Chapter 12: Farewell
The sight of the old estate brought back memories.
Beatrice could remember the time a neighbor came to complain about the overstuffed mailbox by the driveway. To this day it still has not been cleared out. She could remember the day the mistress jumped into the car crying out, "he's possessed!". It was on the same day the angel ran away to hide in the trees. The front garden was a mess as it always been. Aaron had torn through the blooming Victory Garden after his mother, in a rage, blurted out the war had killed his father. That event cast a stillness to the house that remained to this day.
Gone were the days where she would watch over the family with other guardian angels. The house would be filled with chatter every night. Laughter and conversation rose to a level she could hardly keep up. And she would watch the child Aaron grow up to be a happy and healthy boy.
It was not clear when she began to notice the change. One-by-one the guardian angels shrunk. Some claimed to have been rejected, others claimed the family lost faith. They shrunk until they could no longer be seen and then, like a magician performing a card trick, they disappeared. Beatrice, being the guardian angel of the youngest family member, was the last one remaining and watched the family tumble further and further into darkness.
There were now only two members of the family living in the farmhouse. The mistress was in the living-room, sitting with her elbows cradled in her palms. Her hair was a mess as if she hasn't combed for days. Visible wrinkles were on her forehead and around her eyes, something Beatrice swore she had never noticed before. The mistress of the house was an energetic, strong-spirited woman, but today there was a niggle of worry in her eyes. Beatrice wished she could somehow comfort the woman and tell her everything was going to be all right. But in the end, she could not do anything but leave her alone.
The floorboards on the stairs still creaked. Holes in the wallpaper remained exposed. The angel would never land on these areas for the fear of alerting the family, but today she climbed each step. The mistress did not lift her head at the squeak and groan of the floorboards at the angel's every step.
Ah, Aaron's room. The door, to the angel's concern, was shut with a large 'DO NOT DISTURB' sign on its handle. There seemed to be a lack of activity inside, and for a moment, she wondered if Aaron had even returned home. Could a demon go on possessing for twenty-four hours straight? Unless something happened to him on the way back… no, no. Beatrice shook her head to get rid of that thought as she jumped for the handle. He had to be home. He had to be.
The handle was further up from the ground than she anticipated. She hopped again, stretching out her arm as high as she could. Had the handle always been that high? No, it was her. She had shrunk. Eventually, she'll be but a speck of dust that would disappear from this world. But right now was too soon. Somewhere deep down still had a candle burning a small flame and thus, she kept trying, begging her wings to lift her up, begging the handle to move, begging that she would not run out of time before she had a chance to see Aaron.
The tip of her fingers bumped the cold steel and a click sounded. Beatrice almost fell over as the door slipped open. A large map of Europe pasted on one side of the wall welcomed her. Red arrows and circles drawn with a felt-tip marker completed the picture. Beatrice always felt the need to swallow at the sight of it. The boy had wanted to search for his father. He had spent a large amount of time drawing up the symbols. Whenever he drew one, it felt as if his sanity was slipping further and further away from reality.
Forcing herself to turn away from the wall, the angel's eyes met with a lump lying on top of a narrow bed. The boy was wrapped in the covers, bundled up as if it was the middle of winter. The sight of him made the angel let out a quiet moan. Aaron was home! Beatrice jumped to his bedside, climbing up the mattress to meet the back of his head burrowed deep into the pillow. He appeared fast asleep. Safe and sound. He was probably exhausted, but at least he was safe and sound.
"Oh, Aaron," Beatrice whispered, leaning in close enough that she could hear his breathing. "You poor, poor thing."
To her astonishment, the boy stirred. Under the covers came a scratching sound before the boy turned his head towards the angel. Beatrice felt her heart sink at the sight of a bandage on his chin.
"What have they done to you?"
The boy did not give any sign he had heard her. In the past, he would have caught snippets of her words, giggled at her exclamations, and followed her instructions. She has not had a conversation with him since the day he denied her existence and dismissed her as nothing but an 'imaginary friend'. The angel did not know how the boy would act upon her voice now, but she hoped he would still be able to hear her. And thus, she kept talking.
