Over the Hedge
12 February 2006
We had finally managed to get a season scheduled. It wouldn't begin until August, but we had a great deal of preparation to do, so I was at a meeting with the other three stage hands we had managed to pick up. The issue of the day was getting a set together for A Winter's Tale that we could move off-site, since the venue we'd managed to secure didn't give us enough time to build our set there before the show. The backstage area of the Columbia was clean enough now that we could turn it into our workshop, so we at least had somewhere dry to build it and deal with disassembly after. Peter arrived, looking haggard as he always did these days, and lit up when he saw us arguing over designs. He called me over.
"How's it coming over there?" he asked, setting a stack of papers and folders down on a pile of milk crates that passed for a table.
"If we let Marz have their say, our sets will just be painted sheets we carry in with laundry baskets."
"Bah," Peter said, waving his hand dismissively, "it's always sheets with them. Look, I don't want to keep you, but you did the haunted house thing, yeah?"
"Yeah, Peter. We talk about this every other week."
"Right, right. Look, I need you to pick up a small part."
"Pete, if I'm doing stage-"
"A tiny little part, I promise, just...very little." I sighed.
"What is it?"
"You know that famous line, 'exit, pursued by bear'?"
"I need a bear," he said, handing me a script. I blinked a few times in surprise as I looked down at the script, then looked back up. He was already halfway down the hall.
"Thanks! Tell Marz we have a two sheet maximum!" I groaned, slapped the script against my hip, and went back to the designs.
31 December 2005
It was a lot of work, but we managed to get the house repaired and ready in time for the New Year's Eve party. I had invited people from the theatre group, and of course Rick and Charles and Bob and Matteson's band were all planning to be there, and Matteson explained that there was almost always at least a few people that would show up as a friend-of-a-friend that he had never met before. I offered to cancel when I saw how bad Matteson was taking things over the past week, but he insisted he could use the distraction and refused to cancel another major party.
I knew this likely meant he would not be as invested as usual, but since I knew almost everyone coming by this time, I figured I could handle it. He helped set up and greet people, but as soon as there were enough people that they could largely entertain themselves I pretended not to notice him slip away.
After about an hour, Rick asked a couple people from the troupe about improv. Some had experience with it, others didn't, but with a few more drinks they were all willing to give it a go. He started soliciting prompts from the rest of the party and throwing them at the actors, who pretty quickly occupied the living room and made use of anything they could find there or have handed to them. We never turned the music off, so sometimes that was part of the bit and sometimes it wasn't. Some of it was abysmal, but there were some amazing highlights and Rick managed to keep it interesting and get people invested throughout. By midnight, basically everyone was involved in some way or another, even if it was just handing people more drinks and snacks or yelling out some new element Rick would decide whether or not to give to the actors. I was, if I'm honest, a bit impressed.
During the last half hour before midnight, Rick was pretending to be Dick Van Dyke and narrating the various forms of entertainment happening at his wild New Year's Eve countdown while the actors tried to keep up. We'd lost four to sleep or the need to rest and throw up by then. I had jumped in to replace one. We were painfully loud at the stroke of midnight, and when people grabbed someone nearby to kiss at 0, I turned to find Rick and made the split second decision that maybe there was more to him than I'd assumed.
I don't remember what time everyone else left. Some people were trickling out by one o'clock, some people just crashed on the couches and floor. I left the party at about 1:30, leading Rick by hand to my room.
14 November 2005
We had mostly finished closing down the haunted house for the season. I was under the impression the staff did other things during the year, though I didn't know what; but I needed some time away from the whole scene and while no one knew why, they seemed to understand. Jerry asked me to consider helping out at the theater if I was interested in continuing at least some of the work I'd done at Ghoul Mansion.
On State Street, set back from the road behind what promised to be a beautiful garden and squeezed between two shops, was Columbia Theatre. I was informed that the building had been left to decay for some years, but was the subject of a spotty and generally volunteer remodeling project hoping to bring a new spark to the city. As part of the disputes surrounding the direction such a project should take, and in partnership with the largely defunct Vocal Group Hall of Fame, a group of actors and stage hands calling themselves the Poison River Players had formed somewhat unofficially and were hopeful they could get an actual play season launched soon. These would mostly happen in open-air environments and rented spaces, like the high school auditorium, but a portion of the money raised by such shows was designated to go toward Columbia Theatre with the hope of it being the eventual home of the troupe.
