Over the Hedge
While Sergei and Nan worked in the front of the store, I spent some time in their meditation corner working on some of what I had learned from The Fates. After returning to the physical world, I had been unable to duplicate the results I’d had in the cave. This was to be expected; The Fates had warned me that it would be much harder to do as it was, and the impact of Matteson’s nature on my magic, even when he was away, was probably a factor I hadn’t adequately considered. But I had a new theory to work with that I couldn’t access time the way The Fates did, anyway, at least not outside of their help. The thread they gave me was a focus, but the means they used relied on their nature as spirits, which I didn’t have. After my conversation with Sergei this morning, Nan suggested that spirits have their own paths to magic, distinct from humans. And, since I relied on a type of elemental energy, I may need to reframe my attempts at time magic to something that could connect to my element.
“This,” she said, “would be very difficult for some elements, like earth, which is too rigid. But water? I think you’ll figure it out.” If that was the case, then maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of time as a tapestry the way they did. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about time as a thing at all. Maybe I should be thinking of it as a flow.
So I sat down in the meditative space, the thread woven into my hair, trying to commune with water and feel the flow of things not just through space, but through time. Nan had set an incense burning to help me, and I had a stone from the Ohio River in one hand and one from Lake Michigan in the other. I quieted my mind, and began seeking the flow.
I don’t know how long it took me, as I started to lose sense of nearly everything before it happened, but I finally felt something click. I opened my eyes and looked around. At first, nothing seemed different, until I turned my attention to the incense and saw the smoke frozen in place. I felt pressure building up on me, and I suspected that this was because I was trying to stand still. Here I was, meditating on flow, and when I finally slipped into it I was looking at a single moment instead of going with that flow. I tried to push backward, but the pressure was stronger that way. Going against the flow would be even harder. But I knew I could do it, if I just gave it a little more energy. I bit my thumb, hard, hard enough to draw blood, and used that bit of blood to paint waves on my forehead as I chanted. Slowly, I felt the pressure begin to ease, and I turned my attention to the smoke again. I stared at it, pushing, until the smoke started to curl downward toward the fire. It was slow going, but I was getting there. I was watching time in reverse!
I stood and continued pushing, and when I glanced back I saw myself sitting in place, eyes closed. I left myself behind and walked out of the meditative space into the shop at large, and watched Sergei walking backward toward the office while Nan pulled a crystal out of a paper bag, folded the bag, and put it under the counter under the warm gaze of a customer, who had coins floating up into her hand from a change purse. I watched, in absolute glee at the fact that it was working, before I suddenly felt the pressure hit me again and throw me forward.
I gasped as my eyes flew open and I dropped the stones. I checked my hand, and my thumb had a small droplet of fresh blood on it. But I was out of the trance, and it had proven that I could do this. Now I just needed to get better at it.
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.
I couldn’t tell how long I was in the cave, since we were too deep to see the sun and we were fiddling with my sense of time. But we tried again, with the same point on the same thread, a couple dozen or so times. Each time I would get a little closer to clarity, and then pass out, have some food and drink and time to rest once I woke up, discuss what I was seeing with the Fates, and then try again. I was starting to understand why they didn’t tend to teach others how to do this, and appreciate that they were taking the effort to teach me.
During the downtime, when I was recovering from one attempt and preparing for another, they would give me tips on ways to ignore certain kinds of things, and how to navigate once I was in, and occasionally slip into their versions of various Greek myths. They told me that once I had a proper understanding of how to see within a person’s thread, I would have to learn for myself how to access those threads from beyond the cave. They could do it, of course—they said that it was as easy for them as breathing was for me—but they were not skilled in magic and did not know what it would take for a mortal to access that same skill. I explained my understanding that magic was just the act of connecting to one side of reality and using it to influence the other, and they seemed to think they might have an idea for me before I left.
By this point I was getting some sense of what I was looking for. By filtering out so much extra information, I was able to piece together that I was peering into my own thread, probably somewhere in my past. By focusing on those things I now knew, I was making much faster progress at getting a clear view of what I was being shown. It was still a few more tries before I was able to actually see the scene. Finally, after so much trouble, I saw me, my face blank, my body raised above the ground. I still felt a certain resistance, and when I pushed through, everything changed.
