Over the Hedge
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.
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.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.