It had taken a bit of convincing for the priest to talk to me alone, but I finally managed to get him to sit down with me and talk after everyone else left even if it was still out in the sanctuary. He seemed more willing to talk once I suggested that it was about a cult operating in the area, and he began there.
“What is your connection to this cult, I’m sorry, what was your name, young lady?” he asked, kneeling backward in the pew in front of me.
“Alice Templeton. My connection to them?”
“Yes. Have you been approached by them? Do you know someone who has fallen into the cult?”
“Oh! Actually no, sorry, I’m actually involved in investigating them.”
“You’re here from America?” he asked. I nodded. “It seems awfully strange for you to come all this way to investigate a group to whom you have no direct tie.”
“Well, I’m actually here as part of a team that was hired by a local with a vested interest.”
“What kind of vested interest?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss my client’s interests.”
“Well then.” He turned to sit in the pew, sideways so he could still see me, but he appeared a bit less invested. “What does this investigation have to do with me?”
“It’s the nature of the cult. They’re called the Brood of Nachash, and they have a theological mandate to overthrow all organized religion, by force if necessary. We’ve learned that they are planning a strike against the Church of England.”
“Oh my. Do you really suppose they would be interested in our little church?”
“It’s hard to tell. They have certainly been active in the area, so we can’t discount the possibility.”
“You seem very confident in that claim. Are you certain they’ve been active here?”
“Yes. We apprehended a few cultists last night in the midst of a ritual.”
“This sounds very serious.” He steepled his fingers against his mouth for a moment, then stood and straightened his shirt. “Perhaps we should send your warning along. Come with me, we should waste no time.” He began walking toward a door near the stage, and I followed. “Is there any way I can talk to the cultists you apprehended? It may be a long shot, but perhaps they will be willing to tell me something they have not told you.”
“That…won’t be possible. I’m sorry, they are not available for outside questioning at this time.”
He led me to his office, and indicated a pair of chairs facing his desk, where the phone was sitting. I sat down as he closed the door.
“So you managed to capture a few members of the cult last night, you said? During a ritual?” He hadn’t walked away from the door yet, and as I turned to respond to his question I saw him pull a small leather book and a pen from his pocket.
“Four of them? And you got them to talk to you?”
“We managed to get some information from them, yes. Did I say there was four of them? I don’t remember saying that.”
“Hm.” He jotted down a note and then closed the book and set it aside. “Here’s the thing, Miss Templeton,” he said, calmly, as he locked the door. I gripped the arms of the chair as I suddenly realized I didn’t know another way out of the room. “You and I are both aware those cultists are dead, are we not?”
“How do you—”
“We are connected. Or were. I felt something disrupt our network, and then they died shortly after I reconnected with them. Quite strange.” He slowly paced toward me, and I stood and began backing away. “I was planning on following the trail to where they died today, learn a bit more about who found us and what they learned, and then you just come waltzing in saving me all that effort!”
“Look, I don’t know what you think I did, but—” I tried to buy time as I made my way around his desk and found myself pressed against the wall, but he wasn’t waiting for me to finish.
“Well, let’s see.” He muttered something and held out his hand. A fireball formed over it, and he threw it in my direction. I screamed and ducked and it hit the wall above me. “You weren’t the one who cut off the network. And I doubt you were the one doing the actual questioning; though if it had been someone powerful enough to break a ley line, I doubt I would have felt it happen when it did, which suggests at least two others in your team, yes?” He continued to make his way slowly toward me. “But they sent you here alone. I wonder why.” Another fireball formed over his hand, and he played with it as it danced along his fingertips. I made a dash around his desk, on the opposite side as him, trying to get to the door before he could react, but the fireball hit me square in the side and I crumpled to the floor with a yelp. I slid myself away as best I could as I tried to catch my breath. He formed another fireball.
“Please, no, listen—”
“I am only interested in knowing who you’re working with, and what you’ve learned about the Brood. Is that what you’re planning on saying, Miss Templeton?”
