25 June 2007
We had informed John that we didn’t see any way forward in our search for Rick. He’d asked a few questions, if Jackie had checked with Hecate, if we were certain we’d tried everything, if Jackie’s vision of the future could have been wrong, that kind of thing. By the time we finished our dinner, he had to concede that he knew of nothing more we could try, either, beyond just wandering the metaphysical realm indefinitely. This was, Jackie explained, beyond our capacity. Even if we could survive there long term, time got weird in the Deeper Realms, and the Realms were unfathomably large, and spending too much time there risked the chance of changing whoever went into something that could never really return. “It’s a romantic thought,” Jackie had said, “risking my soul and humanity for the slim chance that I could maybe find him, and have him be something recognizable when I did, but it just isn’t realistic without at least some idea on where to start.”
That hit me in a way I’m still trying to process. I’ve been turning it over in my mind, on and off, ever since, and I just can’t shake something about it. Maybe it is a romantic thought, I’m not sure if I’m convinced of that; but it certainly isn’t something I would want someone to do for me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be found than lost forever, but I can’t reasonably ask anyone to go that far. It’s too much. But that made me wonder what I did expect. What was my baseline? What were my reasonable expectations in a world where things like this can happen? I realized that this was what I’d been trying to sort out ever since Rick threw himself into that portal. John had warned me about the dangers of the things he dealt with, and Roderick had affirmed those concerns, but when I had the danger right there in front of me, I balked. And I had to decide if that was the best reaction. John had been honest with me all along, and even when he tried to apologize for not telling me about his first encounter with Jeremiah, I had to admit that he really hadn’t had time to tell me before he did. Was I holding him accountable for what happened to Rick? He’d tried to keep Rick and me safe, and in the end, it was Rick’s choice to do what he did. What was I holding against John in this?
When I was able to let go of holding John accountable for something he hadn’t even done, something I’d known he hadn’t done all along, I was able to really, honestly, examine my feelings for him. And the fact is, I love him. I want to be with him. I want to face the life he lives, together. So I went to his house today, and I told him everything. I confessed what I’d been holding against him, I told him about my fears, I told him about the warnings I’d received from Roderick. I asked him if he could forgive me for being unreasonably angry at him for something that wasn’t his fault. If he thought there was still a future for us. And he did! He had been waiting, hoping that I’d come back, and he immediately told me he wasn’t going anywhere. We sorted some things out, we made love, and now he’s making dinner for us and Jackie and I’m thinking about what comes next. And, for the first time in nearly two months, I’m not afraid of whatever that may be.
Mandy and I had been with Jackie most of the day, and decided it would be best to get out of the room for a while. We hadn’t really spent much time together that wasn’t completely wrapped up in being at the hospital, and her condition wasn’t changing, so we slipped out when a small crowd was there after lunch. We had a nice day out, walking around New Castle while the day was warm and sunny, slipping into a couple shops here and there. We decided to check in with John after he got out of work and ask if he’d found anything yet, then maybe do dinner with him on our way back to the hospital.
What we actually found when I opened the door was John and another man actively fighting. The living room was completely torn apart, the recliner was knocked over, the television was broken, the couch cushions and almost every decoration in the room was knocked down or strewn about the place. I could only just barely see that the dining room hadn’t fared much better, but my sight in that direction was caught up with seeing the man get a hold of John by the neck and slam him against the wall. I called out, instinctively, and that drew the man’s attention. He threw John aside and came at Mandy and me, and I barely had time to process what was happening before he was just gone. I didn’t see what happened to him, he was there one moment, and then not there the next. John came limping toward us as a book appeared on the floor in front of me, and John insisted we needed to go immediately and asked me to bring the book.
“Is someone going to tell me what’s going on!?” Mandy demanded as she started the car to head back to the hospital.
“Jackie’s under a spell,” John said, trying to catch his breath. “It was put on her by Jeremiah to get my attention.”
“You said this was your grandpa? What the fuck is going on with your family?”
“That would take longer to answer than we have right now.”
“His grandfather Jeremiah is the son of a river god, he turned evil over some daddy issues, John’s dad couldn’t stop him, so he raised John as a weapon to use against Jeremiah, and apparently Jeremiah has now come for him,” I said.
