Persistence of Memory
A Miracles Fanfic
by Laurel (Sailorhathor)
Rating: Parental Supervision Suggested for children under 13.
Dates: Written Oct-Nov. 2008
Word Count: 12,625
Summary: Takes place in late 2003. Alva realizes it's time to tell Paul the devastating secret he's been keeping. But will he have the chance before an entity wishing its freedom takes what he holds most dear from him?
Timeline: Takes place after "We Were the Dead." This would be about ten months after Paul came to work for SQ; post-series.
Warnings: Scary haunted house-type phenomena. Descriptions of injuries that may be too much for those who are easily grossed out (I tried to keep it to a minimum, though). The last scene contains brief, nonexplicit dubious sexual consent between OMC/OFC.
Betas: Thanks to Harshini for the beta and the great feedback!
Challenges: Answers challenge #25 The Lost Case.
Author's Notes: When I started writing the SPN/Miracles stories, it meant my fanfic timeline had to jump ahead about two years. I never wanted Alva to keep this secret that long. This story fixes the problems caused by that time jump.
The first person I ever saw present the idea in this story (the secret Alva has been keeping) was my friend, Deejay. Thanks to her for letting me play with it. I'll talk more about this at the end of the story to prevent spoilage.
The supernatural phenomena portrayed in this story is based on real phenomena experienced in demon-possessed houses (if you believe in that sort of thing).
Other notes at the end of the story.
"While the persistence of memory can be vital to our survival, at the same time it can leave us haunted by past events we might rather forget. As in surrealist Salvador Dali's most famous painting, 'The Persistence of Memory', memories can weigh heavily on our minds; thoughts, like ants, scurrying: endlessly searching for who knows what."
No one had been in Lassiter McNeal's old house for a month, except for maybe the Realtor. Still, as Alva walked through it, the lightning flashing and the thunder booming outside as a herald to the approaching storm, he found footprints in the dust on the wood floors. Perhaps some homeless people had broken in.
When he entered the next room in the deserted house, Alva no longer thought homeless people had been responsible for its subtle unrest. On the floor in the living room, someone had painted a large red symbol: Several arrows linked in the middle, pointing outward in all directions like the spokes of a wheel.
"The symbol of Chaos," Alva said to himself. "What is that doing here?"
He became aware that the girl he'd dreamed of before, Paige, had entered the room at some point. She stood on one side of the painted symbol, to his left. This was the first time he'd ever seen her look so worried.
Alva's last dream of the Apocalypse and the girl had been a month behind him until now. "It's been a while," he said to her.
Paige didn't waste any time. Her face was stricken as the illumination from the lightning cast stark, fleeting shadows across her eyes. "You have to tell him, Alva. You have to tell Paul what you know. Tell him now."
Shifting uncomfortably, Alva cleared his throat and replied, "Stop talking about that. Do you hear me? I don't know you. You don't know me." He paused before adding, "It isn't the right time."
"Please, you have to trust me. It's coming."
Alva looked out a window at the storm. "Yes, I know, the Apocalypse. You - "
Paige shook her head. "No. No, I'm not talking about the Apocalypse now. It's stalking you, Alva." Fear in her eyes, she watched something move through an adjoining room. Part of the wall had been torn out, showing boards beyond the drywall. Through the cracks between the boards, Alva could see something moving, something like fire. Licking, hungry fire. It had will, as it didn't burn in one set place, but floated back and forth across the room, like a cloud. "It needs you. It wants to use you to gain its freedom."
Knowing that wasn't a normal fire, Alva's eyes widened. "What is it? Some form of elemental?"
"It will lure you in. You won't see it coming. There's little time left." When Alva turned his head to the left, Paige was suddenly right there, looking up at him. Thunder crashed. "If you don't tell Paul now, you may never have the chance to tell him who his father is."
"I don't know if I can." Alva swallowed down a lump of strangling emotion. "I'm afraid of how he'll react."
"I know you're scared. You don't want to lose him. But you have to understand, this thing will feed on you." Paige nervously watched the fire move closer to the other side of the wall. "You have to tell Paul before even you don't know the truth!"
Alva, his voice laced with pain, protested, "Sometimes, I don't even think Paul likes me. How do I tell him a thing like that? How?!"
The wall began to crack, boards splintering. The sound was almost deafening. Alva covered his ears, but he still heard Paige when she turned back to him and yelled, frantically, "You have to let Paul make his own decisions about it! Tell him!"
The wall exploded toward them.
Alva awoke with a gasp in the dark of his bedroom, the girl's words echoing in his head.
Paul had been working for him for about ten months. As hard as it would be... maybe the dream was right.
Maybe it was time.
The atmosphere in the office had been solemn and quiet all morning. Alva didn't think Paul was going to be of much use to him that day. His mind was more than preoccupied; Paul had fallen into a tenacious funk long before he came into work.
Evie hadn't been able to bring herself to ask him what was wrong. She didn't want to pry. "It's very personal," she whispered to Alva, handing him a fresh cup of coffee.
Bringing her boss coffee wasn't something she did every morning; Evie wasn't exactly a secretary. It was simply a good excuse to come close enough to offer a clandestine opinion on what was going on with Paul. He took the coffee, just the same. "I'm going to talk to him," Alva whispered back.
Evie blinked. "You?"
Alva just looked at her, rolled his eyes, and stood up, unsure whether he wanted to give her a good kick in the shin or simply prove to her that he could be just as sensitive to Paul's feelings as she could. He walked over to where Paul was sitting on the conference table with his feet in a chair, brooding silently. "Hello."
Looking up, Paul smiled slightly. "Hey."
"There's something wrong."
He thought about that for a second. "Yeah." A short, awkward pause. "Am I being that obvious?"
Paul, letting out a small laugh, reached into his inner coat pocket. "This is one of those days I find very difficult." He brought out an old, dog-eared photograph, and showed it to Alva. A pretty young woman with dark hair, holding a baby. What Paul said next caused Alva's breath to catch in his throat. "My mother and me."
"Oh." Alva considered the photograph for a moment, smiled, and handed it back. "She was lovely."
"Thank you." Before continuing, Paul gave the photo a good, long look. "Today would have been her birthday."
Ah. "That explains your mood," Alva commented.
Paul snorted wanly. "Yeah, I guess it does."
"Is there something special you'd like to do for her today?"
As she was eavesdropping, Evie looked up from the work she'd been pretending to do and smiled warmly to herself. That's exactly what she would have said.
For the first time that morning, a small, genuine smile touched Paul's lips. "Yeah. Yeah, there is." His grin widened, brightened, just lighting in his eyes. "She loved roses. I'd like to take her some roses."
Alva smiled too. "Sounds like a plan." He looked up at the ceiling, hands in his pockets, and sighed. "My own mother's birthday is in a few months. I wish I could take her flowers, but her grave is in Scotland."
"You could have them delivered..."
"Yes." He looked at Paul. "But it's not the same, is it?"
Paul thought that over silently. After a few reflective moments, he said, "You could share my mother with me."
"You could bring flowers to my mother's grave, and tell her everything you want your mother to hear. I'm sure she'd pass it all on to your mom," Paul suggested, overcome with good will.
Touched, Alva put a hand on his shoulder. "You wouldn't mind?"
"No. Not at all."
At a moment like this, Alva wondered why he sometimes thought this man didn't like him. "That's very kind of you, Paul." He swallowed back his emotion. "I'd be happy to take you up on your offer."
On his way back by Evie's desk, Alva leaned over her and simply said, "Yes, me," before heading upstairs to get his coat.
Out of respect, Alva waited at the bottom of the slight hill on which the grave of Theresa Callan stood, a willow tree nearby, while her son gave her the roses and told her how much he wished she could be there so he could tell her happy birthday. Paul's voice carried very faintly on the wind; Alva couldn't understand much of it, but he knew what Paul was saying. He'd said many of the same things himself, standing at the grave of his own mother. It seemed like a very long time ago.
