Over the Hedge
13 September 2005
The dirt road went on much longer than we expected, with nothing much to look at on the way but the train tracks on one side and a dark expanse of crabgrass on the other. It was a straight shot, though, so Matteson pushed Alpha much faster than I felt comfortable with. Rick and Charles were carrying on in the back seat the whole time, debating the existence of aliens with arguments that were, I hope, intentionally absurd. Shortly after I finally started to get comfortable in the knowledge Matteson wasn't going to hit anything and let go of the handle above my door, the radio cut out. The car went silent.
"Are we, by chance, driving out of the range of that station?" I asked.
"That station transmits from Youngstown," Matteson answered, cracking his window and then lighting a cigarette.
"Not from around here, remember?"
"We're driving toward it." I took a deep breath and started fiddling around in my bag.
"That is exactly the opposite of what I wanted you to say." I pulled out my phone and checked it. Finding I had no signal, I began looking for something else to test. The car started to slow and I looked to Matteson.
"Are you stopping? What's going on?"
"Town," he said, pointing ahead. I looked out the windshield and saw that we were, in fact, emerging into an actual town. The road was paved by the time we came across a line of brick buildings, the edge of town. There were no buildings beyond them in this direction, and even the paved road we were now on had no markings of any kind. The buildings had no windows facing our direction, which gave them a monolithic appearance, like a medieval walled city with a single gate opened for us. Immediately after those buildings was a stop sign and an intersection, and after looking around for a moment Matteson turned right.
"Why are we going this way?"
"Because I turned left last time."
"Oh great," Charles whined, "not this again."
"What? What's that mean?" I asked, turning around.
"He doesn't like when Matteson wings it," Rick answered. "We had one time where it turned out to be a bad idea, and he's never lived it down."
"One time?! It's gone terribly awry every time!" Charles cried out.
"Is this true?" I asked.
"Of course not," Matteson answered. "He doesn't realize I'm always winging it." Charles grumbled.
"Hey guys?" Rick asked. I turned back to him. "Does this place seem odd to you?" I looked around at the town, really for the first time, and started to notice that it seemed empty. It was night, so I wouldn't have expected it to be wildly busy, but it was just...silent. No lights were on in any building, house or apartment or business. The streetlights were off. There was no movement, no people, no animals, nothing. No cars on the roads, in driveways, or in parking lots. We were completely alone. Well, for a little while, anyway.
We spent a few minutes driving around aimlessly, unsure of what road would take us out of town or where we even were. The discussion during that time mostly focused on how weird it was to find a town like this, which looked fully lived-in, but with absolutely no evidence anyone currently lived in it. The radio started to pick up a signal, faint at first but growing stronger. It wasn't the station we had been listening to before, and it wasn't even really anything intelligible, but it certainly sounded like it was made with intention. Like structured static, or whispers from a robot's dreams. I looked back to say something to Charles and noticed something large and black behind us, mostly seen by way of the highlights where it caught the light of the moon.
"I think we have company," I said. Matteson checked his mirror.
"It's a garbage truck," he said. "I've never seen a black garbage truck before."
"How can you tell?"
"He's good with the dark," Rick said. "I don't know if it's a spirit thing or what." I sat back down in my seat and made sure my seatbelt was tight.
"If that thing is black, it has to be spotless to look like that. And why couldn't I see the windows?"
"It is awfully strange to have a spotless garbage truck," Matteson said, taking the next turn. "And maybe the windows are tinted."
"Are tinted windshields legal here?"
"Legal or not, it seems bad."
"Something bad that's following us," Charles said, looking out the back window. I glanced back and saw that the truck had indeed taken the same turn. It was getting closer, and the signal on the radio was getting stronger.
"Maybe this was just the turn it was supposed to take?" Rick offered.