“Uh…yeah, that’s the gist of it.”
“Okay so what are we doing at the hospital?” Mandy asked.
“Not we,” John answered, “Alice.”
“What can I do?” I turned to John and held up the book. “You know I can’t cast any of these!”
“You don’t need to cast anything. You just need to manipulate a spell that’s already there.”
“And how do I do that?”
“Does the book explain? Check the section it was open to?”
“Where’d the book come from!?” Mandy yelled as I started reading the pages.
“My library. There’s a Brownie at the house now doing research—”
“You have a Girl Scout at your house?!?”
“No, the spirit. A Brownie is a house spirit from Scotland. I don’t know why he’s here and right now I don’t care. He apparently found what we need to deal with the spell on Jackie.”
“Why don’t you just, you know,” Mandy asked, waving her hand in a circle, “just unmagic it away?”
“It’ll kill her.”
“The spell is a combination of different spells that are all connected and set up with a trap. The trap is that the whole thing will collapse and kill her if you don’t unravel the spell the right way.”
“No pressure or anything,” I muttered.
John placed his hand on my chin and turned my face to look into his eyes. “You can do this, Alice,” he said, softly. “I believe in you, and Jackie trusts you.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You just need some guidance. Read the book, think about what it’s telling you to do, and we can walk through it together when we get there. Okay?”
I nodded, slowly. He smiled, and I returned to the book.
“So we’re rushing to the hospital to fix this?” Mandy asked.
“To fix it before Jeremiah gets there,” John answered. “I threw him deep into the Deeper Realms, it’ll take him a while to make his way back and be a threat to her, but I don’t know how long.”
“I am literally incapable of navigating the Deeper Realms. It takes magic to go there.”
“Or whatever it is you do.”
“Or whatever it is I do to spirits, yeah. But the point is, it may take him twenty minutes or twenty years to make his way back, I really have no way of knowing. So we can’t take any chances.” He sat back in his seat and rubbed his side and Mandy turned her focus to the road. I thought about all the effort Jackie had put in trying to teach me magic, and threw everything I had at understanding what I was reading.
The hospital room had a steady stream of visitors that started within an hour of my arrival, and around lunch it got a bit crowded so I slipped out to find the cafeteria. I was picking at my food, alone at a table in the corner, when Mandy slipped into the seat opposite me.
“You don’t look like you’re enjoying that sandwich,” she offered, pulling a bag of chips open.
“It’s…not quite what I was hoping.”
“Like, in terms of quality, or your emotional state?”
“I don’t know. Probably both.” I set the sandwich down and tested a french fry.
“You know, as long as I’ve known you, I don’t think I can recall ever seeing you eat something that wasn’t made by a chef.”
“I’ve gone to restaurants with line cooks, thank you very much.” I offered a smile, but it didn’t last. “But yeah, I don’t think I’d ever had fast food until John hit a drive thru with me in the car.”
“What’s going on with the two of you, anyway?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided.”
“Does he get a vote in this?”
“He said it was my decision, but if I wanted to work out what was going on with us, he was up for it.”
“And do you?”
I slid the tray aside and rested my elbows on the table and my head in my hands. “Yes. And no. Am I overreacting?”
“That depends. You’re gonna have to give me more to work with here.”
“I don’t think any of this is his fault, you know.”
“But this world he lives in, it’s dangerous.”
“You live in it, too.”
“Not like they do.”
“No, I mean, exactly like he does. You don’t think these things only happen to people who get involved in it, do you?”
“I mean, doesn’t it?”
“Were you poking around with ghosts before your house got haunted?”
“Listen. If even half the stuff they believe in is real, it’s real for all of us. We’re all stuck with it, we all have the chance of running into some terrible monster or alien or something.”
“Is this meant to be comforting?”
“It’s meant to be realistic.” She set her food aside and leaned in. “The only difference between people like us and people like them is that they know what they’re dealing with when it shows up. Or,” she leaned back and crossed her arms, “they’re just crazy and it’s all made up and not relevant to our lives with or without them.”
“They’re not crazy.”