"...I bet you would have liked it if I'd become a priest. I hope that you're proud of me anyway, Mom. I've tried so hard to be a good person, someone you could be proud of..." Alva heard him say, and then a gust of wind howled through the willow tree and down the hill, drowning out Paul's voice. The day was windy, but somehow managed to be rich with sunshine as well.
Perfect picnic weather, Alva thought, and let out a little chuckle. His own hands held a bouquet of lilies, his mother's favorite flower.
After a few minutes, the wind carried Paul's voice to him again. Alva recognized the words as being a prayer one would say over a rosary necklace, repeated for each bead. He knew enough about this type of prayer to know when Paul was almost done. Alva started up the hill.
Paul smiled at him, grateful, when he saw him coming. "Thank you for suggesting this, Keel. It's... exactly what I needed."
Alva looked from Paul to Theresa Callan's headstone. "Aren't you going to introduce me?" he half-joked.
"Mom? This is my boss, Alva Keel. Keel, Mom," Paul said with a smile.
"Hello Ms. Callan." Offering the flowers, Alva placed them in front of her headstone. "I brought these for your grave, but there's a catch. I'd appreciate it if you'd pass the sentiment on to my mother. Maybe you've met her? Mrs. Vivian Keel."
Paul couldn't help but grin. "I'll leave you two to talk." He went on back down the hill, further out than where Alva had stood while he was waiting. Paul did not hear anything Alva said.
Feeling a little awkward now, Alva wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. "Uh... I am actually here on a ruse, Ms. Callan. I speak to my mother in my head all the time... I think she hears me. No, what I'm really here for is to ask you for something. I'm asking you to send me some sort of sign that the time is right for me to finally tell your son the truth. Come to me in a dream. Something. Whatever you think is right." He paused to consider it, choosing his next words. "I've been keeping something from Paul, but, you know all about that, don't you?" Alva laughed a little. There were tears behind his eyes. "I'm sure you remember the day you met Paul's father.
"My father, Dr. Sebastian Keel."
He stopped to look at the blue of the sky, the green of the long leaves on the willow tree. The load of the secret he carried weighed heavy on his shoulders. "I've known for some time that Paul and I share a father. Sometimes I wonder, did he tell you he was married? Did my father mention that he already had a daughter and a son? When you told him you were pregnant, did he reveal to you that your child would have half-siblings? When you looked at my father over the desk of the hotel where you worked, where he often stayed during his doctors seminars abroad, did you know you were flirting with a married man? Were you aware of how your presence would torment my mother?" Alva's breath hitched in his throat; he fought not to cry. "I'm sorry if I sound bitter. He probably told you nothing of our existence. As I found out, you were not the only woman with whom he cheated. But, you were the only one to ever have a child.
"The only one to give me a brother."
The wind ran a tendril through Paul's roses and Alva's lilies, rustling their petals and the greenery around them. "My mother was very upset when she found out her husband had a secret love child in the states. You should have seen the rage she flew into. I didn't know what it was about at the time, not until much later, when I found the picture. The photo of the baby that you sent him. On the back, my father had written, 'Ian. But she named him Paul.' He had his own name for your son, you see. I think at one point that he wanted to be a part of Paul's life. It just wasn't meant to be." With a bitter laugh, he added, "My mother wouldn't have it."
"You can't blame her, really. She was there first."
At this point, Alva did begin to cry. "I don't know how to tell him. I'm honestly not sure Paul would be happy with it. Sometimes, there are shows of friendship, like inviting me here." He gestured to her grave, and the flowers. "Other times, Paul looks at me and speaks to me with such contempt that I think he may actually hate me. He doesn't agree with some of the methods I employ. His mixed messages have me so turned around that... good Lord, he won't even call me by my first name." Swallowing hard with a snuffle, Alva tried not to go off on a tangent. "I'm just... unsure. Paul needs to know, but... I'm... I'm afraid."
Alva suddenly smiled, a loving, warm smile. "You would be so proud of your son, Ms. Callan. He's the most moral person I've ever known. Paul has an almost childlike naivety about the world. I didn't think that was possible in this day and age. He sees everything in good and bad, right and wrong terms. It makes us butt heads a great deal, but I know he only wants the best for everyone. Sometimes I need his perspective to balance my gray world.
"I think I may have finally reached the point where I'm ready to tell Paul the truth." Taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, Alva blew his nose and wiped at his eyes. "It's been so hard keeping this secret, not knowing how to tell him... fearing his reply... in a way, I'll be relieved to have it over. I just hope I don't lose him. Oh God, please don't let me lose him."
The fresh emotion that welled up at that thought almost got him crying again, but he took a deep breath in an attempt to control his emotions. "If he doesn't hold a grudge against me for keeping it secret for so long, maybe we can finally... we can finally be family. Paul is the entire reason I came to America. I loved my sister, but she was so much older than me... we weren't very close near the end."
Becoming more aware of the time, Alva dabbed at his face. He could always explain the tears, but he'd rather just not be asked about it. "I just wanted to talk it over with you. It doesn't matter how it happened. All that matters is that you and my father gave me Paul." Alva started to go, but looked back over his shoulder for a moment.
"I always wanted a little brother," he told Theresa Callan, and turned to walk back down the hill.
Only a few blocks away, inside an unassuming house in a quiet neighborhood, a black enamel locket with a lime green cat's eye jewel set into its center hung within a woman's dresser-top jewelry box. The entity inside the locket was keenly interested in the energy it felt coming off the man in the graveyard.
"MMMM..." it purred to itself. "SUCH OVERWROUGHT EMOTIONS. EXPLOSIVE SECRETS. I BET THERE ARE SOME DELICIOUS MEMORIES BEHIND ALL THAT. YES... I MUST HAVE THEM."
That night, Alva had the dream again. He didn't understand what the girl meant by something was stalking him, and after all this time, wasn't sure he could trust her. Before he followed any of Paige's advice, Alva wanted to meet her, and know her intentions. First, she knew how to send dreams to other people, and second, the dreams were loaded with cryptic symbolism. He needed to proceed with caution.
There was one thing the dreams had gotten right - Alva needed to talk to Paul. No more putting it off.
So why did he let another week go by without saying anything?
The dream kept returning. The fifth time, no Paige. Alva saw himself in the house, only ten years old. "I'm afraid of being left alone," child Alva said to his adult counterpart.
Alva stroked the boy's hair. "I know," he replied. "I know."
"We're so close to having family again," the boy added. "Don't let any of this take it away." He indicated the fire entity beyond the wall and the symbol of Chaos on the floor.
Alva made a promise he wasn't sure he could keep. "I won't."
His voice heavy with anxiety, the boy chewed at his thumbnail when he said, "I better go alphabetize the canned goods. Father will be cross if I don't." Then he scurried from the room.
The next morning, Alva called the Realtor in charge of selling the McNeal home, hoping he could view the inside on a ruse of pretending he might buy the place.
The Realtor laughed awkwardly. "Are you the only member of your family inquiring about the house?"
Although he paused out of confusion, Alva went with it. "No, no. Why do you ask?"
"I think you need to talk with your father before you sign any papers, Mr. Keel. At least, I assume he's your father."
The swallow of dread clicked in Alva's throat. "You've heard from Dr. Sebastian Keel?"
"Yes, I should say we did. He purchased the house three days ago." She gasped. "Oh, maybe I wasn't supposed to say anything? Is it a surprise gift? I'm sorry, Mr. Keel! I hope I didn't spoil anything."
Alva kept himself from letting out his held breath too suddenly. "No, don't worry about it. I knew we were trying to buy the house. Thank you." Once he'd hung up, Alva sat back in his office with his steepled fingers to his lips, brooding over what this could mean. "Father... what are you up to?"
The following night, the person in the house in Alva's dream was Theresa Callan.
She was wearing the simple button-up shirt with the flower pattern and the white skirt she had on in the picture Paul had shown him. Dark hair... Paul's eyes... gentle smile. Of course, their father also had dark eyes. Theresa stood with her feet together, hands folded against her, and just smiled at him as if this wasn't what he'd been waiting for the last two weeks.
"Hello, Alva," she said. And then, "It's time."
