Web Serial: Episode Seven
Warnings: Mentions of suicide
Genre: Paranormal fantasy, magical realism
Summary: In the aftermath of Azael's attack on Duncan, more truths of Jasper Monroe are revealed.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
For his part, Jasper Monroe had given it a good shot.
Since the beginning of 2004, he forced himself to be alone, cut off from his family, his business, and even the strong circle of friends he’d had for decades. Slowly, almost without notice, he ostracized himself from everyone he knew, battling through the delusions, the madness, the night terrors that woke him screaming.
When it first began, it had been confined to his dreams, nightmares that shocked him from slumber with sweat soaking the sheets beneath him. Those terrors were bad enough all on their own, the torture of his own imagination more haunting than a dozen intense investigations.
Then, it crept into his space, moving objects, freezing the air. It coiled around him, the scent of night-kissed sulfur lingering for hours, days.
After a year, Jasper finally had enough. The thing haunting him found great pleasure in sniffing around his children, striking pure fear into Jasper’s heart more surely than anything it might have done to himself. Jasper resolved to banish the creature, once and for all.
Three times with three different aides, Jasper attempted to evict the creature. It mocked his attempts, curling around him more tightly, giving him visions of the horrors it had in store for him and his young family.
Panic began to take him, so Jasper determined to contain it. He pushed the creature into a dybbuk box, sealing it to prevent further interference from the creature haunting his soul.
The wax-sealed box engraved with spells to keep the spirit contained was buried far from Jasper’s Texas home. Once it was buried, Jasper felt the darkness haunting him lighten for the first time in years. He went back to his family, to his life, content in knowing that the thing haunting him was gone.
But it was not.
Jasper awoke one morning with no recollection of the evening before. He was in the front seat of his car, parked precariously on the edge of a tall hill he did not recognize. Dirt covered his clothing, caked on his hands. Beside him on the seat, the dybbuk box sat, its wax seal in pieces, the contents scattered on the seat.
He heard its voice, the rasp of it sending chills down his spine. Fighting the fear and panic gripping his heart, Jasper gripped the steering wheel, his fractured mind trying to determine his next move.
No matter how he would miss them, how they might never understand, Jasper could not return to his family. If this thing was so powerful as to take him back from beyond the confines of a dybbuk box, what could it do now released?
Smiling, though the gesture was without warmth or pleasure, Jasper shook his head. He climbed atop the short, plastic table on his rented 12th floor balcony, with desert wind whipping at his ash-blonde hair.
Weariness sank into his bones. Over the last years, Jasper found no solace even in sleep. The creature, the demon, attached to him invaded every thought, every moment of his life. It twisted his thoughts, broke his dreams, turned him into a shadow of the man he had once been.
All of that he might have endured. After breaking away from the dybbuk box, however, Jasper noted the creature had a new, increasingly alarming, fascination.
It often searched his memories, scrolling through Jaspers 54 years of life. One would have expected the creature to torture him with horrors from his past or nightmares made from his greatest fears. Alas, this was not the case.
Instead, Jasper found himself reliving familiar moments over and over again. His falling for the quick-wit and dark eyes of his spitfire wife. Teaching his son – Oh, Tana – to throw a baseball. Taking over the business from his father and grandfather. Memphis sitting on his knee singing a silly version of Jingle Bells in her princess pajamas.
It was on his beloved daughter that the creature recently fixated.
Day by day, it replayed memories of the youngest Monroe. Jasper was treated to his steel-spined offspring’s first investigation, her high school graduation. One by one, with almost painstaking precision, Jasper and his dark companion revisited every one of his memories of little Memphis.
And then, last night, the thing haunting him whispered as Memphis took to the university stage as the fairy queen, Tatiana.
Horror flooded his heart on the heels of the ice in his veins. Jasper could weather the creature stalking him, since he kept it well away from his family. It could torment him to the grave, but he would never allow it to touch one of his children.
