Over the Hedge
I didn’t realize how bad Alice was taking all of this until she started throwing up. At that point, I had to turn my attention away from the fight and focus on helping her. I didn’t really know what she was going through in that moment, but I knew that she needed someone, and I was the only someone available. So I tried my best to help calm her down, though I doubted she was really paying that much attention. I did my best, though, and when she was finally calmed down enough I turned my attention back to the fight. Hopefully things hadn’t gone too far off course while I was failing to give magical support.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was the priest, standing in front of an open portal with an elder entity trying to reach through, holding Rick prisoner. The arm was translucent, and I realized it was still partially in the metaphysical realm. The spell wasn’t complete yet. It needed something more to push it over the edge, and there was a blade pressed against Rick’s neck. I let go of Alice and stepped forward into the clearing, just at the edge of the trees. Matteson was still opposite me, and the priest’s eyes were fixed on him. Rick looked at me, though, and gave a weak smile.
I tried to think of a spell that would help. Something I could cast to free him while the priest was occupied with Matteson. Something I could do to turn the tide. But as soon as my mind turned to magic, it went foggy. I couldn’t think straight, I could barely stand. I tried to push through it, but it was unyielding. I get it now. During the fight, when no one knew where the priest was, he must have been preparing. Setting a trap. Ensuring that my attempts to use magic against him would fail. I tried to take a step forward but the world started to spin and I fell to my knees. My vision was blurring slightly. I reached out toward Rick and could see tears coming down his cheeks.
“I said I wouldn’t hesitate,” he said. The priest looked at him and then at me, and smiled. He turned his attention back to Matteson. The closest thing to a threat in the clearing.
“What?” I asked. He smiled again.
“I love you, Jackie.” With that, he bent forward slightly, and then pushed off against the ground. He pushed back against the priest, who was too caught off-guard to react, and they both hit the low stone altar and rolled backward into the portal. There was a blood-curdling scream, and the arm of the creature reaching through the portal fell back into it after them.
Matteson charged forward and I suddenly had to make do with whatever plan I could scrape together on the fly. Everything we had talked about was out of the question as soon as he was in the middle of things. So I felt around on the ground for a stone and, once I found it, I invoked its strength in a protection spell to buy him time to free the others. I knew I couldn’t put it too close to them, so I created it a little ways out, between them and the cultists that Matteson wasn’t already thrashing. One cultist ran full steam into the protection spell, and I felt it shatter as my focus was split trying to find more components. I was about to try again when I saw that the other cultists were taking their time, and then focused on Alice as she ran toward me. Two cultists made a break for her, and were close enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to help her in time. Before I could cast anything, though, two large roots burst out of the ground. Each one grabbed a cultist and pulled them underground, kicking and screaming, and Alice stopped and stared wide-eyed.
“Alice!” I yelled. She turned to me and I waved her over. She ran into the woods and dropped next to me, and we began crawling through the underbrush to get away from where anyone might have heard me calling her.
“Did you do that?” she asked, quietly.
“Nope. I think that was you.”
“I thought it was, too, but that seemed like…a lot, you know?”
“Well, you were in danger.” I peeked up again after taking cover behind a log, and saw Matteson attacking someone while Rick took a shot and a step backward. “Roderick did say your magic would defend you, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She leaned against the log. “I don’t know if I’m really ready for all this, Jackie.”
“You don’t have to be.” One of the cultists moving toward Rick pulled out a hatchet and drew back as if to throw it. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood and then lit his ass on fire. I checked the portal. It was wavering slightly, but it was still open. I couldn’t figure out why at first, and then looked again at the people Rick and Matteson were attacking. There was blood everywhere.
Being spilled in the middle of a ritual.
“Oh no,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“You weren’t the bulk of the sacrifice,” I said, pointing. She looked over the log and I saw realization dawn on her face. “They were!”
