Over the Hedge
20 January 2007
I excitedly explained to Sergei and Nan what had happened over dinner, how I had managed to peer backwards in time which had never happened properly before. They were excited to hear about it, and Nan took it as evidence that distance from Matteson was a good thing for my magic. It was hard to argue with her on that, but I tried to make sure she didn’t let her concern become any actual dislike of Matteson. It wasn’t exactly his fault if that was the case, and I was the one who chose to keep living with him. I could have just as easily stayed in the house on West Hill and let his influence on the space fade. Well, not just as easily; splitting the property tax with him was a smaller bill than rent would have been.
Either way, Nan felt she could improve my results with the right application of material components. So she started working out some ideas while I helped Sergei close up shop, and when I came down to the shop the next day she had a couple crystals set out and a few herbs in her mortar and pestle. We talked through my experience again, how I was connecting with time and what everything felt and smelled like, and she added a few more things from behind the counter and ground them up into a fine powder which she mixed with a little bit of water. She asked me to add a drop of my blood, which I did by picking at the scab from the day before, and she turned it into a fine paste which was gathered into a small bowl. She instructed me to try again, and use the paste to make my wave marking before I began, and gave me a different incense she thought would be slightly better. I thanked her, went to the meditation space, and tried again.
While Sergei and Nan worked in the front of the store, I spent some time in their meditation corner working on some of what I had learned from The Fates. After returning to the physical world, I had been unable to duplicate the results I’d had in the cave. This was to be expected; The Fates had warned me that it would be much harder to do as it was, and the impact of Matteson’s nature on my magic, even when he was away, was probably a factor I hadn’t adequately considered. But I had a new theory to work with that I couldn’t access time the way The Fates did, anyway, at least not outside of their help. The thread they gave me was a focus, but the means they used relied on their nature as spirits, which I didn’t have. After my conversation with Sergei this morning, Nan suggested that spirits have their own paths to magic, distinct from humans. And, since I relied on a type of elemental energy, I may need to reframe my attempts at time magic to something that could connect to my element.
“This,” she said, “would be very difficult for some elements, like earth, which is too rigid. But water? I think you’ll figure it out.” If that was the case, then maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of time as a tapestry the way they did. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about time as a thing at all. Maybe I should be thinking of it as a flow.
So I sat down in the meditative space, the thread woven into my hair, trying to commune with water and feel the flow of things not just through space, but through time. Nan had set an incense burning to help me, and I had a stone from the Ohio River in one hand and one from Lake Michigan in the other. I quieted my mind, and began seeking the flow.
I don’t know how long it took me, as I started to lose sense of nearly everything before it happened, but I finally felt something click. I opened my eyes and looked around. At first, nothing seemed different, until I turned my attention to the incense and saw the smoke frozen in place. I felt pressure building up on me, and I suspected that this was because I was trying to stand still. Here I was, meditating on flow, and when I finally slipped into it I was looking at a single moment instead of going with that flow. I tried to push backward, but the pressure was stronger that way. Going against the flow would be even harder. But I knew I could do it, if I just gave it a little more energy. I bit my thumb, hard, hard enough to draw blood, and used that bit of blood to paint waves on my forehead as I chanted. Slowly, I felt the pressure begin to ease, and I turned my attention to the smoke again. I stared at it, pushing, until the smoke started to curl downward toward the fire. It was slow going, but I was getting there. I was watching time in reverse!
I stood and continued pushing, and when I glanced back I saw myself sitting in place, eyes closed. I left myself behind and walked out of the meditative space into the shop at large, and watched Sergei walking backward toward the office while Nan pulled a crystal out of a paper bag, folded the bag, and put it under the counter under the warm gaze of a customer, who had coins floating up into her hand from a change purse. I watched, in absolute glee at the fact that it was working, before I suddenly felt the pressure hit me again and throw me forward.
I gasped as my eyes flew open and I dropped the stones. I checked my hand, and my thumb had a small droplet of fresh blood on it. But I was out of the trance, and it had proven that I could do this. Now I just needed to get better at it.
