We stood atop a low hill overlooking a desolate valley. I stared across a field of writhing gravestones at the location where my loft should be. In its place was an imposing multistory edifice that resembled a mausoleum. A lone light shone in a window on the topmost floor. Ghosts floated lazily around the entire area, a certain level of resignedness to their movements.
I glanced over at Barbara, and squeezed her hand. “Some date, huh?”
Over the last couple of weeks, Barbara and I have had some serious discussions about religion (which has settled some… pressure points… between us). But we’ve also talked a lot more about my calling and associated activities. I’ve held back some things (in a typically male fashion, I suppose), so as not to overly worry her, but one incident that kept coming up was last Christmas – primarily because of how drastically those events changed my life.
Through our discussions, I’ve come to realize how haunted I am by my unwitting facilitation of my old boss’s activities. Of additional concern is the effect of those atrocities on the local Nevernever – but as ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve been very nervous about finding out – I haven’t even broached the subject with Conor or Jamie. Barbara has a knack for the Nevernever, though, and she finally convinced (ok, browbeat) me to go – with her as a guide. She has even taken to calling it a date…
It was pleasant Sunday afternoon that found me standing in the “backyard” of the Purple House on Bell. I was in my usual “action” attire – enchanted cassock and clerical collar, pack on my shoulder with my usual assortment of supplies, waiting on my traveling companion for the day.
Barbara pulled up in her car and parked in the back by where I was waiting. (The Purple House was closed on Sundays – not due to any real respect for the day from a religious standpoint, but more out of social convention). She was dressed in stylish, but conservative attire that was utilitarian and appropriate for what we intended to do. She had pulled her hair back tightly into a ponytail, prominently displaying her earrings – one of her magical foci. The backpack-purse she carried was also unusually plain for her, but was likely filled with tools and tricks like I carried.
I still couldn’t help but smile, seeing her. “Oye, amorcito!”
“Hola, mi guapo!” she grinned. We kissed and she stepped back, sensing my nervousness. “Assuming you haven’t embellished your stories, there’s no reason you can’t handle this, Matthew.”
“What would make you think I’m embellishing?”
“I trained you, remember? I’ve seen what you’re capable of. No doubt your time with the Scooby Squad has improved your skills, but seeing is believing.” She winked at me.
She was just pulling my chain, so I dropped the matter. Either we’d run into something and she’d finally see firsthand what I was capable of… or this would go a lot smoother than I was expecting. I held out my hand. “Shall we?”
She took it and became serious, “Ok,” and she shifted us into the Nevernever.
The Purple House was even more garish on this side (neon yellow, in fact), but Barbara ignored it, took a moment to get her bearings, and we were off. The farther we got from the Purple House, the less friendly the Nevernever became. She guided us with confidence through a number of odd terrains, including a chasm full of sushi (not dead fish, but wriggling, swimming, prepared sushi rolls), skirting a demense that looked like it was made of Laffy Taffy, and the worst – fording a river.
I know, it sounds mundane, but it was like a historical imprint of where the Trinity River once flowed, full of what I could best describe as piranha-perch. Innocent looking at first, until one of them bit Barbara’s foot. My cassock seemed to protect me, so I carried her across. (That wasn’t as cool as it sounds – the river was less than half the width of the modern Trinity, only knee deep, and I’m not exactly packing in upper body strength. It was ugly, and I struggled – but she still appreciated the effort.)
The only other unfriendlies that we ran into were a pair of overly inquisitive fae spiders. Twin blasts of focused light from Barbara and I scared them off before they got too friendly with us.
All told, it probably took us two hours to get to the Nevernever location of my building. I didn’t even question her navigation when I saw it – it felt so wrong it had to be right.
“There’s so many…” I whispered.
“You said he’d been doing it for at least three years,” Barbara whispered back. “What were you expecting?”
I shook my head. "I don’t know. I figured some of them would have moved on after getting their revenge. That some might have had enough peace to not linger."
“You said it yourself – violent death is one of the factors in the creation of a ghost.”
“True, but…” I just stared at the edifice across the field from me. “What am I doing here?”
“Closure, Matthew.” Barbara squeezed my hand, and turned me to look at her. “You need to exorcise your ghosts of Christmas past.” She looked back over the scene. “Although I didn’t intend to be quite that literal.”
