Over the Hedge
“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.