The drive to the Colonial Hotel acted as the calm before the storm. The mountains still carried with them the fresh beauty of spring and the crisp air that blew down from the mountains was enough to remind Jack that he was truly alive. Leaving the city meant leaving both the ordered streets, the regular fire hydrants and all the other markers of civilization, but going out into the mountains stirred something deep in Jack’s soul. As the van sped along the road through the foothills, the valley fell out before them and Jack let himself be whisked away by the experience. The bursts of fresh air carried with them the hint of cigar smoke that constantly surrounded Stan. The peaceful scenery and the prospect of the work had Jack’s pulse racing, and his mind wandered to the cleaning of the massive hotel. The winding road to the Colonial twisted and turned, revealing brief glimpses of the imposing building ahead of them before it slowly dipped below the tree line again.
The road finally gave way to the driveway that led up to the parking lot of the main building. Jack felt a stirring in his heart, a restlessness, a longing to be back in the middle of the action that set his feet itching to be out the door. Though the manager billed the hotel as an estate, all the property amounted to was a massive building and a hedge maze. The main building was made in the Tudor fashion, with black beams of wood that intersected with large sections of white wall that shone in the sun. Each window of the four-story building had two shutters made of dark wood with a goose in flight cut into them. The drive circled around the front of the building and back to the main highway after it passed the building, with a gravel road leading off into the trees to a parking lot. At each side of the building, gravel paths of white stone, which shimmered in the afternoon heat, led around the side. The hedge maze spanned off into the distance. In keeping with the style of the building the hedge maze held more of an English quality than most. The walls of shrubs were quite neat, but the groundskeepers had gone through and woven wild flowers into the them all wall making the walls appeared as one continuous vertical bed of flowers.
Sitting in front of the enormous white building with his head in his hands was the manager, appearing for all intents and purposes like a lobster wearing a fancy suit and a fake moustache. Stan pulled up to the front and shifted to open the door when the manager caught sight of them, “No!” his panicked voice echoed across to the parking lot causing a few guests heading to their cars to turn toward the noise. He waved congenially before darting to the van and whispering in the way parents do to naughty children that pierces all sound and draws the attention of everyone nearby, “Nobody knows anything is wrong yet! If you start bringing in your cleaning bags, people will get nervous and start demanding…” the manager hesitated and gulped,” refunds.”
Jack sat back in his seat heavily and adjusted his glasses, “And we can’t have that now, can we? We’ll head around back. We really should be starting in the kitchen anyways after the incident last year.”
The manager beamed and adjusted his ill-fitting black suit, “So good of you to understand. I’ll be in the office if you need me.”
“Onwards Stanley, much like the trash and the hobos, cleaners must enter from the rear.” Jack closed his eyes and clenched and unclenched his fists the whole way back. Things were so much simpler when he cleaned hovels with deceased owners because buildings usually had filth that one could easily identify.
Stan pulled the van around to the back entrance and shifted out of the car, jolting Jack out of his seat slightly as he hit the ground. Jack took a deep breath and hopped out of the van, stopping to take off his suit coat and roll up his sleeves. The cleaning supplies were more vital here than in other places. Most other places had something potentially fatal about them, but few places were as passive aggressive as the Colonial Inn. That was, in a nut shell, why Jack left the special cleaning supplies at home. Any damage that could be done with a crowbar held by Stan was enough to deter bad behavior for a little while anyway.
The doorway that led into the kitchen normally had two doors blocking entrance. One of them was a heavy white wooden door that would have taken several normal people or one Stan to lift and the other was a lighter screen door for when the weather turned hot. The larger door had been blown off its hinges and into the parking lot. “And so, it begins,” Jack muttered to himself and walked to the doorway. Cupping his hands over his eyes, Jack investigated the kitchen through the entrance. The screen door hung loosely from the side of the frame. It made a slight squeaky noise as it swung back and forth. Stan opened the back of the van and hefted his cleaning bag over his shoulder with a loud clanking sound.
Gingerly pushing at the screen door, Jack entered. The kitchen at The Colonial was hardly state of the art, but it looked like someone had gone positively medieval in there. That is to say, someone had started preparing a feast for a consortium of giants and ogres and had gotten as far as the grinding of bones for bread bit and then remembered they had forgotten to grab some spices and left the whole thing behind. Suspicious looking bones poked out over the top of bubbling pots that were a blatant safety hazard. The floors were slick with blood where they weren’t just covered in chunky bits. Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose and gestured over his shoulder with his free hand. Stan slide a long metal bar into it and Jack gave it a few experimental swings.
The main difficulty with the Colonial Inn lay in figuring out what was real and what was a horrifying figment of your imagination. Usually the Inn tried to scare you, but Jack didn’t find a blood-soaked kitchen with human ingredients scary so he could only assume that this vision was for Stan. At least he hoped that it scared Stan. Shaking that thought from his head, Jack raised the bar above his head and brought it down hard on the floor, leaving a slight divit in the ground.
“Either you let this little parlor trick go right now or I will smash every single table in here and then I’ll find your furnace and really go to work.” The Inn took a moment to think while the image of the kitchen flickered and shimmered. The choice was an easy one, the actual kitchen was populated with frightened two week’s notice’s was certainly dirty and had lost all power for some reason, but was not in fact covered with blood.
“Looks like we’re dealin’ with a problem child this year, boss. Want me to find them spooks on the third floor?” Stan reached for his bag ominously.
The spooks on the third floor had long been the bane of their existence. If the rest of the hotel was hardly easy to deal with, the handful of actual spooks on the third floor often acted as ringleaders. Jack often preferred to leave them to their own devices most years, reasoning that if they learned they would be left alone then they would be less likely to act up. This clearly was not one of those years.
“We’d better leave a few bruises this year. You go upstairs and pay them a little visit and I’m going to check out what’s going on with the power.” Jack raised a hand to cut off his companion’s protests, “I know, I know. That means going into the basement, but I think I’m ready for it this year. We’ll meet in the middle and clean the trouble areas starting with the staircase and then call it a day. The rest of the cleaning doesn’t require us. We just need to make sure that someone else can take care of it when the time comes.”
Stan turned to walk out of the room, seeming like a small undulating mountain with a slow gait. Jack turned to the door on the far side of the kitchen and rubbed his hands together. Time to get down and dirty with the first problem child of the season. The first step would be to attempt to restore power to the hotel by making some alterations to the electrical wiring and going down to the fuse box to repair the broken connections. Jack suspected that the power wouldn’t fully come back on until some adjustments had been made to some spooks faces, but for now he would just do his part and trust Stan to do his own masterful work upstairs.