Over the Hedge
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.
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.
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."
2 november 2004
I had the best sleep I'd had in a week last night, completely uninterrupted by ghosts or gods or anything between. Jacob wanted to talk about finding me in John's arms this morning, but I had brushed him off. He wanted a story I couldn't, and wouldn't, give him. Nothing had happened, and that was exactly what I was hoping for.
When he wasn't around, John and I exchanged numbers so we could keep in touch about Alethea or other spiritual matters one of us might need from the other. I went with them to the airport to send John off, and now Jacob and I were on the L on our way back. I excused myself at an early stop, telling him I needed to look into something before work, and slipped out while he waved.
I transferred to another train, which would take me closer to work and near a shop that sold ritual supplies. I didn't know what I would need, not yet. But the people there had been a valuable resource ever since I'd moved to Chicago, and the only people I'd met who knew anything about the Crossroads. Or, at least, had some notions about it. Sergei, who lived above the shop and ran it as much for somewhere to practice his beliefs as to make money, thought it was the same crossroads the Blues singers talked about, and associated Hekate with the devil who dwelt there. I was unconvinced, but had to admit there did seem to be some similarity in how seriously she took deals made with her. Deals that were, near as I could tell, always made at the Crossroads. He was still trying to convince me and would occasionally pull out a timeline he was working on to explain what happened to the old gods and what names they may have used through the years as found in assorted legends and folklore. Where he didn't know the English yet, he wrote in Russian and breezed over to get to what I would understand.
It was always very interesting, but I was relieved to find his wife, Nancy, behind the counter instead when I arrived. She looked over the edge of her magazine when the door chimes softly rang. Her eyes lit up and she closed the magazine, setting it down on the counter as she stood from her stool.
"Jackie! Where have you been?" She came around the counter and gave me a hug, then held her hands on my shoulders and looked me over. "Are you okay?"
"It's been a hell of a week, Nan." I smiled at her as best I could. "I came by a couple weeks ago to prepare for the full moon, but I guess you were out."
"Yes, yes, he told me you said hi." She let go of my shoulders and waved me over as she went to the couches where they do consultations. "What happened this week? You want some tea?"
"I'm alright, thank you," I said, following her over and sitting down. "I have a little time before work. I just, I had a situation with a ghost."
"One situation?" I chuckled.
"Maybe I would take some tea. If you don't mind." She slapped her knees and then stood, heading into the back.
"Nonsense, child! You're family." I leaned back on the couch, looking up at the shards of colored glass hung from the ceiling that spun slowly and cast the sun from the windows all over the room. They had always been comforting to me, a thing I could fix my attention on that was alive enough to connect with, calm and warm enough to ease my mind. The first time I walked into this store I was nervous, and lost, and just starting to look for any knowledge that I hadn't picked up at home. The slow, patient rhythm of the colors flowing through the room were what made me feel comfortable to stick around and finally ask for a little bit of advice, which Sergei and Nancy had always been gracious to provide.
She returned with my tea and I thanked her, then began explaining the events with Alethea. I meant to give an overview, but found myself spilling everything, and I began to cry when I described the feeling of helplessness and distance when I was possessed. Nan scooted over and held me, waiting until I was ready to continue. When I finished, she rested her hand on my shoulder.
"So, this Alethea, you have no idea where she is now?" I shook my head. She nodded, looking off into the shop. "Okay. Okay, this is going to be difficult, but we may have something for it." She got up and walked over, shuffling through stock and muttering to herself. I sat for a moment, then tried to take a sip of my tea and found it cold. I sighed and stood, walking over to her.
"What are you looking for?"
"It's a powder, mixed it up a while ago but haven't needed it really. If I did it right, it should hold a ghost in one place, which would hopefully give you a chance to do...something to help, I guess."
"I have to find her first."
"We can work on that. But we want to know what to do when we find her before he go charging in again, yes?" She was half buried in a cabinet by this point, yelling out to me. I leaned on the edge of the cabinet and lightly ran my hand over the display case on it.
"Ah! Here it is!" She pulled out of the cabinet and leapt up to her feet, holding out a burlap pouch tied with twine. "Yes, this stuff, probably won't need all of it, just enough for a perimeter, really." I held out my hand and she set the pouch in it, then closed the cabinet and walked over to the counter.
"I should pay for this and get going. I still have to work today."
"It isn't inventory, just take it. But come back soon! I'll look for something we can use to find your ghost. In the meantime," she said, leaning on the counter toward me as I approached, "I suggest avoiding this new friend of yours, at least until you have an idea on what to do about her, okay?"
"That'll be easy. He flew back to Pittsburgh an hour ago."
"Good. But listen, if she's so keen on him, keep an eye out for people who may remind her of him. That might give you your trail."
"Thanks," I said, putting the pouch into my bag. "I hadn't thought of that."
"You haven't had time yet to think, dear. Be safe out there." She gave me one more hug and then sent me on my way, both of us waving as I went through the door.
31 October 2004
We were a couple hours into the party, running a series of horror movies on the tv, when Jacob decided to point a house out to John. He seemed to believe that John's interest in the paranormal would make him interested in living in a place like that. John gave him a half-hearted "yeah, nice" and moved on. While we were out having a smoke later, I decided to poke at it a bit.