The big picture for Sergei’s theory begins some time before the rise of Greek culture. He tried to describe what time frame he was talking about, but didn’t know the English name for it and for all I know he never knew the Russian one either, so it was only after I searched online and asked if he was talking about the Minoan civilization, and he vaguely agreed, that I decided to just go with that and move on. But the broad sweep of his theory had a few major sections.
First, that Hecate predates the Greeks. He believes basically all the Greek gods predate the Greeks as a culture, in fact, but that’s not the point here. Sergei pointed to an idea that Hecate is originally from modern-day Turkey, near the coast on the southwest, though he seemed somewhat unconvinced of the specifics. I have no idea how they came to that specific location, but Sergei said it was a specific temple and I decided to look it up later. By this theory, the people who originally worshiped Hecate would have been monotheistic, serving their dread goddess with no rival or distraction. I asked how a society could function if their sole moral ideal was a goddess of undeath and magic, and he noted that monotheistic faiths don’t have gods of anything. They have a single god of everything, and what we pagans see as foci are just personality. For instance, there are these claims that the Jewish god was just a Babylonian sky god who got his own spin-off series, but Sergei believes it would be more accurate to say that the Jewish people had this one god, and the Babylonians may have adopted him into their pantheon and relegated him to the role of sky god because there was an opening there he seemed to fit. I asked if he thought all polytheistic beliefs started this way, as a collection of monotheisms merging together, and he said it was probably at least similar to that. At any rate, this would have put a tribe of people in southwestern Asia Minor as a monotheistic cult serving their goddess, Hecate. He believes everything worth knowing about her begins here, which is a shame because we know almost nothing about what this period of her life would have looked like.
The next phase would be the one we already know pretty well. The tribe worshiping Hecate gets conquered and/or Hellenized, Hecate is absorbed into the Greek pantheon and relegated to a position suiting her personality and available job openings, and the stories we know of her come to be either created, or altered into their known form. But the thing is, my studies of the Matteson family library suggest that the metaphysical realm and the physical realm do not have an equal exchange of influence. Henry clearly believed that the physical realm is nudged to a certain degree by things that happen in the metaphysical, but that the metaphysical is fundamentally defined by things that happen in the physical. If he’s right, any changes made to her character by introduction into the Greek pantheon would have changed who she actually was on a basic level. Sergei noted that was a significant ‘if,’ but if it was true, it wouldn’t change the importance of her first existence as a solo deity. Everything the Greeks used to define her would have already been there; they only changed her role in the universe relative to other gods, but not who she was. This, he felt, was not a difference important enough to straighten out for now. I’m not convinced it’s that minor, but I’ll have to consider that on my own.
This bleeds into the next phase, when the Romans absorbed the stories of Greek mythology and associated their own gods with the Greek gods. Here, Hecate becomes Trivia, a strange goddess who held sway over her own mystery cult (like Hecate would have before becoming part of a pantheon) and was occasionally described with traits that seemed to blend her with other gods, especially Diana. But while much of what defines her here is identical to things that defined Hecate, it is in the Trivia stage that she comes to be associated with crossroads. I noted that her function as Queen of The Crossroads seemed a pretty integral part of Hecate’s nature, so why would it only pop up here? Sergei stated that maybe it became part of her nature as Trivia, or maybe it was always a part of her nature and the Romans were just the first of her worshipers to find roads important enough to list them.
After this, things get murky. Most of the Roman gods fade into cultural obscurity or are overshadowed again by their Greek counterparts in the public mind as time goes on, but the spirits who received that praise almost certainly continued on in some form. Sergei notes a rise of she-devil queens in European Christianity, sometimes borrowing from Jewish sources (such as Lilith), sometimes from pagan ones. He believes Hecate spent some time as one or many of this latter sort, but there are not enough surviving records to his knowledge for us to piece together who or when. And, he said, that relies on assuming she remained a woman. It’s not like spirits are generally bound to a gender, and Sergei believes he knows at least one instance where Hecate was, in fact, a man.
Sometime in the 1900s, the idea arose in the southern American states that people could go to the crossroads and make a deal with the devil. This apparently really took off with a blues singer. But while there is little information to tie the Christian Devil to such behavior, Sergei claims the descriptions of this Devil at the Crossroads suits Hecate well. And, he notes, the stories of this devil only begin to fade once neopagans begin to arise with the advent of Wicca, once the name of Hecate becomes relevant again to a group of people seeking power. This, he claims, is where she is now; having stepped away from the position of Devil at the Crossroads and leaving no one to continue making those deals, the stories of that being would slow to a halt while the stories of Hecate appearing in her mythic form to young witches would rise.
