Over the Hedge
The porridge Nan had made for breakfast was warm and comforting, and I didn’t realize how hungry I was until it was in front of me. I had two bowls before I was finally able to relax and talk, with Sergei and Nan patiently waiting. I started telling them what I saw, and they were very excited to hear about my brief stop at my wedding. Sergei asked when it was, so they could plan a vacation, but I didn’t actually know. But when I got to the part about The Two, they both went silent and listened intently.
“So she put the thread in your eye?” Nan asked. “Is that what the new gold flecks are?”
“And it isn’t going away?” Sergei asked.
“I saw the same flecks in the eye of every future version of myself I’ve met.”
“But nothing more,” Nan pressed, “this isn’t becoming a habit, you doing things to your eyes?” I chuckled.
“As far as I can tell, this is it.”
“If things do not change,” Sergei said, wagging his finger.
“I don’t think they can change.”
“Of course they can! Time is not stone, it moves. It changes! It can change.”
“We’re talking about fate, dear,” Nan said, resting a hand on his knee.
“Pft. Fate. Is nice word, but time changes.” She rolled her eyes.
“The Two said they’d seen it all before!”
“And they said they had to keep things same. Which,” he held his hands out and shrugged, “is chance for it to not stay same.”
“I think I’m going to try and stick to the script, if you don’t mind,” I said, setting the bowl down and picking up my drink.
“But you choose that. This is what matters,” he said, turning to Nan, “is that she chooses.”
“Of course, dear.” She patted his knee and then turned her attention back to me. “But you didn’t get the answers you were looking for?”
“I got some,” I said, “and I suspect, over time, I’ll realize that I got more than I know. But I couldn’t have gotten anywhere without your help. Both of you.”
“Well, we’re not done.” Nan walked to the other side of the room, grabbing some papers off a shelf. “Sergei had some more detailed theories for you, but had to write them in Russian. I translated them for you.” I flicked through and found pages detailing various forms Sergei believed Hecate had taken over the years, beginning with…
“Is this Atlantis?” I asked. Sergei nodded enthusiastically, and Nan sighed.
“Yes. It’s a pet idea of his. You can do what you want with the ideas. They’re theories—”
“Correct theories,” Sergei added.
“—that you can take, and decide for yourself how useful they are.”
“Thank you,” I said. “But shouldn’t the store be open by now?”
“Is time,” Sergei said, waving the question off, “it changes.”
24 January 2007
When my eyes opened, I was facing the ceiling and the sky; both of them, juxtaposed over each other. I felt the couch under me, but as I looked around everything was a blur of motion. The walls were being built, they were built, they were being destroyed. Nan, Sergei, and a few dozen other people I didn’t recognize were everywhere, all occupying the same space, but drifting through and past one another in perpetual motion. They aged and resumed their youth, they left and never returned while they entered for the first time. I stood and stumbled across a floor that was there on one step and gone the next, the carpet shifting and changing, the structure built or missing, everything in flux, everything changing around me. I grabbed my head and felt my hair growing as I tried to soothe the ache. I tripped over something—it was impossible to know what, with so much furniture coming and going—and crashed hard onto the floor. I felt a hand on my back, warm but fleeting, and a cacophony of voices overwhelmed me. I rose to my knees and screamed, the pain in my head growing more sharp and everything breaking down around me.
Then I felt something pulling at me. From every direction, a total of eight points of tension pulled at me, holding me in place. My surroundings began to slow and meld, stabilizing ever so slightly. I looked around, trying to make it out, and saw the lines leading away from me, each to a person. There was Matt, and Jacob, and the six other people who took part in the ritual in their apartment. All around me, they were keeping me in place, fighting against the pull I was still wrapped in. I closed my eyes and focused, chanting. I remembered the shard in my pocket and grabbed it, pulling it out of my pocket and holding it with both hands. I narrowed my mind on it, then held it up and looked through it. In the lens I could see Nan and Sergei’s apartment, stable and unmoving, with Nan kneeling in front of me and trying to soothe me. I tried to block out everything else. I tried to remind myself of what was important.
I have the magic to do this.
I have Nan and Sergei waiting for me and trying to pull me back.
I have friends helping me, supporting me, holding back as much of this chaos as they can.
