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.
There is a division between the physical and the metaphysical realms, though the exact nature of it seems to vary. I've only had to interact with it in Chicago, where it is thick and dark. But Abuela said that back in Honduras it was thin and airy, bright and covered in flowers. She told me stories from before the Europeans arrived, when the division between realms was like the surface of water, when the only thing really keeping a mage from diving too deep or dwelling too long was not the difficulty of crossing, but of staying.
This claim raised a number of questions for me, so I began to study other concepts of the division from around the world. Sometimes called a wall, or a veil, or any of a number of other such concepts, I have come to understand it as a hedge. This is partly because it was the manner in which I had always known it through Abuela's descriptions, but I was also convinced that no other title adequately described the variety of its experience or the fact that it seems to be alive in its own way. The living, changing nature of it is part of what I think explains the history I was taught. My best guess is that the Victorians are to blame.
The first thing to note is that the metaphysical realm itself is not static. Whatever else may be true of it, it is a dynamic realm where the thoughts or emotions of human beings seems to leave a direct impact. Nan's study of auras suggests there is something more to them than a revelation of what people are feeling, and Abuela said that our dreams and fears and memories walk alongside us on the other side of the hedge. Hecate taught me that seeing what was really happening in the metaphysical realm requires a still and disciplined mind, as any fluctuations I bring with me will change both my perception of the realm and the realm itself; but she also taught that strong connection to one's own emotions aids in accessing the power of the realm for other forms of magic.
The only conclusion I can draw from these notes and my own studies and experiences is that the metaphysical realm is fundamentally reactive, that its very nature is to reflect what is poured into it. It is the astral plane where minds meet, and the realm of dreams, and the great pool of human memory and desire and terror, and the abode of spirits. Are minds inherently connected? Did we create the realm? Was it created alongside us? Is it possible that there was a time before the realm, and that something bound all of mankind to it? Is it any more, or any less, possible that it existed before us and that somehow we either connected to it or arose from it? If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, is it connected to the realm, or to their own version of it, or not at all?
Wherever the realm came from and however it came to reflect us, the division that keeps the physical separate from the metaphysical seems to share its nature. It is reactive, putting up as much resistance to us as we give to it. This would explain why the hedge is so much more daunting in Chicago, where there is very little acknowledgement of it, than it is in a village where the existence of the spiritual is simply an assumed part of daily life. It also may explain the change that happened to harden the hedge, apparently on a global scale.
The Victorians were in a unique position in that they had novel ideas about spirits and the means to enforce those ideas in other cultures. Victorian spiritualism introduced the idea of a hard barrier between the physical and the spiritual, a massive wall that could not be broken without significant effort and cost. Their fiction and nonfiction writings that touch on the matter reflect this notion, and their deep interest in the spiritual meant that they spent a great deal of time honing this idea and reinforcing it in their own minds and culture. Under any other circumstance, this would have created a stronger wall in places where they congregated in large numbers, but had little effect anywhere else. But this was the height of the British Empire, which meant that they congregated everywhere. Their ideas spread naturally among their own world-spanning culture, and their subjugation of other cultures ensured that what they believed about the world was taught to these other cultures. Their literature, which was placed as the global standard, forced other writers to explore the themes and ideas that they had written about. Finally, the spread of these ideas across European borders into other colonial powers sent these ideas to their own empires. By the time the Victorian age had come to a close, the vast majority of the world had been force fed a concept of spirituality that put a hard division between realms.
With that many people all around the world believing the spiritual was inaccessible, the metaphysical realm had to make itself inaccessible. It had no means of fighting against the popular tide of the human imagination because it does not, and possibly cannot, operate fully independent of that imagination. This inaccessibility became the hedge that now stands between the realms and has never been fully uprooted. This hedge has made the spirits more distant from us, made the energy that fuels magic a more limited resource, and I cannot imagine that putting distance between humans and the one thing that unifies us all has been a positive influence on history.
Colonialism killed magic, and its blood still drips from the thorns of the Hedge.
Nan told me some months ago that it was probably not worth the effort to dig much into the two beings that appeared to me when I was tracking down Alethea. But something about them seemed important, and the lack of solid information on them in the lore we knew kept nagging at me. I had to see if I could find anything.
The first lead we had was the idea that they might be Odin's ravens, who were tasked with traveling around the world and reporting what they saw to their king. But the description given of them was vague at best, and they did not strike me as beings who answered to a Norse deity that would have no reason to interact with me. Their behavior did not strike me as passive observers. And when I sat down to think about it, I began to suspect I had heard something of them from Hecate.