“Then they’re prepared.”
“Fat lot of good that’s done them! Go upstairs and look at Jackie and tell me how that’s helped her!”
“She’s still here.”
I buried my face in my hands and felt the weight of her words. “I’m sorry, Mandy, I didn’t mean—”
“You told me what happened to Rick. About this cult. He knew what he was up against, and he made a decision based on that information.” She leaned forward and jammed her finger into the tabletop. “Can you tell me he was wrong? Can you tell me it wasn’t the right call, in that moment?”
“No. I don’t suppose I can.”
“And if he hadn’t known? If he hadn’t thought they were bad enough to take that risk? What would’ve happened?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Would it have been better, Alice?”
“No. I don’t think it would have.”
“Look. Maybe people who look into this stuff, like you and Jackie, find him, and maybe you don’t. And maybe no one else ever really knows the truth. But you’re alive, and Jackie’s alive, and Matteson’s alive, and God knows how many other people can go about their day with no idea about this cult, because he knew. And he acted. And I respect that.”
I lifted my face enough to look into her eyes. “Okay. I guess you’re right, but…I’m not sure how this is part of the same conversation.”
“I don’t think either of us can really run away from this stuff. Not anymore. If you don’t want to be with Matteson, that’s fine, it happens. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t belong to the same world as he does, that you’re somehow separate from all of it. Don’t think you can just turn it off when you don’t want to deal with it. We’re all surrounded by the same ghosts—he just can’t pretend he isn’t. And maybe we shouldn’t, either.” She picked her chips up again and slumped into her seat. “Lord knows I won’t. I can’t”
I thought about that for a little while as we ate. “I’m sorry, Mandy. And you’re probably right. I hadn’t really thought about it like that.”
“It’s okay. Those of us without magic have to learn to think of it that way, I guess.”
“Or discover we do have magic.”
“I…can I tell you later?”
“Yeah, sure. We should get back upstairs, anyway.” We gathered what food we had left to bring upstairs, cleaned up the rest, and headed to the room.
18 June 2007
I found John this morning passed out in his library among a pile of opened books and scattered notes. He’d definitely been drinking, there were a couple plates and cups and some empty snack packaging, and on the pile of snuffed Newport butts was the remains of a cigarette that had burned down to ash, which I recognized as signs he’d been up studying until he passed out, likely around dawn. I left him to sleep while I cleaned up the mess and started a pot of coffee, which I enjoyed in quiet while I walked around the house to take it all in. It occurred to me that I’d never really taken the time to just walk around, look at how John and Jackie kept their home, what it said about both of them. I’d usually been busy while here, or focused entirely on one person or another, and never just considering where I was.
There was a lot of evidence of John’s drinking and smoking, and a few signs there’d been weed smoked recently. Admittedly, he likely engaged in all of them more than usual while he was laying around recovering, but still. It was a concerning amount, and if we were ever getting back together—and I wasn’t yet sure if I was ready to entertain the idea—I would need some kind of assurance that he would cut back on all the substances.
I sat on the edge of his bed and looked around, picking out the things of Henry’s he still hadn’t touched since moving into the master bedroom. I looked through pictures of us that were still out on the dresser and nightstand, and picked up a scarf still hanging on one of the hooks outside the closet, buried under hats but still visible. He’d told me about it, once, when we were laying in the bed and I asked after noticing it. He’d confessed it belonged to Lori, she’d left it here the last time she’d been by before Alethea made herself known. He’d told me she’d left it hanging there by accident, and he meant to return it after everything happened, but she came when he wasn’t around and then vanished. I was pretty sure he’d hung it up himself after he couldn’t return it, or wouldn’t return it, or whatever happened. He was sentimental, in his way. Little pieces of everything left laying around, keeping trinkets as a quiet backdrop to whatever life he was living. There was a toy from a childhood friend, a little bauble his grandmother had carried when she was alive, the necklace of sand he never took off except to shower. I found it tolerable when it came to Lori, if only just, and it was cute otherwise. But it was a quiet backdrop; he didn’t talk about any of these people, not really, unless he was pressed. I felt a pang in my heart when I considered the possibility of being just another trinket, another set of stories, another name that would live on in his mind but rarely grace his lips.