When Paul and Evie came into the office the next morning, Alva walked down the stairs, his palms sweaty, his mouth dry, his mind reeling with the emotional gravity of what he knew he had to tell Paul today. He had no idea how he was going to say it, but Alva had already tried out a hundred possibilities in his head.
Paul sat at Evie's desk; she was sitting on its corner and leaning over his shoulder as he read the newspaper. "Hey Alva," she said. "Nothing much in the paper this morning."
Paul read some of the headlines aloud. "We got 'Stock Market Down 300 Points.' 'Local Restaurant Cited for Health Code Violations.' 'Pipe Bomber Strikes at Downtown High-rise.' 'Toy Store Prepares for Christmas Extravaganza.' Nothing very supernatural, huh?"
"No, I guess not." Alva cleared his throat. "Paul, can I - "
The office phone rang. Alva trailed off. Evie answered it, and while she took the call, he approached Paul to try again. "Paul?"
Paul looked up from the paper. "Hm?" He squinted at Alva's face. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm... I'm okay. Ah, Paul... since we don't have much work on the table today, I thought we could talk. Alone."
"Oh? What about?"
"Well... I'd rather talk about that when we... talk about that." Alva couldn't help but laugh nervously.
"Okay. ...It's not about another pay cut, is it? 'Cause I already waived my overtime last week. You can't ask me to - "
"No, no, Paul." He laughed again, a little too loudly. "It's not about that."
"Alright, then." Giving him one last inquisitive look, Paul gestured toward Evie. "Let's see what this call is about, then we can talk."
To Alva's disappointment, the call concerned work. The kind that might take all day and more to investigate. "How long has this been going on?" he asked, plainly irritated.
"Two weeks," Evie replied. She referred to the notes she'd made during the call. "The Grimes family. They've got cold spots, stuff floating around, shadow men, midnight levitations, phantom audio manifestations... should I continue?"
"Sounds like our kinda thing," Paul chimed in.
Evie barreled ahead. "I told them we'd be right over. The house is only a few blocks from here."
They could both tell that Alva was hesitant. "With all that phenomena... this could take all day."
But Paul and I have something to talk about. Earth-shattering. You could say it will be a Hallmark moment. A brief consideration and he realized it was better to put it off until later, perhaps that night. "And... let's get the equipment and head out," Alva said, resigned.
"I'm Sandra Grimes, and this is my son, Shane." The graying, dishwater blonde, obviously on edge woman put her arm around a 20-something man who gave them a sullen half-smile. "I'm sorry that my husband can't be here to meet you, but he's been away on business this whole time. He knows nothing about any of this."
The members of SQ shook hands with each of them. "We should probably start with a formal interview. My associate filled me in on some of the phenomena you are experiencing, the things you told her about on the phone, but we need the full picture before we know how to proceed." Alva looked at Paul, who immediately started rooting around in a bag. "Is there somewhere we can all have a seat?"
"Yes, in the sitting room." Mrs. Grimes lead them to a room off the foyer. She instantly gasped. "After two weeks, you'd think I'd be used to it."
Near a mauve couch against one wall was a rocking chair, a multicolor afghan draped over the back. In the chair sat a rag doll with brown yarn hair. But she wasn't so much sitting as kneeling in the chair, her fabric hands held together out in front of her as if in prayer. The light behind her illuminated the doll eerily, like the scene was posed for SQ's arrival.
Alva stepped into the room, motioning for Paul and Evie to follow. "I take it this isn't the doll's normal positioning?"
"Of course not. She's a rag doll," Mrs. Grimes said, frustrated.
Evie took a camera from the bag in Paul's hands and immediately took a photo of the doll and surrounding furniture. For his own part, Paul produced an EMF detector, approaching the doll slowly, and turned the mechanism on. Several feet away and the EMF's needle already jumped all the way to the right; it produced a varying whine as the needle bounced from the middle to the right repeatedly.
"That means something, right?" Mrs. Grimes commented, indicating the EMF's reaction.
"It's an EMF detector," Alva replied. He moved closer to the doll on the opposite side from Paul. "It measures magnetic fields. Spikes like the one we're seeing now can indicate supernatural activity. Or, the flux could be coming from the wiring in the walls."
"How do you know which it is?"
"We check the wiring when we can. For now, we take down the readings and sort it out later. Paul?"
"Got 'em," he replied, taking down numbers on a small pad.
Evie took another picture.
Carefully, Alva reached out to the doll and lightly tapped her on the head. The doll suddenly collapsed on the seat of the rocking chair, arms and legs floppy again. She smiled innocently up at them with her embroidered smile.
The EMF abruptly stopped whining. Paul swished it back and forth until it picked up the trail; the fluctuation seemed to have moved toward the archway leading into the foyer. Shane and his mother shivered.
"Do you feel that?" Mrs. Grimes asked.
Alva moved into the archway. He huffed out a cloud of mist. "Cold spot." Motioning with two fingers, Alva said everything he needed to; Evie brought out a large thermometer.
She held it far to her right, waited, and then reported the normal temperature of the room. "72 degrees." Next, Evie swung the thermometer into the cold spot. "30," she read.
"You see? It's just like I said," Mrs. Grimes remarked, glad that they were experiencing some of the phenomena of which she'd told them. "I wasn't making anything up."
"We believe you, Mrs. Grimes," Evie assured.
The cold spot became an icy wind. It unexpectedly rushed across the room in Paul's direction. His hair blew back from his temples and he winced in discomfort. "That's really cold," he said, and jumped as an endtable next to the rocking chair tottered just enough to make a noise.
"What's doing all this?" Shane blurted. "Make it stop."
The endtable tottered again, making a louder noise. Then the table seemed to walk away from the wall, as if an invisible person had a hold of each side of it and was rocking it back and forth toward Paul. The left side came toward him, and then the right side... left side, right side, left side, right, like a table might walk without the use of bendable legs. It wasn't sliding or shuffling as it moved, either; it truly was as if the table had sprung a will of its own and was walking toward Paul, backing him into a far corner.
Mouth open in awe and shock, he aimed the hand with the EMF meter, a now shaking hand, at the endtable. The meter began whining again. Evie took a photo of the table's movement. Once the table had Paul backed against the wall, it stopped moving. Everyone else stared in disbelief at the table's trip across the floor.
The EMF abruptly went silent.
Pushing the table away, Paul moved over next to Alva. "We should get the digital camera ready in case more things like that happen." He was obviously a little shaken.
Without realizing he was doing it, Alva patted Paul's shoulder in an attempt to soothe him.
Mrs. Grimes was also visibly shaken by the phenomena. The question she asked next echoed the kind of ludicrous ignorance of the supernatural that SQ encountered more than they cared to. "Will you be able to get rid of it before my husband comes home?"
While Evie took down notes, Alva conducted the main interview with Mrs. Grimes and her son. They watched him, confused, as he put the rag doll in the praying position she had been in when they entered the room and set her on the coffee table, then let her go. She flopped down on her back, arms and legs splayed. Alva picked the doll up again. "When did you say all this started, Mrs. Grimes?"
She stared at him as he put the doll in the praying position, holding her little stuffed hands together, and set her on the coffee table. Then let her go. This time, the doll flopped onto her stomach. "Uh, two weeks. Two weeks ago. Wouldn't you say that's when it started, Shane?"
He nodded, looking at Alva with his eyebrows pinched in the middle in bewilderment.
"That's when I saw the black shadow for the first time."
"Shadow men." Alva took the doll in his hands for the third time, and repeated his little experiment. "In paranormal terms, they are often called shadow men."
Evie chided, "Alva, shouldn't you let her describe it?"
Behind him, Paul walked the sitting room, sweeping the EMF detector over various pieces of furniture and the walls. While he did this, he discreetly looked for wires and other sorts of things that could be used to perpetuate a hoax. So far, he'd found nothing. Paul exchanged a look with Evie, and they both smiled a little. They knew what Alva was doing - he was testing the doll, to see if she'd had any wires inserted. Wires that would keep her in a position impossible for a doll of her type. He wasn't finding any proof of a hoax either. Mrs. Grimes and her son didn't realize what Alva was doing, although they might've had some inkling; mostly, they just thought he was odd.
