Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 28

     Job satisfaction is never guaranteed, no matter what job you perform. Jack Goodbody chose to work as a cleaner because he enjoyed the simplicity and purity of it. Work was supposed to be uncomplicated. You go in, clean, kill all the bad things, and then leave. You don’t have to deal with bizarre vomiting pink unicorns. Jack found himself jerked completely awake at the realization of how similar to his father he sounded. “We’re taking a few days off, Stanley.”

     Stan tossed the remnants of his cigar out the window, “I’ll unpack them supplies and get the van ready.” Jack nodded and headed up to the office to lay down. Going on a vacation, for Jack, only meant one thing. They were going to meet the family oracle. Technically speaking, seeing the future is impossible. Tomorrow alone is a thousand criss-crossing roads all with unique destinations and with drivers who have minds of their own. On top of that, the roads could suddenly change direction at any moment or intersect with another road unexpectedly. That didn’t mean there were no signposts, however, and the job of the family oracle was to read the signposts and point out a variety of ways forward.

     Jack didn’t really care about the specifics. The road of the future always led forward no matter what you did, but he did want an interesting road to travel. The oracle lived a half a day’s drive from the Goodbody house. Sam liked to frequent her house when she was looking for fun. Trudging up the office steps, Jack took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This summer was going nowhere fast. He and Stan needed something to really turn this next job around. Opening the door to their office, he staggered to his seat and sagged back into it, looking out the window into the small town they lived in. What really bothered him was the news about his family. Why on Earth had his father been sniffing around Sister Agnes’s orphanage of all places?  Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they won’t be exploited for their abilities or powers.

     Feeling the darkness of sleep closing in around him, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Normally, there would be a fight involved, but the sooner he got rested up the sooner he could go to see the oracle. Stan lumbered into the room and collapsed with a dull crash onto his couch, “Ain’t we gonna head for the oracle now?”

     “No, Stanley. We should leave for the oracle when the time is right. I’ll know when that is.” He stretched his arms over his head and pulled his suit jacket off to use as a makeshift blanket.

     They awoke the next morning to a day filled with promise. The rains of the previous few days gave way to an early dawn that rimmed the horizon with red. It promised a new heatwave, and hopefully a new adventure as well. It was time to visit the oracle. After getting cleaned up, they started their drive towards her house. When people pictured a person who served as an oracle, they had many different ideas about what she would look like. Jack had heard them all from various family members who had never seen her, possibly out of a desire Jack would never understand to live as boring a life as possible. They told him she was an old woman who lived in a modest, if run down, house with thirty seven cats and a mangy wolf named Hercules. Or maybe, the would further conjecture, she was a tiny woman with a penchant for kitsch and style from the seventies, which Jack always referred to as the linoleum decade. Truth be told, Jack had always found her to be sweetheart with a bit of an acidic tongue.

     That was slightly unfair, it would be more accurate to say that her understanding of human feelings varied greatly from moment to moment depending on a variety of circumstances that Jack had yet to have fully explained to him. She lived in a small green one story house in a neighborhood that seemed a little worn down, but it had a good school district according to her. She was married, though her husband was often gone for long periods of time. More than once, his sessions with her had been cut short by a phone call from said mystery hubby.

     Their drive to see her took an hour and a few wrong turns before they reached their destination. Jack stepped out of the van and took a quick look around. The normally neat front lawn was in clear need of a mowing. The bushes around the front bay windows were looking quite unruly and in just a few months someone was going to need to complete a paintjob or the house was in serious danger of going naked. It took Jack a few moments to realize that it had been a few years since the last time they have visited the oracle and things must have changed drastically in that time.

     Walking slowly to the steps leading up to the front door, Jack raised a hand to knock before the door suddenly opened. The oracle, Caroline, stood in front of him cradling a cat in one hand and a squirming baby in the other. She blew at a loose strand of dull brown hair that had wandered in front of her eye, “You’re late, get in and sit down.”

     Jack waved at his partner to stay with the van. That was the other thing about Caroline, she said exactly what she meant. If she didn’t invite you inside there was always a reason to find a sudden interest in her yard. Jack had refused to leave multiple times in the past till she had seen him. Stepping into her front room and gently tapped his shoes on a mat to get the dirt off the soles.

