There is no rest for the weary and the weariest in the world are the cleaners, for their work is never done. A road trip so soon after the last one was not exactly what Jack had in mind for his week, but he would never say no to Sister Agnes. Every single time there was always something new. Last time there was a child who could predict the future if she drew a picture of someone with her special crayons. Jack made her stop while she was doing it because it looked like her eyes were going to swivel all the way around in her head and the things she was saying in Latin were not the sort that should be coming from the mouth of a child. Saint Ninian’s Orphanage for Wayward Psychic Children was near another small town in southern New York. Originally the diocese had put the orphanage in the nearby town, but after the building had repeatedly caught fire they moved it to a large farmhouse out of town. To add insult to injury, that also caught fire on several occasions. As luck would have it, that was the year Sister Agnes showed up.
Sister Agnes, much like all nuns, was the scariest person many of those children would ever meet. Jack often wondered if Sister Agnes had ever run into anything that had phased her, but certainly not the little hellions at her orphanage. At her behest, the orphanage was built out of bricks and at the first sign of a flame Sister Agnes would threaten to make the children rebuild the whole thing using only their God given mind abilities. Being a nun, she couldn’t swear but she knew how to be inventive with her threats and she used her yardstick in the manner that a policeman in a riot would use a billy club, with reckless abandon and unerring accuracy. In spite of her rough edges, the children loved her.
Jack sighed wearily as Stan pulled up to the orphanage and took stock of the situation. In spite of the threats, it seemed a fire had broken out, but Jack was hard pressed to find out what exactly had started the fire. There were scorch marks on the outside of the windows on the second floor. The building itself was two stories tall and rather utilitarian, a necessity given the occupants. The front drive which led up to the building from a dirt road was paved and all over the pavement were chalk drawings that any normal child would make. Jack corrected himself as he stepped out of the van. One out of every three drawings was normal and the others were various levels of odd. One image showed all the children playing and right next to it was the same child, who had apparently drawn the first picture, sitting down and holding bloody scissors surrounded by the bloody stick remains of the rest of the children and Sister Agnes, apparently unharmed. In that chalk image, Sister Agnes and the girl were holding a jump-rope. It seemed a hideous shadow monster had convinced the child to murder all her peers in order to go double-dutch with Sister Anges.
The third image showed the shadow monster fighting what looked like a giant hand with claws coming out of a closet. They were locked in an arm wrestling contest. Apparently a school-yard pissing contest had broken out amongst the children as to whose invisible friend was strongest. That contest would explain why they had been called in to clean the orphanage. Once that sort of fight began, it wouldn’t end until a champion appeared. Letting some monster take control of a building full of young, impressionable children with the power to tread into God’s domain hardly seemed like a good idea, and it got really dirty at times like this, so here they were to clean.
Surveying the rest of the images, Jack came to the conclusion that this was not the kind of day he had been looking forward to after all, “Oh dear,” he managed as he saw a drawing of himself and Stan pulling up to the front of the building in their van, many hands waving a greeting from the building. He looked up to see the tiny hands waving at him cheerily, “this is going to be a long day.”
Stan patted his pocket, but left his cigars right where they were, “You actually like them kids, boss?”
“Oh sure,” Jack twitched slightly, “I just like it better when they stay in their rooms and don’t talk to themselves and today is not going to be that kind of day.”
Sister Agnes hovered down the stairs to meet them, her habit flowing out behind her gently. It seemed like no matter what she did, Sister Agnes acted with the grace that could only come from a lifetime of being under scrutiny from a multitude of tiny eyes and sometimes a few not so tiny invisible eyes as well. “Jack, Stan!” Sister Agnes beamed a smile at both of them, hugging Jack first before hugging Stan tightly enough to make him grunt slightly. She had become old working with children. Her arms were thin and spotty, but strong enough to do the work she needed to. Her face was covered with lines and weathered from being out in the sun. Laugh-lines etched their way through the care and when she smiled her years faded and Jack could feel the joy radiating from her.
“It’s good to be back Sister, I trust you’ve been well?”
“Well enough, Jack, but the children have been quite a nuisance.” Quite a nuisance, as both Jack and Stan knew well, was nun speak for infernal terrors of the ninth circle. A brick fell from somewhere near the top of the building and landed impossibly close to the van, “Stop pouting, Jeremy. Your room needs to be cleaned,” Sister reprimanded.
“Might as well get started, this won’t get any prettier after the sun goes down.” Jack cracked his knuckles and adjusted his suit coat.