“I…I don’t, I just—”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re ready to talk. We can work on that.” He raised his hand as if to throw again, but there was a sudden crackle in the air, like there was when Matteson cut off the ley line. As soon as that hit, the fireball dissipated and the priest screamed in pain, stumbling backward. I don’t know where I found the strength, but as soon as I knew he wasn’t prepared to stop me, I made for the door again. He roared and grabbed a knife from a high bookshelf as I fumbled with the lock, yanking the door open just as he gathered the energy to lunge at me. I heard him hit the door and I ran as fast as I could, holding my side and crying. The tears were making my vision blurry, and I heard the knife clang into the ground behind me. Then there were footsteps in the hall, the priest rushing after me. I stumbled and tried to push myself forward when I felt his hand close around my ankle. I spun around onto my back and kicked, but he deflected the blow with his other hand. Then he grabbed the knife, and as he started to straighten I saw an opportunity and kicked for his groin as hard as I could with my free leg. He howled and let go, falling backward and dropping the knife. I pushed myself to my feet, grabbed the knife, and continued running. I heard him screaming after me, but I got outside before he caught up to me, and collapsed into the grass beside the sidewalk. I gripped the knife, watching the door, but the priest didn’t emerge. As soon as I caught my breath, I slowly rose and stumbled away, holding my side. Once I was a safe distance, I leaned against the wall of what looked to be a florist and pulled out my phone to call Matteson.
What I wanted to be doing with my day, of course, was talking to Roderick and digging for more information on the Hudsons and magic and why we were so strictly separated from it. But I was part of this now, and I had technically come here as part of a team he had hired specifically to work under him in an investigation, so I ultimately accepted the task Michael had for me. It was, somewhat annoyingly, the most mundane of the jobs he had in mind.
And that was how I found myself attending an Anglican mass. I wasn’t entirely sure about the logic, but Michael believed that the presence of the four cultists we’d captured the night before—who were now dead, which only raised more questions for me—hinted at a larger concentration of the cult in the immediate area and presumed they would need to be in position to strike the church constantly until their signal was given. So he expected there would be at least one cultist, somewhere in the church, and that they would be thrown off by the absence of their compatriots. What I was supposed to do if I found some cultists wasn’t entirely clear, but I was hoping just reporting them to Michael would suffice. I was not prepared to have a fight with these people.
The service was fine, a bit more stilted than the services I was used to in the one my family has attended since moving to the states, but not outrageously so. I tried my best to look for someone who might be in the cult, but I didn’t have much to go on. What was I even looking for? Someone who looked lost, or confused? Someone who looked like they were expecting someone who wasn’t showing up? These were such vague ideas I didn’t even really know what to do with them. I never felt certain enough to make note of anyone, and by the time mass ended I hadn’t accomplished anything. I knew Matteson would be by sometime soon, but not exactly when, so I probably had some time and didn’t want the trip to be an absolute waste. I decided to warn the priest about the cult.
I was laying on our bed looking at the details in the ceiling while Matteson was at the desk, taking notes and poring over some books he’d snatched from the library on our way inside. I was pretty sure we were both trying to avoid thinking about the same thing, and after a while I decided I couldn’t do it anymore and rolled over to face him.
“I didn’t know,” I said, softly. He set down the pen he was using and turned toward me.
“Didn’t know what?” He asked.
“My family doesn’t know anything about the magic work the Hudsons do. I learned about that since we got here, that it was purposefully hidden from us. That it’s what my grandpa wanted.”
“I…I don’t know.” I sat up and thought about that for a moment. “We never got to discussing why we weren’t supposed to know about our ties to magic.”
“That feels like something you should find out. Did you at least learn about that thing, what was it you said? Jackie found a block?”
“Yeah, there’s something hindering magic in me. Which she thought might be on purpose, and I suppose if I was part of some powerful line or sorcerers it would be necessary to keep us from finding magic on our own.”
“Major success there,” he said with a scoff.
“Yeah, that didn’t pan out.”
“Look, this is all seeming really hard on you. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I think I just need to ask Roderick some more pointed questions. And maybe find some way to get my mind off things until then.”
“You don’t want to just go and ask him now?”
“It is Valentine’s Day, John. I would like to end our night’s outing some other way than talking to a hollow set of armor.”
“You have something in particular in mind?” He asked. I sighed, mentally reminded myself that he doesn’t think about these things quite the way I do, and then patted the bed next to me.
“Why don’t you come over here and find out?” He looked at me for a second, then chuckled, closed the books, and slipped into the bed.
We were walking back from the restaurant when Matteson suddenly stopped and started staring off into space, his nose flaring as if he smelled something foul and goosebumps erupting on his arms. I stepped forward to look him in the face and barely stopped myself from jumping back when I saw his eyes, dilated and bloodshot.
“John?” I asked, resting my hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?” He muttered a reply, almost in a droning voice, then met my gaze and told me he was sensing the flow of magic from the site being activated. So he frantically called Benedict and, after telling him what was going on, turned back to me.
“I guess I should call you a cab,” he said. “Sorry our date has to end like this.”
“Absolutely not!” I crossed my arms and stared into those seemingly bottomless eyes. “You are in no condition to go alone, and I’m certainly not letting you walk into some nest of evil without some kind of backup!”
