Over the Hedge
15 November 2006
Matteson had been tearing through his dad’s books in the basement for a little over a week, and I finally determined to find out why. Part of me had assumed at the beginning that this was just some part of the mourning process for him, dealing with things his dad left behind, but it was starting to look unmistakably like research, and that probably meant he was trying to do something. It seemed like it was going to my place to make sure that something wasn’t something stupid.
When I got into the basement, I found the table covered in open books and pieces of paper with notes written on them in a massive pile. I couldn’t see any way to make sense of any of it, but there he was, poring over one book then reaching over to snatch up some note from under another book and making comparisons. This had to be one of those Matteson systems, that don’t make sense to anyone else.
“What’s all this?” I asked. He snapped upright to look at me, as if he hadn’t realized I was there. His eyes were a bit wide and unfocused, and I suddenly found myself wondering when he last slept.
“Reading…these books? Is your power?”
“No, no, it’s not…it’s what they say about my power. He never told me about this! He never told me he had these references! I had to find out about it from the priest!”
“Okay, okay,” I said, exaggerating the calm tone to try to offset his crazed one. I sat down. “And what do they say about your power?”
“Well, very little directly, I guess, but when you take them together…”
“Please do.” He took a deep breath and plopped backward into a chair.
“I want a cigarette. Maybe we should go upstairs.”
“There’s no smoking in the library.”
“Well, it’s…” he trailed off and then just sat there, staring off into space. Slowly, he started to look around the room, then he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. “Oh. Right. Well, uh…says me, now, I guess.” I started to wonder if that was really the right way to handle that, but before I could say anything to soften it he was up again and making his way to the stairs. I sighed and followed. “You remember the garbage truck? With the red spiral?” he asked as he stepped out of the stairway and into the kitchen. He grabbed his cigarettes off the counter and pulled one out.
“How could I forget?” He tapped his pockets for a second, then lit a burner on the stove and leaned over to light his cigarette from it.
“I told Benedict about it, when we met,” he explained, waving his hand around as he did so and walking into the living room. I turned off the stove and followed, grabbing my own cigarettes and lighter from the arm of the couch when we both sat down. He kept talking the whole time. “So he and Akshainie went to investigate, and they found out that that little ghost town had been taken over by the cult. They were doing some ritual, some kind of test, and they separated that town from the rest of the metaphysical realm.”
“That sounds…terrifying. But how is this relevant?”
“Because they did so by mimicking what I do. This wasn’t some special spell designed just for that town, this was some power they pulled from their knowledge of Anchors, apparently. Or at least theory that lines up with us.”
“I thought you said you just break magic.”
“I did say that! Because I thought that! But according to Dad’s notes and some of his books, that isn’t true. And he never told me. I don’t know why he never told me.” He sat in silence for a moment, and I reached over with one hand and rubbed his back a bit to remind him he wasn’t alone. He took a few more drags before continuing. “Anyway. So now Benedict and Akshainie are off looking for more sites like that.”
“Okay, so, what is it exactly that you now believe you do when you encounter magic?”
“According to these records, I reshape reality. Sort of. Not really, but that seems to be the best way some of these sources describe it? Basically, there’s this wild and chaotic nature to the metaphysical realm, and this ordered and structured nature to the natural world, and—”
“Anchors impose order on the metaphysical and Warlocks bring chaos into the physical.”
“That is a way more simple way to describe it.”
“Hec—she, my mentor, said it. I didn’t really know what she meant, but this all makes sense now.”
“Well, first, tell me more about this ritual at the town.”
“Okay, so, according to Benedict, they were trying to separate the town from the rest of the metaphysical realm, and have it operate according to their own design. A couple of the books downstairs theorize that this could be done if someone was able to create a stable form of my, well, somewhat uncontrolled aura. And Dad speculated that if the cult could create such a stable bubble, and was able to find a way to create one large enough, they could create an entirely new metaphysical realm over a significant area and use that to separate the people in that area from the existing gods and warp their minds.”
“Which would give them incredible power over the people in it.”
“Power, nothing. This would make an entire new kind of person. A group of humans completely independent from the unifying experience of humanity and the collected mythos of all of mankind. I mean, these are the templates we all pull from, these are the archetypes Jung pointed to, these are the dreams and nightmares we all share. Creating a stable bubble which contains a lot of living people in it would make them a blank slate, with none of those common influences seeping in.”
