Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 37

     Almost every family possesses a few skeletons in the closet, usually of the variety that get aired out any time long distance relatives arrive for the holidays and the nasty rumors circulate. It became such a regular event at the Goodbody house that a former head of the family had been forced to regularize it. Once every year or so, the whole family would gather to air it’s communal dirty laundry. The insanity of such pomp and circumstance so that the head of the Goodbody family could listen to everyone snipe at each other over dinner was just one of the minor reasons Jack ran away from home rather than spend the rest of his life stuck in a dusty mansion in the mountains which smelled of moth balls and rubbing alcohol. This cabin rite of passage, which many other family members had already undergone, must have been one of the many fun family activities he missed out on by leaving home with Stan and setting up shop down the mountain.

     This place, which the Goodbody family had owned long ago, clearly served a vital purpose in the family. If Jack ever started asking his father questions, he would certainly ask about this borderline forgotten cabin. It hardly contained enough floor space to justify the name. In truth, it felt more like a hunting lodge, which settled nicely into his mind once the thought occurred to him.

     The stairs began at the wooden door leading down into the basement and took an abrupt right, winding along the wall into the darkness. The stone walls appeared older than the rest of the cabin, leading Jack to believe they had been transported here from England at some point in the past. Halfway down the first flight of steps, a shadow crossed loomed across Jack’s path, causing him to hop backwards, fists at the ready. Turning his gaze upwards, he chuckled when he saw the cause of his concern. It was a gigantic manticore, mounted on a wooden plaque with its mouth hanging open in a grotesque parody of life. Scanning the steps ahead in the dim light streaming from the door, every set of steps Jack could see included a wall mounted trophy from some former glorious hunt. He counted five trophies, the steps went down longer then he thought.

     As he wondered how far the basement went and realized the importance of bringing a lamp, a flashlight or something that would help light his way, the door shut behind him. Jack refused to move until he could at least dimly see where he was going. Placing his hands on the stone wall, he let his feet find the path. Taking each step as slowly as he needed to, Jack walked down those stairs into an endless inky darkness which seemed alive enough to want to reach out and grab him. As he walked, whispers gradually began to fill his ears. At first, they were so quiet that Jack could hardly tell if they were the result of his mind playing tricks on him, or if they were really there. Within two flights of stairs, two things became increasingly clear. Firstly, Jack most certainly was not imagining the dull roar of voices which surrounded him. Secondly, he couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, because all the voices were talking at once.

     “One at a time,” Jack yelled out at the cacophony, “I can’t hear what any of you idiots are saying! Just one voice at a time!”

     There was a long silence before one indignant voice finally managed to sputter out, “How rude!”

    “His sister was the same way, what a disgrace to the family name.”

    With that, the chatter began again, but now Jack felt distinctly grateful he was unable to hear what they were saying. As he walked, small lights began to appear in the air, shimmering dots which danced around and followed Jack. The lower he got, the more of them there were. It took him a long time, a shamefully long time to recognize what they were. That many fireflies indoors, this far down was impossible. Those lights were what remained of souls. They were the lights of people who had once walked the earth. They guided him down the stairs, surrounded by a mist that slowly floated up from far below. After an endless amount of steps, a light shone at the bottom, a small light, but it helped Jack see where he was going. The bottom of the never ending basement turned out to be far more anti-climactic than expected, given the build-up.

     It was just a simple room, with a stone slab against the far wall facing the stairs. On either side stood two torches made from heavy looking iron. They stood taller than Jack, and at the top of each sat a massive unlit black candle. The mist wrapped around the torches, swirling around in spirals that rose up and joined the myriad of floating lights and passed beyond his vision. On the slab itself, a lone candle flickered bravely against the darkness. Above the slab, carved deeply into the wall, were the words, “Reap what you sow hunter. Light the way and face your “self”. Jack knew a test when he saw one. Very likely, if he went to the trouble of attempting to leave the basement without bothering to take his test, something worse would come along. At the very least, the door was sure to remain locked shut in his face until he had done his time.

    He stood in front of the stone slab, rubbing the bridge of his nose and thinking, but eventually Jack admitted to himself that no other option existed. He simply had to light the torches and play their game, if he wanted to get out of the basement. Grabbing the candle, he used it to delicately light each torch. Once lit, they both roared to life, illuminating the room around him and blinding Jack for an instant. When he opened his eyes, the staircase which had wrapped around the room was nowhere to be seen. All that remained was a small set of stairs leading up to the door which Jack had walked through to get down into whatever it was he had walked into. The thick mist had vanished as had the lights and the voices, leaving Jack alone in an empty room. At least, Jack thought he was alone at first. In the center of the room sat a stone, which looked as though it would fit comfortably in his hand.

     As Jack watched, the stone grew, like an egg which literally took on the form of the creature about to burst from its shell. Arms grew and stretched out to razor sharp claws at the end of massive fingers. Arms burst out and found their footing, massive toes dug into the basement floor. Fur flared out along the shape, colored a vibrant silver with dark crimson patches. Jack could hardly believe his eyes, it was a werewolf. With a sudden start, Jack realized it wasn’t just any werewolf, it was a werewolf which would haunt his family forever. Jack had witnessed the impossible rebirth of the would-be king, Aldric Redtooth.

     Not that anything in that basement had made sense thus far, but a werewolf in these mountains was physically impossible. To be sure there had once been werewolves living in New York, but that had ended around the time his father was a child. While his father had never given a straight answer as to why this happened, Jack was under the impression it was the product of sudden and extreme violence. The werewolves had attacked the Goodbody family in large numbers, with predictable results. Nowadays, it was a rare thing to find a werewolf in New York, because all they’re dens were still empty husks, a visible reminder that all actions have consequences. The werewolf standing before him certainly had no reason to exist here. In 1917, he had torn a bloody path through England in a desperate bid to dominate the country with an entire army of werewolves. His red colored teeth, the product of a complicated and painful tattooing process, had given him the moniker history would remember him by, Aldric Redtooth.

    “Where…am I?” Aldric’s deep voice wavered as he spoke, pressing a hand to the ground to maintain his balance.

    “I think a better question would be how are you even standing there? You should be dead.” Jack realized at that moment that his conversational skills left something to be desired.

    “Where…am I?” The same query, and it was certainly a fair question.

    “You’re in New York. It’s been almost a hundred years since your ill-fated attempt to take over England.”

     Aldric howled, a sound which echoed around the basement. It was full of pain, regret, confusion and most of all anger, “I died!”

    It was less a question than a statement, but Jack nodded in agreement all the same. Aldric’s eyes fixed on him. They were clouded, confused, but even then Jack could see recognition.

    “You’re a Goodbody. I was killed by a Goodbody.”

    Before Jack could respond, Aldric leapt past him to the window and somehow pried it open, an option Jack hadn’t even considered. While Jack was trying to absorb this new information Aldric got a head start. Without thinking, Jack raced up the stairs and was surprised to find that it opened easily at his touch. Standing at the door, right where he had left them, was Stan and his grandfather.