It took a great deal of digging before I realized that the only places where I found references that may have described this pair were on the fringes. They were background entities, present for a great many first-hand accounts but rarely active enough to be remembered in later tales based on the events. Other spirits seem to know of them, though my experience and what I've heard from Nan suggests they are not a comfortable topic of discussion. But a few universal facts arose; they alternate between human and raven forms, they are always seen together, and they possess great power but are rarely seen using it. Then I began to put the words used to describe them into columns and that was when I noticed that the descriptions of the woman always seemed chaotic, wild, and active, while the descriptions of the man always seemed ordered, reserved, and cryptic.
When Hecate told me about Anchors and Warlocks, she claimed that they represented the same forces that 'The Two' represented; Anchors brought physical order to the metaphysical realm, while Warlocks brought metaphysical chaos to the physical realm. By association, then, perhaps the man (who is always described as clean dressed as human or solid black as a raven) is Order and the woman (who is always described as composed of swirling energy) is Chaos.
But what are they? Do they influence both realms? Do they influence only one? Or are they simply beings who operate in the domains of order and chaos and do not themselves control it? Hecate deeply hates ravens; is it possible that these beings claim some dominion over Anchors and Warlocks (who she also claims dominion over), and if so, are they rivals to her? Are they rebellious servants of hers, originally tasked as intermediaries between her and the humans under her domain?
There is something to this connection between her and them, and I cannot help but feel it is the reason they arrived in my life when they did. I cannot let this go now. I have to learn more.
16 December 2004
"That was it, wasn't it?" I asked, looking at the newspaper sitting between me and Sergei. "I felt her attacking her father."
"Could be," he replied. "Could well be."
"How are you feeling?" Nan asked.
"I had to lay down the rest of that day. It was too much. But I'm better now." She nodded.
"Now, about these other beings you saw."
"The ravens! Are you familiar with them?"
"These are Odin's," Sergei offered.
"Well," Nan said, giving him a side-eyed glance, "maybe. Their exact nature is less clear, but I did ask some spirits and one said that Huginn has a blue glow in all her forms, one prominent one being a raven."
"And she travels with Muninn," he said, pointing at me.
"Yes, yes. But we don't know if that was her, or Muninn, or what their actual relationship to Odin would be. Huginn and Muninn are hardly the only raven spirits in the world. Though if it was them, it's worth noting that the spirits I met with were very hesitant to invoke their names, or even vague titles, which is highly unusual."
"Maybe it was them, though. What were they doing there? Why did they help me?"
"It's hard to know if what they did really counts as 'helping,' but unless they show up again there's little point worrying about it. We should make a note of it and focus on what we've learned about Alethea." Nan sat down next to me and rested her hand on my knee. "I think we need to consider the possibility that she has become something more like a poltergeist."
"No, no. She has to be someone we can still help!"
"She's killing people, Jackie."
"The abuser who killed her! I think that falls within what can be expected from a ghost."
"What about the Mattesons?"
"We don't know if she actually killed them, but even if she did, we don't know why. But we know she was scared and recently unbound and may not have been in her right state of mind at the time."
"My concern is that we don't really know what the right state of mind for a fifty-year-old trauma ghost even is. And if she did kill them, your friend and anyone else who reminds her of him may be in trouble." I stood up and started pacing.
"I can't. I can't just give up on her. I helped create this situation, don't you see? I have to try to make it right!"
"Maybe making it right means facing her as an enemy instead of a lost soul."
"Are you willing to assume that? To go after her like some terrible spirit instead of the victim of a terrible situation that she still hasn't escaped?" Nan took a deep breath and leaned on the counter. She looked down for a moment, then finally met my gaze.
"All I'm saying is that we shouldn't rule it out. Just give me that much. For your safety." I rested my hands on my hips and stared off toward the drifting colors on the ceiling. Finally, I crossed my arms and looked at Nan and Sergei.
"Fine. We'll consider it a possibility. But I'm not ready to give up on trying to save her." Nan nodded, then turned to the counter and patted the chair next to her.
"Good. Now, let's work on some plans."
18 November 2004
I'm running. I'm jumping. I can hear the large stone sword crack the street behind me. I take a sharp left and feel my foot go out from under me; rather than fall flat, I push out with the other foot so I can roll. Pieces of asphalt fly around me and I shield my face with one hand as I use the other to push off the ground and scramble. I know She's telling me to focus. I can't hear her, but I feel myself trying to process her words. She wants me to know where the statue is, to think through my actions, to begin fighting back. I need to fight back.
