Jack and Stan had been on the road for several days and already the novelty had worn off. The only thing more trying than wandering around the back roads in the middle of the night, hopelessly lost and desperate for help, was being hopelessly lost in the back woods despite knowing exactly where it is you want to go. The Pine Scent hotel was a little, out of the way, one story motel that should have been condemned around the Reagan era. It lay nestled in a town that time had forgotten, but aging had not. The owner had a habit of making his guests mysteriously vanish in the middle of the night. While no relative had yet formally pointed fingers, its sinister reputation had ensured the place remained filthy and mostly untouched by cleaning implements for what seemed like an eternity.
The owner of the Pine Scent always stuck out in Jack’s mind as having no idea how basic human interactions worked. Certainly, the Pine Scent had given Jack a whole new view on what exactly constituted dirty. He found himself musing over the state of the rooms as he stared idly at the map. “Maybe we should just sabotage our own van, that worked last time.”
Stan shook his head, keeping his hands tight on the wheel, a lit cigar fuming away out the window as he drove, “Then we had to wait around while them neighbors tried to break down our door once we was done. Them motel rooms’ll hold.”
Jack shrugged and went back to looking at the map. It wasn’t often that Stan disagreed, and he usually had good reasons for doing so. Eventually they did find the place, causing Jack to shudder instantly. The outside of the hotel would have been cozy, if it wasn’t completely covered in grime. The rooms only promised more fun, as Jack found himself consciously reminded of why he got into this business in the first place. Jack hopped out of the car and found his way to the front office. The door was glass and inside the office was sparse, but orderly for the most part. The man sitting behind the desk could be called human in form and nothing else. He wore a white button down shirt and he sat behind the front desk staring straight ahead, completely unmoving. His skin was so pale it could practically be called clear. On his thin face was a moustache that gradually grew wider from left to right starting at a pencil thin length and ending in a shaggy mess that would be more at home on a lumberjack’s face.
“Mr. Goodbody, it has been some time since your last visit.” Speech was clearly not this man’s native form of communication, nor in fact was movement since when he reached his hand up to shake Jack’s he overshot it by several inches, slowly retracting it to meet Jack’s outstretched hand, “I assume you are here to clean the old place.”
“I’m here to make sure it passes inspection this year. Cleaning this place is beyond any mortal man.” Outside the van doors opened and Stan began pulling out various cleaning implements.
“I will give you the keys.” The keys suddenly appeared in his hands as if they had been teleported into them, “Please stay out of the secret passages.” The owner was interested in human interactions and watching humans interact with each other. He liked it so much he often kept them around for months at a time and Jack had refused to ask any more questions when his employer had gotten that far, though given the state the rooms were often in, he suspected that curiosity was often fatal for patrons.
Taking the keys, Jack stepped back outside and inhaled the fresh air. “This will be a quick job. Really, we should just set the whole place on fire and hope for the best.”
“Boss.” The look on Stan’s face let him know that it was not funny.
“What? It’s not like Smith would even notice the difference until the whole place was gone anyways.” He turned back to peek into the office. Smith was still staring straight ahead. His arm hadn’t moved down to his side again since he had given Jack the keys. “Just kidding!” Smith never reacted to anything Jack said when he was no longer in the office.
The first room would always be room 101 on the far side since it was the one that nobody used and the one that was, in theory, the least trouble to clean. The problem with Room 101 was not so much the room itself, dusty but manageable, and more the contents of the room itself. On the far side of the room, in the middle of the wall, was an incredibly dusty bed that looked like it contained a small desert of dust settled from ages of disuse. The carpet was coated with the stuff and even the sink outside the tiny bathroom were all covered with a film of dirt. Jack ignored them and immediately went to the closet.
“This never ceases to amaze me,” Jack muttered to himself as he opened the closet, “how do they get so wrinkled in here when he never changes his suit?” Opening the closet doors, there were two rows of what could only be described as human costumes inside. Human costume was undoubtedly the wrong term, since Jack knew they were made from real human skin. There were smaller ones and larger ones and even an oversized one that must have taken some time to put together. The closet looked fuller than Jack remembered it being the last time they cleaned the motel.
Stan ducked under the door and lumbered in with his arms outstretched ahead of him, staring straight ahead the whole time.
“Don’t get weird on me, Stanley. Just take these outside and let them air out while we clean.” Stan nodded and puffed away at his cigar while Jack loaded the people suits onto his arms.
Once Jack had transferred all the human suits to Stan’s arms, he grimaced a little before he started for the door, “Them things has creases everywhere boss. They ain’t never gonna be clean.”
