Where is My Tunnel of Light?

Where is My Tunnel of Light?
A Miracles Fanfic
by Laurel (Sailorhathor)


Rating: Parental Supervision Suggested
Dates: Written Jan. 2004
Word Count: 9,651
Summary: Paul finds out why Evie joined SQ. He never could have anticipated her response.
Warnings: Adult language and theme.
Author's Notes: This fic comes out of my desire to tell the story of why Evie joined SQ. It sort of grew beyond that a little, but it is still essentially Evie's story.
Thanks to K-kitty and Emby for the legal counsel on possibilities for Jon's 1-3 years. Also thanks to K-kitty for helping me clarify empathy.


        "So, what was the funniest case you and Keel ever took on before I joined SQ?"
        Grinning, Evie looked over at Paul from where she was dusting the file trays on her desk. He was sitting on the long table in the Sodalitas Quaerito office, smirking at her, waiting for her answer. That one was easy. "The funniest case... that'd have to be the screaming skull."
        "Screaming skull?!" Paul laughed. "Do you mean that literally?"
        "Yes! It was a case in New York; a doctor had acquired a real human skull from the teaching ward in the hospital where he worked, and kept it on his desk. One day, it started to scream. For real, and really loudly. His nurses and patients could hear it all the way out in the waiting room. So, he called us, and we went down there, and we could hear the damn thing screaming all the way out in the parking lot!"
        By this time, Paul had stopped simply snickering and burst out laughing. "The parking lot?"
        "Yeah! Alva and I didn't even need the directions from the lot to the office - we just followed the howling. I mean, the thing was literally going, 'Ahhhhhh, graaaaaaah, arrrrrrgh!' like somebody was murdering it or something," Evie giggled, spreading out her arms while she imitated the skull's screams to make it more dramatic.
        Paul shook with laughter at the comical way she told the story. "What did you guys do?"
        Evie put her cleaning rag down so she could center all her attention on the story. "We walked in, and the doctor ran up to us all frantic, and asked if we were the people from SQ. Alva tried to introduce himself, but the skull was screaming so loud that the doctor couldn't even hear him. Alva walked into the office and saw the thing just sitting there on the doctor's desk, and he yelled, 'Are you attached to this skull?' The doctor said no, do whatever you have to, just shut it up. Alva told the skull if it didn't quiet down, he was going to smash it. It went on screeching, so he put it on the floor, picked up this flagpole stand from the corner of the office, and used it to pound the thing to pieces! And the entire time, the skull was screaming, 'Arrrrrgh, nooooo, help me, it hurts, it hurts, auuuugh!'"
        "You are making that up!"
        "No, you can ask Alva! I swear to God, it really happened." Evie had to stop to catch her breath from all the laughter. "You haven't heard the best part yet. The skull finally stopped screaming, as it was laying all over the floor in pieces, and Alva turned to the doctor and said, 'That'll be $500'!"
        Paul nearly fell off the table laughing at that, especially Evie's impersonation of Alva, complete with accent. "Oh, I wish I could've been there! He just turned and handed the guy the bill after that?"
        "Yeah! That's our Alva. He's so subtle."
        They both took the time to let the giggling die down before either of them spoke again. "I can see why that's the funniest case you two ever dealt with. I hope we get more cases like that, now that I'm working here too." Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Paul straightened up, and remarked, "You know, I just realized, I've never heard the story of why you joined SQ, Evie. Why did you join?"
        The jolly smile faded from her face. She picked up her rag and started to clean again, obviously uneasy. Discomfort filled the air between them. "Um, Paul, aren't you supposed to be helping me dust?"
        Paul's eyebrows dipped in the middle. "Evie?"
        She sighed. "Paul... okay, you wanna know?" Evie turned back to him. "When I was shot, I died for two minutes. During that time, I had a near-death experience."
        "Oh." Why was she so reluctant to tell him that? "So, you saw the tunnel of light, and loved ones waiting for you in Heaven, and all that?"
        Evie paused for a long time before she replied, "No. That's not what I saw."
        Blinking in bewilderment, Paul asked, "What did you see?"