I have people back home who need me, people I want to see again, people I will see again.
I am never alone.
My breathing slowed into a steady rhythm and my vision began to close in, as if a tunnel was slowly absorbing everything else. I saw where I needed to go. I knew how to get there. I closed my eyes, whispered one more incantation, and shattered the shard in my hand. I heard glass breaking everywhere around me, the visions shattering and falling away. The cacophony ended. The feeling of being pulled stopped. I opened my eyes and looked directly into Nan’s. She smiled.
“I was afraid we were losing you,” she said, running her hand through my hair. I reached up and rested my hand on her wrist.
“I would never.” She pulled me in for a hug, and I didn’t fight it.
It took me a minute to get my bearings, but once I did I realized we were a few blocks away from the shop. My hand slipped away from the woman’s, but when I turned back to check I realized they were still there.
“Can everyone see you?” I asked. He nodded.
“Well. They see something,” she said with a shrug. “They know you’re talking to a person. Who they see is another question entirely. Do you know who they’re seeing?” she asked, turning to the man. He signed again, and she whispered “ooooh” before turning back to me. “He does, but it’s different for everyone.”
“And he knows what they all see?” He nodded. “How?”
“You’re going to Nan and Sergei’s yes?” the woman said as she began walking in the direction of the shop. The man and I quickly caught up and continued. “None of our names are arbitrary, you know. King and Queen are because we functionally rule over the Metaphysical Realm, and it was easier for him.”
“Huginn and Muninn are appropriate names because they more or less reflect what we do. Muninn,” she said, jamming a thumb to point in his direction, “is memory. Literally, well, as close to literally as we are anything. He remembers everything every mortal has ever known.”
“And that makes you Huginn, thought, right?” She nodded.
“Thought is more fluid, more lively. I bring the spark, the flow, the energy and vibrancy and life to the Realm. He gives it form and structure.”
“Look, we’re trying to make sense of Hecate and what she’s planning. Can you tell me anything about that?”
“We could tell you everything about that.”
“Not a word.”
“Why not?” I stopped, blowing on my hands and then shoving them into my coat pockets. The Two stopped as well, turning to me. Huginn sighed.
“This story is bigger than you know. It’s more important. It must play out a certain way. We can nudge to keep it on track, but even we cannot spoil or change it. If you knew,” she said, walking over and placing her hands on my cheeks. My entire body suddenly felt warm, as if we had traded January in for July, “oh, if you knew.” She shook her head and lowered her hands. “There is no way it can play out as it needs to if you know the answers too soon. But, I promise, it will all make sense. You’ll see.” She turned away and took a couple steps toward the shop, and he did the same.
“Will it hurt?” I asked. They both stopped and looked at each other, then back to the sidewalk.
“Some more than others. Come, Nan’s porridge will thicken too much if she leaves it hot for you much longer.”
“I thought he was memory?” I asked, catching up. He pointed to a nearby awning, and when I looked I saw the Ravens perched and watching us.
“He is everyone else’s memory, Jackie. But I have watched this play out before, and I will likely watch it play out again.”
“So this is a cycle? Does it keep happening?”
“Not for you. And not for the world. But we are not bound by time, and flow through it in our own way, on a path that you cannot begin to track.”
“But…you must know, if you see everything, about the meeting—”
“We agree not to watch your meeting, if you agree not to give anything away.”
“What would I give away?” She smiled.
“You’ll know by then.”
“The Fates, they said the beginning hadn’t happened yet, and that time was more complicated than I knew. Were they talking about you?”
“In a sense. But mostly in the way people are frequently talking about us without knowing it.” We stopped in front of the shop, and I looked them over again. “We have one more gift for you.” She held out her hand. “Please, let me see the thread.” I hesitated, then reached into my hair and removed the golden thread from the Fates.
“What do you want with it?”
“To help you.” I took a deep breath, and decided then and there to trust her. I handed her the thread, and she formed it into a circle. “You have been entrusted with a great gift. You cannot risk it falling out of your care.” She held it up directly in front of my face, pausing over my brown eye. There was a flash, and I recoiled. It took me a moment to clear my head, but when I did, I saw the thread was gone.