I nodded. She was right – as usual.
“So let’s sit for a few minutes – descansar – and just watch.” She sat down and patted the ground next to her. “Maybe something about this,” she waved her hand to indicate the whole scene before us,” will start to make sense or give you some guidance.”
“Maybe.” I sat down next to her on the hill and we watched carefully for a while. The ghosts drifted around the edifice, seemingly at random. Occasionally one would make its way up to the lit window to peer in, but it seemed that the light drove it away. Others would begin to drift away from the mausoleum, but always come back. I finally realized that there seemed to be a certain distance beyond which they couldn’t get away from the structure, and that the light that obviously represented my apartment probably hurt them in some form or fashion. Unfortunately, those realizations did nothing to tell me what I should do.
Barbara spoke up. “Do you see? They’re avoiding the front doors.”
She startled me, but I focused my attention there. Sure enough, the floating forms gave the front door a wide berth, but the shadows were so dark we couldn’t tell why from this distance. We compared notes, and she’d noticed the other movement patterns that I had as well.
“That’s as good a place as any to start,” I declared. “Watching has gotten us all it’s going to, I think.”
We stood up, brushed ourselves off, and made our way down to the mausoleum.
The ghosts ignored us as we approached, and I was OK with that. We just made our way carefully through the field of gravestones (which had stopped writhing, thankfully), and got close enough that we could see a solitary ghost actively assaulting the door. It knocked, pounded, scratched – even tried to pick the lock. As we got closer, it looked back at us, and I realized why the other ghosts were avoiding this one – and why I couldn’t.
With a slight tremor in my voice, I addressed it. "Hello, Brandon."
“Consprite!” He seemed pleased to see me, but the wild eyes were there from when we’d defeated him.
Barbara backed up a step. “This is Brandon?”
“What’s left of him.” I said, without looking back at her, and then addressed the ghost again. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to come see you!”
"Well, I couldn’t stay at my place – stupid Witch has the whole thing as her personal demense. So, this was the next place I thought of – love what you’ve done with it, by the way."
“This?” I motioned to the structure. “This was your doing.”
“Hmph.” He looked up at it appraisingly. “Maybe it was.” The he looked at me and waggled his eyebrows. “Maybe it wasn’t?”
I wasn’t even going to take that bait. “But how are you going to see me?”
“These doors! I’ve been wearing them down – I can tell that they’ll open soon. Then I can go back to my office, and come see you-“ He stopped, suddenly realizing what he’d said. “… but you’re here!” His glee quickly deepened into a scowl.
“So I am. What did you want?”
“’Repent of your sins,’ you said!” A manic expression began to take over his face.
I took an involuntary step back, and motioned for Barbara to back away as well. “And you did.”
“’I can save your soul,’ you said!” His eyes got wider, a malevolence starting to burn in them.
“And I did!” I snapped right back. “Your own evil ways resulted in part of you remaining as a shade!”
“Lies! Lies!” With a snarl, he leapt at me, his own transformation mirroring that of his victims at the boat shack last Christmas.
I, however, was prepared – cross in hand. “Psalm 7!”
A glowing shield snapped into place between us, and he laughed, not slowing at all. “A shield? That’s the bessssAUGH!”
His form sizzled as he ran into the shield that I had infused with my faith. “Not even close to my best – not that you ever appreciated it.” With a twist of my wrist and a focusing thought, the half-dome over me inverted into a closed sphere around him. “You were the one thing on this journey that I was prepared for. I don’t know exactly why these other spirits avoid you, but you’ve tormented them enough.”
I walked right up to the shield and placed my hand against it. I wasn’t sure if I really needed to go all exorcist on him, but it couldn’t hurt. I’d done my research, and modified the rite accordingly.
I spoke with authority, clearly and loudly. “Brandon Holton – give honor to God the Father almighty, before whom every knee must bow.” I marked the sign of the cross, and it remained, limned in the glowing energy of the shield. I stepped a third of the way around the sphere. “Brandon Holton, give place to the Lord Jesus Christ, who shed His most precious blood for man.” Again, the sign of the cross, and another move around the sphere. “Brandon Holton, give place to the Holy Spirit, who by all the apostles, casts such as you out.”