“What are you talking about? I feel fine.”
“You don’t see what I see.”
“Okay, we can talk about that later, but, this might be dangerous.”
“Yeah! And you’re not doing it alone.”
“We can stand here arguing about it or we can follow the trail. Your call, babe.”
He sighed and nodded, and off we went. It was weird watching him, he moved almost like a bloodhound, his eyes always fixed on something that wasn’t visible to me, his attention fully absorbed in the sensory trail he was following. I realized how accustomed to it he must be when I realized he was still aware of things like traffic and obstacles, but it was impossible to tell he was aware of anything physical until he reacted to it. We didn’t talk the whole way. I was thankful I’d worn flats when I realized we were leaving the town center, and more so when we finally stopped outside an abandoned stone manor nearly a half hour later.
Following the trail as we were, we arrived at a plain wall instead of the door. We went around the building, like we had for other obstacles along the way, but by the time we were around the other side he whispered to me that the energy wasn’t continuing on from this place. Whatever was happening was happening here. So we crept back around, listening for any sign of activity, and I peeked in a couple windows as we went until I got a view of the parlor through a broken door. I tapped his shoulder and waved him toward the window, and we watched as four people in hooded robes paced around a large basin. We couldn’t hear them, but when we saw the basin his eyes narrowed.
“I think they’re scrying,” he whispered.
“That’s the bit where you watch things elsewhere?” I asked, and he nodded. “Do we have any way to know what they’re scrying on?”
“Not from here. Jackie or Michael probably could, though.” We both slipped away from the window and he called Benedict again, explaining where we were and what we’d found. As he was talking, he made his way to the corner of the house and I followed. We saw a pair of headlights appear over a rise down the road, then park, and Matteson confirmed he saw them before hanging up. “Now comes the fun part,” he said, turning to me. “You can still go to the car.”
“Not a chance,” I said. “If this is what you do on a regular basis, I want to know what it’s like.” He grudgingly accepted that answer, and we went to get into position. It had apparently been agreed upon by the others that they could handle the cultists themselves, if Matteson cut off their extra power while I played lookout to tell him when to stop. I asked how he intended to do that, and he led me back to the wall where we originally arrived at the house and explained that the energy was flowing along a ley line, where he was now standing.
“Ley lines are pretty durable,” he explained, closing his eyes and cracking his knuckles. “The simple presence of an Anchor on one isn’t enough to disrupt them, unless it’s over some years, like if I lived on one or at a nexus site. But I can serve as a dam on one, or cap a nexus site entirely, if I try hard enough.”
“Have you ever tried that before?”
“No. But Jackie’s told me about it, apparently she’s seen the results of it.” He slowed his breathing and began moving his hands as if pushing down against resistance, and soon I could taste a bit of static in the air. There was a faint, tangible crackle, and then something like a pop. I heard the people inside react immediately, apparently aware their power was gone, and got to the window just in time to see Michael’s team charge in.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about them,” Roderick said, practicing some stretches in tandem with the people showing on an old VHS exercise video. They looked like the tape had been originally made in the 80s, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he hoped to accomplish when there didn’t seem to be any sort of body inside the armor. Around him, the room had become vibrant, free of dust and clutter with beautiful colors on the walls much more visible than they’d been in my last visit. Michael was lounging on a sofa eating an orange, his notepad laying on a table with the red spiral showing.
“Come now, Roderick,” Michael nudged, “isn’t knowing things your entire job?”
“I know what the estate knows. And the estate has never known this Brood of Nachash.”
“Well maybe we’ll have better luck with the boyfriend,” he grumbled, before looking to me. “Anything much there?”
“We’ve been working on it,” I said. I was in an armchair, switching my attention between them and a set of notes. “Unfortunately, we may not yet even have enough information to know what to look for. All we really know, he said, is that they’re accessing power. He joked that for all we know, they’re using it to repair a van.” Michael laughed at that and looked back to Roderick.
“You know what the estate knows, right? Does the estate think he’s getting anywhere?”
“He is unknowable to the estate,” Roderick answered, turning the tape off and turning to us. “Anchors cannot be read or properly remembered.”
“So there’s a gap where he should be?”
“More like static. Armed with knives.”
“Perhaps this is the wrong approach.” Roderick sat down and faced me. “Can he track the energy?”
“Oh,” I said, setting the notes down and thinking for a moment. “I don’t actually know. I never thought to ask him that.”
“Magical energy flows through almost everything. As a liminal being, he should have some ability to track that, even if he has never exercised the ability. I expect you will find answers faster by seeing where the energy is going than by sitting in the library joking about vans.”