“Which is why you were able to keep her away from me in Chicago. You severed me from the realm of the gods that night. But wait, why are you affected by the common mythos of mankind?”
“Well, I didn’t set any rules for the thing I’m imposing on the world, I guess? Since I didn’t design this…bubble, I guess, around me, it doesn’t work in exactly the same way. But when I actively try to shut down a specific magic, I guess I do it by willing it not to exist in the part of the realm I control.”
“Can you do that? Could you, if you wanted to, make yourself completely independent of the global metaphysical realm?”
“Hecate seemed to think I could.”
“She said I have a lot of potential, could stand against gods if I wanted to. She seemed kind of impressed that I was able to shake off her own magic when she stopped time around me.”
“But what would she want with that?” He shrugged.
“Beats me. Maybe she’s pissed at Zeus. Either way, the fact that the cult not only wants that power, but seems to already have it to a degree, seems like the bigger problem.”
“I suppose so.” We both sat thinking for a moment, then he patted my knee and stood.
“Well, anyway. Now we know what we’re dealing with, maybe, we need to start figuring out what to do about it.” I agreed, and we returned to the basement to start studying together.
2 November 2006
As soon as Matteson left to handle his tasks for the day concerning his father’s funeral, I called Rick and Marz and told them to get over to the house. It was maybe ten minutes later when Rick pulled up in a moving truck we had rented, and Marz showed up shortly thereafter with a carload of people from the Columbia. Over the next half hour the rest of Matteson’s band and assorted friends arrived and jumped in on the work.
The night before, after Matteson and I made plans with Kyle to facilitate moving out of this place to his dad’s house, I had started making plans. The fact is, Matteson wasn’t going to be up to doing this work, at least not any time soon, and he really needed something good in his life right now. Getting everyone to show up and help was actually fairly easy, as soon as I made the right calls, and thankfully the UHaul place had a truck available for today. We split into two teams, one moving furniture and the other grabbing all of the assorted stuff Matteson or I owned and throwing it into boxes. His books were the biggest challenge, but Charles showed up with a collection of milk crates and he and Bob made relatively short work of that.
We beat the pizza delivery to the new house by about fifteen minutes, and took a break to eat while I called Matteson and asked about the things he had to finish for the day. He said he’d probably be a while yet, and I reminded him to eat before returning to work myself. The challenge here was really knowing how much stuff already in the house we could really move. The milk crates full of books went straight to the basement, where his dad’s books were already kept, and the bookcases were put down there as well. None of us was willing to take on the task of actually unpacking the books—whatever system Matteson used to organize his books, it wasn’t very well understood by any of us, so we figured it was best if we didn’t guess.
But it was a three-bedroom house, and Henry had only been occupying one ever since Matteson moved out. One was basically just storage, so we moved that stuff to the attic to be sorted out later and moved my stuff in there. The other had been Matteson’s when he lived there, and was mostly empty except for some things he’d left behind and never got around to picking up, so we unpacked Matteson there. I closed off Henry’s bedroom and we made a point not to touch anything there. I’m sure he’ll want to go through everything and rearrange, but that can wait until he’s ready.
We had another meal delivered at 6, and I got a call from Kyle at 6:20 that Matteson’s car had pulled up to the old house and, before Kyle could tell him to come here, pulled away again. Sure enough, Matteson arrived a few minutes after that, and when he came in we all greeted him and encouraged him to sit down and eat. The funeral is tomorrow, after all. Can’t have him worrying about stuff or losing his energy now. He was confused, at first, but very thankful once he saw what we had done.
After everyone else left, we watched a movie and talked about anything but tomorrow. He even tried to explain his system for organizing books. I think it’s more confusing now than it was before.
3 November 2006
Today was Henry Matteson’s funeral. Turnout was small, but I didn’t manage to meet everyone; most of the ones I did were people who knew him from his job as an economics professor at the Penn State branch downtown. Matteson introduced me to a priest named Benedict, who I was told was a very old associate of Henry’s but didn’t look more than a few years older than us, and a similarly-aged woman named Akshainie who was with him. They, in turn, introduced me to a heavily-scarred man who looked to be in his thirties, named Tadzio. He talked about Henry as if they’d known each other since Henry was a boy, and I made a note to ask Matteson later exactly what kind of company his father had kept outside of work.