*****

        Mid-January snowfall blanketed Boston the night Evelyn Renshaw died. It was 1998, and she and Jon had been married only a year when she encountered the blonde woman sporting a nasty black eye, and holding a gun to the head of her own child. "You ain't taking my girl from me! I'll kill her first, pigs!"
        The officers inched ever closer to the loose canon, guns drawn. "Mrs. Shields, put the gun down. You don't want to do this," one of the other officers said.
        "I won't let you take my baby from me!" She looked from one police officer to another as she released the safety on the gun. Her young child sobbed in fear. A bit thin, with filthy platinum blonde hair, the little girl had not been taken care of properly, and the CPS report backed that up - the 5-year-old child had already been taken from her parents once before.
        That was that, then. The hostage crisis would come to an end; the sniper positioned outside would have no choice but to take her out, and that is exactly what happened. The blonde woman cried, "Stop inching toward m - " and suddenly jerked as the bullet came in through the open window and entered her head. Another officer caught the crying child before she could be dropped. The expression on the woman's face was one of shock as a stream of blood ran from her ear.
        As the woman began to fall, Officer Evelyn Renshaw realized that she still had the gun in her hand, and it was raising, aimed right at her. There was no time to react. Evelyn could only think, Jon always thought he'd be the one to die first before the dying woman's finger slipped on the trigger and the gun went off.
        "Evelyn!" she heard her partner yell.
        Then, complete silence.
        The next thing Evie knew, she walked down a hallway, stark naked. The walls appeared to be made of metal with a red cast to it, and the area stunk of burning sulphur. Evelyn covered herself as best she could, continuing down the hall. Up ahead, the tunnel ended; there was something there, though Evie was not sure she wanted to reach it. From that place came screams of torment and fear. Where in the hell was she?
        As Evie stepped from the tunnel onto black dirt, her eyes went up, and up, beholding the structure before her. It was a sort of building made up of tall columns strung with barbed wire. The fencing was lined with cages stacked one on top of the other, row after row, and inside the cages were crazed, pale, screaming people who looked dead, all dressed in rags. Some did not scream, but instead rocked themselves, or yanked at their hair, or begged over and over to be let out. Evie couldn't help but be horrified by all this.
        To each side of her, she could see nothing, because the building was enveloped by a heavy, almost yellow mist. Things moved inside that mist... large, slippery things. Possibly unspeakable things. These frightening noises were accompanied by the far off sound of a motorcycle engine, a Harley, she could tell, by the deep, booming roar.
        While she debated over where she was supposed to go to escape this place, the tall iron doors on the front of the corral swung open noisily. Creeeeeeeeak... A manlike being with large fangs and black bat's wings stood there, grinning in a feral manner. Evie's eyes grew big as saucers at the sight of him. It. Whatever. Behind him, pillars of fire rose high into the air, like he was performing some twisted heavy metal concert. Fwoosh! He shook his mane of dark hair, and held out a hand to her. "We've been expecting you, Lynie."
        If it was possible, her eyes grew even wider. "What did you call me?!"
        The man laughed, then picked up a stick and started poking one of the caged women. The blonde woman did not respond, only stared into space. Oh, my God... it was the woman from the domestic violence case tonight. The woman with the black eye. Shocked, Evie put her hand to her face, and came away with bloody fingers.
        "Hmmm..." the demonic man murmured. "She got here shortly before you did. Mrs. Shields. I think we may have broken her already." Poke, poke. "Oh, well. Maybe we can get more fun outta you."
        Evie stared at her fingers, allowing the realization to wash over her. She'd been shot. And... was she dead? Was she...
        Her eyes again went up, and up, until they fell on the name of the building at the top, blazing in red neon. There, Evie realized she knew exactly where she was.
        HELL.
        She fought back frightened tears. "What is this?!" she cried to the demon. "Am I dead?! What am I doing here?"
        The demon smirked at her. "Oh, Lynie, you know exactly what you're doing here." He moved aside so she could see the child standing there, a young boy of about 7 or 8, dressed in rags like the rest.
        "Why did you do it, Mommy?" he sobbed. "I could have been yours."
        Evelyn did begin to cry then. "Vincent?" she said in a tiny voice.
        Suddenly, a brilliant light came from the tunnel behind her. She turned to see a stranger, a man, levitating inside a column of white light, with short black hair and small, deep-set, but compassionate eyes. Light shot out of his palms and fingertips, and it could not be told what color his eyes were because his pupils and irises were white, filled with light. Evie could barely even tell his eyes had separate parts, they were so filled with radiance. The light began to burst from the ends of his hair like electricity, crackling back into the column, as he reached out to her. You don't want to do this, Evie, his voice echoed in her head.
        "It's not your time to die," a voice from the tunnel called. This voice had a definite accent, maybe British? The owner of the voice stepped around the column of light so she could see him; he had dark brown hair and sharp, handsome features. He carried a sword, and had been injured somehow, as his right side was bleeding. The light reflected off his stunning crystal blue eyes. "Come back."
        "Who are you?" she cried.
        "We're your friends, Evie. Paul and I need you. Come back." He also reached out to her. "You don't belong there."
        "Paul?" Evie looked at the floating man with some awe. "Is that his name?" She stepped back into the tunnel.
        "That's alright, Lynie," called the demon. "We'll be here, waiting for you. Vincent and I. You know where you belong." Shielding his eyes from the light, he swung the doors to Hell closed.
        Evie stood before the column of light. "What's happening to me?"
        "It's time to go back," the man she would soon know as Alva informed her. "It's not your time to die."
        Suddenly, this Paul seemed to look deep within her, down to the core of her, and he reached out and grabbed Evie's face in both hands. She could instantly feel the light pouring into her body with such speed and intensity that it terrified her. What was he doing to her? "What - what are - Paul?!"
        His white eyes burned into hers. "I HOPE YOU FEEL BETT - "
        "GAAAAAAAHHHH!!" Evie regained consciousness with a bewildered, frightened scream. Machinery beeped next to her. She flailed and kicked wildly, finding that the gurney she was lying on had restraints. But that did not stop Evelyn from continuing to scream in fear. Her head pounded so hard she could hardly hear the doctors and nurses around her as they tried to calm her down.
        "We got 'er, we got 'er!" an excited intern cried. "We brought 'er back!"
        A doctor leaned over her. "Evelyn, you're at Briggaman Women's Hospital. You've been shot in the head. We need you to lie as still as possible, and we'll take care of you. I'm Dr. Mitchelson."
        "But you don't understand," Evie desperately tried to explain. "There was a demon, and people in cages, and Vincent... ohhhh God, Vincent." Tears streamed out of her eyes, mixing with the blood on her face. "I was in Hell. I was in HELL!"
        "Evelyn, shhh, that was just a hallucination. Whatever you saw, you're not in Hell. You're alive. Please, calm down, and - "
        "Let me up! I - I should go to church! I have to save my soul, don't you understand that?!" She pulled at the restraints.
        That was when Alva appeared in the doorway of the examining room. He looked as if he understood what Evie was saying better than the doctor. Without asking for any permission, Alva strode into the room.
        "Hey, you can't be in here - "
        "YOU!" Evie reached up and grabbed his black shirt, pulling Alva closer to her blood-streaked face. "You brought me back here."
        Alva was the only calm one in the room. "I think you've had a near-death experience, Miss... did they say your name was Evelyn?"
        "You know my name." Evie settled back, finally calming down. "My God, you really exist!"
        Although her comments confused him, Alva patted her shoulder, then gently uncurled her fingers from his shirt. "Let the doctor take care of you. You seem to have been shot in the head. We'll talk more later, alright?"
        "Okay. But where's the other one?"
        "Let's get her into x-ray. You'll have to leave," Dr. Mitchelson said to Alva.
        Although he nodded, Alva pressed, "The other one?"
        The interns and nurses wheeled Evie's stretcher toward another room. She leaned up slightly and called, "Where's Paul?"
        The last thing Evie saw before the doors closed between the two rooms was the look of total disbelief on Alva's face.