“What have you done with it?” I demanded. She pointed past me, and I turned around. In the window of the shop, I saw my reflection. There, in my brown eye, were the golden flecks. “It was good to talk, Jackie. We’ll see you again soon.”
“My soon, or yours?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said, then gave a weak smile before they both vanished. I watched the spot where they had been for a moment, then took a deep breath and reached for the door.
“The void beyond time? How’d I end up here?” I asked.
“Oh, it was a simple redirect,” she said, sitting down. “You were trying to go somewhere you can’t go, and we felt it appropriate to discuss that with you instead of just kicking you out. You can sit down if you like.”
“Wherever.” I went to speak, but didn’t know what to say to that, so I just lowered myself as if there was a chair behind me and soon felt myself sink into a cushion. I looked around, but there was nothing there. I leaned to the side against an armrest that must have been composed of the void itself, and the woman nodded. “Now. What were you trying to do?”
“I was…well, I had started trying to see if I could learn what Hecate was planning, but the farther I looked into the future the more some moment was just drawing me.” She nodded.
“Yeah, it’ll do that. You’re seeking information, and it is a wellspring of information.”
“The time you were trying to reach. There’s so much information there, in fact, that no one is allowed to look there from any other point. Except us, of course.”
“We are not subject to the rules.”
“Because we are the rules.” She smiled again at that and leaned back, folding her hands on her stomach. “We are the Metaphysical Realm, in a sense.”
“In a sense?”
“Well. Nothing here is as easy as all that.”
“And here, this is…part of the realm, somehow?”
“Sure is! Or at least it is when we’re in it. I’m not actually entirely sure whether or not it exists as a distinct thing.” She turned to look at the man. “Do you know?” His hands, which I now saw were uncovered and the same tone as his face, reached out of his sleeves and signed something quickly. “Right, right. That makes sense.” She turned back to me. “It’s complicated, but a yes will suffice.”
“Is that what he signed?”
“Oh.” We sat for a bit.
“Well, anyway. The point is, you can’t look at that period, and if you can’t resist the urge, you may want to just not look forward at all.”
“What period?” She looked back to the man again, who sighed and signed something else.
“October 31 through November 4, 2028,” she said with a nod as she turned back to me.
“Wait, there’s information I won’t be able to uncover for another twenty years?”
“Yup!” I leaned back.
“It’ll be fine. You have plenty to occupy your time. Now, if there isn’t anything else.” She stood up and offered her hand.
“There’s so much else!”
“Not today, there isn’t.” I sighed and took her hand, and suddenly found myself standing back in Chicago, still holding her hand. I turned to look, and the man was still standing behind her.
23 January 2007
I was planning on resting for the day, and went out to finish refreshing my energy. To that end, I was out at the shore of Lake Michigan shortly before dawn, meditating. I was deep in my trance when I heard Hecate’s voice, which sent me spinning around quickly. I was expecting that she was talking to me, but I quickly realized she wasn’t. There was a faint golden hue around her, and the Hound—and Alethea, sitting next to the Hound. Hecate was huge, probably twelve feet tall, her three faces showing.
“Have you come to take me away?” Alethea asked, turning her attention back toward Hecate. I slowly stood and walked closer.
“Where to, my dear?”
“Well, it’s...I haven’t crossed over yet, and I thought that’s what was next for me.” The Hound walked back to his mistress.
“Crossed over? Oh you poor thing, you should know by now you can’t do that until your business on Earth is complete” Alethea turned back and looked out at the lake.
“But he’s dead.” I racked my brain for a moment, and then remembered her father’s death.
“Is that all you wanted, though? Did you really stay bound to this world for so many years just to kill an old man?” Alethea rested her hands on her belly and looked down. Hecate began walking forward, shrinking as she went.
“I…well, no, but—” Hecate rested a hand on Alethea’s shoulder and knelt next to her.
“Roger was not the only man who let you down, was he?”
“How do you know?”
“I know much, my child. I know about you, and I know about John Matteson; and I know how to bring you together, if you will let me help you.” I gasped and took a step backward. She removed her hand from Alethea’s shoulder and stood, then held her hand out as if inviting Alethea to take it. The girl began to reach out, then stopped and looked up at the woman.