"So, you didn't like that house, huh?" He snorted.
"That's some white nonsense," he said, laughing.
"You won't catch my black ass around anything demonic if I can help it."
"No? That too paranormal for you?" I asked, smiling and nudging him with my elbow.
"Yeah, that's it," he joked, nudging me back. "Nah, but, It's just, I deal with ghosts because I have to, you know? I can't not interact with them. And I've grown to find all that stuff interesting, so I'm cool with a bunch of spirits. But demons? True fae? Absolutely not. They're too dangerous. My dad made sure I knew the difference."
"Your dad deals with the paranormal?"
"To some degree. He has books, some of which were handed down, some he got. I don't know what he does with all of it, but I know he does enough that my mom left when she couldn't deal with it anymore." He took a drag from his cigarette and looked out at the alley for a moment. "He's always made sure I knew how dangerous some of this stuff was, and that I knew how to handle it. I could probably hold off a demon, if I needed to, but it's rarely worth it."
"What about gods?"
"There's something beyond the spiritual realm, where souls go and never return. I like to think there's a decent god over there."
"I meant more like, here. The gods."
"What, you mean like Greek and Egyptian and shit?" he asked. I nodded. He shrugged. "Yeah, I mean, they're probably around. Can't say I'd trust them, those stories were not flattering." I laughed. "Why, you know some gods?" he joked.
"Well, something like that, yeah." He shook his head. "I promise I'll be careful, okay?" I offered him my hand and he looked at it for a moment before shaking it.
"Deal. Can't lose all the good nymphs in this world."
30 october 2004
Last night was the final night of the new moon, so Matt and I had gone out to the lake to meditate. A couple other people went for company, including John, who kept his distance to avoid interfering. He seemed tense afterward, though, and when I asked about it he expressed concern about the spirits kicking around.
The guy bringing our paychecks got there after I left yesterday, so I had to go back today to get mine. I decided to invite John, partly because he was nice to hang out with and partly so we could talk about last night, and he agreed. While he was getting his shoes on and heading to the fire escape, I went downstairs to talk to Matt. We hadn't had a chance to really touch base about our meditations afterward, and I hated to wait too long.
I've been trying to figure out how the spiritual realm works, and my conversations with Matt tended to help. As a druid, his experience was generally a little different than mine, and the perspective gave my own experiences focus.
I was planning to just go through a few thoughts with him, but he was pretty shaken when I brought it up. He explained that he had concerns about John, that having him there was enough to cause difficulty for the whole thing, and he wasn’t sure why. I realized we’d never talked about the idea that John was an Anchor, or asked him to avoid Matt during the event, so I had to sit Matt down and explain what I knew. That did not go over well, Matt wanted him out of the house immediately out of concern for what he’d do by staying, and I had to remind him that he’d only be a few more days. It took a good bit longer than I expected, and I finally came upstairs fully prepared to apologize to John for the delay.
When I got up there, I didn’t see him anywhere, and I asked Jacob if he’d seen John. He explained that he just got in from the store, and didn’t know, so I went and looked outside. When I didn’t see John there, either, I came back in and checked the open bathroom, the kitchen, and the living room. There was no sign of him. I told Jacob to send him outside when he shows up, and went outside to wait. I lit my cigarette and stared off into the alley, trying to figure out how I was going to tell him that he’d caused a disruption last night. I was about halfway through my smoke when I heard a noise from inside, and then the door opened. I turned to see John walking out, rubbing his head and slightly limping. His eyes were huge, like he’d seen something.
“John, hey, where have you been?” I asked. He charged over and grabbed my shoulders, staring wild-eyed at me.
“I know what happened to Alethea!” I slipped backward, sliding out of his grasp, and took a deep drag.
“Where’d you get that name?” I asked after letting the smoke out.
“I saw her. I saw everything! I know what happened!”
“...what do you know?”
“It was abuse, Jackie.”
“I...yeah,” he said, looking confused. “Wait, I thought you said you didn’t know.”
“I did. Look, John, she was cautious, and she seemed to be hiding from you, and she asked me to keep things quiet, and everything pointed to keeping you in the dark. I don’t know what you did to see that, but I can’t have known that she would show you.” John turned away with a sigh, pulling out his cigarettes and lighting one. He took in and let out his first drag with his back to me before turning around.
“Okay. Fine, I get it. But we’re both in this now. What do we do with this information?”
“I don’t know. We’ll talk about it on the bus, okay? It’ll be here soon.” He nodded and we headed down the stairs and made our way to the street in silence.
29 october 2004
Went downtown with John and Jacob yesterday. It was fun, John and I got to explore a bunch of alleys and corners of the city that I never get to check out with anyone else. After everyone else went to sleep and it was just us on our couches, we talked for a while about magic. He showed me a book in his bag, he said it had various exorcism notes and a couple circles. I asked how that works, if he breaks magic and can't use it, and he explained that he seems to be able to push things out of the physical realm (or at least away from physical things), and he's not sure if that counts as magic so much as enforcing a world without magic. Which makes sense, I guess, if in a terribly frightening way.
