"Psychomantium"
A Miracles fanfic story
by Laurel Wilson


Rating: PG-13 for adult and occult themes, and a little adult language.

Author's Notes: If you've read my purely adult Miracles fanfics, you'll notice a similar theme - the psychomantium chamber - in this one. Part of the reason that I wrote this story was to get the psychomantium into my regular fanfic series also. They're just such cool paranormal concepts.

I'm going partially on memory for the appearance of the Dorothea Tanning painting used in this story. She's a pretty obscure artist, and so I could find no available pictures of this work online. All I have is the partial scan I made of the painting from a book. Also, I do not know who owns this painting - it could be a private collector, gallery, or a museum. The idea of Alva Keel owning it is purely fictional. I'm not completely sure how big the painting is, but I seem to remember it being large enough that one person could not carry it around comfortably.

Petals in shades of pink fell all around him, lighting in his hair and sticking to his sweater. It was beautiful, the way they danced on the wind as the blossoms fell from the cherry trees. How long had it been since Alva had been in Japan? Especially at this time of year, the time of the cherry blossom festival. Smiling, Alva made his way across the park, through the floating curtain of petals.
Ahead he saw Paul, lying on his back on a sloping hill with the cherry blossoms falling around him; his clothes and hair were littered with soft pink bits of vegetative silk, and he gazed up at the sky, an idyllic look upon his face. Paul seemed completely unaware of the young girl lying at his side.
"Who is this?" Alva asked as he approached. He quickly realized that Paul wasn't going to answer, so he addressed the blonde teenage girl. "What's up with him?"
The girl turned on her side, propping her head up on her hand. Her mid-back length hair currently looked pink as well as a medium shade of yellow because of the abundance of petals in the air. "He's alright," she proclaimed. "Just feeling the pulse of the Earth."
"He's doing what?" It wasn't that Alva didn't understand the words, but that didn't sound like a Paul thing to be doing.
She wrinkled her pug nose at him. "Well, they intersect here, you see. This is one of the sacred places."
For a moment, Alva stood and looked at her, then he shook his head. "I'm not sure what you mean. Who are you?"
"I'm Paige."
"What are you doing here, Paige? What do you know about Paul, and this place?" A sacred place... that could mean several different things.
The girl absently picked a few petals off Paul's coat. "Mr. Keel, you're dreaming. Can I call you Alva?"
He shrugged and nodded.
"I've sent you this dream to begin preparing you for what's to come. You know it's coming."
A serious expression came to Alva's face. "The end of the world."
"If you do your job right, it will just be an attempt at ending the world. You've been chosen to prevent it this time, Alva. You and the group." Paige removed a blossom petal that had fallen into Paul's eye, up against his nose. "You must be ready. Paul must be ready. I will help all I can, but this isn't my current visage, so my abilities will be limited." She looked long and hard at Paul. "Isn't it strange that God would put such power in such a fragile package? Sometimes I think it's a bad system."
Alva crouched on the other side of Paul, gazing at the girl. "Why do you speak so cryptically?"
"The things I say will eventually come together for you." Paige looked beyond him, then back at his face. "There are forces working against you. There are always forces that would like to see the world end."
"That, I understand." He patted Paul's arm. "Come on, enough daydreaming. Let's get to work."
Paul finally acknowledged Alva, slowly turning his head toward him. "Work?" he asked. "You mean you're ready to stop just observing?"
Furrowing his brow, Alva's expression was quizzical as he asked, "Hm? Why do you say that?"
"We've been chosen, Alva. You have to stop only observing."
"I act," Alva declared, a bit scoldingly. "When it matters."
Paul looked to his left, past Paige, toward darkening clouds hanging over the park. "It may not be enough."
Standing back up, Alva shielded his eyes with his hand so he could examine the storm clouds better. This was an obvious symbol, of the coming Apocalypse, but did they lend a clue as to the method with which the attempt would be made on the world? The clouds seemed to be filled with underlying noise - rumbling, screaming, and this horrible cracking sound that seemed like it would never end.
Paige looked in the same direction. "You really should tell him, Alva." She turned back to him.
After a few seconds of thought, he seemed to realize what she meant. "I'm waiting for the right time," he replied, his face troubled.
"Just be sure you don't wait too long. You don't want to risk the bond."
Something the girl said made Alva feel uneasy. How did she know so much? "Don't worry about that. It's my business." He took hold of Paul's arm, urging him to get up.
"But Alva, it could be the world's business, what with you being chosen to save it," Paige remarked. "After all, if he trusts you at all after he realizes what you did..."
Alva frowned. "I can handle it."
"You really should tell him while you still have the chance." Paige stayed in a reclining position as Paul got to his feet; he didn't seem aware of her conversation with Alva. "This is a monumental secret you're keeping."
"Don't you think I'm aware of that?! Now hush before he hears you!" He kept his hold of Paul's arm and started to walk away.
Paige sighed. "Tell him, Alva," she called.
He looked over his shoulder a few times while walking away with Paul. "Well, did you enjoy your conversation? Find out anything interesting?"
Paul suddenly became very excited and animated, taking hold of Alva's coat sleeves and shaking them like a little boy begging his parent to buy him an ice cream bar. "Oh, yes! I found out something very important!"
"What's that?"
Paul took a deep breath and said, "It's not a negative message!"
With a little bit of a start, Alva awakened in his bed to the sound of his clock radio signaling the beginning of the morning. He turned off the alarm and picked up a pad of paper and a pen from his bedside table, which he kept there for just such occasions. Often, dreams revealed a great deal; although, while he wrote down the details of this one, Alva had to mumble, "Dream talk... I hate cryptic dream talk..."

********

Paul looked at his watch as he moved across the room to turn off the TV and close the entertainment cabinet, a half-eaten bagel hanging out of his mouth. The newscaster was talking about the only surviving victim of a high school shooting massacre finally getting to go home from the mental hospital, though his doctor thought it might be a little soon. The teen's mother smiled from the TV screen as a reporter interviewed her; she was obviously overjoyed to take her son home. Paul barely heard anything more than the minimal details of the story because he was preoccupied with making sure he didn't miss his bus. Just after he switched off the TV, he heard a soft female voice say, "Paul?"
Paul turned around with some surprise to see a teenage girl; chestnut brown hair, freckled face, wringing her hands together; standing in his living room. He removed the bagel from his mouth before he choked on it, licking some errant cream cheese off his top lip. "Uh... hi."
"You're Paul Callan?"
"...Yeah. Who are you? Do you need something?" He had already figured out that she wasn't a normal, living human being by the fact that she had simply appeared in his apartment.
"I'm Audrey. Will you make me a promise? One simple little promise?"
"I can try..."
"Will you promise me that you'll save Kellen?" she asked.
"Kellen?"
"He's in trouble."
A noise from the hallway stole her attention. Paul was horrified to see a teenage boy with lots of shaggy dark blonde hair hanging in his eyes emerge from the hall, carrying a shotgun. He aimed it at Audrey; she cringed in fear.
"No, no, no, wait - " Paul began in desperation.
"You should have gone to the prom with me, bitch," the boy told her, and pulled the trigger.
"Auuugh!" Paul heard the girl scream just before the shot resounded in his ears and he covered his eyes. What was left of his bagel tumbled to the floor, leaving a short trail of crumbs and smears of cream cheese. When he dared to look, one hand still holding the cabinet door in a death grip, the two teen ghosts were gone.