"You see any garbage out for them to pick up?" Matteson said, lighting a new cigarette and then taking the next turn. The truck took the same turn. "Fuck, hold on everyone." Rick and Charles sat facing dead forward and buckled their seat belts. I turned back as well, glancing over to Matteson as he clenched his teeth down on the cigarette and punched the gas. The truck kept pace, but he kept cutting down random roads and speeding up as much as he could. The truck could keep with us on straights, but with all the turns, it started to fall behind ever so slightly.
"You got this?" I asked, feeling Alpha tip as he took one turn much faster than I think could possibly be safe.
"Almost," he said, glancing at his mirror. I grabbed the handle and started muttering invocations for safety. "Can you hide us, just briefly?"
"I don't know, that's a tricky one and I might not have the supplies..."
"What do you need?" The tires screeched and I felt fairly certain two of them came off the road briefly.
"Distance from you, for one thing! But even with that, I dunno, something...something invisible? That would help? Or-" Matteson reached up and snapped the rear view mirror off the windshield and tossed it into my lap.
"Something that can show what we want it to show?"
"I...yeah, I think this can work."
"On my mark!" I quickly tried to think of the wording of a spell that would do what was being asked of me, as he cut around one corner and, before the truck could make the same turn, dove into an alley and slammed on the brakes. "Now!" He turned off the engine, closed his eyes, and focused; I gripped the mirror and spit out the best thing I could think of. The truck went past us, slowing down as if looking around, but did not turn down our alley. As it passed and the moonlight hit it better we could all see that it was, indeed, a perfectly clean, black, garbage truck, with a red spiral painted on the side near the back. We waited until we were certain it was gone, once the signal on the radio faded entirely, then he started Alpha back up and punched the gas. We didn't see the truck again before he found a sign for Route 224, and by the time we got onto that road everything looked normal.
"I told you!" Charles screamed, "I told you it always goes bad!"
"Nah," Matteson answered, picking up the mirror from my lap and tossing it onto the dashboard. "Bad would've been getting caught."
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.
1 August 2005
I was used to communing with the spirits of a Great Lake, and while I still had one available, it was now a two hour drive away and I didn’t yet have a car. My choices had become a small, heavily polluted river running through Sharon or the reservoir on that same river a few towns north. I had tried both, but my attempts to meet whatever slept in Sharon’s waters had been fruitless. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the river was even still alive. The pop machine in the McDonald’s next to the river always smelled like sulfur, to the point where Matteson and his friends would only buy food and then cross the street to buy drinks at a news stand.
But today, I found myself outside of Pittsburgh, having taken a ride from Rick who wanted to visit some friends he knew nearby. We had arranged to meet in a few hours, and I intended to use the time to seek a connection with the Ohio River. Surely, this one would have active spirits in it.
I was there meditating on the very edge of the water nearly a half hour before something began to stir. The water itself seemed to rise up into a vaguely humanoid shape and I dropped backward and scrambled back to my feet. The form moved to the edge of the water, its face drawing close enough that I could feel the mist on the edge of its form.
“What do you want? Why are you afraid?” it asked.
“I...sorry, sorry, it’s just, the spirits in Lake Michigan only ever spoke to me, I never saw them, it was-”
“I am not a lake spirit.”
“Yes. Right! Of course! Sorry.” We both stared at each other for a long moment.
“What do you want?”
“Right! I just seek a connection,” I offered, “my element is water, you see, and the spirits of the closest river have been ignoring me, and I just wanted to ask, I guess?”
“I know of you. They know of you. They do not trust you.”
“You have acquired the scent of a Riverborn. But you are not Riverborn.”
“Riverborn? What--I don’t understand.”
“There are very few children we have in the world. Somehow, you have acquired their scent. Their river has taken a great deal of damage, and they are worried about your intentions with the Riverborn and with them.”
“I don’t even...wait. You mean Matteson?” The spirit stood bolt upright at that, pulling away and towering over me.
