At times, Jack felt as though escaping his fate was impossible. No matter what occupation he took up, it led to killing creatures birthed in darkness. It was a task he excelled at, beyond even most others in his family. Even after working on his own for over a decade aided only by Stanley Whitkins, Dr. Brown thoroughly confused him. Monsters, of either the human variety or those which lurked in the shadows, behaved fairly consistently. They wanted something, and usually that something was fairly easy to identify. Sometimes, it was food, or enjoyment, or revenge or any number of basic desires. Dr. Brown worked for someone else. He gained nothing from this experiment, and as he led Jack onwards into his own facility, he chatted glibly about the horrors which surrounded them, as though they were taking a friendly stroll through the park. Perhaps, in a way, that made Dr. Brown the worst monster Jack had ever come across.
Their walk took them downstairs and into one of the labs, where Dr. Brown pushed one of his former colleagues out of a chair and sat at a computer.
“Just to be sure that we’re both on the same page, if you can’t find out how to reverse the effects of your experiments on Mr. Meriet’s grandmother, we’ll kill you,” Jack stayed behind Dr. Brown, keeping an eye on his monitor as he typed.
“I assure you, Mr. Goodbody, such is my intention. After all, the original purpose of this experiment was the long term transference of souls to artificial bodies. I relish the additional motivation in this task. I will admit, however, that this would have gone smoother if you had left a few of my fellow researchers alive.”
Cracking his knuckles ominously, Stan moved to cover the door into the lab, “I ain’t got no desire to watch over more than one egghead at a time.”
Nodding his head as he took the information in, Dr. Brown cheerfully assented, “Good point. This will definitely be an all-nighter, though, so one of you should put on a cup of coffee. Also, you may find things a little complicated when the morning shift shows up and find the evening shift dead.”
More confusion from an already confusing man, “Dr. Brown, you seem remarkably willing to help us, given that you were working for someone else. Why the change of heart?”
Dr. Brown patted at his pockets before locating a pen, “It’s really quite simple, Mr. Goodbody. I work for whoever pays me.”
“I’m not paying you.”
“If I find a cure, I hope to leave here alive with my research information intact in this head of mine. My life for your client’s life? Sounds like fair pay to me.”
Jack refused to comment on Dr. Brown’s hoped for payment and simply watched him work. Despite the late hour, his hands flew over the keyboard, with windows popping up and closing down at such speeds that Jack could hardly read the opening line before they closed again. Grabbing a chair from another desk, he wheeled it over and placed it behind Dr. Brown, out of reach, but still within sight.
The night wore on, and as the sun began to peak out over the distant hills, sending rosy rays across the sky. Dr. Brown finally stopped typing and wiped at his brow. He had been working non-stop for hours, and the expression on his face wasn’t hope-filled.
“So, any results?”
Dr. Brown shook his head, “I’ve gone over all the data we’ve got, in great detail. There’s no hope of a solution which doesn’t end in eventual subject termination. The body simply can’t handle being occupied by a foreign object such as a whole person. If I had more time, I could narrow down where exactly the rejection begins. Alas, you only gave me one night to work with no assistants. Failure was bound to occur, regardless. I suppose you’ll kill me now.”
“Not exactly. I want you to pay for your freedom with a message,” Jack turned Dr. Brown around in his chair to face him.
“Certainly, what would that be?”
Jack hesitated before he spoke, “I’m shutting you down. Go back to your employer and tell him what you told me. I want Dr. Lighting to know that you failed. I want it to burn into his memory. Then I want you to tell him that I will find him.”
Rising to his feet, Dr. Brown wiped at his brow again. He hadn’t broken out into a sweat, Jack realized with a start. It was an act, as though Dr. Brown was merely pretending to be human. A machine dressed in human skin.
“Of course. If you have no other instructions, I must go and retrieve the master copy of all research data from my office.” Without another word, he left the lab. He walked out past Stan, who actually moved to let him go. He had been offered his freedom, and he had impossibly won it.
That just left Jack with the moral dilemma presented by the Wellness Clinic. It might not have been why he came, but he could hardly leave it alone. Scanning the room, Jack quickly formulated a plan when he laid his eyes on a phone. He might not have the authority to shut the place down, but the local police could. Picking up the phone, Jack made a quick 911 call and spun a tale of office tensions gone out of control. Bodies were everywhere, and the culprits were still on the loose. He left out any details of what was going on, even the dimmest bulb at the police station would quickly realize nothing at the Wellness Clinic was on the level after even the briefest of inspections. Before the operator could ask too many detailed questions, he put the phone down on the ground and smashed a chair near the receiver while Stan bellowed at the top of his lungs.
Smirking slyly, Jack raced for the door, “I said I would let him go, but the cops are an entirely different matter. I hope Dr. Brown has a good lawyer.”
“We ain’t gonna want to be here in a few minutes either, boss.”
