Over the Hedge
1 August 2005
I was used to communing with the spirits of a Great Lake, and while I still had one available, it was now a two hour drive away and I didn’t yet have a car. My choices had become a small, heavily polluted river running through Sharon or the reservoir on that same river a few towns north. I had tried both, but my attempts to meet whatever slept in Sharon’s waters had been fruitless. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the river was even still alive. The pop machine in the McDonald’s next to the river always smelled like sulfur, to the point where Matteson and his friends would only buy food and then cross the street to buy drinks at a news stand.
But today, I found myself outside of Pittsburgh, having taken a ride from Rick who wanted to visit some friends he knew nearby. We had arranged to meet in a few hours, and I intended to use the time to seek a connection with the Ohio River. Surely, this one would have active spirits in it.
I was there meditating on the very edge of the water nearly a half hour before something began to stir. The water itself seemed to rise up into a vaguely humanoid shape and I dropped backward and scrambled back to my feet. The form moved to the edge of the water, its face drawing close enough that I could feel the mist on the edge of its form.
“What do you want? Why are you afraid?” it asked.
“I...sorry, sorry, it’s just, the spirits in Lake Michigan only ever spoke to me, I never saw them, it was-”
“I am not a lake spirit.”
“Yes. Right! Of course! Sorry.” We both stared at each other for a long moment.
“What do you want?”
“Right! I just seek a connection,” I offered, “my element is water, you see, and the spirits of the closest river have been ignoring me, and I just wanted to ask, I guess?”
“I know of you. They know of you. They do not trust you.”
“You have acquired the scent of a Riverborn. But you are not Riverborn.”
“Riverborn? What--I don’t understand.”
“There are very few children we have in the world. Somehow, you have acquired their scent. Their river has taken a great deal of damage, and they are worried about your intentions with the Riverborn and with them.”
“I don’t even...wait. You mean Matteson?” The spirit stood bolt upright at that, pulling away and towering over me.
“John Matteson. He’s a friend of mine, I actually rent a house with him right now which I suppose probably smells like him. His family, he told me he comes from-”
“Wait here,” the spirit said, before vanishing back under the water. I leaned forward, resting my hands on my knees, as I caught my breath. It was only a couple minutes before the spirit appeared again, this time only about as tall as I am. “They say they have seen you walking with John Matteson. You are friends?”
“How is he?”
“Do...do you know him?” I asked. The spirit stood silent for a moment, then the water around its head pulled back and I saw what appeared to be a male Native American face.
“We have not met, but those trusted by John Matteson are welcome here. You may call me Abe. Please. Tell me about his family.”
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.