Over the Hedge
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.
15 November 2006
Matteson had been tearing through his dad’s books in the basement for a little over a week, and I finally determined to find out why. Part of me had assumed at the beginning that this was just some part of the mourning process for him, dealing with things his dad left behind, but it was starting to look unmistakably like research, and that probably meant he was trying to do something. It seemed like it was going to my place to make sure that something wasn’t something stupid.
When I got into the basement, I found the table covered in open books and pieces of paper with notes written on them in a massive pile. I couldn’t see any way to make sense of any of it, but there he was, poring over one book then reaching over to snatch up some note from under another book and making comparisons. This had to be one of those Matteson systems, that don’t make sense to anyone else.
“What’s all this?” I asked. He snapped upright to look at me, as if he hadn’t realized I was there. His eyes were a bit wide and unfocused, and I suddenly found myself wondering when he last slept.
“Reading…these books? Is your power?”
“No, no, it’s not…it’s what they say about my power. He never told me about this! He never told me he had these references! I had to find out about it from the priest!”
“Okay, okay,” I said, exaggerating the calm tone to try to offset his crazed one. I sat down. “And what do they say about your power?”
“Well, very little directly, I guess, but when you take them together…”
“Please do.” He took a deep breath and plopped backward into a chair.
“I want a cigarette. Maybe we should go upstairs.”
“There’s no smoking in the library.”
“Well, it’s…” he trailed off and then just sat there, staring off into space. Slowly, he started to look around the room, then he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. “Oh. Right. Well, uh…says me, now, I guess.” I started to wonder if that was really the right way to handle that, but before I could say anything to soften it he was up again and making his way to the stairs. I sighed and followed. “You remember the garbage truck? With the red spiral?” he asked as he stepped out of the stairway and into the kitchen. He grabbed his cigarettes off the counter and pulled one out.
“How could I forget?” He tapped his pockets for a second, then lit a burner on the stove and leaned over to light his cigarette from it.
“I told Benedict about it, when we met,” he explained, waving his hand around as he did so and walking into the living room. I turned off the stove and followed, grabbing my own cigarettes and lighter from the arm of the couch when we both sat down. He kept talking the whole time. “So he and Akshainie went to investigate, and they found out that that little ghost town had been taken over by the cult. They were doing some ritual, some kind of test, and they separated that town from the rest of the metaphysical realm.”
“That sounds…terrifying. But how is this relevant?”
“Because they did so by mimicking what I do. This wasn’t some special spell designed just for that town, this was some power they pulled from their knowledge of Anchors, apparently. Or at least theory that lines up with us.”
“I thought you said you just break magic.”
“I did say that! Because I thought that! But according to Dad’s notes and some of his books, that isn’t true. And he never told me. I don’t know why he never told me.” He sat in silence for a moment, and I reached over with one hand and rubbed his back a bit to remind him he wasn’t alone. He took a few more drags before continuing. “Anyway. So now Benedict and Akshainie are off looking for more sites like that.”
“Okay, so, what is it exactly that you now believe you do when you encounter magic?”
“According to these records, I reshape reality. Sort of. Not really, but that seems to be the best way some of these sources describe it? Basically, there’s this wild and chaotic nature to the metaphysical realm, and this ordered and structured nature to the natural world, and—”
“Anchors impose order on the metaphysical and Warlocks bring chaos into the physical.”
“That is a way more simple way to describe it.”
“Hec—she, my mentor, said it. I didn’t really know what she meant, but this all makes sense now.”
“Well, first, tell me more about this ritual at the town.”
“Okay, so, according to Benedict, they were trying to separate the town from the rest of the metaphysical realm, and have it operate according to their own design. A couple of the books downstairs theorize that this could be done if someone was able to create a stable form of my, well, somewhat uncontrolled aura. And Dad speculated that if the cult could create such a stable bubble, and was able to find a way to create one large enough, they could create an entirely new metaphysical realm over a significant area and use that to separate the people in that area from the existing gods and warp their minds.”
“Which would give them incredible power over the people in it.”
“Power, nothing. This would make an entire new kind of person. A group of humans completely independent from the unifying experience of humanity and the collected mythos of all of mankind. I mean, these are the templates we all pull from, these are the archetypes Jung pointed to, these are the dreams and nightmares we all share. Creating a stable bubble which contains a lot of living people in it would make them a blank slate, with none of those common influences seeping in.”
“Which is why you were able to keep her away from me in Chicago. You severed me from the realm of the gods that night. But wait, why are you affected by the common mythos of mankind?”
“Well, I didn’t set any rules for the thing I’m imposing on the world, I guess? Since I didn’t design this…bubble, I guess, around me, it doesn’t work in exactly the same way. But when I actively try to shut down a specific magic, I guess I do it by willing it not to exist in the part of the realm I control.”