********

"Paul, are you alright?" Evie asked as soon as she saw Paul's face. He walked into the SQ office with his hands still shaking. "You look like you've seen a -- you look shaken up." It occurred to her that maybe he had seen a ghost. Well, that saying was going right out the window...
"I saw something. Is Keel in his office?"
Alva was, so Paul entered and told him everything he'd seen that morning. "I saw the bullet connect with the girl's head before I got my eyes covered; it was horrible, Keel. We've got to figure out who this girl is. She needs my help."
"The boy she mentioned was Kellen?"
"Yes. She said he was in trouble." Paul sighed, though talking about it had helped. His hands were no longer shaking.
"Hm." Alva rifled through the papers on his desk until he'd found the morning paper. "Kellen, Kellen... ah! A boy named Kellen Murtaugh was released from Suffolk County Mental Hospital yesterday afternoon. He was the only survivor of a shooting massacre at a local high school earlier this year."
"That was on the news this morning. I didn't pay much attention to it."
"It was fairly well publicized at the time. In cases like this, the names of juveniles often get released." Alva paused to read more of the article. "The shooter was a senior named James Heckert. It has his school picture here."
Paul nearly pounced on the newspaper to view the black and white photo. Just a collection of closely placed dots, but it chilled him to the bone. "That's him, the boy with the shotgun."
"Seems you were visited by one of his victims, Paul. It sounds like she's worried about Kellen Murtaugh. Can you blame her under the circumstances?" Alva remarked.
Sitting back down, Paul asked, "What can we do?"
"We can't be too careful with this one. Normally, I'd say let's just go in there and interview the boy, but he was just released from a mental hospital," reminded Alva. "Let's find out all we can about the massacre and then we'll decide where to go from there. Maybe we can interview Audrey's family... the Heckerts..."
"But we will help Kellen, right? We'll do as Audrey asked?"
"We'll do the best we can, Paul." Alva stood up. "I was researching something else when you came in; I need another book from my apartment. You check in with Evie and help her with the new case, alright?"
"Okay." Paul stayed in the office a little while longer to collect his thoughts. He watched Alva go up the stairs, and then stood up, but the books on the desk caught his eye. Paul read off their spines. Mansfield's Dream Analysis. Sacred Places. The Varo Compendium Guide to 5,000 Years of Armageddon. "Such an odd little man I work for..." he commented to himself.
Evie smiled at him when he emerged from Alva's office. "You okay Paul?"
"I'll be alright. Another banner morning for the..."
Evie finished the sentence for him. "...for the medium?"
A small laugh escaped Paul's lips. "I guess. I don't know if I'll ever get comfortable with that label."
"Take your time. We can wait, even if the ghosts can't." Patting his shoulder and grinning, she started to go through the mail.
Paul laughed again. "Anything for me? A scintillating letter for Occupant?"
Evie's eyebrows dipped in a cross expression. "That jerk just won't let up," she growled at the letter in her hand.
"Who?"
She glanced between Paul and the envelope. "It's a letter from my ex."
"Ohhh..."
"Ohhh, lose that tone, buster," Evie joked, trying to keep the atmosphere light. "Gets awfully lonely in prison, from what I hear. I won't write him back, that's why he's writing to SQ now." She sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't be so bitchy. He's just concerned about his son."
This seemed like the perfect time to ask... "What did your ex-husband do to wind up in prison?"
Evie laughed, a little light, a little embarrassed. "Uh, he committed aggravated assault against a man in a bar. Broke the guy's arm. Unfortunately for him, the man turned out to be an undercover cop."
"Ooh... that's bad."
"Yeah. Aggravated assault against a police officer guarantees you prison time in many states. Up to three years," Evie explained.
"Uh huh. So why'd he attack the guy?" asked Paul.
Evie stifled a big grin. "Um... the man he attacked has dark brown hair, sharp features, blue eyes, sorta stocky..."
Wide-eyed, Paul exclaimed, "Your ex attacked him because he looks like Keel?!"
"Ohhh yeah," she nodded.
"Did he hate Keel or something?"
"Well... Jon accused me of having an affair with Alva, so I think it's safe to say he didn't like him much," Evie said, finally letting that smile out.
"With Keel? Wouldn't that be robbing the cradle?" Paul joked, grinning back.
She giggled, "He's not that much older," then glanced past Paul. "Ixnay; here comes the cradle robber."
As Alva trotted down the stairs, he caught Evie and Paul snickering to themselves. "Something amusing in the mail?"
"Not really," replied Evie, catching Paul's eye and nudging him. "They delivered a large, flat package for you, though." She pointed to the hallway that led to the outside door. "It's from Scotland. From Dr. Sebastian Keel."
"Sebastian... Keel?" Paul looked at Alva.
Alva's eyes shifted uncomfortably. "My father."
They each took an end and dragged the package into the main room, propping it up against the conference table. Alva took the small envelope off the front, opened it, and read the letter aloud. "Son, It's important for every man to own something of great value. Therefore, I purchased this work of art for you on my last trip to Los Angeles. Art is a sound investment. The painting is Dorothea Tanning's Interior With Sudden Joy. Take care of it. Regards, Father."
"I've never heard of Dorothea Tanning." Paul grabbed a corner of the heavy brown paper, but stopped. "May I?"
"Go ahead." Alva folded the letter and dropped it on the table. "She was an American Surrealist painter, married to Max Ernst. This is one of her more well-known paintings." He helped Paul tear off the paper to reveal the painting beneath.
Paul made a face at it. "It's an odd painting." On one side there were two women embracing, their tops open. All of their eyes moved to the left side of the painting; here there was an open door with a man standing beyond. At least it could be assumed he was standing, for his feet were obscured by a cloud of grey smoke. As if the smoke served as his origin. He wore a dark grey trench coat buttoned up to his chin, and his beady eyes stared out from his almost white face.
"Is he... a genie?" Paul queried. The man was emerging from a puff of smoke...
Although he chuckled lightly at the question, Alva shrugged. "Possibly. It's hard to tell with Surrealism; most of the images painted as part of this art movement do not make a lot of sense. They are supposed to invoke dreamlike imagery."
"Ah, that explains his hands." Paul leaned in to study the fleshy blobs that were where the man's hands should be. "It sort of looks like he's holding a catcher's mitt, but not a catcher's mitt."
"His hands are the mitt," Evie added.
He frowned at the man's pale face, remarking, "Really creepy. Reminds me of that killer in the Halloween movies."
"I wouldn't know; I don't watch that rubbish." Alva took one end of the painting. "Let's put it over there, painted side to the wall. It might bother the clients."
"Or Paul." Evie nudged him again with a grin. "Alva had the most deprived childhood ever, never having seen any cheesy horror movies, and you're afraid of a guy in a painting. Edward Catcher's Mitt Hands. The men I work with..."
Rolling his eyes, Paul took the other end of the painting. "We've got to discover her weaknesses, Keel. She's several jokes up on us."
Once they had properly placed the piece of art, Alva went through the rest of his mail; he suddenly exclaimed, "Ah! It arrived."
"What?"
"One of my contacts in England sent me the plans for building a very good psychomantium chamber. If we're going to make one, we might as well do it right, so it doesn't fall down around us." Alva unfolded the blueprints to look at them more closely.
Paul glanced across the table at the papers. "A psychowhatium? Psychomantium? That's Latin, isn't it?"
"Yes, it refers to a chamber where one interrogates the dead. A little room. Also known as a psychomanthium." He pointed at areas of the blueprint while he explained it. "We're building one with eight walls. A mirror is placed on each wall, and the ceiling, and that is where the spirits appear."
"Uh huh. And we're building one so we can play Good Cop, Bad Cop with dead people?" Paul sarcastically asked.
"If necessary."
Paul incredulously glared at him.
Catching the look, Alva attempted to explain further. "This chamber might give us more control over the information you're receiving. Perhaps you can contact Audrey again."
He considered that. "You mean it's like taking my experiences of seeing ghosts and putting them in a little room?"
"Yes," Alva replied. "This could give the spirits that come to you enough of an outlet that they would seek you out only in the psychomantium. You could even call them there."
"Wow."
"Of course, it would take some time before things could happen that way. Like many methods of contacting spirits, a psychomantium becomes stronger with use. It picks up your vibes." Alva folded the blueprints back up. "You can contact much more than just the dead with one of these rooms, though. We could learn a great deal."
Although he wasn't sure how much he bought of that notion, Paul still asked, "Are they dangerous?"
"Very much so, if used ignorantly. Never use it without me, at least until you've been utilizing it for a while." Alva put a hand on Paul's shoulder. "Not everything you can contact through a psychomantium is good, but if we're careful, it should be a useful tool. What do you think?"
Smiling a bit, he replied, "I think we should head for Home Depot to get those supplies."

