In another world on another day Jack and Dr. Lightning might have become good friends. They shared a love of order and cleanliness that bordered on a diagnosis of some sort. In this world, today, it was what made their clash inevitable. The smell of lemon scented cleaner came creeping down the hall, mixed with the faint scent of Miss Smith, his last patient that had exploded in that room. Sighing in annoyance and putting his notes down, Dr. Lightning got up and pushed his chair back.
Down the hall, Jack was starting in on the second layer of caked on people. The first layer on the walls had been the easy part, only requiring an hour or so of work before it was done, sealed in buckets, and out the door to the back of the van. The second layer was proving more difficult. Jack was interrupted from his reverie when he heard a knocking at the door. Dr. Lighting stood in the doorway, somehow ominous despite his harmless looking attire, “Might I ask you a question, Mr. Goodbody?”
Jack stood up and dropped the cloth he was using into the current bucket, “Certainly Dr. Lightning…” Jack trailed off as thunder sounded loudly and near enough to make all three of them jump. The house shivered slightly when Stan hit the ground again.
“Has that been happening every time you said my name?” Dr. Lighting trailed off, looking around the office. Such progress and in such a short amount of time. He had been a fool not to hire them sooner.
“Pretty much without fail. I was wondering if perhaps you could tell us your real name so we could…”
“Anyways, I note with some displeasure that you are using lemon scented cleaners in my consulting room.”
Jack cocked his head, raising a brow slightly at the question, “Well yes. The scent does mimic the sort of smell you get in a hospital, and once the blood is gone I’m sure it will help to boost patient confidence in your abilities, Dr. Lighting.” The thunder roared again, but neither the Doctor nor Jack reacted in the slightest this time.
“I find your care for my patients…touching.” The doctor hesitated, looking at the walls again as though searching for the most diplomatic phrase he could, “But the smell of your cleaning supplies clashes with the smell of my own cleaning supplies and I find the battle most inconvenient for my research.”
Jack’s left eyebrow twitched, “I can come back once the cleaning is done and get rid of the scent by using whatever brand you use to give it a once over.”
Doctor Lightning nodded, looking around again at the progress, “And what have you been doing with the remains? I mean the stains…stains on the wall.”
“I’ve been putting them in buckets and taking them out to the van. We’ll bury them at the usual place before I can consider this job wrapped up.”
Doctor Lightning adjusted his glasses, huffing gently, “I must insist that you take them to the backyard and let me handle them myself. I still need to test them for results.” With that, before Jack could respond one way or another, Dr. Lightning left the room as suddenly as he had come.
Jack clenched his left hand tight enough to break the scrubbing brush in his hand, “Who the hell does that bastard think he is?” Stan backed away from him slowly, getting back to work on the walls, suddenly very grateful that they hadn’t brought the mop along with them after all.
The rest of the afternoon was slow work with only a few more interruptions from the doctor to complain about various inconveniences that the war of scents was causing in the house. Dr. Lighting complained about how his tea tasted of lemon and toilet bowl cleaners. Off brand cleaners. He was getting a headache that felt like lemons were copulating in his brain and this made research quite impossible. Every complaint grew more and more forceful until Jack could barely keep his temper in check.
The sun had started to sink behind the row of houses across the street and the street lamps slowly flickered on in a row down the road. The walls sparkled as though they had never been introduced to the liquid remains of what must have been a sizable chunk of Dr. Lightning’s client base. Jack had been around long enough to know that, much like the Phoenix, Dr. Lightning’s list of clients would come back stronger than ever. This is what a shortage of qualified doctors does to people.
With the cleaning done and the resulting filth in dozens of buckets, Jack went to find Dr. Lightning and discuss the final details of his cleaning request, as petty and unneeded as they were. Complaining about the cleaning scent was akin to hiring a painter and giving them no directions and then asking them to paint your house again, using an entirely different coat of paint which the painters would have to pay for out of pocket. That sounded like something Dr. Lightning would do too.
Jack fumed all the way down the hallway to the doctor’s office only to find it empty. His desk lamp was on, but the room’s overhead lights were off. Jack flipped the switch and made his way over to the desk. Had the doctor simply left them here to finish up? There was no evidence of a struggle and no other way to leave the house. At least, none that Jack could see. The rhythmic thumping down the hall told Jack that Stan was coming closer. Eventually, he inched his massive frame through the door, having to duck a little bit.
“Them buckets is out front. Where’s Dr. Lightning?” Thunder crackled in the background, albeit softly as though it was just as confused by the sudden disappearance of Dr. Lightning as they were.
“I don’t know, but I’m not accustomed to letting people skip out on bills. He owes us around seven or eight hours of work and he’s going to pay us.” Jack scanned the wall of books on one side of the room. With a horrible name like Dr. Lightning, Jack assumed he also had some sort of secret underground lair. People who come up with horrible pseudonyms often have secret underground lairs, they’re just weird like that. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught a glimpse of a newspaper on the desk. It was quite old, at least a decade or so.
The headline detailed the results of a horrific killing spree around a camp at a place called Silver Lake. That name pulled Jack out of his reverie and he went in for a closer inspection. Underneath the paper was a sheaf of files marked, “Silver Lake Project.” Later, Jack picked up both the paper and the files tossing them over to Stan who caught them with one hand. “Take those to the car, I’m going to find our employer and make him cough up a check.