“You know, he has been working on tracking ghosts.”
“It should be similar to that. Pity I can’t explain how to apply it.”
“Maybe I could. Jackie was teaching me about that.”
“Was she?” Roderick asked, leaning back in his seat. “And how did you fare at that?”
“I had limited results. Something was blocking me, we think.” I gathered my notes and stood. “But maybe it’ll be enough to guide him just the little he needs, right?”
“Do the two of you have plans tonight?” Michael asked, nodding toward the clock. It was getting well into the afternoon.
“Oh, not yet,” I answered. “Though I suppose we’re running out of time.”
“I’ll call Chez Davineau, make sure there’s a table for you this evening.”
“Thank you,” I said, patting his shoulder. “I’ll go see what we can do. Thank you both!” As soon as I got out of the room, I glanced down at my notes, and added one about finding out what it meant that Roderick knows what the estate knows, before making my way back to the library. I decided to let him think we just happened to stumble on the restaurant later, since he’s probably had too much rich folk things for one day to handle the concept of reservations very well.
Akshainie and the boys left around 9 to go investigate the site Michael had found. Matteson seemed relieved; he was visibly uncomfortable the whole night, but didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I gathered it was the atmosphere of the estate itself, and determined to talk to him about it some time after they returned. In the meantime, however, I was going to have a pleasant visit with my cousins.
My grandfather and Michael’s grandfather were brothers, with mine moving to the United States around the time his inherited the estate. We didn’t talk about why that had happened, but it seemed to have been cordial at least, since our families maintained close relations afterward. But now that I knew there was magic in their blood, and possibly in mine, I had questions.
“Oh, I suppose it would be impossible to hide from you under the current circumstances,” Melinda said when I finally raised the issue. She was Michael’s mother, and my guide to the estate while her husband was tending to some business at Parliament and everyone else was away. Michael’s siblings were away at school, and Melinda seemed disappointed that she hadn’t known I was coming early enough to call them home for the visit.
“But why was it hidden at all?” I asked. We were, by that point, carrying the box I had brought down a hall off of the main house. It was the first chore I’d seen her personally do, and I started to notice that there were no servants working down this hall, and felt it safe to ask in the relative privacy.
“Because it was requested. Actually, there is someone better equipped to answer these questions just ahead.” She stopped in front of a door and handed me the box, before she drew a key from her pocket and opened it. The room beyond was dark and a bit dusty, with cobwebs gathering on the corners of furniture that looked like it had been crafted hundreds of years earlier. She led me in and then took the box from me, setting it on a table and digging around until she produced a visor that I now realized matched a set of armor on display in the corner that was missing the same piece. Melinda took the visor over and reattached it, then stepped back and clapped the dust from her hands. As she did so, a dim light started to emanate from behind the visor, and after a moment of that the armor began to stretch like a man waking.
“Oh, finally,” a male-sounding voice said from within the armor. “That was a nice vacation but honestly, Melinda, would it have been a bother to ask them to carry me around from time to time?”
“And how would you like me to have explained that request, Roderick?”
“Must everything be explained to you people?” Roderick sighed, then waved his hand in a circular motion. As he did so, I felt a faint crackle in the air and all the dust and cobwebs swirled together and vanished, the sconces lit, and every wooden surface began to shine as if freshly polished. The armor walked forward and sat in an armchair before pointing at me. “And what are you doing here?”
“I—” I started to answer, before realizing I didn’t really have a good answer for him.
“This is our cousin Alice,” Melinda stepped in, sitting on a freshly-cleaned chaise. I slipped onto a cushioned bench. “She brought you home from the States.”
“Yes I know that,” he snapped, “but if it was so hard to explain me to her, then why is she here?”
“The young dear has learned about magic, without any involvement from us.” He turned to face me, and while I couldn’t see any real change, it felt like he was narrowing his gaze as he stared.
“And how did that come about?”
“Well,” I said, “you see, I’m dating an Anchor, I think you call it, and his friend is a witch, and—”
“Oh please tell me that isn’t your entire knowledge of magic, an Anchor and an American witch? What is she, Dutch? One of those people trying to reclaim what they think the Celts practiced?”
“She’s Latina, actually.” I heard him groan and his head angled back into the chair.
“She has questions that I think are very sensible ones for her to ask, Roderick, so be nice,” Melinda said sternly, “before I shove you back into a box.” He grumbled and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.
“Fine. Ask your questions,” he said, finally.
“I guess the main one is, why was I never told about the Hudsons having magic?” I asked.
“Because you weren’t supposed to be told.”
“That was the point, Alice. Your family went to the States to leave the magic behind. It was agreed that, in respect for your family’s wishes, this side of the family would not discuss the matter.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“That’s my job.”