Brandon’s shade was howling inside the sphere as I marked the last cross and the shield flared even brighter. Named thrice, crossed thrice – in the name of the Triune God – he should be at my mercy. Not that I had any for his ghost. “Begone, now! Begone, traitor! Begone!” I slapped the shield with my hand and it collapsed onto him, winking out of existence, carrying him and his cries with it.
I just stood there for a few moments, breathing heavily, but strangely satisfied. Brandon’s ghost should be permanently destroyed. I heard Barbara move up behind me. “Madre de Dios, Mateo.”
“So you believe me now?” I asked lightly.
“I never doubted, corazón, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Her tone caused me to turn around, but my question died on my lips as I saw every ghost that had been in the area now gathered together and descending towards us.
We backed up to the mausoleum doors as the mass of ghosts stopped their descent at ground level. I could hear their murmuring – whispered inquiries about loved ones, laments for things left undone, even some wondering at the destruction of Brandon – it could be maddening, long-term. They didn’t force themselves closer to us, so I studied them, and finally saw one that I recognized. “Mary?”
The ghost of an older black woman looked up and met my gaze. “Pastor Matt?”
I nodded wordlessly, my throat tight. Mary was the matriarch of an Oak Cliff family that had been trying to get away from the violence of the OCT for years. Three generations of women – widowed mothers all – living in the same small house, held together by their faith in God. I’d sent reports up the chain – through Brandon, of course – to see what could be done for them. All of a sudden, on one of my visits to Oak Cliff, they were gone. The news I got from LINC was that they’d been relocated “elsewhere” to get a fresh start. I was told I couldn’t contact them – something about getting witness protection for giving evidence to the Feds about the gangs in Oak Cliff. From the marks on the neck of her ghost, I could tell where she’d actually ended up.
“It’s a’ight, child. We knowed it wasn’t you.”
She drifted closer to me, and I instinctively reached for her hand. Despite being a ghost, in the Nevernever, I was able to touch her. I’ve not truly understood the term “bone-chilling” until that moment. I sank to my knees from the pain as a freezing sensation crawled up my arm, and she immediately pulled her hand back – but something passed between us in that momentary contact.
“No, no, child. No time for that that now.” She stopped and looked carefully at me. “But I think we can help you – if you can help us.”
My hand and forearm were blue with cold from her touch, but I thought I knew how to help them. I nodded. “Tell me about your great-granddaughter, Mary.”
She smiled and told me about an event a few days before their death – of how happy they all had been when they got the relocation news. The little girl had danced all around their small living room while the older women looked on with joy. When her tale finished, I thanked her, and I blessed her.
Through the discomfort that my blessing caused her, she smiled sadly up at me and whispered, “Remember us, Pastor Matt.” Then her ghostly form sagged downward and coalesced into shiny golf-ball sized object on the ground in front of me.
I stayed on my knees in front of the mausoleum doors, facing the rest of the ghosts. One by one, they floated down in front of me. If I recognized them, I called them by name, but regardless, I asked them to share their stories. They spoke of happy memories, prior to their betrayal at the hands of Brandon. Sometimes they cried. I know I cried for these people – many of whom I had given hope, only to have it crushed (both figuratively and literally) by the monster who was my boss. At the end of each tale, I spoke a blessing over them, and with a whispered reminder of “Remember,” they each faded away, leaving another golf-ball-sized object on the ground before me.
I lost track of time, as well over a hundred souls confronted me, but each left me with a happy memory. Finally, they were gone. Barbara came back over to me, and we both stared at the glittering pile of crystalline orbs. “What are they?”
“Memories, I think – the stuff ghosts are made of. When they run out, normally they transform into something nasty, but I think I helped them become the memory, rather than losing it.” I reached out and picked one up. It was surprisingly warm, and slightly slick to the touch… like tears.
“What are you going to do with them?” She whispered.
I looked at her as I stood up. The area around the mausoleum was silent and still, the ghosts now transformed to the orbs before me. “I have no idea.” It was frustrating, being asked to care for something with no idea how to do it. I clenched my hands, and the memory orb suddenly compressed, more like a rubber ball than a marble. I opened my hand in surprise, dropping it, and the orb bounced on the ground, rolled and hit the wall of the mausoleum before I could stop it.