"You must've been scared. They took advantage of you—oh, that's all they do. They preyed on your innocent nature and all that hurt you have inside and turned you into something you're not. But I know the real you. I know the real Aaron wouldn't say all those disturbing things. Just look what they've done to your pretty face. Demons are the worst."
She paused, lost in thought. Reaching out a hand, the angel thought to stroke his hair but changed her mind. It somehow didn't feel right.
"I met a demon by the name of Momoka," she started, unsure why she had spoken out the words. She found it hard to stop. "She wanted to fit into our world after the loss of her only connection. She was genuine about it so I decided to help her. I got her to do a few good deeds—" She giggled. "You should've seen it, how silly she was. She was really serious about the whole thing."
Beatrice sighed. "Then she went and ruined her last connection, turned to that, and erased all my hopes. It's like she no longer wants to live on the surface anymore. That man, if we healed him, would have redeemed us. She would have done something to help Mrs. Morris and I would have gotten just what I needed. But now, it's too late. People change once they'd been possessed."
Beatrice sat on the edge of the bed, hugging her knees. A streak of light entered the room from a gap between the curtains, dividing the angel and the boy. It went unnoticed.
"Who knows, maybe you can't change nature," the angel muttered into her knees. "A demon would always be wicked and cruel. I thought she could go beyond. She even told me not to give up hope. We sound like the best of friends and I trusted her from the very beginning. But maybe... maybe we just aren't meant to get along." Silence. "I'm never befriending a demon again."
The silence boomed. There was no acknowledgment of her presence. Still, it felt good to talk, and Beatrice regretted that Aaron could not do the same. Although there were two beings in the room, to Aaron, he was all alone.
"Will you take me back?"
She did not expect the question to make any difference, but the boy seemed to have ceded. As Beatrice watched with widening eyes, Aaron sat up in bed and faced her. She waited for him to see her, pleaded for him to acknowledge that she was there. But then he turned to the window.
There was a furrow in his brows, a look of fatigue and annoyance as the boy reached up and yanked the curtains closed. The streak of light disappeared. He scrunched back into the covers and buried himself into the shade. Beatrice was heartbroken. That was not the answer she was expecting.
"Aaron, oh, it's all my fault," she cried, overcome with emotion. "I'm sorry I left you alone. I'm sorry I didn't return to you earlier. I'm so sorry." She sagged against the pillow, begging. "I never meant for any of this to happen. I'm supposed to be watching over you, protecting you. I'm supposed to show you what true love is, but all I've done is make you suffer. Forgive me. Please give me another chance. I will never leave you again if you'll just give me another chance. Please, please, take me back. I don't know who else to turn to."
The sob in her throat rose into a few hiccuped breaths. Her hands felt numb and she realized she has been clenching them too tightly. She released her fists, letting go of the peril that grasped her. She should have known. She should have seen this in hindsight. As the truth stared at her in the face, she had no choice but to admit it—admit she had lost her only place of human acceptance, her only reason to exist in this world.
The candle was burning out. She was going to disappear. It was inevitable. She was no longer Aaron's guardian angel. She was going to disappear.
There were voices downstairs.
Beatrice blinked open her eyes, finding her face pressed against the pillow. Nudging her eyes, she wondered when it was that she had fallen asleep. It seemed improbable, but it appeared she has been asleep for some time. The light from the curtains washed a paint of cool yellow into the room. Beside her, Aaron was snoring away, his soft purring reminded her of Momoka and the day they slept outside with nothing but a porch ceiling above. How at ease she had felt then, knowing there was someone she could turn to, knowing there was someone who could hear her every word and listen to her problems… knowing she was not alone…
Wait a minute…
The angel jumped to her feet, feeling her body. She was still here. She was still on Earth. It shouldn't have been possible—she was sure she would be gone—but here she was, still existing to another day. How was it possible?
"… The point is: we know where this demon might be hiding." A man's voice came through the door. "We want it caught. Expelled. And the only way to do that is with you and your son's help."
The angel's ears perked up to listen. What was this about expelling a demon?
"With all due respect, Father, you're asking me to feed my son to a demon," the appalled voice of the mistress responded. "I can't do that. How could you even ask for such a thing?"