As Alva picked up the doll again, Paul and Evie shared another look. They were used to that.
"Oh yes, of course. Describe the black shadow, Mrs. Grimes."
"Well, it was sort of like a dark cloud. A little transparent. Slightly human in shape. It floated down the hallway and into my son's room."
"Did you see that first shadow, Shane?"
He shook his head.
Alva finally put the doll down, satisfied that it couldn't hold the position on its own. "What did you do after you'd seen the shadow?"
"I... really didn't know what to do. Frankly, I thought I must be seeing things," Mrs. Grimes said with a nervous shrug.
"But it got worse?" Evie questioned.
"I'll say it did. First, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and feel someone touching my legs. Like cold fingers, rubbing them slowly," Mrs. Grimes explained. She shuddered. "But there was no one there. Then, when I put my head on the pillow, I could hear someone whispering. It sounded like they were saying horrible things, really horrible things. But I could barely hear them. That kind of thing drives a person crazy, that you're hearing someone and you think you know what they're saying, but just barely, so you can't really be sure. This would go on for hours. When I'd raise my head to see if I could hear them better, the whispering would stop."
"She kept coming in my room and asking me if I had been talking to her," Shane added, one of his few interjections to the conversation. "Or if I'd been outside her room, maybe talking to myself. But of course, I hadn't."
"Then we started seeing more of the shadows in the house."
"You began seeing them too, Shane?" Alva asked.
"Yeah, I saw a couple. And shadows on the wall outside my room. There was never anybody there. Just shadows."
"And then the neighbors saw them."
Paul stopped what he was doing to listen to this, intrigued to hear Mrs. Grimes explain what she'd just said. "The neighbors have shadows in their houses now too?" he queried.
"No, they saw them in our house," Shane replied.
His mother elaborated, "About the middle of the first week, whenever we'd leave to run an errand, the house would go crazy. The neighbors would hear loud, bloodcurdling screams, like someone was being murdered in here, and the shadows would be dancing in the windows. It looked like my house was full of insane people, running by the windows, just shadows on the curtains, sometimes beating and choking each other. We came home to this, a whole crowd of our neighbors standing on the sidewalk and just watching in disbelief."
"Did anyone call the police?" Evie asked.
"Oh, certainly. But as soon as the police arrived, the shadows would disappear, and the noise would stop." Mrs. Grimes couldn't help but laugh. "It would abruptly end, and a second later, the police would pull around the corner. They knew the cops were coming."
Alva laughed as well. "They were tricky."
"Very much so. Then the cold spots started and the furniture began to move around." Looking at the doll, Mrs. Grimes continued, "They seem to have some sort of fascination with Krissy. I made her myself a few years ago because I like doing crafts. Quilts and rag dolls and other things. She winds up in a different position in that chair every day. Yesterday, she was standing on her head in the middle of the seat. I mean, she was nowhere near the back or the side rails of the chair. Her legs straight up!"
Alva almost took the doll and tried the position, but decided it wasn't really necessary. "That's amazing. Did you take any pictures?"
"Not at first. We were too freaked out by it," Shane said.
"But then, I took two pictures. One where Krissy is doing a backbend and the other... well, I'd rather not describe it. It's lewd." Mrs. Grimes scrunched up her face in distaste.
"Did anything else happen?"
"Last night, I finally reached the point that I couldn't stand it anymore. That's why I called you first thing this morning. I was sleeping, and something made me wake up, and..." Swallowing hard, Mrs. Grimes put a hand over her heart. "...I was floating above the bed."
"You were levitating?" Alva asked, although it was more a statement than a question.
"If that's what you call it."
Evie put a comforting hand on the woman's arm. "That must've been scary."
"It was! I started screaming and flailing my arms, and then I fell on the bed. There was this... this force underneath me, holding me up. And then it was just gone."
While continuing the sweep, Paul began to stare at the necklace around Mrs. Grimes' neck. A black locket with a green cat's eye jewel in the middle. Something about it made him feel a little queasy.
Paul approached a set of black nesting tables with the EMF detector. There were three of them, grouped together, where one table was just a bit shorter than the one before it. When he pointed the EMF at them, they suddenly snapped together, one under the other, with a loud scraping sound. Everyone jumped but Alva, who merely looked up curiously. The EMF began to whine. The tables moved toward Paul in a row, the smallest one in front, followed by the medium-sized one, and finally, the tallest table. The tallest one slid over the two smaller tables, covering them again. Evie managed to get the digital camera going and catch the last half of the phenomena. The tables moved like this across the room in an accordion fashion; they resembled a wooden inchworm.
Paul was once again backed into a corner before the motion of the tables ceased. "Why does the furniture keep targeting me?" He pushed past them and stood next to Evie.
"Uh, Paul? I need you to step back over to the tables and take some readings," Evie informed him, still running the camera.
With an apprehensive look, Paul did as she asked. The biggest table abruptly came at him, practically lunging, if an inanimate object could do such a thing. It was as if the table was saying, You want a piece of this?! Paul hesitated, looking annoyed.
Alva didn't react to what had just happened; he just plugged ahead in the investigation. "Is there any other phenomena to report, Mrs. Grimes?"
Looking at him, she pointed at Paul, taken aback, and then cleared her throat. "Um, well... Shane, am I forgetting anything?"
"You forgot Rex, Mom."
"Oh, yes! Our dog Rex. He's possessed by my father."
Even Alva looked shocked at that one. "Possessed... by your father?"
"Yes. After all this started, Rexie began to sing."
The members of SQ exchanged unreadable looks.
Mrs. Grimes added, "He sings just like my father used to."
On their way down the hall, Alva gestured to the digital camera in Evie's hand. "Start recording before we get into the room. We don't want to miss the start of the phenomena... again."
Evie knew he was referring to her missing the start of the nesting tables' movement across the sitting room. Glaring at him to show she was far from amused, she held the camera so he could see the viewscreen. "It's on right now. See?" Evie put it right in his face.
Furrowing his brow, Alva took hold of the camera and lowered it, clearing his throat. "Yes, I see."
Paul shook his head, grinning.
Mrs. Grimes took them to a back bedroom. "Rexie is in here. He's an old dog and his back legs are crippled, so he spends most of his time in his doggie bed."
They were led into a guest room with a large dog bed in one corner. On it lay a tired old German shepherd, his head on his paws. He raised it when they came in.
"Hi Rexie. How are you, old boy?" Mrs. Grimes scratched his head.
The dog whined a little. His back end moved uselessly on the floor, like he wanted to stand up, but couldn't.
"Poor thing," Evie commented.
"Do you want to sing? You want to sing for the nice people?"
Rex looked up at her, his tongue lolling from his mouth.
"How do you know it was Rex singing?" Paul asked.
"Because there wasn't anyone else in the room the first time it happened. Besides, the sound came from Rexie's mouth. I put my ear very close to it."
"Mom," Shane began, "maybe you shouldn't be talking to Rex. He's not actually the one singing - "
"Oh, you're right!" Mrs. Grimes leaned down. "Daddy? Daddy, wouldn't you like to show the nice people how you sing through Rex? They're here to investigate the weird things that have been going on around here."
Although the members of SQ exchanged dubious glances, Evie kept filming.
"Daddy?" Her hands resting on her knees, she turned her head and spoke to Alva. "He died last year. He and Rexie got along like two peas in a pod. That's why - "
The German shepherd suddenly stood up on his front legs. A male voice with a thick German accent seemed to emanate from the dog's mouth. The voice sang, "Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal..."
Both Alva and Paul took a surprised step back. Evie continued filming.
"You've got sound turned on?" Alva said quietly.
"Of course," was Evie's mumbled reply. She didn't want to overpower the voice coming from the dog.
"Er, was your father... German?" Alva asked.
Mrs. Grimes nodded.
Paul couldn't help it; he let out a little groan. German shepherd...
Once they were quite sure Rex was through with his little serenade, Alva, Evie, and Paul excused themselves to an empty room to go over what they knew. "Theories?" Alva said, closing the door.