Stan nodded placidly and headed out to the van to hide away the files. Jack turned to the wall of books. With a name like Dr. Lightning, the book he would have to pull in order to get the door to open would be blisteringly obvious too. After mere seconds of scanning the shelves, Jack focused on the one that stuck out to him. Paradise Lost. As he had expected, a whole section of the wall pulled back to reveal a passage heading down under the house. What Jack could not expect was what he would find there.
The greatest myth of suburbia is a thing called normality. When you peruse the endless list of horror titles written in the last decade or so the reader always reacts with apparent shock to the depravity that can exist in your average neighborhood, hiding behind clean white picket fences and manicured lawns as though such a thing as normality existed anymore. Jack, for one, was certainly grateful that it did not or he would be out of a job. Take this hallway down to an underground lair which likely featured a lab where Doctor Ligh…the client likely sinned against God and nature by performing horrible experiments. It smelled heavily of pine cleaner and the walls had a fresh coat of paint that had been applied in the last couple of weeks. It was well lit and ventilated, with clear directions to the various chambers of horrors printed in neat lettering on signs one might expect to find in a local hospital.
“If only all mad doctors and scientists were so thoughtful.” Jack mused aloud as he read the listing of rooms on the wall. The hallway formed a fork, heading in two different directions. One lead to the office and the other one lead to the lab. Jack thought back to the office and the state he had found it in, struggling to get inside the doctor’s head. They were quite similar in many ways, but pine scented cleaner? Why don’t we just hang a car air freshener in the room and call it a day?
Shuddering, Jack gave up attempting to understand the doctor and decided to start with the lab. Even if the doctor wasn’t there to greet him, likely there would be something worth stealing. Also, Jack still found himself concerned with the newspaper and the file. A client using a pseudonym was nothing new to Jack, even if this one was slightly more inept than usual. The newspaper was slightly more unsettling. Silver Lake, the place where Jack had spent the last couple of days cleaning, had more than its fair share of killers to go around. Between Creepy Bug Guy and the drowned brat, the nearby campground ended up in the newspaper more often than most politicians and had quite the death toll which added up over the years. As Jack’s father would say, when two or more coincidences come together then clearly you are not asking the right questions.
The lab showed signs of being hurriedly cleaned out. All the files lay in a jumbled pile in the middle of the room, burning and leaving a cloud of smoke gathering around the ceiling. More disturbing were the cages on the far side of the room, all of which had recently been occupied but no evidence of their occupants remained. The doors swung back and forth loosely, oiled hinges working as well as Jack expected all the doctor’s equipment did. Nothing left. Not a scrap of evidence, not any mad experiments gone horribly wrong. It was all terribly boring, and the pine scent had begun to weasel its way into Jack’s head, making it ache slightly. On the way out, Jack stopped and looked down the other corridor towards the office. The door was still locked solidly and there was no smoke coming up from under the door.
There were a lot of questions that required answering, but this was not his job anymore. That wasn’t to say that he didn’t want to track down the doctor. He owed him pay for a day’s work after all. The file labeled “Silver Lake Project” worried him, however, and it had been a long time since he had gone home. Maybe it was time to pay his father a visit. Bring the file, collect a finder’s fee. Doing more than that would be taking a step back into his old life, and taking what he had found to his father was already skirting too close for comfort to Jack’s family.
By the time Jack got back to the office on the main floor Stan was there waiting for him. With a mop over his shoulder, Stan sat on the desk which bowed slightly under his weight. He had pulled out and lit a fresh cigar. The cigar smoke had already permeated most of the room and no amount of cleaning was ever going to get every trace of it out. Under most circumstances, Jack would have been annoyed but given their current client he let it slide. Certainly he preferred the familiar smell of Stan’s cheap cigars to the smell of that abominable pine scent. If forests were evil, they would be evil pine forests.
Stan stood up and took another long puff of his cigar, “So the doctor left the building?” He almost sounded hopeful as he said it.
“So it would seem.” Jack gathered the papers left on the desk and turned for the door. “You got those buckets in the van? We’re going to need to take them someplace special.”
Stan paled a bit at this, reaching the conclusion unusually fast, “I don’t wanna go to your home. Thems family members you got is crazy.”
Jack strode out into the hallway, taking his time and flipping open the folder. The opening twenty pages or so were newspaper clippings of a series of murders. The next twenty pages were reports on the capture by Doctor Lightning of one such murderous monster and attempts to replicate the creature. The documents only got more horrifying from that point on. “I know, and I agree. My family is entirely crazy. But this,” Jack closed the file and waved it in the air, “this is a whole new brand of insanity and my father needs to know about this.”
Before he left, Jack made sure to shut the hidden passageway and lock the house up, taking all the keys with him. He didn’t have the time or desire to check out the office now, but he would come back later, hopefully before the doctor decided the coast was clear and came scuttling out of wherever he had hidden himself away. Getting back into van, Jack checked to make sure they had room for all the buckets of former people they had collected.
“We’re charging him overtime for this. So far as I’m concerned, we’re still on the clock right now.” Stan grunted in agreement as he ducked into the van and started her up.
“Home?” Stan sounded hopeful as he backed out of the driveway, the evening sun glinting off the windows of the quiet white house.
“Home.” Jack confirmed as he looked out the window, “It’s time to go home and tell father what’s been going on.” Stan gulped visibly, but drove on, headed for the oldest remaining house that belonged to the Goodbody family. It could hardly be called a family estate, since that had actually burned down years before in a tragic accident. This one did have the advantage of being much closer. It also had the disadvantage of being much more personal. Jack opened the folder and looked through the files again, wanting the drive to take as long as possible, but fully knowing that no drive could ever be long enough between him and home.