"Look," Jerry had said, "you seem to care about lost causes, and you did great work with makeup and some of the prop work here, and you aren't half bad at acting. I think they'd be glad to have you." Well. How could I turn down a glowing recommendation like that? And while I hadn't done it before, I really did find myself enjoying the work at the haunted house while it lasted. So now I was sitting on a stone bench in front of the theatre, waiting. It was about ten minutes before Jerry came walking around the corner with another man, talking among themselves until they noticed me. The other man stepped forward and extended a hand, smiling.
"Peter," he said, "and you must be the Jackie I've heard about."
"I suppose that depends on what you've heard," I said with a smile. He laughed and slapped Jerry hard on the back before sitting down on another bench. I retook my seat, and Jerry, stretched his shoulders a bit as if shacking off the sting.
"Well, you guys have at it, I've got paperwork back at the mansion." We both waved, and he was gone. Peter sighed as he turned to me.
"You understand there's probably no money in this."
"Probably?" I asked.
"Well. There is a small percentage of the income that's designated as pay for everyone involved in a given show, but between the cost of doing shows all over God's green earth and supplies and money for this," he said, waving a hand toward the theatre, "the percentage isn't as high as it would be in an established troupe. And being that we aren't established and have no idea how the community will feel about us, we don't even know if there will be any money to allocate."
"I have a day job," I answered. It was theoretically the truth; I had left the pizza shop to give the haunted house enough hours, and hadn't yet returned, but they did promise they would have me back as soon as I was free.
"That's good, that's good. Better than some. So Jerry tells me you kind of tried your hand at most of what we do. Was there some aspect of your work that you most clicked with?"
"The sets. I liked the part well enough, and they seemed to think I really took to the makeup, but if I'm honest it was adjusting the sets and props and maintenance of that stuff that I found myself really enjoying more than anything else."
"Well, we could definitely use that. I think most people that come to us forget that that position exists."
"Are there many people that come to you?"
"No," he said, laughing. I chuckled as well. He cleared his throat. "This really is an experiment. I don't know what will happen with it, if anything. But I'd be glad to have you alongside the rest of us giving it the old college try, if you're serious about it."
"I don't sit out in the cold for just anyone, Peter." He laughed again, stood, and offered me another handshake. I stood and accepted it, and then he reached into his pockets and pulled out a flyer.
"Okay, well, we have biweekly meetings on Tuesdays right now, hammering out the details for our first season. Up at the library. This has all the info," he said, handing me the flyer, "and I guess we'll see you then!" I thanked him, he thanked me, and we parted ways.
4 November 2005
Matteson and Kyle, our other roommate, had a rather heated discussion at some point before I got home from Buhl Park and, while I didn't know exactly how it went, I do know that Matteson and I had spent the last couple days replacing the door and patching the walls and blocking off the windows with plastic until he could convince the landlord to get new ones. He insisted I didn't use magic, partly because he was concerned about the amount of effort I'd spent lately and the fact that my eye was now, apparently, permanently blue. I didn't tell him it was an incredible amount of effort to do any magic in the house anyway, since he had been living here long enough that the place itself seemed to take on some amount of his resistance to magic.
Truth is, he hadn't asked for my help at all, and seemed very hesitant to accept it. But I couldn't very well let him handle all of this alone, and he was away at work in the afternoon while I was painting over the last of the patches on the wall and heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, which was a little difficult because we had hung the door slightly crooked--an issue we were planning to correct that night--but when I got it open I found Lori standing there with a box.
"Lori! Please, come in!" I took the box and led her inside, sitting down on the couch while she stood near the door. "How are you holding up, hon?"
"I'm not sure yet." She crossed her arms and slinked in, sitting on the arm of the love seat.
"Right. Well, Matteson isn't here right now, he-"
"He's at work. I know, that's why I came now."
"Ah. Okay." I opened the box and found a stack of pictures, a shirt, and a bunch of old books.
"She...the other one, she stole all his books on possession and exorcism and ghosts, you know. I knew where she put them, of course, so I thought I'd return them."
"That does explain a lot. Look, Lori-"
"I'm not ready to have the conversation you want to have. I appreciate all you did for me, but...not yet." I stopped, then nodded. "Thank you." She turned to leave.
"Stay safe out there." She paused, then turned to me with a weak smile.
"You, too. Thanks for everything." She closed the door on her way out, and I carried the box into the study.
1 November 2005
Once we all recovered from the flash, I saw Matteson walking toward us. He was holding his side and limping slightly, and missing his hoodie. The guard was done tending to Lori, so he stood and turned to Matteson with his fists on his hips.
"What the hell was all that!?" he demanded, waving a hand toward the destroyed clearing.
"Death," Matteson said, walking past him and dropping down into the grass in front of Lori and me. He grunted when he landed, and the guard continued surveying the damage.