How many people are there like him out there? Are they why magic is so hard to do? Did they create the divide between the worlds? There's stories that it wasn't always this way, that spirits used to walk among us so much easier, and that there are still places around the world where they still can. I was still sorting that out when I went to sleep, and my thoughts on the matter must have caught my Mentor's attention because I found myself standing beside my body and the black dog waiting for me. It was time to go to the Crossroads.
Over the years, as I've come more in touch with the element of water, this place has changed. It probably hasn't, not really, but I'm seeing it in a new way. The crossroads itself still looks about the same, but above us, rather than void or sky, is a great sea. It's like standing beneath the ocean, like really beneath it and not just in its depths, or maybe upside down above it. The shimmer of the water reflecting on the ground comforts me, makes everything we do so much easier.
"What troubles you, child?" She asked when we arrived. The dog went and laid down next to Her, as it usually did.
"I've--I've encountered someone who claims to break magic. Is that possible?"
"An Anchor." She remained silent for a moment, looking off at the distance, before her faces turned back to me. "You must be very careful. If this one is what they say, they 'ground' your world to physical laws. When Anchors fail to understand their purpose, they take and kill and destroy and never look back. Unchecked, they are a blight upon the world."
"What's their purpose?"
"The realm of spirits, the true world you've been learning to explore, has chaos, vibrant life, unlimited power flowing endlessly. But it also has structure, rules, a certain kind of order. The Two embody these traits for the realm. Anchors and Warlocks are liminal beings, and as such they are Mine to do with as I choose; but their basic function is to serve that balance. Warlocks bring the chaos of the spiritual world to the physical, Anchors bring the order of the physical back to the spiritual." She stepped forward and lightly touched my chin, raising my eyes to look into hers. I took a deep breath of her scent and focused on her central face. "But enough about that now," She said. "Be wary of this one, find out their intentions, but for now I have much to teach you."
"Yes, mistress." She smiled and drew back her hand, and we began.
When I returned, I found I couldn't get back into my body. She does this sometimes, to remind me that I do not rely on myself for the things I do. Normally, I would go into Jacob's dream, and ask him to wake my body, which tends to do the trick. But John was so much closer, so I decided to try him this time.
27 october 2004
Jacob had told us a little while earlier that a friend of his from out of town would be staying with us for a week, so I shouldn't have been surprised when I awoke to find a new man sleeping on the other couch. Still, it had been a rough night, and it took me a moment to remember what was happening and calm down. Matt and Judy came to the living room while I was calming down, and I had to assure them that I was just surprised and that nothing was actually wrong.
I learned that his name is John Matteson, and we talked a fair bit over shared smoke breaks on the fire escape. The conversation that stands out the most to me, however, happened later that night. We had been watching some new ghost hunters show, and while we were smoking after an episode I decided to ask what his views on the matter were. I wasn't sure what to expect; I knew everyone else in the apartment was some form of pagan, and held to views fairly similar to mine on the existence of ghosts and the means to contact them. John had been fairly open so far about who he was, but there had been little discussed about his beliefs except that he was not in any of our communities.
"How would you take the idea that not everyone needs rituals or special devices to see ghosts?" he suggested. I took a long drag and thought about it.
"I...would be interested to hear more of that." When I turned to look at him, he was staring up at the few stars visible in the city.
"I don't normally advertise it, I got a lot of crap for it growing up, but I can see spirits."
"What. Just like, all the time?" He nodded. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." I looked up at the sky with him for a minute in silence.
"What do you see now?"
"Stars, mostly. The things that tend to be up there are really far away. There's also a pretty pissed off ghost going down the street yelling about all the buildings, but I'd rather he not know I can see him. I'll never hear the end of it if he knows someone is listening." I wanted to know if he was telling the truth, but knew I probably didn't have time to run inside and grab supplies, so I bit my arm to draw just a little blood and tried to open my eyes to the spiritual realm. What I got instead was a sudden, painful static in my mind that felt like it was physically pushing me away from John. I must have winced because he turned to check on me and then sighed, touching my arm next to the bite. "Right. Sorry, I should've probably mentioned."
"Mentioned what?" I just managed to hiss as the static got worse.
"Stop trying to cast the spell." I opened my eyes and focused on the physical world. The fire escape, my cigarette, the man trying to clean the spot of blood off my arm, the light breeze coming off the lake a few blocks over. The static died down and I took a deep breath. He let go of my arm and turned back to the sky.
"What the hell was that? How did you know how to stop it?"
"I break magic. That's what happens when you try to do it too close to me." I flicked my cigarette into the alley and tried to gather my bearings.
"I, uh...I think I'm gonna go back in." He just nodded. As I went to grab the doorknob, though, I stopped and turned back. "Have you seen her?"
"The ghost in the bathroom. She's why everyone else uses the downstairs one."
"Everyone except you."
"Not yet, but thanks for the tip. Who is she?"
"I-I don't know yet." He made a 'hm' sound and turned to me.
"Are you asking for help?"
"Okay. I'll be in in a minute." I nodded and went inside. I'll have to look into this. Who the hell breaks magic?
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.