“What do you get out of helping me?”
“Is there a price too high to finally bring your child into the world, and be free of all this pain and these men?” Alethea paused, then took her hand, and they vanished. I stood in the silence for a moment, taking shallow breaths as I tried to process what I’d just seen. Hecate had been behind this? She sent Alethea to Matteson? What was her game? I knew I needed to tell Matteson what I’d seen, but not yet. First, I needed more information. I decided that I couldn’t wait. I was going to try and see the future today, and get whatever I could out of that. I gathered my things and headed straight back to the shop.
22 January 2007
At Nan’s urging, I took a break from attempting time magic and went into the city. I felt like I was fine, and could probably try again, but she was having none of that and basically kicked me out of the shop for the day. I wandered around the neighborhood a bit, without thinking much about where I was going, and ultimately found myself standing in front of the statue I had animated back when Hecate first took me on as an apprentice. I saw it move and jumped back with a yelp, but it was exactly as it already had been and people walking by looked at me strangely before slightly speeding up. I turned and took a step away, then watched myself take that step, and I stopped. Maybe Nan was right about how much recovery I had left. I took a few deep, centering breaths, then walked away without further incident.
I hopped on the L at the nearest station, figuring I’d just go to a different part of town and find something to do to kill some time. I watched the city through the window as the train clattered along, and my senses started to lag. Everything would start to slow down, almost to a crawl, and then snap back into place with a rush of information. It was disorienting, and when I realized it was getting more frequent I fought through the mental fog to reach the door. I stepped out at the next station and stumbled through the path to the street as time ebbed and snapped around me. I was holding my head, and now I was on the sidewalk, and now I was on a park bench. I tried to focus, and it was starting to help a little, but the jolts were too harsh to ignore and the mark on my forehead was beginning to sting again. I tried to focus, I tried to control my breathing, I did a little rhythmic chant I’d been taught growing up, and slowly things started to calm down.
“Jackie?” I looked up at Jacob, standing on the sidewalk in front of me, carrying a book.
“Oh! Hey, Jacob. How’re you?” He smiled and stepped closer.
“Better than you, it looks like. What are you doing? When did you get into town?”
“Oh, a couple days ago. I’m working on a project and needed help from Nan and Sergei.” He nodded.
“They seem good for that. Hey, have you had lunch yet?” I shook my head. “Well, come on, then. I was on my way for a burger.” I joined him and continued trying to push back the way my senses were struggling with time. He noticed something was wrong, but waited until we had our food and no one was around to lean in and ask what was really going on. I told him. When I opened my mouth, I thought I would brush it off, but it just came out. I told him about how my mentor was showing concerning signs about her intentions for me and apparently for Matteson, and how I was trying to learn how to see through time to find out what was going on, and how I was now struggling with backlash from pushing too hard the day before. He asked if that explained the mark on my forehead and my eye, and I told him the eye was something else. He seemed concerned, but didn’t press for more information on that.
After we finished eating, he suggested I go back to the apartment and say hi to the couple people who hadn’t gone separate ways. He explained that Matt was still there, and I found myself kind of excited to see what he was up to these days. So I went to the apartment, and met the new people who were there and started catching up with the people I already knew. It was a nice afternoon, and my head was starting to feel better, but Matt took me aside after a little while to ask if everything was okay. I found myself explaining everything to him, as well, and he just nodded quietly as I did. Finally, he expressed his agreement with Nan that I should not be practicing magic today, but he did offer to help make sure I could do it again soon.
“You’re getting unmoored from the flow by poking at it too much,” he said, bringing me back to the living room. “We can try to help you reconnect more quickly.” He explained to the others that we were all going to try a ritual, and they all scattered around gathering supplies and figuring out seating. I was seated in the center of the room and the others were in a circle around me, and Matt gave instructions to everyone. He explained to me that if this worked, it would probably take a little time yet to fully set in, but it should help speed my recovery. I agreed to let them try, and as I sat in the center of them they began.