"We are the children of God and the Devil is our enemy. We must cleanse our town of these evil spirits no matter what the means. There are those who have seen the Devil in broad daylight. Now we have a demon in the form of a black cat who had possessed your son many times. We are living in dark times, Ruth, and the people are getting desperate."
Beatrice jumped down the bed. Her heart pounded against her chest as she tiptoed across the floorboards. She squeezed through the creak of the door, facing the stairs. The voices coming up the steps were crispy clear as Beatrice stuck to every word.
"A black cat…" the mistress breathed. "Is that…?"
"Yes, that's the creature your son identified as 'Momoka'."
The angel almost tripped down the stairs.
"How can you be sure? I mean, I know we saw a black cat that night, but…"
"This young man here has confirmed everything," the priest replied. "He has… personal connections with the beast."
"It-it's a long story," a third voice stammered.
A jolt went through Beatrice at the familiarity of the third voice. It was a voice she could not forget the moment he was introduced, a voice that held too much significance for the demon she befriended. The angel jogged down to the first floor as fast as her legs could carry. She turned to the room and gasped. Although she had a hunch of what she would find, seeing it was still unexpected. There was the mistress sitting on the couch facing two men. One was the town priest, and the other was Paul.
But Paul? Paul working with the priest, talking about exterminating a demon—talking about exterminating Momoka? He was doing a complete three-sixty. The thought of Momoka being betrayed by her best human companion brought a sickening distaste to the angel's tongue. She needed to warn Momoka and fast.
Beatrice violently shook her head, clearing her mind away from the thought. How could she be so short-sighted? If she did end up warning Momoka, what then? Would they return to being friends, pretend the whole thing with the soldier never happened? No. Beatrice did not dare to think that way.
"Then explain to me about that raincoat," the mistress inquired, pointing to the blue garment folded in the priest's lap. "Why was that found at the scene? It's certainly not Aaron's."
The priest patted the raincoat gently. "We believe it belongs to the grandson of a deceased woman named Holly Morris. Both are residents of the house where the demon resides, although according to Paul here, the grandson has not been living there for close to four years. He only knew of him through Mrs. Morris' talks. We think Aaron went to retrieve it, likely under the demon's possession."
The priest shrugged. "A longing. An unfulfilled desire. The reasons could be many. Aaron was able to name the demon—it's not surprising they had some sort of communication. But what's important is that it confirms Paul's suspicions. The demon is still in that house."
Beatrice caught the mistress cringing at the last sentence. A moment of silence followed as the woman stared at the floor, unsure what to do. The priest waited, a look of sympathy on his face.
"We need an answer and soon," he finally spoke. "If you don't wish to go through with this, I understand. But I urge you to at least give it some thought."
"If you understand then you'll know how goddamn much I wish to get rid of this demon," the mistress stressed under her breath, making Beatrice shudder. "But I just can't put my son through any more of this stuff. He has been in bed for two days, and he has already turned away from faith because of me."
"Now, now, it's not your fault—"
"It is," the woman corrected sternly. "I was scared—scared this exact thing will happen if I told him. So I lied and told him his father was missing. He was so hopeful, everyday planning how to find his father, every day hoping he'll come back. But guess what? All that hope, all that planning—they were for nothing. I gave him false hope and I lost my patience, told him the truth at the worst possible moment. And now he is like a whole different person."
Beatrice whirled. Before she knew it, she was back in Aaron's room, slamming the door shut as hard as her tiny body could manage. Leaning against the door, she hung her head back and waited for the rise and fall of her chest to slow down. The mistress' words had hit her hard. It was more than she could handle.
"No one is blaming you for this. The demon is attracted to Aaron, that's all we can say. We can't deduce a reason and God is not quick to judge this upon your shoulders. Please take some time to think this over."
The words lingered in the air and would not go away. Beatrice slumped to the floor. Her pupils hovered to the boy, watching the covers rise and fall. She was so close to him—just a few feet—and yet she felt so far. The boy seemed so innocent, only reacting to the world in a way a nine-year-old knew how while never understanding the consequences. But he had changed. He was almost unrecognizable, a shadow of his former self. He had changed like the seasons, arriving slow, but obvious when here. His change meant Beatrice would no longer be a part of him. She was being replaced by something more sinister, more aggressive and power-hungry. A demon did not find him by chance, but rather he had welcomed it.