“No, best make this quick. I’m glad you came since I received a caller from your family telling me…well, that’s for later. For now, both of you get to work. I’ll have some food prepared for you later.”
Jack strode up the steps purposefully, followed closely by Stan. Just before they reached the door another brick dislodged itself from the wall and flung itself down, this time at Jack. Stan swatted it away with ease.
Sister Agnes looked genuinely menacing as she fixed a keen stare on a point somewhere on the second floor, “That’s strike three! No dessert for you tonight! Now put those bricks back where you found them, young man!” The bricks floated into the air and started their journey back to the building to await the next tantrum.
Jack briefly thought about asking what the first two strikes were, but given the burn marks on the building he thought better of it. The stones of the floor were worn down smooth by the pitter patter of many little feet over the years. In the middle of some of the stones were a series of claw marks that led in a trail to the stairs. The stairs led up to the second floor and the main dorms, along with a small chapel. The first floor contained a refectory and some classrooms where the children learned various skills like how to not set people on fire using the power of your anger, and blocking out other people’s thoughts.
Slowly climbing the steps, Jack took his jacket off and slung it over his shoulder. Entering the building behind him, Stan stepped under the door with the cleaning supplies clenched in a huge fist. The second floor started in a hallway that led off in either direction. Jack started left and stopped at the first door. Gently he rapped at the door a few times. No response. Jack grunted in annoyance and tapped again before he heard the child within move around.
“Come in,” came a deep, croaking voice that did not belong to a child. Jack pushed the door open and stepped inside. All the rooms were the same, since it didn’t do to have children with powers like this getting jealous of the bedroom that Fred has down the hall. Each one had a simple desk and a chair, usually placed beneath the windows on the far side of the room. On the closer wall there was a simple bed with white sheets and a white blanket. When cleaning rooms like this, Jack knew you had to act fast and grab the initiative or the cleaning would get very ugly, very fast.
The girl who occupied the room stood in the exact center and stared steadily at Jack. Her long black hair hung down over her face and she wore a white dress that came down to her knees. Jack practically leaped across the room and pulled her hair back to reveal her surprised face. Slipping a hair-tie out of his pocket he tied her hair back and popped a candy into her mouth. She opened her mouth, but Jack gave her a quick hug and pulled her back, keeping his hands on her shoulders.
The girl’s eyes, which were pitch black in the light, gradually lightened to a pretty brown. She beamed when she recognized Jack, “Mr. Jack! You came back to play.”
“I did.” Jack searched his memory for the voice and the face, now that the girl was the sole occupant of her own body. “Emily, right?”
She nodded and hugged Jack tightly, “Mr. Greebles will be so happy to see you.”
Jack rose and cracked his knuckles, “You won’t be seeing Mr. Greebles for a while, Emily.”
Emily sagged to the ground at the news, she slowly traced a line into the floor with her finger, “I really liked this one too.”
“Remember what I told you about things that live in your closet, Emily?”
“Things that look like Muppets and live in my closet are not my friends.”
Jack nodded and stepped over to the closet carefully. Emily watched, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open. Jack opened the closet door suddenly and yanked a furry arm out. It was a bright green with duller green mottled spots all over it. In the shadows of the closet was a face that at first glance looked friendly and marketable until you saw the red ringed eyes around black holes for irises and the gleaming teeth in the one ray of light that explored the darkness that extended far deeper than a normal closet. Jack yanked the door open farther and stepped inside.
The closet shook around and almost bounced up once to touch the ceiling. Stan lumbered in and placed the bag of cleaning tools on the ground. Emily bounced up and ran over to Stan, wrapping her arms around one of his enormous legs in as tight a hug as a six year old can manage. Stan smiled and reached both his hands down and let Emily use his long arms as a swing, lifting her up high into the air and swinging her around. Eventually, the banging stopped and Jack stepped out of the closet, wiping some sweat from his brow.
“Could you get the bag, Stan? We’ve got a leaker here and I don’t want this one to leave invisible blood all over the floor. I’m not sure how to clean that.”
Stan put Emily down and hunkered over the cleaning supplies until he had found the mysterious bag. It hung limply in his hand as he passed it to Jack. Jack took it and vanished back into the closet before coming back out with the bag. The back of the wardrobe, which looked to be made out of cheap pine, could now be clearly seen. Jack patted Emily’s head and started for the next room, followed closely by Stan.
“I wonder where them things go when we put them in that bag’a yours. Are they happy?”
“Who knows? I would ask them, if I knew where they went and they weren’t too dead or traumatized to answer. Bottom line is we can’t leave them here because that’s just trouble waiting to happen.”