*****

        Dr. Mitchelson sat on the edge of Evelyn's hospital bed. "So you see, it's better if we just leave it alone."
        Evie self-consciously touched the bandage at her hairline, or where her hairline would be if that spot hadn't been partially shaved. "You're going to leave a bullet in my brain? I don't know, it just sounds so..."
        "Wrong?" the doctor finished, smiling at her. "I'm sure it does. But as I told you, you won't be able to feel it. It's too dangerous to try to go in after it; we might wind up doing more harm than good. So, we leave it alone." He shrugged. "You should be able to enjoy a completely normal life."
        "With a bullet in my head?" She laughed a little. "Alright, it's inoperable, I hear ya. But, what am I supposed to do when I go through a metal detector? Will I set it off?"
        "You don't have to worry about that; I'll give you a medical card with my signature that you can show to the guards at the airport and such. It will explain to them why your head beeps."
        Chuckling, Evie relaxed a bit. "I guess I better get used to being hand-wanded when I go to the airport, huh?"
        "Probably." Dr. Mitchelson stood up. "We want to keep you in here for observation a little longer, but you should be able to go home very soon. Your husband called. He said he'd be by to see you after work tonight."
        "Oh, good." Evie smiled broadly, settling back into her pillow.
        "There's a man here to see you, Evelyn. Do you feel up to having visitors?" the doctor asked.
        "I suppose. Who is it?"
        "A man named Alva Keel."
        "Hm. I don't know any Alva Keel. That's an unusual name," remarked Evie.
        Dr. Mitchelson explained, "He comes here sometimes to interview patients about their near-death experiences. Strange fellow, but he's polite enough not to be a bother. He almost got into a lot of trouble when he barged into the emergency room the night you came in here, though. Do you remember that? I doubt it, after what happened to you..."
        Looking shocked, Evie sat up, staring at the doctor. "He was real?"
        "Yes. Did you think you'd imagined him because of being shot?"
        Evie settled back again, a look of bewilderment in her eyes. "Yeah."
        "Well, he's real enough." Dr. Mitchelson tried to read her face. "Would you like to speak with him?"
        Evie paused to think it over. How would she ever figure out what had happened to her if she didn't talk to this man, this Alva Keel? But, did she really want to know? His very existence only solidified that the rest of the vision was real, too, didn't it? "Send him in."
        "Alright. If you start feeling bad, any headache or blurred vision, or dizziness, I want you to send him away and get some rest," the doctor commanded.
        "I promise."
        He could tell she was distracted now, something about Alva Keel. Mr. Keel had said he thought she'd had a near-death experience. "I'll go get him."
        Alva entered the room a minute later. "Mrs. Renshaw, I'm Alva Keel. Do you feel up to speaking with me about what happened in the emergency room?"
        She looked at him then, as he crossed the room to sit down. He looked slightly younger now than he had in the tunnel... the one that lead to Hell. Evie almost laughed at that thought. A tunnel that lead to Hell. Ludicrous! And yet... "Call me Evie. I mean, we're friends, right?" A little bit of a hysterical snicker escaped her lips.
        Alva blinked at that comment. "Why do you say that? Perhaps you better start at the beginning, ...Evie. Did you have an experience after you were shot that defies explanation?"
        Evie did start at the beginning, telling him about her vision at the gates of Hell. "The last thing I saw was his eyes burning into me as he said, 'I hope you feel bet - ' and that's when I came back. I imagine he was trying to say, 'I hope you feel better,' but I cut him off with my bloodcurdling scream." She laughed hysterically again.
        "Why did the experience make you scream?" Alva asked. He seemed a bit shaken up by what she'd seen in the tunnel, although most of his feelings were hidden from her.
        Evie shrugged. "It was just very intense. The kind of thing that is so far beyond anything you've ever experienced that you have to scream just to deal with it. Like instinct."
        "Hm." Alva tapped his bottom lip with one finger. "Can you explain to me why the demon called you 'Lynie'?"
        Avoiding his eyes, Evie looked down. "That's what my first boyfriend called me. When I was 14."
        "Do you know why that's significant?" Alva leaned forward. "Does it have anything to do with the child, Vincent?"
        Evie did look at him then with eyes full of anger, as if he should have known not to ask that question. "Mr. Keel... I will talk with you about everything I saw, except for that." Her dark eyes burned intensely. "I will not talk about that."
        A part of him wanted to press for information, but Alva looked at those eyes and thought better of it. The child had called her 'Mommy.' Had she given birth to a child who died? Did Evie blame herself? "You can call me Alva if you like."
        "Alright, Alva. Tell me something." Evie pushed the button to raise her bed a bit, so she could see him better. "If you're real, then does that mean that Paul exists too?"
        It was Alva's turn to look away, to nervously dart his eyes about while he thought up an answer. "Evie, I don't know anyone named Paul, but I suppose he could exist. Perhaps we're both meant to cross paths with him someday."

