Time, the enemy of all mankind, mocked Jack all the way back to his childhood home. So much time had passed that Jack didn’t even recognize the roads around his house. Time was also all too rapidly fading away before he would have to get out and face the one man that could send shivers down his spine, his father. The road leading to the old Goodbody mansion led out of town and twisted its way around a nearby mountain before passing beyond black, twisted gates and into a private drive that vanished beneath the shadow of massive trees. When Jack had left his home, the road had been much better maintained, but now weeds had begun to spring up from under the pavement and the bushes that lined the way had grown threateningly unkempt.
Jack leafed through the pages of the folder as their van cruised along the winding roads. The trees had grown thick on either side, cutting off the wind and creating an eerie silence, broken only by the sound of the van and occasional grunts from Stan. After an interminable passage of winding road, the drive forked suddenly to the left and immediately into an enormous black wrought iron fence. Stan slowed down until the gates swung open of their own accord, shrieking out a welcome as they somehow forced themselves to move. On either side of the gates, stone walls disappeared into the woods, which had long ago conquered and made the Goodbody property their own again. Atop the walls immediately next to the gates, two weathered angels stared down the road, their weathered faces set in eternal vigilance.
“Hey boss, how comes you never cleans your own house? It’s a mess and ain’t it scarier than all reason?”
Jack shrugged noncommittally, closing the folder and returning his attention to the road ahead of them, “Somehow scarier beyond all reason is far more terrifying when it’s your own house. People laugh when they hear stories about crocodiles found lounging under other people’s beds, but their own bed is a little too close for comfort. Also…” Jack trailed off as they reached his house. At five stories, it loomed above the tree line. The house itself was large enough for the entire Goodbody clan, along with servants and staff. When the founder of their family coined the phrase, “Veraciter Vivimus” he couldn’t possibly have known how profitable following your passions could be.
Stan parked the van in front of the main entrance to the house. Jack’s old home still had a grand front to it. Two statues of Roman soldiers stood on either side of the main entrance, each holding the other’s arm above the door to create a lintel. Their free hands grasped their swords menacingly. What parts of the house that were painted remained a brilliant white, but the paint itself was peeling in many places and the flakes of paint hadn’t been cleaned up from what was left of the lawn. The windows that covered the front of the house were all decorated in their own unique style, an outward expression of the willful nature their occupants so often possessed. Even though many family members, such as Jack, maintained their own places these windows remained a wildly disparate collection of personal ideals on the tapestry that was the Goodbody home. Half the windows were boarded up, however, and many of the remaining windows were also in poor repair.
Jack paced his way up to the front door and stopped, taking a deep breath. He had sworn he would never go back, he had taken all his things with him and here he was walking back into this life he had left behind. He put his hand on the door, testing the weight and feel of both it and his own convictions. As Jack pushed tentatively at the door, Stan lumbered up behind him and simply shoved both the doors open. Ducking his way inside, Stan looked around the house he had hoped he would never have to visit again, waiting for Jack to follow.
Jack had often wondered if smells could do battle. The smell flowing out from the house was one of stagnation and mothballs. Jack stepped gingerly into the house, waiting for the rest of it to hit him. The entrance to the home was hung from wall to wall with trophies of hunts past. The taxidermied body of a were-wolf stood at the base of the stairs, its mouth frozen in a snarling grimace, cursed and haunted paintings. It stood on a thick wooden base that had two small holes in it about a foot apart, as though the base had born a plaque at some point. The hall hadn’t changed since Jack had last visited his home. Stan pulled out a cigar and lit it, taking a long puff before putting his matches away. The smell of his cigar put Jack a bit more at ease before Stan’s grunt of surprise brought him out of his reverie. His cigar had been cut off around an inch from the lit end. That end of the cigar was now resting on a pie server that was embedded in the wall. And here began the trouble.
“Mister Stanly Whitkins, how many times must I tell you there is no smoking here?” A voice so shrill could only belong to one woman. Madeline, the head maid of the house, had been here since before he was born. Jack had long given up attempting to figure out how old she was, she had appeared roughly the same his entire life. Her maid’s uniform was crisp to the point of being sharp. Her red hair, pressed down neatly, made it appear as though the sunrise were just peeking out from over the top of her head.
Despite Madeline’s short stature and Stan’s height, he instantly caved, “Sorry, maam. Force’a habit.”
Madeline ignored him and curtsied to Jack, “Young master Jack, I expect you’ll be here to see your father. He’s upstairs in the study, says he can’t stand the noise down here.”
Jack looked up the stairs and clutched his folder tightly, “I wonder why that is. I’ll head up to see him. Feed Stan and I’ll be back to collect him shortly.”
Stan smiled widely as Madeline began to sputter out protests. Feeding Stan was an expensive proposition at the best of times. Jack had already left those petty squabbles behind and started up the stairs. The house seemed quieter than he remembered it being. The Goodbody family used to be a community. The house was more of a place where all the family could meet, than a home in the proper sense. Jack’s footsteps echoed up and down the stairs as he counted down the flights until judgement. One flight, two flights, three flights. The door of the study loomed at the end of the hallway. Around the doorway, a grandfather clock had been roughly carved into the wall. The edges around the etching were smooth, showing the age of the design. The door stood in the middle of the clock and carved into the surface of the door was an ornate hour glass. The sands had mostly run to the bottom of the hour glass. Behind that door sat the old study and his father, both relics of a bygone age that would never come again. Jack took a deep breath and pushed the door open.