“Can you do that? Could you, if you wanted to, make yourself completely independent of the global metaphysical realm?”
“Hecate seemed to think I could.”
“She said I have a lot of potential, could stand against gods if I wanted to. She seemed kind of impressed that I was able to shake off her own magic when she stopped time around me.”
“But what would she want with that?” He shrugged.
“Beats me. Maybe she’s pissed at Zeus. Either way, the fact that the cult not only wants that power, but seems to already have it to a degree, seems like the bigger problem.”
“I suppose so.” We both sat thinking for a moment, then he patted my knee and stood.
“Well, anyway. Now we know what we’re dealing with, maybe, we need to start figuring out what to do about it.” I agreed, and we returned to the basement to start studying together.
3 November 2006
Today was Henry Matteson’s funeral. Turnout was small, but I didn’t manage to meet everyone; most of the ones I did were people who knew him from his job as an economics professor at the Penn State branch downtown. Matteson introduced me to a priest named Benedict, who I was told was a very old associate of Henry’s but didn’t look more than a few years older than us, and a similarly-aged woman named Akshainie who was with him. They, in turn, introduced me to a heavily-scarred man who looked to be in his thirties, named Tadzio. He talked about Henry as if they’d known each other since Henry was a boy, and I made a note to ask Matteson later exactly what kind of company his father had kept outside of work.
Henry didn’t have much family left, basically just Matteson, and it made me realize for the first time that this meant Matteson probably didn’t have any family left. I had never seen nor heard of anyone on his mom’s side, and neither Matteson nor his dad had any siblings. I had already agreed to move in with him now that he was inheriting his dad’s place, but it was only at the funeral when I realized how important it probably was for his friends to be there for him now.
And they were. His band, Rick, Charles, Bob, and an assortment of people I had never met and a few I had only met in passing came at least to pay respects at the viewing. Matteson told me later that even Kastor came by, but had trouble wrapping his head around the nature of the event.
The service was nice, and many people had good things to say about Henry. He had a plot already purchased in Oakwood Cemetery, and while the temperature was brisk the very slight amount of rain ended before we arrived. After that was a potluck at the house, and a group of us friends worked together to clean up and store food after people started filtering out. I sent Matteson upstairs to get a shower and change while we cleaned up, and by the time he returned I was the only person left. He sat down on the couch next to me, avoiding his dad’s recliner, and began to tell me about growing up in this house. I let him rest his head against me and wrapped my arm around him as he talked.
There, as the sun began to go down outside, he finally broke down and cried.
2 August 2006
“Sounds like you had a hell of a night,” Matteson said from the kitchen, where he was putting his plate from breakfast into the sink. I was sitting on the love seat and lighting a cigarette after explaining my time spent with the Fates. I heard water running, and after it shut off he came back drying his hands. “Does this mean you’re a few weeks older than you were yesterday?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a groan as I turned and laid down. He walked over, lifted my legs, sat down under them, and put my feet back on the arm of the seat. “That’s hardly the point, though.” He tossed the towel onto the coffee table and lit his own cigarette.
“You sure? It seems important.”
“Sure. Look, I’m coming to you about this partly because few other people would believe me, and partly because I’m concerned about what Hec—the goddess wants from you.”
“Oh, she already tried recruiting me.” He leaned his head back and I propped myself up.
“Yeah, it was,” he waved his cigarette around, as if trying to remember, “I dunno, a little after the Alethea situation. She stopped time around me, sent some dog, I met her on a tropical island. It was all very interesting.”
“And you never told me?!”
“Sorry, I thought I had. Besides, you didn’t mention Kastor having a message for me.”
“That seemed a bit less important.” He shrugged.
“Probably was. But yeah, I told her to take a hike, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I laid my head back down.
“She isn’t going to just give up, you know. She believes she owns you in some way.”
“Pft. Europeans.” I choked out a quick laugh. “But now we both know, and we can keep an eye out for it, right? You got my back.”
“As long as you got mine.” He gave me a fist bump, and then we sat in silence for a couple minutes.
“Who wants a drink!” he called, lifting my legs again and hopping up to his feet.
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“And I’m off today!” I sighed and considered the 'night' I’d had.
“Make me one of those things with the rum you whipped up last week.”
Before I left, Clotho handed me a small bit of unworked wool from her pile. It was translucent, giving the shapes behind it only a faint hint of color that changed as I moved it around in the light. It felt strong but light, and as I touched it I could feel it buzzing with potential. They explained that it was the raw substance of their threads, not yet assigned to a single life, and expressed their hope that it would help me find my way to access the knowledge I had while with them. I thanked them for all they had done, and made my way outside to where the hound sat waiting for me.