19 January 2007
My flight into Chicago landed shortly before dinner, so that evening was mostly spent catching up with Nan and Sergei. It wasn’t until morning, while we were all in the shop beneath their apartment, that I got to work. In the back room, I laid out the notes and images I’d brought, and showed them to Sergei.
“So Hecate is being bad now?” he asked, looking everything over.
“I don’t know. I know she wants something from me, but I don’t know what. I think it has to do with Matteson, but I don’t know why. And I know she’s willing to threaten or endanger me to get it.”
“But you don’t know how?”
“Oh no. I very clearly remember how.”
“Okay. So what you need is…what?”
“Well, there are a couple things. But the big one I would like from you, specifically, is your theory on Hecate taking on different names across history.” He gave me the biggest smile I can ever remember seeing from him.
“Oh yes,” he said, pointing at me as he started to jog for the stairs up to the apartment, “Yes, I have you.”
“It’s ‘I got you,’ Sergei.”
“Also that!” he yelled, vanishing into the stairway. He was gone only a few minutes before returning with his large poster, which he had made attempting to lay out the whole timeline for me. “Okay,” he said, unrolling it on the table, “we start at beginning.”
18 January 2007
When I left Chicago, I wasn’t sure how often I would bother coming back. I didn’t grow up in the city, though it was close enough that I’d been there occasionally for things like concerts or school outings. I’d only lived there a couple years, and while I had made some friends during that time, very few of them were strong enough relationships to last once I was away for an extended period. I had kept in touch with a couple people here and there, but most of those had faded somewhat as time went on. My roommates from the last apartment I stayed in there had mostly vanished while I was away. I had quickly begun to run out of reasons to be there on a personal visit; and as I walked through O’Hare for the first time in a long while, I knew only one person would be waiting for me, and she would know I was mostly here on business.
Though I doubt Nan would ever admit to something that sounded so cold.
She was waiting by the luggage return by the time I got there, and gave me a big hug as soon as I was close enough to grab. We talked about the flight and Pittsburgh’s airport while we waited for my bag to come—Nan had no idea there was a t-rex skeleton there and was reasonably surprised—but as soon as it did and we were in her car her demeanor shifted.
“What’s that boy done to you?” she asked, sternly, as the car started moving.
“What do you mean? Rick? He’s been great, mostly.”
“No, no, not the boyfriend—”
“Not really a boyfriend, we—”
“The Anchor.” I paused and looked at her for a moment, confused.
“What makes you think he’s done something to me?”
“It’s your aura, child! Did you think I wouldn’t notice? There’s something about it, something…limiting it.”
“Well, I hadn’t noticed.”
“I think you’ve been spending too much time with him. Like a goldfish.”
“A…goldfish.” She wagged her finger at me.
“Like a goldfish! You know! They only grow as big as their tank lets them! That boy’s aura is a powerful one, and it constricts yours, and then your energy gets used to it and stops trying to recover.”
“You think spending too much time around Matteson will have a permanent effect on me?”
“Nothing is permanent, darling. But you start finding it harder to do magic, you best get away from him for a good long while. You might not lose it forever, but you lose it long enough that you forget how to do it again? Might as well be forever.”
“I’ll…I guess I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that,” she said, patting my knee. “Now, tell me all about this not-a-boyfriend.”
15 November 2006
Matteson had been tearing through his dad’s books in the basement for a little over a week, and I finally determined to find out why. Part of me had assumed at the beginning that this was just some part of the mourning process for him, dealing with things his dad left behind, but it was starting to look unmistakably like research, and that probably meant he was trying to do something. It seemed like it was going to my place to make sure that something wasn’t something stupid.
When I got into the basement, I found the table covered in open books and pieces of paper with notes written on them in a massive pile. I couldn’t see any way to make sense of any of it, but there he was, poring over one book then reaching over to snatch up some note from under another book and making comparisons. This had to be one of those Matteson systems, that don’t make sense to anyone else.