    “Stanley, grab your things and follow me! We’ve got an emergency!” Without another word, he dashed out the door and snatched his special broom from the van before racing off into the woods. Stan wouldn’t question him, he would follow along behind. Aldric, a werewolf renowned for his sense of smell, would find his way to the Goodbody house and find it mostly undefended. Jack had to stop him before he reached it, or even left this mountain-top.

     As Jack raced out the door, it closed behind him with a definitive slam. Racing to the back of the van, Jack found the one weapon perfectly suited for this monster, his sharpened broom. It was a weapon his father had given him, each bristle was sharpened steel fiber, capable of shredding anything it cut. In his haste to escape the basement, crushing his massive frame through the window had caused some bleeding. What confused Jack was the path that he took. It meandered around, into trees and straight over tall bushes, leaving strips of fur on the branches. This was all so sudden. Jack had no time to think of anything, except the consequences of letting his prey go. By the time he caught up with him, Aldric was already gasping and moving as fast as he could

    In his single minded focus on taking out his foe, Jack had no time to react to the speed with which Aldric struck him. That one blow from his fist sent his broom flying across the clearing and laid Jack out on his back.

     His hulking form stood between Jack and all of his equipment.  Fine, the hunters of old didn’t require fancy weapons. Removing his suit coat and tossing it aside, he pulled his tie off from around his neck and wrapped it around his right hand. The material was intended to resist tearing and impact blows, so it would lessen the damage to his knuckles. Waving a hand to Aldric to signify that he was ready, it occurred to Jack that he had been waiting.

     Aldric rushed him, with his claws bared. Those enormous hands of his came racing down from each side. Jack stepped inside his blows and landed a punch to his sternum. To his surprise, Aldric had seen that move coming. With an agility that somehow managed to catch Jack off-guard, Aldric pulled back on one foot and used his free leg to rake at Jack across his chest. As he skipped back, he found himself enveloped in a circle of muscular fur. He was trapped. The claws slashed at his vest and shirt, tearing them.

     Before Aldric could move back, Jack aimed a blow at each of Aldric’s arms, and then grabbed his leg while it was raised in the air. Pushing him forward, he almost managed to get him on the ground. Planting his foot in the dirt, Aldric whipped his raised foot up high and tossed Jack into the distance, slamming him to the ground next to his broom. That had been Jack’s goal the whole time. Rising to his feet Aldric rushed at him, those red teeth filling his vision. Jack had no time to think of anything, except the consequences of letting his prey go. Aldric hardly moved. His eyes were still clouded over, even before Jack struck. One sweep of the sharpened steel bristles and it was over. Some monster from the past. Perhaps his ancestors were just weak?

     He stood there for a long time before he became aware that Stan and Gideon had caught up with him, the front door having finally opened. Gideon laid a heavy hand on Jack’s shoulder, “This isn’t what hunting is, Jack. That’s why I’m the one who came to you. I’m your test.”

     Jack sank to his knees, “Wasn’t he my test?”

     Gideon sat down next to Jack, “Look at him, Jack. I mean really look at him.”

     Jack examined his body closer. The claws were as sharp as ever, but the ribs were poking out from his sides. Aldric hadn’t quite passed yet, but his breath was growing shallower by the moment. He was bleeding from where he had pushed himself through glass and the grisly wounds afflicted by the steel broom. Hadn’t he done the right thing? He had just wanted to protect his family.

    “He was scared and barely aware of where he was, “Gideon spoke softly, letting the scene sink into Jack’s mind, “but he died in anger, so he awoke in anger. If you had paid more attention, you would have noticed. We are a family of hunters, Jack, but we’re also guides, guardians and the shield of the mythic people that protects them from normal humans and from themselves.”

    Jack slowly rose to his feet and looked at his hands, “And I killed him without thinking.”

   “Your father would have done the same thing, without question. He wouldn’t even be having this conversation with me. Don’t think that our family is just about killing, Jack. It’s about so much more than that.”

    As they watched Aldric breath his last, his form shrank into a stone. Jack’s mind went back to the pile of stones in the yard. Picking it up, he pressed a finger to it and found it quite soft to the touch. On one side of the rock, he inscribed his name, and on the other he wrote the word, “forgiveness”. If a Goodbody’s job is to guide, they have to be willing to forgive.

    Gideon nodded in satisfaction and laughed softly, “That’s my grandson. Now go fix the rest of that cabin up and tell Julian hello for me.” With that, he vanished and Jack found himself standing alone with Stan in the woods, holding his stone in his hand.

     The rest of the repairs went slower without Gideon’s additional help, but they didn’t suffer anymore setbacks until it was finally time for Julian to arrive at his new vacation home. Jack was quite proud of his work. On the last day, he gathered up all the stones and placed them in the back of the van, as Gideon had requested. Anything else which had made the cabin unique appeared to have vanished with Aldric and his grandfather.

     Their first warning that Julian had arrived came in the form of soft classical music drifting through the trees. Jack sat on the front porch, leaned back and stared at the sky through the trees. It took his cousin’s car a good long while to work its way up to the cottage. Jack tapped his foot impatiently the whole time.

     When Julian finally did arrive, he bounded out from the driver’s seat as soon as he had parked and ran over to hug Jack. Jack hugged him back tightly before he pulled away, “Was it a good trip out, Julian?”

     “Oh, it was wonderful, or at least it would have been if someone wasn’t a party pooper.” The mysterious Francesco walked by Jack with the bags in tow. The inspection had begun. “He’s been a real grumpypants since I stopped to do a job in Connecticut, I think I may lose this one too.”

    Jack looked over his shoulder to try and follow Francesco’s movements, “Oh, that would be a shame. He’s a real charmer.”

     “He was, before he saw me kill a giant snake.”

     “That’ll do it.”

     Julian took in the cabin and whooped a bit with delight before getting himself back under control, “So, spill. What did you need to do and how much do I owe you? I just had a show, so I can pay you now if you want.”

     Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose, a job like this was not exactly what Jack wanted to think about the first time he had seen his cousin in a year or so, “The floors needed replacing, we added a second story, I underwent a rite of passage you cleverly decided to omit from your description of this place and we reworked the yard. All in all, we’ve been out here for around a month working like dogs every day.” Julian handed him a piece of paper and Jack wrote down a number.

     “Really? That’s all? Are you sure you didn’t have any life changing experiences I should know about?” Julian reached into his bag and pulled out a checkbook.

     “I don’t think I want to talk about it until I don’t feel like hitting you. I’m giving you a special family rate on the work since I’m just glad this means that you’ll be out closer to us in the summer.”

     Julian strode over to his car and started making out a check, using the hood of his car to rest the checkbook, “Well, I had to come out anyways since the big party is going to be at the end of the summer. Your father asked my father if I could do some art pieces for the thing, glory of the family and all of that. We are the only three direct families left before that house gets left to some nobody who wouldn’t even have a clue what to do with it.”

     “And whose fault is that, you wilting daisy?”

     Julian chuckled and ripped the check out, handing it to Jack who tucked it into his clean vest pocket, “Low shot, for someone who also has no children.”

