Over the Hedge
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.
While Sergei and Nan worked in the front of the store, I spent some time in their meditation corner working on some of what I had learned from The Fates. After returning to the physical world, I had been unable to duplicate the results I’d had in the cave. This was to be expected; The Fates had warned me that it would be much harder to do as it was, and the impact of Matteson’s nature on my magic, even when he was away, was probably a factor I hadn’t adequately considered. But I had a new theory to work with that I couldn’t access time the way The Fates did, anyway, at least not outside of their help. The thread they gave me was a focus, but the means they used relied on their nature as spirits, which I didn’t have. After my conversation with Sergei this morning, Nan suggested that spirits have their own paths to magic, distinct from humans. And, since I relied on a type of elemental energy, I may need to reframe my attempts at time magic to something that could connect to my element.
“This,” she said, “would be very difficult for some elements, like earth, which is too rigid. But water? I think you’ll figure it out.” If that was the case, then maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of time as a tapestry the way they did. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about time as a thing at all. Maybe I should be thinking of it as a flow.
So I sat down in the meditative space, the thread woven into my hair, trying to commune with water and feel the flow of things not just through space, but through time. Nan had set an incense burning to help me, and I had a stone from the Ohio River in one hand and one from Lake Michigan in the other. I quieted my mind, and began seeking the flow.
I don’t know how long it took me, as I started to lose sense of nearly everything before it happened, but I finally felt something click. I opened my eyes and looked around. At first, nothing seemed different, until I turned my attention to the incense and saw the smoke frozen in place. I felt pressure building up on me, and I suspected that this was because I was trying to stand still. Here I was, meditating on flow, and when I finally slipped into it I was looking at a single moment instead of going with that flow. I tried to push backward, but the pressure was stronger that way. Going against the flow would be even harder. But I knew I could do it, if I just gave it a little more energy. I bit my thumb, hard, hard enough to draw blood, and used that bit of blood to paint waves on my forehead as I chanted. Slowly, I felt the pressure begin to ease, and I turned my attention to the smoke again. I stared at it, pushing, until the smoke started to curl downward toward the fire. It was slow going, but I was getting there. I was watching time in reverse!
I stood and continued pushing, and when I glanced back I saw myself sitting in place, eyes closed. I left myself behind and walked out of the meditative space into the shop at large, and watched Sergei walking backward toward the office while Nan pulled a crystal out of a paper bag, folded the bag, and put it under the counter under the warm gaze of a customer, who had coins floating up into her hand from a change purse. I watched, in absolute glee at the fact that it was working, before I suddenly felt the pressure hit me again and throw me forward.
I gasped as my eyes flew open and I dropped the stones. I checked my hand, and my thumb had a small droplet of fresh blood on it. But I was out of the trance, and it had proven that I could do this. Now I just needed to get better at it.
19 January 2007
My flight into Chicago landed shortly before dinner, so that evening was mostly spent catching up with Nan and Sergei. It wasn’t until morning, while we were all in the shop beneath their apartment, that I got to work. In the back room, I laid out the notes and images I’d brought, and showed them to Sergei.
“So Hecate is being bad now?” he asked, looking everything over.
“I don’t know. I know she wants something from me, but I don’t know what. I think it has to do with Matteson, but I don’t know why. And I know she’s willing to threaten or endanger me to get it.”
“But you don’t know how?”
“Oh no. I very clearly remember how.”
“Okay. So what you need is…what?”
“Well, there are a couple things. But the big one I would like from you, specifically, is your theory on Hecate taking on different names across history.” He gave me the biggest smile I can ever remember seeing from him.
“Oh yes,” he said, pointing at me as he started to jog for the stairs up to the apartment, “Yes, I have you.”
“It’s ‘I got you,’ Sergei.”
“Also that!” he yelled, vanishing into the stairway. He was gone only a few minutes before returning with his large poster, which he had made attempting to lay out the whole timeline for me. “Okay,” he said, unrolling it on the table, “we start at beginning.”
