Jack dreaded the trip home again and yet could hardly avoid it. You don’t just wander into an insane asylum to wait for someone on a random hunch. Jimmy knew he would be there someday, but the last time he had cleaned Gentle Pastures had been more than a year ago. That Jimmy was waiting for him in that pastel colored hell hole meant the situation was serious. The road up the mountain, with all its twists and turns, cast shadows over the van beckoning Jack home to an empty hearth. The early morning sun beamed down through the overhanging branches in small ladders leading up to the sky like little ladders of freedom somehow escaping the oppression of a long dead forest. The gate lay wide open when they arrived, something Jack couldn’t remember encountering since before he left the Family house. Those heavy black front gates left open and nearly brushing the forest on either side of the road could only mean one of two things. Either a special event had happened or the family had met recently. The last time a special event had happened was a funeral all family members had been required to attend.
Stan parked the van right in front of the main doors and Jack marched in without knocking, surprising both himself and Madeline who was busy dusting the werewolf in front of the stairs when he came in, “Master Jack! I didn’t expect you back for a year at least.”
Jack felt unsure what tone he detected in her voice, it seemed to be a mix of confusion, approval and disdain, “How’s the kitchen doing, Madeline?”
Madeline hopped down from the ladder she had been on and curtsied with a crisp motion to Jack, “Welcome home, young master.”
Oh yeah, he read that one alright. Resentment. “Where’s father, Madeline?”
“In the study, young master. His health is still very fragile so he spends most of his days in there with a roaring fire.”
Jack patted his vest pocket, where he had tucked the note and the spoon away, and made his way up the stairs before turning to Madeline and sparing her one more glance, “Feed Stan.”
Madeline seemed to shrink a bit into the ground, apparently hoping that Stan hadn’t heard that pronouncement, “Very well, young master.”
Stan tromped up to the door and ducked his head inside, “Them steaks ain’t gonna fix themselves, Maddie.” Stan grinned as he ducked inside, only fading slightly when Madeline plucked the cigar out of his pocket.
“No smoking in my house, Mister Stanley.”
Jack steeled himself for this new confrontation and headed up the stairs before stopping at the third floor. The study doors brought him to a halt as they always did. When Jack was a child, he always thought the door looked like a monster. It seemed silly to look back on it now, but when he was a child he found the hourglass looked very much like a mouth that was ready to devour him whole. Closing his eyes, he steeled himself and gently pushed the door open.
The room hadn’t changed since Jack had last been in to visit his father. He still sat in the same chair, cloaked with the same dark grey blanket he used to hide his face from the world. His hands gripped the side of his chair tightly, “To what do I owe the pleasure of seeing my son twice in one month?”
Jack reached into his pocket and fished out the piece of paper that had been given to him by Jimmy, “I met up with Jimmy when I was on the road cleaning. He gave me this to give to you, I never read it.”
“I have no doubt you didn’t” Varnes snatched the letter away and held it up to the candle to read, “You have no interest in your family.”
Jack felt an unexpected pain in his chest at that statement, “What is it?”
“It’s a list of items I had been looking for and have had no luck with finding.”
Jack cocked his head, “Than why did you need a list from Jimmy of all people?”
Varnes lowered the paper and though Jack couldn’t see it, he was sure he could picture the look of scorn on his father’s face, “I had no idea what exactly I was looking for, which made these items hard to find.” Now at least I know exactly what I’m looking for.” The inky blackness under the blanket seemed to regard Jack, “What do you know of Machina, son?”
“Not much beyond what you told me the first time. Weapons of unimaginable power or some such nonsense. Enough to make people kill each other, I take it.”
Varnes laughed in his chair, a wheezing coughing laugh that left his body wracked with spasms for a few moments, “Not so much weapons as dream machines. Our family, along with the other four, started finding them after we came to America. I know very little about their origin beyond the name of their creator.”
“From the sound of it, you’re chasing dreams and nightmares without any real idea what you’re searching out.”
Varnes crumpled up the paper and held it over the candle’s flame until it lit. He held it there until the flame consumed the entire piece paper, earning no visible reaction from him and leaving no mark on his hand, “I’ve heard rumors. Your grandfather used to talk about them when I was a child before he passed. When you find the right items, they power a machine called the Deus Machina which can make any dream come true.”
“Deus. In other words, God? These things give someone the ability to become God?”
“That’s what my father said. As you can imagine, I wanted to keep it out of the hands of normal idiots with god complexes. I started looking for them and in the years I have spent looking, I have found nothing. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t even know what I was looking for. That’s why I sent Jimmy out to look for the information that I needed.” A hand withdrew into the shadows under the blanket and Varnes coughed loudly.
“Well, I hope it was good news. Jimmy also gave me this, he said you were looking for the complete set.” Jack fished the spoon out of his pocket only to look down in shock as he felt the spoon leave his hand. Apparently, Varnes wasn’t so sick as he let on.
“Is this what I think it is?”
Jack nodded and rubbed his hand, “A part of the Devourer set that you had been looking for. Anyway, I’m going to grab something to eat and then I’m headed back to the office.” Turning to leave, he strode quickly for the door before stopping short with his hand on the doorknob, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you need me don’t hesitate to call me.”
Varnes waved him out with one hand, examining the spoon in his other hand with keen interest. Jack stepped out into the hallway and almost fell over as his sister Sam ran into him, hugging him tightly.
“You came back! That’s twice in a month! So you do care!”
Jack gently held her back and started fixing her hair before she slapped his hand away, “This isn’t going to be a regular thing. It just happened that my path crossed with family business more than a few times this month. That being said, I wouldn’t mind grabbing something to eat with you.”
Sam nodded happily and skipped down the stairs ahead of Jack, in spite of her sarcasm and leather jacket, he could still see the little girl inside his big sister. A girl filled with enthusiasm for running through the woods and hunting rabbits to keep as pets. The main stairwell was worn down the sides and directly down the center, worn by feet of varying weight. Jack hooked his arm through his sister’s and led the way downstairs.