“John Matteson. He’s a friend of mine, I actually rent a house with him right now which I suppose probably smells like him. His family, he told me he comes from-”
“Wait here,” the spirit said, before vanishing back under the water. I leaned forward, resting my hands on my knees, as I caught my breath. It was only a couple minutes before the spirit appeared again, this time only about as tall as I am. “They say they have seen you walking with John Matteson. You are friends?”
“How is he?”
“Do...do you know him?” I asked. The spirit stood silent for a moment, then the water around its head pulled back and I saw what appeared to be a male Native American face.
“We have not met, but those trusted by John Matteson are welcome here. You may call me Abe. Please. Tell me about his family.”
7 July 2005
I had been here for a month and found nothing so far. All of my cursory searches had turned up no sign of Alethea, surprisingly few ghosts in general, and I was digging deep into my notes to find any last resort tests. I didn't want to be desperate about it, but I also didn't want to feel like I'd up and moved halfway across the country for no reason.
I called Nan and got some input, and she dug around the shop and called me back later with a test I could do that would turn up any ghost activity that had happened in the last couple months. It was complicated, a ritual and some herbs and a questionable potion, but she assured me that if it didn't turn up anything, there was nothing to find. She also warned me not to drink the potion on an empty stomach.
It took me a couple days of looking to find all the ingredients, and I finally started the ritual this morning. After a hearty lunch, I knocked back the potion, inhaled the smoke from the herbs, and finished the last few steps of the ritual with my eyes closed. When I opened them, I nearly fell out of my chair.
The entire house was glowing, to the point where it was almost painful to look at. I made my way through the house, clutching my head as the brightness stabbed into my eyes, and tried to take in everywhere the ghost had been. It was easier, in the end, to note where it hadn't been: our roommate's bedroom was the only place untouched by the presence. I stumbled back to the living room, the sheer energy of everything beginning to overwhelm me, and fumbled in my bag for my kit. I had to know whether it was Alethea or not. I had to know why this was all so well hidden, how I hadn't seen any trace of it before when it had clearly been absolutely everywhere. I groaned and tried to shake the fog from my mind that was beginning to grow as the light continued to assault me. I finally found the kit, but apparently passed out from the stimulus before managing to use it.
When I woke on the couch, it was because Lori was shaking my shoulder and asking if I was okay. The kit was spilled open on the floor under my hand. The spell had worn off, but my eyes were still blurry and the sun was coming in the window and it all made Lori look like she was faintly glowing. I jerked back, rubbed my eyes, and when I looked again she seemed perfectly normal. I told her I was okay, now, but thanks, and she went to go find Matteson who had apparently come home while I was out and thought I was taking a nap. I spent the rest of the day debating about whether or not to try again, but just the thought of how strong that sensation had been turned my stomach.
I had proof, though. I knew something was going on. I just needed another way to find out what it was.
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.
26 May 2005
When I called John back, he was at work, but promised he would talk to his roommate and get back to me in the evening. I went about my business, taking stock of my small collection of belongings and deciding how much of it I would take with me and hanging out with my roommates, until he called back shortly before midnight. He sounded clearly distracted, and when I pressed I learned that Lori was talking about ending her lease and moving in with him fully and he wasn't sure they were ready for that step. He had, however, talked to his roommate and made arrangements for me to take over the spare room some time in June.
"Is it going to be awkward to have me living with you? I mean, if she's feeling like things are that serious..."
"Why would it be?" he asked, with a tone that sounded like he was only half listening to what I was saying anyway. I rubbed the bridge of my nose and sighed.
"John. Listen. I don't want to make life difficult for you if I can help it."
"No, it's fine, it's just with everything going on, you know, she needs a safe place to process everything and figure out her feelings."
"If you're sure. I think I'll fly out, if I send you the info can you pick me up at the airport?"
"Probably. Oh! I talked to my boss, you can work at the shop while you look for something else if you need."
"What? I haven't even filled out an application. I don't even know where you work!"
"It's a pizza shop. Look, you don't have to take it, but it's there."
