The first time that I saw the black gunk under the floorboard, I thought it was “just” rotten wood.
When we first moved into Transliminal Station-β, Keet and I knew there was a list of problems. Virtually every house sale comes an inspection report, including ours. Truth is, neither of us read ours very closely when we first got it. We could see problems, but I don’t think we’d have changed our course even if we’d understood it. I was highly motivated as a buyer; I’d been a homeowner back in Pennsylvania, and I didn’t care much for renting, but the bankruptcy had made it a requirement for a while. I also didn’t have any specific reason not to like our present landlords, but I always got a very awkward and uncomfortable vibe off of them whenever they inspected the property and I hated knowing we were in multiple violations of the lease.
I also had some complicated requirements to fulfill:
- Five people currently living in Transliminal Station-α and one person moving up from California needed housing in the new location.
- The house needed to be on a bus line that could get the majority of us to our destinations in a reasonable time frame.
- Not Bellevue.
Surprisingly, once those three criteria were slapped down, there were only two houses on the market, and one of those was in visibly distressed shape, as in the front room had cheap laminate over carpet that bounced when I walked, and I couldn’t fit down the stairway to get to the basement. So, despite the list of defects we were told existed when we looked at the place, we bought it anyway, and I think we both — all — went about our days telling ourselves that the problems were all things we would need to address “one day.”
Sure, we had a tiny roof leak, but it was only a few drops and a contract put a tin shingle over the hole for free. Then, okay, fine, we found a water bubble under the paint in the bathroom, but that got popped and dried without issue. The front yard was overgrown with blackberry brambles, but that could be walked around. Then we found the leak by the dishwasher and realized the split in the laminate flooring probably meant the seal on the dishwasher was bad, but hey, it couldn’t be too much of a problem, could it?
It was when we found the discontinuity in the sewer line to the street that we realized we probably needed to actually start fixing things. Having the downstairs tub unexpectedly offline for a week because there’s a blockage requiring a professional plumber, then having that plumber say he’s not sure he can fix the problem because the cast-iron access cap has rusted in place, then having the last-ditch through-the-toilet-with-the-super-long-auger trick work gave me about the level of freak-out as, say, having watched a black rabbit running the other direction.
You’d think, after the adventures with the Embassy, I might have learned my lessons about digging into the details and learning how the stuff around my house works. At the very least, you’d think I’d have figured out how to read an inspection report. Allocate budget towards necessary home repairs. Something. Unfortunately I am, or at was for the most part, about as good at it as Ray Smuckles is at managing his diabetes.
So, even with this really strong set of indicators that I wasn’t taking care of my house, I… wasn’t taking care of the house. Then the laminate flooring split in the downstairs bathroom, and water with black flecks started seeping out of the floorboards underneath. And still I hesitated, because… I had a thousand reasons. I had my surgery upcoming. I had Bandaza and I didn’t want to take the whole house offline. I knew something needed to be done. I needed to save up enough money to fix whatever it was. I just kept… putting it off.
Pause that thought a moment, and follow me over to our regular gatherings in the Observatory.
It’s been a while since we’ve had one — Amphora has been recovering her font and we’ve had a flood of other social events happening — but at one social gathering in the past, one of the more vocal animists in attendance asked me if I knew of the spirits present in the Observatory. Spirits, plural. Two of them.
Now, for the longest time, I have largely not defined my tradition as an animist faith. My tools are, for the most part, tools; they’re extensions of my will, not possessed of their own thoughtforms. I tend to think that way and I don’t tend to work that way. I have a Patron and a Guide, and after recent experiences, I’m starting to wonder if I need to find a way to honor a Goddess in there as well. However, I don’t tend to think of those as “spirits,” per se.
However, one thing I do believe is that I’m not the only one putting energy into a lot of the spaces around me. The Observatory is my Workspace, yes, but it has also served as a temporary bedroom, spiritual gathering point, play space, and private room for difficult and intense conversations. I’ve held numerous gatherings in there with lots of people in lots of various states of mind all opening up to one another, and I’ve held a number of rituals in that space for myself and other people. There’s been a lot of emotional energy in there, and not all of it has been mine. I’m not obligated in any sense to change how I see the world just because somebody else says something. However, I’ve discovered just how much further I can go in life if I rephrase, “no I don’t” as “no, I didn’t.”
