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.