Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 39

   Most cults function in a manner that one would expect if you crossbred high school drama with a totalitarian state. The latest gossip traveled at light speed from one side of such highly insular communities to the other. Gossip about out of town strangers asking inconvenient questions traveled even faster. That’s why, when the hotel manager told Jack they were expected for dinner, he decided to eat somewhere else. They arrived early enough in the day that there was no reason not to hit the pavement and start asking questions. The first burning question Jack held in his mind was who exactly had called him. The caller had been cut off before he had finished his request and Jack would never get paid unless he found out what the job was and who had hired him.

     On the way into town, Jack had spied a small diner replete with a diner counter that had resident truckers. Truckers that stopped into small towns like this often ended up growing roots, usually on stools in diners. That’s how they become permanent parts of the establishment. He insisted they left their belongings in the room without locking the door because the people who were most likely to try and rifle through their things owned the hotel, and thus had all the keys anyway. Jack hoped they did search his belongings. It would certainly speed his process up to no end. The diner itself was unlike any Jack had ever seen before. It certainly had the usual focus on burgers and fries, but the menu also had far more vegetable dishes than he would have expected.

     The waitress took their order, brought their food out and smiled gently at all their comments about having been hired to do some cleaning and the phone call that got interrupted. Jack even went so far as to say that he was investigating the case and that got a brief less than subtle look back to the fry chef, whose worried reaction Jack didn’t even need to see to know that the plan was working.

     What did concern Jack was the lack of any kind of identifiable marker. Most cults had something which gave their members away, usually some tacky robes or polyester track suits. On one especially pathetic occasion, the mandated garb had been Snuggies with the cult leaders leering face emblazoned on the front. Another group actually wore giant mouse ears, though that might have been because Jack brought that cult to ground in Disney World. Given Jack’s growing suspicion that the entirety of the town belonged to the cult, he was legitimately surprised to find no such common clothing item. Since they could cut random phone calls at will, this was a seriously proper cult. Maybe track suits were old hat, but he still expected something. Maybe a ribbon or a badge, just something to let other cultists know you played for the home team. Since the townsfolk seemed to be wearing perfectly normal clothes, it must be a physical condition, like a film over the eyes, or gills or some such nonsense.

     As he ate, watching the other customers eat as well, he finally noticed it; an old man walked out the door, passing them on his way. He wore a pair of jeans and a white dress shirt. One of the buttons towards his chest had come undone, leaving a tuft of white threads poking out. A quick glance confirmed they weren’t hair. Jack had a distant memory of them, somewhere buried in the back of his mind. When he tried to think of it, the specifics evaded him. It would come to him soon enough when he got to examine one of the cultists up close and personal. As he continued to watch, knowing what to look for now, many other patrons showed evidence of the same strange white threads on their chest. While it was possible they belonged to some cultic clothing worn underneath the normal clothes, something about those white threads felt unnatural and strange to Jack.

     After they ate, Jack paid and led Stan outside and took in the cool night breeze. The summer heat of the day had turned into a cool balmy night and a gentle breeze blew down Main Street keeping things fresh. Jack almost allowed himself to relax until two separate events occurred, almost at the same time, which completely destroyed his concentration. The first was the realization that he was being watched from every building on the street, even the ones that were too far away to make out his features. The people walking by, smiled through Jack and wished him a pleasant evening even as they plotted where his remains would be planted.

     The second event genuinely shocked him, making Jack feel as though he were going mad for a moment. He thought he could hear Metallica playing in the air, but that hardly seemed like the kind of music that would be played over the speakers in a small town like this. In spite of his continued efforts to convince himself that the music wasn’t real, it kept getting louder until he eventually realized that there was only one source that would show up around now. Soon, Jack could hear the engine and the windows on the storefronts started to shake. Stan heard it too and started looking around to try and find the source. The cultists in the streets renewed their mean high school cultist whispers, speaking ill of whoever dared to approach their town blaring rock at volumes even Jack would consider “extremely excessive”.

     Jack rubbed the bridge of nose shook his head. His sister would be coming into town and much like other drifters, she would look for that place where out of town roots settle down. This would be where she would stop. It took around ten minutes from when they had first heard the music, but she did eventually stop her bike right in front of the diner. She bounded over to Jack and gave him a big hug. Jack returned her hug before gently pushing her back and brushing some stray hairs out of her eyes. Then he adjusted her jacket slightly. Then he tugged her shirt straight and she grabbed his hands and told him to knock it off.

     “What brings you to town sister? Would it happen to be some mysterious phone call that got cut off around halfway through?”

     “Yeah, with some weird line about green eyes at the end that I totally didn’t get.” Sam scanned the street and caught the stares she was being given. Being the wild child often meant getting stares like that in small towns like this, but even Sam was aware enough to know when something was off.

     “In other words, we both got the same phone call from the same person about a cult in Ramshead. It mysteriously got cut off before he could tell us anything. This couldn’t possibly be a trap.”

     Sam smirked and turned her gaze up and down the streets, “You’re on to something, little brother. I wonder if any other Goodbody family members will show up?”

     “You never know, Julian is back in the state with his current soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. He might have gotten a call too, and you know how he adores cute bed and breakfast places.”

     “Oh no, another one? What was it this time?”

     “He got to watch Julian kill a giant snake. That’s sort of a mood killer.”

     “Ah, gotcha. So I’m safe leaving my bike here, right Jack?”

     Jack turned to look at her Harley. It was parked in a fire lane and stuck out slightly into the street, “Might as well, they’re going to find some excuse to impound it anyway so let’s give them a legal one.” The streets had started to quiet down for the night, but ominously Jack could still hear whispers from inside houses and front yards. The shut-down of the town was clearly more for the cult’s benefit than it was for their visitors.

     Jack tugged on his sister’s arm and started leading her back to his hotel, with Stan trailing along behind, “So my thoughts are, we go ahead and clean up the town and when we’re done they either pay us to leave or we find out who called us and we get paid for cleaning up the town. It’s a no lose situation.”

     Sam cocked an eyebrow at the simplistic explanation, “Or the person who called both of us was luring us into a trap that the whole town is either somehow a part of or in on and nobody had any intention of paying us. It’s not a coincidence that we both were called to the same town by the same mystery client.”

     “In that case, we just take the money and pay ourselves when we’re done. Also, setting a trap means free dibs on their stuff, you know the rules Sam.”

     “Alright, you win. So basically, we follow the rules and throw some rocks at this culty hornet’s nest and see what happens?”

     “Way ahead of you, threw a few when we came into town and your arrival essentially functions as one too. That means we really only have one left, the big one. I didn’t expect you to be here but it will be far easier with you.”

     “Phony missing person’s report?”

     “Phony missing person’s report.”

     The missing person’s report usually set creepy cults to red alert defcon one, Cthulhu has landed mode. There isn’t a single cult in the world that wants federal investigators coming into town and ruining their whole perfect town vibe. The investigators would go into the hotel and read their magazines and not even pay for them and arrest the cultists for crimes they committed in the name of some evil deity because they “just don’t understand”.