“Roderick is the family memory,” Melinda said. “He knows basically everything about who we are and who we have been and, sometimes, who we will become.” She turned to him. “And your insight has been sorely missed.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure it has.” He turned to face me, but didn’t say anything, as if he was considering me somehow.
“Well,” Melinda said, standing, “I suppose we should let you get comfortable. Alice knows where to call on you now. Though do be careful coming out while she’s in town.”
“The Anchor, yes, I know,” he said, standing. As I took to my feet, he walked forward and rested his hand on my shoulder. “Be mindful of that one, cousin. He isn’t safe, and you will need to decide what risks you are willing to take. Choose wisely.”
“Oh, um,” I said, patting the metal glove, “thanks, Roderick. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Please do.” And with that, we slipped out of his chambers and made our way back down the hall. The place looked different now, more alive, and I began to wonder just how much influence he had on the estate.
I was having dinner with my parents when Matteson called. The phone ringing caught us all off guard, my friends were so used to not calling at this time on Saturdays that I hadn’t bothered silencing my phone in months. I checked the screen and, seeing it was Matteson and realizing he probably didn’t know that this affair isn’t really meant to be interrupted, I asked leave of my parents to answer. But they were very curious about this man they hadn’t yet met, so they insisted I take the call there.
“Good evening,” I said, answering.
“Hey, I know you said you were doing something tonight, is this a good time?” he asked. Seemed to me like the sort of question that would have been better as a text message.
“Only if it is very important.” He sounded a little bit off, and I suspected he’d been drinking, but was not about to say that in present company.
“Well, okay, I guess that depends on how much weight you put on Valentine’s Day.”
“I suppose that depends on what you’re planning to do instead.”
“I’ve been hired to go do some work for a Michael Hudson in England. It’s a…magic thing. I don’t know all the details yet.”
“Michael Hudson? John, are you doing work for the estate of Lord Hudson?” I asked, looking at my parents. They perked up at the name.
“Uh, yeah. You know much about lords and shit?”
“Well, some. But the Hudsons are of particular interest, being that Michael is my cousin.”
“Is every rich person related?”
“We happen to be. Listen, John, I actually think I have something for them, right?” I looked to my father, who nodded and called Mary over.
“Be a dear and fetch the box labeled ‘Hudson’ in the foyer closet,” he said. Mary nodded and slipped out of the room as he turned his attention back to me. “If you’re going to visit you must return it.”
“What’s going on there?” Matteson asked.
“Well, last time they visited, which was probably a decade ago now that I think about it, they left a couple things behind and we all agreed it would be better to hand deliver it than deal with postage. But then we never really got together again, you see. So I should bring it along.”
“John, you don’t know the first thing about dealing with the nobility, and I haven’t seen my cousin in years, and I’m certain they’re sending a plane so it will be no bother adding one more person. Besides,” I said, leaning back in my seat, “it would be nice to be in the same country as my boyfriend for Valentine’s, don’t you think?”
“Okay, okay, fine. I’ll have to tell Benedict.”
“The priest. I wasn’t going alone.”
“You’re taking a priest?”
“More like a priest is taking me. Us. Anyway, okay, then, I guess I better get you the flight info as soon as I have it.”
“That would be splendid, thank you. I should get back to dinner now, though.”
“Well that sounds like it’ll be a fun trip!” my mother said, as soon as I was off the phone. “You’ll have to give them our best when you get there.” Mary entered with the box, which was set on an open chair next to me.
“Now, you take this back to your place tonight,” father said after he’d dismissed Mary, “and make sure you take good care of it. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you all grown up. In the meantime, maybe put your phone on silent?”
I nodded, changed the phone volume, and we went back to dinner.
31 January 2007
Jackie and I weren’t planning on meeting today, but I showed up a little bit earlier than I needed to, anyway. I didn’t bother knocking before I went inside, having started to get used to the idea that I could, and headed down to the basement when I didn’t see her on the first floor. She wasn’t down there, either, and I began to consider that I was wasting my time being here without actually verifying anyone else would be. I grabbed a book I had been curious about, something about auras, and went upstairs to sit on the couch and flip through it. After a minute of that I heard water in a drain and then footsteps, and I glanced up to see Jackie coming down the stairs wrapped in a towel with another one wrapped around her hair. We both paused when we saw each other, then she coughed a little and explained that her clothes for work were in the dryer and slipped through the room toward the basement. I sat for a second, wondering if I should apologize when she comes back or pretend I hadn’t even noticed, and ultimately decided that either way, it would be best if I wasn’t staring into space when she returned. So I returned to the book, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t quite alone.
