Paranormal cleaners led a life which, upon examination, defied easy classification. They certainly made good money. Jack charged amounts which made lesser cleaners blush, but he still worked as a cleaner. When he arrived at fancy hotels, they usually had him enter from the rear with the rest of the servants. Jack often found that evil takes root in the small places, the little corners where nobody thinks to clean. It might have been his old life clinging to him like dust to a poorly cleaned lampshade, but it was his justification for how he behaved. This current job certainly felt like a validation of that justification.
Jack had been called to check up on the wellbeing of an elderly grandmother named Betsy, whose grandson was worried enough to pony up the extensive fee required for his services. What confused Jack was that, in spite of her grandson’s testimony to the contrary, he could find no sign of anyone having lived in the house for weeks. Even reclusive shut ins leave a scent, and Jack simply couldn’t find one anywhere. Rather than assuming the worst, Jack decided to just ask. Sometimes, it really was just that simple. “Betsy?”
“Don’t come up, I’m a monster!”
Gesturing at Stan to stay where he was, Jack advanced to the top of the stairs, “I’m sure it can’t be so bad as all that. Your grandson Mike is very concerned about you, so he hired us to clean your house. He seemed to think you weren’t feeling yourself.”
A figure emerged from the shadows that led into one of the rooms. In shape, at least, it was human. In every other regard, it looked like a clay model which had been brought to life. She wore a thin, patched green dress which smelled like mothballs. People who are terrified have a tendency to dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Her skin wasn’t just white, it was as blank as a sheet. One of her fingers had crumbled off at some point, but there didn’t seem to have been any bleeding or infection. Over her head, she wore a blanket which covered her face.
“Alright, it’s pretty bad. What happened to you? Whatever’s going on, you must be scared. I’m going to ask you some questions to try and calm you down. If you’re not calm, you can’t think rationally, and if you’re not doing well, we’re not going to get paid.”
Stan scratched his head, “But boss, wasn’t her grandson the one what hired us?”
“He wanted us to find out what was going on with his grandmother, He’s hardly going to pay us, unless we can show some results from our work.”
“I don’t think he’s my grandson. My memories keep coming and going. All I can think about is that…place.”
The hitherto unconnected pieces clicked in Jack’s head, starting with the timing of their call, “It’s that new Wellness Clinc in town. When you came back from the clinic, that’s when Mike said your trouble started.”
“Ever since that day, I hardly feel myself. I can’t remember who I am some days. I must be getting old, finally, but I’m coming apart at the seams and I can’t bear to have anyone see me like this.”
“And you’re sure that these issues began after you came back from the Wellness Clinic?”
Jack knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, but he had to ask it anyways, “Are you really Betsy Meriet? Are you Mr. Meriet’s grandmother?”
“I thought I was Mike’s Gramma.”
“You may be, but not all of you is. In my experience, when your memories start fade and return and your body falls apart like this, it means someone messed with your head, or your body. That doesn’t mean your soul might not be the same, but your body almost certainly isn’t.”
Elderly women are, by far, the strongest creatures on the planet. They have been tempered by love and loss in a fire which produces strength others could only dream of. Jack expected her to scream. He expected a much worse reaction, but she just curled into a ball and leaned against the wall, crying quietly.
“Stan, go and clean the top floor and I’ll talk things over with her. Come back when you’re finished, it seems our job just got a lot more complicated.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
While Stan tromped off, busying himself about his work, Jack sat down next to Mike’s grandma and rubbed her shoulder for a long time. When she had stopped crying, he asked the one question that mattered the most, “Do you want to stay?”
“I do. This may not be my family, but I love them.”
“I don’t think family can be so easily defined. If you think of them as your family, than it must be true. I’m going to check out the Clinic. Did anyone else go with you to the Wellness Clinic?”
Nodding and slowly rising to her foot, the woman walked Jack downstairs to her office and pulled out an address book. In a spidery hand, she wrote down five names on a piece of paper, adding an address beneath each, and handed them to Jack. He examined the names as she explained to him, “All six of us went to the Wellness Center at the same time. They only accept applications in sets of six, and never from the same town more than once or twice. My friends convinced me to go, said they heard good things about the work done there.”
“That’s a test group. They’re taking in test groups and…well, Stanley and I will find out what happened when you ended up there. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t go anywhere and don’t let anyone into this house, except for me.”
Cleaning the rest of the floor only took an hour or so, with Stan’s help. Once they were done, Stan gathered the tools and they left, with Stan locking the doors behind him. As soon as he was out, he was confronted by a noticeably worried Mike. It was only now that Jack noticed the bags under his eyes.
“Is she alright?”
“She’s been infected by a rare source of mold that came from the mess in her home. We’re going into town to pick up some cleaning supplies. We’ll be back shortly.”
Jack’s profession as paranormal cleaner took him to some strange places, but this was becoming a hunt in the true sense of the word. Doubtless, the woman was dead, but maybe he could find some materials to help her. Only one clinic in town would have the needed materials, and that’s the one he needed to visit anyways. The list of names Betsy had given them had them driving around the surrounding towns. As the day wore on, it became clear that this hunt was turning into a wild goose chase. Out of the five other visitors to the Clinic that day, three of them were dead and two others hadn’t been seen for weeks. Moreover, none of the missing patient’s families gave them any concrete information beyond that to work with. It seemed that, if Jack wanted information about this mysterious Clinic, he would have to go right to the source.
Before they visited the Clinic, Jack wanted to check it out for himself. Stan parked across the street and Jack slipped out and leaned against the van to watch the building. Given that they appeared to be working in small test groups, it was surprising to see how many vehicles were in the parking lot directly in front of the building. It was possible that people parked their cars in empty spaces and went into other stores, but the rest of the parking lot had plenty of empty spaces. That meant a high staff to patient ratio, and given their success rate, it seemed highly unlikely they were having people come back in for regular checkups. Operations like that Wellness Clinic would be able to pack up at a moment’s notice, if they thought the situation was too hot for them. Jack would only get one shot to make this right.
They waited until the sun slunk behind the hills to make their move. While they watched, the day shift left and the night shift arrived. The street lights were lit and shining down on row after row of cars. Stan parked in an empty space directly in front of the building, one of a select amount of spaces reserved for patients. The front entrance was no good. It would be guarded, if there were people working at night. Skirting the building, with Stan in tow, he located a small door in the back atop a loading dock, perfect for quietly opening it. Stan grasped the handle and pressed his free hand against the door, where it met the frame. With a tight, sudden pull, he managed to yank the doorknob out with minimal sound, leaving the door to swing open. Jack stuck his head inside and peered around. They had certainly found a good entrance. All around them, cardboard boxes were neatly stacked from floor to ceiling. Walking over to one and tapping it, he could hear glass filled with liquid of some sort on the other side.
“Something about this place feels wrong, Stanley.”
“Ain’t nothin’ about this place feels right, boss.”
Stan’s observation certainly hit the truth, but Jack could feel something very specific. It got under his skin and up his nose and it smelled vaguely pine scented. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he was sure that, as time went by, he would be able to figure it out.