*****

        Three weeks later, Evie walked into the office of Sodalitas Quaerito and immediately wrinkled her nose at the horrible disarray the place was in. Papers and files everywhere, old take-out food boxes that needed to be thrown away, about two inches of dust blanketed over everything... had she ever seen a worse packrat than this Alva Keel? "Alva? Are you here? Or are you trapped somewhere under all this crap...?" Evie mumbled the last part, although she meant it.
        Alva emerged from his office. "Evelyn! It's good to see you. You're looking well, and your hair - it's growing back."
        Evie's hand went immediately to the bald spot, which she'd tried to hide by brushing the rest of her hair over it. "Yeah, that's what hair does..." she absently commented. "Um, Mr. Keel... Alva... can I have a moment of your time?"
        "Of course; have a seat." He pulled a chair out from the nearest table and swept an empty pizza box off of it.
        Almost laughing, Evie shook her head. "No thank you, I'd rather stand. Alva, ever since I was shot, and had that near-death experience, I've been doing a lot of thinking." Without missing a beat, she reached across the table, snatched up a dusty box of trash bags, and pulled one out. Alva watched her with some confusion as she shook open the bag, allowing the force of air to open it, and began filling it with the trash spread all over the office. "After all that's happened, I can't go back to my regular job as a cop. I can't pretend that I didn't see what I saw. That I don't wonder just how real it all was every single day since I was shot." Away went the crusty Chinese food cartons, the pizza boxes that rattled with old crusts, and the greasy fast food wrappers. "I went back to work this week, and every call became the one that was going to kill me and send me to Hell for good, or even better, the one where I meet Paul. I can't get it off my mind for a minute." Evie went for some papers on the desk nearby.
        "Ah, wait," Alva protested, putting up his hand. "I need those."
        Smirking, Evie held up the papers in her hand. "You may already be a millionaire?"
        "Oh." Alva had to laugh. "By all means, carry on."
        She did, tossing old junk mail into the bag. "Alva, I quit the force this morning. I just... I can't do it anymore. I need answers."
        "Really? You quit the police force?" Although he was amazed with the chances she was taking, Alva kept that to himself, clearing his throat. "Your NDE made that much of an impression on you?"
        Evie stopped cleaning for a moment to glare at him. "If what I saw was real, I am damned to go to Hell when I die. Eternal torment. Could you go on with your life, knowing a thing like that?"
        Alva, sighing, replied, "No, I guess not."
        "Damn straight." Evie started stacking the old newspapers and placing them in a large file box on the desk.
        Curious, Alva asked, "How did you know I wanted to keep those?"
        "You want to search them for articles related to the paranormal. Right?"
        "How'd you know that?" he wondered, impressed with her instincts.
        "Women's intuition." Evie had always read people well, especially men. A packrat like him would definitely want to save clippings related to his work, even if he didn't have time to cut them out. "Look, Alva, I need to know if I'm really going to Hell, and if so, if there's something I can do to reverse it. And you need my help. You need someone to help you with these investigations, and..." She stacked some papers into a file folder to emphasize her point. "...you need help with your record keeping. I bet your financial books are a mess."
        Alva grew sheepish. "A bit..."
        "And you can never find anything."
        Scratching his eyebrow, he chuckled. "You'd be right about that."
        "You need someone to help you keep this place in order." Evie slapped the top on the file box with the newspapers in it. Boom! "You need me."
        Alva hid a smile, though his blue eyes twinkled. "What does your husband think of all this?"
        "Doesn't know yet," Evie replied. "But he loves me. He'll understand."
        With a nod, Alva asked, "Do you have any experience?"
        "I worked for a CPA for two years before I became a cop. Doing just this. Learned a lot about accounting while I was there, too."
        Alva uttered, "The pay is lousy."
        Evie, shrugging, said, "I can deal with that. Finding my answers is too important to quibble over money."
        Truthfully, Alva had been hoping that Evie would come see him again. She was right in that he could use some help with SQ, and it was a good idea to keep her close after the vision she'd had. Also, and this was the most important reason, Alva liked her. They would work well together. She had spirit. He held out his hand, smiling, to shake hers. "Welcome aboard."

*****

        With a long sigh, Paul rubbed at one of his eyes with two fingers. He was getting a stress headache. "Evie... why didn't you tell me about this before?"
        She wasn't sure what to say. "You never asked," she finally shrugged.
        Paul angrily pounded his fist on the table beneath him. "Damn it, Evie, you know what I mean! You had a vision of me in your near-death experience five years before you met me. We've been working together for nearly nine months, and you just keep a thing like that from me?!" He let out a nervous laugh. "Light came out of the ends of my hair?" Then Paul shook his head in disbelief.
        Evie tried to explain her position. "Paul, after Alva withheld the information about the hemography people from you, I got upset with him, but truthfully, I had no right to, because I was keeping this from you at the same time. And I'm sorry for that. But you don't know how it feels to know something that amazing about another person and how to tell them. It's just... really hard, when you know you should tell them, but you also want to pro..." She trailed off.
        "Protect them?" Paul finished for her.
        "Yes. Protect them." Evie nodded at him. "How do you tell someone that you had a miraculous vision like that about them? How do you know they can handle it?"
        His hands over his face, Paul said, "I am sick and tired of people protecting me from the truth like I'm some kind of hothouse flower." He now scrubbed at both of his eyes. "Evie, what am I?"
        She walked up to him and gave him a brief hug. "I don't know. But if you're going to find out the answers, it will be working with Alva."
        Paul, glaring at her, retorted, "How, when you two keep all the answers from me?"
        Backing away, Evie picked up her purse. "When you're put in my position, then you'll understand. I'll leave you alone for a while to cool off. I need some air anyway." She strode from the office, leaving by the alley entrance.
        Paul watched her go, and put his head in his hands to think about all she'd said.