Jasper had come to the end of his journey. For too long, he kept the creature within him. The madness that descended on him had taken its toll. He could no longer determine fantasy from reality, friend from foe.
There would be only one way out.
Jasper smirked as the voice demanded he stop what he was doing. He knew the thing could not stop him, not when he was so resolved. It always tried to scare him when he made up his mind in this way, to stop what was happening to him in the only way that could truly free him from this torture.
Will not protect them.
“Oh, yes, it will.” Jasper murmured to himself as he stood at the railing. “It’s the only thing you’ve told me not to do over the years. You can’t haunt someone dead, can you?”
Jasper had completed the binding ceremony only moments ago. Now, the creature tethered to him thrashed against the restraint. It tried to pull him back, but the ritual Jasper conducted kept the thing burrowed within him, zapped of its strength. The spell would not hold long, but Jasper only needed a few moments.
He had already said his goodbyes, a trio of letters laid on the unmade bed. The creature tried to interfere with his goodbyes, but Jasper muscled through. Marisol would have to know he didn’t want to leave her, even after all this time. He’d done this to protect their children, to save Memphis from the thing that wanted her so badly.
The thought of his wife brought calm to his heart, as it always did. His beautiful Marisol, an incomparable wife, the best mother his children could have asked for. Jasper so wished he could lay eyes on her once more, to hold her in his arms. But if he put the children in danger, he would never forgive himself.
She knew how much he loved her, how much every moment of their quarter century together had meant to him. Jasper hoped she might find love again, someday. He could not bear for her to live her life alone when he was gone.
Reaching up, Jasper steadied himself as he stepped onto the ledge of the balcony. Far below, the edges of this thriving city came alive as night descended. Here, so far from everyone he loved, no one would mourn him. He only hoped the identification in his pocket would ensure he was returned home.
Before he stepped off the ledge, Jasper looked up. He stared straight into the sunset, as though he could see a familiar set of gold-streaked brown eyes before him.
With that, Jasper stepped off the balcony and into the final fall of his life.
Warm afternoon light poured through the wide windows of the living room, chasing away the shadows that gathered in the night. Memphis had not slept since the attack, since a cry of her name threw her from fitful slumber into battle with the creature haunting their lives.
Seeing Duncan at the fallen angel’s mercy, his blue eyes wide with horror had chilled her to the bone.
The voice haunting her dreams tried to claw back into her mind, but Memphis gave it a shove away. Fearing the more she lingered in thinking of the creature gave it more power, she tried to keep it out of her mind as much as possible.
Duncan’s chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm beneath her cheek. She’d laid her head over his heart as he finally drifted back into sleep, listening to the regular inhales and exhales as he slept. How close had he come to losing that battle the previous night? Memphis hadn’t the heart to ask Tony as her beloved brother-in-law gave Duncan the all-clear.
His arm curled around her back, holding her close with their legs thrown together. She hadn’t returned to her room after the attack, preferring to entangle her body with his, to tether him to reality.
Seeing the creature the previous night hadn’t done a damn thing to soothe her. That hovering, murderous dark prince lying over Duncan, trying to squeeze the life from him had chilled her in ways nothing else could have. It looked exactly as she might have anticipated: a sort of tragic, evil beauty.
What she had not anticipated was how they were able to rebuff it. The light had come not only from Duncan and her empathic brother, but herself and Tony. Only together, the four of them, were able to push the fallen angel away.
They had not wounded it. Memphis knew better than that. At least it had released Duncan before it did any permanent harm, before it could lash out at her mother, Tana, or Tony.
A familiar hand squeezed her shoulder, dragging Memphis from the contemplation of her thoughts.
Her brother’s hand remained on her, his thumb rubbing soothingly into the joint.
Memphis nodded once. “Seems to be.”
“Want some coffee?” Montana seemed to understand that Memphis would not be leaving Duncan’s side, not yet.
Memphis nodded again, shifting her legs against Duncan’s, as though to reassure them both that she was still there.