"Are you okay?" I asked. He waved the question off and looked at Lori.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm not sure yet," she answered, softly, before looking Matteson over. "Where's your hoodie?"
"Wasn't that your favorite hoodie?"
"Yes, it was. I take it you remember everything, then?" She nodded, and he groaned and leaned forward.
"I'm sorry. I swear, if I'd known-"
"I know," she said, looking down again and pulling the blanket tighter. "I also have some of her memories. Including how you responded to her first attempt in Chicago." We were all silent for a few minutes, until the guard turned back to us.
"I gather this is a very difficult moment for all of you, but I really need some idea how I'm supposed to explain this shit to the Trust." I stood up.
"You don't have to worry about that. I came prepared to clean up this mess," I answered, then looked over at the clearing. "Though it may be slightly more difficult than I expected."
"How're you gonna do that!?"
"Forgive me if I wait here to see it for myself."
"That's fine. You may be able to help, even. But first," I turned back to the others, "do you guys need anything?"
"I want to go home," Lori said. Matteson stood up with a grunt.
"I can give you a ride, if that's okay," he said. She nodded, and he helped her to her feet. "Should I come back for you?" he asked me.
"No. This is going to be difficult enough, you stay as far away as you can. I'll call Rick if I need a ride home." He nodded, then helped Lori as they walked back to Alpha. I set my backpack on the ground and began pulling out materials. "Now, officer. If you would be so kind as to grab some of the wood and stone that was thrown around?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Because they remember what this place was earlier today. You'll see." He rubbed his temples, groaned, then walked off to grab supplies while muttering.
1 November 2005
We didn't know how much damage Alethea could actually do, but I had proposed that we treat her more as a poltergeist than a true ghost. Whatever had happened to her since she was released from that bathroom in Chicago had clearly changed her, made her more powerful, more angry, more meticulous. To carry on a months-long possession and trick Matteson into a relationship with someone who he had never seen outside of possession was something that didn't line up with what I had learned of her before; neither her personality nor her power could quite account for it. I feared I had all the answer I needed for that when I saw the small altar Matteson had retrieved from her apartment. If Hecate was involved, and that was certainly an altar designed for her, this must be far larger than I had realized. I kept most of those concerns to myself for the time being, though, as Matteson needed to focus on the immediate threat instead of getting distracted with the big picture. It was hard enough to keep just me from wondering what she could possibly want with this situation, let alone both of us.
True to my concerns, the power she unleashed when she arrived was terrifying to watch. There was lightning setting fires in the grass that slowly started to spread, trees being torn apart by what seemed to be a very localized tornado, rocks and dirt and broken shards of wood flying everywhere. I was, for the moment, far enough away that there was no immediate threat to me, but I didn't know if Matteson would get control of the situation before her anger grew to consume the whole park. I also learned that his power was not as passive as I had expected. It was not simply that the wind and lightning weren't reaching him, which was notable enough, but the objects being carried by the wind were suddenly taking a dive into the ground a few feet away from him, leaving a ring of debris perfectly surrounding him. In the midst of everything, I almost didn't notice the park guard pull up in his SUV and get out near the trees, watching with his mouth and eyes wide.
"You don't want to be here right now!" I screamed to him, he looked over at me, then back to the flying woman divebombing Matteson and raining down destruction around him, then ran over to me.
"What the hell is going on here? You people can't be doing this!"
"We're trying to stop this! We couldn't do it anywhere else, could you imagine this happening in someone's yard?" He grumbled, and pulled out a radio, and I reached over and put my hand on his arm. He looked at me, and I silently pleaded with him to stop. With a huff, he put the radio back, and turned to watch.
"I'm gonna have a hell of a time explaining this in the morning."
29 August 2005
I had grown so used to Chicago's transit system that I was caught off guard when I tried to check on bus schedules to get to an interview downtown and found out there were none. I tried to ask Matteson but he just waved it off and said he'd seen a bus occasionally at the Giant Eagle and the mall, but hadn't ever seen it anywhere else and wasn't convinced it actually carried passengers. He was able to drop me off on his way to work, but I was a few hours early, so I went to the river to meditate for a bit before making my way back to Main Ave.
It was a bit confusing to suddenly learn that Sharon had a Main Ave. In my mind, any road called Main is, well, the main road for the town. Here, that was East State Street, though I didn't realize that was its name until I'd been here for a month since all the locals pronounce it as Estate Street and none of the signs spell 'east' out. I only figured it out when I noticed it become W State Street near the house and asked about it. But Main was tucked away, completely unseen in all of my previous attempts to explore the town. Matteson explained its location to me, but was so vague that I ended up having him drop me off on the road so I could just retrace my steps back from the river.