I patterned much of the decor of the Observatory on a temple from an incredibly emotionally-intense role-playing game, which contained a guardian that we had to free from psychic bondage, and which ended not long before we moved into the new space. And that’s important, because CSW’s observation of one of the two spirits’ forms carried aspects of said guardian — a being “made of space,” with stars at the points of articulation — but CSW wasn’t in the game. That’s the kind of thing that makes Roque’s ears perk up hard. I’ve said before, “Synchronicity is the universe’s way of saying, ‘shut up and pay attention,'” and this was one of those times. I’m no stranger to the idea of valence-bleed — the term for ideas that cross from one narrative layer to another — as should be clear from those essays on postfurry. The description was enough for me to know who had taken up residence, and I’ve been taking taking steps to nurture them — they’ve had a rough long while — but it’s still been a bit of an adjustment to my own paradigm; I hadn’t expected to pick up an egregore. My rituals in the space aren’t just about me and my Patron and Guide now. I spare a few cycles for the local guardian, to make sure the space is kept spiritually tidy, the wards are secure, and the gate to the Station is strong.
That leaves the other, which… I suspect was the house-spirit.
The only description that CSW could give me, at the time, was “too bright to look at.” That’s not really an experience I had later, that’s not surprising. My first personal encounter was when I finally got up the gumption to start ripping out the blackberry bramble in the front yard. I spent four hours digging out roots and disentangling thorns from healthy plants, and somewhere in the middle of it, I heard1 a very weary voice asking me why I was bothering. I hadn’t shown any interest in the last two years, and it didn’t make much sense to start now.
Have you ever known anyone in your life that was so depressed that, when presented with a chance at hope, became mad rather than excited? Someone who was so used to being unhappy that, given a chance at joy, became distressed because it was a reminder that the sorrow of before wasn’t normal? That was the sense in which I first made contact. I suppose I could’ve given up at that point, but really, what would that have netted me? A place in which I didn’t want to live. And… truth be told, this wasn’t an unfamiliar dynamic. So, I apologized as best as I could for having taken so long to get around to even this basic care, and I acknowledged that I was probably going to be pretty bad at this for a while. I said I’d come back when I was next available and clean up the weeds, and more when I could. I didn’t get much in the way of an answer, but I didn’t really have much credibility at that point, so I can’t really say I’m surprised.
I did go back to do the weeding, though; I made sure of that.
Shortly before Bandaza, I noticed that we were starting to collect a bit of water around the base of the toilet in the downstairs bathroom after a flush. It wasn’t blackwater, from what I could tell, but it was still kinda oogy, and nobody like damp socks, so I asked Keet to call a plumber to take care of it. She did, and the plumber showed up to take a look… and immediately backed out and said, “I can’t help you. That’s mold.” He proceeded to we’d have to have a specialist come out and mitigate the infestation, and then he could deal with it. Well, guess what, Dear Readers? Mold’s the homeowner equivalent of a pre-existing condition; neither the home warranty nor the insurance would cover the damage done by it2.
Then came Bandaza. Then I had my augmentation surgery. Then Glowtide happened. Then Adept came to stay with us for a week which was wonderful unto itself, but which really deserves its own post. One thing after another piled up and we just couldn’t get to it. Finally, though, Environix did their tests and gave us the results: the toilet leak predated our moving into the house, as did a rotten seal on the dishwasher and the upstairs bathroom fan venting into the attic, which itself is inadequately ventilated. The subfloor throughout the kitchen and bathroom had to go, the attic had to be cleaned, and the crawlspace had to be sprayed. It wasn’t black mold, thank the Great Work, but it was a penicillin infestation, of which one of my housemates happens to be allergic.