I poured myself a second cup of coffee, prepared a tea for him, and went down to the basement to wake him. We each drank our mugs in silence while he picked up the books and papers, and when he finally sat down we discussed how today was going to go. I expected we were going to the hospital and doing what we could for Jackie, but he’d identified the spot she would have been when she was found. It turns out she’d been trying to reach through the Hedge to find Rick, and John was convinced something magical had happened to her there that caused her current condition. He was hoping to visit Jackie for a bit in the morning, and then go investigating the site to see if there was any sign of what happened to her. God, I almost forgot how much I loved watching him work through something like this, explaining and jumping from one piece of evidence to another, with no care for how crazy it all must sound to someone who didn’t know the spiritual reality like he did. He invited me to come along, if I wanted. I declined, told him to take me with him to the hospital and I would just stay there with her until he was done and came back. Thankfully, Mandy was there by the time he left, so I had her to talk to while we stood vigil over Jackie.
“So, how do you like being back in the states?” she asked, after we’d sat in silence for a while.
“It’s alright. It was a good idea to come back, thanks.”
“Of course. Have you figured anything out yet?”
I sighed. “No, not really.”
“Listen, I know some of her friends from work and the theater are coming by later, so I better ask this now before they get here.” She turned and took my hands in hers and looked me in the eye. “Is this thing happening to her magical? Is that why Matteson rushed out of here?”
“He…” I looked around, then leaned in and whispered, “he thinks so, yeah.”
“Then why didn’t he just break it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even think to ask!”
“Why does he think it’s magic?”
“She was looking for Rick.”
She squeezed my hands briefly and took a deep breath. “I see.” She let go and turned back in her chair to face Jackie. “I take it she didn’t find anything.”
“I don’t think we’ll know until she’s awake,” I answered, turning to face the bed as well. “But if there’s anything still at the site, I bet John will find it.”
Hey everyone, today is my anniversary! My wife has been my best friend and biggest supporter for the last 11 years, and not only would this story not exist without her encouragement, but I would be a far worse person without her than I am today. If you enjoy my work, whether it's this story or my twitch channel or really any of my projects, please take this opportunity to show her some love for the incredible impact she's had on making all of this happen. She's in the Discord server if you use that.
Carol, my love, my partner, my inspiration, and one of the most clever people I know, I just want to say thank you; I'm so excited to see where the road takes us in this second decade of our marriage.
17 June 2007
On the flight to Pittsburgh, Mandy asked what was going on between John and me. She said she’d been by to see him a couple times, and he didn’t seem willing to talk about it. So I told her the truth, which is simply that I don’t know. And now that I’m back home, I’ve had to seriously confront that question. People here make a point to ask about him, after they’ve asked me about my trip and how I’m holding up, and I can only dodge that question for so long. I just haven’t been sure what I want the answer to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I love him, and I want us to work this out. On the one hand, though, the life he leads is dangerous, and I don’t know how much more I’m really willing to risk…or lose. I fear that one of these days the real weight of that danger is going to catch up to him, or me, and I’m not sure I can ever be comfortable with that thought. But it isn’t his fault, not really. He didn’t choose to be an Anchor, and he’s trying to forge a new path instead of just being the weapon his dad tried to make him, and he did warn me. Right from the beginning, he told me the risks, and so did Roderick. Can I really hold it against him that things are exactly how he said they may be?
I need to figure this out. I need to know if I can look at him and not just see what happened to Rick, if I can be by his side without wondering when it will happen to me. I’m going over there today. We’re just going to talk, nothing more, but. I need to see how I handle it, and make a decision about whether or not we have a future.
10 June 2007
Results had been disappointing so far. It wasn’t particularly difficult to find spells to do what she wanted, but they didn’t seem to get me anywhere. Michael had even managed to open a portal into the Deeper Realms, and the two of us spent a week there with tracking spells and a relic that all just led us in circles. Roderick believed that Rick had either been unmade or was being actively hidden from us; I refused to believe the former, and Michael believed we could muster up enough power between us to punch through whatever was doing the latter. There was little evidence to date to suggest he was right.
