone nearby to kiss at 0, I turned to find Rick and made the split second decision that maybe there was more to him than I'd assumed.
I don't remember what time everyone else left. Some people were trickling out by one o'clock, some people just crashed on the couches and floor. I left the party at about 1:30, leading Rick by hand to my room.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.