     Jack leaned against the car, “So did you say yes?”

     “I’m not getting paid, but of course I said yes. I figured it would give me points with my father and that’s always a bonus. Also, we get to see Aldea and you know she wants to see you.”

     Jack adjusted his glasses and suddenly grew very interested in the model of car that Julian drove.

     “Stay for dinner, don’t drive home in the dark. You two can leave tomorrow, but for tonight you’re my guests.”

     “Fair warning, we’re going to be roughing it tonight if we stay here. The furniture was part of the problem, so I pretty much had to burn it all.”

     “Oh good God, what was wrong with the place?” Julian started in to the cabin, gently tugging Jack with him, linking arms with him.”

     Jack pulled closer to his cousin, “I’m not totally sure since I finished my trial here before you arrived. Whatever caused it was starting to rot all the wood, but it’s gone now..” The rest of the evening was a complete and much needed joy for Jack. Even Francesco warmed up as the night went on and in the morning, Jack and Stan headed back to their office for some much needed rest.

Advertisements

A note from the fireside~ 3/25/18

     Hello, dear friends. I’ve been thinking for a while about how to regularize my posts to you all, so you know what’s going on. I’ve decided to set aside Sunday as the day when I will write a brief note to let you all know how I’m doing and what’s going on. I apologize for the lateness of Second-Hand Rumors, again. I have no idea why, but Liam has been very hard to write as of late. I think the additional stress factor is that Paranormal Cleaners is requiring massive rewrites. The last chapter of this current arc was so bad, in comparison to what I wanted it to be, that I decided it would be better to just rewrite the whole thing. I haven’t had to go completely off script for Paranormal Cleaners in a very long time.

     The book is now officially edited, I’m not sure if I mentioned that before. I have to go over the edits, but beyond that the main text is done. The extra bits need lots of work, but even that has been moving along nicely. “Days Past Bye” and “Everything Just So” are rough drafted and “One More Night” is about a fourth done. They’re troublesome little pieces, because they’re vignettes, but I need them to be really high quality.  I’m debating removing the family history for the Goodbody family, if you have any preferences let me know.

     I’ll have you know that I try quite hard to get those Second-Hand Rumors chapters out on time. It’s proving rather difficult, though I do believe the title for the next series with Liam has officially volunteered itself. I keep meaning to put more work into my other projects too, or post more often on my Patreon, but that just feels like some impossible goal. Anyways, thank you for stopping by dear friends. Thank you for your patience and thank you for your visit. I’ll keep a chair open just for you by my fireplace until you stop by again.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 7

     The art of the steal is one of wakefulness. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but if you’re not awake it hardly matters what else you know. Liam should have known better than to go back and see John the day after working the most consecutive hours of honest labor he had ever done. If he had been more awake, he would have seen the runaround he got coming. At least he could have put the screws to John on the way out the door, but that was life. You catch a break and then it breaks you. That’s the way of the world and nothing could be done about it.

  Liam arrived back at John’s lair around noon, the earliest he had risen in weeks, with the jump drive Ronaldo had given him. Without even acknowledging his presence, John reached a slender arm over his shoulder and Liam handed him the jump drive. Placing it next to himself and patting it a few times, John spun his chair around to look at Liam, “That’s a good job, little doggie. Now I have another task for you, hopefully not as taxing as the last one”

     He could feel the exhaustion setting in as he nodded, “Alright, the amount of money we’re talking about is completely worth it. Tell me what I’m doing.”

    “I’ve been working on this job Isaac Neelan gave me. It’s taken me sometime, and though I’m not done, I can at least show some results. I need you to take the files to him and make sure he gets them today. I’ll give you an address, and just think, once you come back here and I get confirmation you actually did the job, you’ll never have to play errand boy again. I should warn you, the files are a little on the heavy side.”

    John handed Liam a thick, but entirely manageable piece of paper. Turning it over in his hands, Liam regarded his erstwhile employer with a skeptical and worried glance, “This is heavy, but it’s not that heavy.”

     “Oh, that’s the order for lunch you’re going to put in for everyone at the head office. It’s organized by fast food joints, and orders per place. The files are sitting next to the door.”

     Turning his head slightly to the left, Liam blanched at the three stacked milk crates full of files. Lifting them took all of his strength. As he walked out the door, Liam knew in his very soul that honest labor was no way to make a living. Stopping quickly at his apartment Liam then made the rounds, gathering food and drinks and learning new ways to balance things while he walked. Large shopping bags became his best friends, and a cooler he bought with wheels managed to fit most of the drinks. By the time he arrived at the address, he was more tired than he had ever been in his life, but luck finally shone on Liam in a way that rarely happened.

     Maybe it was his thieve’s intuition, but something told him he was getting screwed. The building in front of him stood amidst a small cluster of fraternity houses for a nearby college. Its noble white columns were missing the beer stains the other houses possessed, and their lawn was only notable by the distinct lack of a beer pong table. Walking inside made Liam feel like he had just walked into CIA headquarters, something he had only done once. The hushed chattering all around was deafening. At the front desk sat a woman with raven black hair and two mismatched eyes, one a light green and one a hazel color.

      Hauling his burden up to the front desk, Liam tapped it a few times to get her attention. She looked up and gestured to her head, Liam noticed that she had a pair of headphones on, but there wasn’t a mic. He could barely hear the conversation she was listening in on, and it sounded pretty cloak and dagger. Liam could hardly believe it. The Neelan family had their receptionist spying on the building.

     “I’m here to deliver food, and some papers to Isaac Neelan.”

     Without missing a beat, the receptionist pulled out a map of the building and scribbled out a plan of action, giving directions for how to hand the food out and where Isaac’s office was when he finished. Liam struggled to get everything together, walking from office to office, delivering big macs and bacon cheeseburgers to everyone who ordered them, but that’s not all he did. Spying is hard work, Liam could attest to this. At the very least, spying is hungry work, so when Liam left food in each office he could hardly blame the workers for not noticing when something went missing. An expensive gold lighter here, a small, but decedent, crystal vase in another room, he gave them drinks from his rolling cooler and replaced the space with small trinkets from the office. He had to be careful, because cameras were just about everywhere in the hallways, but for some reason, not a single office had any visible cameras. Liam was willing to put good money down that there were cameras, but nobody seemed to care, or notice, so Liam kept going until he reached the end of his food run and reached Isaac’s office. It stood in the third floor, towards the rear of the building, overlooking the backyard.

     A younger Liam would have waited nervously before entering, but that was before his constant brushes with greatness. Tapping the door three times, Liam entered and put the stacks of milk crates on the floor directly in front of Isaac’s desk. The man himself stood in front of a large set of windows overlooking the backyard. Liam waited for a few long moments to see if there was anything else, but when Isaac remained unmoving, as though he hadn’t even noticed Liam’s presence, he left the way he had come, cooler in tow. To his surprise, the secretary just let him walk right out, without even checking his cooler of goodies. If anything, his cooler was leaking water and she only looked grateful that he was going to be gone.