"I...uh...okay. I'll see about it when I get there, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I gotta go, let me know about that flight, yeah?" I agreed and we hung up.
17 May 2005
Nothing I tried gave me the clarity I wanted on what had happened. I knew it was something real, but the glimpses I got were mixed with the environment in the apartment, flashes of personal memories, something that I'm pretty sure someone else in the apartment was trying to contact, and general feelings of dread. The one thing we were able to establish with our rituals was that it wasn't local; attempts to trace the source came from somewhere around the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. I knew it was time to call John. He seemed distracted at first, until I told him that I needed to talk about Alethea.
"Look, Jackie," he said, "this is really not a good time."
"I'm telling you, I sensed something near you and the only sympathetic links I have in that area are you and possibly Alethea."
"You have a sympathetic link to me?"
"I don't know! But those are the only options."
"Okay look. My girlfriend's best friend died in car accident last night. I need to be focused on her right now."
"I...okay, first off, I'm so sorry for that loss and you should definitely be there for her. But the bits that I know about what happened do line up with an accident like that."
"Okay, well, I was asleep when it happened, but maybe you picked up a message meant for me or something. But I'm just standing in Lori's apartment talking to you when I should be grabbing things she'll need."
"She's staying at my place for a bit. Bad memories associated with hers right now."
"Oh, right. You have room for that?"
"I mean. There's an unused bedroom in the house, but I figured she'd just, you know, stay in my room."
"Well, so, with everything going on with Alethea, I was thinking of moving over that way. It would be a lot easier for me if I could maybe rent that room?" I heard him sigh and pause.
"Okay. Probably. Give me like a week to deal with the funeral and everything, and then maybe we could talk about this?" I agreed, and then he was gone. I looked around the room, and considered the fact that I was suddenly thinking of leaving Chicago and was only partially convinced of my own reasoning. Is my fear about Alethea showing up enough to warrant moving to a place that I know nothing about and where I only barely know exactly one person?
Well. I guess I have a week to figure that out before anything will come of it, anyway.
16 May 2005
It was a long day and I had decided to go to bed early. Everyone else was already off in their own rooms doing their own things, so I laid down on my couch and was just starting to drift off to sleep when I was startled by a sudden stabbing pain in my arm. I sat bolt upright, sweat starting to gather at my brow, and took rapid shallow breaths as the pain became an icy chill that ran through my entire body. Glimpses of a scene began to flash before my eyes. bolts of light. A terrified young man I didn't recognize. Movement and color and rage. Pure, unbridled, rage.
I crashed to the floor as I tried to scramble across the room, my head pounding and my vision blurred by the rapidly changing and vanishing visions. Everything felt so cramped, like I was in a space too small for my body. I curled up on the rug and began to cry. I felt a hand on me, heard distant voices. It was hard to make them out, they were all frantic and talking over each other and some seemed to be talking to me and some were talking to one another. The sound of crumpling metal. Breaking glass. So many voices. Everything felt so cold.
Then I noticed that one of the voices seemed to be calling my name. I focused on that, followed it through the haze. The pain began to lessen and that voice became more clear. I kept pushing everything else aside, until I opened my eyes and found myself on the floor of the apartment, with Jacob kneeling next to me, his hand on my shoulder. Everyone else was gathered around the room, watching us, fear and concern painted across their faces. I was shivering. I turned to look at them all, then pushed myself up to sit on the rug.
"I need to scry," I said. "I may need some help." The advantage to living with various kinds of pagans is that someone is always prepared for the type of magic you look for. Everyone else stood around for a moment, then scrambled off to grab whatever they had to help. Jacob, however, stayed with me to make sure I was okay. "Something's happened," I told him, "and I'm not sure I'm ready to know what."
"Then why-" he started. I waved him off and rose to my feet.
"I need to."