One side of Main is just railroad tracks, beyond which lay a large parking lot and a red brick church to match. The other side was dominated by a couple long brick walls, worn down and cracked in their best places and actively crumbling at their worst. There were a few doors dotted along the walls, with sparse but large windows between them. One was a bar, or at least claimed to be; the others included a barbershop and shaving parlor, a tattoo shop, and a place that seemed to be a restaurant but gave no identifying information. Between them were a couple random houses and a much newer-looking diner. It felt old, older than the rest of the town, and despite seeing a couple people in the shops there were no people on the sidewalks or cars on the road. Really, it was the perfect place for a haunted house.
At the far end of the road from West State Street, on a corner across from a hardware store and a shifty-looking gas station, was a third brick building attached, through a garage well set off the road, to a brick house. Both structures had wood over all the windows, peeling paint, faded and discolored bricks, and sat among cracked pavement and spotty grass. Half of the house's facade was covered in a very ambitious vine, and the other building had a black sign with green and white lettering designed to look like dripping blood that read "Ghoul Mansion" and, below that between two large bones, "Scarin', PA." I stood in front of the structure, unsure which of the boarded-off doors I was supposed to enter, until a woman came walking around from behind the house. She looked completely out of place against the setting, like a cheery realtor trying to sell the Addams Mansion.
"Jackie?" she asked. I smiled and greeted her, and we shook hands on the sidewalk before she turned and looked at the structure with me.
"It's bigger than I expected," I said. She chuckled.
"You should see the inside!" With that, she led me into the building, and I got a tour of the whole place. By the end, it was apparent that the interview was something of a formality, as they had already decided to hire me based partly on my application and partly on Rick talking to one of the long-time staffers about my magic. A lot of the staff, though certainly not all, were some kind of pagan, she explained. I asked if this was a conscious decision on the part of the owners, and she explained that it was largely due to them all knowing each other, so once one was in the rest just found it easier to get hired.
I was there a little over an hour, seeing the site and signing paperwork, and walked to the McDonald's for dinner, where I met up with Rick and got a ride home. I felt like something was following me, but when I got home and did a short ritual to see local spirits I couldn't find anything.
17 June 2005
“So…you’re a witch, Jackie?” Lori was supposed to be meeting with John today, but he was running late from work and she was stuck waiting at the house with me. “What does that even mean?”
“I practice magic.” I sat down at the table opposite her, sliding her coffee over, then the sugar when I was done adding it to mine.
“Right. But, does that work? Like, is it real magic?”
“How have I never seen magic before? Is there some conspiracy to hide it, like in the movies?” I sighed and looked into my mug for a long moment before turning back to her.
“No, it’s–it’s just difficult. There’s always a cost involved. So very few people who pursue it stick it out, and the rest just, I don’t know, never notice it? I think people who don’t actually deal with magic think of it as something big and flashy, witches flying by on brooms and wizards calling down lightning and magic just generally serving as a sort of wild card to complicate our lives. So everything that isn’t that gets overlooked.”
“And that’s not accurate? You can’t fly?”
“I mean, I probably could, if I worked with an air or bird spirit or paid a pretty heavy toll. The fundamental forces don’t particularly like to be toyed with. I’ve never found it worth the effort to try, I guess.”
“So what do you do?”
“Mostly I study the flow of energy, or commune with spirits. Other stuff is more rare, honestly, I do it when I have to but that basic stuff is really the only reason I can at all. Like, I animated a statue once, but I wouldn’t do it again unless I really had to.”
“Most of that doesn’t sound like magic.”
“What do you think magic is?” I asked before taking a drink.
“It’s power, isn’t it? Raw influence over the world, control of the elements, a force barely contained by your vast learning and will?”
“That’s nice for movies,” I said with a chuckle, “but really, it’s just a connection to the other world. There’s a spiritual backstage to reality, and changing things there can change them here. Sometimes it’s more efficient to make changes if you’re working with the spiritual side than with the physical side, and sometimes it isn’t. Magic just gives us the option.” We sat in silence for a few minutes while she looked into her mug and slowly rubbed her hands over the ceramic.
“Do you help people with it?” she finally asked. I took a deep breath.
“Well. I try. Sometimes I can’t, and sometimes–sometimes what people think is helping isn’t, really.”
“Maybe that isn’t your place to say,“ she snapped. I went to say something, but then stopped. Before I found an answer, we heard the door open, and knew the conversation was over.
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.