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.”
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.