It was a complicated rite, and since it was guided largely by Matt’s druid knowledge and style I only recognized parts of it. But those parts were things that petitioned for peace, or bound things together, or involved a sharing of burdens. I tried not to analyze it too much—it was better if I just focus on my participation than try to work out the details—so there was a lot of what was happening that I didn’t bother piecing together. By the time they were done, we were all hungry, so pizzas were ordered and we all laid around and watched a movie and joked around. It was nice, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed some of these people. We exchanged updated information and promised to keep in closer touch before I left, and Jacob escorted me across town back to the shop well after dark. He gave me a hug before leaving, and told me to be careful. I promised I would try.
21 January 2007
After the successes the day before, I decided to try pushing further back. I wanted to see if I could go back further than my own memories. I decided to shoot for Robert Johnson’s missing year, and to that end, I had a record of his music playing softly in the meditation space. The record and record player belonged to Sergei, who I had no idea listened to the Blues, and he insisted that I be very careful with them. I slipped into my trance and began to push backward against the flow of time, checking on my progress as I went. Here was my first day of Kindergarten. There was my parents’ wedding. I was now beyond the scope of my own lifetime, but still limited to perspectives connected to me. I pushed harder, trying to move outside of that specific stream of events. I felt the pressure building around me as I found myself looking at what seemed to be a gas station in…well, those cars looked like the 50s? Maybe 60s? I never was great with that. But the air was humid and the sun was hot and the people were speaking English. Probably getting close to where I needed to be, but it was growing more and more difficult. I tried to focus on the music, which I could still hear just on the edges of my senses. I leaned into it, tried to find its origin. Against a mounting wall of opposition, I found myself looking at a man with a guitar, sitting in front of an old microphone, strumming and singing along to the music. But the vision was distorted, as if I was looking at it through a thick pane of imperfect glass. The timing was slightly off, the features were indistinct, the edges of the image were just vague sweeps of color. I pushed, and time pushed back, and suddenly I felt myself falling, rushing away from that moment, unable to stop or slow down or even fully recognize what was around me. I crashed back into the meditation space, falling out of my seat and screaming as the paste on my forehead burned at my skin. I remember a sense of someone entering the room in a rush, and then everything was black.
When I woke again I was on their couch with a cold cloth on my head and a blanket over the rest of me. My forehead still stung, but it was more of a dull ache, and I felt weak. I heard the sound of the mortar and pestle in the kitchen, and tried to call out but all I managed was a whimper. Still, it was apparently enough; the noise stopped and Nan poked her head into the doorway.
“Oh! You’re up! Good, good. I was worried.” I laid there catching my breath as she disappeared into the kitchen again and then emerged with a plate of food. “You’ll need to eat, you’ve already missed lunch.”
“Oh stop it,” she said, pulling a kitchen chair in the living room closer to the couch and sitting on it. “You still need rest. Seems you pushed yourself a bit too hard.” She handed me the plate and I smiled a thanks before slowly working at it. “I feel a little responsible, it seems the mixture I whipped up for you could have been improved, so I’m working on that now. But all the same, you shouldn’t go poking around in time any more today, maybe even tomorrow. You need to get all your energy back up.”
“Yes, yes, the paste reacted poorly to reaching its limits. I think anything we concoct will do that to some degree. But I don’t think the mark will stay, we got it cleaned off you pretty quick, the burn isn’t deep. Not like that eye of yours. You never did tell me how that one happened.”
“Now don’t you worry about it right now. I’m sure it’s more of a story than you’re ready to tell. But please tell me you learned from it?” I nodded. “Then why’d you go and do a fool thing like this?” she pointed at my forehead. I sighed. “Well, anyway. You rest. I’ll poke at this mixture some more, but you just let me know if you need anything, okay?” I nodded and smiled, and she patted my hand before walking back into the kitchen.
18 January 2007
“So I’ll drop you off at the airport, and Alice agreed to pick you up when you get back,” Rick said, still sitting in my bed with the end of the blanket bunched up on his lap. I, or at least the me I was now watching, had finished getting dressed already and was now making sure she had everything she needed in her suitcase. The me that was watching, on the other hand, walked around my former self and sat down on the bed next to Rick.
“Well, you’re not going to be much use to me from there, now are you?” Past me asked.
“You usually find some use for me in here,” he said, smiling. She threw a folded pair of socks at him and they both laughed as he tossed the blanket aside. It passed right through me and I watched as he crawled over and kissed her, then hopped down off the bed and started pulling on his clothes as she continued.
