Over the Hedge
Shadow of Death, Part Eleven
4 November 2005
Matteson and Kyle, our other roommate, had a rather heated discussion at some point before I got home from Buhl Park and, while I didn't know exactly how it went, I do know that Matteson and I had spent the last couple days replacing the door and patching the walls and blocking off the windows with plastic until he could convince the landlord to get new ones. He insisted I didn't use magic, partly because he was concerned about the amount of effort I'd spent lately and the fact that my eye was now, apparently, permanently blue. I didn't tell him it was an incredible amount of effort to do any magic in the house anyway, since he had been living here long enough that the place itself seemed to take on some amount of his resistance to magic.
Truth is, he hadn't asked for my help at all, and seemed very hesitant to accept it. But I couldn't very well let him handle all of this alone, and he was away at work in the afternoon while I was painting over the last of the patches on the wall and heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, which was a little difficult because we had hung the door slightly crooked--an issue we were planning to correct that night--but when I got it open I found Lori standing there with a box.
"Lori! Please, come in!" I took the box and led her inside, sitting down on the couch while she stood near the door. "How are you holding up, hon?"
"I'm not sure yet." She crossed her arms and slinked in, sitting on the arm of the love seat.
"Right. Well, Matteson isn't here right now, he-"
"He's at work. I know, that's why I came now."
"Ah. Okay." I opened the box and found a stack of pictures, a shirt, and a bunch of old books.
"She...the other one, she stole all his books on possession and exorcism and ghosts, you know. I knew where she put them, of course, so I thought I'd return them."
"That does explain a lot. Look, Lori-"
"I'm not ready to have the conversation you want to have. I appreciate all you did for me, but...not yet." I stopped, then nodded. "Thank you." She turned to leave.
"Stay safe out there." She paused, then turned to me with a weak smile.
"You, too. Thanks for everything." She closed the door on her way out, and I carried the box into the study.
Shadow of Death, Part Nine
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.
Shadow of Death, Part Seven
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.
Shadow of Death, Part Five
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."
Shadow of Death, Part Three
31 October 2005
I tried to lift myself off the floor, but as soon as I put weight on my right arm it collapsed under me and I fell back into the broken table and shattered glasses. I cried out in pain and used my left arm instead, slowly working my way to my feet. I checked my right arm and found a large burn covering much of it. It was a minor burn, I knew it would heal soon enough, but in the meantime that arm was feeling very weak and I knew I wouldn't be able to throw energy like that without a lot of preparation again any time soon. I winced as I pulled a few pieces of glass out of my side and leg, and then limped into the living room.
Lori/Alethea was gone, the room looked like a bomb had gone off, and Matteson was sprawled out on the floor under a cracked and dented area of the wall. I made my way to him and shook him awake, and as he groaned and rolled over I dropped onto the couch.
"Fuck," he muttered, rubbing his head, "that was really her, huh?"
"Yeah, mister 'I'm watching for her,' that was her. Probably this whole time! Which would explain some things..."
"Look, I didn't know, I-"
"That was the one thing you said you'd do! You were supposed to be able to see her coming! I did everything I could to warn you, and you couldn't even piece it together while you were actively fucking her?!" He punched the floor, then sat up and leaned back against the wall, staring at the ceiling.
"She said I ruined everything."
"Well, I'd hate to agree with her, but right now I'm kinda feeling-"
"She was trying to have a kid, Jackie. And she didn't react that way any of the months when she didn't get pregnant." I stopped and looked at him as a tear trickled down his cheek. "She had asked me a few times to buy her pads, but I hadn't really thought about the fact that she hadn't for the last few months."
"Oh shit. John, I-" He wiped the tear from his cheek and turned to me.
"We have to save Lori."
"Look, you're clearly going through something right now."
"It'll have to wait. She needs us, Jackie." I saw in his eyes that he was committed to seeing this through now, which I have to admit was somewhat comforting. I wasn't really ready to face her alone. I nodded.
"Okay. Let me get my stuff. I have an idea, but if this is how she's handling things now," I said, waving my hand to indicate the state of the room, "we'll need to draw her out into the open. Somewhere close, so she can find us, but where there's no people."
"Will it take a while to set up?" I nodded. "Then I have an idea."
Golden Calf, Part Twenty-One
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.
Golden Calf, Part Nineteen
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.
Golden Calf, Part Seventeen
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.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.
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