*****

        Standing next to the railing, looking out over the water of Boston Bay, Evie's mind turned again to the past. Paul's questions had brought it all back, and she could not stop the flood of memories now. She could see one of Jon's many rant-fests playing out in her mind... this one, Evie would never forget.
        Dressed for work, Jon paced back and forth before her as she sat on the bed, brushing her hair. "You're hardly ever home, you're always dumping the baby off on your mother, and every time I turn around, you're traveling off to some podunk town I've never heard of."
        "You know that travel is part of my job now, Jon. We've talked about this." She patted her suitcase at the end of the bed, which hadn't been unpacked from the last trip. "I'm leaving for Georgia in a couple of hours, even."
        His face grew grim, the anger boiling just beneath the surface. "Evie, you've been working for this SQ place for a couple of years now. I thought that maybe the birth of Matty would bring you to your senses, but you're still chasing ghosts and investigating reports of vampires and all kinds of crazy shit. It has to stop now, do you hear me? Your baby needs you. I need you. It's time to get on with your life."
        Evie burned holes into him with her furious eyes. "I am a good mother, Jon. How dare you - "
        "I have put up with more than I can take from you, Evelyn!" Jon sighed shakily, running a hand through his brown hair. "Okay, you were shot in the head. But you're alive, Evie! You survived it! You don't shut down and cut yourself off from your family to deal with it. You quit the force without telling me first, you hardly talk to me anymore, all you ever do is run around the country with that weird Alva Keel guy! I can't take it anymore!"
        "Oh, so you know exactly what's going on in my head!" Evie threw down the hairbrush. "You know about the nightmares, and the flashbacks, and how I sometimes smell burning sulphur and hear the tormented screams of the Damned though I'm nowhere near the source of them. Or am I? Sometimes I can feel it pulling at me, like something down there wants me already."
        "What's pulling at you? Hell?!" Jon leaned over her. "I did some reading on near-death experiences. Many studies show that they may just be the result of misfiring neurons at the time of death. A hallucination. It's time to get over it, Evie. Let it go."
        Now it was her turn to barely contain her anger. "A 'hallucination' that has already partially come true."
        He actually laughed at her, bitterly. "What, the fact that you saw Keel in your 'vision' before you met him? He was in the emergency room area when you were brought in. You probably caught a glimpse of him in a moment of semiconsciousness and put him in your delusion once you died. They said you were in and out of consciousness all the way to the hospital!" Jon shook his head in frustration. "Why can't you just let it go? You're not dead."
        Evie could hardly believe what she was hearing. "I'm sorry that my pain is too much for you to understand or accept; after all, you're only my husband - "
        "Oh, real nice, Evie, biting sarcasm will really help."
        " - but you weren't there, Jon! I was there. I stood at the gates of Hell, and I know it was real. So you can call it a hallucination or a delusion if you want, but you. Weren't. There!" Fuming, Evie picked up her brush and started fixing her hair again, each hard stroke blatantly showing her anger more than the last.
        Jon was silent for several moments before a resigned look came to his face. "You're having an affair with him, aren't you?"
        The motion of her brushing stopped, and she slowly leveled a look of incredulous shock on him. "Who?"
        "Who do you think? Alva Keel!"
        All Evie could do was laugh out loud in response. "You can't be serious, Jon. He's over ten years older than me! Alva's my friend, my mentor - "
        "Your lover?"
        She stared at her husband, shaking her head. "First, you've got me having delusions like some sort of crazy person. Now you've got me sleeping with my boss. Why don't you just commit me before I screw up our lives anymore?"
        "Sometimes I wish I could," Jon admitted quite seriously. "You obviously need counseling if you'd choose chasing after phantoms over your husband and child."
        Evie had to stop and make sure she'd really just heard that. "I have to make a choice now, is that it?"
        "Yeah," Jon responded immediately.
        She threw up her hands in defeat. "Then I'm sorry, Jon. I have to have these answers. You have no idea what it's like to live your life knowing your own future after death, and knowing that it's the worst fate you can think of. I have to do this work. So, if you think I'm such a horrible wife, maybe I should let you go so you can find another." Evie got up and started packing as much of her clothes as she could into the suitcase. Sleeves and pant legs swatted at her as she furiously threw her things down, but she didn't care.
        Next thing she knew, Jon had fallen to his knees next to her and was hugging her around the waist... and he was crying. "Evie, baby, please don't do this. I just want my wife back, please, please, oh God, please..."
        She shut her eyes on the threatening tears. "If you love me, then you need to accept that I had a strange experience that was very real to me, and I need to learn all I can about it so I can save my soul. It's very important to me. It should be important to you too."
        Looking up at her, Jon shook his head. "I'm sorry, baby, but you need help. Not answers."
        "Then let go of me." Evie disengaged his arms from her waist. She continued packing, holding all of her emotions in, while he stood and left the house, slamming the door behind him. As soon as she heard that, Evie let loose with her tears, sobbing into an old T-shirt.
        Less than half an hour later, she walked into the SQ office and looked at Alva, who was carrying his suitcase down the stairs. "Evie? What's the matter?"
        On the verge of tears again, she choked, "I've left Jon."
        Then there had been divorce papers, and custody hearings, and talking to each other through their lawyers, and finally it was all over. Evie had moved in with her mother and sister, who were delighted to look after Matty while she traveled for SQ. After the divorce, Jon had chosen to move around on a constant basis, never staying in the same city more than eight months. She called it his "wandering." There had come a time when Evie changed her name back to Santos, and Jon had insisted that she change Matty's last name also, because "he's your son now." As cryptic as that comment had been, it could not compare to when Evie had heard about the assault charges; she only got the secondhand reports through Jon's lawyer of how he had simply lost control one night and attacked a man in a bar. She could not help but wonder if she had ruined the man she once loved for life. Now he sat in a prison cell in Tacoma State Penitentiary, serving his "1-3 years" and hoping to get out early on good behavior.
        There had come a day when Alva entered the office and casually mentioned that he'd be out of town for two days to assess a case in Tampa, Florida. "I need you to stay here."
        "Why?"
        "Someone has to be here to greet Paul when he comes in."
        Evie froze. "Paul?!"
        "Yes, Evie. I've found him." He took a photograph out of his shirt pocket. "Is that the man you saw in the tunnel?"
        Taking the picture, she stared at it, her eyes growing more and more amazed. "Oh, my God, Alva... that's him. That's Paul!"
        Alva nodded. "Paul Callan. I have spoken to him, and invited him here. To join Sodalitas Quaerito."
        Evie examined the photo again, and looked at Alva. "His eyes are brown, Alva. And he's real."

