Over the Hedge
I fell asleep quickly that night, but soon found myself standing in The Crossroads. I looked around, confused, since the Hound hadn’t come to summon me. I just seemed to be there.
“Hello?” I heard my voice, but I hadn’t said anything. I spun around and there, coming down one of the paths, was me. I recognized her. This was what I looked like, back in elementary school. Nearly twenty years ago, well before my first trip to The Crossroads. But she was alone, and confused. I lifted my hand to wave, and opened my mouth.
“Hello, child,” my voice said. Again, it wasn’t me. I looked to my left and there was a woman, old and frail, like Abuela in her last days. She looked so much like her, but I knew that wasn’t the case. One blue eye and one brown, flecked with gold, peered out of that wrinkled face. “Let’s take a look at you all.” All? I turned around again and there, coming up from another direction yet, was another me. Another future, she looked to be maybe twenty or so years older. She looked confident, powerful. I stepped forward finally as the three other woman came together. The maiden, the mother, and the crone. Assuming I became a mother, I guess, but these are the titles we take in such a form. But what did that make me, the me watching this? The crone ran her hands along each of our jaws, looking us over.
“What is this?” I asked. The crone smiled.
“This is where we make the choice,” the mother said. “This is when we settle the path ahead.”
“But wait,” the maiden said, pointing at me, “if I’m here, and we’re all me, why doesn’t she remember?”
“You don’t know how to do this yet,” I said, piecing things together. “You were pulled here, rather than walking into it through magic.”
“And so it feels like a dream, and will fade like one,” the crone said. “But your input is valuable anyway.”
“How can we be doing this? How can we be here?” I asked. “The Crossroads isn’t ours to do with as we please.”
“This isn’t the Crossroads. I don’t know what it is,” the mother answered.
“You will,” the crone said, smiling.
“But if I tell her,” she said, pointing a bony finger at me, “then you will know, and the cycle will be changed.”
“I don’t think we should break the cycle, whatever it is,” the maiden said.
“So what’s this cycle?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s complicated,” the mother answered. “You’ll be told it isn’t a cycle.”
“And they’ll be right,” the crone added.
“And…I suppose they’ll be right. But we’ve learned much about time, and about The Crossroads, and about things we can do.”
“And who we know,” the crone winked to the mother, who sighed and scratched her hair.
“I don’t know if you remember how recent that is for me.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” the crone said, “it will all make sense. When you return.”
“Okay, okay. You said we were here to make a choice? What choice?”
“What we will trust.”
“Who we will trust,” the mother said.
“What path we will take?” the maiden asked. The other two nodded.
“So how do we do that?” I asked.
“We do not choose. We have chosen,” the mother said, pointing between herself and the crone.
“So…?” I pointed to the maiden. The mother and crone shook their heads.
“She is here to advise. You choose.”
“How can I advise?” the maiden asked. “I don’t even know what’s going on!”
“But you remember what we wanted when we started,” the crone said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “And that will be helpful here.”
“What I want? I want to understand! You all talk like you’re in on some secret!”
“I’ve been trying to understand,” I said, “all my life.”
“And that understanding has shaped more than you know,” the crone said.
“Oh!” the mother said, stepping backward and putting her hands over her mouth. “It’s…we told him, and then—”
“That’s quite enough!” The crone stomped her foot with authority as she said that, and the mother stopped.
“Sorry, sorry. I hadn’t realized yet.”
“How does this help me decide who to trust, exactly?” I asked.
“Who are we not sure about trusting?” the maiden asked.
“Hecate,” both older women said in unison.
“Oh,” I said. “I…I don’t know yet. That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“You’re going the wrong way,” the mother said.
“The beginning hasn’t happened yet,” the crone said. I gasped and looked between them.
“I don’t have to be looking backward!” I cupped my hands over my mouth as soon as I said it, and thought about that. “I can be looking forward, can’t I?”
“And you will meet others,” the mother said.
“Are they nice?” the maiden asked.
“They are…something like nice, yes.” The mother looked at me, and I noticed for the first time that she also had the golden flecks in her brown eye.
“Is that another spell gone wrong?” I asked, pointing and hoping she remembered what I meant. She smiled.
“It’s more like a spell gone right.”
“Do you trust Hecate?” the maiden asked me. I took a moment to think.
“I don’t think I do, anymore.”
“But you are still in her debt,” the mother noted. “You will need to do the job she has for you, and you do not want her to think you hesitant.”
“What is it? What does she want from me?”
“You are a means to an end for her,” the crone said, waving her hand. “It isn’t about what she wants from you, it’s about what she wants in general.”
“And I give it to her?”
“No,” the mother answered, “but you must do the task she gives you. And then, when you know the truth, you know what to do about it.”
“So I’m right not to trust her.”
“But what about the others? Can we trust them?” the maiden asked.
“Who are they?”
“You will know very soon now,” the crone said. “Very soon indeed.”
“Heed their warnings. Do not forget that they have different goals than you,” the mother said, stepping closer to me. “What is good for them is not always good for you.”
“Are their goals good?” I asked.