"Hoax," Paul immediately responded. "If we search the house thoroughly enough, we'll find wires, sound equipment..."
"We haven't found any evidence so far," said Alva, playing devil's advocate. "What about you, Evie?"
"Well... this kind of reminds me of that time in 1998 when you tagged along with the McNeals. The Lenox house?"
Alva nodded. "Yes, yes... they are very similar."
Looking from Evie to Alva, Paul searched his memory for recognition of the name. "The Lenox house? What happened there?"
"Some of the very same things that happened here," Evie replied. "Except it was a singing teddy bear."
"It loved Frank Sinatra tunes," Alva added.
Paul blinked. "Okay. Only Alva investigated this house? Why didn't you go?"
"Morning sickness," Evie explained.
"Oh, yeah. So what was going on with the Lenox house?"
"The husband was a serial killer," Alva said in response. "His backyard, his basement... full of bodies. The murder and death attracted demons to the home. Demons were responsible for the phenomena there. They love to play tricks. Make furniture walk, make it seem as if a dog is singing, produce cold spots..."
"So you think this house is full of demons?"
"Oh yes. You don't think Rex is really possessed by Mrs. Grimes' father, do you?"
"We've talked about this before, this idea that a house can be possessed by a demon. That really happens?"
"Yes, Paul. I told you, it happens. Horrible things happening within a house can invite evil in. The very soil becomes so permeated with death that these beings can feel the vibrations from far away." Alva balled up a fist and shook it a little. "It's the same with black magick. When performed within a house, it leaves something behind. Demons are attracted to it."
"How can we be sure it's demons?" asked Paul.
"You tell me, Paul. Let's do some of your special work." Alva, leaning in, said, "Have you felt anything in this house? Smelled anything unusual? Heard something the rest of us didn't seem to hear?"
Paul gave it some thought. "The necklace. The necklace that Mrs. Grimes is wearing. There's something odd about it. When I look at it, I feel... uneasy. Something... something is being hidden there. Here. Something is being hidden in this house."
"Which is it, Paul?" Evie questioned.
"It's both." Paul sighed. "To be honest with you, I get the feeling that it's not demons. That we're the victims of a very elaborate trick."
"Hmmm... I don't know. Maybe it's the tricks the demons are playing that you're picking up on," Alva suggested, shrugging.
Sighing again, Paul blurted, "You sure are eager to go with this 'demon-possessed house' theory, aren't you, Keel?"
Evie began, "It's a valid theory, Paul - "
"Evelyn," Alva interrupted. "Would you leave Paul and I alone for a moment?"
"Certainly." Alva had been holding something in all day - Evie could feel it. Maybe he and Paul were about to have that talk.
Paul watched her go, then turned back to Alva with an expectant look.
"Paul... we need to keep all valid theories open."
"Alright, then. The possibility that this house is demon-possessed is certainly a valid theory." He cleared his throat, feeling uneasy about what he was about to say. "Not only have I investigated houses like that, but... I grew up in one."
Paul tilted his head, his face colored with disbelief. "You can't be serious."
"But, you once told me that you hadn't experienced anything significantly supernatural until you heard your mother's voice on that tape."
"I've only recently come to this conclusion. It took me many years of research and inner turmoil to make sense of the things I saw in my childhood home. Now, I'm sure."
Paul didn't have words to express what he wanted to say. Instead, he asked questions. "Were your parents aware of this? They must've seen things too."
"Yes, they knew. My mother just learned to live with it." Alva suddenly added, "As it was with other things."
Incredulous, Paul said, "Why didn't your family move? Get away from the... the demons?"
Alva, his troubled blue eyes scanning the room, eventually replied, "Because my father invited them there."
Neither man spoke for several long moments. Paul finally said, "Your father invited demons into your home? I thought you said he was a surgeon."
"He is. But... everybody needs a hobby, right?" A small, nervous laugh escaped him. He had to desperately hold back all the things he wanted to say, how he was talking about their father, our father, Paul, our father.
"Look..." Alva crossed the room and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's a long story. We should talk later tonight, alright? I'll tell you everything." He patted Paul's shoulder. "I'll tell you everything."
"Okay." Unsure just what this was all about, Paul patted him back, on the upper arm. "What do we do for now?"
"Ahh... I think we should separate Mrs. Grimes and her son. Interview them individually. I'll take Mrs. Grimes outside and try to get her to talk, and you and Evie do a sweep of the house with the EMF. Use it as an excuse to get inside the son's room. He didn't seem to want us in there."
Paul nodded. "I noticed that."
"If this is a hoax, or if these people really have something to hide, I think we'll find evidence of it in Shane's room." Alva patted Paul's shoulder one last time. "We'll meet back here in half an hour."
Mrs. Grimes only made it easier for Alva by following him when he headed out to the car to retrieve some equipment. "Mr. Keel, what do you think this is? Is my house haunted?"
"We're working on a few different theories, Mrs. Grimes. This equipment I'm getting from the car will help us determine that." Halfway down the front walk, Alva pointed to her necklace. "That's a very beautiful cameo you have there. Where is it from?"
Her hand went to the black locket on a chain around her neck. It was engraved with flourish designs that sparkled with crushed diamonds, the green cat's eye in the middle. "Oh, thank you. My husband brought it back from one of his business trips. It's from the Middle East."
"Ahh." Alva wondered if he could sneak a look inside it. "What do you keep in there?"
"Just pictures of my husband and son. Um, Mr. Keel... now that we're alone... can I ask you something?"
"Of course." They had made it to the car; Alva took out his keys to unlock the door.
"The... the beings that whisper to me at night, while I'm trying to sleep... do you think they ever tell the truth? Or is it all lies?"
Alva couldn't have guessed at the time why she was asking that question. "A bit of both. But, mostly lies, I believe."
"If they had told me something... and I've seen things that might indicate that it's true... I should do something about it. Shouldn't I?" The woman's hands were shaking.
Alva took them in his own hands, trying to comfort her. "Mrs. Grimes, if you know something pertinent to this case..."
"I don't know if it has anything to do with the case at all. I just know that... well, Shane's been under a lot of stress since he lost his job..."
"What are you trying to say?"
Tears came to her eyes, and she took in a shaky breath. "It can't be my Shane. He couldn't have done something like that."
"Mrs. Grimes... what did the demons say about your son?"
Paul and Evie made their way up the hall, sweeping the EMF detector back and forth, until they reached Shane's room. In line with the plans they'd made with Alva, Paul said, "Shane, can we come in?" and opened the door without any other advance warning. The worst they could expect was that he would yell at them for not knocking. Or so they thought.
Shane did recoil and yell, "Shut the door!" But not before Paul and Evie got a shocking eyeful of the items spread across his desk. It looked like four pipes tied together with wire. Carpenters' nails were tucked into the wires all around the circumference of the contraption. Fuses taken from store-bought fireworks were sticking out of the end of each capped pipe. A bottle of some type of chemical sat near the far corner of the desk, along with a box of nails and broken glass.
In those few short seconds, Paul and Evie both figured it out. The headline from that morning's paper ran through their minds.
Pipe Bomber Strikes at Downtown High-rise
"The demons, they said... they said... that Shane is the mad pipe bomber," Mrs. Grimes finished, and burst into tears.
Astonished, Alva asked, "The one from the news?"
"Yes. But it can't be true. It can't! He's my baby. Those things I found in his room, they - "
Her words were cut off by a deafening explosion. Alva and Mrs. Grimes were blown back against his Wagoneer. The windows in the car shattered into dust and shards. Car alarms all along the block went off. Dazed, Alva looked toward the one-story house to find that the right side of it was just gone. It was replaced by jagged pieces of perimeter wall, rimmed at the edges with black, and burning debris. Pieces of wood were still showering down into the yard. Fires burned here and there amongst a burst pipe, which spurted water into the sky.
With stunned clarity, Alva saw the doll, Krissy, sitting on the grass, completely undamaged. Her hand was to her forehead in a dramatic gesture of woe.
The sound of Mrs. Grimes' voice brought him out of his dumbfounded stupor. "Shane! SHAAAAANE!" She stumbled to her feet and ran toward the house.