She returned a couple minutes later, fully dressed but still with the hair towel, and sat down on the recliner. She lit a cigarette and took a couple drags from it before either of us spoke.
“You’re early,” she said. “Was traffic light?”
“It was a bit,” I answered, setting the book aside. “But I also wanted to talk to you for a minute.”
“Okay, cool. What’s up?”
“I’ve been thinking, and I really appreciate your help, and I want to know more about magic and stuff, but. I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep trying to figure out how to unlock it myself.”
“No?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, it’s just, I dunno. I didn’t even know any of this stuff was real two months ago, it’s not that pivotal to my life. And if moving forward is dangerous, and if I need to be distracted from my schooling to do it—”
“That’s all fair, Alice,” she said with a smile. “No one needs to learn magic, even if they have a knack for it.”
“I guess. I just thought, you know, Matteson talks about it like it’s unavoidable.”
“Well, for him, it probably is. And people in his life need to be prepared for that. But for you and me, this is something we get to choose. We can decide how much of it we want in our lives, and while being with him does mean you’re choosing a certain amount of it, you don’t have to choose any more than that.” I exhaled hard, as if I’d been holding that breath the whole time I’d been here.
“Okay. Thanks for understanding.” She laughed.
“Well. I don’t understand. Remember, I chose magic. But I respect it.” I nodded. “If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t found anything that would help you progress yet, anyway. Whatever is blocking you is alien to the magic I know, and it’s starting to look alien to the magic Henry knew about.”
“Are there kinds of magic?”
“Oh, yeah. I mean, most of them are at least intelligible to other types. It’s like, if you tie a rope into a knot. Different schools of thought may use different ropes or different knots, but the basic knowledge of how to untie it and put it into a new knot is pretty universal. But, there are some things that are really different. I’ve just never encountered many of them.” She looked to the empty space next to me on the couch. “Though I have started to notice one lately.”
“What?” I asked, looking to the space and then back at her.
“There’s a satyr here, named Kastor. Has Matteson mentioned him?”
“Yeah, he has. He’s here? You can see him?”
“Frequently, and I find it helpful to know where all the eyes are when I’m bathing.” She glared at the spot for a moment. “You need to give me a reason to believe that one.” Then she turned back to me and continued, “But anyway, he’s a pure spirit, and of a type that is well outside of my natural element. It could be argued that what he does isn’t even magic, really, since he only affects his own realm and doesn’t use ours to do it; but whatever it is, it doesn’t look like anything I know how to do.” I looked between her and the spot a couple more times.
“Can he see me?” I asked, softly.
“And hear you, yes. He can’t fully manifest in the physical realm, but he can get close, closer than most spirits. I think we look to him the way ghosts look to us.”
“That’s so weird to imagine. Uh, hi, Kastor. How long have you been there?” There was a pause.
“He says he sat down when I went downstairs to get dressed.”
“Oh. Okay. Huh.” The door opened and Matteson walked in.
“Ladies. Kastor,” he said as he started walking over. He leaned down and gave me a kiss before sitting down on the opposite side of me as the place Jackie had been looking.
“Well now it’s just weird that I’m the only one who can’t see him,” I said.
“Then let’s go somewhere else.” I agreed, and we headed out.
27 January 2007
Jackie and I had spent a couple days working on magic, when she was in town, while Matteson was at work and before Jackie had to go in for her shift. I was learning a lot of magical theory, about how this hedge seemed to divide the realms and how the general concept of magic was little more than using one realm to make a change in the other. I wasn’t yet actually accomplishing anything—we had tried to get me to cast some minor spells, but it never worked—but I couldn’t deny that when Jackie did magic near me or I tried to do it myself, something stirred in me. It was like there was something deep in the fabric of my being that recognized the magic and wanted to connect with it, but just couldn’t. I didn’t understand what it meant, and try as we might, we couldn’t seem to push past it.
Today, however, Jackie asked me to meet her at the dam. I had to figure out what she was talking about, and then find my way there, but once I did it was easy enough to find her. She was meditating on the side of a foot trail, down by the water at the bottom of the dam. I made my way down to where she was waiting, and sat on the blanket next to her. The sound of the water coming out of the dam was loud and concussive, but not overwhelming, apparently because only one stream of water was being allowed through. As I waited for her, I took note of the little bits of wildlife I could see. I loved doing work in the basement, with its smell of books and comfortable chairs, but being outside was a nice break.
“Try to connect to the energy around you,” Jackie said, softly.