He stood without a sound as I stepped into the light, and with just a glance to ensure I was with him, turned and walked back down the path. I recognized that we were still in a realm of great power, and I could do things much more easily here, so I clutched the time wool and focused on the hound, whispering my desire in Spanish. As I walked and watched, a line of identical hounds came into vision, stretching all the way back to the one sitting at the edge of the cave and all the way forward to the horizon. I smiled, let go of the wool, and continued on my way as the past and future hounds vanished again into their proper places in time.
We took a different path away from the cliff than the one we took to arrive, and after a much shorter walk I found myself in my bedroom again. On the bed was a small scroll, and the hound turned and left as I reached down to grab it. It was a reminder, from Hecate, that she had given me what I sought, and soon it would be time for me to give her what she seeks. I felt a shudder run down my spine as I considered the goddess I saw in the Crossroads while peering through time, the woman whose ends were unknown to me and slowly seeming less and less benevolent. I plugged in my phone, its battery draining long ago in the cave, and as it began to start up I sat on the bed and waited.
August 2, 2006. Seven in the morning. All of that, and as far as the world was concerned, I had simply walked into my room for bed and emerged again, refreshed, in the morning. I got ready to take a bath, and as I slipped into the water, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should warn Matteson and what, exactly, I would be warning him about.
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.
1 June 2006
Work was progressing in Columbia Theatre, and today we were working on updating and expanding the fly system. I was standing on a scaffolding, running lines through the system in the ceiling and trying not to look down. Backstage, Marz was testing the lines that had already been finished and helping determine what we needed for counterweights and if we would need to order more. Neither of us was here when the pulleys were mapped out and installed, so it was also taking extra time for us to figure out where everything was supposed to be. We had been warned that some of it was not actually ready for our work yet, and we had taken some guesses about which parts of the system were affected based on the notes left for us. The possibility that we had been mistaken on some of those guesses suddenly occurred to me when I heard a crack, and then a snap, from my right.
Before I could react to the noise, a fly passing in front of me stopped in the air, its wings stuck mid-stroke. I breathed heavy and looked around, and found a heavy metal pulley that had broken off the ceiling and stopped in place about a foot away from my neck. I knew, immediately, that if it had continued on its arc either I would have died; either from the initial impact, or from the unavoidable fall that would have followed it. I swallowed hard and tried to step aside, but found that I could only move my head. I turned to my left again, and saw the Hound sitting on the scaffolding and watching me. I opened my mouth to speak, but a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye drew my attention away again. As I turned to look forward, I found Hecate. She was standing on the stage, but so tall that her eyes were level with my face. I took a deep breath. Why now, after all this time?
“Mistress,” I whispered, my voice unsteady. She smiled.
“Am I, still?” I furrowed my brow and tried to formulate a question about that, but nothing coherent came out before she smiled and continued. “I saw how you handled that ghost, and cleaning up the park afterward. You seemed confident in your ability to proceed without invoking me.” She looked to my left, and I followed her gaze to the pulley. “Yet you do not seem so confident now.”
“I had not heard from you in a year, Mistress. I didn’t know anymore if you were even listening.”
“I suppose I can understand such fickleness from mortals, a year must seem like such a long time to you. But you must know better than to believe that about me. Besides,” she blinked, and her eyes were replaced by the sight of me in Chicago, laying on that couch in John’s arms. “You clearly wanted some space from me. Am I not free to give my mortal instruments what they desire?”
“I’m sorry. I was recovering from a moment of weakness and just…” I sighed and lowered my head. “I’m sorry.”
“Will you show me?” Her eyes returned to normal, or what passed for normal from her.
“I want to see that you are sorry, not simply hear it.”
“I have a job for you to do. But not yet. For now, it will be enough for you to swear to me that you will do it. And your continued usefulness, of course, is a great encouragement to keep you around.” My eyes widened as I realized why I couldn’t move the rest of my body. I was being given a choice between power and death.
“I swear, Mistress.”
“Very good. I shall call on you when I am ready.” I felt my body unfreeze as she and the Hound vanished, and I quickly shifted around the pulley to stand behind it. As soon as I was in the clear, the pulley snapped back into motion and crashed against the wall, sending scraps of wood and drywall flying. I was breathing heavy, and the noise of the impact had left my ears ringing for a moment before I heard Marz calling to me. I pressed my hand to my heart, exhaled hard, then peeked down.
“I’m okay. But I think we should take a break.” They gave a few quick nods, and I began to climb down.
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22 April 2006
It was a hard day of work, traveling along the river and various small waterways and pipes that led into it, cleaning up whatever we could find. Turnout was a bit smaller than I was hoping for, but I could barely be surprised. When I'd asked Matteson's band if they were going, they all regarded the event as something that just kind of happens without individual thought or involvement, and I got the impression most people they knew felt that way.