18 January 2007
When I left Chicago, I wasn’t sure how often I would bother coming back. I didn’t grow up in the city, though it was close enough that I’d been there occasionally for things like concerts or school outings. I’d only lived there a couple years, and while I had made some friends during that time, very few of them were strong enough relationships to last once I was away for an extended period. I had kept in touch with a couple people here and there, but most of those had faded somewhat as time went on. My roommates from the last apartment I stayed in there had mostly vanished while I was away. I had quickly begun to run out of reasons to be there on a personal visit; and as I walked through O’Hare for the first time in a long while, I knew only one person would be waiting for me, and she would know I was mostly here on business.
Though I doubt Nan would ever admit to something that sounded so cold.
She was waiting by the luggage return by the time I got there, and gave me a big hug as soon as I was close enough to grab. We talked about the flight and Pittsburgh’s airport while we waited for my bag to come—Nan had no idea there was a t-rex skeleton there and was reasonably surprised—but as soon as it did and we were in her car her demeanor shifted.
“What’s that boy done to you?” she asked, sternly, as the car started moving.
“What do you mean? Rick? He’s been great, mostly.”
“No, no, not the boyfriend—”
“Not really a boyfriend, we—”
“The Anchor.” I paused and looked at her for a moment, confused.
“What makes you think he’s done something to me?”
“It’s your aura, child! Did you think I wouldn’t notice? There’s something about it, something…limiting it.”
“Well, I hadn’t noticed.”
“I think you’ve been spending too much time with him. Like a goldfish.”
“A…goldfish.” She wagged her finger at me.
“Like a goldfish! You know! They only grow as big as their tank lets them! That boy’s aura is a powerful one, and it constricts yours, and then your energy gets used to it and stops trying to recover.”
“You think spending too much time around Matteson will have a permanent effect on me?”
“Nothing is permanent, darling. But you start finding it harder to do magic, you best get away from him for a good long while. You might not lose it forever, but you lose it long enough that you forget how to do it again? Might as well be forever.”
“I’ll…I guess I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that,” she said, patting my knee. “Now, tell me all about this not-a-boyfriend.”
26 May 2005
When I called John back, he was at work, but promised he would talk to his roommate and get back to me in the evening. I went about my business, taking stock of my small collection of belongings and deciding how much of it I would take with me and hanging out with my roommates, until he called back shortly before midnight. He sounded clearly distracted, and when I pressed I learned that Lori was talking about ending her lease and moving in with him fully and he wasn't sure they were ready for that step. He had, however, talked to his roommate and made arrangements for me to take over the spare room some time in June.
"Is it going to be awkward to have me living with you? I mean, if she's feeling like things are that serious..."
"Why would it be?" he asked, with a tone that sounded like he was only half listening to what I was saying anyway. I rubbed the bridge of my nose and sighed.
"John. Listen. I don't want to make life difficult for you if I can help it."
"No, it's fine, it's just with everything going on, you know, she needs a safe place to process everything and figure out her feelings."
"If you're sure. I think I'll fly out, if I send you the info can you pick me up at the airport?"
"Probably. Oh! I talked to my boss, you can work at the shop while you look for something else if you need."
"What? I haven't even filled out an application. I don't even know where you work!"
"It's a pizza shop. Look, you don't have to take it, but it's there."
"I...uh...okay. I'll see about it when I get there, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I gotta go, let me know about that flight, yeah?" I agreed and we hung up.
17 May 2005
Nothing I tried gave me the clarity I wanted on what had happened. I knew it was something real, but the glimpses I got were mixed with the environment in the apartment, flashes of personal memories, something that I'm pretty sure someone else in the apartment was trying to contact, and general feelings of dread. The one thing we were able to establish with our rituals was that it wasn't local; attempts to trace the source came from somewhere around the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. I knew it was time to call John. He seemed distracted at first, until I told him that I needed to talk about Alethea.
"Look, Jackie," he said, "this is really not a good time."