I'm four years old and running through the trees with the roar of death behind me. I need to get away but I feel Her, even here, nudging me. Know your enemy.
I'm six years old in the desert with Abuela. She's tired and thirsty and trying to find words in a new language. I see a military uniform and try to run. She isn't as fast as she used to be and uses magic to catch me. I want to know why she didn't use it to save them. I scream.
The ground buckles under my feet. I jump. I can see it, now. The statue is staring right at me and I meet its gaze. She is beyond it, watching. Waiting. I know she isn't going to save me. I need to see the path myself.
Abuela teaches me to open my eyes and see the way. I'm afraid of the Hedge. The thorns only bite if you push against the Hedge. Let them guide you, learn to move with them instead of against them.
The world is breaking apart. I have trouble finding my footing. The flowing energy of the Realm is like a strong wind that refuses to slow down and be caught in the lungs. It bites to push against it. I'm not listening.
I take a deep breath and reach out with tiny hands and run my palm slowly along a thorn. I know which way it goes. I look at the other thorns and begin to see a path between them.
The statue is full of energy but not life. It moves without knowing how to move. I'm moving without remembering how to move. I see it struggle to turn the wrong way. I know what to do.
Abuela rests her hand on my shoulder and points. I see the path. I see the house in the clearing away from the soldiers. I see the way the world flows. I throw myself along the path. I reach out with adult hands and run my palm through the wind. The statue spins when I'm not where it expects. It raises its sword but not this time. This time I bring the storm with me. The roar of death follows me but I know this time it does not come for me.
I exhale, and close my eyes to feel the way. I know my enemy. I know what force I bring with me. I scream.
Nan looks at me in silence for a few minutes, then smiles.
"Saying it out loud helps, doesn't it?" I nod. "Do you know what you need to do?" I sit up, when did I start leaning forward? I sit up and look her in the eyes.
"I think I do. Thank you."
18 November 2004
"The problem," I said, laying the book down on the counter, "is that I have no idea what I'm looking for." Sergei was standing on the other side of the counter, looking through a newspaper while Nan counted the money for the day in the back. The shop had closed twenty minutes earlier, but she had invited me to come by and work on 'our project,' as they called it. We were still trying to find Alethea.
"And this girl, she is for sure problem?" he asked.
"I don't know! I mean, maybe? She certainly was when she was trapped at the apartment. But I mean, I still feel like I owe it to her to help, you know?"
"Is good of you. But how long do we give?"
"She waited fifty years for John to turn up. I don't think we can assume she's in a rush now."
"And you are looking where he is?"
"He says he is, but I don't know what he's doing about that." Sergei gave a concerned hum and turned the page of his newspaper. "To be honest, though, I suspect she's still in Chicago. Or nearby."
"It's like...it's almost like a gut feeling, you know? That she's not too far away."
"This is real sense, or worry?"
"I don't know yet."
"And your Mistress? Would she know?"
"She...I haven't seen her all month."
"This is odd?"
"Yes. I don't know what's going on with that, usually I'd see her at least a few times a week."
"She is busy, maybe?" I gave him a tired look and he laughed.
"I'm concerned it's about John."
"Your little night together?" I nodded. "Is she..." He waved his hand, as if trying to remember the word.
"Jealous?" He nodded and pointed at me. "She hasn't been in the past, but...I don't think she much likes him, personally. But I mean, I had just had a terrible day! I was dealing with some shit, you know? I just...I couldn't do another of her games, not that night. I had to try to get a break, just for one night. Sometimes I wonder if the gods really understand what they're doing to us."
"You trust her, though."
"Well, yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Ever since that statue."
"You know, I've been dreaming about that lately. Probably trying to deal with not getting any summons."
"Maybe. Nan!" She peeked out of the office.
"What?" He yelled back something in Russian and she held up a finger and then went back into the office. He nodded at me, then turned back to watch for her. When she emerged, she had her binder for dream interpretation, and walked straight for the counter.
"Oh, no, that's not necessary," I started, but she waved me off as she set the binder on the counter. Sergei rested his hand on her shoulder as he leaned in and kissed her cheek, then headed off to the office.
"Your magic attunes you to the universe, Jackie; and sometimes when it speaks, only our subconscious can hear it. It's worth the little bit of effort to interrogate our dreams a bit when we're wrestling with a big problem." I sighed, and hesitantly nodded. She was right, I just didn't really want to admit it. She gave a single definitive nod and opened her binder. "Now, darling. Tell me all about it."
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.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.