Melinda was concerned. A few days after we returned from the Deeper Realms, she took me out for a spa day and refused to let me talk about Rick or magic while we were out. I didn’t realize until I was halfway through a massage how obsessed I’d been recently over the matter. Not that it didn’t warrant dedication, but maybe Melinda was right when she insisted I couldn’t let this become my whole life. So I started taking more breaks, and seeing my other cousins, and putting the work aside to get some sleep with more frequency. And the less time I spent obsessing over a solution, the more time I found myself mourning him as if he was never coming back. I needed to find some distractions. I started browsing the library more, and found there was a considerable fiction collection I hadn’t even thought to explore when I was last here. I was on my fourth period romance before I realized that I had narrowed onto a specific subject, but I really didn’t have time to think about why that would be right now.
“A visitor for you, ma’am,” Hendricks said.
I blinked in surprise and turned my attention to him. I hadn’t even heard him enter the parlor, and now wondered how long he’d been standing there. “For me?”
“Yes, ma’am. An Amanda Stow. Shall I send her in?”
“Mandy’s here!?” I set Jane Eyre down and stood, straightening out my skirt. “Yes, yes, definitely send her in!”
He nodded and slipped out of the room, and after a few moments he returned to hold the door open as Mandy walked in. I ran over and gave her a hug, thanked Hendricks, and then showed her to the chairs.
“This place is so much nicer than I was expecting!” she said, softly, as if it was a secret. I chuckled.
“Yes, well. That’s what being a lord will get you.”
“Well. If that cousin of yours is single…” We both laughed as Hendricks returned and set a platter with two cups of tea and a small plate of cookies on the table between us. We both thanked him again, and he was gone.
“Why did you come all the way to England? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
She sighed and picked up a cookie, looking at it absently. “I’m worried about you.”
“That could have been a text, Mandy.” I added a bit of sugar to one of the teas and laid back in my chair while I stirred. “Why are you here?”
“To bring you back.” She took a bite from her cookie and relaxed into the chair. “And maybe some of these cookies, too.”
“I can’t go back right now. There’s so much work to do on this.”
“Hm, yeah,” she said, leaning forward and picking up the book and turning it over in her hand, “looks very important.”
“Everyone needs a break sometimes.”
“Yes, but that’s my point, Alice.” She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “You have shut yourself off from friends and family who care about you to go chasing after some solution to Rick’s disappearance. Which is fine, for a little while, but there needs to be a point where you come home and let people be there for you.”
“It’s not so simple—”
“Of course it isn’t. Nothing ever is. He’s my cousin, I promise, I understand.”
“No, there’s so much more than that to it.”
“Is it magic?”
She leaned back in her chair and we were silent for a minute. “The official report is that he was taken by a cult. How accurate is that?”
“He…threw himself and their leader into a portal to stop them summoning something terrible.”
“And have you made any progress on finding him?”
“No. I haven’t.”
“Then come home.”
“Look. I get why you guys didn’t say all that to the police. I get why you didn’t tell me right away. But if this is really a magic problem, and a month of magic research hasn’t yielded any results, then maybe it’s time to do something else. And you’re going to need a support network to get through that.”
“I can’t. I can’t just…” I paused and set my tea down.
“You can’t just accept that he’s gone.” A tear ran down her cheek.
“There has to be a way.”
“And maybe there is. I hope there is. But if there aren’t answers here, then why stay, except to isolate yourself?”
I nodded, and wiped a tear away. Mandy got up from the chair and walked over, offering me her hand. I accepted and stood, and we held each other for a long while as we both started to cry. “I saw it,” I choked out, eventually. “I saw him go and couldn’t do anything to help him.”
“That’s not your fault.”
“I brought them there. I ran when we were confronted by the cult. I—”
“It’s not your fault, Alice.”
My legs went out from under me, and we ended up on the floor, crying into each other’s shoulders. I had tried so hard for the last month to bury these feelings, and now nothing was able to stop them coming out. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but we managed to get calmed down and cleaned up in time for dinner. We went into town that evening, and she spent the night in one of the rooms in the wing where I was staying, and in the morning, Melinda saw us both to the airport to fly back to the States.