********

It was just short of 6 o'clock when Evie picked up her purse and stopped near where Alva and Paul had been working all day on her way to the door. "Wow, you've almost got this thing together."
Paul stood back, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. They did almost have the psychomantium chamber finished; after all, it wasn't a complicated design. The chamber was an octagonal room, about 6 foot 5 inches tall, with a door on one side. In general, it was the width of a love seat - they'd already put the old piece of furniture that Alva owned inside it.
Evie looked the little room over. "So this is where my overtime pay goes."
Laughing, Paul said, "The materials weren't that expensive. I really loved our little trip to Home Depot." His tone grew sarcastic. "The salesman was just being polite and asked us what we were building. Keel promptly replied, 'A chamber for contacting the dead.' I must've turned five shades of red."
Evie snickered heartily, peering inside the psychomantium. "You got the inside painted; is it dry yet?"
"Yeah. Tomorrow we paint the outside. All black."
Alva came back from his office with a handful of screw anchors. "These will help us hang the mirrors."
Paul glanced at the nine mirrors propped against the stairs. "I'll be able to use this thing soon?"
"Soon." Alva smiled at Paul's eagerness; he must really want to contact that girl, Audrey.
A mischievous smile came to Evie's face. "Why exactly are we putting a mirror on the ceiling, anyway?"
Paul held back an amused, but embarrassed, smirk at what she was insinuating.
Impishly, Alva replied, "Well, it's not for fun, Evelyn. Some spirits are, well, shy. They do not like to be seen. By putting one on the ceiling, we are inviting those spirits in also, because it would take a more special effort to view them if they were to appear in that mirror. We could, in essence, strike up a deal with them - if you come to this mirror and speak with us, we will not look up at you. That sort of thing."
"Spiffy. Well, I'm off - my mother's cooking fajitas," Evie said with a wave.
"You're taking home those files you've been working on all day, aren't you?" Alva wondered.
"Yes, Alva." She tapped Paul's arm and whispered, "I think he's more of a slave driver than a cradle robber." They shared a joint snicker. "Night." Picking up the files on her way out, Evie headed home.
Alva, busy counting out the screw anchors, didn't hear her little joke. "You heading home too, Paul? We can finish this tomorrow."
"Um, actually, I'd like to at least get the mirrors up tonight." He took the anchors from Alva's hand.
Alva smiled and crossed his arms. "You're anxious about Audrey, aren't you?"
"Um, yeah." Paul took out a handkerchief and sheepishly mopped off the back of his neck. "We've been building all day; it's sort of a letdown to go home without trying it out."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Paul, but this isn't the kind of thing you can use before it's finished." Ticking off the list on his fingers, Alva continued, "We've got to paint the outside, hang the mirrors, put a permanent light in it, and then there are the safeguards that need to be taken. A psychomantium can act like a large antennae to the supernatural unless you ground it properly. Do you want every ghost, demon, and fourth-dimensional being from ten miles around coming in here to say hello?"
Paul sighed; he'd have to be patient. "Fine." He started to turn away, but then swiveled back and, in disbelief, said, "Fourth-dimensional being?"
Someone knocked at the alley entrance door. Alva went to answer it. A grey-haired man in a suit and a tan raincoat inquired, "Are you Mr. Keel?"
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"I'm sorry, I wasn't sure if your establishment would still be open at this time. I'm Randolph Mecham from the Boston Modern Art Gallery. A Dr. Sebastian Keel hired me to appraise the painting you received today - I believe he said he was your father. The painting arrived all right?"
Alva, shifting with discomfort, stepped aside so Mr. Mecham could enter. "Yes, it arrived. Come in." He had never liked his father in his business. This felt like an intrusion, but it wasn't this man's fault.
Paul watched from the doorway of the chamber as Alva came back with Mr. Mecham. He'd carried a few of the mirrors into the little room. After pointing out the painting to the appraiser, Alva walked over to ask Paul, "What are you doing?"
"I'm just going to hang a few of these. I'll really feel better about the work we got done today if I get this one last thing done."
Alva spoke in a quiet voice. "That may not be a good idea, Paul. I'm going to be distracted with Mr. Mecham; I can't supervise this. Once the mirrors are hung - "
"Mr. Keel, could I get your help with turning this painting around?" Mr. Mecham called.
Paul leaned out of the chamber's door. "I do not need a baby-sitter. I'm just going to hang them, that's all. I promise that if I see even one weird thing, I will come and get you."
"Paul, don't be stubborn - "
"Mr. Keel?"
"I'll be there in a moment." He turned back to Paul, who was closing the door to the psychomantium. "Why are you doing that?"
Paul looked at him in confusion. "You can't talk over the sound of this drill, and I can't hang the mirror on the back of the door with it open." The worried expression on Alva's face caused him to add, "I won't call anybody, I swear."
"I'm sorry to be a bother, Mr. Keel, but I must be downtown by 7," the appraiser informed him bruskly.
Alva gave Mr. Mecham an apologetic look, then spoke to Paul in an annoyed tone. "You should wait until I'm done. Lord, you're stubborn."
"And you worry too much." Taking hold of the knob, Paul started to close the door. "Pedro, tell Keel everything's alright." He shut the door and quickly opened it again. "S'awright," Paul said in a scratchy little Senor Wences voice.
Despite his frustration with Paul, Alva couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Just be careful. If anything happens, come get me."
With a nod, Paul closed the door.
First, he hung the mirror on the back of the door, which only took a few minutes with the new drill Alva had allowed them to purchase, then moved to mount up the one that would be viewed straight on while sitting in the love seat. Paul wondered exactly what would be involved in contacting spirits through these mirrors. Would it involve a big show, or did he simply need to think of them and viola, they'd show up? It was when he had finished hanging a third mirror that he thought he heard someone say his name.
"Paul." The male voice was quiet and slightly nasal.
He glanced around a little; even with the small battery-operated lantern, the room was very dim. Seeing nothing of note, Paul assumed he'd heard Alva and Mr. Mecham's muffled voices speaking through the door, and bent over to pick up another mirror.
"Paaa-aaaullll..."
He nearly dropped the framed glass in his hands - that definitely came from inside the psychomantium chamber. Looking around again, Paul spied a hazy glob of grey smoke reflected in the mirror to his left; it drifted behind the love seat. He leaned over the piece of furniture to look, but saw nothing there. Was he seeing things? Had the paint fumes gotten to him? Or was the psychomantium simply doing its job? "Hello?"
A figure slowly came into focus in the left mirror, standing behind the love seat. Once Paul saw who it was, he imagined that floating within the glob of grey smoke was a better description of what this particular spirit was doing. It was the "man" from Alva's painting, the Dorothea Tanning. The man Evie had called Edward Catcher's Mitt Hands. Paul gaped at him, then quickly turned around, fully expecting to see the man drifting about behind him. He was alone in the chamber. So, the man was only in the mirror. "What - what... who...?"
"Hello Paul. Would you like to call me Edward? I am the guardian of this chamber. Every psychomantium should have one," the nasal-voiced man said.
Paul swallowed hard; could it read his mind? "Uh... why do you look like..."
"Your subconscious chose my form."
Backing slowly toward the door, he commented, "I should get Keel."
"You thought maybe I was a genie. Perhaps I can grant you a wish," the spooky entity, "Edward," offered.
