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.”
The porridge Nan had made for breakfast was warm and comforting, and I didn’t realize how hungry I was until it was in front of me. I had two bowls before I was finally able to relax and talk, with Sergei and Nan patiently waiting. I started telling them what I saw, and they were very excited to hear about my brief stop at my wedding. Sergei asked when it was, so they could plan a vacation, but I didn’t actually know. But when I got to the part about The Two, they both went silent and listened intently.
“So she put the thread in your eye?” Nan asked. “Is that what the new gold flecks are?”
“And it isn’t going away?” Sergei asked.
“I saw the same flecks in the eye of every future version of myself I’ve met.”
“But nothing more,” Nan pressed, “this isn’t becoming a habit, you doing things to your eyes?” I chuckled.
“As far as I can tell, this is it.”
“If things do not change,” Sergei said, wagging his finger.
“I don’t think they can change.”
“Of course they can! Time is not stone, it moves. It changes! It can change.”
“We’re talking about fate, dear,” Nan said, resting a hand on his knee.
“Pft. Fate. Is nice word, but time changes.” She rolled her eyes.
“The Two said they’d seen it all before!”
“And they said they had to keep things same. Which,” he held his hands out and shrugged, “is chance for it to not stay same.”
“I think I’m going to try and stick to the script, if you don’t mind,” I said, setting the bowl down and picking up my drink.
“But you choose that. This is what matters,” he said, turning to Nan, “is that she chooses.”
“Of course, dear.” She patted his knee and then turned her attention back to me. “But you didn’t get the answers you were looking for?”
“I got some,” I said, “and I suspect, over time, I’ll realize that I got more than I know. But I couldn’t have gotten anywhere without your help. Both of you.”
“Well, we’re not done.” Nan walked to the other side of the room, grabbing some papers off a shelf. “Sergei had some more detailed theories for you, but had to write them in Russian. I translated them for you.” I flicked through and found pages detailing various forms Sergei believed Hecate had taken over the years, beginning with…
“Is this Atlantis?” I asked. Sergei nodded enthusiastically, and Nan sighed.
“Yes. It’s a pet idea of his. You can do what you want with the ideas. They’re theories—”
“Correct theories,” Sergei added.
“—that you can take, and decide for yourself how useful they are.”
“Thank you,” I said. “But shouldn’t the store be open by now?”
“Is time,” Sergei said, waving the question off, “it changes.”
24 January 2007
When my eyes opened, I was facing the ceiling and the sky; both of them, juxtaposed over each other. I felt the couch under me, but as I looked around everything was a blur of motion. The walls were being built, they were built, they were being destroyed. Nan, Sergei, and a few dozen other people I didn’t recognize were everywhere, all occupying the same space, but drifting through and past one another in perpetual motion. They aged and resumed their youth, they left and never returned while they entered for the first time. I stood and stumbled across a floor that was there on one step and gone the next, the carpet shifting and changing, the structure built or missing, everything in flux, everything changing around me. I grabbed my head and felt my hair growing as I tried to soothe the ache. I tripped over something—it was impossible to know what, with so much furniture coming and going—and crashed hard onto the floor. I felt a hand on my back, warm but fleeting, and a cacophony of voices overwhelmed me. I rose to my knees and screamed, the pain in my head growing more sharp and everything breaking down around me.
Then I felt something pulling at me. From every direction, a total of eight points of tension pulled at me, holding me in place. My surroundings began to slow and meld, stabilizing ever so slightly. I looked around, trying to make it out, and saw the lines leading away from me, each to a person. There was Matt, and Jacob, and the six other people who took part in the ritual in their apartment. All around me, they were keeping me in place, fighting against the pull I was still wrapped in. I closed my eyes and focused, chanting. I remembered the shard in my pocket and grabbed it, pulling it out of my pocket and holding it with both hands. I narrowed my mind on it, then held it up and looked through it. In the lens I could see Nan and Sergei’s apartment, stable and unmoving, with Nan kneeling in front of me and trying to soothe me. I tried to block out everything else. I tried to remind myself of what was important.
I have the magic to do this.
I have Nan and Sergei waiting for me and trying to pull me back.
I have friends helping me, supporting me, holding back as much of this chaos as they can.
I have people back home who need me, people I want to see again, people I will see again.
I am never alone.
My breathing slowed into a steady rhythm and my vision began to close in, as if a tunnel was slowly absorbing everything else. I saw where I needed to go. I knew how to get there. I closed my eyes, whispered one more incantation, and shattered the shard in my hand. I heard glass breaking everywhere around me, the visions shattering and falling away. The cacophony ended. The feeling of being pulled stopped. I opened my eyes and looked directly into Nan’s. She smiled.
“I was afraid we were losing you,” she said, running her hand through my hair. I reached up and rested my hand on her wrist.
“I would never.” She pulled me in for a hug, and I didn’t fight it.
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.”
The problem with moving forward, I suspected, was not going to be getting into the flow. I’d already learned how to do that. The problem was going to be moving at the pace I wanted to move, stopping when I got where I wanted to go. The other problem was that I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, or how concrete the future was. Would I change things by looking forward? It seemed unlikely, based on how the Fates described the weave of time, but I couldn’t be certain. I needed to be careful.
