Over the Hedge
25 January 2007
“How was your trip?” Alice asked, as we stood next to the baggage claim in Pittsburgh. The machine kicked on and a couple bags started to emerge from wherever they are before they get here.
“It was very good. Got to see some friends, had some time to relax, got some work done.”
“Yeah, I know you were looking for answers about something. Did you get them?” I thought for a second.
“Not as much as I was hoping. But I got some, yeah.” My suitcase came around, and we grabbed it and made our way to the car. Alice was filling me in on things I’d missed—it wasn’t much, really—for the first bit of the drive, but she changed tone once we were settled onto the highway.
“What happened?” she asked.
“In Chicago?” She nodded.
“You seem like you have a lot to say, but you aren’t saying it. And your eye is different.” I adjusted in my seat and thought about how to answer her.
“I saw the future,” I said, finally. “Some of it, anyway.”
“Was it bad?”
“Nothing that I saw was bad. It was just a lot. I saw the four of us, you and me and Matteson and Rick, at a cabin. That looked nice.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea! My family has a cabin, over in the mountains. I should talk to them about letting us use it, you know, when it warms up some.”
“Yeah, that would be nice. I saw bits and pieces of things, I didn’t really manage to stay in one place long enough to get any real information. I was eventually pulled aside by The Two and told there were things I couldn’t see yet.”
“Who are The Two?”
“Oh, uh…they’re like, well they aren’t in charge of the metaphysical realm, necessarily, but they kind of embody it?”
“Oh, the King and Queen?” I stared at her.
“Where’d you get those names?” She shrugged.
“That’s what Matteson calls them. Said only the Queen ever talks to him.”
“Do you know where he got those names?”
“From the way he described it, it sounded like he just came up with it. When he first met them. I’m surprised he hasn’t told you this.”
“I guess we haven’t really talked about it.” I looked out the window, thinking, for a couple minutes. “Wait, he started calling them King and Queen, unprompted?”
“Yeah. He said they didn’t give him anything to call them, so he just called them that, and they were okay with it.”
“Matteson named them?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“No, but, I was told they were given the titles King and Queen by the one who named them. And you’re telling me Matteson gave them those titles. That means Matteson named them, and it means Matteson, for some reason, had the right to name them.”
“That sounds pretty important.”
“It is important. There’s no way Matteson should have the power to name them, nothing that I can think of would give him that kind of authority.”
“You think he has authority?”
“No. But, it almost seems like he’d have to, doesn’t it?” We rode in silence for a while. I tried to piece these things together, but nothing was clicking. There was some piece I was missing, I knew it. But if that was the case, I probably wouldn’t know what that piece was until I was much older. The mother at the not-Crossroads, she seemed like she had only just figured it out. Was it really going to take me twenty years to get the missing piece? Or was there more than one missing piece?
“Well,” Alice finally said, “this all assumes he named them, and didn’t just stumble on a name they already had that he just didn’t know about, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess.”
“Did you see me in the future?” She smiled, clearly trying to change the subject.
“I did. And you were wearing a wedding band.” She gasped.
“Really? When was this? Who did I marry?” I shrugged.
“I didn’t find out what the date was. And you weren’t standing next to a husband, or wife for that matter, so I don’t know. I couldn’t exactly ask you.”
“Husband,” she said, with finality. “It would be a husband. Nothing against it, but that’s not for me.” I chuckled as I leaned back into my seat.
“Time is not stone, Alice. None of us really know the future until we get there.”
It took me a minute to get my bearings, but once I did I realized we were a few blocks away from the shop. My hand slipped away from the woman’s, but when I turned back to check I realized they were still there.
“Can everyone see you?” I asked. He nodded.
“Well. They see something,” she said with a shrug. “They know you’re talking to a person. Who they see is another question entirely. Do you know who they’re seeing?” she asked, turning to the man. He signed again, and she whispered “ooooh” before turning back to me. “He does, but it’s different for everyone.”
“And he knows what they all see?” He nodded. “How?”
“You’re going to Nan and Sergei’s yes?” the woman said as she began walking in the direction of the shop. The man and I quickly caught up and continued. “None of our names are arbitrary, you know. King and Queen are because we functionally rule over the Metaphysical Realm, and it was easier for him.”
“Huginn and Muninn are appropriate names because they more or less reflect what we do. Muninn,” she said, jamming a thumb to point in his direction, “is memory. Literally, well, as close to literally as we are anything. He remembers everything every mortal has ever known.”
“And that makes you Huginn, thought, right?” She nodded.
“Thought is more fluid, more lively. I bring the spark, the flow, the energy and vibrancy and life to the Realm. He gives it form and structure.”
“Look, we’re trying to make sense of Hecate and what she’s planning. Can you tell me anything about that?”
“We could tell you everything about that.”
“Not a word.”
“Why not?” I stopped, blowing on my hands and then shoving them into my coat pockets. The Two stopped as well, turning to me. Huginn sighed.