Rather than breaking, the orb dissolved, oozing into the “mortar” of the mausoleum as a webwork of light began to fill the mortar channels. I stood and watched until it stopped moving. Barbara was as stunned as I was, but we looked at each other, and she shrugged and nodded to the pile. I reached down, picked up a few of the orbs, went to the mausoleum wall, and gently pressed one against the mortar.
Sure enough, it too dissolved in, expanding the webwork of light. Barbara stepped up next to me with a handful of orbs, and we both began applying them to the dour structure. The whole thing began to glow, dimly at first, but more brightly the more orbs we used. When the webwork reached “my” window, the whole thing flared with a bright light that caused Barbara and me to stagger back from the intensity.
When the light faded, the scene around us had changed – area was brighter, more vibrant looking. The imposing mausoleum was gone, and in its place was a small dark hill, topped by a small chapel that was clean, bright, and welcoming. Barbara and I each had one orb left, and without a word we ascended the hill together.
Inside as well as outside, it was exactly as I remembered the little chapel in Bedford, except that the font on the altar was instead a cradle, perfectly sized and shaped for the two remaining orbs. Barbara clutched my free hand in hers, and we carefully placed our orbs in the cradle. I knelt down at the altar and gave a brief prayer of thanks for the transformation we’d witnessed, and for granting the tormented spirits some peace. I opened my eyes to find Barbara kneeling next to me, and we watched the two orbs flow together, the cradle changing to accommodate the combined sphere, about the size of a crystal ball.
“It’s… nice…” Barbara whispered reverently. “And I think it’s yours.”
I glanced over at her, and she was pointing. The chapel had the traditional cross hanging at the front, but embossed on the wall behind, nearly invisible in the shadow of the cross, was an eye of Thoth.
Almost instinctively, I reached out to grasp the crystalline orb. I shut my eyes as I did, a chorus of voices gently filling my head. “For easing our suffering.”
When I opened them again, the orb had flowed onto me and formed a crystalline gauntlet around my hand and forearm. I grabbed Barbara’s hand, and…
…we were in my apartment.
We both blinked in amazement, and Barbara looked over at me. “Did you…?”
I held up my hand, clad in the crystalline gauntlet. “Sort of. I think they let me.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I know, right?”
We collapsed onto my couch together, and just stared alternatively at the spot where we’d appeared and the gauntlet on my arm. It was late – our few hours in the Nevernever had taken over double that time in the real world.
I broke the silence. “What an amazing gift…”
“It’s a demense, isn’t it?” Barbara asked.
I nodded. “I think so. The Lacrimas Memoria gives me the ability to shape that area of the Nevernever.”
I blinked. The name had just popped into my head – and it was very descriptive in Latin. “Um, sorry – the Tears of Memory – that was odd.” I slipped it off my hand and set it reverently on the table in front of us.
Barbara told me that was what I needed, and that is what the Lacrimas Memoria represents. The ghosts of those that had died at Brandon’s hands had forgiven me for my role, however unwitting, in their demise. Moreover, together we cleansed the taint of Brandon’s actions. I will never forget the stories that they told me in front of the mausoleum. I imagine the experience was similar to what I understand someone using the Sight experiences, because those stories – those memories – always seem to be fresh in my mind. Perhaps they will fade with time, but I hope they don’t. They serve as a reminder to me that, even in the darkest of situations, light can be found and nurtured.
I have the oddest feeling that I’ll need that reminder in the months ahead.
This closes out Matthew’s big “side story” for the first season of DF:D. Brandon was originally built into Matthew as his Trouble aspect (“My Boss is Out to Get Me”), and that was resolved during the Bah Humbug case file. That caused a trouble change (“Unemployed Venatori”), which didn’t often come into play in session, but I addressed it through the webisodes I’ve written, and now, being unemployed really isn’t his trouble anymore – his role as an Eye of Thoth complicates his life in much bigger ways, so that change is reflected in his Trouble going into the new season (“…In All the Empty Places I Must Walk. (Eye of Thoth)”).
Of course, I have new story lines and complications to play with going into season two (his relationship with Barbara, at the least), so thanks for reading, and stay tuned!