"I'm telling you, I sensed something near you and the only sympathetic links I have in that area are you and possibly Alethea."
"You have a sympathetic link to me?"
"I don't know! But those are the only options."
"Okay look. My girlfriend's best friend died in car accident last night. I need to be focused on her right now."
"I...okay, first off, I'm so sorry for that loss and you should definitely be there for her. But the bits that I know about what happened do line up with an accident like that."
"Okay, well, I was asleep when it happened, but maybe you picked up a message meant for me or something. But I'm just standing in Lori's apartment talking to you when I should be grabbing things she'll need."
"She's staying at my place for a bit. Bad memories associated with hers right now."
"Oh, right. You have room for that?"
"I mean. There's an unused bedroom in the house, but I figured she'd just, you know, stay in my room."
"Well, so, with everything going on with Alethea, I was thinking of moving over that way. It would be a lot easier for me if I could maybe rent that room?" I heard him sigh and pause.
"Okay. Probably. Give me like a week to deal with the funeral and everything, and then maybe we could talk about this?" I agreed, and then he was gone. I looked around the room, and considered the fact that I was suddenly thinking of leaving Chicago and was only partially convinced of my own reasoning. Is my fear about Alethea showing up enough to warrant moving to a place that I know nothing about and where I only barely know exactly one person?
Well. I guess I have a week to figure that out before anything will come of it, anyway.
16 May 2005
It was a long day and I had decided to go to bed early. Everyone else was already off in their own rooms doing their own things, so I laid down on my couch and was just starting to drift off to sleep when I was startled by a sudden stabbing pain in my arm. I sat bolt upright, sweat starting to gather at my brow, and took rapid shallow breaths as the pain became an icy chill that ran through my entire body. Glimpses of a scene began to flash before my eyes. bolts of light. A terrified young man I didn't recognize. Movement and color and rage. Pure, unbridled, rage.
I crashed to the floor as I tried to scramble across the room, my head pounding and my vision blurred by the rapidly changing and vanishing visions. Everything felt so cramped, like I was in a space too small for my body. I curled up on the rug and began to cry. I felt a hand on me, heard distant voices. It was hard to make them out, they were all frantic and talking over each other and some seemed to be talking to me and some were talking to one another. The sound of crumpling metal. Breaking glass. So many voices. Everything felt so cold.
Then I noticed that one of the voices seemed to be calling my name. I focused on that, followed it through the haze. The pain began to lessen and that voice became more clear. I kept pushing everything else aside, until I opened my eyes and found myself on the floor of the apartment, with Jacob kneeling next to me, his hand on my shoulder. Everyone else was gathered around the room, watching us, fear and concern painted across their faces. I was shivering. I turned to look at them all, then pushed myself up to sit on the rug.
"I need to scry," I said. "I may need some help." The advantage to living with various kinds of pagans is that someone is always prepared for the type of magic you look for. Everyone else stood around for a moment, then scrambled off to grab whatever they had to help. Jacob, however, stayed with me to make sure I was okay. "Something's happened," I told him, "and I'm not sure I'm ready to know what."
"Then why-" he started. I waved him off and rose to my feet.
"I need to."
31 December 2004
I was out on the fire escape having a smoke while the New Year's Eve party raged on inside. All across my field of vision were sporadic apartment windows with lots of light and moving shadows, and a lot of windows with no lights at all, and only a few that seemed quietly occupied. Out here, though, the night was surprisingly quiet, with distant noise suggesting that calm only extended a couple blocks. I leaned on the railing and closed my eyes, letting my mind drift off in the liminal space of the new year, seeing what connections I make.
Something changed around Christmas. Whatever bond I had with Alethea went cold, but didn't feel like it had been severed. Just like she was gone, but not completely. I couldn't quite make out what to do with that information, and had trouble even interpreting it, but the longer the trail stayed cold the more I worried that I had missed my chance to do any good by Alethea. The Petrovs and I were still working on ideas on how to handle her, and had drawn up a ritual or two that could be used, depending on whether she could be helped or needed to be fought. Now we were trying to work out something that would help us find or summon her. Wherever she was, she was being particularly resistant to our attempts so far.