So, that “when I could” to which I committed became last week, in a very unplanned fashion. We went from “yeah, we should take care of this” to “the truck will be here Thursday to start carving up rotten boards and setting up dryers.” Three days of heavy lifting and sudden rearrangement followed, shoving as much of the kitchen as we could into the game room so we’d have a makeshift food-prep station — fridge, microwave, toaster, et cetera — and getting everything else out of the area. Then we spent a week listening to the constant mid-range rumble of industrial fans, interspersed with banging and hissing as work crews ripped up moldy wood and sprayed sealant.
It was Saturday before I realized that I hadn’t actually talked with the house about any of the changes that were coming. I asked Keet for a spotter, got comfortable, and went for a small walk. I opted to go via the Observatory, but I only got slightly past the wards before…
… this is where this whole thing breaks down. I say, with some humorous intent, that the Observatory is canonically a megameter from the house. It’s in space, about a quarter of the way to the moon; it’s far enough out to go unobserved from Earth, but not so far that it gets caught up in 12Fold politics. I wanted it to be a conceptually separate space so that whatever needed to go on in there could be happening while other events were taking place without necessarily crossing paths. Hence the metaphor of going to space.
Except that I never got that far. As soon as I got out past the wards, I got hauled in some direction that wasn’t any of the ones with which I was familiar and into what probably wasn’t an infinite sky but sure felt like one. Thick cloud spread out below me like a sea of fog, dotted here and there with mountaintop islands. And yet, it wasn’t cloud; it was very clearly a representation of cloud. It was beautiful, stylized, not quite real, and yet carrying a sense of having been deliberately constructed for convenience. The whole space felt like the spiritual equivalent of “banana for scale“.
Perched on a tree on one of the larger mountaintops was… I can best describe it as a bird having the same relationship to light as a phoenix does to fire or a thunderbird to lightning, and bigger than me in about the same way a ruḵ outmasses a pigeon. They moved with a visible limp, and their plumage had visible gaps, with patches torn and missing feathers, and even a few obvious wounds still fresh.
They were beautiful.
From there, talking about what happened seems like such an exercise in understatement and futility. I’m not the first in that house… and not the first to neglect them; their pain predates me by decades. I apologized for unceremoniously carving off a chunk of the house, something I hadn’t even considered when I did it, and I acknowledged as much. I tried to explain that it would take time to overcome the past, but that I wasn’t working alone. I explained what was happening with the repair crew and said there’d be changes coming. I mentioned the changes in the near future, and I asked for guidance. I received a few clear themes to pursue, and an acknowledgement that I’m at least trying to do the right thing. My flying skills need work.
It took the work crew over a week to strip all the mold out of the house. The front hallway, the downstairs bathroom, and the kitchen have all been gutted. The attic’s had a bunch of stuff stripped out. The crawlspace has new seals.
This, however, is only the beginning. The space where there was once a kitchen and bathroom has to be rebuilt; that’s going to take five weeks by the design team’s estimate. The roof has to have emergency repairs to bring it up to code, and it probably just has to be rebuilt in full. All three bathrooms need fans put in that actually vent to the outside, instead of into the attic or crawlspaces into the house. Both upstairs bathrooms need the tubs resealed. There’s a ticking time bomb in the front yard where a sewer pipe has dislocated and could get blocked which has to be dug up and rebuilt.
It’s all fixable, and it will be fixed. It will just take time.
The Work Continues
- No, it wasn’t an out-loud voice, but it was an internal impression of an external voice, in the same way that Bear told me at one point that She could no longer be my Guide, or the one time that Rabbit told me that I needed to stop just talking the talk and start walking the walk. It was the sense that I’ve come to specifically associate with connection with the sublime in some form, often a specific being based on tone and impressions.
- To be sure, it wasn’t my insurance agent who said it wouldn’t be covered; it was one of the adjusters in her office. The agent herself called me back later to say that she wasn’t sure if it would be covered or not, but that I’d have to file a claim and see if they could find a way to make it work. Either way, I’m reluctant to file a claim I’m not sure will be paid, filing a claim that will be paid will ding my insurance rates, and this way I get a new kitchen instead of simply a replacement for the old kitchen which wasn’t really adequate for my needs.