“What’s all this?” I asked. He snapped upright to look at me, as if he hadn’t realized I was there. His eyes were a bit wide and unfocused, and I suddenly found myself wondering when he last slept.
“Reading…these books? Is your power?”
“No, no, it’s not…it’s what they say about my power. He never told me about this! He never told me he had these references! I had to find out about it from the priest!”
“Okay, okay,” I said, exaggerating the calm tone to try to offset his crazed one. I sat down. “And what do they say about your power?”
“Well, very little directly, I guess, but when you take them together…”
“Please do.” He took a deep breath and plopped backward into a chair.
“I want a cigarette. Maybe we should go upstairs.”
“There’s no smoking in the library.”
“Well, it’s…” he trailed off and then just sat there, staring off into space. Slowly, he started to look around the room, then he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. “Oh. Right. Well, uh…says me, now, I guess.” I started to wonder if that was really the right way to handle that, but before I could say anything to soften it he was up again and making his way to the stairs. I sighed and followed. “You remember the garbage truck? With the red spiral?” he asked as he stepped out of the stairway and into the kitchen. He grabbed his cigarettes off the counter and pulled one out.
“How could I forget?” He tapped his pockets for a second, then lit a burner on the stove and leaned over to light his cigarette from it.
“I told Benedict about it, when we met,” he explained, waving his hand around as he did so and walking into the living room. I turned off the stove and followed, grabbing my own cigarettes and lighter from the arm of the couch when we both sat down. He kept talking the whole time. “So he and Akshainie went to investigate, and they found out that that little ghost town had been taken over by the cult. They were doing some ritual, some kind of test, and they separated that town from the rest of the metaphysical realm.”
“That sounds…terrifying. But how is this relevant?”
“Because they did so by mimicking what I do. This wasn’t some special spell designed just for that town, this was some power they pulled from their knowledge of Anchors, apparently. Or at least theory that lines up with us.”
“I thought you said you just break magic.”
“I did say that! Because I thought that! But according to Dad’s notes and some of his books, that isn’t true. And he never told me. I don’t know why he never told me.” He sat in silence for a moment, and I reached over with one hand and rubbed his back a bit to remind him he wasn’t alone. He took a few more drags before continuing. “Anyway. So now Benedict and Akshainie are off looking for more sites like that.”
“Okay, so, what is it exactly that you now believe you do when you encounter magic?”
“According to these records, I reshape reality. Sort of. Not really, but that seems to be the best way some of these sources describe it? Basically, there’s this wild and chaotic nature to the metaphysical realm, and this ordered and structured nature to the natural world, and—”
“Anchors impose order on the metaphysical and Warlocks bring chaos into the physical.”
“That is a way more simple way to describe it.”
“Hec—she, my mentor, said it. I didn’t really know what she meant, but this all makes sense now.”
“Well, first, tell me more about this ritual at the town.”
“Okay, so, according to Benedict, they were trying to separate the town from the rest of the metaphysical realm, and have it operate according to their own design. A couple of the books downstairs theorize that this could be done if someone was able to create a stable form of my, well, somewhat uncontrolled aura. And Dad speculated that if the cult could create such a stable bubble, and was able to find a way to create one large enough, they could create an entirely new metaphysical realm over a significant area and use that to separate the people in that area from the existing gods and warp their minds.”
“Which would give them incredible power over the people in it.”
“Power, nothing. This would make an entire new kind of person. A group of humans completely independent from the unifying experience of humanity and the collected mythos of all of mankind. I mean, these are the templates we all pull from, these are the archetypes Jung pointed to, these are the dreams and nightmares we all share. Creating a stable bubble which contains a lot of living people in it would make them a blank slate, with none of those common influences seeping in.”
“Which is why you were able to keep her away from me in Chicago. You severed me from the realm of the gods that night. But wait, why are you affected by the common mythos of mankind?”
“Well, I didn’t set any rules for the thing I’m imposing on the world, I guess? Since I didn’t design this…bubble, I guess, around me, it doesn’t work in exactly the same way. But when I actively try to shut down a specific magic, I guess I do it by willing it not to exist in the part of the realm I control.”
“Can you do that? Could you, if you wanted to, make yourself completely independent of the global metaphysical realm?”