One of the things that had concerned me most about Matteson’s knowledge of the supernatural is that, despite access to a wide array of information about magic and spellcasting, he seemed to have only really studied the stuff he found personally relevant. This included an extensive knowledge of supernatural creatures and the ability to recognize many situations that could arise with them, but it didn’t include much about actually dealing with a spell as it was being cast beyond rushing in and breaking the magic. Which, admittedly, is a useful skill to have; but it gets in the way when one’s handling of the magic is reliant on understanding what the spellcaster is actually doing.
So I had to stop him from barging in the moment magic was actually being cast, and then again when the portal opened. Opening the portal, I knew, wasn’t particularly easy, but I did note the way they were doing it. The magic looked familiar, like they had learned it from some of the same sources as I’d learned my magic. It looked like it was connected to the modes and norms I had learned from Hecate. I needed to look into that connection. Either their understanding of magic was by chance in the same broad category as Hecate’s, which would suggest it originated somewhere in the Hellenized world, or they had learned this spell directly from Hecate herself. Either way, of course, recognizing that enabled me to more easily predict where they were going and what they were doing. The portal was open, and it took most of their energy to do that, based on the number of people they currently had available. If they wanted to then draw anything through, especially under their control, they were going to need more spellcasters and, I estimated, the blood of at least three adult humans.
We had to wait for the sacrifices to arrive before we could make our move. If we showed our hand too early, we could create a bigger problem.
Thankfully Matteson saw where I was going with this thought, and he resumed waiting with me. It was another five minutes or so of the cult holding the portal open before we started to see other figures emerge from the trees. From our vantage point, it was hard to tell much about them, except that there were two of them not wearing robes. I figured those would have to be the sacrifices, but two really didn’t seem like enough. I was sure they were going to need a third, at least. But now that they were here, and clearly not dressed as part of the cult or as willing sacrifices, we needed to establish a plan of attack. We whispered to each other about what angle to come at them from, and started to creep closer. As they drew nearer to the altar and we approached, we were finally able to make out more detail about the intended sacrifices.
They were Alice and Rick.
“Oh, fuck,” I muttered. Before the words were fully out of my mouth, Matteson was up and charging.
“Did you remember all the stuff I asked you to bring?” I asked Rick, who was standing at the front window of the cabin sipping on a coffee.
“Yeah,” he said, not turning away from the window, “I already set it all up in the other bedroom upstairs.”
“Oh, good. So, when are we doing up?”
“After they get back.”
“Rick, honey,” I said, leaning on him and wrapping my arms around his chest. “The entire idea was to have our own little vacation while they’re at the reservoir.”
“No, I don’t mean when they get back tonight. I asked Alice earlier if she’s ever driven Alpha before, and she said no. This won’t last ten minutes.”
“Oh.” I rested my chin on his shoulder and looked out through the window with him. He took another sip of the coffee, then raised to my lips so I could get one, too. Then we saw Alpha pulling in, and Alice came inside and asked Rick if they could borrow his car. He acted surprised and told her where his keys were in the kitchen, and off they went again. “Now are we going upstairs?”
“Wouldn’t dare miss it.”
We spent basically the rest of the day in that room, with a short break for lunch, and when we saw the light from the windows start to fade we slipped across to our room to get dressed.
“Didn’t you wear those jeans yesterday?” he asked as I was buttoning them on.
“Yeah. They’re the best ones I have for hiking. I wasn’t expecting to be going into the woods again tonight when I packed so I didn’t grab another pair.”
“I still don’t like the two of you going alone.” I knew he didn’t. He and Alice had resisted, but we all ultimately agreed that the best plan was for Matteson and I to go and scout out what the cult was up to. Once we had information, we could tell whether or not we’d need their help, and in the meantime, they could keep safe here and prepare for whatever was going to happen. Honestly, I was mostly hopeful that staying with Alice would be enough incentive to keep him out of danger and out of our way, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
Besides, he was responsible for cleaning up the other bedroom tonight.