“Very true, Stanley, and we have a client to take care of as well.”
On the way towards the rear entrance, Jack located their security center and destroyed the tapes for the previous twenty four hours, and then smashed the equipment so nothing could be used. They left the building in the same manner they entered it, sneaking out the back and closing it behind them as best they could. The broken door handle, which had provided their initial entrance, would certainly appear suspicious. Even jamming the handle back on wouldn’t hide their infiltration, but the police would still find plenty to keep them occupied for a very long time. Skirting their way around nearby buildings, across the street and into a deli, Jack bought lunch and waited for the fireworks to start.
The sheer amount of chaos they caused was incredible. The morning shift started rolling in not long after the police arrived. Awkward questions, yelled with wild arm flailing soon led to the entire staff getting arrested as they arrived and shuttled off in police cars.
“Ain’t we doin’ more about them clinic people?”
Jack shook his head, “We’re here to help one client. That we managed to shut down a legit mad science lab is just a side benefit. It’s not like we were able to get what we came for anyways, but maybe we can still help. Do we still have our medical supplies handy in the van?”
“Yeah, why?” Stan answered suspiciously, knowing where his boss was going.
“We’re giving her some to keep her body together until we can find a more long term solution.”
Stan playfully punched Jack’s shoulder, almost sending him tumbling to the floor, “You ain’t normally such a good man. What’s got you so generous, boss?”
Composing himself and adjusting his tie, Jack looked out the window at the chaos, “Family is important. Isn’t that right, Stanley?”
“Sure is, boss.”
They waited until the chaos was over, and all the police had been gone for some time. Getting back into the van, they headed back to the farm to check on their client. With the summer months in full swing, most of the workers barely paid their van any heed as they drove up the road a second time. Mr. Meriet waited by the front porch, a cigarette in his mouth and a small mound of butts on the ground in front of him. As soon as he caught sight of them, he flicked his cigarette away and composed himself. His puffy face and red eyes spoke of a long, sleepless night.
Jack hardly had time to bounce from the van before he was ambushed by his client, “What did you find out? Was I right to be worried?”
A paranormal cleaner has to learn many skills, not the least of which calming down distraught relatives. Choosing the opening sentence was the most crucial part of that skill, because the traumatized mind tends to jump to its own conclusions. Opening with, “We did everything we could…” made it sound like a complete failure, which it was, but Jack wanted to leave Mr. Meriet with some hope. It was something he would have precious little of in the coming months.
Placing a hand on his shoulder, Jack spoke calmly and reassuringly, “You were right to call us. We’ve got some supplies for her to use. We can’t guarantee success, but there’s a chance. The rest is up to her. If we find out anything else, we’ll come back and take care of it.”
Sagging with relief, Mike reached into his pocket, “And what do I owe you?”
Waving his hand as though the idea of payment was no big deal, Jack scoffed, “I’m not going to discuss specifics, for your grandmother’s sake, but her problem is surprisingly common. It’s a good thing we caught it in time, or it could have gotten far worse. No payment is required.”
Stan grabbed their personal medical supplies from the back of the van and tromped into the house. Jack followed him and closed the door behind them. Betsy was upstairs in her room where they had first found her. Jack knocked on the door before he entered, sitting down next to her on the floor, where she remained huddled under a blanket.
“I won’t give you any details on what happened, but you’re lucky to be alive right now,” Jack took a box of medicine from Stan and placed it on the floor between them.
“How can you say that? I’m a monster!”
Jack chuckled, “I’ve never met a grandmother that’s a monster. Certainly, you’re not a monster to Mr. Meriet. This box contains a supply of malleable material which has the same appearance and texture as skin. We use it to stop bleeding. With any luck, it will help hold your body together until we can find a better solution. That’s not a guarantee, but if you’re going to die, you might as well do it surrounded by family after having been loved for as long as possible. You deserve that much.”
“What should I tell Mike?” Betsy wrung her hands as she spoke, curling into a ball.
“Tell him whatever you think is right. So far as I’m concerned? He’s your family. I’ll go downstairs and tell him that you’ll let him know when you’re ready to see him. I’m leaving all the supplies we have, make use of what you want.”
Rising without another word, Jack returned downstairs with Stan in tow and explained as much of the situation as he could to Mr. Meriet, which wasn’t much at all. Once he let him know that Betsy would see him when she was ready, he broke down crying on the front porch. Leaving him in his joyful tears, Jack climbed back into the van.
Shaking the van with his entry, Stan clambered into the driver’s seat, “Home, boss?”
Jack leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, “Home, Stanley. We’ve done
everything we can do for now. The rest is up to her and her grandson. All we can do is find Dr. Lightning and get the information we need from him.”
“But them eggheads don’t know how to fix her.”
“Yes, but Dr. Lighting seems to be a perfectionist. He’ll have other labs working and we might get new information if we find him.”