“Hecate seemed to think I could.”
“She said I have a lot of potential, could stand against gods if I wanted to. She seemed kind of impressed that I was able to shake off her own magic when she stopped time around me.”
“But what would she want with that?” He shrugged.
“Beats me. Maybe she’s pissed at Zeus. Either way, the fact that the cult not only wants that power, but seems to already have it to a degree, seems like the bigger problem.”
“I suppose so.” We both sat thinking for a moment, then he patted my knee and stood.
“Well, anyway. Now we know what we’re dealing with, maybe, we need to start figuring out what to do about it.” I agreed, and we returned to the basement to start studying together.
2 November 2006
As soon as Matteson left to handle his tasks for the day concerning his father’s funeral, I called Rick and Marz and told them to get over to the house. It was maybe ten minutes later when Rick pulled up in a moving truck we had rented, and Marz showed up shortly thereafter with a carload of people from the Columbia. Over the next half hour the rest of Matteson’s band and assorted friends arrived and jumped in on the work.
The night before, after Matteson and I made plans with Kyle to facilitate moving out of this place to his dad’s house, I had started making plans. The fact is, Matteson wasn’t going to be up to doing this work, at least not any time soon, and he really needed something good in his life right now. Getting everyone to show up and help was actually fairly easy, as soon as I made the right calls, and thankfully the UHaul place had a truck available for today. We split into two teams, one moving furniture and the other grabbing all of the assorted stuff Matteson or I owned and throwing it into boxes. His books were the biggest challenge, but Charles showed up with a collection of milk crates and he and Bob made relatively short work of that.
We beat the pizza delivery to the new house by about fifteen minutes, and took a break to eat while I called Matteson and asked about the things he had to finish for the day. He said he’d probably be a while yet, and I reminded him to eat before returning to work myself. The challenge here was really knowing how much stuff already in the house we could really move. The milk crates full of books went straight to the basement, where his dad’s books were already kept, and the bookcases were put down there as well. None of us was willing to take on the task of actually unpacking the books—whatever system Matteson used to organize his books, it wasn’t very well understood by any of us, so we figured it was best if we didn’t guess.
But it was a three-bedroom house, and Henry had only been occupying one ever since Matteson moved out. One was basically just storage, so we moved that stuff to the attic to be sorted out later and moved my stuff in there. The other had been Matteson’s when he lived there, and was mostly empty except for some things he’d left behind and never got around to picking up, so we unpacked Matteson there. I closed off Henry’s bedroom and we made a point not to touch anything there. I’m sure he’ll want to go through everything and rearrange, but that can wait until he’s ready.
We had another meal delivered at 6, and I got a call from Kyle at 6:20 that Matteson’s car had pulled up to the old house and, before Kyle could tell him to come here, pulled away again. Sure enough, Matteson arrived a few minutes after that, and when he came in we all greeted him and encouraged him to sit down and eat. The funeral is tomorrow, after all. Can’t have him worrying about stuff or losing his energy now. He was confused, at first, but very thankful once he saw what we had done.
After everyone else left, we watched a movie and talked about anything but tomorrow. He even tried to explain his system for organizing books. I think it’s more confusing now than it was before.
3 November 2006
Today was Henry Matteson’s funeral. Turnout was small, but I didn’t manage to meet everyone; most of the ones I did were people who knew him from his job as an economics professor at the Penn State branch downtown. Matteson introduced me to a priest named Benedict, who I was told was a very old associate of Henry’s but didn’t look more than a few years older than us, and a similarly-aged woman named Akshainie who was with him. They, in turn, introduced me to a heavily-scarred man who looked to be in his thirties, named Tadzio. He talked about Henry as if they’d known each other since Henry was a boy, and I made a note to ask Matteson later exactly what kind of company his father had kept outside of work.
Henry didn’t have much family left, basically just Matteson, and it made me realize for the first time that this meant Matteson probably didn’t have any family left. I had never seen nor heard of anyone on his mom’s side, and neither Matteson nor his dad had any siblings. I had already agreed to move in with him now that he was inheriting his dad’s place, but it was only at the funeral when I realized how important it probably was for his friends to be there for him now.