“You know I’m paranoid about those TSA stations. Please hurry up.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” She grabbed his hoodie while he was pulling his shirt over his head.
“And I’m taking this,” she said. “For good luck.”
“What makes you think it’s good luck?”
“You were wearing it the night we first hooked up, and you and I both know that’s the best luck you’ve ever had.”
We were in Rick’s car, the two of them in the front seat and me in the back. I was a bit dizzy, and the conversation sounded distant and nothing looked clear. I focused and pushed again against the pressure I could feel building, and slowly the pressure faded and everything came back into focus.
“…m just saying that it’s a great album,” Rick said. We had been talking about the CD that was playing now, something by a band called Trail of Dead. I tuned out as I glanced toward the window and saw The Two on the side of the road, watching the car as it zipped past them. I looked through the back window, but they were gone. Had they been there when we were driving past before? The pressure started to build again, and I turned my attention away from the figures and back to the task at hand. Now I was standing in the airport, on an escalator, passing the skeleton of a T-Rex while past me surveyed it. I was slipping, I realized. I was having trouble holding my place in time, and the flow of it was pushing me along. I decided I’d proven enough, though, and let go of trying to fight the flow. Everything from the past couple days rushed by me in a blur, the flight and the drive with Nan and the first night at the shop. As I flew past it all, there was a moment where I thought I saw The Two again, watching me zip by as if I was in a car and they were in a single moment, watching me pass. I had let myself slip too far by that point, and before I could try to back up to see if they were really there, my eyes snapped open back in the meditation space.
With the paste on my forehead, the thread in my hair, and the incense burning, I again resumed my place in the meditation space with the stones. I knew that I needed to do more than slowly rewind time to find what I was searching for, so I decided to try pushing a bit beyond that to moving my vision to a specific point in time. The difficult part was knowing when to look. If I picked a point too far back, I would have no idea if my attempt failed because of the limits of the magic or because I had simply not managed to cast a successful spell. I really wanted to watch Robert Johnson during his missing year; if he did actually strike a deal with the Devil at the Crossroads, maybe I could learn something useful by watching that interaction. Maybe I could identify the spirit in question to test Sergei’s theory. Maybe I could learn what petitioners called that being. But I decided to wait on trying to view that. Today was going to have to be more of a proof of concept. But, now that I thought about it, if this was all going to work I needed to focus on a place, as well. Did I have anything suitable for that purpose?
I set the stones down and dug around in my pocket for something that would have a sympathetic link to a place other than where I was. I didn’t find anything useful in my pants pockets, and as I tried to reach into the pockets of my hoodie I stopped. It wasn’t my hoodie at all! I had stolen it from Rick while packing for this trip! I rubbed my hands over the fabric, thinking about how much it must be linked to him. Surely this would do. I picked the stones up again, slowed my breathing and cleared my mind of everything but Rick, and me, and the hoodie.
20 January 2007
I excitedly explained to Sergei and Nan what had happened over dinner, how I had managed to peer backwards in time which had never happened properly before. They were excited to hear about it, and Nan took it as evidence that distance from Matteson was a good thing for my magic. It was hard to argue with her on that, but I tried to make sure she didn’t let her concern become any actual dislike of Matteson. It wasn’t exactly his fault if that was the case, and I was the one who chose to keep living with him. I could have just as easily stayed in the house on West Hill and let his influence on the space fade. Well, not just as easily; splitting the property tax with him was a smaller bill than rent would have been.
Either way, Nan felt she could improve my results with the right application of material components. So she started working out some ideas while I helped Sergei close up shop, and when I came down to the shop the next day she had a couple crystals set out and a few herbs in her mortar and pestle. We talked through my experience again, how I was connecting with time and what everything felt and smelled like, and she added a few more things from behind the counter and ground them up into a fine powder which she mixed with a little bit of water. She asked me to add a drop of my blood, which I did by picking at the scab from the day before, and she turned it into a fine paste which was gathered into a small bowl. She instructed me to try again, and use the paste to make my wave marking before I began, and gave me a different incense she thought would be slightly better. I thanked her, went to the meditation space, and tried again.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.