Alva was up right after her. "Mrs. Grimes, wait! It's not safe!" Then he realized that he didn't see Paul and Evie coming out of the house, their faces black with soot, leaning on each other like a scene from an action movie. Oh, God... "Paul! Evelyn! Are you all right?" He stumble-ran toward what was left of the house. "PAUL! EVIE!"
Just as Alva reached the open front door, he heard Mrs. Grimes scream from the direction of Shane's room. "Shane, Shane, no, nooooo!" Alva ran around debris and fire until he passed through what would have been Shane's door, but was now just a partial wall, black and smoking. Mrs. Grimes was on the floor, cradling the body of her son, who was so burned that Alva couldn't recognize his face anymore. The woman was screaming hysterically, calling Shane's name; Alva guessed he'd never answer.
Then he looked to his right.
His vision grayed, and he momentarily swayed on his feet. What he saw was a dizzying mix of burned flesh and blood, smoldering clothing and singed-off hair, all accompanied by a haze of smoke and nauseating odors. A burned out battery, baked flesh, coppery blood.
Paul and Evie.
Alva fell to his knees and crawled closer to the bodies of the two people he loved most in the world; a shaking hand reached out to Evie's neck.
"Evelyn? Evie?" he heard himself say, his voice croaking and small. He found no pulse. Her skin slid under his fingertips.
Swallowing down a scream, Alva pulled his hand back like he'd touched a hot stove. He turned to Paul. Looking like that, he couldn't be alive. He had to be alive. Oh God, how could you let him die before I had a chance to tell him? Don't you let him die!
But he was dead. Paul was dead. Alva wasn't even sure where to check for a pulse, what with... all the blood... blast must've torn through half his... jugular went like a...
The thought that he was being selfish, wanting Paul to survive such horrible injuries, ran through his mind like a hysterical person. After all, the entire right side of Paul's head was a mess of bright red and black... flaps of skin hanging off... even so, Alva held his hand in front of Paul's mouth. Of course, of course, he felt no breath.
He noticed with sickening comprehension that both Paul and Evie had nails sticking haphazardly out of their chests. So the mad pipe bomber liked to use nails in his bombs. Wasn't that clever of the sick little bastard.
Miraculously, Alva found a body part on each person that wasn't damaged - Paul's left hand and Evie's right. He put her hand in Paul's and then held both hands between his own. And then he cried.
The cries turned into angry, cheated howls of agony. The word, "Noooooooo..." could be made out. Alva kissed their fingers, the backs of their hands, bent over them and held the intertwined hands to his forehead, all while the unspeakable realization washed over him again and again like crashing waves, dashing him against the rocks.
They were dead. They were dead, they were dead.
Alva sees with lucid clearness Evie and Paul at her desk, bent over the paper. He comes downstairs, sleepy, yawning. She brings him a mug of coffee, both hands cupped around it. "Morning," Paul says with a smirky grin. "Ghosts in the state capital. You wanna check it out?"
Comforting in its banality, this was their morning routine. The details sometimes varied, but it was always like this. The three of them, doing it together. Living, working, silently loving.
That would never happen again. That would never happen again.
"It's not fair!" Alva screamed. He held their limp hands out in front of him and looked up at the sky. "IT'S NOT FAAAAIR!"
For a moment, he quieted, hands shaking, listening to the sounds around him and holding Paul and Evie's hands to his lips. A fire engine siren approaching in the distance. Mrs. Grimes' slow, repetitive weeping. Water from the burst pipe hitting the floor. Flames licking at the remnants of the house. People yelling in alarm.
And then he screamed again. An anguished wail. And he let it all out.
"I should have told you how I felt," he said to Evie, weeping. "You were like my little sister, always nagging, bickering, looking after me. Trying to fix me up. Strong and independent. Always giving me what for. 'Alva, were you raised by wolves?' You're too stubborn to die this way." Alva took a hitching breath. "No, too stubborn." He looked at Paul. "And you... you..." Tears overcame him for a moment, and his words came out shaky, wavery, cracking with emotion. "...I came here to find you. I came here to find you!" Alva suddenly yelled. "You can't die, do you hear me?! You're my brother, you're my brother, you're my brother!"
After another bout of heavy, remorseful sobs, he continued speaking the words he hadn't been able to say until this moment. "We have the same father. I was going to tell you. That's what we were going to talk about tonight. Tonight. It can't end like this. It can't, it..." Alva swallowed hard; it hurt. "I wish I'd told you. I wish I had told you everything when I had the chance." A deep breath, and he shrieked, "Oh God, just give me another chance to tell them!"
"THAT CAN BE ARRANGED."
The voice bore into Alva's brain like a cold shot of water. He became aware that there was no sound around him now; the siren, the crying, the water coming down; all had ceased. All sound but the licking of flames. But, even that sound had changed in quality. It was more centralized, more liquid, like -
Like the sound of the fire entity from his dreams.
Dreading what he might see, Alva peered behind him. It was there.
Mrs. Grimes had frozen like a statue, her unmoving face a mask of grief. Somehow, this entity had arrested all time. The water from the burst pipe hung there, every last drop immobile in midair. Gray smoke had emerged from Mrs. Grimes necklace in a swirl that ended in the fire being. So Paul was right; the necklace was the source of the trouble. It looked like a levitating, whirling cloud of liquid flame. The longer Alva gazed at it, the more he could make out human-like features, swimming in the fire. A face, an intense, sneering face, with what might be a mustache and thin beard, a flaming gold earring hanging from its right ear. The entity crossed its arms made of fire.
"DID YOU HEAR ME, ALVA KEEL?"
Trying to get a hold of himself, Alva realized quickly that the voice came from the entity. He didn't ask how it knew his name; the thing has been "stalking" him, hadn't it? "Yes, yes," he said with a sniffle. "I hear you."
"DO YOU WANT TO SAVE PAUL AND EVELYN?"
Dazed, Alva just nodded. The entity's voice didn't exactly cause him pain, but the sound of it was uncomfortable, bouncing off his eardrums. He was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by it. Somehow he knew it was a terrible being with glorious power.
"IT CAN BE ARRANGED."
"What - what are you?" Alva asked, voice shaking.
"IT IS AS YOU THOUGHT. I AM A FORM OF ELEMENTAL. A GHUL DJINN."
Out of fear, Alva gasped and recoiled from it, holding his hands over Paul and Evie's bodies protectively.
"DO NOT FEAR. I AM NOT A LOWER FORM OF GHUL. WE DO NOT ALL SUBSIST ON THE FLESH OF THE DEAD AND DYING. NO, I AM A GHUL DJINN. YOU KNOW OF OUR LORE?"
Alva tried to calm himself, to recall what he knew of this entity. "You, ah... you have the power to bend reality. You can give your master whatever he desires. In essence, a djinn can do just what the popular myths say - you have the power to grant wishes." A desperation had crept into his voice, the desperation of knowing how to put this knowledge to use.
"YEEE~EEES..." The djinn's tone dripped with a predatory motive. "BUT WE MUST BE KEPT FED AS WELL. AS I SAID, WE DO NOT FEED ON HUMAN REMAINS... BUT..."
Swallowing down his trepidation, Alva said, "What do you feed on?"
The flames that formed its mouth seemed to turn up in a smile. "WE FEED ON HUMAN MEMORY."
Something about that filled Alva with dread. "Memory?"
"YES. YES, HUMAN MEMORY." An orange-red tongue flicked over its lips. "BACK HOME, A MAN KEPT ME AS HIS PROPERTY, AND FED ME WITH THE MEMORIES OF HIS FAMILY AND NEIGHBORS. NOT A NICE MASTER AT ALL. HE FOOLISHLY TURNED HIS BACK, AND HIS WIFE SOLD ME TO THE AMERICAN IN THE MARKETPLACE. THE AMERICANS HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO USE ME. BUT YOU DO."
"I think... I think I do."
"AH, BUT THERE IS SOMETHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND. THERE IS A PRICE TO PAY FOR EVERY WISH I GRANT YOU." The djinn looked with manufactured sadness on Evie and Paul. "SURELY, YOU HAVE WISHES YOU WANT TO MAKE?"
