Cleaning is an all-purpose tool and in it one can find an education, an outlook and in many cases, a career. Despite the stigma attached to it, the order from chaos was what attracted Jack Goodbody. In a family of extremes, Jack loved the simplicity of cleaning and when he left his home and needed to find a way to make a living it seemed to be a logical choice for him. He took a set of rare talents into the cleaning business with him, having grown up in a family of monster hunters, so the clients he attracted were hardly the normal variety. It wasn’t long before he had a long list of repeat clients, though he had lost a few to unfortunate circumstances this summer. The places Jack cleaned were the ones where darkness bred and common cleaners were seldom seen. Those hotels where people vanished into the darkness of a carnivorous stairwell or a house owned by a crazed doctor were always the places where darkness had its first toehold and Jack felt a certain peace by erasing that from the world. He and his partner Stan were the first line of defense in a world that required more cleaning than he could ever give.
The heatwave that marked the early summer gave way to a torrential rain that lasted for days. Jack had Stan move the couch from below the window to the other side of the room and sat down next to Stan, watching the rain hit the windows and roll down to the outside wall. Stan had stuck a piece of plastic over the window that his sister Sam had thrown a brick through when she visited earlier in the summer. Jack brushed a hand through his sandy blonde hair and tried to clear his head. The last few weeks had been a whirlwind of action. A few cleaning jobs had gone well, some very badly, but it seemed like something big was going on at home and Jack had become determined to get to the bottom of it. One of his clients, who had stiffed him on the bill, had been a doctor calling himself Doctor Lightning. Somehow, that doctor was connected to mysterious old artifacts called Machina which allowed people to do incredible, fantastic things.
Having heard of their great potential, Jack realized with a start that he had already seen one in action. Thinking back to the one he thought he had encountered made him question why someone would ever want to find such a monstrous creation. He had gone on a hunt, the first one in a decade at least, with his sister Samantha to find and kill a man called Boris Orlovski, or Creepy Bug Guy as they had called him. At some point in the recent past, someone had implanted a Machina into his body and the results had been horrific. There were many questions Jack had about that. Was it done willingly or was Boris an unwilling participant in an experiment gone wrong? That notion made sense, because sticking an ancient artifact into your body or attaching it to something you own without knowing what exactly it did was a dicey proposition. So why not stick it into someone else? Was the experiment a success or a failure? Regardless of the experiment’s success or failure, why had nobody come to retrieve the Machina from Creepy Bug Guy?
As the rain continued to pound on the glass, Jack fished into his pocket and pulled out the Machina he had found when hunting with his sister for Creepy Bug Guy. The ornate script felt foreign against Jack’s hand but the name, Flemel, rang a distant bell. He knew he had something to do with alchemy, something he would have to look into later. Letting out a heavy sigh, he turned to his constant companion, Stanley Whitkins. Despite his protests, Jack had bought him a new shirt and overalls to wear to work. These were made of far more durable material, hopefully better able to withstand the strength contained in Stan’s seven foot plus frame.
Stan shifted a bit and lit a cigar before waving his match out. Jack closed his eyes and let the familiar smell wash over him. No matter where he was born or where the rest of his family was, that smell would take him home every time. Wherever his friend was, that was his home. Jack’s kept turning the artifact over and over in his hands. When his father had asked him if he had found any other Machina, Jack had lied to his father. He had never lied to his father before, but something about his request felt wrong. Nobody had told him what a Machina looked like, but Jack wasn’t stupid. Something able to turn a normal human being into a giant fly monster clearly qualified as a Machina of some sort.
The cleaning supplies in the closet on the far side of the room rattled around as thunder sounded in the close distance. “I think we need to ask my father a few more questions about Machina and what exactly they have to do with our family.”
Stan shot him a confused glance, puffing away at his cigar, “Why don’t we just leave it be? Them questions sound like a can a’ worms to me.”
Jack opened his eyes and adjusted his glasses, “Agreed, but I have the suspicion that we won’t really be free of this until we ask the questions anyways.”
Jack’s desire for answers was cut short by the clamoring of their old nemesis, the office phone. In times when they needed a job it remained stubbornly silent, but now that Jack wanted a quiet moment it sounded out. Jack huffed and got up to take the phone, “Hello, Jack and Stan’s cleaning services. The skeletons in your closet are our specialty.”
“Jack, so good to hear you are back. You really need to get an answer machine. I tried calling three times a few weeks ago, but you were out of town apparently.” That voice, both soft and fierce could only belong to one person. Sister Agnes, she of the terrifying yardstick weapon.
Jack almost sighed with happiness. In a time when he needed lifting up, one of his favorite repeat customers called in with work for him “Sister, I am so sorry. We had a cleaning job out on the west coast.”
“Oh, Jack. I knew something must have come up for you not to answer your phone. One moment, please. Put Franklin down, Cynthia! No, now or he might…” a sound like something catching on fire sounded through the phone, “Jack, it’s been a madhouse here and I think the orphanage could really use a good cleaning.”
Jack scrambled for his work pad and a pen, “The usual stuff?”
“The usual stuff, only maybe a few more monsters this time. They don’t seem to be attached to any particular child, either, which has really made it a problem getting funding from the diocese this year. I may not be able to pay your usual fee for the work I have lined up.”
“Not a worry, sister. Whatever you can pay me is fine. If I didn’t have to do this for a living, I would just do the orphanage for free. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you for taking me on such short notice Jack, I’ll try and hold on until you get here.”
Sister Agnes ran an orphanage for the Sisters of Mercy called Saint Ninian’s Orphanage for Wayward Psychic Children. Kids with ungodly powers of the mind that no man was meant to possess who, for one reason or another, had no parents, could find a roof over their head here. The best part is that Sister Agnes didn’t plan on using the children under her care to take over the world, except that one time. Jack put the phone back on the receiver and stretched his arms up to the ceiling, shifting around and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“We’ll worry about my family later, for now we have to clean for Sister Agnes.” Jack tightened his tie and strode over to the closet, opening the doors and examining his cleaning suit in the mirror.
“Them little monsters again? We could do them dorms every week and still get paid.”
Jack resisted the urge to chuckle, “You wouldn’t miss it for anything.”