I was no longer on the outside, looking at my face as though through a window. I was standing in the moment, in the Crossroads, and the Fates were standing there with me. The Crossroads looked different, though, and sat in a vast empty plain. Millions of little paths stretched off from it in every direction, some even going straight up into the sky and others directly into the ground. In the center of it all sat Hecate, as I had never seen her, her faces showing both vitality and death, youth and old age, wisdom and desperation. She sat on a throne of animated bone, at least twenty feet tall, holding her hand up toward me. I was floating such that my eyes were at the same level as hers, and she looked to be mid-sentence. From behind her, the ravens were entering the space, but seemed to be coming from the space itself rather than any of the roads. I don’t know how I knew that, but it seemed so obvious somehow.
“Is this what the Crossroads really looks like?” I asked.
“Well, no,” Clotho said. “This is just your mind trying to make sense of what it sees. But it is more like what the Crossroads truly looks like than you have ever seen.”
“Because you are not really here, so it is not reacting to your expectations or comfort,” Lachesis answered. I walked around, taking everything in, while the Fates waited and watched me.
“I thought this was going to be somewhere in my past.”
“It is,” Atropos said.
“Why don’t I remember this?”
“Perhaps,” Clotho offered, walking over and resting her hand on my shoulder, “you should try to see the scene in action.” I remembered that they said I would need to learn how to manipulate the flow of events. I considered how I would do that, and without consciously deciding it, I reached out with my hand and began to turn it counterclockwise like a dial. Hecate’s mouth moved as slowly as my hand turned, and the ravens began to move backward and melt back into the scenery. I watched as I was lowered back toward the ground. I turned my hand the other way, a bit faster, and saw everything continue moving forward at the new rate. I backed up again, and then pushed my hand forward as though pressing the dial.
I watched the whole scene play out. I watched as Hecate told me to lead Matteson to her. I watched as she commanded me to forget the encounter, and I paused it again as the ravens took human form and I was leaving. I took some deep breaths, trying to calm down, and felt the weight of time on the scene pressing into me a bit again. It took a few minutes of focus to push that aside again, while I paced quickly through the Crossroads.
“What is this? Why would she do that?” I asked, to no one in particular.
“The Hecate you know is not the Hecate we know,” Lachesis said. “Your experience of her has been limited to what you want from each other. But there is so much you do not know about her goals, and her methods, and where all of this leads.”
“Will I know?”
“Yes,” Lachesis answered, “you will see the ultimate end of her thousands of years of work. It will be painful, and difficult, but you will be there when she makes her move.”
“What is all of this about?”
“You have learned all we have to teach you,” Atropos said, firmly, and with a snap of her fingers we were back in the cave, with no sign of the Crossroads or even the tapestry. “Be mindful, dear mortal. As you search the unknown, never forget that there is far more of it than you can ever expect.”
“The first thing you must do is forget about learning to see time,” Clotho said, standing from her spinning wheel and resting her hand on the stone wall. It lit up with a brilliant tapestry, its form completely alien to me, that stretched on as far as I could see in every direction. It was so all-consuming that I could no longer even make out the cave. There was only the four of us, standing in the midst of the great image. “Time is too big, too senseless, too…unformed. It is vast and raw and chaotic, and if you truly succeeded at seeing it for what it is you would go mad.”
“Then what am I learning?” I asked, as I made my way over to look at the tapestry.
“To follow the threads,” Lachesis answered. She plucked at one thread in the tapestry, and it resonated like the sound of an unearthly guitar and rippled through the whole structure. “You cannot think anything so broad as looking at a time, or even a time and a place. There are so many things at play that you cannot possibly prepare yourself to experience that way. Instead, you learn to trace a single line, and see what it contains.”
“Even the King sees history in this way,” Atropos added, “through one set of eyes at a time.”
“The king?” I asked. “King of what?”
“Of us,” Clotho said. “And of nothing. The name is not perfectly accurate, but it was a name given by the one who named him. You have met the King and Queen already.” I thought for a moment.
“The ravens?” Clotho nodded. “I was told they were Muininn and Huginn.”
“Like all of us, they are known by many terms and take many forms,” Lachesis said. “It is not important which of their names you use, what matters is that he has seen all of time, he remembers all and recalls all.”