      After dropping the cooler off at his apartment, once again, Liam returned to John’s room. For the first time since he had ever been into the room, he found it cleaned out from top to bottom. All the files and all the trash were gone, leaving Liam to realize just how much was crammed into John’s tiny room and how tiny his room truly was. Without all the clutter, the bare walls and tiny bed became all the more apparent. Liam knocked on his door as he stepped in to get his attention.

    “I finished the work you gave me, now give me my cut of the money.”

    John smiled, “I can’t give it to you Liam. I’ve got my half and yours already went out to a myriad of locations.”

    “What locations? I can just go ahead and steal it back.”

    “I donated it to cancer research, Toys for Tots and around three dozen other charities that will be sending you thank you notes soon. I’d imagine they’ll be sending you envelopes requesting money for the rest of your natural life, which could be a very long time.”

     For the first time, Liam was entirely lost for words. He’d been played, and played so good there would be no getting those losses back. Staying any longer would result in violence, and Liam could hardly afford to fight John. He wasn’t even sure he would win, despite the pale complexion of his pasty opponent. This was hardly over, not by a long shot, but Liam would have to satisfy himself by fencing the priceless works of art he had managed to steal from the main Neelan office.

     Before that, he needed to report to Simon on the progress. Even if the Society and Operation Nightingale were officially defunded and Simon no longer needed to sell their theft to his father, he would still want to know some of the things Liam had learned. The account information itself was useless, because once someone knew their illegal dummy accounts had been exposed they would hardly be using them again, but the names of those who were supporting the Society for the Protection of Humankind were hardly going to change.

    By the time Liam arrived at the Nair mansion, it had started to grow dark. The New York City summer heat had begun to fade at least into a balmy evening, and yet the mansion had as much hustle and bustle as ever. It wasn’t often that Liam came to the mansion this late in the evening, so he was unsure if this was normal late night activity, or if it was something out of the ordinary. As soon as he stepped in through the massive front doors, he knew something was wrong.

     The lines of creatures leading up to the clerks wrapped around the room, and the benches where creatures normally waited their turns were entirely empty. Crowds are just as capable of emotions as individuals are, and Liam caught a distinct whiff of fear in the air as he surveyed the ordered panic in front of him. Dotted around the edges of the room, armed and ready, were members of the Nair family Liam hardly knew and black suited security guards. What surprised Liam more than anything was that he found Simon on the ground floor for the first time since he had been visiting the mansion.

    Liam found him easily because he was only one of two people sitting down in the entire room. As he got closer and rounded the bench, he could see the creature Simon was conversing with. It was a small gnome wearing a black outfit. His Payot moved under his wide brimmed hat as he shook his head at what Simon said to him, which Liam missed as he got closer.

    “No, there was no warning at all. We had no time to get out, they were everywhere. So many of us didn’t get out at all.”

    Simon placed a hand on the gnome’s shoulder, “I’m sorry for your losses, Abram. I’ve sent out some of my people and a few Revers as an escort, with any luck we’ll locate some survivors. I hope you’ll accept our hospitality while your people recover. My house is open to you, as long as you need it.”

     “Thank you, Simon. I must see that all the families that came with me are settled.”

     Simon sat back, a dark expression crossing his face, until his left eye scanned over and caught sight of Liam, “Oh, you’re alive.”

    Liam was hardly sure of what to make of that statement, “I usually am, unless I’m not, but that hardly sticks.”

    “So how did the work go?”

    “We managed to get a list of people funding the Society for the Protection of Humankind. They were working to fund something called “Operation Nightingale”.

    “And what the hell is that?”

    “They want to kill you all. Not just the Five Families, but literally every non-human creature in existence.”

    “That sounds like something Adrian would plan. He’s never been one to do anything by half measures.”

    “I took the information to John Neelan and we cleaned them out. I’ve still got a list of people who were funding it, in case you want to know. It reads like a list of “Whose Who” amongst the scum of this city.”

    To his surprise, Simon hung his head and buried his face in his hands, “I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t have to explain to Abram why my plan of robbing the crazed genocidal maniacs got his people killed. That one is on you, Liam. You should have known better than to rob people like that.”

    “Are you telling me this is my fault?”

    Sparing a glance at Liam with his left eye, Simon slowly straightened out, “We’ve had a massive attack by admittedly unknown attackers on the gnome settlement in Greenwich Village mere days, if not hours, after you rob them blind. I think it’s a safe bet that this is retaliation. ‘Don’t mess with us or we’ll just go ahead and kill you’ is what they were trying to say. If there’s any consolation here, it’s that this sudden outburst of violence won’t be so easily hidden from the public. They’re going to be forced to give us some breathing room now. Go home, Liam. I’ll send for you when I need you.”

    Turning on his heel and heading for the door, Liam realized that he had broken the cardinal rule of thieving. A good thief steals from those who can afford it. A good thief makes no ripples, and doesn’t hurt anyone unless it’s to save his own skin. Liam’s greed had blinded him, and a lot of people had died because it was his brilliant idea to steal from some very dangerous people. He was hardly aware of his trip home, his feet found their way to his apartment and he made his way to bed. He would spend the next few days there, not really sleeping, but not really awake either. A thief should never be so greedy that he’s prepared to let people die for his own benefit. Nobody should be willing to put other’s lives at risk for their own personal gain. Liam certainly wasn’t. He knew exactly how he was going to make it right, though.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 36

    The business Jack started with his friend and partner, Stanley Whitkins, was called Paranormal Cleaners. That name represented everything Jack felt he stood for, the fight of cleanliness against evil. Even though his business had the word “cleaner” in the name, his clients often foisted jobs off on him which had nothing to do with cleaning. Pest control, electrician, inmate control, gremlin control and now, once again, carpentry. Even Jack had never worked a job which required him to work with his now long dead grandfather. That work happened to sucker him into this longstanding Goodbody family tradition of coming to this cabin to gain some insight from the dead. It appeared to be a dead tradition, or at least he had never been told about it. Somehow, both Julian and Sam had found their way out here, something he would have to question Julian about when he arrived.

     Jack hardly meant that as a complaint. Having grown up around his father, Jack often pictured his grandfather as the same type of dour, merciless and effortlessly efficient man his father tried to make him into. Gideon Goodbody spoke loud, laughed louder and walked with softer footsteps than any man Jack had ever met. When he spoke, it was often a torrent of information, with no real rhyme or reason to it. While they replaced the rotten floorboards, Jack found himself conversing with his grandfather as though he had known him his whole life.

    “So the mail man was refusing to come up to our house and deliver our packages to us. I went down to see the post master and I asked him what the holdup was. It’s in their motto, Jack, neither rain, or sleet, nor wild animal attack.”

    Jack held a board down while Gideon nailed it into place, “So what did he say?”

    “He told me that the last two postmen they sent up had been stopped by a plant, so they were going to ask us to come down the mountain and get our own mail.”

    “Just a plant? That sounds rude.”

    Gideon laughed, “Well, I may have understated the plant. It was six feet tall and had a taste for human flesh, so I could hardly blame him for having reservations.”