Jack examined the inside of the closet floor, checking for any bits that might have come undone, “It’s a strange hobby, I’ll grant you. Just make sure you don’t leave them on the floor like last time.” Once the closet was emptied, Jack turned to the task at hand. Order from chaos. Cloth by cloth and strip by strip, the dust vanished and was replaced with clean surfaces. Not sparkling clean, heavens no, but clean enough for now. Polish a helmet with a decapited head in it all you want, it will still smell because it has a head in it.
Eventually, the room was clearly as clean as it was going to get and the time had come to move on the next rooms. Here, the trouble was clearly going to begin. Jack knew he had to expect dreadful things. It had been two years since they had last cleaned out the Pine Scent. He knew it and yet it still caught him off guard. Room 102 possessed a heady aroma of vomit, blood and a few other scents Jack didn’t care to even try and pick out.
The sheets had a white border but the rest of them were colored a dark rusty red which flaked off when moved. Jack picked up the sheets and shuddered when a literal shower of bed bugs seemed to trickle out of it. Putting the sheet down, he immediately averted his eyes from the hideous wallpaper and started for the worst part, the bathroom. When he stepped on the carpet near the bathroom a whole fleet of cockroaches assembled before making for every corner or crack they could find. Jack found himself staring vacantly at the mirror.
Stan ducked into the room and blew a smoke ring before allowing himself to look around. “Pine scent, kinda reminds me a’ that Dr. Lighting…” Stan trailed off as thunder rolled in ominously from a distance.
Jack twitched at the memory. “We’re burning the whole place down.”
Stan let his cigar fall out of his mouth in shock. The carpet caught instantly and flames spread to the corners of the room. Jack ushered Stan out quickly and moved on to Room 103, kicking the door open and going back to the van to look for anything flammable he could get his hands on, “My job is to clean and this place is just so filthy that burning it down is the most humane thing I can do at this point. I’m surprised the whole county isn’t quarantined.”
It turned out that the search for more things to light on fire was entirely pointless because by the time Jack had turned back to the hotel with some rubbing alcohol, Room 103 was billowing smoke and Room 101 was entirely obscured by flames.
“Oh,” Jack’s jaw dropped a little, “well that takes care of that then. Stan, move the van so we don’t lose our means of transport. I’m going to light Room 104 up.”
To Jack’s surprise, this act finally got the attention of the being calling himself Smith. He actually left his office for the first time since Stan had met him. He walked awkwardly along, keeping his legs as straight as possible and looking straight at Jack, “You have set my establishment on fire. Why have you done this?” The monotone voice never changed, without a hint of anger or rage.
“It needed to be cleaned and this seemed the best way to go about doing it.”
“This is acceptable on your…where you come from?” Smith slowly ground to a halt, his lip twitching awkwardly making him look more than slightly perplexed.
“When it comes to places this dirty, we sure do. I did forget to take your collection out, however, so you may want to see if you can grab them.” Smith nodded and walked into the fire without flinching or looking back once. “And that’s our cue to leave. Stanley, prep the van and I’ll collect our money. It’s not like he ever paid us before.” Stan did his best to hurriedly pack the van as Jack went to the office. Jack helped himself to the till, shuddering at the sheer amount of small change. Against his better judgment, Jack took a rough estimate and headed back to the van where Stan awaited him.
“Alright, looks like we can cross another repeat customer off our list.”
Stan had pulled out and lit another cigar. He shifted it in his mouth to respond to his boss, “Ya can’t keep killin’ them clients like this.” He started the car, but a frown remained on his normally placid face.
“If he stays in the fire it’s not my fault. Besides, who names a hotel after a thing you dangle in a car? And Pine Scent? Really?”
Stan shrugged with no comprehension nor desire to comprehend why that smell irked his boss so much, “Where to now boss?”
Jack pulled his map back out and scratched his head, “Well, just start driving and I’ll see if I can find out where we are. We should try and get on the highway. The next job is a good couple of days drive away. “
Stan nodded and pulled out of the parking lot, leaving the flaming soon-to-be-wreckage of the Pine Scent Hotel behind them. As they got out of range of the fire, the cool night breeze was a much-needed relief and Jack let himself look up at the stars for an instant before returning to the map. So much more to do. So much more to clean.
As Stan pulled out onto the main road, two men suddenly stepped out in their path. One held up a hand with a badge in it. They were both dressed in black suits with black ties. Despite the pitch darkness, they wore sunglasses and black fedoras, “I need to ask you some questions…” one of the creatures began before Stan plowed into him with the van. It ran him down with hardly a bounce. A smattering of small red droplets hit the windshield, drawing the attention of both Jack and Stan, neither of which had been paying much attention to the road.
“Stanley, did we just hit something?”
Stan turned on the windshield wipers and shook his head, “Don’t think so, boss. Just some bugs.”
Jack shrugged and turned his attention back to the map, “Let me know when we hit Palmer Road.”