2 May 2007
Jackie was going to research the library in their basement for ways to get Rick back, and I had arranged to fly to England so Michael and I could do the same in his library, and we each agreed to call the other if we found anything. I timed the plane’s arrival with Michael to give me time to check on Matteson, who was home from the hospital. He needed to rest, still, and Jackie had said she would keep an eye on him since she was going to be there anyway. She’d found the ring in Rick’s stuff and broke down while on the phone with her job, so they just told her to take whatever time she needed and quickly ended the call.
Matteson was laying on the couch with no shirt when I arrived, his left shoulder and right side heavily bandaged. He was happy to see me, but clearly still upset in general. We talked for a little bit, dancing around the subject that neither of us knew how to raise. Finally, I told him that I would be leaving for England soon to do some study at the Hudson estate, and he turned my face to look into my eyes.
“Will you be coming back?” he asked.
“I don’t mean coming back to the States.”
I hesitated. “John, I…I don’t know.”
“I saw the way you looked at me after things finally started to calm down. When I said there wasn’t any way I could help him. I’ve seen that look before.”
“And what did it mean when you saw it before?”
“That she’d seen too much and needed a way out.”
I got up and paced around the room in a circle. I ended up at his recliner, and sat back down to think for a moment. “It’s a lot, you know.”
“I need some space.”
“I’m not breaking up with you,” I said, wiping a tear from my cheek. “I just…I need some time. To process everything, to think about all of this, to…I dunno.”
“You need to decide if we are worth this,” he said. I nodded. “That’s better than I was expecting, anyway. Take what time you need.”
“Thank you.” I stood, wiped my face, and took a deep breath to center myself. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Don’t call while I’m in England?”
“Okay.” He gave me a weak smile, and I returned it, then left for the airport.
When I felt Jackie’s hand leave me, I glanced up. There, in front of the altar, was Rick, being held hostage by some guy. He looked important, his robes were different and his face was visible, but I had very little to go on beyond that. I stood and took a couple steps forward, but didn’t leave the forest like Jackie did. My attention kept bouncing between her, and Rick, and John. Why was no one doing anything? Why wasn’t any magic stopping this? Jackie fell to her knees and I knew something was wrong, but if it was affecting an experienced witch like her so bad, what was I going to do about it? I took another step forward and watched, waiting for something to happen.
Then something did happen. Rick threw himself and the other guy into the portal. I screamed. I didn’t know what else to do. I screamed and I felt tears on my cheeks and I saw Jackie reach out and John started to run forward to catch Rick, and suddenly I remembered that John breaks magic, and that portal is magic.
“No!” I yelled. I ran out of the woods toward John. “No, wait!” But it was too late. I don’t know if John heard me or not. I don’t know if he realized I was even talking to him. But he ran forward, and he reached out, and as soon as he got within a few yards of the altar the portal just exploded in a flash of light and collapsed in on itself. The flash was nearly blinding, and it took me a few moments of blinking and rubbing my eyes before I could see John, standing on the altar, holding his hand up as if feeling for the portal that was suddenly gone. I collapsed and everything just came out. All the fear, all the discomfort with the secrets I knew about magic, all the guilt of what I’d done or caused to happen today, and now Rick was gone into some other plane of existence with monsters and who knows what else, and as far as I knew, John’s attempt to catch him had severed any chance we had of helping. I just laid there, pulled my knees up to my chest, and wept.
I felt the magic stir in me. It was an awfully strange feeling, like I was suddenly aware of myself in a way I had never been before, and somehow that self included these roots that were dragging people below the surface of the earth. I knew it was me that did that, somehow, but I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want to be responsible for that. I felt like I was going to throw up, and it was only Jackie calling me that broke my train of thought long enough to stop me from doing exactly that.