Alva nodded vigorously. "You... you can bring them back." He almost began to cry again.
"THERE NOW, CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS. YES, I CAN RESTORE THEIR LIVES. BUT... FOR EACH LIFE, YOU MUST GIVE ME... ONE MEMORY." The djinn's spoke these last two words like it was quite starved, a dog salivating over a tender steak.
"You mean... my memories?"
The creature could not restrain its hunger any longer. "YES, OH YES!" It breathed hard, savoring the tastes it knew were to come. "YOU VISITED A CEMETERY A FEW BLOCKS FROM HERE ONLY TWO WEEKS AGO. THE EMOTIONS COMING FROM YOU, THEY WERE SO STRONG, I COULD FEEL THEM. THEY WERE SO FRENZIED, SO DESPERATE, SO DEEP. THEIR FLAVORS DANCED ON THE VERY TIP OF MY TONGUE." The djinn stuck out its tongue again, demonstrating. "I KNEW THERE HAD TO BE SOME DELECTABLE MEMORIES BEHIND THOSE EMOTIONS. YOU WORK IN SECRETS, ALVA KEEL. I WANT TO SAVOR THEM.
"SO, I ENGINEERED THIS ENTIRE CHARADE," the djinn confessed, sweeping a hand of flame out in a flourish. "I MADE IT SEEM AS IF THIS HOUSE WAS POSSESSED BY DEMONS. ALL THE TRICKS, MINE. I KNEW IT WOULD DRAW YOU HERE. I KNEW YOU WOULD RECOGNIZE ALL THE TRAPPINGS FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE." The creature snickered. "I EVEN MADE SURE THE BOY'S DOOR WAS UNLOCKED WHEN PAUL AND EVELYN CAME TO INVESTIGATE HIS ROOM. SO THEY WOULD SEE THE BOMB. IT ALL CAME TOGETHER LIKE CLOCKWORK." With that, it threw its head back and laughed.
Anger rose in him so suddenly that Alva found himself on his feet, charging the djinn. "You murdered them? You murdered my family!" He got a foot from the creature and was overcome by the heat it gave off, stumbling back with a cry of pain.
"DON'T BE MAD, ALVA KEEL. WE'RE FRIENDS, YOU AND I. YOUR FAMILY, THEY WENT OUT AS HEROES. THEY GRAPPLED WITH THE BOY FOR CONTROL OF THE BOMB. TOO BAD IT WENT OFF ACCIDENTALLY, TOO BAD." The djinn was laughing again, satisfied with itself.
Alva charged the djinn once more, growling; he tried to punch it, but his fist simply passed into the flames and was burned. He leapt back with a scream, holding his hand against his chest and panting.
"HERE, HERE, CALM YOURSELF. YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T HURT ME IN THAT MANNER. BUT, YOU ARE GRIEVING. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY." It indicated Paul and Evie again. "ONE MEMORY FOR EACH LIFE. IT DOESN'T SEEM SO MUCH TO ASK."
Running it through his mind, Alva wet his lips, and looked for a trick. "How does it work?"
The djinn grinned. "I WILL RESTORE THEIR LIVES. THEY WILL BE EXACTLY AS THEY WERE, UNHARMED. FOR THIS, YOU WILL GIVE ME TWO MEMORIES. TWO THINGS YOU WILL NO LONGER KNOW, BECAUSE YOU DO NOT REMEMBER THEM. THERE WILL BE SOME TRICKLE DOWN, AS ASSOCIATED MEMORIES WILL BECOME DISJOINTED, AND MAY NO LONGER MAKE SENSE. THEY MAY DISAPPEAR ALSO. BUT THIS WILL BE MINIMAL. YOU HAVE MY WORD."
There was a trick. There had to be. "Which memories?"
The djinn smiled innocently. "THAT... WILL BE MY CHOICE."
"No... no, I can't agree to it without knowing what memories you'll take."
Shrugging, the djinn turned as if to leave. "THEN THEY STAY DEAD."
"No, wait!" Alva didn't like the way it smiled as it turned back toward him. But what else could he do? "You'll bring them back to life, unharmed?"
It nodded once.
"Will my memories ever return?"
The djinn nodded once more. "IF THERE COMES A TIME WHEN SOMEONE HAPPENS UPON EVIDENCE OF THESE MEMORIES, AND RECOUNTS THEM TO YOU, THEY WILL RETURN."
Alva's expression considerably brightened. "Oh. Oh, that doesn't sound so bad."
"THERE IS ONE MORE TERM. ONCE BOTH MEMORIES HAVE RETURNED TO YOU, I WILL WIN MY FREEDOM FROM THIS INFERNAL NECKLACE TO WHICH I AM CURRENTLY BOUND. DO YOU AGREE?"
"Yes," he said. "I agree."
The djinn again threw its head back and laughed. "SPLENDID. THEN SPEAK YOUR WISH."
Taking some time to decide how he wanted to phrase it, Alva finally said, "I wish Paul and Evie were alive again, as unharmed as they were before the explosion. When that bomb goes off, they shouldn't be anywhere near it."
"DONE." The djinn stretched out a fire tendril, like an arm. "AS SOON AS I COLLECT MY PRICE."
Hesitant, Alva eventually moved closer; the fire did not burn him this time when the tendril curled around the back of his head. A second tendril came up and a finger-like protrusion hovered before the spot between Alva's eyes. "HM... INTERESTING." The djinn searched his mind for the memories it wanted to consume. "MMM, NO... NO, NOT THAT ONE. HMM... AH. AHHHH, GOOD. GOOD, GOOD. ALRIGHT. THIS WILL ONLY HURT FOR A MOMENT. FOR THE LIFE OF EVELYN SANTOS, THE FIRST MEMORY I TAKE FROM YOU... WILL BE THE REASON WHY YOUR FATHER IS A DANGEROUS MAN. YOU WILL NO LONGER KNOW WHAT HE IS CAPABLE OF IN A SUPERNATURAL SENSE."
"Oh, no, no, not that one! I need to know - "
Disregarding his protests, the djinn tapped the space between Alva's eyes. He instantly cried out in pain. Waves of energy reverberated from the spot. For a moment, Alva's entire body shook and his eyelids fluttered, like he might lose consciousness. The djinn made satisfied noises. Then Alva blinked rapidly and seemed to regain his senses.
"IT IS AS I TOLD YOU, YOU DO NOT CHOOSE THE MEMORIES I TAKE."
"I know, I agreed to it. Just get it over with," he replied, and braced for the pain.
"VERY WELL. THE SECOND MEMORY I WILL TAKE - "
"Second? You haven't taken one."
"I HAVE ALREADY TAKEN THE FIRST, BUT YOU DON'T REMEMBER."
"Which memory did you - "
"QUIET! IT IS DONE. EVELYN'S LIFE WILL BE RETURNED TO HER. NOW... FOR THE LIFE OF PAUL CALLAN, I TAKE FROM YOU..." The djinn couldn't help but smile down at him, knowing how good such an emotionally charged memory would taste. "...THE MEMORY THAT YOU AND PAUL HAVE THE SAME FATHER."
Alva tried to block the tendril of fire, screaming, "Nooooooooooo!"
The last thing he felt was the djinn's finger tapping him between the eyes.
And then, the sun was beaming down warmly on his face.
A voice, deep within him, spoke one sentence so quietly that he barely heard it. "...you will not remember this encounter..." it said, and then it was gone. His own scream echoed in his ears, far away, like a man trapped in a tunnel.
Alva looked a little to his left. There stood Paul, staring at him with a troubled expression. "Hm?"
"Are you all right?"
"It's like you left us for a second," Evie added. She was standing on the opposite side of Mrs. Grimes.
Alva looked around. They were outside, congregating by the Wagoneer. Evie held one of Mrs. Grimes' hands; the woman was crying forlornly.
"I'm fine, I was just... what were we talking about?"
