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.

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