The Goodbody estate was, like many buildings in this world, many things to many different people. For some, it was a house that represented war and oppression. For others, it was a symbol of hope from a darker time. For Jack, it was a home and a past that was best left forgotten, or at the very least unacknowledged. The old study lay at the heart of all those things, no matter what truth or myth one applied to it. Despite the summer heat, there was a fire roaring in the fire place on the far wall. The curtains were pulled closed and the only other light in the room came from a candle sitting next to an enormous chair. The smooth black leather reflected the light from the fire, metal studs ornamentingthe front of the chair dazzled Jack’s eyes in the darkness and gave the chair a martial appearance.
The chair, however, met Jack emptied of its usual burden. Jack’s father was nowhere to be seen. He found himself wandering the room and scanning the rows of old dusty books. One in particular caught his eye, seemingly out of place in the dry tomes his father preferred. Jack pulled it out easily, it was a slim volume that had more pictures than sense, but Jack had read it often as a child. “The Five Families of Glory.” A baby’s first primer on those families who lorded it over the world Jack had been born into as though they were royalty and their authority passed down through their very blood. The book’s cover was simple, a circle with the mottos of the five families on the edges.
Carefully cracking open the book, wincing at the crinkling sound the yellowing pages made, Jack read aloud the lines about the first family, “The Nair family hates to fight. They love peace and hate war. Their motto is, “The first and last.” They are very proud.” Jack flipped the page and chuckled, the Goodbody page had been ripped out of the book. Jack had a good idea as to where it resided now.
“Still reading children’s books, son?” The voice from the doorway sent a shiver down Jack’s spine. Staying right where he stood, Jack didn’t spare his father a glance until the rhythmic shuffling of his steps had ceased and the chair creaked slightly under his weight. Finally, Jack put the book back and centered the papers in the folder he still had tucked under his arm before walking around to the front of the chair and bowing to his father.
Varnes sat in the center of the chair, dwarfed by the massive sides and back of the seat, giving Jack the impression he was seeking an audience with a king. He wore a dark grey blanket, wrapped over his head like a cowl, which obscured his features in a darkness that radiated out from him and which the light from the fire and the candle almost seemed to avoid. Yet, when his hands pushed out from under the blanket and gripped the sides of the chair, Jack could easily hear the sides of the chair crack under Varnes’ unnatural strength. This was his father, the venerable Varnes Goodbody, head of the house and a former hunter himself. Former, Jack grunted in annoyance to himself. If time had forgotten his house, surely his father couldn’t say he was so fortunate.
“The prodigal son returns.” Varnes had a way of whispering, wheezing out every word so that it sounded quiet and yet it filled the room.
“Yes, Father…” Jack trailed off and shifted awkwardly, looking down at the folder in his hand. Without saying another word, Varnes reached out his left hand and beckoned his son closer. As Jack held the folder to his father, Varnes snatched it out of his hand with a speed that surprised Jack. Time dragged on as Varnes flipped through the folder before carefully placing it on the table next to his chair.
After another long pause, the hood shifted with Varnes’ gaze back to his son, “What do you make of this?”
Jack unconsciously straightened and looked straight ahead as he gave his report, “It sounds like this doctor has taken an intense interest in me and my doings. He’s found some use for dead cells, that much I can say for certain. His lab was empty, but the cages inside it had been recently occupied so either he was holding on to creatures or…” Jack trailed off and thought of Creepy Bug Guy, “Or he’s trying to create a new breed of monster?”
“Artificial monsters? Do you expect me to believe that someone could create such a thing?”
Jack shivered at the sound of his father’s raspy voice, “I wouldn’t have believed it either, if it weren’t for the folder. I don’t think whoever hired this doctor gave him enough time to manufacture a complete being, but modifying existing ones? That sounds well within his reach.”
Varnes wheezed and coughed for a bit, holding a hand to his mouth, “And what do you know about this doctor?”
“Nothing, really. At least as of now. I figured you would want to know, given how much you pine for the glory days.”
Varnes chuckled, Jack almost looked over his shoulder at the door, “The glory days, as you call them are dead. And that’s the way they should stay. But…” Varnes trailed off and gestured around them, “surely you must admit, this house experienced happier times when it was needed. When we were needed.”
Jack felt a dozen answers spring to his lips. The world was better not needing them. The world was safer without them. The family was happier without this house and this job. They all died in his throat, as they always did. “You may very well get your wish, father.” Varnes laughed, a rasping noise that made the room feel stifling before he trailed off into coughing. Once Varnes had gotten more or less under control, he waved to the door and turned back to the folder.
Jack made it to the door before Varnes said one more thing that stopped him cold in his tracks, “Son. Welcome home. You are always welcome home.” Jack laid his hand on the door knob and turned to nod before quickly excusing himself. The sound of the door closing echoed up and down the stairs and halls. Looking down the stairs, Jack caught the smell of roasted meat and the warm scent of a brick oven. Turning to the left of the stairs, Jack wandered down the hall, dust rising slightly with every step. Doors lined the wall, marked out by the lintels to show who occupied them. Much like the windows out front, many of the doors were locked shut and likely would never be opened again, their rooms remaining behind as monuments to their former Goodbody occupants.
At the end of the hall stood a white door, now greyed slightly with dust. The lintel was entirely unadorned, its former occupant more concerned with functionality than ornamentation. It had been a long time since Jack had come home and who knew how long it would be before he came back? Fishing an old key out of his pocket, Jack opened the door to his old rooms and stepped in. It hadn’t been touched since he had been there. The stacks of papers on his desk still awaited his perusal, his equipment box sat in the far corner, his tools in a sad state of disrepair. How long had it been? Jack couldn’t say. Only one thing in the room mattered. A picture on his desk, covered in the same coating of dust that had occupied all of his rooms. In the picture was his sister, a few other relatives whose names he couldn’t recall and a young child who had placed himself between Jack and his sister. He had the same sandy blonde hair that most of the family shared. Pulling the picture out of the frame, Jack hurriedly stuffed the memento into his pocket before retreating to the hallway and locking the door.
On his way out, Jack collected Stan from an extremely frayed and overworked Madeline and soon they were on the road. Stan only spoke up once they had finally left the mountain home of the Goodbody family behind. “What did he say?”
Jack idly fingered the picture in his pocket, “More than I expected, less than I would have liked. At least he knows what’s going on now, though I suspect that he knew about it before. It’s up to him what they do now. This isn’t my job anymore.”
Stan nodded emphatically and sped up a little more, “Home, boss?”
Jack stared out the window vacantly, looking into the darkness and seeing the past, “Home, Stanley. We have work to do.”