There is a division between the physical and the metaphysical realms, though the exact nature of it seems to vary. I've only had to interact with it in Chicago, where it is thick and dark. But Abuela said that back in Honduras it was thin and airy, bright and covered in flowers. She told me stories from before the Europeans arrived, when the division between realms was like the surface of water, when the only thing really keeping a mage from diving too deep or dwelling too long was not the difficulty of crossing, but of staying.
This claim raised a number of questions for me, so I began to study other concepts of the division from around the world. Sometimes called a wall, or a veil, or any of a number of other such concepts, I have come to understand it as a hedge. This is partly because it was the manner in which I had always known it through Abuela's descriptions, but I was also convinced that no other title adequately described the variety of its experience or the fact that it seems to be alive in its own way. The living, changing nature of it is part of what I think explains the history I was taught. My best guess is that the Victorians are to blame.
The first thing to note is that the metaphysical realm itself is not static. Whatever else may be true of it, it is a dynamic realm where the thoughts or emotions of human beings seems to leave a direct impact. Nan's study of auras suggests there is something more to them than a revelation of what people are feeling, and Abuela said that our dreams and fears and memories walk alongside us on the other side of the hedge. Hecate taught me that seeing what was really happening in the metaphysical realm requires a still and disciplined mind, as any fluctuations I bring with me will change both my perception of the realm and the realm itself; but she also taught that strong connection to one's own emotions aids in accessing the power of the realm for other forms of magic.
The only conclusion I can draw from these notes and my own studies and experiences is that the metaphysical realm is fundamentally reactive, that its very nature is to reflect what is poured into it. It is the astral plane where minds meet, and the realm of dreams, and the great pool of human memory and desire and terror, and the abode of spirits. Are minds inherently connected? Did we create the realm? Was it created alongside us? Is it possible that there was a time before the realm, and that something bound all of mankind to it? Is it any more, or any less, possible that it existed before us and that somehow we either connected to it or arose from it? If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, is it connected to the realm, or to their own version of it, or not at all?
Wherever the realm came from and however it came to reflect us, the division that keeps the physical separate from the metaphysical seems to share its nature. It is reactive, putting up as much resistance to us as we give to it. This would explain why the hedge is so much more daunting in Chicago, where there is very little acknowledgement of it, than it is in a village where the existence of the spiritual is simply an assumed part of daily life. It also may explain the change that happened to harden the hedge, apparently on a global scale.
The Victorians were in a unique position in that they had novel ideas about spirits and the means to enforce those ideas in other cultures. Victorian spiritualism introduced the idea of a hard barrier between the physical and the spiritual, a massive wall that could not be broken without significant effort and cost. Their fiction and nonfiction writings that touch on the matter reflect this notion, and their deep interest in the spiritual meant that they spent a great deal of time honing this idea and reinforcing it in their own minds and culture. Under any other circumstance, this would have created a stronger wall in places where they congregated in large numbers, but had little effect anywhere else. But this was the height of the British Empire, which meant that they congregated everywhere. Their ideas spread naturally among their own world-spanning culture, and their subjugation of other cultures ensured that what they believed about the world was taught to these other cultures. Their literature, which was placed as the global standard, forced other writers to explore the themes and ideas that they had written about. Finally, the spread of these ideas across European borders into other colonial powers sent these ideas to their own empires. By the time the Victorian age had come to a close, the vast majority of the world had been force fed a concept of spirituality that put a hard division between realms.
With that many people all around the world believing the spiritual was inaccessible, the metaphysical realm had to make itself inaccessible. It had no means of fighting against the popular tide of the human imagination because it does not, and possibly cannot, operate fully independent of that imagination. This inaccessibility became the hedge that now stands between the realms and has never been fully uprooted. This hedge has made the spirits more distant from us, made the energy that fuels magic a more limited resource, and I cannot imagine that putting distance between humans and the one thing that unifies us all has been a positive influence on history.
Colonialism killed magic, and its blood still drips from the thorns of the Hedge.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.