“Oh, right,” I said, snapping back into the present and adjusting my position. I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and tried to sense the world around me. This had never worked before, but she had said multiple times that the house was somewhat resistant to magic just by virtue of being Matteson’s, and that it was always easiest to connect to some specific element of the world than to just broadly try connecting to everything. For her, this was water; she wasn’t sure what mine was, and maybe now we were going to begin trying to find out.
As I cleared my head and tried to focus on this idea of some natural energy, I started to feel a bit distant. Like I was ever so slightly moving, not so much away from where I was, but relative to it. Like, I was in the same place, but the place itself was moving around me just a little bit; or, more accurately, like I was occupying more of it as it began to move. The sound of the water started to fade, and I could hear every non-migrating bird near us singing or scratching at the snow. I leaned into that, tried to connect with it more, and soon it felt something else. Movement. Slow, quiet, barely there, but definitely moving, just faintly. I turned my attention to it, tried to find it in my mind, and the other noises began to fade away as this one impulse loomed large in my mind. Then I heard a heartbeat, and I reached out, trying to touch it, to find that specific noise, and suddenly my head began to throb like I’d run straight into a wall.
I gasped and my eyes flew open. Everything was a blur, and it took me a few moments to focus and figure out where I even was. Jackie was kneeling in front of me, calling my name, but it felt distant and tinny until I blinked a few times and everything began to return to normal.
“Alice! Are you okay? What happened?” I was breathing heavy and my heart was thumping in my ears, and as I started to take in my surroundings I noticed something on my lip. I reached up to touch it, and when I pulled my hand away it had blood on it.
“Hey, hey, take a deep breath with me, okay?” She took in a long, loud inhale, and I copied her, exhaling as she did and taking in another breath on cue. Slowly, I found everything back to the way it was before I started meditating.
“Jackie, I…I heard something.”
“What was it?”
“At first it was just the birds, you know, but then it was something else. Something slow, and quiet, and when I focused on it I think I heard a faint heartbeat? But then it just…everything stopped, and my head felt like I’d been in a car wreck or something, and I’m bleeding?”
“You had a faint nosebleed, it looks to be drying up some, but maybe tilt your head up just in case.” I did and pinched my nose while she dug around in her bag for a napkin, which she gave me and I started dabbing at the blood. “This is amazing.”
“What is?” I asked, trying to ignore how odd my voice sounded while I was holding my nose closed.
“Okay, so, three things stand out to me about your story. One is that you got anywhere near that far. I mean, yeah, it’s easier out here than at the house, but to pick up that much on your first real shot at it? That’s impressive. There’s definitely some kind of spark in you.”
“Well that’s good, I think. Does that mean I have a demon great-aunt or something?” She chuckled.
“Maybe, but we can’t possibly guess at that based just on this.”
“What were the other two things?”
“Well, I get it now. Not all of the elements mages connect to are what might be classically considered elements. Earth, fire, water, air, sometimes wood. The elements, as far as magic is concerned, are all of the sources of energy in our world, all of the ways it is moved and changed and gathered. You, a biologist, started to connect to some kind of animal energy. I don’t know if it’s specific, like birds or mammals or something, or just generally animal, but you were drawn to that element. I think you have some fundamental connection to it, and I bet it’s part of what drew you to biology. And I would bet money you’re better with most people’s pets than they are.” I smiled.
“Okay, that does tend to be the case, yeah.”
“You seem to be done bleeding.” I looked at her again and finished wiping my face.
“The third thing is the one I understand the least, though,” she said, in a lower tone, as if we had to hide our conversation from the ears of the snow.
“What do you mean?”
“People sometimes have a physical reaction to strain, that’s normal enough. But you hit a hard limit.”
“And that’s less normal?”
“The only cases of it I’ve ever even heard of involve trying to deal with an Anchor. Happened to me when I tried to jump into Matteson’s dreams in Chicago.”
“Was there no ontological gap to jump into?” I asked with a smile. She smiled and nodded.
“Yeah. It sure lent credibility to that theory, let me tell you.” She leaned forward, wrapped her hands around mine, and locked eyes with me. “Alice, what you were doing was clearly something surprisingly natural for you to do, but something stopped you. There’s a story here, somewhere. To my knowledge, that doesn’t just happen.”
“What do we do about it?”
“I don’t know. We shouldn’t push it, though, until we understand it. If it pushes back too hard, it might be dangerous.” I nodded, and she briefly squeezed my hands before letting go and sitting up. “I’ll try to look into it, but we should take a rest from this until we know more about it.”
“Okay, yeah, that makes sense.” I took a deep breath, then got to my feet. “So what now?” She shrugged, then stood and picked up her backpack.