The man beside her tightened his arm slung over her shoulder, as though to tug her closer. Memphis wriggled, just a little, so he could feel her beside him.
It wasn’t wholly unusual for Memphis to attach herself to someone new so easily. She had been known to make friends standing in line at the bank or while stuck in traffic. Montana might be the empath in the family, but Memphis had a way of finding people who needed her, or that she needed.
Which was Duncan?
As the coffee maker bubbled to life and Tana riffled through the kitchen, Memphis drew lazy, nonsensical patterns in Duncan’s shirt. The rise and fall of his chest remained steady, lulling her into a sort of trance, filling her heart with calm.
He smelled of apples and spices, the soap he kept in the guest bathroom.
As Memphis relaxed, she allowed her mind to wander.
Being an investigator meant she had knowledge to deal with situations such as this one. She’d been to dozens of hauntings, witnessed several demonic exorcisms, cleansed homes and objects from the evil squatting within. Though this was wholly personal, she knew better than to think of it personally.
What would she recommend a client do next?
They needed to discover what it was Azael wanted, didn’t they? Would opening a form of communication make everything worse or could they discover a better way to fight back?
As the rich scent of coffee rolled through the house, Memphis continued to mull over what was happening. Montana moved around the kitchen quietly, obviously trying to get breakfast ready. Since Tony was on days, it was likely that his husband would be out shortly to eat and ready himself for the 12-hour shift ahead of him.
Of course, the scent of coffee ensured Duncan did not sleep long. Much like herself, the smell was a sure-fire way to rouse the sleeping Scot.
“Memphis?” He muttered her name before he was fully awake, his arm pressing her into his side again.
“Right here.” She leaned her head back, finding those gray-blue eyes already on hers.
“Is everyone all right?” His question was tinged with sleep, that Scottish brogue thick.
“Fine.” Memphis replied. “How do you feel?”
Duncan paused, his gaze faraway, as though checking his parts for any sort of errors.
“Seems all right,” he answered. “My arm’s gone tingly though.”
With a gentle laugh, Memphis pushed herself into a seated position. Duncan rose as well, shifting his shoulder and flexing his hand. She moved back to allow him more room, watching as he rolled sore muscles.
As he moved his head, Memphis noted the bruising on his neck. Three, long purple marks on either side of his neck, as though the fingers trying to strangle the life from him the previous evening were real.
“How bad?” Duncan asked.
“It’s not that bad.” Memphis answered. “It’s just…”
“Obvious.” Duncan replied. He sighed softly, shaking his head. “I can’t seem to figure out what’s real and what was the nightmare.”
Before either of them could speak again, Tony came into the room. He already wore his light blue scrubs, carrying his medical bag in one hand.
“Sorry to break up the slumber party,” her brother-in-law said. “But I’ve got to look over the patient.”
Memphis nodded. “I’ll go check on Mom.”
Duncan reached out before she could slide from the pull-out bed, squeezing her hand quickly. Memphis offered a small smile, squeezing back before she moved down the hall.
She reached her mother’s door quickly, knocking lightly in case Mom was still asleep.
As she stepped into the room, Memphis found her mother sitting on her bed. The side of the bed where her father once laid was still made up, as it always was. Mom sat cross-legged, with a few sheets of paper on her lap.
Her mother looked up, grief and sorrow shining in the dark eyes that so mirrored her own. Memphis stepped closer, sliding onto the edge of the bed laying her head on her mother’s lap, as she’d done so many times as a child. The scent of rosewater surrounded her, bringing to the surface a thousand memories triggered by the aroma she always associated with her mother.
As her mother’s hand began to stroke her hair, Memphis closed her eyes, relaxing with the security of a child.
“I saw him yesterday.” Her mother’s voice broke the silence. “At the mausoleum.”
Memphis’ chin dimpled, sadness and heartache washing over her as though it were only yesterday that he’d died. She laid her hand on her mother’s knee, offering comfort at the same time she needed to receive it.