Giving a very characteristic reaction, Paul scoffed and gestured to the upset woman. "Keel, Mrs. Grimes was just telling us that she thinks her son is the pipe bomber! Now, I think we should - "
The peace of the suburban neighborhood was shattered by the explosion that rocked the Grimes house. All were blown back against Alva's car. When he was able to regain his senses, Alva saw Paul and Evelyn trying to restrain Mrs. Grimes, who wailed for her son, still in the house. "Shane! SHAAAANE!"
Alva looked at the house. If Shane was still in there, he doubted the young man was all right. "Mrs. Grimes, you must stay out of the house. It's not safe." Alva took out his cell phone to call the fire department. "Not safe at all."
"It's kind of a shame. A kid that young, dying because of a senseless accident."
Alva looked up from the paperwork Evie had just finished printing off their computer. She was currently across the room, smacking the printer and cursing for it to just print the next document already. "Paul, he wasn't such a kid now, was he? Twenty-four."
"Still... it doesn't bother you that a human life was lost?"
"No. Not when that life was responsible for the malicious pipe-bombing deaths of twenty-one people." Alva went back to his paperwork.
Evie backed him up. "He was fumbling with the bomb when it went off in his face. Serves him right. Kid probably would have blown up dozens of people with that explosive."
Getting up, Paul remarked, "I just can't be so happy about it," and paced to the other side of the office.
Evie and Alva exchanged a look. She went over to Paul. "Hey, I know how you feel. It's hard to be a part of something like that. The way Mrs. Grimes was carrying on, I thought I was going to cry too."
He shrugged. "I guess Shane got what he deserved. I just can't help but... but wish that we'd gotten there to stop him before the bomb went off."
"Be careful what you wish for," Alva called to him. "What if you had been in that room when the bomb went off? You'd be wishing for something completely different then."
"I suppose." Paul walked back over and sat across the conference table from him. "So, how are we filing this one?"
"Demon-possessed house," Alva replied, sticking a labeled tab onto the file folder for the case. "It's possible the demons caused the bomb to go off. I mean, all the signs are there. If we'd only gotten to continue our investigation, I'm sure that's what we would have concluded."
Paul folded his hands together on the table. "What makes you so sure?"
Considering that for a moment, Alva's eyebrows dipped in the middle, his eyes deeply troubled. Then he relaxed, shaking his head. "I don't know. Just a hunch."
Paul, shrugging again, fell silent. Suddenly, he remembered something, and he asked, "Wasn't there something we were going to talk about tonight?"
"Hm." Alva gave it some deep thought. "There was. But, I seem to have forgotten it. Well..." He patted Paul's hand. "...we'll talk about it some other time."
"You sure?" Paul said with a laugh.
"Of course." Placing another label on the file folder, Alva added, "It'll come to me."
Yard sales were not the usual activity Dr. Sebastian Keel took part in, especially on a busy convention weekend. But this one was special.
The sixty-five year old man with the dark hair and dark eyes approached the Grimes home, or, what was left of it. Tables lined the front yard and driveway, covered in assorted junk and a few useful housewares. Clothes, most of them belonging to a young man, hung from a rope that had been strung between two trees. Dr. Keel looked over a few items, running his fingers over a clock, a toaster, a stack of books, pretending he wasn't eavesdropping on the conversation between the two women sitting behind the table.
"I just wish Harry was here," Mrs. Grimes lamented. She put a wadded tissue to her nose. "He should be here... to watch his son's things be sold off." Her face crumpled and she hid it in the tissue.
"Sandra, your husband will be back in two days," the other woman said, rubbing Sandra Grimes' back and shoulders. "He needs to tie up those loose ends in England before Jacob Anders takes over, right? Don't cry."
"I know... nothing would have kept Harry from coming home after he'd heard what happened. The firm never could have made him stay in London after that. It's just... this is so hard."
"Of course it is, Sandra. Of course it is. He was your son. But we've gone through Shane's things already, and the things you wanted to keep are all packed up... and the police are done with it... so it's better not to have all these extra reminders around." The woman lifted Sandra's chin. "Don't you think?"
Sandra Grimes nodded. "You're right, Joan. You're right. I just... I wish Harry was here." She put her nose into the tissue again while Joan comforted her.
Dr. Keel's fingers ran over a black locket lying on the table among a scattering of other jewelry. "My, what happened here?" he asked, indicating the damaged house, partially covered in tarps and plastic material.
Joan looked up. Something about the man's eyes sent an instant chill up her back. Then she visibly relaxed and smiled at him. "You haven't been reading the papers?"
"Well, lass, I'm from out of town, you could say."
"Oh, I apologize. I should have known from the accent." She turned more toward him, her hand flitting along the hem of her shirt that lined her cleavage. "Are you British?"
"Scottish, my lady." Dr. Keel gave her his most charming smile. "In town for a doctor's convention."
"Oh, you're a doctor. How wonderful, saving lives and all."
A bit offended by the flirtatious tone in her friend's voice, Sandra interrupted. "There was an explosion. We're moving."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said sympathetically. Dr. Keel picked up the necklace with the green cat's eye in the middle. "This is quite beautiful. How much is it?"
Now, sitting in the dusty living room of his new American home, Sebastian held the necklace up, letting it turn on the chain as he admired it. He had purchased a couch and a coffee table, but that was all. The McNeal home, now his second home, would need a great deal of work before he could actually live in it, even if it was for short trips to the states now and then. But, even so, he would make it his own.
He tossed the necklace on the coffee table. Looked at it some more. Then he commanded, "Come out."
Instantly, the djinn emerged from the locket in a puff of gray smoke and liquid fire. "MASTER," it said, and bowed.
Sebastian raised two fingers in greeting, simply shaking them once. "I am the new owner of the necklace. It is good that you acknowledge that. It will save us a great deal of time." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "My guides tell me that you had an encounter with my sons two weeks ago. Something major happened. I want you to tell me all about it."
"CERTAINLY. I - ... SOMEONE IS COMING." The djinn disappeared.
A board in the closest entryway creaked. The woman from the yard sale, Joan, stepped into the living room. One trembling hand on the carved wood of the entryway and the other running nervously over her cleavage, she said, "I came as fast as I could."
"That's a good girl. Now, step over here where I can see you."
Joan walked to the middle of the room, standing in front of Sebastian. She giggled. "I... I never do things like this. I don't even know why I came. There was... just something about your eyes. They called to me."
"It's alright, you don't need to explain." Sebastian looked her over. "You certainly are a pretty lass. In your forties, are you?"
Joan shivered all over in anticipation. "Forty-three."
"My, but you look all hot and bothered." He slid deeper into the cushions. "I think you should take your clothes off now."
Joan reached to unzip her dress, then suddenly stopped, eyes wide with horror. "I don't even know your name."
Sebastian glared into her eyes with such intensity that she uttered a small, aroused cry. "It doesn't matter. Strip."
When the woman settled into his lap, Sebastian grinned and directed a comment to the necklace in which the djinn resided. "You can tell me all about it afterward," he snickered, and sank his hands into Joan's hair.
More Notes: Deejay was the first person I ever saw present the idea that Alva and Paul have the same father, that they are half-brothers. When I heard it, I thought it was one of the sweetest, most endearing things they ever could have done on "Miracles." Of course, they didn't, but it would have been the best thing ever, for those two to discover they had true family in each other.
I have this thing for Paul sitting on furniture. I have no idea where it comes from; it wasn't supported in canon as far as I can remember. But often, when I picture Paul working and hanging around the SQ office, he's sitting on the table and what not. I just decided to go with it as a quirk of my fanon.
Details of Challenge #25: The Lost Case. Miracles fan Kaija noticed something unexpected about the episode, "The Patient." There is a place in the episode where the closed captioning differs from the spoken dialogue in one spot. Where Paul explains what he "does for fun" and talks about the trip he and Keel took to Pennsylvania, he mentions the set of identical twins born to different mothers. BUT the CC says, "There was a rabid German shepherd. Its owners thought it was possessed by their dead grandfather."
Persistence of Memory is (c) 2008 Demented Stuff
Miracles is (c) 2003 Spyglass Entertainment and Touchstone Television