"No way. I'm going - "
"We have some very important things to tell you, Paul. You should stay. Keel would never tell you these things, I promise you." Edward continued, "Does the name Edward please you? I know your name."
"I know; you just said it." Paul fumbled for the doorknob, keeping his eyes on the entity.
"No," Edward almost scolded. "I mean, I know your secret name."
He narrowed his eyes at the reflected spirit. "My secret name?"
"The name your father would have given you," Edward replied with a sly smile.
Heavy chills moved all through Paul's back. "This conversation is over." He turned to exit the chamber.
Reflected in the mirror on the back of the door was the image of Chad Goodwell. He looked as he did in the police car that night, his face streaked with blood. "Don't leave, Paul! There are things you have to know."
Overwhelmed, he backed into the love seat and clumsily sat down. "Ch-Chad Goodwell?! What are you doing here?"
"You haven't completed the work, Paul! Kenneth Webster and the other two people who saw 'God is Nowhere' are still alive. What are you waiting for?!" Chad cried desperately.
"Two people? You said there were three more."
Chad frowned, looking on Paul with sympathy. "I'm sorry, Paul. The third person... is you."
It was unlikely that Paul's eyes could have gotten any wider in reaction to that. "What are you talking about? I saw - "
Edward spoke again. "Do you remember when you were looking for Matty, and you cut your hand, and bled on the white sheet? You never saw what your blood spelled out."
Paul, swallowing deeply again, asked, "You're trying to tell me that I'm a 'God is Nowhere' person as well as a 'God is Now Here' person?" He paused. "You have no proof. You're trying to trick me."
"You need to accept it, Paul. Time is running out. The other two are about to get their act together; soon they'll be trying to recruit you," Chad explained. "You have to kill them, and then yourself. Otherwise, you don't know what you'll do... how many people you will hurt." He looked on Paul with anguish. "You have to believe me."
Paul shook his head. "No. None of this is true. Keel said - "
"You trust him? With all his secrets?"
"Don't even try it; Keel and I have already spoken about that. He will tell me when the time is right." Paul started to stand up.
"But there's something you missed, Paul. It was right under your nose, and you overlooked it," Edward all but teased. "Read Danielle Franklin's file again. Her dream of you and Tommy. Think about it as you're reading it again... you are Alva Keel, reading this file years ago."
"I don't know what you mean." Paul wasn't even sure why he'd stayed this long, listening to the two spirits. The things they were saying... it was all seductive information, everything that Paul wondered about. They were trying to trap him.
"Do it, Paul! Then think about who you're working for," Chad urged. "Your destiny isn't good. Please, save the world by finishing the job I started."
His head swam with the immenseness of what they were trying to get him to believe. "I - I - I won't!"
"Perhaps I need to show you what the 'God is Nowhere' people were, and are, going to do." The mirror directly in front of Paul showed him several quick, but horribly memorable, images of innocent people, even children, being brutalized by Gretchen Albright, Danielle Franklin, Kenneth Webster... the final person he saw was himself, chasing down Evie, tackling her, her screaming as he beat her in the head and ripped at her clothes... laughing, such evil laughter. Paul saw himself with insane eyes as he snatched up Matty, grinning at the little boy while he cried for his mother; a river of blood flowed over the floor of the SQ office. These images, though swift, were burned into Paul's brain.
"Finish it, Paul!" Chad cried.
Although he clamored for the door, Paul couldn't take his eyes off the center mirror as it showed him images of the Apocalypse. Him causing it, and Keel right behind him, delivering instructions.
Wide-eyed and panting, he finally stumbled out of the psychomantium with those horrific images forcing their way into his mind. Alva and Mr. Mecham turned when they heard the door slam.
"Paul?"
They had turned the painting around so they could see it. Paul's eyes fell on the creepy "man" again just before he bolted from the room, running up the stairs to Alva's apartment.
Excusing himself, Alva rushed upstairs to find Paul in the bathroom, drinking water from the cup by the sink, still panting and shaking. He gripped the sink edge like he might fall down if he didn't hold on. "Paul, what happened? You saw something, didn't you? I told you it was a bad idea for you to hang those mirrors alone!"
Nodding vigorously, he stammered, "I saw... oh God, I saw - "
"Mr. Keel? Is everything alright?" Mr. Mecham called from the bottom of the stairs.
Alva called down, "Yes!" then took Paul by the arm. "Sit over here, take your cup with you, and wait for me. I'll get rid of the art appraiser and then I'll come back, and we can talk about what you saw. Alright?"
"Okay... okay..." Paul sat in an overstuffed armchair near Alva's bed, still holding the cup in his shaking hand.
"Don't do anything until I get back," instructed Alva, as if telling Paul not to do something had ever worked in the past. He went back downstairs.
The things Chad and the entity had said played over and over in Paul's head. Could any of it be true? There was no way to check up on their claim that his blood had spelled, "God is Nowhere" on the sheet; Keel had thrown it away. Unless...
"Mr. Keel, the gallery has a budget for new acquisitions. We would be willing to make you an offer on this Tanning." Mr. Mecham handed him a business card.
"Thank you, I'll think it over." Alva walked him out. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Mr. Keel."
Once he'd locked up, Alva sprinted over to the psychomantium to peer inside. Nothing amiss; whatever Paul had seen was gone for the time being. He hurried up the stairs. Alva had had to leave him alone for a good few minutes while he dispatched of the art appraiser. That made him nervous, under the circumstances.
For good reason.
Paul had moved back to the bathroom, where he'd hunted up Alva's extra razor blades and used one to cut open his palm. He now sat on the closed toilet staring at the blood on the floor while fresh blood occasionally dripped from his hand. The look on his face was a mixture of shock and resignation.
In one way, Alva was not surprised. "You've done it again? Paul, why?" When he looked down, he saw why.
Paul's blood had spelled out, "God is Nowhere."
Alva took the time to be surprised by that, because he definitely had not expected it. He stepped into the bathroom and retrieved his first aid kit from under the sink. "Come with me. Come on."
"It's true, it's all true."
"Stop it. The 'God is Nowhere' people aren't evil, and neither are you," Alva assured. "We'll talk about it. Come on." He kept his voice at a soothing tone; Paul appeared quite upset.
Once he'd gotten the bleeding to stop, Alva wrapped Paul's palm in bandages. Paul sat on the edge of Alva's bed with his head down, silent, robotically allowing the other man to act on him. Inside, he was a hurricane of swirling emotions.
Alva reached into a drawer of his bedroom desk, took out a camera, and went into the bathroom. He looked at the hemography message for a long time before snapping off a couple pictures of it.
The flash caused Paul to look up. He watched Alva take these photos. Suddenly, he was flashing back to something... rain pouring over his face. He stood up to look for the ambulance, frantic because Tommy had not yet breathed again, when a flash of light down the hill caught his attention. The rain made it hard to see, but he spotted someone standing next to his crashed, overturned car with a raincoat pulled over their head. A couple of flashes of light came from under the coat, like the person was taking photographs of something on the ground. Then the ambulance had come screaming over the hill, capturing all of Paul's attention. What had the creepy entity said? That he had missed something in Danielle Franklin's file, something to do with Tommy. Think about it as you're reading it again. You are Alva Keel, reading this file years ago.