    Jack stood up and looked over the living room. It had been a week since they had begun work on the cabin, and already the interior looked a million times better. Gideon complained a lot at first, but it turned out he did the hardest labor Jack had ever seen, outside of Stanley. What Jack learned to love about him the most was that he was a fount of knowledge that he sorely lacked. His father had been of the opinion that learning was best done on your own, the opinion of true genius to be sure. It’s hard to gauge your own abilities when your father presented such an unsurpassable wall. Growing up with his sister, studying to hunt and kill without being given a reason why, that was the life Jack knew growing up. As they studied, Jack often had questions about the various creatures or targets he would be expected to take down when he got older, but it never felt like a good time to ask his father.

     “So what did you do, grandfather?”

     “Gideon, Jack. It’s alright to call me Gideon, you’re a man now. I went out with some workers and transplanted it to the backyard. Your father used to like to play with it, but I think he might have been too rough with it. Either that, or it wasn’t all that suited to cold weather, because when the first snows came, it died not long after.”

    Taking a quick break to examine the floor and the boards they had installed, Jack noticed a pattern. The rot in the floor was worst around the portion of the cabin above the basement Jack had tried to sneak a peek into when they first arrived. Standing up, he scanned the walls for obvious signs of water damage or other inclement weather creating problems for the wood. The boards on the walls had aged poorly in some places, but they were still keeping the weather out. Something smelled funny about this cabin, and it wasn’t the terrible furniture, though the living room couch did need to be purified with fire for its unholy faded upholstery.

     Work continued well into the night. Jack decided to call it when they were having a hard time seeing where they were going beyond the light they were working with. Jack called Stan to the front door and waited until he was done moving the last supplies into order to speak, “I’ll start taking some food out to make dinner. I have one chore for you before you come in. We want this yard to be square and this is roughly shaped like an amoeba. Given the state of the building, we can use some more wood to shore up the foundations and replace some of the rotted out wood anyways, and it wouldn’t hurt to add another story but that can wait until we’re done sorting the first floor.”

     “Can do, boss.” Stan lumbered off to tear down more of the forest and Jack started putting dinner together. The one piece of furniture that functioned as it should was the refrigerator, and Jack had put it to good use since they had arrived.

       The sun slowly sank behind the trees as Stan came in, having torn down enough trees to make the yard roughly square shaped. Jack put the finishing touches on a large pot of stew and Stan made a large fire out in the yard for them to sit around while they ate. Pouring out two bowls, he handed one to Stan and one to Gideon with a spoon each before pouring himself a bowl. They ate in silence for a long time before Stan finally spoke up.

     “How’s the inside comin’, boss?”

     “All in all, the place was well made, which makes sense given that it belonged to our family. We’ve replaced most of the floorboards, though I suspect the walls will need some attention before we do anything else. We’re going to have to look at the basement, because the wood seems to be rotting around certain portions of it. I’m putting that off until the last day, because I think that’s what Gideon would want.”

     Gideon froze with his spoon halfway to his mouth, sparing an awkward glance at Jack before laughing nervously, “Was it that obvious?”

    Jack sipped his stew idly, “Pretty much. I’ve been cleaning long enough to know when rot sets into wood because of natural causes and when it’s unnatural. If I go into that basement, it’s going to be for the purpose of cleaning it, not to go on some bizarre spirit journey. I’m not a member of the Goodbody family anymore, this isn’t my line of work Gideon.”

     Gideon sat and listened to Jack while he eat quietly, but when he finished, Gideon put his bowl down and grew serious, “You can’t just break a tradition that’s been going on for decades, Jack. Even my son must have raised you better than that.”

    Jack watched the fire dance for a long time before he responded, “I took a job to clean this place out and fix it up for Julian. That’s what I plan to do.”

    “At least take something with you, from me, before you go. And take all the stones with you, they’re full of memories and hard earned lessons. They belong in a Goodbody home rather than out here in the middle of nowhere.”

     When Jack didn’t respond, Gideon went silent again, his expression growing dark and sad as he watched the fire spark in front of them. The night passed without incident, though Jack refused to let either himself or Stan sleep inside the cabin that night.

     The rest of the cabin flowed smoothly, and with Gideon’s help they managed to make wonderful time. The walls grew stronger, the floors were fully repaired and the new front steps were solid enough to not be plotting bloody murder every time someone stepped on them. The original steps were no longer capable of that, after Stan had stepped straight through the top step one day, and destroyed the others in a fit of rage. Eventually, even the second floor took on shape and Jack used it to add a proper master bedroom and bath. Since he was hardly a plumber, he figured the pipes might need some work but that could be worked out later as well. The bedrooms on the first floor became three guest rooms and the hallway had some light added to it by adding a lamp.

     Jack knew the source of the rot lay in the basement, which Jack had still refused to enter because he hated it when his job lined up with someone else’s goals. Eventually, they reached the limit of what they could do outside of the basement, and Jack had to descend into the darkness. Every step he took echoed around him, as though the basement extended for miles. The power must have been shorted to the basement, but no amount of fiddling with the power could get it to return. In lieu of that, Jack was forced to bring a candle, which he held away from his face. The light barely penetrated the darkness which surrounded him, pressing against him like a living thing. When Jack asked Gideon what he would find, he truly didn’t seem to know. As Jack sniffed the air, he could tell that whatever it was, it had teeth and fur. He could still smell it in the dark. Jack’s long awaited trial had begun. Whether he wanted to be a part of the family or not, the choice was now out of his hands.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 6

     A long time ago, Liam had considered giving up thieving and becoming an honest man. He had been younger, and stupid, and in love. He failed to consider that several lifetimes of thievery doesn’t translate very well to other jobs. Before long he was back on the streets engaging in his profession until his wife found out where he went off to every day because she eventually had to bail him out of the pokey. The long and short of that trip down memory lane was that you could take the thief out of thievery, but thievery remains a part of the thief. He found these thoughts running through his mind unbidden as he stood in front of the door that led into John Neelan’s dreaded Cheeto infested “inner sanctum”. Much like thieves, you could take the spy out of his industry and he would still be a spy.

     Liam distrusted the Neelan family as a whole, because they worked in cloak and dagger secrecy. Spies stole lives wholesale with mere words, whereas Liam just lifted wallets to keep his stomach full and his booze flowing. John Neelan especially gave him the willies, because he looked at him as though Liam were just a prized turkey full of money. Still, if he was going to rob Matthew Bergson, he needed someone who could do it quickly and quietly. This technological theft was outside of Liam’s experience by a wide margin. No doubt this would turn into an ordeal, but the scent of money made his ears twitch and before he knew it, his feet had walked him all the way to this door until his common sense had kicked in to give one last protest.

     Standing at the door, with his hand on the knob, the debate was already over. He knew what he wanted more than the money, and that was freedom. Working for Simon hadn’t been a bad experience overall. Sure, he had died a few times more than normal, but that was the price of admission to a fantastic world Liam hardly belonged in. Turning the knob, Liam opened the door and stepped willingly into the worst decision he had made in ages.