“That is a matter of some interpretation,” the crone answered. “I may have an answer, soon.”
“You must decide whether to trust them or not,” the mother said. “We can only advise.”
“What do you advise?” I demanded.
“Caution,” the mother said.
“Diligence,” the crone said.
“Hope,” the maiden said. We all turned to look at her. “Well? You both made it through, right? There’s hope, then.” The crone smiled.
“Perhaps the most valuable of all,” she said, mussing the maiden’s hair. I was about to ask them another question when I suddenly found myself sitting on the couch in Nan and Sergei’s apartment. I made my way into the kitchen and poured a glass of water. The clock read 1:11 as I drank, and I couldn’t help but feel like the timing was important. But I doubted I would get any more answers tonight, so I finished my drink and went back to bed.
I couldn’t tell how long I was in the cave, since we were too deep to see the sun and we were fiddling with my sense of time. But we tried again, with the same point on the same thread, a couple dozen or so times. Each time I would get a little closer to clarity, and then pass out, have some food and drink and time to rest once I woke up, discuss what I was seeing with the Fates, and then try again. I was starting to understand why they didn’t tend to teach others how to do this, and appreciate that they were taking the effort to teach me.
During the downtime, when I was recovering from one attempt and preparing for another, they would give me tips on ways to ignore certain kinds of things, and how to navigate once I was in, and occasionally slip into their versions of various Greek myths. They told me that once I had a proper understanding of how to see within a person’s thread, I would have to learn for myself how to access those threads from beyond the cave. They could do it, of course—they said that it was as easy for them as breathing was for me—but they were not skilled in magic and did not know what it would take for a mortal to access that same skill. I explained my understanding that magic was just the act of connecting to one side of reality and using it to influence the other, and they seemed to think they might have an idea for me before I left.
By this point I was getting some sense of what I was looking for. By filtering out so much extra information, I was able to piece together that I was peering into my own thread, probably somewhere in my past. By focusing on those things I now knew, I was making much faster progress at getting a clear view of what I was being shown. It was still a few more tries before I was able to actually see the scene. Finally, after so much trouble, I saw me, my face blank, my body raised above the ground. I still felt a certain resistance, and when I pushed through, everything changed.
I was no longer on the outside, looking at my face as though through a window. I was standing in the moment, in the Crossroads, and the Fates were standing there with me. The Crossroads looked different, though, and sat in a vast empty plain. Millions of little paths stretched off from it in every direction, some even going straight up into the sky and others directly into the ground. In the center of it all sat Hecate, as I had never seen her, her faces showing both vitality and death, youth and old age, wisdom and desperation. She sat on a throne of animated bone, at least twenty feet tall, holding her hand up toward me. I was floating such that my eyes were at the same level as hers, and she looked to be mid-sentence. From behind her, the ravens were entering the space, but seemed to be coming from the space itself rather than any of the roads. I don’t know how I knew that, but it seemed so obvious somehow.
“Is this what the Crossroads really looks like?” I asked.
“Well, no,” Clotho said. “This is just your mind trying to make sense of what it sees. But it is more like what the Crossroads truly looks like than you have ever seen.”
“Because you are not really here, so it is not reacting to your expectations or comfort,” Lachesis answered. I walked around, taking everything in, while the Fates waited and watched me.
“I thought this was going to be somewhere in my past.”
“It is,” Atropos said.
“Why don’t I remember this?”
“Perhaps,” Clotho offered, walking over and resting her hand on my shoulder, “you should try to see the scene in action.” I remembered that they said I would need to learn how to manipulate the flow of events. I considered how I would do that, and without consciously deciding it, I reached out with my hand and began to turn it counterclockwise like a dial. Hecate’s mouth moved as slowly as my hand turned, and the ravens began to move backward and melt back into the scenery. I watched as I was lowered back toward the ground. I turned my hand the other way, a bit faster, and saw everything continue moving forward at the new rate. I backed up again, and then pushed my hand forward as though pressing the dial.
I watched the whole scene play out. I watched as Hecate told me to lead Matteson to her. I watched as she commanded me to forget the encounter, and I paused it again as the ravens took human form and I was leaving. I took some deep breaths, trying to calm down, and felt the weight of time on the scene pressing into me a bit again. It took a few minutes of focus to push that aside again, while I paced quickly through the Crossroads.
“What is this? Why would she do that?” I asked, to no one in particular.
“The Hecate you know is not the Hecate we know,” Lachesis said. “Your experience of her has been limited to what you want from each other. But there is so much you do not know about her goals, and her methods, and where all of this leads.”
“Will I know?”
“Yes,” Lachesis answered, “you will see the ultimate end of her thousands of years of work. It will be painful, and difficult, but you will be there when she makes her move.”
“What is all of this about?”
“You have learned all we have to teach you,” Atropos said, firmly, and with a snap of her fingers we were back in the cave, with no sign of the Crossroads or even the tapestry. “Be mindful, dear mortal. As you search the unknown, never forget that there is far more of it than you can ever expect.”
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.
Goddess of liminal spaces
Queen of the Crossroads
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.