Alva came back and put the camera on the desk. "I'll clean that up in a bit. Right now, we need to talk about what you saw. What happened in the psychomantium chamber, Paul?"
Paul told him almost everything that had happened, and what was said, leaving out only the part about Danielle Franklin. He kept that to himself for the time being. "The last thing this entity showed me was a vision of myself with these fiery eyes, flames all around me, and I got the distinct impression that I was burning the whole world down. That I was somehow causing the fire. You followed me with this book in your hands, giving me orders. It was called 1,000 Ways to End the World."
Alva's eyes grew big.
Paul caught that. "The book really exists, doesn't it?"
Alva nodded. "It's a comprehensive volume of over a thousand methods to set off the Apocalypse, according to every world religion that has ever existed. It's not meant to be used as a handbook... God knows if the methods even work..." He took a deep breath. "It doesn't mean a thing, Paul. This entity that harassed you, it put these details in to make you believe the things it told you. Just like what was done to Evie and her vision of Hell. Remember?"
Paul looked down at his hand. "What about the hemography?"
"We don't know what that message means yet, Paul."
"But it can't be good."
"I don't know about that. I've been doing some research." Alva reached over and dragged the box marked Hemography out from under his desk. Paul looked at it like it was just what he wanted to see... Danielle Franklin's file. Taking some papers out of the box, Alva began, "I've been conducting interviews with the families of the 'God is Nowhere' people. After looking over all my notes, I've found that each one of them attempted suicide sometime in their lives, and were brought back from the brink of death."
His eyebrows raising in surprise, Paul uttered, "Really?"
"Yes. So, that is something that you have in common with them. Perhaps that's why you've now seen the same message."
Paul, confused, asked, "What do you mean, I have this in common with them?"
"When you died so you could speak to Tommy, during Matty's kidnapping," Alva reminded him. "That was a form of suicide, Paul."
"It was not..."
"You asked us to end your life; the fact that you were brought back doesn't change that. The fact that someone else actually administered the injection doesn't either." Alva sighed, adding, "Think of your state of mind. You said that you'd rather be dead than see another child die."
At first, Paul was going to argue more on this, but instead he relaxed and sighed. "Alright, I can accept that by some technicality, it was a suicide attempt. But I bled on that sheet hours before I died."
Alva immediately had a response. "Gretchen Albright's hemography experience was also precognitive. The incident with the glass bowl happened two years before she found out her husband was cheating on her, and tried to kill herself in reaction."
Searching Alva's face with his eyes, Paul finally let out a long breath. "What does it all mean?"
Alva gave a light shrug. "I'm not sure. The message could have something to do with the suicide attempts; perhaps 'God is Nowhere' reflects how hopeless all of you felt at the time."
"Then why doesn't every suicidal person see the words?"
Alva, upon thinking about that question, folded his hands together, concluding, "There is some sort of connection between all of you. That is what we need to figure out. That, and to find the other people who have experienced this phenomena." He gently touched Paul's arm. "I don't think any of the 'God is Nowhere' people are evil, and I don't think that being a murderer is any part of your destiny. I didn't think that was necessarily something you needed to hear before, but I was wrong. I'm telling you now because evil forces are trying very hard to convince you to kill. That in and of itself proves to me that you were destined for something different, something that scares the hell out of them."
They shared a chuckle. "I guess," Paul replied.
"I know." Alva checked his watch. "I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry. Why don't you stay for dinner, and we can discuss what to do next regarding the psychomantium."
Paul's eyes momentarily darted down, to the box marked Hemography, then centered back on Alva as he stood up. "Sounds like a good idea to me."
As Alva turned to head to his kitchen, Paul suddenly said, "Uh, Keel, I've got to ask you something..."
"What?"
"If the entity I spoke to was evil, then it would be wrong to use it for information, wouldn't it?" Paul sheepishly asked.
"Well, it's not necessarily wrong, but you usually can't trust what the evil ones tell you," Alva replied. "They do a great deal of lying."
"That's what I thought." He seemed disappointed.
"What were you hoping to find out?"
Paul chewed on his bottom lip. "Um, the entity claimed it knew my 'secret name' - when I asked what that was, he said it was the name my father would have given me."
One of Alva's eyebrows raised as he swallowed hard; his eyes shifted, almost in alarm. "Oh."
"Yeah. If I could find that out, maybe there'd be a different last name, and... well, you're probably right. The entity would most likely lie to me." A small smile crossed Paul's face. "I'll clean up the bathroom. I'm sorry I - "
"It's alright." Alva lingered for a moment, just looking at Paul. "I'll go make dinner."
Paul waited until he heard pots and utensils knocking together before he dug into the box, looking for the pages about Danielle Franklin. It didn't take long to find them, so he began to read until he had found the section about Tommy. There he read how he had grown up in an orphanage called St. Jerome's Emiliani... well, that much he knew.
You are Alva Keel, reading this file years ago.
It hit him then that this could have been how Alva found him in the first place - there was the name of the place where he'd grown up, worked, and still volunteered some of his time. Paul had seen Alva lurking around in Arizona while he investigated Tommy's case, and then he showed up at the diner that day, the first time the two of them had ever spoken. Had Alva been following him, all over the country, even? That never occurred to Paul before. Did Alva really feel that he was that important, to essentially stalk him?
Paul continued reading about that night, when Tommy healed him. But that's not all the child had done, had he? Then the boy crawled in the window and touched him. He said, "I hope you feel better soon." And then the young man stopped breathing. And Paul was suddenly okay. Like the boy had healed him. Paul read the line from near the end of the description of Danielle Franklin's dream again. And then the young man stopped breathing.
Tommy had not only healed him. Tommy had also died.
He remembered every detail of that night, especially how just as his pain had faded, Tommy had collapsed on his chest. Paul had been on the absolute brink of death; how would healing such grave injuries affect the child? At that point, Paul shook Tommy, calling his name. His voice had grown more and more desperate as the seconds ticked by that Tommy did not revive. It was then that Paul realized that the boy was not breathing.
He wondered how he had looked when he crawled out of the overturned car and stood up with the small, lifeless body in his arms - Tommy in his little yellow raincoat and sickly, pale, motionless face. Rain poured over both of them. How had Paul's face looked at that moment? It had to be devastated, shocked, panicked, and definitely wracked with guilt. They had to bring the child back! Tommy couldn't die this way. Children didn't die saving the lives of adults - such a thing couldn't be allowed to happen.
Olivia Ferguson had come running down the hill with her raincoat held over her head like an awning. "Tommy! Tommy! Where are you? Tom - " Her eyes fell on Paul, standing there with her son in his arms, his mouth working like he was trying to say something, but had no idea what to say.
"Mrs. Ferguson, he... I..."
"Tommy, NO! I told you to stay put!" She ran up to Paul and slid her arms under Tommy, barking, "Give'imtome!"