*****

        Alva leaned his forehead on his hand, waiting for Paul to take a breath so he could get a word in. He felt like he was being pounced upon by a frothing wildcat. "And then I said, 'I hope you feel better.' Like, 'I hope you feel better soon'? Tommy's words. Why didn't you tell me, Keel? What other things are you keeping from me?!"
        Alva instantly swung around in his chair and stood up. "Paul, sit." He looked at Paul, who was defiantly still standing. "Sit down."
        He did so, slowly sinking into the nearest chair.
        Alva went into a nearby filing cabinet, one that was unlocked. "I want you to read something. It's your file." He slapped the folder down on the desk in front of Paul, and opened it, skipping a few pages. "Read that."
        Paul glanced at him, then began to read the page aloud. "'What Jason Herlock said he felt regarding Paul confirms for me that Paul is an empath as well as a medium. Herlock said that...'" He stopped a moment, reading it to himself, and then repeated it out loud. "'...that Paul carries the pain of all humanity inside him.'" He paused again, swallowing hard. "'This indicates to me that he must be a highly receptive empath with no current way to shut the ability off.'" Looking up, Paul remarked, "You told me what a medium is. What's an empath?"
        Alva explained, "An empath is a person who can feel the emotions of others through extra sensory perception. Those who have developed the ability can turn it on and off at will, and read people's emotions by viewing their aura. Those with underdeveloped powers of empathy do not have this control. They take on the feelings of others very strongly just by being around them." Alva sat back down, and tried to finish the sub sandwich from the deli down the street that he'd bought on his way into the office. "You being an empath would explain why you become a sympathetic mes- uh, wre- ah, why you sympathize with the clients so heavily."
        Paul gave him a look, then thought over what he'd said. "You know, I haven't even gotten comfortable with the label 'medium' yet, and here's another possibility."
        Speaking around a bite of sandwich, Alva said, "I know you never wanted any of this, Paul, but sometimes the path chooses you."
        "Yeah, yeah..."
        "If it's any consolation, we can work on developing these abilities. Some people can even use empathy for defense." He swallowed another bite, and looked at Paul. "I don't know if you're projective, though. I haven't seen any evidence of it."
        "Projective?"
        "Some empaths can project feelings onto others, make them feel things." He put his sandwich down. "Try to make me feel something. Concentrate."
        Paul awkwardly shifted in his chair. "Keel, I feel silly." All Alva had to do was give him a stern look to show him how serious he was. "Alright," Paul sighed. He thought of an emotion, and concentrated on trying to make Alva feel it.
        Suddenly, Alva burped out loud, and covered his mouth with embarrassment. "Pardon me! Is that what you were going for?"
        Paul chuckled, shaking his head. "No, that was your hoagie talking." He pointed at the pastrami sandwich. "I was trying to make you feel happy."
        "Hm." Alva took the file and wrote on it, "Shows no current evidence of being projective."
        Sighing again, Paul sat back, and quoted from the file, "'...the pain of all humanity...'"
        Alva nodded. "Paul, if you knew a thing like that about Evie or I, would you be so quick to tell us things that could add to that pain? Potentially devastating things? Or would you wait for the right time?"
        He paused for only a few seconds. "I'd wait for the right time," Paul quietly admitted.
        "Then you understand the position Evie and I were in." Alva continued eating, crunching on the potato chips he'd bought, too.
        For a little while, Paul was quiet. He finally asked, "What do you think Evie's vision was about? She can't really be damned, can she?"
        Alva rubbed at his fingers with a napkin. "It's never been conclusively proven what an NDE is. It could just be an illusory byproduct of the death process, or perhaps the person experiencing it brings their own feelings to what they see. Maybe Evie feels guilty about something from her past and thinks she should be punished. Or maybe it was all real, in some way."
        "What do you think?" Paul asked.
        Alva couldn't help but laugh a little. "Paul, you've worked with Evie for nine months now. Do you really think she's going to Hell?"
        He had to smile. "No way."
        "The devils would never have her; she'd be trying to fix them all up with a nice bunch of girls in five minutes."
        Both men had a good chuckle. They were still laughing when Evie walked into the doorway of Alva's office. It was obvious she'd been crying from her puffy, bloodshot eyes. Paul's face visibly softened at the sight of her, and he said, "Evie, I'm sorry about earlier. Keel and I talked, and... well, I understand."
        She tried to smile. "Okay. I'm sorry too."
        "Are you alright?"
        "Yes," Evie replied, nodding. "Um, I got a call on my cell from a potential client. She said she'd gotten my number off our website and thought I was the best person to contact, that I had a trustworthy face." She shrugged.
        "Oh? Where is the client?" asked Alva.
        "Quincy."
        "That's not too far," Paul commented.
        "No, it's not; we could assess this one tonight. What's her name and what's the case?"
        "Uh, Jen Suwala. She said her husband has... caught Bigfoot," Evie told them, trying not to smile.
        Paul was not so discreet; he laughed out loud. "Oh, God... are we really going to take this case?"
        Evie added, "She offered us $1,000 up front just to come talk to them."
        Alva and Paul looked at each other, and said in unison, "We're taking the case."