And Beatrice had remained in one season, oblivious to the change. No… she wasn't oblivious to the change. She just didn't want to admit that there was one. A part of her wanted to shout out that she was still here, she could still be with him, she could still be talking to him and watching him, and hearing his voice and experiencing things together with him. But none of it meant a thing. None of it meant anything if the boy was someone she did not recognize.
"Rather than blaming yourself," the priest added. "Know that if you help us wipe out this demon, you'll be doing this whole town a favor."
Beatrice closed her eyes, halting a tear from flowing out. Wipe out Momoka? Are they serious? They were serious. There was no doubt every word was real. How in the world did the situation come to this?
She furiously wiped her eyes with her sleeves, frustrated at the human's decision, frustrated at herself for being so useless, frustrated because all she could do was sit there and cry, cry at being left alone, cry because she was stuck being her old self while everyone else changed, cry because she did not understand a thing—
She bunched her fists, taking in a deep breath. She was done crying. There was no one around to comfort her, no one to convince her that everything will return to the way it was. There was no one to take her temporary to another world, no one to persuade her to turn her back on her problems, and no one to take her on an adventure that'll distract her from her misery. And that was all fine by her.
It was time to take things into her own hands.
She stepped to the bedside and looked up at the boy's doll face. It was the face she woke up to every morning, the face she watched everyday smiling and laughing. It was the face she saw every day for the last nine years. She had treasured every moment with the boy. Those were the good times and they should stay that way—as pleasant memories of the past, untampered, unpolluted, pure. She knew that if she stayed, those pleasant thoughts will darken, and the thought of that happening was worse than knowing she would never see him again. Her heart ached as she knew that if she left, it would be forever, and Aaron would probably live the rest of his life without a guardian angel. But it was for the best.
Climbing up the bed and leaning close to Aaron's face, she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and whispered a "farewell" in his ear. Her smile was tremulous as she rose into the air, stretching her wings and welcoming the strength, watching for a reaction as she glided to the door. As she expected, there was none, and she exited the room feeling freed. It was the time she focused her energy elsewhere.
And she knew exactly where.
In the hallway, the front door was wide open as the two men prepared to leave. Beatrice rushed after them, managing to slide through the door just as it closed shut. Wiping her forehead in relief, she gazed back at the house. One day she will return for a visit, but right now she needed to leave. There was a certain demon she needed to consult and a question she needed answered. There was a reason she did not disappear and she wanted to know what it was. She had a feeling the answer lied with the priest and perhaps with Paul.
Before the next thought could cross her mind, the door swung open, sending the angel tumbling behind. The mistress came shuffling out.
"Wait," she cried out as both men turned to face her. "I'll do it. I'll do it, but only if you guarantee me that it will work and Aaron will not be harmed."
Paul felt a smile coming to his lips at the woman's sudden change of heart, but the priest remained emotionless. Nevertheless, he showed his gratitude with a slight bow. "I'll see what I can do," he promised.
The mistress flashed an expression of concern. "It can't be guaranteed, can it?"
The priest smirked. He was not fooling anyone. "I'll let you know."
He would not say anything more. The mistress watched after the impossible-to-read man as he marched away in long strides with the young man struggling to catch up. Whether the priest was encouraged or angered by the woman's words was impossible to tell. She sighed and returned inside, freeing the angel from the tight gap between the wall and the door.
Beatrice shook away her disorientation and rushed after the priest. It occurred to her that her move was a strange one—after all, didn't she let go of the friendship she had with the demon? Such a decision to herself did not seem so important anymore. She was, in all truth, terrified at what transpired and what it meant for the future of a certain demon. Even as hurt and doubt clogged her heart, she did not wish for ill will to fall upon the demon she once befriended. Perhaps it was wrong of her to worry like this for it could hurt her in the long run, but she knew for certain she could not do one thing. She could not let this one pass and do nothing.