Paul willingly handed the child over. He babbled, "I - I'm sorry, I told him not to. I couldn't stop him, I was dying."
Olivia shook the child. "Tommy! Oh my God, he's not breathing!"
"I told him not to do it," anguished Paul.
She fought panic as she told Paul, "The ambulance is coming. Let's take him up the hill and perform CPR until they get here. Come on!"
Paul followed dutifully, clinging to this glimmer of hope she had just given him. CPR! Yes! They could still bring Tommy back!
The minutes ticked by like hours as the two of them performed team CPR by the side of the road. After three unsuccessful minutes, Olivia Ferguson started to break down. "Tommy, Tommy!" She shook him lightly, beginning to sob. "He won't come back..."
"Mrs. Ferguson, do the breaths! We can still save him," Paul insisted with determination.
Olivia suddenly shoved Paul away from her son. "You killed my child! You killed Tommy! He was so sick; he couldn't have survived healing someone injured as badly as you must have been."
Looking horrified, Paul jabbered, "I didn't mean to. He can't die, Mrs. Ferguson, we can still save him! We have to!"
"He won't breathe. It was too much for him - you killed him!" She leaned over Tommy, hugging him to her. "Tommy, oh God, my baby!"
Shock washed over Paul as he realized that they may not be able to save the boy. Could Tommy really die saving him? How could God allow such a thing? "No..." he said, his voice strained, and shook his head. "Noooo." He stood up to watch for the ambulance, hanging onto one last shred of hope.
It was then that he'd seen the flash down the hill, the person standing next to his car, taking pictures. Paul hadn't thought about that much in the months since Tommy had died; it was an unimportant point in light of the child's death. Until now.
While lying there in his car, waiting to die, Paul had seen Alva leaning down, looking in at him. He needed to know now, once and for all - had Alva really been there? Is that how he got the photo of the words, "God is Now Here" that Paul now took out of the Hemography box and held in his hand? He had been following Paul... he could have been driving somewhere behind him, and stumbled upon the train accident, just as shocked as Mrs. Ferguson must have been when Paul jumped the gate and was hit -
You are Alva Keel, reading this file years ago.
Then the boy crawled in the window and touched him. He said, "I hope you feel better soon." And then the young man stopped breathing. And Paul was suddenly okay. Like the boy had healed him.
It absolutely felt like Paul had been punched in the gut. A chill ran all through him as he realized what had been in front of his face this whole time.
If Alva had been at the crash site that night, he'd been there possessing prior knowledge of how it would turn out. Danielle Franklin's dream had told him that Tommy was going to die.
And he'd done nothing to stop Tommy from performing the act that would kill him.
He thought he might vomit, but instead, Paul collected the photograph and the page about Danielle's dream, and headed for the kitchen.
Alva, working at the stove, saw Paul out of the corner of his eye. "How do you like your potato, Paul?" He turned his head, smiling, until he saw the serious look on the other man's face. "Something else on your mind?"
Paul held the photograph out. "How did you get this picture?"
He stopped stirring for a moment to turn more toward Paul and look at the photograph. Alva's eyes widened slightly; they darted between Paul and the picture. "You got in the Hemography files again?"
He simply nodded in response.
Alva, clearing his throat, turned back to the stove. "You said it yourself, that day we met in the diner." He glanced back at Paul. "I was there that night, when the train ran you down. I'd been following you."
Paul sucked in a loud, harsh breath, making Alva turn again to see what was wrong. The look on Paul's face... "What is it?"
"How could you?" He held the piece of paper out like an accusing albatross. "You knew. You knew."
The shake in Paul's voice scared him. Alva swiveled away from the stove to fully engage the other man. "What did I know, Paul?"
Paul angrily read the contents of Danielle Franklin's dream off to him. The teeming rain, the accident, the boy crawling into the car and healing him, and then dying. "You knew! She told you about this dream years before this happened. You knew Tommy was going to die." He glared at Alva, his voice breaking. "And you let him."
At first, Alva was going to try to play it off, like he didn't make the connection between Tommy and the boy in the dream, but Paul just wouldn't buy it, as upset as he was. "I try not to influence events. You know that. It was fate's decision that things should happen that way."
"Don't give me that 'we're only here to observe' shit, Keel! He was a little boy!" Paul cried. "How could you allow a little boy to die?! You should have stopped him!"
"If I had, you would have died!" Alva shouted back. "I'm just supposed to let you die? You're - " He stopped himself, looking down and putting a hand to his mouth, then shuffling around the stove nervously.
"What? Keel, I'm what?"
Tell him, Alva.
Letting out a heavy breath, he said, "Paul, if you need someone to blame for what happened to Tommy, go ahead and blame me. You need to stop faulting yourself for something you had no control over anyway." Alva looked at him quite seriously. "I can take it."
A wave of emotion swept over Paul, but he quickly realized it wasn't coming from within him. It came from outside him, from Alva, through that ability he'd said Paul had; what had he called it? Empathy? The feelings were raw and hard to decipher. However, he could tell that Alva felt some sort of affection for him, like one would feel for a close friend. Or perhaps more. The feelings had no romantic attachments to them, but... Alva had felt that way toward him even then, before they had actually met? That didn't make any sense. "Keel... why am I special to you? Why would you allow a child to die for me?"
Not looking at Paul, Alva fiddled with the mixing spoon, trying to decide how to form his words. He finally looked at Paul. "The boy was very sick. On death's doorstep. There was hope for you. I chose the lesser of two evils. Someone was going to die, no matter what I did."
"Hey, what's the life of a sick child anyway?" Paul sat down at the table and put his face in his hands. "I can't deal with this."
Alva started toward him, sympathy in his grey-blue eyes. "Paul..."
Then Paul did something Alva simply had not expected. He broke down crying. "Oh, God... he was only ten years old."
Alva put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it firmly, to let him know he was there. "I'm sorry."
"He could've had so much to live for if he'd only been given the chance. It's not fair. What kind of man survives a sick little boy? I need to know." He looked up at Alva with absolute desperation in his eyes. "I need to know."
Alva became alarmed when Paul got to his feet and started downstairs. "Where are you going? Paul?" He followed him. "You shouldn't do anything right now - you're upset."
Paul rushed down to the SQ office, staying as far ahead of Alva as he could; he skipped steps if he had to. He headed right for the psychomantium chamber.
"Paul, stop!"
But he didn't stop. Paul ducked into the chamber and shut the door behind him. There was, of course, no lock, so he held it closed.
"PAUL!" Alva tried to get inside, fighting him with the door. Eventually he gave up on that and ran to his office to get some supplies. He had hoped to save the preparation of the psychomantium until the next day, but Paul was in immediate danger - he had to act fast.
Despondent, still crying, Paul turned to the mirrors. "Tell me everything. Who am I? What is my destiny?"
"Edward" appeared again in the mirror to his left. "Do you really want to know?"