And they were. His band, Rick, Charles, Bob, and an assortment of people I had never met and a few I had only met in passing came at least to pay respects at the viewing. Matteson told me later that even Kastor came by, but had trouble wrapping his head around the nature of the event.
The service was nice, and many people had good things to say about Henry. He had a plot already purchased in Oakwood Cemetery, and while the temperature was brisk the very slight amount of rain ended before we arrived. After that was a potluck at the house, and a group of us friends worked together to clean up and store food after people started filtering out. I sent Matteson upstairs to get a shower and change while we cleaned up, and by the time he returned I was the only person left. He sat down on the couch next to me, avoiding his dad’s recliner, and began to tell me about growing up in this house. I let him rest his head against me and wrapped my arm around him as he talked.
There, as the sun began to go down outside, he finally broke down and cried.
2 August 2006
“Sounds like you had a hell of a night,” Matteson said from the kitchen, where he was putting his plate from breakfast into the sink. I was sitting on the love seat and lighting a cigarette after explaining my time spent with the Fates. I heard water running, and after it shut off he came back drying his hands. “Does this mean you’re a few weeks older than you were yesterday?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a groan as I turned and laid down. He walked over, lifted my legs, sat down under them, and put my feet back on the arm of the seat. “That’s hardly the point, though.” He tossed the towel onto the coffee table and lit his own cigarette.
“You sure? It seems important.”
“Sure. Look, I’m coming to you about this partly because few other people would believe me, and partly because I’m concerned about what Hec—the goddess wants from you.”
“Oh, she already tried recruiting me.” He leaned his head back and I propped myself up.
“Yeah, it was,” he waved his cigarette around, as if trying to remember, “I dunno, a little after the Alethea situation. She stopped time around me, sent some dog, I met her on a tropical island. It was all very interesting.”
“And you never told me?!”
“Sorry, I thought I had. Besides, you didn’t mention Kastor having a message for me.”
“That seemed a bit less important.” He shrugged.
“Probably was. But yeah, I told her to take a hike, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I laid my head back down.
“She isn’t going to just give up, you know. She believes she owns you in some way.”
“Pft. Europeans.” I choked out a quick laugh. “But now we both know, and we can keep an eye out for it, right? You got my back.”
“As long as you got mine.” He gave me a fist bump, and then we sat in silence for a couple minutes.
“Who wants a drink!” he called, lifting my legs again and hopping up to his feet.
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“And I’m off today!” I sighed and considered the 'night' I’d had.
“Make me one of those things with the rum you whipped up last week.”
Before I left, Clotho handed me a small bit of unworked wool from her pile. It was translucent, giving the shapes behind it only a faint hint of color that changed as I moved it around in the light. It felt strong but light, and as I touched it I could feel it buzzing with potential. They explained that it was the raw substance of their threads, not yet assigned to a single life, and expressed their hope that it would help me find my way to access the knowledge I had while with them. I thanked them for all they had done, and made my way outside to where the hound sat waiting for me.
He stood without a sound as I stepped into the light, and with just a glance to ensure I was with him, turned and walked back down the path. I recognized that we were still in a realm of great power, and I could do things much more easily here, so I clutched the time wool and focused on the hound, whispering my desire in Spanish. As I walked and watched, a line of identical hounds came into vision, stretching all the way back to the one sitting at the edge of the cave and all the way forward to the horizon. I smiled, let go of the wool, and continued on my way as the past and future hounds vanished again into their proper places in time.
We took a different path away from the cliff than the one we took to arrive, and after a much shorter walk I found myself in my bedroom again. On the bed was a small scroll, and the hound turned and left as I reached down to grab it. It was a reminder, from Hecate, that she had given me what I sought, and soon it would be time for me to give her what she seeks. I felt a shudder run down my spine as I considered the goddess I saw in the Crossroads while peering through time, the woman whose ends were unknown to me and slowly seeming less and less benevolent. I plugged in my phone, its battery draining long ago in the cave, and as it began to start up I sat on the bed and waited.
August 2, 2006. Seven in the morning. All of that, and as far as the world was concerned, I had simply walked into my room for bed and emerged again, refreshed, in the morning. I got ready to take a bath, and as I slipped into the water, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should warn Matteson and what, exactly, I would be warning him about.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.