A journey home after a long absence can leave a foul taste in one’s mouth. The perennial question in the weeks following is what exactly leaves that sort of taste in your mouth. For Jack it was always the smell. It clung to him like a contagion, a visible aura of wretched memories that smelled vaguely of an antique store that nobody had visited in years. With the phone seemingly on a temporary strike, remaining stubbornly silent in the days following their return from Jack’s childhood home, Jack had decided this time should be used to clean up the office. The primary motivation was to be rid of the smell that seemed to permeate the air, emanating from everything he had been wearing that day. It just felt like the right time to fumigate every single item in the entire office to get rid of any lingering memories. The act of cleaning itself made being back in the office feel more real and brought Jack, what he had come to realize as, a false sense of closure to that part of his life.
The hum of the office vacuum cleaner provided a soothing background blending with the sounds of life outside the office window. The streets below would soon grow crowded with tourists heading to destinations in the mountains, places to get away from the grime of the city. Jack removed his new good jacket and examined the deep blue of it’s left sleeve. Disturbing the fabric, he caught a whiff of the old place, Jack pulled back and wrinkled his nose, “This smell will never come out, it’s like the house travels with me everywhere I go.”
Stan turned the vacuum cleaner off and surveyed the office. To his nose the Goodbody house was already nothing more than a faint memory, but for Jack this would be going on for weeks. “How does that family a’ yours smell so bad? It’s not like thems maids don’t do no work.”
Jack took his glasses off and massaged his nose, “Well the maids have no idea what to do cleaning a place like that. You can’t just dust and mop. You have to go deep and get rid of the root of your problem.”
Stan snorted deeply, trying hard not to chuckle, “Like that father a’ yours?”
Jack nodded absently, “Yes, Stanley, like my father.”
Idly fingering the small metallic object in his vest pocket, he ran his fingers over the engraving. A younger Jack would have given it to his father without a thought, a strange curiousity best left to his elders. An older Jack felt something off in this little piece of metal. The Mop Jack owned wiped things from existence. He had used it on Creepy Bug Guy, and yet this piece of metal remained behind. Someone had implanted it into Boris against his will, and his Mop couldn’t erase it. Jack hated it when thing didn’t add up.
Rising suddenly from his seat, Jack tugged the small bit of metal from his pocket and placed it on his desk, “Stanley, we’re doing an experiment. Grab your mallet and come over here.”
Slowly rising upward to his full height, Stan lumbered over to the cleaning supplies and retrieved his heavy cleaning mallet. Standing next to Jack, he raised it as high over his head as the ceiling would allow. Jack pointed to the Machina and Stan brought his mallet down on it with enough force to crack even the thickest skull. That one blow from the mallet should have been enough to break the desk in two, but it stood perfectly intact. The blow had imbedded the Machina directly into the top of the desk.”
Reaching down and touching it gingerly, Jack could see the circle of wood in the middle of the cylinder. Stan’s blow had, impossibly, thrust the piece of metal straight into the desk with no cracks around it at all.
“This desk is made out of mahogany. What the hell is that thing made out of that you could just hammer it in like that?”
Stan scratched his head, “It ain’t gonna be so easy to break them things.”
“No indeed, Stanley. I don’t want to give this to my father, but I guess I can’t destroy it. I wonder how many…” Jack trailed off at the sound of wood crackling.
“What the hell was that? Stanley, are you breaking the floor again?”
“Nope. Ain’t me, boss. That sound’s coming from the desk.”
As they watched, the desk’s legs slowly grew and stretched out. The drawers shot out and hit the wall hard, scattering supplies on the floor. In their place, razor sharp wooden teeth ground against each other. Given the state of Creepy Bug Guy, Jack had assumed this bit of metal only worked on living things. If they did anything to inanimate objects, it would be minimal at best. The office desk becoming a monster gave him cause to rethink that. It rose up on its back legs and roared at Jack. The phone fell off the desk and hit the floor, clattering away.