Rushing back to the psychomantium with the file box in his arms, Alva frantically got it open and dug through its contents. He had to do this as quickly as possible, and that was unfortunate, because proper magick took time. Let's see... the entity that had made contact with Paul lied quite a bit; he should call upon a deity of truth to exorcise it from the chamber. This file box contained the sword he'd obtained from the priestess of a faction of neo-Egyptian Ma'at devotees; she had blessed it for him. Ma'at, the Egyptian goddess of Truth. It was fate then, like She was calling to him to call on Her. He also recalled that a sister deity to Ma'at, Hathor, held dominion over mirrors. The psychomantium was like a temple to Her. That settled it, then - Alva knew what to do. A few pieces of black quartz, some mandrake root, and the sword would serve him fine.
Using the sword, Alva mentally cast a wide perimeter of energy around the psychomantium, circling it clockwise, as quickly as he could. He then arranged the quartz crystals in a ring on the floor in front of the door, and began to walk around the outside of the psychomantium, brushing the walls with the mandrake root. "Honorable Ma'at, goddess of Truth, we have been besieged by a lying traitor. Please intervene to cleanse this chamber of its presence. I ask that you and your sister, beautiful Hathor, bring to us a guardian for this chamber of reflections, which serves as Her temple. Bring to us a guardian of truthful word to properly honor your sanctuary. This beast defiles your temple. Give me the power to bind this evil spirit, and eradicate it from this plain, using this sword blessed by your most devoted follower. I ask it in thy holy name."
Paul listened to the entity as it rattled off its version of his fate. "I can help you figure out who the other two 'God is Nowhere' people are. Kenneth Webster will be easy; at least we know where he lives. Paul, how could you even listen to Keel's insane theories? You couldn't possibly be good, after what you did to poor Tommy."
"But I didn't mean to," Paul sobbed.
Alva stood near the door with the sword in his hands. He braced himself. "Ma'at commands the liar to come forth and face this soldier, whom She has bestowed with Her power for the task. Come out, come out and face me."
"It doesn't matter what your intentions were, Paul. The point is, an innocent child..." Edward seemed to lose his train of thought. "What was I saying?"
"COME OOOOOUT!"
The entity cringed. Paul realized with horror that it was being pulled by some force out of the mirror. His face shocked and fearful, Paul hurried out of the psychomantium.
Alva quickly took him by the arm and pushed him to one side, to get him out of the way; Paul looked at the sword with great surprise. "Stay right there - you can't step outside the main circle. Let me handle this," Alva commanded.
When Edward emerged from the psychomantium, he stopped just outside the door, trapped within the confines of the quartz ring. The entity tried to continue on, but could not move. "Oh dear. You seem to have trapped me, Alva Keel."
"You are bound within this field, commanded to tell the truth. Are the 'God is Nowhere' people tools of evil?" Alva asked.
"Not necessarily," Edward replied. "That all depends on Paul's frame of mind."
"Me?" Paul gaped at this spooky creature before him, floating within its cloud of grey smoke.
"Yes, it all depends on you. But you have to understand, it's not a negative message."
Alva flashed back to his dream, Paul saying, It's not a negative message! "What does it mean?"
Edward sighed. "Could you just kill me now? Don't make me go out this way."
"What does 'God is Nowhere' mean?!"
Rolling its beady little eyes, the entity answered, "I'm surprised you haven't figured it out already, Alva. What are they always saying about God? That when people are going through their darkest times, God is right there with them, supporting them, carrying them. When people feel suicidal, they think they are useless in this world. That no one cares. They are no one. They are - "
"Nowhere," Paul finished.
"Yes. And there's God, right there with them. If they'd only turn to look..." Edward made a face of distaste. "It's a message of hope."
Covering his face with his hands, Paul wept to himself, feeling relief wash over him.
It focused its black eyes on Alva. "All of the lower beings are scrabbling to be the ones who take out you and your little group. It would be a great honor for a lesser demon such as myself to accomplish this. Too bad you will never see my true form, nor know my true name."
"Oh? And why is that? I've got you bound - "
Edward interrupted him. "Because I'm going to tell Paul his secret name." Its small mouth smirked in a feral expression.
Paul's eyes went wide. Before he knew it, Alva had swallowed hard, braced himself, and cleaved the entity's head off with the sword. It dissipated like mist.
Once he realized what Alva had done, Paul looked at him. "Why?"
He replied, "You don't want to find out that way, Paul. From a thing like that." Suddenly, Alva grew angry, pointing his finger at the other man. "Don't you ever do something like that again! Do you have any idea the dangerous forces you were playing with?"
If Paul had been within his element at that moment, he probably would have shot back a sarcastic comment. Paul, instead, partially got down on, but mostly collapsed to, his knees, the tears coming again. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm doing." He curled down into his lap with a hand over his mouth, crying to himself.
After squeezing Paul's shoulder briefly, his expression sympathetic, Alva mentally opened the circle while walking in a counterclockwise motion around the psychomantium; he retraced the steps he'd taken before in the other direction. "I offer my gratitude and my blessings for your intervention here. Ma'at and Hathor, you may now depart if you so wish. I send this circle into the cosmos to do my bidding. The circle is undone."
He then went back to Paul, coaxing him into a more upright position, where they could speak more. "I've tried to stop thinking about Tommy so much, but I just feel so guilty. If I could just know why it had to happen that way..." Paul sobbed.
Alva, crouching on his knees, put his hands on Paul's shoulders. "The only support system you've had your entire life was yanked out from under you in the last year. You've been seriously questioning your faith, and that's a major disruption to your life, especially for a Christian. There are names for what you're going through, Paul."
Sniffling, he said, "There are?"
"Yes." Alva tried to be as soothing as he could, stroking Paul's upper arms; comforting someone else like this just wasn't something he did very often. It sometimes felt awkward and uncomfortable. "This questioning of your faith, that's called the dark night of the soul."
"I remember learning about that in classes. A 16th century Catholic saint coined the term."
Nodding, Alva continued, "It doesn't mean that God has abandoned you, but that your faith is being tested to help you grow as a spiritual being."
That sounded like something Poppi would say, not Keel; although, the ideas he was discussing were represented in several other religions. Paul asked, "What's the other one?"
"The other thing you're going through is plain old grief, Paul. People who survive when others die often cannot help but feel they should have died too." He looked him in the eye quite seriously. "Maybe it's time you talk to someone about this. I have tried to be there and provide as many answers to you as I could, but I have my own methods, and sometimes they don't gel with yours. Sometimes they hurt you." Speaking those words made Alva cringe. "I'm sorry. Maybe there are some answers I simply don't have yet. We can keep looking for them, if you'll trust me."
Something in what Alva said struck a cord with Paul. "I know that you do what you think is right. Just because it's not how I would do it doesn't mean that it's wrong."
A gentle smile crossed Alva's face; he'd been waiting months to hear those words. "I concur." Raising his hand, he almost wiped Paul's face for him, but he awkwardly lowered it. "Will you be alright?"
Though he nodded, Paul's face crumpled again. "I just want to know why."
The awkwardness faded, and Alva simply took the broken, hurting man into his arms, allowing him to cry, rubbing and patting his back. Paul did not resist it; something about it felt natural at that moment. "That's what we all want, Paul. When someone dies. We all want those answers."
You have to stop only observing.