Nan took me aside the other day to express concern about me. She said I've been obsessive about this situation, to the detriment of all my other studies and hobbies. I wanted to blow her off at the time but the more I think about it, the more I feared she was right. Maybe it was time to start backing off, just a bit. I knew I couldn't give up just yet, and still needed to warn John that I didn't know where she was; but I also knew I had other things to do, and couldn't spend all my time on this one problem.
New Year's Resolution One: Try harder to do no harm. Learn from this experience and grow.
New Year's Resolution Two: Be myself in 2005, don't let people like John or Alethea occupy all my time.
I tossed out the butt of my cigarette and looked up to the sky one last time before heading back in to the party.
16 December 2004
"That was it, wasn't it?" I asked, looking at the newspaper sitting between me and Sergei. "I felt her attacking her father."
"Could be," he replied. "Could well be."
"How are you feeling?" Nan asked.
"I had to lay down the rest of that day. It was too much. But I'm better now." She nodded.
"Now, about these other beings you saw."
"The ravens! Are you familiar with them?"
"These are Odin's," Sergei offered.
"Well," Nan said, giving him a side-eyed glance, "maybe. Their exact nature is less clear, but I did ask some spirits and one said that Huginn has a blue glow in all her forms, one prominent one being a raven."
"And she travels with Muninn," he said, pointing at me.
"Yes, yes. But we don't know if that was her, or Muninn, or what their actual relationship to Odin would be. Huginn and Muninn are hardly the only raven spirits in the world. Though if it was them, it's worth noting that the spirits I met with were very hesitant to invoke their names, or even vague titles, which is highly unusual."
"Maybe it was them, though. What were they doing there? Why did they help me?"
"It's hard to know if what they did really counts as 'helping,' but unless they show up again there's little point worrying about it. We should make a note of it and focus on what we've learned about Alethea." Nan sat down next to me and rested her hand on my knee. "I think we need to consider the possibility that she has become something more like a poltergeist."
"No, no. She has to be someone we can still help!"
"She's killing people, Jackie."
"The abuser who killed her! I think that falls within what can be expected from a ghost."
"What about the Mattesons?"
"We don't know if she actually killed them, but even if she did, we don't know why. But we know she was scared and recently unbound and may not have been in her right state of mind at the time."
"My concern is that we don't really know what the right state of mind for a fifty-year-old trauma ghost even is. And if she did kill them, your friend and anyone else who reminds her of him may be in trouble." I stood up and started pacing.
"I can't. I can't just give up on her. I helped create this situation, don't you see? I have to try to make it right!"
"Maybe making it right means facing her as an enemy instead of a lost soul."
"Are you willing to assume that? To go after her like some terrible spirit instead of the victim of a terrible situation that she still hasn't escaped?" Nan took a deep breath and leaned on the counter. She looked down for a moment, then finally met my gaze.
"All I'm saying is that we shouldn't rule it out. Just give me that much. For your safety." I rested my hands on my hips and stared off toward the drifting colors on the ceiling. Finally, I crossed my arms and looked at Nan and Sergei.
"Fine. We'll consider it a possibility. But I'm not ready to give up on trying to save her." Nan nodded, then turned to the counter and patted the chair next to her.
"Good. Now, let's work on some plans."
13 December 2004
I was standing across the street from an apartment building in Rogers Park, where the newspaper in my hand said a married couple named Matteson had been killed. I closed my eyes and took slow, deep breaths, trying to sense the bond between me and Alethea. I didn't have high hopes, being that I couldn't guarantee she had killed them and if she had it was two days earlier. But if she had been there, and I could pick up some trace, maybe I could use that to clarify my sense of her. After a few moments I managed to slip into something like a light trance, and I knew she was close. I still couldn't tell how far, exactly, but I could feel this tug as though there was a rope tied to my ribs and leading across the street. It was far stronger than I expected. Was she still there? Why would she still be there?