“This story is bigger than you know. It’s more important. It must play out a certain way. We can nudge to keep it on track, but even we cannot spoil or change it. If you knew,” she said, walking over and placing her hands on my cheeks. My entire body suddenly felt warm, as if we had traded January in for July, “oh, if you knew.” She shook her head and lowered her hands. “There is no way it can play out as it needs to if you know the answers too soon. But, I promise, it will all make sense. You’ll see.” She turned away and took a couple steps toward the shop, and he did the same.
“Will it hurt?” I asked. They both stopped and looked at each other, then back to the sidewalk.
“Some more than others. Come, Nan’s porridge will thicken too much if she leaves it hot for you much longer.”
“I thought he was memory?” I asked, catching up. He pointed to a nearby awning, and when I looked I saw the Ravens perched and watching us.
“He is everyone else’s memory, Jackie. But I have watched this play out before, and I will likely watch it play out again.”
“So this is a cycle? Does it keep happening?”
“Not for you. And not for the world. But we are not bound by time, and flow through it in our own way, on a path that you cannot begin to track.”
“But…you must know, if you see everything, about the meeting—”
“We agree not to watch your meeting, if you agree not to give anything away.”
“What would I give away?” She smiled.
“You’ll know by then.”
“The Fates, they said the beginning hadn’t happened yet, and that time was more complicated than I knew. Were they talking about you?”
“In a sense. But mostly in the way people are frequently talking about us without knowing it.” We stopped in front of the shop, and I looked them over again. “We have one more gift for you.” She held out her hand. “Please, let me see the thread.” I hesitated, then reached into my hair and removed the golden thread from the Fates.
“What do you want with it?”
“To help you.” I took a deep breath, and decided then and there to trust her. I handed her the thread, and she formed it into a circle. “You have been entrusted with a great gift. You cannot risk it falling out of your care.” She held it up directly in front of my face, pausing over my brown eye. There was a flash, and I recoiled. It took me a moment to clear my head, but when I did, I saw the thread was gone.
“What have you done with it?” I demanded. She pointed past me, and I turned around. In the window of the shop, I saw my reflection. There, in my brown eye, were the golden flecks. “It was good to talk, Jackie. We’ll see you again soon.”
“My soon, or yours?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said, then gave a weak smile before they both vanished. I watched the spot where they had been for a moment, then took a deep breath and reached for the door.
“The void beyond time? How’d I end up here?” I asked.
“Oh, it was a simple redirect,” she said, sitting down. “You were trying to go somewhere you can’t go, and we felt it appropriate to discuss that with you instead of just kicking you out. You can sit down if you like.”
“Wherever.” I went to speak, but didn’t know what to say to that, so I just lowered myself as if there was a chair behind me and soon felt myself sink into a cushion. I looked around, but there was nothing there. I leaned to the side against an armrest that must have been composed of the void itself, and the woman nodded. “Now. What were you trying to do?”
“I was…well, I had started trying to see if I could learn what Hecate was planning, but the farther I looked into the future the more some moment was just drawing me.” She nodded.
“Yeah, it’ll do that. You’re seeking information, and it is a wellspring of information.”
“The time you were trying to reach. There’s so much information there, in fact, that no one is allowed to look there from any other point. Except us, of course.”
“We are not subject to the rules.”
“Because we are the rules.” She smiled again at that and leaned back, folding her hands on her stomach. “We are the Metaphysical Realm, in a sense.”
“In a sense?”
“Well. Nothing here is as easy as all that.”
“And here, this is…part of the realm, somehow?”
“Sure is! Or at least it is when we’re in it. I’m not actually entirely sure whether or not it exists as a distinct thing.” She turned to look at the man. “Do you know?” His hands, which I now saw were uncovered and the same tone as his face, reached out of his sleeves and signed something quickly. “Right, right. That makes sense.” She turned back to me. “It’s complicated, but a yes will suffice.”
“Is that what he signed?”
“Oh.” We sat for a bit.
“Well, anyway. The point is, you can’t look at that period, and if you can’t resist the urge, you may want to just not look forward at all.”
“What period?” She looked back to the man again, who sighed and signed something else.
“October 31 through November 4, 2028,” she said with a nod as she turned back to me.
“Wait, there’s information I won’t be able to uncover for another twenty years?”
“Yup!” I leaned back.
“It’ll be fine. You have plenty to occupy your time. Now, if there isn’t anything else.” She stood up and offered her hand.
“There’s so much else!”
“Not today, there isn’t.” I sighed and took her hand, and suddenly found myself standing back in Chicago, still holding her hand. I turned to look, and the man was still standing behind her.
There was something intoxicating about seeing this far into the future. At first, I assumed it was just the excitement of knowing things that were yet to come, but as I pushed farther along I began to feel a pull. There was something, somewhere ahead, that seemed to be beckoning me, calling to me, promising greater knowledge than I could even imagine. It was mild at first, just flickering at the edge of my senses. But as I approached it, it grew stronger, and before I realized it I was ignoring everything else I was passing and pushing forward with reckless abandon, diving deeper, pouring more and more of myself into the quest to find this one bright, burning, powerful moment that felt like the very center of the entire metaphysical realm.