*****

        "Ah, hello." Alva blinked at the person standing in the doorway of the house SQ had been sent to for the "Bigfoot capture" case. "We are supposed to see Jen Suwala?"
        "I'm her husband. I captured the beast. Come in, quick!" The man rushed back into the house.
        The members of Sodalitas Quaerito looked at each other. This was the man who was going to pay them $1,000 up front? He looked, and smelled, like a homeless person. The long, scraggly beard; unruly hair; stained and wrinkled clothing... Alva was starting to suspect this to be a setup. But by who, and for what reason? Maybe he was overreacting. Maybe the guy was one of these weekend mountain men. Still... "Tread lightly," Alva quietly warned Paul and Evie as he walked into the house.
        They were taken to a room that was nearly empty, but for three chairs, and some shelves with televisions on them, five in all. Again, strange... and Alva's suspicions were raised even more. Mr. Suwala offered for them to sit down.
        "I hate to bring this up, sir, but your wife said you would give us $1,000 up front..." Alva gently reminded him.
        "Of course, here you are." Mr. Suwala handed Alva an envelope, then began speaking at a frantic pace to keep his attention. "Let me tell you how I captured the beast. I was camping in the Appalachian Mountains when it invaded our campsite. The animal was eight feet tall and covered in hair! We could hardly believe what we were seeing."
        "Your wife was there too?" Paul asked, opening his little notepad. "May we speak to her also?"
        "In due time. So we're minding our own business, cooking our breakfast, and it must've smelled the sausage, because it emerged from the bushes salivating at the mouth. The beast raised up its hairy arms and roared, and I shot it."
        "Is it still alive?" asked Alva.
        "Yes, I have it in a cage in the back yard. We put it in our truck and brought it back here." Mr. Suwala stood near the televisions. "Bigfoot creatures are awfully nice; this one chipped in for gas."
        Alva scowled, Evie looked confused, and Paul abruptly stopped writing. "What did you say?"
        The man turned to them, and suddenly, the five televisions came on. They all showed the same image, of a huge Bigfoot creature slowly raising its arms. "Do you know what the beast roared just before I shot it?" He raised his arms in tandem with the animal on the televisions. What he yelled next was echoed by the five broadcasted Bigfoots so loudly that Paul covered his ears.
        "It roared LYNIE SANTOS MURDERED HER BABY!"
        Evie's face crumpled, and she ran from the house sobbing.
        Angrily, Alva sprang to his feet, and grabbed Mr. Suwala, shoving him against the wall. "Who are you?"
        The man grinned. "Alva, have you forgotten me already? Oops, I think my 'wife' gave you the wrong name. It should have been Genzuwala."
        Surprise came to Alva's face. Paul stood up, prepared to help him subdue the man, but he grinned and said, "See ya around," before the five televisions exploded.
        In the chaos that ensued, Mr. Suwala escaped, running out of the room. Alva shielded his face from the exploding glass, sparks, and electronic television innards. It was done as quickly as it had started, though, and Alva could look around, and assess the damage. "He got away! Paul, did you see - oh, Christ, not again."
        Paul looked as shocked as Alva felt at seeing the jagged piece of glass sticking out of his chest. Bewildered, astonished, and in pain, he stumbled back into his chair to sit down.
        Alva knelt by his side. "I'm starting to wonder if Death has it in for you." He wrapped his scarf around his hand and yanked the glass from Paul's chest.
        "Ahhh!" Paul grunted, his face a mask of pain.
        Alva looked at the glass, then reached in to the rip in Paul's shirt and tore it wider, so he could press his scarf to the gash. "Hold that on there."
        Paul did, and managed to let out a laugh. "You could be right. You were standing right in the middle of it, and you didn't get hurt. Keel, check on Evie. Did that Mr. Suwala go out the way she did?"
        "Genzuwala would be more accurate. It's an ancient Indo-European word of the Hittite language that means, 'friendly.'"
        Paul sighed, rolling his eyes. "So it's Mr. Friendly again."
        Nodding, Alva handed him his phone. "Yes, he got that past me by changing the word a little. You call the paramedics. I'll check on Evie."
        He turned to see Evie coming back into the room. Her crying had calmed down somewhat. "Mr. Suwala is unconscious in the next room. I'm guessing he wasn't a real client."
        "No, it was Mr. Friendly."
        "Ah." She looked at Paul. "You okay?"
        "I will be. The wound doesn't seem that deep this time." He looked on her with sympathy. "How about you?"
        "I get by." Evie looked at each of them, and said, "I owe you an explanation."
        "Evie, you don't have to tell us a thing," Paul assured. Sure, they were curious to know what this was all about, but was it really their business?
        "No, I want to tell you now. When I was 14, my boyfriend Vincent got me pregnant, and I had an abortion. I was going to name the baby after him. But my parents didn't think I could handle a baby, so... they were probably right." Evie sighed. "Now you understand it all." She held up her cell phone. "I already called the paramedics."
        Alva and Paul were left dumbfounded as Evie walked out of the house.

*****

        Over a late night pizza, Paul and Alva compared notes on what had happened in Quincy earlier that day. "It was easy for Friendly to possess the homeless man; the paramedics thought he'd been in a diabetic coma for a couple of days." Alva nabbed himself another piece of pizza. "I do wonder who the woman was who called for Friendly, though."
        Paul picked a piece of pepperoni off his piece and ate it. "He's got a helper?"
        "Seems like."
        "So Friendly left the homeless man's body voluntarily?"
        Alva nodded. "It's not like the body would have been much good to him too much longer, in his condition. Plus, we've now already seen him in that disguise."
        "Good point. I realize now that I did smell tar in the house, but it was faint, and I didn't really notice it until it was all over. I wonder about something else, though... why was the Vincent Evie saw in her vision a child of 7 or 8?"
        "Many mediums say that the spirits of children sometimes 'grow up' on the other side. Maybe that's true," Alva shrugged.
        "Could be." Paul ate in silence for a minute, until something occurred to him. "Hey, Keel, what was in the envelope Friendly gave you?"
        "You know, I completely forgot about it." Alva reached into his coat pocket, which was draped across the back of his chair, and took out the envelope.
        "You think there's any chance there's $1,000 in there?" Paul laughed.
        "I wouldn't take that bet." Alva opened it. Inside there was a single sheet of stationary. "It's a note. With a smiley face on it," he scowled.
        "What's it say?"
        "'From the Desk of Mr. Friendly,'" Alva read, rolling his eyes. As he scanned the rest of the note, his face grew serious, almost stricken. Alva started to fold the note back up with an audible swallow.
        "What is it, Keel?" Paul asked, taking the paper.
        Alva's eyes shifted back and forth. "It's just a cryptic message."
        "Oh right, that's why you're a dam about to burst. You're holding something back." Paul read the note. "'Didn't you know, you little idiot? You can only use that spell on lower creatures.' What does that mean?"
        He saw, and felt, how Alva held back the emotion. "You'll tell me when the time is right?" Paul queried in a gentler voice.
        Alva gave a small nod, and replied, "Right," quietly.
        Evie unexpectedly appeared in the doorway. "Can I have a piece?"
        "Evie! What are you doing back here? I thought you went home to bed," remarked Paul.
        She shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. Thought I'd get a start on the casefile for what happened tonight."
        "But what about Matty?"
        "My mom and sister are there; he's fine." Evie got one of the paper plates off the filing cabinet and put two pieces of pizza on it. "How's your chest feel?"
        "Okay, since I took the painkillers they prescribed. You two should buy stock in Vicodin, with me around."
        Grinning lightly, Evie said, "I'll be out here," and went back into the outer office.
        She had only been sitting at the desk for a short time when Paul came out of Alva's office. "Are you alright, Evie?"
        "As I can be." She made some notes for the report, not looking up at him.
        "You shouldn't let what Mr. Friendly said get to you. Keel and I have talked about that... that's what he was going for, Evie. He wanted to hurt you."
        She nodded, finally looking up at him. "I know, Paul. But Mr. Friendly could never hurt me more than I've hurt myself."
        "Evie..." He sat in a chair near the desk. "...we can't be sure what it was that you saw during your NDE. It might've - "
        "I know you're trying to help, but I've had this conversation with Alva, and my ex... I can't shake the feeling that I really was standing at the gates of Hell." Evie sat back with a sigh. "We all live our lives assuming that we're going to Heaven when we die, and for some of us, it just isn't true. That's what I'm here to find out - how I can... repent. Because I don't want to go back there."
        "Of course you don't. But Evie... I just can't see how a wonderful woman like you, with an adorable son like Matty, could be damned to Hell."
        "Matty... I should just let my mother raise him. He'd be better off. I'll just... taint him somehow," she mumbled bitterly.
        "Evie, don't say that! I've never heard you talk like this," Paul said, troubled by how hard she was being on herself. "You're a great mother."
        "Sometimes I'm just not sure." Putting her head in her hands, Evie sighed, "I'm sorry, Paul, it's just been a really bad day."
        "I know." He soothingly rubbed her back. "I know."
        A little while later, Evie decided to go home and try sleep again, at Paul's urging. He went back to Alva's office to check in with him. "I'm wiped out; I'm going on home. You alright?"
        Alva seemed lost in thought, but he still replied, "Yes. What about Evie?"
        "She's a bit freaked by the whole thing with Friendly, but I think she'll be okay." Paul chewed at his bottom lip. "Keel, I know that the Catholic church frowns heavily on abortion, but... I'm feeling conflicted."
        "You don't see how Evie could be damned," Alva declared.
        "Exactly. I mean, her NDE had to be some sort of trick, with the precognitive visions of us thrown in to make it seem authentic. It just had to be," Paul protested. "I just don't see how God... how - "
        "How God could damn a perfectly nice woman to Hell for something her parents made her do when she was still just a kid?" Alva nodded. "My thoughts exactly."