Henry didn’t have much family left, basically just Matteson, and it made me realize for the first time that this meant Matteson probably didn’t have any family left. I had never seen nor heard of anyone on his mom’s side, and neither Matteson nor his dad had any siblings. I had already agreed to move in with him now that he was inheriting his dad’s place, but it was only at the funeral when I realized how important it probably was for his friends to be there for him now.
And they were. His band, Rick, Charles, Bob, and an assortment of people I had never met and a few I had only met in passing came at least to pay respects at the viewing. Matteson told me later that even Kastor came by, but had trouble wrapping his head around the nature of the event.
The service was nice, and many people had good things to say about Henry. He had a plot already purchased in Oakwood Cemetery, and while the temperature was brisk the very slight amount of rain ended before we arrived. After that was a potluck at the house, and a group of us friends worked together to clean up and store food after people started filtering out. I sent Matteson upstairs to get a shower and change while we cleaned up, and by the time he returned I was the only person left. He sat down on the couch next to me, avoiding his dad’s recliner, and began to tell me about growing up in this house. I let him rest his head against me and wrapped my arm around him as he talked.
There, as the sun began to go down outside, he finally broke down and cried.
2 August 2006
“Sounds like you had a hell of a night,” Matteson said from the kitchen, where he was putting his plate from breakfast into the sink. I was sitting on the love seat and lighting a cigarette after explaining my time spent with the Fates. I heard water running, and after it shut off he came back drying his hands. “Does this mean you’re a few weeks older than you were yesterday?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a groan as I turned and laid down. He walked over, lifted my legs, sat down under them, and put my feet back on the arm of the seat. “That’s hardly the point, though.” He tossed the towel onto the coffee table and lit his own cigarette.
“You sure? It seems important.”
“Sure. Look, I’m coming to you about this partly because few other people would believe me, and partly because I’m concerned about what Hec—the goddess wants from you.”
“Oh, she already tried recruiting me.” He leaned his head back and I propped myself up.
“Yeah, it was,” he waved his cigarette around, as if trying to remember, “I dunno, a little after the Alethea situation. She stopped time around me, sent some dog, I met her on a tropical island. It was all very interesting.”
“And you never told me?!”
“Sorry, I thought I had. Besides, you didn’t mention Kastor having a message for me.”
“That seemed a bit less important.” He shrugged.
“Probably was. But yeah, I told her to take a hike, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I laid my head back down.
“She isn’t going to just give up, you know. She believes she owns you in some way.”
“Pft. Europeans.” I choked out a quick laugh. “But now we both know, and we can keep an eye out for it, right? You got my back.”
“As long as you got mine.” He gave me a fist bump, and then we sat in silence for a couple minutes.
“Who wants a drink!” he called, lifting my legs again and hopping up to his feet.
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“And I’m off today!” I sighed and considered the 'night' I’d had.
“Make me one of those things with the rum you whipped up last week.”
24 July 2006
I didn’t get to see the actual race for Small Ships Revue because I was busy getting everything we would need for our set organized and in a safe location near the stage to allow for quick set up. When I asked later how we did to a few of the actors who had already begun drinking, I was reminded that winning the race isn’t really the point, so I assume we did pretty poorly.
The event was much larger than I expected, and I was informed that people come from all over the area to attend. It certainly looked like there were more people than I realized had even lived in Sharon; in retrospect, I should have probably expected that the area was more populated than it looked from the low number of people I generally saw wandering around downtown, but I was still thinking in terms of my years in Chicago and didn’t think it through. At any rate, the bar and the massive parking lot behind the Lube were packed with people the entire day, and Rick made a point of showing me around to all the normal attractions that tended to be included. When it came time to get ready for our set, I met the rest of the group and Matteson’s band near the stage area and we went over the order of things one last time.
The set was well received, the music was helpful, but Rick and Charles said that whoever was mixing the audio put too much of the band in and there were a couple bits that were hard to hear. Still, we raised a couple hundred dollars for the theater and the band drummed up interest in their CDs, so we considered it a success. At the end of the set, I was introduced for the first time as a full member of the theater troop, and for me, that was the highlight of the day.
20 April 2006
We learned this week that The Lube was going to let us put on a few short acts during Small Ships Revue. I had no idea what that was, so the rest of the group explained that every year there's a race down the Shenango River from the north side of town to the Lube, the only rule being that there could be no motors involved, and this largely took the form of wild floats made to drift down the river while crowds lined up on the streets and bridges above, everyone involved is drinking, and it ends with a massive block party. The theatre remodel group, which included most of us anyway, had commissioned a float already, but now we were actually getting the use of a stage area during some of the party.