I asked Jackie if she was the one who cast that spell, because I had to hope that it was, but she was well aware it was me. I followed her as we found a safer place to watch, and leaned against a log there trying to still my gut. I killed people. There’s no way they weren’t dead. I couldn’t even imagine the weight of that before this moment, and now that I knew it, I didn’t think I could bear it. And I had watched John almost certainly kill someone! Trying to save me! I wanted to cry, but I just felt cold. Like something broke deep inside me and I couldn’t grasp quite what it was. I tried to tell Jackie about my concern, but before we could get very far into it she pointed me to the clearing and we both realized that the spell was being powered by all the blood being spilled. Whatever they were trying to do, they would accomplish, simply by letting us kill them in service to the ritual.
That’s when I couldn’t handle it any more and threw up over the other side of the log.
Everything felt dirty. What I had learned of magic so far was so broken, so twisted, so wrong. My cousin has a spirit sex slave to give him power. My boyfriend’s body is infused with enough spiritual energy to kill someone with a punch. There was someone on fire out there, and I had personally put two bodies into the ground. And who could I talk to about any of this? They all seemed so numb to it, and I didn’t think anyone else would really even believe me. I remembered what John has told me, after that Christmas party, about how he couldn’t exactly go to a therapist with this stuff. I offered to be the person who listened then. But what if no one I knew understood my position well enough for me to talk to them? What was I supposed to do then? I moaned as I lay across the log and felt more bile rising. Jackie pulled my hair away from my face and tried to offer some soothing words, I could tell from the tone, but I couldn’t focus enough to hear them.
I was starting to think I didn’t really want to be involved in this magic thing anymore.
I came back to my senses in the woods. I have no memory of what happened between the cabin and there, but I was already walking, with my hands tied behind my back and another rope tight around my waist that varied in tension as I moved. I glanced over and saw Rick, his eyes glazed over, stumbling along beside me. Behind him, and I assumed behind me as well, was a robed figure wearing a red mask. I could hear them, at least three voices, chanting from behind us, and I found that I couldn’t stop myself from continuing to walk forward. They didn’t seem bothered by my awareness and looking around, so I kept trying to take everything in. The rope at my waist was connected to the one on Rick’s, and his hands were clearly bound. I had to imagine that the knot on mine was the same as his, which didn’t look like one I’d find easy to work my way free from. I tried to say something, but my mouth wouldn’t open. I didn’t have anything physically blocking it, but trying to open it felt like I was pushing against something solid and unyielding. Unable to control my walk or my mouth, and sensing a lot of energy up ahead, I turned my attention to where we were going.
After passing a few more trees, I was able to see the clearing. We were coming from a different angle than we had when we’d discovered it, but it was unmistakable. And now there were probably a dozen people standing around the stone altar, swaying and chanting. On the stone altar itself, with just enough room in front of it for a person to pay across, was something that must have been a portal. My eyes were fixed on the portal. Beyond it was swirling dark energy, with occasional flashes like a dark sort of lightning. There were forms moving around and past the portal, dark blotches with no discernible shape or means of movement. I felt like I was staring at a reality that undergirded everything we knew but shared none of this world’s traits, as if this was the primordial chaos that the order of creation rode upon but never allowed to be released. There were shapes that looked almost like eyes, staring straight back at me and making my very soul feel cold and dry, and then gone again in the passing of a second.
I looked back to Rick and saw his eyes fluttering. I continued to watch as the cloudiness passed from his eyes and they suddenly grew wide and darted around. He was trying to talk, to stop himself from moving, just as I had. Finally, on apparently realizing the futility, he looked into my eyes. I could see the fear there, and was sure he could see mine just as clearly. Whatever was about to happen, we both knew we were powerless against it.
Then there was a rustling in the woods on the other side of the clearing. We both looked, and saw a shadow move in the darkness. The others didn’t seem to notice over the sound of their own voices continuing to chant. I mentally begged for that to be John and Jackie, and soon, I was affirmed by the form of John bursting out of the trees and throwing a punch to the first robed figure in his path. I could hear the crunch from the hit from where I was, and watched as the figure crumpled to the ground and blood started to spread on the grass.
“Oh God,” I thought, remembering the work I’d been doing trying to assess his strength. “I didn’t account for what adrenaline would do!”
The chanting continued as the figures turned to John, and I realized one of the ones who’d led us here was now pointing a gun at John. It looked like Rick’s gun. I realized it probably was Rick’s gun. I closed my eyes before I heard the first shot.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.