By the time the others got back I was lounging in the living room with the fireplace lit and Rick was nearly done grilling a dinner for all of us. We all ate, and joked around, and sorted out how we were going to contact one another if we needed to. We laid around the fire and told stories, and around 10 Matteson and I kissed our respective partners and slipped out the back door. It was a full moon, so even though we had a flashlight, we had agreed to use it as little as possible to reduce the odds of being spotted. It would take a little under an hour in ideal conditions to reach the clearing, and we knew it would take longer trying to sneak in the dark. We were also pretty sure they would be shooting for midnight. Dawn and dusk would also work, and the following midnight, but this midnight seemed more likely to me. And if we were wrong, that would just buy us more time to assess preparations and make a plan of attack.
29 April 2007
When I woke up in the cabin, Rick was gone. He wasn’t gone from the cabin, of course, but he wasn’t in the bedroom and when I slipped into the upstairs bathroom for a shower he wasn’t there. The whole thing was odd, but I didn’t linger on it. I got my shower, got dressed, and headed downstairs where I found him finishing up in the kitchen.
“I didn’t know you even knew how to make pancakes,” I said, looking over the assortment he was laying out on the table.
“Well, it’s a special trip and I thought I’d try doing something special,” he answered. I kissed him and sat down.
“Do the others know? We don’t want everything to get cold.”
“I knocked on their door a little bit ago, they said they’d be right out.” He put the last of the food on the table and sat down next to me. I started making a plate, trying a little bit of everything. “You know they have real maple syrup in the fridge here?”
“As opposed to what?”
“I dunno, but you have to taste it,” he said, handing me the glass jar. I was pouring it on my pancakes when Alice and Matteson joined us. We all got to talking, and everyone was impressed with the breakfast. I told Rick I might have to keep him around and he gave me a smile and a nudge.
Matteson mentioned hearing some noises in the woods last night and Alice said that there’s always noises in the woods at night, but Rick said he heard them as well and thought they sounded more like people. We agreed to keep an eye out but Alice noted that sound carries a bit out here and the next cabin was a couple miles away, so it was probably just some hikers. Either way, we had plans for the morning and didn’t see any reason not to do exactly that.
So after breakfast, we all headed down the yard to a trail through the woods behind the house. We’d packed a lunch, and it took us a couple hours to get to the vantage point Alice was telling us about. It was a magnificent view, and we hung out there for a while and had lunch before heading back. On the way back, however, Rick dropped his water bottle and it rolled downhill through the trees away from the trail. We all went looking for it, and found it at the edge of a clearing with a large stone in the middle of it. Alice said she’d never known it was there, but it looked nice, so we all went in. Something felt off to me about it, and when I glanced over to Matteson he looked tense.
“Are you sensing something here?” I asked him. He grunted and nodded.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Something feels wrong.” We went ahead more carefully, and when we got close enough to the stone we all, aside from Alice, stopped suddenly.
It had a red spiral engraved on it.
18 January 2007
“So I’ll drop you off at the airport, and Alice agreed to pick you up when you get back,” Rick said, still sitting in my bed with the end of the blanket bunched up on his lap. I, or at least the me I was now watching, had finished getting dressed already and was now making sure she had everything she needed in her suitcase. The me that was watching, on the other hand, walked around my former self and sat down on the bed next to Rick.
“Well, you’re not going to be much use to me from there, now are you?” Past me asked.
“You usually find some use for me in here,” he said, smiling. She threw a folded pair of socks at him and they both laughed as he tossed the blanket aside. It passed right through me and I watched as he crawled over and kissed her, then hopped down off the bed and started pulling on his clothes as she continued.
“You know I’m paranoid about those TSA stations. Please hurry up.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” She grabbed his hoodie while he was pulling his shirt over his head.
“And I’m taking this,” she said. “For good luck.”
“What makes you think it’s good luck?”
“You were wearing it the night we first hooked up, and you and I both know that’s the best luck you’ve ever had.”
We were in Rick’s car, the two of them in the front seat and me in the back. I was a bit dizzy, and the conversation sounded distant and nothing looked clear. I focused and pushed again against the pressure I could feel building, and slowly the pressure faded and everything came back into focus.