"The river's dirty," Matteson said, with a shrug, when I asked later, "I guess we never really think much about the idea of it ever not being dirty." It took a little bit of effort, but I managed to convince him to get involved, on the grounds that he's considered Riverborn and it would be absurd for him to not care at least a little. We ended up assigned to different areas, and I was alone when a bit of water rose up before me. I realized there was something to it and, glancing around to make sure I wasn't being watched too closely, set my bag down and let out a quick ritual to see spirits more clearly that involved a sharp bite to draw a little blood.
"You are trying very hard to get our attention," it said. I pulled a small band-aid from my pocket and closed up the bite.
"This part is just because the river needs it. But is it working?"
"In a fashion. The Riverborn is here as well, did he convince you this would help?" I rolled my eyes and sighed.
"No, actually, it was the other way around. I think he's slightly confused about the expectations of being tied to an element." The spirit dipped below the surface of the water again, and then returned after a few moments.
"I've been informed that checks out." I chuckled, imagining a group of river spirits bickering about Matteson's lack of involvement in their affairs. "At any rate, mage, you have shown yourself committed to the health of these waters, and-"
"Oh! Now you're seeing spirits!" another voice exclaimed. The river spirit and I both looked up to see a satyr hopping down from the level of the street and pointing accusingly at me.
"Hello, Kastor," the spirit said in a tone that sounded suddenly very tired.
"Hey howsitgoin," he said, almost dismissively, before turning back to me. "Eight months! Eight months I've been trying to get your attention, and now you're just chatting away with the freaking river!"
"I'm sorry, who are you?" I asked. "Kastor?"
"You tellin' me Johnnie doesn't mention me? After all these years!" I thought back for a bit before recalling that Matteson had, indeed, mentioned having a faun that popped up in his life sometimes.
"It seems like you have other business," the river spirit said. "Next time you meditate on the river, know that we will be listening."
"Thank you very much," I said to the spirit as it vanished, then looked to Kastor. "Yes, sorry, I forgot. Matteson has mentioned you. What can I do for you?"
"Matteson's in danger!"
"Why not tell him? It has to be much easier to get his attention than mine."
"I...okay, look, that girlfriend of his, she's playing him for some scheme, and I almost got eaten and had to make an oath and the point is-"
"Wait, are you talking about Lori?" Kastor stopped and nodded slowly, as if I was being slow to keep up. I sighed and rubbed the bridge of my nose.
"We know about the ghost that was possessing Lori. This was handled back in November."
"You...you already took care of it?" I nodded. "Without me?"
"Look, I'm sure whatever arrangement you had with the ghost of Alethea is no longer binding. She's crossed over now. I'm sorry you weren't involved, but I had no way to contact you, maybe you should ask Matteson?"
"Huh-uh. I'm not risking that. You tell him I promised a year and a day, so this summer, he and I need to have a chat about the company he keeps." He humphed and turned away, then spun back around. "Except you, you're delightful. Sorry if I came off strong."
"It's quite alright. I'll be sure to pass your message along."
"You know, you can call me yourself sometime, if you ever-"
"I'll keep that in mind, Kastor. Have a good day." He exhaled hard before nodding and running off. I watched him for a moment, looked back to the river to see the spirit wasn't returning, then picked my bag up.
"How's it coming there, Jackie?" I looked up to see one of the organizers of the cleanup walking toward me along the level of the road.
"Fine. Sorry," I said, showing my band-aid, "just had to deal with this real quick."
"Oh! Should I go get someone?"
"I think I have it handled, thanks." He nodded, gave me an update on how things were going and a team that was moving over to help with my section of the river, and I let myself focus on the work at hand.
20 April 2006
We learned this week that The Lube was going to let us put on a few short acts during Small Ships Revue. I had no idea what that was, so the rest of the group explained that every year there's a race down the Shenango River from the north side of town to the Lube, the only rule being that there could be no motors involved, and this largely took the form of wild floats made to drift down the river while crowds lined up on the streets and bridges above, everyone involved is drinking, and it ends with a massive block party. The theatre remodel group, which included most of us anyway, had commissioned a float already, but now we were actually getting the use of a stage area during some of the party.
We decided on a couple short comedy scenes, things that people could wander over and enjoy without following a whole story. I had Matteson come to the meeting today, and he informed the group that his band was willing to do music for us but needed to know what that would include so they could practice. So we dug out the musical scores for the one scene that had them, and worked out some idea of how the rest should work, and he left with that and copies of the scripts so they could start working on things, and we all agreed on a time to meet and practice with the actors and the band.
I'm very excited to see how this all plays out.
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.