Over the Hedge
7 July 2005
I had been here for a month and found nothing so far. All of my cursory searches had turned up no sign of Alethea, surprisingly few ghosts in general, and I was digging deep into my notes to find any last resort tests. I didn't want to be desperate about it, but I also didn't want to feel like I'd up and moved halfway across the country for no reason.
I called Nan and got some input, and she dug around the shop and called me back later with a test I could do that would turn up any ghost activity that had happened in the last couple months. It was complicated, a ritual and some herbs and a questionable potion, but she assured me that if it didn't turn up anything, there was nothing to find. She also warned me not to drink the potion on an empty stomach.
It took me a couple days of looking to find all the ingredients, and I finally started the ritual this morning. After a hearty lunch, I knocked back the potion, inhaled the smoke from the herbs, and finished the last few steps of the ritual with my eyes closed. When I opened them, I nearly fell out of my chair.
The entire house was glowing, to the point where it was almost painful to look at. I made my way through the house, clutching my head as the brightness stabbed into my eyes, and tried to take in everywhere the ghost had been. It was easier, in the end, to note where it hadn't been: our roommate's bedroom was the only place untouched by the presence. I stumbled back to the living room, the sheer energy of everything beginning to overwhelm me, and fumbled in my bag for my kit. I had to know whether it was Alethea or not. I had to know why this was all so well hidden, how I hadn't seen any trace of it before when it had clearly been absolutely everywhere. I groaned and tried to shake the fog from my mind that was beginning to grow as the light continued to assault me. I finally found the kit, but apparently passed out from the stimulus before managing to use it.
When I woke on the couch, it was because Lori was shaking my shoulder and asking if I was okay. The kit was spilled open on the floor under my hand. The spell had worn off, but my eyes were still blurry and the sun was coming in the window and it all made Lori look like she was faintly glowing. I jerked back, rubbed my eyes, and when I looked again she seemed perfectly normal. I told her I was okay, now, but thanks, and she went to go find Matteson who had apparently come home while I was out and thought I was taking a nap. I spent the rest of the day debating about whether or not to try again, but just the thought of how strong that sensation had been turned my stomach.
I had proof, though. I knew something was going on. I just needed another way to find out what it was.
17 June 2005
“So…you’re a witch, Jackie?” Lori was supposed to be meeting with John today, but he was running late from work and she was stuck waiting at the house with me. “What does that even mean?”
“I practice magic.” I sat down at the table opposite her, sliding her coffee over, then the sugar when I was done adding it to mine.
“Right. But, does that work? Like, is it real magic?”
“How have I never seen magic before? Is there some conspiracy to hide it, like in the movies?” I sighed and looked into my mug for a long moment before turning back to her.
“No, it’s–it’s just difficult. There’s always a cost involved. So very few people who pursue it stick it out, and the rest just, I don’t know, never notice it? I think people who don’t actually deal with magic think of it as something big and flashy, witches flying by on brooms and wizards calling down lightning and magic just generally serving as a sort of wild card to complicate our lives. So everything that isn’t that gets overlooked.”
“And that’s not accurate? You can’t fly?”
“I mean, I probably could, if I worked with an air or bird spirit or paid a pretty heavy toll. The fundamental forces don’t particularly like to be toyed with. I’ve never found it worth the effort to try, I guess.”
“So what do you do?”
“Mostly I study the flow of energy, or commune with spirits. Other stuff is more rare, honestly, I do it when I have to but that basic stuff is really the only reason I can at all. Like, I animated a statue once, but I wouldn’t do it again unless I really had to.”
“Most of that doesn’t sound like magic.”
“What do you think magic is?” I asked before taking a drink.
“It’s power, isn’t it? Raw influence over the world, control of the elements, a force barely contained by your vast learning and will?”
“That’s nice for movies,” I said with a chuckle, “but really, it’s just a connection to the other world. There’s a spiritual backstage to reality, and changing things there can change them here. Sometimes it’s more efficient to make changes if you’re working with the spiritual side than with the physical side, and sometimes it isn’t. Magic just gives us the option.” We sat in silence for a few minutes while she looked into her mug and slowly rubbed her hands over the ceramic.
“Do you help people with it?” she finally asked. I took a deep breath.
“Well. I try. Sometimes I can’t, and sometimes–sometimes what people think is helping isn’t, really.”
“Maybe that isn’t your place to say,“ she snapped. I went to say something, but then stopped. Before I found an answer, we heard the door open, and knew the conversation was over.
