Over the Hedge
20 January 2007
I excitedly explained to Sergei and Nan what had happened over dinner, how I had managed to peer backwards in time which had never happened properly before. They were excited to hear about it, and Nan took it as evidence that distance from Matteson was a good thing for my magic. It was hard to argue with her on that, but I tried to make sure she didn’t let her concern become any actual dislike of Matteson. It wasn’t exactly his fault if that was the case, and I was the one who chose to keep living with him. I could have just as easily stayed in the house on West Hill and let his influence on the space fade. Well, not just as easily; splitting the property tax with him was a smaller bill than rent would have been.
Either way, Nan felt she could improve my results with the right application of material components. So she started working out some ideas while I helped Sergei close up shop, and when I came down to the shop the next day she had a couple crystals set out and a few herbs in her mortar and pestle. We talked through my experience again, how I was connecting with time and what everything felt and smelled like, and she added a few more things from behind the counter and ground them up into a fine powder which she mixed with a little bit of water. She asked me to add a drop of my blood, which I did by picking at the scab from the day before, and she turned it into a fine paste which was gathered into a small bowl. She instructed me to try again, and use the paste to make my wave marking before I began, and gave me a different incense she thought would be slightly better. I thanked her, went to the meditation space, and tried again.
While Sergei and Nan worked in the front of the store, I spent some time in their meditation corner working on some of what I had learned from The Fates. After returning to the physical world, I had been unable to duplicate the results I’d had in the cave. This was to be expected; The Fates had warned me that it would be much harder to do as it was, and the impact of Matteson’s nature on my magic, even when he was away, was probably a factor I hadn’t adequately considered. But I had a new theory to work with that I couldn’t access time the way The Fates did, anyway, at least not outside of their help. The thread they gave me was a focus, but the means they used relied on their nature as spirits, which I didn’t have. After my conversation with Sergei this morning, Nan suggested that spirits have their own paths to magic, distinct from humans. And, since I relied on a type of elemental energy, I may need to reframe my attempts at time magic to something that could connect to my element.
“This,” she said, “would be very difficult for some elements, like earth, which is too rigid. But water? I think you’ll figure it out.” If that was the case, then maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of time as a tapestry the way they did. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about time as a thing at all. Maybe I should be thinking of it as a flow.
So I sat down in the meditative space, the thread woven into my hair, trying to commune with water and feel the flow of things not just through space, but through time. Nan had set an incense burning to help me, and I had a stone from the Ohio River in one hand and one from Lake Michigan in the other. I quieted my mind, and began seeking the flow.
I don’t know how long it took me, as I started to lose sense of nearly everything before it happened, but I finally felt something click. I opened my eyes and looked around. At first, nothing seemed different, until I turned my attention to the incense and saw the smoke frozen in place. I felt pressure building up on me, and I suspected that this was because I was trying to stand still. Here I was, meditating on flow, and when I finally slipped into it I was looking at a single moment instead of going with that flow. I tried to push backward, but the pressure was stronger that way. Going against the flow would be even harder. But I knew I could do it, if I just gave it a little more energy. I bit my thumb, hard, hard enough to draw blood, and used that bit of blood to paint waves on my forehead as I chanted. Slowly, I felt the pressure begin to ease, and I turned my attention to the smoke again. I stared at it, pushing, until the smoke started to curl downward toward the fire. It was slow going, but I was getting there. I was watching time in reverse!
I stood and continued pushing, and when I glanced back I saw myself sitting in place, eyes closed. I left myself behind and walked out of the meditative space into the shop at large, and watched Sergei walking backward toward the office while Nan pulled a crystal out of a paper bag, folded the bag, and put it under the counter under the warm gaze of a customer, who had coins floating up into her hand from a change purse. I watched, in absolute glee at the fact that it was working, before I suddenly felt the pressure hit me again and throw me forward.
I gasped as my eyes flew open and I dropped the stones. I checked my hand, and my thumb had a small droplet of fresh blood on it. But I was out of the trance, and it had proven that I could do this. Now I just needed to get better at it.
19 January 2007
My flight into Chicago landed shortly before dinner, so that evening was mostly spent catching up with Nan and Sergei. It wasn’t until morning, while we were all in the shop beneath their apartment, that I got to work. In the back room, I laid out the notes and images I’d brought, and showed them to Sergei.
“So Hecate is being bad now?” he asked, looking everything over.
“I don’t know. I know she wants something from me, but I don’t know what. I think it has to do with Matteson, but I don’t know why. And I know she’s willing to threaten or endanger me to get it.”
“But you don’t know how?”
“Oh no. I very clearly remember how.”
“Okay. So what you need is…what?”
“Well, there are a couple things. But the big one I would like from you, specifically, is your theory on Hecate taking on different names across history.” He gave me the biggest smile I can ever remember seeing from him.
“Oh yes,” he said, pointing at me as he started to jog for the stairs up to the apartment, “Yes, I have you.”
“It’s ‘I got you,’ Sergei.”
“Also that!” he yelled, vanishing into the stairway. He was gone only a few minutes before returning with his large poster, which he had made attempting to lay out the whole timeline for me. “Okay,” he said, unrolling it on the table, “we start at beginning.”
18 January 2007
When I left Chicago, I wasn’t sure how often I would bother coming back. I didn’t grow up in the city, though it was close enough that I’d been there occasionally for things like concerts or school outings. I’d only lived there a couple years, and while I had made some friends during that time, very few of them were strong enough relationships to last once I was away for an extended period. I had kept in touch with a couple people here and there, but most of those had faded somewhat as time went on. My roommates from the last apartment I stayed in there had mostly vanished while I was away. I had quickly begun to run out of reasons to be there on a personal visit; and as I walked through O’Hare for the first time in a long while, I knew only one person would be waiting for me, and she would know I was mostly here on business.
Though I doubt Nan would ever admit to something that sounded so cold.
She was waiting by the luggage return by the time I got there, and gave me a big hug as soon as I was close enough to grab. We talked about the flight and Pittsburgh’s airport while we waited for my bag to come—Nan had no idea there was a t-rex skeleton there and was reasonably surprised—but as soon as it did and we were in her car her demeanor shifted.
“What’s that boy done to you?” she asked, sternly, as the car started moving.
“What do you mean? Rick? He’s been great, mostly.”
“No, no, not the boyfriend—”
“Not really a boyfriend, we—”
“The Anchor.” I paused and looked at her for a moment, confused.
“What makes you think he’s done something to me?”
“It’s your aura, child! Did you think I wouldn’t notice? There’s something about it, something…limiting it.”
“Well, I hadn’t noticed.”
“I think you’ve been spending too much time with him. Like a goldfish.”
“A…goldfish.” She wagged her finger at me.
“Like a goldfish! You know! They only grow as big as their tank lets them! That boy’s aura is a powerful one, and it constricts yours, and then your energy gets used to it and stops trying to recover.”
“You think spending too much time around Matteson will have a permanent effect on me?”
“Nothing is permanent, darling. But you start finding it harder to do magic, you best get away from him for a good long while. You might not lose it forever, but you lose it long enough that you forget how to do it again? Might as well be forever.”
“I’ll…I guess I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that,” she said, patting my knee. “Now, tell me all about this not-a-boyfriend.”
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."
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.