“If you don’t mind the tangent, I have been very curious about them for some time, and—”
“There is but one thing you need to know of them from us,” Atropos cut in, “and that is how they relate to the vision you seek. In a sense, she is the chaos of time, and he is the threads woven from it. We see in a manner that he permits and establishes, though it is not exactly as he sees. This is the skill we will teach you.” I took a deep breath, then nodded. Clotho took my hand and guided it toward a single thread, which suddenly seemed larger and more distinct, as if it was yearning to be touched by me, stopping just before making contact.
“You must learn how to see only what you need to see,” she said. “To peer at even a single moment in a person’s life is to see the full weight of the forces that have shaped and are being shaped by that moment. It is too much for mortal minds to grasp. You must learn to focus, to filter out all of the noise of causality and simply see what you are seeing.”
“How long does it usually take mortals to do this?” I asked. Clotho shrugged.
“We’ve never shown it to a mortal before,” Lachesis said, “and we never will again. But it is destined for you to learn it.”
“I thought you determined destiny.”
“When it comes to destiny,” Atropos said, staring off into space, “there is little difference between seeing and deciding.” Clotho nodded, then touched my hand to the thread.
The initial experience of touching that thread was like standing between a train and an airplane as they collided. There was deafening noise, impossible pressure squeezing me, rapid and fractured movement, flashes of light and color and parts of faces, of places, of moments. I heard the voices of the Fates urging me to focus, and I tried. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I searched for something solid, something secure, some point at which all of this was fixed upon. They said that the weight of causality would surround even a single moment, but that must mean that there is something at the core of all of this, that everything I was experiencing was built on the thing I was supposed to see. I tried to look deeper, to ignore everything, to see only what I came to see.
It was impossible to tell how long it took. I was feeling the movement of so much time that it felt like I spent centuries fixed in that one spot, but I don’t know how much of that was time that actually passed for me and how much was just the weight of the time I was trying to sift through. I kept trying to focus, trying to filter my experience, trying to dig and find the core, and I made some progress. I found some things I was able to block out of my senses, and things got ever slightly more clear. I kept pushing and pushing and pushing…
And then I collapsed. The experience left me entirely, and I found myself laying on the floor of the cave with the Fates standing over me. My nose was bleeding, my vision was blurry, and I was exhausted. One of the Fates, I couldn’t tell which, laid a platter of fruit and cheese in front of me, and I ate a couple grapes and a few olives before passing out.
The road gradually changed, and after maybe a half hour of walking it had become a dirt path at the base of a cliff overlooking a dark and motionless sea. The path tilted up, and soon we were climbing back and forth along outcroppings of the cliff until we came to a dark cave far above the water. I looked up, but was unable to see anywhere the cliff ended. Hecate later told me this was the base of Mount Olympus itself, and there was no path that high available to mortals.
The cave was long and winding, digging deep into the mountain. There was a fork in the road, one path leading deeper down and the other curving back up. We took the latter, and finally emerged into a chamber bustling with activity. Three women worked quickly here; one spinning thread, another measuring out its length, and a third cutting it. The Fates, the Greek pseudodeities who were believed by their culture to determine the destiny and duration of every life, glanced up and smiled as if expecting me. And, of course, I suppose they were. It didn’t seem to much matter whether or not I held to the religion of the ancient Greeks. The Fates exist, whether as a distinct set of people or as but one manifestation of a deeper concept, and by existing they must have at least some insight into the destinies of individuals.
It made me wonder, as I revisited the topic later, about the nature of Hecate herself. She is Hecate, and she is also the Mistress of Magic, and the Queen of the Crossroads, and the Goddess of Liminal Spaces. But are those titles for a single being called Hecate, or is Hecate a title for a single being who is fundamentally the Goddess of Liminal Spaces? The name is easier to work with, and a recognizable form, but that doesn’t mean that is her true identity. I may have to revisit Sergei’s ideas about the many faces of Hecate through the ages. This idea was bolstered later by the Fates themselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was brought before the Fates, and Hecate informed them that I was interested in learning the secrets of time. Clotho, the first woman, explained that theirs was not the whole of time, but the allotment of an individual’s portion of time. Atropos, the third, pointed out that this gave them insight into the past and future, and therefore could teach me to use that insight, but it would only be part of the whole if I wished to truly master the flow of time itself. I explained that it was my desire to understand, and therefore insight seems the most natural place for me to begin.