9 June 2005
Matteson, as I had learned he was now being called, had told me a little about Alpha when he was in Chicago. I knew that he had bought it for $500 from a shady friend who had it sitting among a collection of auto bodies in varying states of disassembly and decay. I knew that the seats were much more comfortable than those on the L, and that when he first showed the car off to friends and family nearly every single person responded to the size of the trunk by asking if he realized how many bodies would fit in it.
That last one, if I'm honest, probably taught me more about the people in his life than about the car; but I must admit that when he opened the trunk to put my luggage inside, I did get the distinct impression I could comfortably ride with it, if it had been empty beforehand. Of course, it was not; I noticed at least two milk crates with assorted adventuring gear and a microwave in them during the brief moment I had to look.
I had developed a certain idea of what to expect of his car from his mentions of it, and somehow found that every expectation I had for it was insufficient to describe what I actually saw. Even the color of Alpha was something of a mystery, looking almost blue or gray or green from different angles, but always washed out, like whatever color it was had been only a projected memory for the last twenty years. He started the engine with a screwdriver, and only buckled his seat belt after Lori begged him to. When I glanced at the dashboard on the way north, I realized that only half of the dials seemed to actually work, and I was suspicious about whether the speedometer was one of them. I was looking at a crack in the windshield when I asked him if they did inspections in this state, and he confirmed they did. When I asked how Alpha passed those inspections, he waved his hand dismissively and told me he knew a guy.
All told, my first real impression of Pennsylvania was that I was going to die.
Matteson had music going and was eager to carry on conversation as we went. Lori, riding shotgun, seemed nice and tried to be amenable, but she was certainly distant and probably annoyed about something. I was alone in the back seat, and gave Matteson some line about being tired from the wait times at O'Hare's security so I wouldn't have to take his attention away from her too much. It was nice to have the time to just relax and look out the window anyway. The airport in Pittsburgh isn't actually in Pittsburgh, it turns out, but far enough away that we could go from there to Sharon without even seeing the skyline of the city anywhere. Most of the trip was spent driving past trees and rolling pastures, dotted with cows and flanked in the distance by either very close hills or very distant mountains. To be fair, I'd never really seen much of either.
When we arrived, he showed me to my room and carried my one checked bag inside while I had my carry-on, before leaving to take Lori home so she could get ready for work. There were four rooms upstairs altogether; mine was beside the bathroom and across from Matteson's, and the one beside his had the door closed. I had been told there was another roommate, who spent most of his time playing MMOs in his room, and assumed that's where he was. My room was largely bare, except for a bed Matteson had found through a friend a week earlier, and a set of plastic drawers that I decided to use as a temporary dresser. I suppose it was barely up to any normal standards, but it sure beat a couch. I set about unloading my bags, and then wandered downstairs to see what I had signed up for.
The living room had a couch, a loveseat, and a single armchair that all looked like they had been grabbed from the side of the road with no consideration for a unified look. There was a console television in the far corner, with another tv on top of it that was connected to an XBox that currently had Rock Band instruments plugged into it. The kitchen was in complete disarray, and rather than try to sort that out I wandered into the next room which had another love seat, a small computer desk with an armchair instead of a desk chair, a small bathroom off to one side, and five bookcases all filled. There were books on the occult and folklore and history and various religions, and I was busy looking through the assortment when I heard the front door open and close. I glanced up, expecting to ask Matteson about the books, but instead a white man, about my age, walked into the office. We both jumped back slightly.
"Oh! Sorry, I thought Matteson was in here," he said.
"Right, it's okay, do you have a key or something?" I asked.
"What?" He looked at me puzzled for a moment, then toward the front door, then back to me as realization slowly dawned on his face. "Oh! Matteson never locks his door."
"And people just pop in?"
"Well, yeah. It's like that at my place, too. I'm Rick, by the way," he said, offering his hand. I smiled and gave him a handshake.
"Yeah, he told us you were coming, I just forgot when." We both turned at the sound of the front door again, and I followed Rick out to find Matteson hanging up his keys. "Hey! We're going for pizza, you coming?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," Matteson said, grabbing his keys again. Rick turned to me.
"Have you been anywhere local yet?"
"She's been here five minutes, man."
"It's been at least a half hour since you dropped me off," I said. Matteson shrugged. Rick started explaining the pros and cons of various local pizza places as the two of them went for the door. Without really knowing whether I was invited or not, I went along for the ride. I locked the door behind us.
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."
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.