“…m just saying that it’s a great album,” Rick said. We had been talking about the CD that was playing now, something by a band called Trail of Dead. I tuned out as I glanced toward the window and saw The Two on the side of the road, watching the car as it zipped past them. I looked through the back window, but they were gone. Had they been there when we were driving past before? The pressure started to build again, and I turned my attention away from the figures and back to the task at hand. Now I was standing in the airport, on an escalator, passing the skeleton of a T-Rex while past me surveyed it. I was slipping, I realized. I was having trouble holding my place in time, and the flow of it was pushing me along. I decided I’d proven enough, though, and let go of trying to fight the flow. Everything from the past couple days rushed by me in a blur, the flight and the drive with Nan and the first night at the shop. As I flew past it all, there was a moment where I thought I saw The Two again, watching me zip by as if I was in a car and they were in a single moment, watching me pass. I had let myself slip too far by that point, and before I could try to back up to see if they were really there, my eyes snapped open back in the meditation space.
With the paste on my forehead, the thread in my hair, and the incense burning, I again resumed my place in the meditation space with the stones. I knew that I needed to do more than slowly rewind time to find what I was searching for, so I decided to try pushing a bit beyond that to moving my vision to a specific point in time. The difficult part was knowing when to look. If I picked a point too far back, I would have no idea if my attempt failed because of the limits of the magic or because I had simply not managed to cast a successful spell. I really wanted to watch Robert Johnson during his missing year; if he did actually strike a deal with the Devil at the Crossroads, maybe I could learn something useful by watching that interaction. Maybe I could identify the spirit in question to test Sergei’s theory. Maybe I could learn what petitioners called that being. But I decided to wait on trying to view that. Today was going to have to be more of a proof of concept. But, now that I thought about it, if this was all going to work I needed to focus on a place, as well. Did I have anything suitable for that purpose?
I set the stones down and dug around in my pocket for something that would have a sympathetic link to a place other than where I was. I didn’t find anything useful in my pants pockets, and as I tried to reach into the pockets of my hoodie I stopped. It wasn’t my hoodie at all! I had stolen it from Rick while packing for this trip! I rubbed my hands over the fabric, thinking about how much it must be linked to him. Surely this would do. I picked the stones up again, slowed my breathing and cleared my mind of everything but Rick, and me, and the hoodie.
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.
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.
2 March 2006
I was laying in Rick's bed, his comforter shielding me against the lingering winter chill and his absurd habit of keeping a fan on "just for the noise." When I half jokingly threatened to only sleep with him at my place if he was going to keep that up, he replaced his old and worn fleece blanket with this comforter. My comforter, in practice. I considered it an acceptable compromise, for now.
"How's the spirits?" he asked as he returned from the bathroom. I had delayed coming over today to spend some time meditating under the abandoned trestle bridge just off downtown.
"Getting used to me," I answered, "but it's clear they're still a bit leery about mankind in general. I think they'd warm to me faster if I could do something about the pollution." He climbed into the bed and I rolled over, laying my arm across his stomach.
"I'd need them on board already to do any magic that big, and the cost..." I shuddered.
"Well. You could do that Earth Day cleanup. The spirits might like seeing you there."
"What Earth Day cleanup?"
"The, uh...oh, what're they called...the Shenango River Watchers. They do a big community cleanup of the river and I think local creeks and that on Earth Day." I sat up.
"There's a group committed to cleaning up the Shenango River watershed once a year?"
"Well, no. They do cleanings all year, it's just that on Earth Day other people are willing to help out. My uncle's wrapped up with them, I think he's usually out doing stuff at least once a month."
"Why didn't you tell me about this!?"
"Well, I dunno. You don't talk about being big on environmentalism, you know."
"I talk about the condition of the river all the time!"
"You talk about the condition of the river spirits. I have no idea how much they have to do with one another."
"They have quite a lot to do with one another!"
"Well, maybe you could teach me some magic," he said, smiling and poking my breast, "and I would know shit like this."
"Oh, no," I said with a chuckle, pushing his hand away. "You had trouble understanding why a woman born in Honduras might be chilly with a fan on and snow on the ground. I don't think you'd be a very good student." I let out an 'eep' as he rolled over on top of me.
"Well," he said, "is there anything you think you could teach me?"
"Hmm. I think I could find something," I said, smiling.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.