“He said something about being attached.” Her mother continued, melancholy still coating her words. “It made me think about the letters they found in Albuquerque.”
At this, Memphis sat up. Her mother handed her the envelope containing her father’s penmanship. Though the name on the envelope was in his familiar scrawl, the writing on the ‘letter’ was decidedly different.
It looked as though he had written the letter with his left hand, while in the car, on a bumpy gravel road. Though she had known her father left letters, Memphis had never read the one addressed to her. When her father died, it’d been too difficult to comprehend. His erratic behavior, his disappearance, and finally his death was just too hard for her.
“I don’t understand.”
Her mother shifted a little closer, the letters addressed to Memphis and Montana still on her lap.
“We didn’t know what was happening to him.” Her mother said. “We thought it was possession, but nothing worked. We even reached out to medical doctors, thinking it was his mental health. By that time, though, your dad had vanished.”
Memphis knew that much. She’d been at college in Seattle when it happened, when her father seemingly vanished without a trace. The family searched for years, finding no trace of their patriarch.
He hadn’t even returned when Grandpa died, which was the moment Memphis could not forgive.
They had no knowledge of where Dad had been until the police found his body on the sidewalk outside of that Albuquerque hotel.
Memphis tried to focus on her father’s note to her mother, but the words were disjointed, out of place, and so poorly written she could hardly make out a handful of them. What had he been trying to say? An apology for everything that happened? A profession of love to the woman who centered his world?
“I never opened yours,” her mother said. “But I dreamed of Jasper last night, and I think it’s time for you to open it, mi hija.”
She set the letter to her mother on her lap, taking the thin, white envelope bearing her name. Though she hesitated a moment, Memphis used her fingernail to break the envelope’s seal.
Removing the letter, Memphis swallowed over the lump now forming in her throat. Though her mother’s letter was incomprehensible, Memphis immediately noted that her letter was in her father’s familiar, neat handwriting. A new spear of grief struck her in the chest, but she began to read the letter aloud.
“Memphis, I’m sorry to do this to you. I’m sorry to do this to all of you. It has been a long, taxing, and terrifying few years. I’ve fought as much as I could, little one, but I fear I can hold it back no longer.
“I’ve done what I can to bind the fallen angel to me. With any luck, I’ll drag it to hell with me. I fought when it only wanted me, but I cannot allow it to do what it truly wants. I know you already understand. If my binding has not held, you must continue to fight it. Everything I tried has failed. I fear it may be up to you, my Memphis, to fight this thing when I am gone.”
Memphis paused, tears swimming in her eyes.
“Damn it, Jasper.” Her mother whispered.
“I know it isn’t fair. I know it isn’t right. If I could shield you from all that is about to happen, I would. I don’t know where it came from. I only know that it calls itself Azael, and it is an angel that Fell with Lucifer. The first mention we have of Azael is from the redacted Bishop case file. You’ll find the un-redacted files in Bishop. All the answers will be in Bishop.
“I love you, my little princess. I will miss you, so much. Be brave. Be clever. With love, Daddy.”
Memphis read the letter again, this time to herself. When she finished, she folded the letter and slipped it back into the envelope. Her mind tried to grapple with what she had learned, her father’s words, the discrepancy in his handwriting and the way he seemed to know she would be this thing’s next target.
“What I don’t get,” Memphis said. “Is how that haunting in Virginia even plays into this whole thing. Dad died in New Mexico, I was in Washington. Bishop is in Texas. I don’t get it. What the hell does this thing want?”
“I don’t know, mi hija.” Her mother admitted. “But I do think we need to go back to Bishop.”
Memphis exhaled slowly. “Tana’s not gonna like this.”
“Oh, I know. We’ll take the whole team. I’ll even give Clara a call.”
At this, Memphis exhaled again with a nod.
“Ok. Let’s go to Bishop, Mom.”