     Meeting John Neelan taught Liam many things about spies. They worked impossibly full schedules that didn’t allow for things like sleep, basic hygiene, or fresh air. Even amongst a family of spies, John was considered a work-a-holic. Liam was under the impression that John might have been a prisoner of his own success. It’s hard to turn down work when you’re someone’s ace in the hole, not that Liam would have known anything about that from personal experience.

     Light from computer monitors spilled out into the hallway as soon as Liam cracked the door open to step inside. John had hardly moved from where he had been sitting the last time Liam had visited him with Samantha Goodbody in tow. John’s room barely had enough space left for him to stand in, and Liam nearly pushed a stack of files over as soon as he entered. Instead of the usual pizza boxes and endless cans of soda, littered liberally around the room, there were stacks of paper and files. They stood as tall as he did, and many of them showed clear signs of having been hastily rifled through. Liam realized with a start that John was working on the assignment the head of his family had given him. Recently, his black-mailing employer, Simon Nair, had asked Liam to spy on the heads of the Five Families while they met at his own house. While working this job, he overheard John and Isaac, the head of the Neelan family, reveal they knew they had a mole, but still had to locate who it was. That job had been left to John; to sift through a torrential storm of information in order to find out who was giving their bad name an even worse streak.

    “John, I’m sorry to bother you again so soon…”

     Charm is a tool that never works on thieves or spies, because they use it when they want something you’ve got that they want. John cut him off quickly, “You’re too polite, Liam. You literally never come to see me because we’re such good friends. It’s about money, isn’t it?”

     “I can be polite when money is involved. I was given a job spying on the guy in charge of funding for the Society for the Protection of Humankind.”

    John’s chair wheeled around slowly, and Liam noticed a series of small things that tipped him off to the seriousness of the situation. Normally, when working, John wore a dark bathrobe with a deep hood which he seemed to think made him look intimidating. Today, he wore a suit that fitted loosely around his thin frame. Even back-lit by the multiple computer moniters, Liam could see the bags under his eyes. He had a massive coffee cup in his hands and the vile smell wafting from it could only come from a concoction made from espresso, Red Bull and Five Hour energy drinks, “What’s in it for me? I’m up to my eyeballs in work already. Slow me up and you’re liable to get killed.”

     “Oh yes, that would be horrible if I got killed. I’m sure it would be horrible if I got killed, because that’s never happened before, has it?”

    “Ok, you made your point, but I still need to know what’s in it for me.”

     “Simon asked me to gather information to make a pitch to his dad. He thinks defunding them is a good step towards slowing them down.”

     John spun his chair around in slow circles, “He’s not wrong. Their operations are money intensive, and require huge amounts of upkeep. It’s not like we can just take the money unless we have bank account numbers, routing numbers, code confirmations, dummy account names and a host of other information I’ll never get my hands on.”

     “What if I told you I stole all that information and came right here with it?”

     John slowly spun to a stop, “Are you for real?”

     Reaching into his pocket, Liam pulled out his phone which John instantly snatched away, “It’s in the pictures. I took screen shots of it all.”

    There was a long pause as John flipped through the images, “Liam, this is brilliant. I had thought about trying to get this information, but I sorely lacked the time I needed to track down who had the accounts. I mean, look at this place,” John gestured to his room full of stack upon stacks of files, “this is going to save me a lot of time.”

     “So you can get me the money?”

     John sent the photos to his own phone before handing the phone back to Liam, “This is blood money, Liam. You don’t want it as much as you think you do.”

     Cramming the phone back into his pocket, Liam growled, “Oh, and I suppose you do?”

     “Of course I do, but I’m willing to cut you in on your own take, if you do me a little favor first. I have some information I need to collect from the De Luca family on the outskirts of the city. They have restaurants all over the city, and some big stakes in the Mythic people. They promised me something I needed to do my work and now they’re ignoring me. It’s not like I’m the most intimidating person in the world, and for personal reasons I can’t ask for help from the rest of the family at this time.”

     Sagging a little, Liam did the mental calculation, “So you’re asking me to go talk to the mafia about that thing they were supposed to send you, get killed a few times, get the thing and bring it back to you.”

     “Pretty much.”

    “I hate you so much.”

     “Yeah, but you’ll have enough money to buy yourself sympathy cards with. I hope you do, because I’ll be using my share to buy the world’s smallest violin. Now get to work, lackey.” Suddenly, for no reason that Liam was willing to put his finger on, Liam felt like working for Simon might not be that bad after all.

     The De Luca family was one which Liam knew more by reputation than having actually dealt with them. Even when you couldn’t die, there are excessively violent ways to die that Liam didn’t want to think about. Just because he wouldn’t stay dead, didn’t mean he was clamoring to try new ways to go about doing it. The De Luca family, in particular, could write a book on that particular chilling subject, with a companion guide that would make the Encyclopedia Britannica feel insecure in the locker room. Having to go and ask them for a favor they could totally refuse is something Liam would only do for money. As it turned out, Liam was doing it for a lot of money. While Liam knew the De Luca family mostly from their more nefarious endeavors, he had a sinking feeling that he had run into them more recently in a more pedestrian environment.

     Sure enough, when Liam checked the address John unceremoniously shoved into his hand,  he recognized one of the restaurants run by the family. It was even called, “The Olde “Family” Restaraunte” as though the owners were trying to quash all doubt as to who really owned the business. Liam had met the current owner when he was first getting into his respective business, and Liam had offered to help his grandmother get home, for a small fee of course. Then he robbed her, because it’s not like her mafia boss grandson couldn’t afford to get her nicer things. In Liam’s mind, he had done her a favor by taking all crappy older stuff, because that clearly meant a shopping spree was in order. He doubted her grandson would see it that way. Along with all the other people in that neighborhood who wanted to kill him, this guy was the biggest reason Liam had moved away to his current apartment building.

     That’s why, when he was greeted at the kitchen door by two burly men who introduced themselves as bus boys, he wasn’t surprised that his personal introduction led to being put in a choke hold and marched through the door to the head of the De Luca family. Ronaldo, the head of the De Luca family, was everything Liam was not. He had swarthy Sicilian charm and fine black hair swept back from a face which could have come from the portrait of a Renaissance nobleman. He stood out, surrounded by his heavier thugs, by his calm demeanor and his lean build. It was clear he was in charge and in command, but what was worse, it was clear that he recognized Liam.

    “Liam, my friend,” he spoke with a thick accent, in sure tones. The hustle and bustle surrounding him instantly vanished as though it were sleeping with the fishes, “I never thought you would have the balls to come back here.”

    “Trust me, if I had any other choice, I would have never come back. I had no idea you went legit in any way.”

    Ronaldo scowled, “With this current climate, the Feds have been cracking down on legitimate businessmen in a big way. To survive, I needed to go mostly legit, or I would have drowned with the rest of them. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

     “John Neelan said you owed him information. He sent me to pick it up, because he hates you.” Liam lied about that last part, hoping the enemy of his enemy wouldn’t kill him, at least.