“Hey boss, why does all them pieces of furniture you buy wanna kill you?”
“I would tell you to ask that smartass credenza, but he had a smart mouth. This seems like something different. If you please, Stanley.”
Stanley hefted his mallet up again, hesitating before he brought it down, “Boss, I ain’t never killed no baby desk before. It don’t seem right.”
Jack considered that for a moment, “It also doesn’t seem right that my desk is trying to kill me.”
While they were debating, pandemonium erupted in the office. The phone, still on the other side of the desk, began ringing. The desk charged forward, it’s jaws attempting to clamp down on Stanley’s leg. It was unable to fit his leg into its mouth, but that wasn’t for lack of an incredibly enthusiastic effort. Unbeknownst to Jack, Stan must have been hoarding away a stash of cigars somewhere in the deep recesses of the desk. It began to belch smoke as it assaulted Stan, earnestly attempting to chew his leg off. Stan brought the hammer down in a less than dispassionate display of furniture demolition. Shards of wood bounced off the walls as the desk splintered into tiny pieces.
“Why are the pretty ones always so violent, Stanley?”
“Ain’t you gonna answer the phone, boss?”
Quickly retrieving the strange piece of metal from the wreckage before dashing across the room, Jack reached down and snatched the phone from the ground, cradling the receiver in his ear as he surveyed the damage. Desk splinters were sticking out of walls, and wood dust from the force of Stan’s blow lay in trails all around the floor, “Hello, Jack and Stan cleaning services. The skeletons in your closet are our specialty.”
“My grandmother needs cleaning.”
Until recently, Jack considered himself to be relatively unflappable. His recent string of bizarre clients and strange jobs were giving him cause to reassess that conclusion. “I’m not really sure that’s our line of work. Have you considered calling a health care professional?”
“NO, that’s not the problem. My grandmother used to be incredibly neat. She never needed any help at all, but over the last few weeks she’s started to deteriorate. I’ve taken her to dozens of doctors. They all say the same thing. She seems perfectly fine, mentally and physically healthy, but my wife and I know something is wrong.”
“And that’s why you called me?”
The voice on the other end of the line sighed with relief, “Yeah. If there are no natural causes to be found, the solution is likely beyond natural. If I’m going to hire someone to clean her apartment, I’m going to find someone who can actually figure out what’s going on.”
Jack dug through the remnants of his top drawer until he located his notepad, “Alright, we’ll take the job. Give me your name and address and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”
“Oh, thank God. My name is Mike Meriet. I live in Oldport, New Hampshire.” He gave a street name and details on how to get there if the GPS failed.
New Hampshire tended to be an interesting place to work, because it was where the crazies went so nobody could find them. Everyone kept to themselves in that state, so it was easy to blend in simply by keeping your head down. Jack had a bad feeling that something horrible had happened to this woman, which excited him because they were in dire need of a good job.
“We’re going with a full loadout, Stanley. I’m not taking any chances after the last job.”
“We cleanin’ grandmas now?”
“We’re cleaning her apartment and looking for any signs of tampering.”
“On the grandma?”
“If it comes to that, but it likely won’t. Load us up and I’ll gather the remains of the office desk.”
While Stanley took their cleaning supplies down to the van, Jack grabbed a broom and swept up the dust from the desk, which had spewed all over the floor. Carefully, he brought the sawdust over to a giant metal bucket and dumped it, quickly holding the dustpan over the top of the bucket to ensure none of the dust escaped. Sentient furniture had a nasty habit of infecting other furniture and giving them the willies as well. In rapid order, he made his way around the room and yanked all the bits of wood out of the wall and placed them gently in the bucket, before arranging the rest of the wood around it in a neat pile. By the time he was done, Stan had fully packed the van. It stood ready and idling outside, Stan already sitting behind the wheel. Hopping into the van, Jack gave Stan the address and they were off towards a new adventure. The best way to get rid of the bad taste of family visits was with work.