We decided on a couple short comedy scenes, things that people could wander over and enjoy without following a whole story. I had Matteson come to the meeting today, and he informed the group that his band was willing to do music for us but needed to know what that would include so they could practice. So we dug out the musical scores for the one scene that had them, and worked out some idea of how the rest should work, and he left with that and copies of the scripts so they could start working on things, and we all agreed on a time to meet and practice with the actors and the band.
I'm very excited to see how this all plays out.
31 December 2005
It was a lot of work, but we managed to get the house repaired and ready in time for the New Year's Eve party. I had invited people from the theatre group, and of course Rick and Charles and Bob and Matteson's band were all planning to be there, and Matteson explained that there was almost always at least a few people that would show up as a friend-of-a-friend that he had never met before. I offered to cancel when I saw how bad Matteson was taking things over the past week, but he insisted he could use the distraction and refused to cancel another major party.
I knew this likely meant he would not be as invested as usual, but since I knew almost everyone coming by this time, I figured I could handle it. He helped set up and greet people, but as soon as there were enough people that they could largely entertain themselves I pretended not to notice him slip away.
After about an hour, Rick asked a couple people from the troupe about improv. Some had experience with it, others didn't, but with a few more drinks they were all willing to give it a go. He started soliciting prompts from the rest of the party and throwing them at the actors, who pretty quickly occupied the living room and made use of anything they could find there or have handed to them. We never turned the music off, so sometimes that was part of the bit and sometimes it wasn't. Some of it was abysmal, but there were some amazing highlights and Rick managed to keep it interesting and get people invested throughout. By midnight, basically everyone was involved in some way or another, even if it was just handing people more drinks and snacks or yelling out some new element Rick would decide whether or not to give to the actors. I was, if I'm honest, a bit impressed.
During the last half hour before midnight, Rick was pretending to be Dick Van Dyke and narrating the various forms of entertainment happening at his wild New Year's Eve countdown while the actors tried to keep up. We'd lost four to sleep or the need to rest and throw up by then. I had jumped in to replace one. We were painfully loud at the stroke of midnight, and when people grabbed someone nearby to kiss at 0, I turned to find Rick and made the split second decision that maybe there was more to him than I'd assumed.
I don't remember what time everyone else left. Some people were trickling out by one o'clock, some people just crashed on the couches and floor. I left the party at about 1:30, leading Rick by hand to my room.
1 November 2005
Once we all recovered from the flash, I saw Matteson walking toward us. He was holding his side and limping slightly, and missing his hoodie. The guard was done tending to Lori, so he stood and turned to Matteson with his fists on his hips.
"What the hell was all that!?" he demanded, waving a hand toward the destroyed clearing.
"Death," Matteson said, walking past him and dropping down into the grass in front of Lori and me. He grunted when he landed, and the guard continued surveying the damage.
"Are you okay?" I asked. He waved the question off and looked at Lori.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm not sure yet," she answered, softly, before looking Matteson over. "Where's your hoodie?"
"Wasn't that your favorite hoodie?"
"Yes, it was. I take it you remember everything, then?" She nodded, and he groaned and leaned forward.
"I'm sorry. I swear, if I'd known-"
"I know," she said, looking down again and pulling the blanket tighter. "I also have some of her memories. Including how you responded to her first attempt in Chicago." We were all silent for a few minutes, until the guard turned back to us.
"I gather this is a very difficult moment for all of you, but I really need some idea how I'm supposed to explain this shit to the Trust." I stood up.
"You don't have to worry about that. I came prepared to clean up this mess," I answered, then looked over at the clearing. "Though it may be slightly more difficult than I expected."
"How're you gonna do that!?"
"Forgive me if I wait here to see it for myself."
"That's fine. You may be able to help, even. But first," I turned back to the others, "do you guys need anything?"
"I want to go home," Lori said. Matteson stood up with a grunt.
"I can give you a ride, if that's okay," he said. She nodded, and he helped her to her feet. "Should I come back for you?" he asked me.