I was losing myself, losing sense of what I was doing, hopelessly fixed on this one point, when I suddenly stopped.
I found myself floating, adrift in an endless void, dull gray everywhere and no sense of direction, or time, or anything. It was just me, lost. I took some time, could have been seconds or years for all I knew, to refocus and figure out what was going on. I no longer felt the pull of that point in the future. I no longer felt anything. I knew this was wrong, somehow, but couldn’t place my finger on what was wrong about it. When I finally had regained my composure, I tried to focus again to move forward. Then I tried to move backward. But if either attempt worked, I couldn’t tell.
As I floated and tried to determine what was stopping me from moving, the void ahead of me began to pinch together and form into shapes. There was no color at first, and no light or shadow, so I’m not sure how I knew that was happening, but I did. Finally, the gray of the void dripped off the shapes, and I found myself looking at a man and a woman. Or at least, two entities that took on the form of a man and a woman.
I could make out very few identifying details on the man. He was wearing a light brown robe that hung down farther than his feet with sleeves that covered his hands, and the parts of him that were exposed where it opened were covered in black, shining armor, with bits of black fabric showing between the highly decorated pieces. The hood of the robe lay low over his face, and the shadow of it hid everything from view except his mouth and chin. That little bit of exposed skin, the only skin I could see, was a light brown, not dark but unmistakably meant to look like a black man. This, and the fact that he was about as tall as I was, were about all I could make out of what he must look like with the hood drawn away.
She was certainly naked, but had no anatomy showing that would have made that more obvious than an incredibly form-fitting outfit. She was broader and taller than I was, and her body was covered in swirling designs and runes that danced around, some of them seeming to lift off her body or sink below her skin, yet still visible, completely of their own volition as they moved across her blue skin. The markings glowed faintly, and her face shone with a warm and inviting smile. Her features, I would later find out when I went digging online for pictures of various ethnicities, looked like she had taken inspiration for her form from one of the myriad island peoples dotted along the Pacific. Her hair was thick, long, and tightly curled as it lay over her shoulders and hung down her back. She hid nothing, but aside from her basic features, there was nothing about her that stayed constant long enough to identify.
“Jackie,” she said, extending her arms in a hug, which I returned before thinking about it. She held me for a moment, then placed her hands on my shoulders and held me at arms’ length. “How are you?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking her over again, “do I know you?”
“Oh, not yet. But we have met. You may remember us more in our raven forms. Right?” she asked, turning to the other. “That already happened, yeah?” He nodded, and she turned back to me with a broad smile. “Yeah, that happened already.”
“Wait. Huginn and Muninn?”
“Oh, we get called that sometimes, sure,” she answered, letting go of me and waving her right hand dismissively. “We get called lots of things. Officially, if there is an ‘officially,’ we’re King and Queen, but spirits tend to call us The Two. Welcome to the void outside of time, Jackie! We don’t get many visitors.”
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.
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.
Nan told me some months ago that it was probably not worth the effort to dig much into the two beings that appeared to me when I was tracking down Alethea. But something about them seemed important, and the lack of solid information on them in the lore we knew kept nagging at me. I had to see if I could find anything.
The first lead we had was the idea that they might be Odin's ravens, who were tasked with traveling around the world and reporting what they saw to their king. But the description given of them was vague at best, and they did not strike me as beings who answered to a Norse deity that would have no reason to interact with me. Their behavior did not strike me as passive observers. And when I sat down to think about it, I began to suspect I had heard something of them from Hecate.
It took a great deal of digging before I realized that the only places where I found references that may have described this pair were on the fringes. They were background entities, present for a great many first-hand accounts but rarely active enough to be remembered in later tales based on the events. Other spirits seem to know of them, though my experience and what I've heard from Nan suggests they are not a comfortable topic of discussion. But a few universal facts arose; they alternate between human and raven forms, they are always seen together, and they possess great power but are rarely seen using it. Then I began to put the words used to describe them into columns and that was when I noticed that the descriptions of the woman always seemed chaotic, wild, and active, while the descriptions of the man always seemed ordered, reserved, and cryptic.
When Hecate told me about Anchors and Warlocks, she claimed that they represented the same forces that 'The Two' represented; Anchors brought physical order to the metaphysical realm, while Warlocks brought metaphysical chaos to the physical realm. By association, then, perhaps the man (who is always described as clean dressed as human or solid black as a raven) is Order and the woman (who is always described as composed of swirling energy) is Chaos.
But what are they? Do they influence both realms? Do they influence only one? Or are they simply beings who operate in the domains of order and chaos and do not themselves control it? Hecate deeply hates ravens; is it possible that these beings claim some dominion over Anchors and Warlocks (who she also claims dominion over), and if so, are they rivals to her? Are they rebellious servants of hers, originally tasked as intermediaries between her and the humans under her domain?
There is something to this connection between her and them, and I cannot help but feel it is the reason they arrived in my life when they did. I cannot let this go now. I have to learn more.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.