********

Unsure of how much time had gone by, Alva lifted his head at the sound of a male voice calling his name. "Alva Keel."
He and Paul both looked at the open door of the psychomantium chamber with surprise. Alva instructed, "Stay here," before getting to his feet. Paul got out his handkerchief again and began wiping his face.
Peering inside, Alva saw that there was something reflected in the main mirror - it appeared to be a white, glowing head; almost featureless, like a dressmaker's tool; with no hair and no body. The eyes were only subtle indentations, the mouth a line with thin white lips. When it spoke, the mouth did not move; instead, its inner light pulsed. He just stared at it with curiosity for a moment. "I'm here."
"I am an oracle of goddess Ma'at. You asked for a guardian for your psychomantium in Her name. I have been provided to you." The symbol of Ma'at, a hieroglyphic of an ostrich feather, appeared on its forehead. "I will speak only the truth as I am permitted to know it. Do you accept Ma'at's offering?"
This pleased Alva, that his quickly created spell had been successful in not only destroying "Edward," but had also brought them a guardian they could trust. "I do. I will honor Her for Her gift."
Furrowing his brow, Paul stood up and crossed to the chamber, looking over Alva's shoulder. His mouth hung open in disbelief.
"Then you have your guardian. Call for Ma'at's Oracle whenever you need my guidance." With that, it faded from view.
Paul nudged his arm. "Keel, what was that?"
Alva grinned at him. "Your garden variety holy oracle." Patting Paul's back, he said, "Come on. I think I smell a delicious dinner burning upstairs..."

********

Paul and Alva munched on their dinner, including the green beans that had become half-burned to the bottom of the pan while they were indisposed downstairs. "I thought it was the Cajuns who blackened their food," Paul joked as he speared a burned bean with his fork and held it up. "Not the Scots."
"It's your fault, you know. You ran downstairs in the middle of cooking."
"I accept full responsibility." Grinning, he paused to take another bite. "After dinner, we're going over the uses of the crystals and the roots, right?"
"We will. Both involve binding energy and neutralizing evil intent; at least, that's one use for them. Most crystals and plants have more than one realm of influence."
Paul nodded, remarking, "I want to know how these things work, even if I'm not doing any of these pagan spells myself." His eyes darted down at the table as he asked, "Um, Keel, this is going to sound silly, but, are you keeping that painting in the office? I know your father bought it for you, but after what happened tonight, I just don't know if I can look at that creepy man hanging on the wall all the time... staring at me." Paul glanced at Alva sheepishly.
He couldn't keep from grinning with amusement at Paul's attitude. "Don't worry about it. The gallery that Mr. Mecham works for wants to buy the painting, and I'm going to sell it to them. Put the money back into SQ."
"Are you sure?" Paul was caught between confusion and curiosity over Alva's relationship with his father. All he had ever wanted was to be acknowledged by his dad, and Alva had one, and they didn't seem close at all. "Your father gave you that painting."
"It's alright." Alva gave Paul a long, thoughtful look. "My father already gave me everything I ever needed."

********

The blonde, 36-year-old owner of the Boston Modern Art Gallery was heading out for the night just as Randolph Mecham arrived back from SQ. "Ah, Randolph! How'd it go?"
"It's a real Tanning all right; a valuable one too," Mr. Mecham replied. He headed into his office, where he collected his thermos and his briefcase so he, too, could go home. The owner, in her red suit and cat's eye glasses, followed him. "I left a business card."
"Is he going to sell?"
"Maybe. He was undecided."
"Well, I hope we get that one. We'll put it right next to the Magritte in the Surrealism room." She clapped her hands and enthusiastically rubbed them together. "Keep me up on the acquisition."
"I will, Ms. Macher. Goodnight."
"See you tomorrow." She put the strap of her brown leather bag upon her shoulder, heading for the front door of the gallery.
A teenager with light brown pigtails, wearing a cheerleading outfit from Boston Central High School, popped into the doorway. She carried a 6-year-old child; also blonde, like her mother, wearing a small Girl Scouts' uniform; in her arms. "Hi Ms. Macher! I picked her up from Girl Scouts for you."
"Thank you Dana. You're a good baby-sitter." Holly Macher took her daughter into her arms, tapping her little pug nose. "You ready to go home and have some dindin, Paige?"
The child nodded happily, and went out into the early evening with a child's bubbly smile on her face.

Interior With Sudden Joy was painted by Dorothea Tanning, 1951.

(Thanks to Kaye, Deejay, and Kaija for the beta reads. Extra thanks to Deej and Devi for the counsel.)

Psychomantium (c) 2004 Demented Stuff
Miracles is (c) 2003 Spyglass Entertainment & Touchstone Television

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