I reached into my bag and clutched a dried eagle's eye and began to whisper an incantation. I opened my eyes to find the street much more busy than before. Waves of emotion and thought rippling out from every human being made it hard to focus, and the ghosts and spirits walking around seemed like they were avoiding the larger flows. I could still see the cars and buildings, though their movement past me left fleeting echoes of where they had just been that I needed to separate from the things that were still there. I did not see the connection I felt in my chest, but took that to mean that it was on a different level than the one I was observing. I watched for a couple minutes, trying to get a sense of how to navigate it all, with the back of my mind wondering if this is what people like John see all the time.
Once I was sure I could safely cross the street, I made to do so. I had only taken one step, though, when a flood of powerful emotion hit me like a brick wall, too strong to even try piecing together what emotion it was. I fell to my knees, and when I looked up I could see spirits scattering from the area and bursts of light from a few windows all next to each other on an upper floor. Each burst was met with another wave of emotion, and I couldn't get my bearings enough to stand or step forward. The wind was knocked out of me with one burst, which felt like it actually pushed me backward.
Feel it, Jackie. Explore it. You will only gain control of it when you can understand it.
I didn't recognize the voice, a feminine one. I could tell it was meant to be coming from beside me, but it felt like it was strictly inside my head. I tried to catch my breath and turned my head, to see two ravens on the sidewalk. One looked normal, if a bit large, and was intently watching the building. The other looked almost normal, but for the blue light faintly glowing from under its feathers. It was staring at me, its beak only a few inches from my face.
"Who...who are you?" I asked.
"Not now. Focus." It was the same voice, coming from the blue raven, whose beak moved unnaturally like a pair of lips. I took some deep breaths, and closed my eyes again to focus. I could feel the energy, like a fire burning at my skin, and it took all my willpower to lean into it and let it reach farther into me. I held back a scream as it surged through my body, and suddenly I knew. It was rage, and pain, and vengeance. It was Alethea's fury, informed and shaped by all she had experienced in life and death. I knew her sense of violation, of fear, of loneliness. I could feel the way her pain and desire to create a new life, for herself or someone else, consumed her for decades. I leaned in farther until I feared I may get lost in it, in what she had become over all those years trapped in one room.
Then, suddenly, it stopped. I gasped and opened my eyes to find myself laying on the sidewalk, my cheeks wet, my vision blurred.
"What are you doing here?" Alethea asked. I wiped my face and looked up. She was floating just above the sidewalk, water still dripping from her body, her hair flowing in unseen currents. The spirits were all gone, even the ravens, and everything in the physical realm seemed like it was nearly frozen in time. I looked closer at a car and could see it was just barely moving, but any change to the people was too slow for me to notice. I stood, slowly, until I was face to face with her.
"I came to find you. What have you done?"
"What is that to you?"
"Look, this, this thing that's happened to you, you can't let it control you. Please! We should not use magic to cause harm! The weight of that-"
"Oh, that's rich coming from you. Is that what helps you sleep at night, after tearing away the only thing I need and banishing me from my own home? You tell yourself that you did no real harm?"
"John wasn't what you need, Alethea. Please, you have to understand-"
"No more! You broke your word and failed me, witch. And now that I'm free, I intend to fix this mess myself."
"No, please, listen!" I stepped forward as I reached out to her and suddenly everything was back to normal. The spirits, the ripples, Alethea, all of it was gone. The people and cars were moving at normal speed. I almost stumbled over as everything snapped back into place, and felt a terrible headache hit me. As I reached for my face, I noticed my hand brush something wet. As I looked at the stain on my hand and realized my nose was bleeding, everything started to go dim. I stumbled to the side of the nearest building and leaned on that, getting my breathing under control and digging around in my bag for some aspirin. As soon as the world came into focus, I left.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.