     “I also hate you.”

     “And I hate both of you, and that’s why he sent me, because he hates me as well. So do you have it or not?”

     “I do have what he desires. He’s interested in information on the other families, wondering if they’re part of this great purge he’s so worried about.”

    Liam plugged his fingers in his ears, “La la la, I don’t want to know anything that someone could torture me for later on.”

    Ronaldo smiled a cruel smile, “That’s why I told you enough to be ignorant. Before I give you what you want, you must do something for me.”

    “Oh God, you want me to go grab something for you from someone else who hates me, don’t you? This is punishment for that time when I did the thing.”

    Ronaldo gestured over his shoulder to a large industrial sink overflowing with pots and pans and dishes of all shapes and sizes, “Finish those dishes, and then we’ll talk.”

    Liam paled. He would never say he was against hard work, but this wasn’t hard work, it was slave labor, “This is because I stole from your grandmother isn’t it?”

     “Yes, it is. Now hurry up, the late lunch rush will arrive soon and you’re going to be even busier when that happens.”

     Liam’s arms were unaccustomed to hard work. He spent the rest of the day wishing they would just fall off so he would have an excuse to go home. Long after the restaurant was closed, the dishes were finally done and Liam was let off the hook with a warning and a jump drive containing all the information John wanted. If he had been less tired, he would have been more wary.

At the end of all things, I’ll still be here~

     Hello, dear friends. I hope you’ve been having a good week. Mine has been so-so. I hate to tell you that Second-Hand Rumors continues to be a thorn in my side, but it really has been thus far. The chapter for tomorrow is mostly written, though it needs to be edited first by me and then by my wife. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post it tomorrow, but I will do my best to get it up. I always feel bad when Second-Hand Rumors chapters go up super late, and then a few people like it and I’m like…shit, someone might have been waiting on that. So I am sorry, the wife is working today and tomorrow so it may have to come out on the weekend.

     Jack and Stan is now heading into the end game for the second part. Without giving too much away, we’re going to be getting some more information on the Cult of the Outer Plant gods, which a dark parody of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m very excited for some new ideas, though that does mean massive rewrites for the coming chapters. It will be worth it, because we get to see Samantha Goodbody kicking ass and taking names again. Ah! I’ve said too much, moving on. I’m just going to bite the bullet and buy something to get the info from my hard drive in the next few weeks. It’s rapidly reaching the point where I need to just get that done with.

     On the Total War front, I’ve now got 50 turns under my belt, so I know what to expect for the forseeable future in terms of storytelling. I hope that I can get started on that soon, but given my difficulties writing Second-Hand Rumors, that might be a bit of a stretch. Liam’s life is going to get so much more difficult soon. Oh, and of course, it didn’t help that my keyboard died this last week. I bought a new one and then had to immediately return that one,  because when I’m writing, I don’t normally smash my keys like I’m Beethoven in a creative frenzy. I wish I did. I don’t. As always, thank you for stopping by, dear friends. I will hold a special seat for you by my hearth until you return.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 35

     Mysteries are one way streets which never allow you to return the way you came. You can’t unlearn a secret, as Jack found out when he explored the basement of his house in his youth. A mysterious cabin deep in the mountains that once belonged to the Goodbody family, however, had become a mystery Jack could hardly turn down. That the Goodbody family, renowned in some circles for their stinginess, would actually let go of property was mystery enough to intrigue Jack.

     The route to the cabin led through some pretty rough roads. Their journey led them out of town on the main road. They passed left onto the road that took them to Jack’s house which made his skin crawl until they drove past it. The Catskills weren’t the largest mountain chain but they were good for solitude, if that’s what you were looking for. The road led on past enormous, gnarled trees that had seen times before man had ever put a single cabin on the mountains and into the darker places that had scarcely been seen in years.

     It took them a few hours to get to the cabin and from the instant Jack saw the clearing surrounding the cabin, he knew his work was cut out for him. The trees around the cabin were all turned in towards the cabin, their spare branches turned down as though they were reaching for the building. The cabin itself would be proud if someone called it dilapidated. The roof had caved in on the left side of the cabin and the front of the building was a complete shambles. The windows would be very pretty if they were more than holes in the wall that someone had wedged thick pieces of glass into. The door held shut, surprising Jack, but the screen door slammed wildly against the wall, moving in even the slightest wind.

      Jack hopped out of the van and took a look around what passed for the front yard. The grass in front of the cabin was either dead or dying. In the front of the cabin, there was something resembling a front porch, which was barely larger than the front door. It had three steps that led up to a short landing. The cabin itself only had one story, though on closer inspection Jack could tell that it had a basement. While examining the cabin’s walls, he found a small ground window that looked down into the basement and tried to wipe it clean. The dirt had merged with the window, creating a piece of stained glass. Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose and kicked a pane in. he shuddered when it didn’t make a breaking nose. The smell of death and decay poured out from the opening immediately.

     Before entering the dilapidated building, Jack scanned the yard, searching for anything of note which could tell him more about why they had ever let go of this property. In the far corner of the yard, stood a stone shrine. It consisted of a pillar topped by a large stone orb with two wings sprouting from it. In front of the pillar lay a pile of small stones. Crossing the yard, Jack picked one up. One word had been written on the front, “Family” and on the back was his father’s name, “Varnes Goodbody. Sifting through the stones, it quickly dawned on Jack that each member of his family had a stone with their name and one word. Sam’s stone read, “Purpose” and Julian’s read, “beauty”.

     “Where do you want them supplies, boss?” Stan had started taking the wood from the back of the van and putting it on his shoulder.

     “In stacks and piles in front of the cabin and cover them with a tarp. I just have a bad feeling about this place.” Turning back to the work at hand, Jack rose to his feet with a grunt. He hated secrets and secrets having to do with his family most of all.

     Jack walked up the stairs, barely surprised when the front porch opened up a hole when he stepped on it in a weakened place. They would need to get more supplies from the woods before this trip was over. The door was engraved with the family motto above two crossed spears, still visible despite the overall decay of the building.

     The door into the cabin proper was surprisingly sturdy, given the state of the rest of the cabin, and to Jack’s trained eye it presented an obvious warning sign. Nothing said “stay out of this obviously cursed building” like a door that refused to open into an otherwise dilapidated structure. Doors in these circumstances hold up well because of good building materials or the forces of darkness. This case was clearly the latter.

  The inside of the cabin was a marvel and curiosity. The rug in the main room was an oriental rug that was entirely out of place on the floor of a glorified shack that looked ready to fall down at any moment. On the wall, an enormous elk bust surveyed the room, surrounded by a small fleet of smaller animals that all stared blankly out at the room. The furniture, which mainly consisted of a faded plaid couch and chair set with a coffee table in the middle, was covered with a fine coat of dust. Jack walked over to the coffee table and leaned down to blow on it, watching the dust flow away from the table like a river of dirt floating through the air. There was a fireplace on the left side of the room with a brick mantle which appeared so brittle Jack knew it would crack into tiny pieces if he lit a match anywhere near it.