*****

        Mid-afternoon the next day, two interning doctors walked the halls of Suffolk County Mental Hospital, one who had been there longer showing the other around. "Have you worked the adolescent ward yet, Stratford?"
        "No, I've been stuck in the elderly ward all week. So what's the story with this one?" the intern asked.
        "Ah, this is Julie Swensen. She's schizophrenic, refuses to take her meds. Watch out for her nails; sometimes they get behind on clipping them." He pointed at the teenage girl they could both see through the unbreakable glass window in the door.
        "Did she get you once, Linowitz?"
        "And how!" Dr. Linowitz moved on to the next room. "This one is Kellen Murtaugh. He's an extrinsic catatonic."
        "Extrinsic? So we know the cause of the catatonia."
        "Very good, Stratford. Yes, we do." They looked at the teenage boy with the jet black hair, sitting on his bed with one hand outstretched to the open air. The boy stared into the space close to his hand. "Kellen survived a pretty horrible mass shooting at his high school roughly six months ago. Another kid opened fire on the library and killed around 16 kids and three librarians before killing himself. Kellen was in the library, and was one of the few who did not get shot. But he saw all the others die."
        "Man, this ward is depressing. A teen girl with schizophrenia, and now this poor kid. So the trauma sent him into the catatonia."
        "Yeah," Dr. Linowitz replied. "He's displayed both catatonic stupor and catatonic excitement, mutism, echopraxia, and echolalia. Luckily, he still eats and follows most directions, but as you can see, isn't responsive to normal stimulus."
        Dr. Stratford ran through the list. "So he's got the long periods of immobility, the repetitive pacing, doesn't speak much, and sometimes obsessively repeats the movements and words of others. What about that other common symptom, the waxy flexibility, um..."
        "Cerea flexibilitas. Yeah, he's got that too," Linowitz confirmed. "If you went in there right now, you could pose him like a doll and he'd stay like that for hours."
        "Wow. Do we know who put him in that position?"
        "No, that's not a pose. Kellen was reaching for a friend of his, a girl named Audrey, I believe, to pull her under the table with him, and just at that moment, the shooter got her in the head. He, uh, reaches for Audrey a lot." Dr. Linowitz sheepishly scratched his head.
        Cringing, Stratford mumbled, "Man, that's brutal."
        "Yeah. Let's go in and introduce you. Dr. Grant thinks as much normal stimulation as possible will help bring him out of the catatonia." He used his key to open the door.
        The two doctors watched Kellen for several seconds. "He's like a statue. It's kinda creepy," whispered Dr. Stratford.
        "Remember, he's just a kid in pain. And he can hear you." Dr. Linowitz knelt into Kellen's eye-line. "Hi Kellen, this is Doctor Stratford. He's going to be looking after you too, at times."
        Stratford waved at the boy. "Hi." Was this ever awkward...
        To their surprise, Kellen slowly looked up at Dr. Stratford, leveled a hard glare at him, and began to scream. "AHHHHHHHHHH!!"
        The two doctors recoiled in shock, Linowitz springing to his feet. "Get a nurse!" he barked at the other intern. "He's never done this."
        "Mama!" Kellen screamed. "I want my mama!"
        "We'll get her, Kellen, just calm down." Dr. Linowitz hovered around the boy before finally touching his shoulders lightly, murmuring to himself, "Oh my God..."
        Within an hour, Mrs. Murtaugh had arrived at the hospital, and was allowed to see Kellen. He was talking, responding to her, and even ran to her for a hug for the first time since the school shooting. She cried harder than she had in a long time, and just held her baby for all the time they would allow. Finally, the doctor took her aside for a talk. Kellen was left alone in the room for several minutes.
        He eyed the security camera in the corner, up near the ceiling.
        Downstairs, one of the monitors in the main security room went snowy with static. "Huh, one of the cameras is out," a guard commented. If he hadn't had so many monitors to keep an eye on in the first place, he might have noticed the orange aura that surrounded the boy's image on the screen now, before the camera had been disabled.
        Kellen next glanced at the phone on the wall. After listening to the voices outside the door for a few seconds, he decided he had time, and stood up. He picked up the receiver. No dial tone. Well, that was easy enough to fix. Kellen wiggled two fingers in front of it, and suddenly it produced a dial tone. He punched in a number, waiting for the person on the other end to answer.
        "Hey. Yeah, it's Friendly. I'm in Suffolk County Mental, but I should be out of here soon. I made an amazing recovery, doncha know."


(Thanks to ducky for the beta.)

Where is My Tunnel of Light? is (c) 2004 Demented Stuff
Miracles is (c) 2003 Spyglass Entertainment and Touchstone Television

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