“She will see how it all began,” answered Lachesis, the woman measuring the thread. “Her destiny includes sight of the past and future, and witnessing the rise and fall of the eternal.” Hecate rested her hand on my shoulder, and when I turned back to look, she was smiling.
“Very well,” she said to the three, “I leave her in your hands. The Hound will wait outside and see her home when you are done with her.” With that, she left, and the Hound made its way outside the cave.
“Thought she’d never leave,” Clotho grumbled.
“No you didn’t,” Atropos said, and they all laughed.
“Come come, sit down,” Lachesis said, waving a hand to me without turning her focus away from the thread. “There is much work to be done.”
“What did you mean, that I would see how it all began?” I asked, moving forward and sitting on a large, smooth rock. “Am I really going to see that far back?”
“Back?!” Clotho shouted with a laugh. I must have shown my confusion, because Atropos gave me a comforting smile.
“The beginning has not happened yet, dear,” she said, calmly. “You will find time to be more complicated than you realize.”
1 August 2006
It had been a long day, and I was ready to crash for the night. I got up to my bedroom a little after 11, and as soon as I closed the door I saw the Hound sitting next to my bed.
“Don’t you usually wait til I’m asleep?” I asked. It cocked its head, then stood and turned around. The wall behind my bed folded out into a forest path overlooking the sea, and the Hound began walking. I yawned, stretched, and followed.
I wasn’t sure whether it was simply because I was going to the Crossroads physically for the first time, or if I had really changed so much that my experience of the Crossroads had to be completely redesigned, but the path seemed much more real than it ever had before. It was partly the senses; the smell of Central American flowers and ocean air, the feel of the ground under my feet, the sound of birds lilting through the trees. But there was something else, something that felt much more surprising: the path no longer looked magical. Before, it had always had an air of mystery to it, a sense that it couldn’t possibly exist in the real world, and of course it couldn’t, not with the ocean hovering overhead and the path forming and disappearing in response to my steps. But this, this felt like home, a home of which I only had very sparse, fleeting memories, from so many years ago.
What was Hecate playing at?
She didn’t behave as if she noticed the difference in the realm when we reached her, and she certainly didn’t present herself any differently in reaction to context. It was strange, looking upon a Greek goddess standing tall in a wilderness half a world away from the mountain her kind called home, carrying herself as if this was her own personal temple. And, well, it was. Whatever the Crossroads looked like to me, it remained the Crossroads, and that made it hers. But the effect was jarring, and my new doubts about her intentions after negotiating with my life prevented me from simply dismissing that incongruity.
“Jacqueline,” she said, her voice dripping with honey. I bowed.
“I’ve been thinking about you, you know.” She sat on her throne, which hadn’t existed before and looked like black marble carved by Aegean sculptors. I stood upright. “About your skill for magic and desire for knowledge. You, my dear, did not stop developing and studying when I stopped calling on you.”
“I don’t see why I would have.”
“You’d be surprised, child. Everyone has their own goals, and those whose goals truly center on me lose their way quickly when I give them space. But others, they truly believe in something. They truly desire something, something I am happy to give in exchange for their service. I think it only right to offer you new knowledge, in honor of your development so far and as a sign of good faith as we continue.” The Hound was sitting by her side by now, and she gracefully slipped her hand down to scratch at the back of its neck. I stood silent for a moment, processing.
“What new knowledge did you have in mind?” She smiled broadly then, baring teeth that seemed to be just a bit more sharp than I remembered.
“What would you like, dear?” My breath caught for a second. I could choose? Would she accept anything I chose? I briefly considered my options, before a common trait of all of them came to mind. I straightened my posture and met her gaze.
“I want knowledge of time magic,” I said, firmly. “I want to know how to see the past and future, and ultimately, how to travel between them.” She chuckled and leaned back into her seat.
“Are you sure? Time is a complicated thing.”
“I’m sure.” She considered me for a moment, then clapped her hands together and stood.
“Very well! Come, come, let me show you the way.” She turned toward one of the other roads leading away from the Crossroads, and it suddenly seemed like there were hundreds of them. As she walked, the Hound rose to join her, and I began to follow.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.