“Now,” she said as we started folding up the blanket, “I suppose we have some time to kill. You hungry?” I was, as it happened, so we debated on the way back to my car where we would grab a bite to eat.
10 January 2007
I arrived at Matteson's house a little earlier than expected and then learned he was going to have to stay a bit late at work. Jackie let me in, but once we were inside she explained that the door is basically always unlocked, anyway, if Matteson was the last to leave or enter. It never occurred to me that he would do that, especially with that library in his basement. When I expressed this surprise, Jackie shrugged and said she didn't fully understand it, either, but Rick and Charles and others seemed to have the same habit and they were all used to just walking into each other's homes. I can't imagine that ever flying in my parents' house.
Jackie and I had started to get to know each other recently. We both had some insight into the other's boyfriends that we found invaluable, but also, she was just an interesting person. She had apparently lived in Chicago for some time, and we commiserated about living in cities and how different Sharon seemed from our expectations. She had some fascinating stories from her life in the Midwest, raised by her grandmother, and she knew more about magic than I could have figured out on my own. Since we had some time to kill, I decided to try to explore that.
"So, you research magic?" I asked, while we were in the library with our coffees. She was browsing the shelves and I was sitting in one of the chairs.
"Yeah, I do."
"Sounds like a fascinating topic. Do these books have a lot of useful information?"
"Well, kind of," she said, pulling one out and sitting down. "Matteson's great-grandmother started this collection, and she didn't seem to know a whole lot about how to tell if something was accurate or not. So there's a lot in here that's pure speculation or just an attempt to harmonize various beliefs about the spiritual without much knowledge or concern about whether the result was better than its parts. But," and here she opened the book and flipped through to a page, which she showed me was heavily notated, "Henry was a fierce academic. I don't know how he got some of this information, most of it really, but his insight is amazing."
"But how do you know? Is there a way to verify this information?"
"Same way you do, really. Test it in the field. See, this book proposes an idea called the Ontological Gap, which is the conceptual space between the physical person and the spiritual person. The distance between our two main parts. And it presents the idea that this gap is how things like possession and mind control and stuff work; they function by placing something inside that gap, interfering with the messages from the soul to the body and hijacking the body."
"And you can test that?"
"Not directly. But, it does account for something that we can test, which is why liminal beings are immune to those things."
"Living things that exist as a bridge between the realms. Nephilim, which are half-human and half-spirit; and Anchors, like Matteson. The idea is that, as liminal beings, their Ontological Gaps are smaller or nonexistent, so there's nowhere for things like possession to happen."
"But Matteson's immune to all kinds of magic, not just possession. Does this Ontological Gap account for that?"
"Maybe. It's hard to say. Honestly, I haven't seen any of these books think to ask that question." I smiled.
"That's what happens when you get a scientist involved."
"A scientist who believes in magic. There can't be too many of you."
"I wasn't, until I saw the echoes."
"It's odd that you noticed them in the first place. The way Matteson described them, most of them shouldn't have been strong enough for someone to notice unless they were a mage or liminal being."
"Mandy and Rick noticed the screaming."
"Yes. But they didn't notice anything else. Did you?" I thought for a second.
"Well, yeah. I heard talking, and someone going down the stairs."
"That, right there? That's a bit unusual. Most people wouldn't pick up on that. Not unless it was a very powerful memory."
"What are you suggesting?"
“So we don’t talk about this much, but there is some speculation that there is a certain amount of sensitivity people can have to magic that makes it easier to learn it.”
“So, you think I can learn magic because I heard some ghosts?”
“Anyone can learn magic, it’s more of a discipline than anything. But some people require more effort than others, and the theory is that people who catch on faster do so because they have a certain level of magic already in their blood. A family line, for instance, that includes a spirit somewhere in its past.”
“Like Matteson’s great-grandfather.”
“Exactly. After a few generations, there might not be enough magic left in his line to produce something as powerful as an Anchor, but there may be enough that people are more aware of magic and find it easier to pick up, if only a little bit.”
“And you think my family is like that?”
“I think it’s worth exploring. Would you like to try learning magic, see how easily you take to it?” I thought about that for a moment. Even if I never learned any magic, maybe going through the work with Jackie would at least give me a lot more insight into it than I would get otherwise.
“Okay, yeah. How do we do that?”
“Well…we don’t do it when Matteson is around, for one.”
“Because he breaks magic?” She nodded. “That sounds reasonable. I think we can figure something out.” We heard footsteps on the floor above us, and Jackie patted my knee.
“Well, I should get to my studies. We’ll give it a shot soon,” she said, leaning back in the chair and opening her book as Matteson came down the stairs.
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.