     As Jack examined the cabin’s interior, a voice called out from what should have been an empty room, “I’ve been here for so long, waiting for you Jack. Now that you’ve finally come, you ignore me? Is this how my son raised his children?”

     Jack knew the cabin was empty. It had been empty for years.  Certainly, there was nobody here who knew who he was. When he turned back to the couch, it was occupied by the largest man he had ever set eyes on, barring perhaps Stan. His long sandy blonde hair was tucked back into a ponytail, and his beard covered his massive chest in unruly tangles. Even in the low light, his blue eyes twinkled with merriment and laugh lines crawled away from the corners of his eyes. He wore a dark three piece suit which reminded Jack instantly of his father.

    “Who are you and how did you get in here?”

    The figure almost choked with anger, “It’s me, Gideon! I’m your grandfather, you ingrate! I gave you your favorite present on your third birthday!”

    Jack paused, “Didn’t you also die on my third birthday? How could I possibly remember you?”

     “That…that’s no excuse! Why has it taken so long for your father to send you here? Sit down and have a chat with your grandfather.”

     “Why?”

     Jack’s grandfather sat in shock for a long time before he responded, “Because every member of the family has come here for hundreds of years, surely your father told you about this place!”

     Jack inspected the floor space in front of his supposed grandfather, realizing there was no chair to be found. Shrugging, he sat down on the floor. When your long dead grandfather appears in a strange cabin in the woods and asks you sit down, you don’t argue.

     “Given the expression on your face, it sounds like Varnes never even told you about this place.”

    “I have no idea if he would have or not. I ran away from the house when I was seventeen years old, and I’ve never looked back.”

    Leaning back in his chair, his grandfather let out the deep sigh of a troubled parent, “Why did you do something so stupid, Jack?”

    “I ran away after a hunting trip with father and my younger brother, Joseph. Only father and myself came back. I don’t know what happened, but I know it was father’s fault.

     Jack grew up in a family which never focused heavily on physical affection, so Gideon’s actions took him entirely off guard. Rising to his feet, Gideon wrapped Jack up in his arms, “It’s never easy to lose a family member. We grow up surrounded by death. We cause death in our work, but somehow we’re never ready for death when it follows us home.” Gideon felt warm, bring Jack memories that he couldn’t place because he was too young to really remember them.

     Now it’s my turn to ask a question. What is this place and how are you here? You died before I could even have any memories of you.  Father never talks about you, never even mentions your name. He would get so angry when Samantha and I would ask about you that we stopped pretty quickly.”

     “Generations of Goodbody’s have come here to meet with and learn from past generations. They come here to learn, to become a better version of themselves from past generations. I don’t know if the family had something like this before we came over from England. I wish I could explain more about this place.”

     Jack mulled the idea over in his head, “So why were you the one who showed up? Could it have been someone else’s ghost?”

     Gideon nodded, “When I came here as a child, I got my favorite aunt. Varnes wouldn’t tell me who he got, but every Goodbody family member is supposed to come here to get some advice and guidance on who they’re supposed to be.”

     Rising to his feet, Jack slapped the dust from his pants and looked around, “Well, won’t that be a shock to Julian when he shows up. He certainly didn’t mention this place or its purpose, that’s for sure.”

     Now it was Gideon’s turn to be curious, “And who is that?”

     Jack realized that Julian had been born after Gideon had passed away, “That’s Uncle Reginald’s son. He lives in California now.”

     Gideon’s face fell again, “Good lord, did nobody stay at the house? What happened to the family?”

     Walking over to one of the windows, Jack watched as Stan stacked wood outside, “We’re still around, just not all at the same place. There aren’t as many hunts to go on as there used to be, so we’re not really needed anymore.”

     “Jack,” Gideon’s voice was sharp when he spoke this time, “is that all our family is to you?”

     Looking over his shoulder, Jack shrugged as though the question didn’t even interest him, “It’s all I was taught. No hunts means no hunters and no hunters means why does our family even exist?”

     “When I was head of this family, hunts were a very small part of what we did. It’s the part we were known for, but that’s really a shame. It’s not the part I liked.”

    Tapping his foot on the floor, Jack tested it to see how it supported his weight, “What did you like?”

     “We just often happened to be the first family on the scene. When there was a problem, we came and we talked it out. Violence should be the last resort. When you go in looking for a fight, you always put your life and the lives of your opponents at risk and for what? Reputation? Honor? Someone always goes home in a box, when you start spouting words like that. Glory is a bitter dish.”

     “Huh,” Jack peered curiously at his grandfather, “I always wondered where that phrase came from.”

     Gideon laughed loudly, sounding more at ease, “It was something my father said and his father before him. I wonder if anyone even remembers where it came from now? It means something different for each person who uses it.”

     “Anyway, my cousin Julian asked me to fix the place up. He bought it as a summer home so he could stay near the house without actually staying in it.”

     “But why would you not want to stay in the Goodbody house? It’s all laughter and children running and telling stories about old times.”

    Jack laughed a particularly bitter laugh, “When I think really hard about the Goodbody house, I can still remember those days. These days, it smells like a cheap antiques store and it’s about as empty as one.”

    “But…this cabin doesn’t have enough room for Julian and his family to stay, even with extensive additions!”

    “Oh, I think there’s enough room for Julian and his partner. Ding a ling a ling.”

    Gideon paused at that news, “Well, I guess that explains it. I’m glad you’re helping out your cousin, Jack.”

    Turning to the unreal sight that was his enormous bear of a grandfather standing in front of him, Jack waved his hands as his patience gave out, “I don’t have enough time to stand and talk. If you want to give me the rundown on our family history or something, you’re going to need to work.”

    Gideon’s eyes went wide in shock at the entirely unexpected comment, then he confused Jack in turn. He laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over and struggled to breath. He laughed far longer than Jack would have thought possible before he finally managed to speak, “That’s my grandson! Just tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll get to work.”

     Taking a quick mental inventory of the work the cabin needed, Jack gave a quick order, “Go outside and tell Stanley we need more building materials. This whole place is rotted from the inside out, it’s going to need a lot of wood replaced.”

    Gideon saluted and Jack couldn’t entirely tell if he was being mocked or not. He walked out the door at a brisk pace before he stopped and looked back in through the door, “How will I know which one is Stanley?”

    “He’s the only one here, other than you and me.”

    Gideon laughed again, “Is he now? I’m sure I can find him though. He’ll be the only one I don’t recognize.”

    “Yeah, myself, Stanley, you and the animals on the mountain

    Jack crossed the room and sat down on the couch his grandfather had so recently vacated, “Why do these jobs always get so damned complicated?” As he sat on the couch, he could hear the trees sway outside and despite the complications, he felt at peace. This was still work he understood. Rebuild the cabin and spend some time with Julian. He might even spend the rest of the summer out east, which would nice. Rising to his feet once more, Jack cracked his knuckles. Time to get to work. This cabin wouldn’t renovate itself, which was good, because that would have put Jack out of a job.