"No. This is going to be difficult enough, you stay as far away as you can. I'll call Rick if I need a ride home." He nodded, then helped Lori as they walked back to Alpha. I set my backpack on the ground and began pulling out materials. "Now, officer. If you would be so kind as to grab some of the wood and stone that was thrown around?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Because they remember what this place was earlier today. You'll see." He rubbed his temples, groaned, then walked off to grab supplies while muttering.
1 November 2005
We watched as Matteson and Alethea/Lori continued their fight, as Matteson took one hit after another and started to stumble. I was growing afraid that he was falling when he suddenly stepped forward, but instead he caught her on a pass and screamed as his back was slammed against the stones and wood that had formed a small wall behind him. The wind around us died, and we took cover from the things that suddenly weren't being pulled into a circle anymore. There were trees breaking and one of Alpha's windows was taken out by a stray rock as we hid behind the car. We waited a moment to make sure it was over, then heard what sounded like an explosion as another volley of rocks and dirt and wood erupted in every direction. We glanced over the hood and trunk to see Lori laying in the grass next to Matteson, who was kneeling on the ground. I didn't even have time to say anything about it before the guard was off, running directly into the middle of everything. I stood, ready to help him if Alethea attacked while he was out in the open, but he lifted Lori without incident and started running toward his SUV. I realized he likely had a first aid kit in there, and ran over to meet him there and help.
He set her down, sitting on the road with her back against his tire, and asked me to check on her while he ran around the other side to get the kit from his glove compartment. I sat down next to her, and she turned and looked at me for a moment before breaking down. I wrapped my arm around her, and she buried her face in my neck as she cried. The guard returned and asked her if she was ready for him to tend her wounds, and she sniffled and wiped her cheeks and nodded. I kept my right arm around her shoulders, and held her hand with my left hand as the guard went about his work.
"I...I knew what she was doing, Jackie. I couldn't stop her."
"No one could have expected you to. I'm so sorry we didn't realize it sooner."
"I can still feel her. It's like...and I can remember. I remember her memories, the things that happened to her, the decades in isolation, the..." she trailed off and started crying again, and I asked the guard if he had a blanket for her. He told me where it was in the SUV, and I got up to grab it and wrap it around her. We looked over toward Matteson who seemed to be talking to, we presumed, Alethea, but we were too far away to hear. We were still watching when a bright light engulfed him and forced us to turn away.
1 November 2005
We didn't know how much damage Alethea could actually do, but I had proposed that we treat her more as a poltergeist than a true ghost. Whatever had happened to her since she was released from that bathroom in Chicago had clearly changed her, made her more powerful, more angry, more meticulous. To carry on a months-long possession and trick Matteson into a relationship with someone who he had never seen outside of possession was something that didn't line up with what I had learned of her before; neither her personality nor her power could quite account for it. I feared I had all the answer I needed for that when I saw the small altar Matteson had retrieved from her apartment. If Hecate was involved, and that was certainly an altar designed for her, this must be far larger than I had realized. I kept most of those concerns to myself for the time being, though, as Matteson needed to focus on the immediate threat instead of getting distracted with the big picture. It was hard enough to keep just me from wondering what she could possibly want with this situation, let alone both of us.
True to my concerns, the power she unleashed when she arrived was terrifying to watch. There was lightning setting fires in the grass that slowly started to spread, trees being torn apart by what seemed to be a very localized tornado, rocks and dirt and broken shards of wood flying everywhere. I was, for the moment, far enough away that there was no immediate threat to me, but I didn't know if Matteson would get control of the situation before her anger grew to consume the whole park. I also learned that his power was not as passive as I had expected. It was not simply that the wind and lightning weren't reaching him, which was notable enough, but the objects being carried by the wind were suddenly taking a dive into the ground a few feet away from him, leaving a ring of debris perfectly surrounding him. In the midst of everything, I almost didn't notice the park guard pull up in his SUV and get out near the trees, watching with his mouth and eyes wide.
"You don't want to be here right now!" I screamed to him, he looked over at me, then back to the flying woman divebombing Matteson and raining down destruction around him, then ran over to me.
"What the hell is going on here? You people can't be doing this!"
"We're trying to stop this! We couldn't do it anywhere else, could you imagine this happening in someone's yard?" He grumbled, and pulled out a radio, and I reached over and put my hand on his arm. He looked at me, and I silently pleaded with him to stop. With a huff, he put the radio back, and turned to watch.
"I'm gonna have a hell of a time explaining this in the morning."
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.