Nan had given me something new this time. It was one of the shards of colored glass that hung from the ceiling in the shop and tinted the sunlight coming in through the windows, dancing around the store. I had always loved those shards, and the effect they had in the shop, and she knew that. She explained that, unlike when I was traveling to the past, I wouldn’t be able to just fall back into my own time if I found myself struggling. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of getting lost! She told me the shard was a focus, something I could hopefully use to find my way back to the shop if I had difficulty. I thanked her, and went to begin my meditation.
I was able to feel the tug of time’s flow quickly, but I didn’t jump in right away. I continued to focus, steadying myself, until I was certain I would have about as much control as I could muster. Then, and only then, did I let myself flow along. Everything was a blur at first, and it took me another moment to recenter and focus on the work at hand. I forced myself to slow down, at least enough that I could start taking in some of the sights flashing past me. Here I was in a cabin with Rick, Matteson, and Alice. There I was at the house. I saw myself in a tuxedo and forced myself to stop.
I was standing in a room in the house, the size and layout looked like Henry’s room, but the decorations were clearly mine. The tuxedo I had on was clearly tailored, and looked damn good on me. She knew it, too, and her eyes in the mirror shifted to look directly at me and wink. I laughed; I hadn’t really considered that I would remember watching this happen. She smoothed out the jacket, then left the room as I followed. The house looked entirely different, I saw almost nothing that belonged to Matteson. What happened? When even was this? But she wasn’t lingering, and neither did I. We made our way out to a car, I suspected our car, and I slipped into the passenger seat as she turned the ignition. She sat for a moment, as if deep in thought, and then turned to me. She was younger than the mother at the crossroads, but still had those golden flecks in her eye. I suddenly felt exposed, as if she could see me with it.
“I can see you,” she said, calmly. “And also I remember this. It’s…a significant day for us.”
“Does it work? Do I get my answers?” I asked. She scowled.
“I can’t tell you that. But listen, you can’t stick around. I’ll take you where I’m going, and you can see briefly what it is, but that’s it, got it?” I nodded. “Good. Wouldn’t want to give everything away.” She smiled, turned her attention to the road, and pulled out.
“Is it because of those flecks in your eye?” She nodded.
“Yeah, they help a lot with time magic, and there’s a certain low-level awareness I have all the time now. I suspect I can see any time travelers, it just isn’t a common enough practice for me to have seen any other than myself.”
“That is a very flattering suit.”
“Thanks! Getting sized for it was a pain, but thankfully I knew the result would be worth it.” I watched out the window and realized we were pulling into Buhl Park. The car wound around a bit until it reached one of the pavilions, clearly set up for a wedding. I saw Matteson, Alice, Marz, and a few other faces I recognized there.
“Who’s getting married?” She parked the car and smiled at me.
“We are, of course!” With that she was out of the car, and I scrambled to catch up to her. “I’m glad we could do it outside. They were saying there was a chance of rain, but of course,” she pointed to the sky and I looked up into a cloudless expanse, “I knew they were wrong.”
“Well it wouldn’t be a day important enough to stop you if it was anyone else, would it?” I considered that as we walked. Alice glanced up, talked briefly with Matteson, then ran over to Jackie.
“You’re here! Good, we’re almost all ready. Don’t go snooping around behind the pavilion, now,” Alice said. I glanced down and noticed Alice was wearing a wedding band. Jackie smiled.
“Thank you so much for all of this! I really appreciate your help.” Alice leaned closer.
“John says you aren’t alone,” she whispered.
“Ah, yeah. I should’ve probably told you. That’s me from the past, she won’t be staying long, but that is how I knew the weather would cooperate.” Alice sighed in relief.
“Okay. That makes sense. I never know what to expect with you. Hello, past Jackie.”
“Hello,” I said. She clearly couldn’t hear me. “How long am I staying, anyway?”
“As long as you want, really, as long as you don’t get too close to Matteson,” Jackie answered. Alice nodded and walked away, apparently confident she wasn’t part of what was now happening. “But you’ll know when you’re risking seeing too much. I have things to do, explore a bit.” She went off toward the people who were finishing setting up, and I stood looking around for a while. What was behind the pavilion? I made my way through the ceremony space, taking in the flowers and the ribbons. It was all very nice and beautiful, and purple. There was more purple than I would have expected. I rounded the corner of the building and caught sight of her. I couldn’t see her face, she was turned away from me, but I could see the wedding dress and the women fussing over her.
Of course. It was bad luck for the couple to see each other before the wedding, so she couldn’t peek back here. Did that apply to me, too? Part of me felt a bit sad, and as I slipped back around the corner to stop looking I considered why that was. I mean, yes, it was disappointing to know Rick and I didn’t work out, but I wasn’t that committed to being with him, was I? I wanted to look around the corner again, see who she was, but then I realized that this was it. That was too much information. I sighed, focused, and stepped back into the flow.
The First City, According to Sergei
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.