     The front door took Jack directly into the living room, and it certainly could have used a little tender loving care from a flame thrower. The wall to wall carpet, as well as the majority of the furniture, had once been a vibrant lime green color. Years of sun bleaching had left the entire room colored in varying shades of vomit, and the cats scattered around on various pieces of furniture gave the impression that the vomit was flecked with hairballs. A small table sat near the front windows between two large faded orange chairs. The table was made from a dark black wood. All along the top was a series of long metal pins that had been stuck deeply into the table. The row on the very edge of the table had a series of colored twine hanging from the pins that dangled on the ground. In a basket next to the table was a large pile of twines that looked like that had been put through the cat twine shredder.

     Choking back to urge to vomit himself, Jack attempted a more polite approach, “I see it’s been awhile, do you need any cleaning done?”

     “That’s a fine thing for you to be asking, I suppose I’ll have to pay for it will I?”

     “Consider it on the house, given that you’re about to provide a service for me.”

     Caroline trucked her loads into the living room and sat down in one of the two oversized chairs in the room. The cat escaped at this point, the baby quickly following suit crawling after the cat. Jack sat down in the chair across from her, “I know what you mean when you say “clean” Jack. You mean replace everything in my house with something more to your liking, but you don’t get to decide how to pay me for my service. I just haven’t decided how I want you to pay me back yet.”

     Caroline cracked her knuckles and got to work. Her fingers were a blur, moving over the board and wiring strings around pins until every string worked from one end of the board to the other. Then, impossibly quickly and surely she started to adjust them without removing even a single pin from the board. Jack looked up from her hands to realize that she was no longer even looking at the board. Her long hair had come undone and fallen in strands over her eyes which had rolled up, showing only whites. Her mouth was slightly open, making noiseless motions as though she was silently speaking to an occupant of the room that Jack couldn’t see. After fifteen minutes, she settled back in her chair and pushed her hair back out of her eyes.

     “Done. I need a drink of water. The cups are above the sink in the cupboard, we can look at the paths once I’ve had a sip.”

     Jack rose from his seat and went to grab the glass of water. The sink made a horrible squeaking noise when he used it, but the water was clear enough after the brown passed through the pipes. Returning, he handed her the water which she greedily gulped down.

    “So I take it you want the interesting route. The one that will lead you to something fun?”

     Jack nodded carefully, “Since I’m not really trying to achieve some goal like my father I’m more interested in the road than the destination.”

     Caroline slowly lowered her gaze to the tangle of wires and took a bright red string in her hand, “During the next job you receive you’ll have a choice to make. You can either help or hinder someone and while the choice may seem obvious, a less attractive option will yield more interesting results. The string frays past that point and I can’t tell you which way to take, but it will be messy no matter what you do.”

     Jack crossed his arms and examined the string carefully, “Essentially, if I want to have more fun I have to choose the option that makes no sense.”

     “Pretty much what the board seems to say. Given the string it will be a close choice too. There are other paths to take which have similar results so just move when you feel it’s right.”

     Jack scratched his head and raised a brow, looking up at Caroline with a puzzled expression, “So what’s the right answer?”

    “There isn’t a wrong answer. Whatever path you choose is fine so long as you’re fine with your choices.”

     Jack coughed and scratched his head again.

     She sighed, “Oh, get out and just pay attention. In the next few weeks you’re going to encounter some interesting choices and which way you decide to go to is all up to you.”

    Jack rose and turned to the door, “I’ll just take your word for it, then.”

    Caroline laughed and went to scoop up her baby, ignoring his struggles to free himself again, “You showed up, didn’t you? And when have I ever let you down?”

     Jack found himself heartened by this reminder and he opened the door to the front yard, “Well, we should get going…Stanley.” Jack trailed off as he took in the front yard. Stanley had taken the time to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Jack smiled as he got into the passenger side of the van and tapped the side twice. Stan was waiting in the driver’s seat for his boss. He started the van. “Good news, boss?”

     Jack sighed and leaned out the window to look at the houses passing by, “Not really sure. We’ll be getting a good job offer soon, but that’s about all I know.” With that, they pulled out and headed home, both ready and unprepared for what the world had to offer them.


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