Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 42

     The world made more sense when it was clean. That, more than any other reason, is why Jack loved his work. Hunting quickly became so complicated, but cleaning was simple and pure. When it was just he and Stan, they worked one job at a time to create a more organized world. A clean world meant that everything had a place where it belonged. If something got out of place, one simply had to lift it up and put it back where it needed to be. That was true of people as well. Even someone as contemptible as Jack’s father belonged right where he was, cooped up in his dingy office with the blinds closed and the fire roaring in the middle of summer. Sometimes, all you can do is hide away the stain so nobody can see it. Samantha also had a place where she belonged and it wasn’t kidnapped by some crazed plant cult. This was a hunt, and one which Jack had hoped he never would see again. Hunting made even less sense when you’re hunting for a family member in order to save them.

     On this one occasion, Jack was truly glad that his father had a place he belonged. Varnes was sick, and had been sick for as long as Jack could remember. He hardly ever left his study, except for rare occasions when he went to sleep in his own room. That predictability meant that he would be home, and even Varnes Goodbody wouldn’t be so calloused as to let his only daughter get dragged off by the same cult which had stolen his youngest son from them.

     The road stretched on eternally in front of them. Once Jack started recognizing the landmarks which led him home, the road grew even longer. As the van raced along, he willed himself into a state of calm. A frantic hunter would do no good for Samantha. He needed to be sharp and prepared to move at a moment’s notice. What he really needed was information. Running off wild would waste valuable time.

     They arrived at the house in the early hours of the morning, when the mists were still curled around the tree trunks and the sun had barely risen enough to dispel the darkness. Jack hopped out of the car and raced through the front doors. It only took a few steps into the house to realize something was wrong. He could smell it in the air which lazily washed past him out the doors. It smelled stale, the Goodbody house always did, but it lacked that sickly sweet edge it normally carried. Fear, true fear and panic set in. Slowly, Jack walked around the first floor, trying to find someone to question. All the furniture was exactly where he remembered it. The kitchen was still warm from that morning’s breakfast. In his entire circuit of the ground floor, he only met a few maids and servants, and they would barely respond to him.

     Trudging up the stairs with heavy feet, Jack barely noticed Stan hovering in the lobby with a concerned look on his face. The stairs led his feet to his father’s office. The door into it was open, the fire was cold and the chair Varnes normally occupied was empty. The one time he needed his father to be a guardian and a guide, he had vanished without a trace. Surely, someone who knew where he had gone would come soon, but Jack had no time to waste. He only had one clue to go on, and that meant it was time to research on his own.

     Crossing the room, Jack drew the blinds aside from the massive windows which overlooked the backyard and flung the windows open. Cold mountain air poured in, dispelling the scents which had been idle in the room for so long. The fresh air helped Jack calm down and think. Time to research. Ishmael had told them the cult had a massive complex in Connecticut. Since his father had let it go this long without reacting, that meant he didn’t know it was there. That hardly meant there would be no records on cults in Connecticut, he just needed to narrow down which one he was looking for.

      Hours passed, and the research in his father’s office proved fruitless. No book in the study, no file in the cabinets, and no job on the personal message board provided anything which meshed with the clue Ishmael had given them. Sitting back in his father’s desk chair, Jack pushed back a ways and kicked the desk hard enough to lift it up off the ground. The center drawer came loose and hit the ground with a solid thud. He expected the contents to spill out all over the ground, but surprisingly there were only two files in it. One of them was the file which Jack had given him, taken from Ezra’s(?) office before all this madness had begun. The other was a file which his father must have compiled. Most of it made little to no sense to Jack, but one stray piece of paper caught his eye. It was the address of a building in Connecticut, which belonged to a cult. The name, “Children of Light” was as generic as it got. What really caught Jack’s eye was the mention that the cult lived in a massive building next to a farm.

      Rising to his feet, Jack memorized the address and tucked the piece of paper into his pocket, slipping the file under his arm. If the cult took her there, Sam wouldn’t have been there even for a whole day by that point. Dashing down the stairs, Jack found Stan sleeping at the bottom of the stairs, leaned against the wall next to the trophy werewolf. Gently kicking his leg, he roused his companion to wakefulness. That nudge from Jack sent him shooting upwards at incredible speed.

     ”We ready to take off, boss? The van’s prepped, the tools is ready to go.”

      Jack nodded and handed Stan the piece of paper he had located in the drawer, “I found this in father’s desk. It’s the place where they took our sister, if Ishmael is telling the truth.”

     Stan took the piece of paper in his gargantuan fingers and held it up to his eyes, “Is we sure we can trust them guys?”

      Looking out the door, Jack could tell Stan worked hard making sure the van was in tip-top shape. It sat higher than usual, and the windows looked cleaner.

      “We have to look. Let’s go, Stanley. We’re going to get Samantha back.”

      Stan nodded and stomped out for the driver’s seat, fishing for a cigar from his pocket as he went. Family is family, no matter where they came from. Jack adjusted his tie and checked his suit before hopping into the passenger seat. As Stan drove down the drive towards the main road away from home and towards his sister, Jack struggled to keep calm. Just because his sister was at risk was no reason to break from the usual procedure when dealing with a cult. If anything, that was all the more reason to keep to the tried and true methods. Getting anything wrong here would have disastrous consequences.

     The cult property, which the cultists had fled to with his sister, was located in North Haven. It was a good choice for a recruitment ground, because it lay directly on the border of Haven. North Haven had seen better days, but Haven remained fairly prosperous. That meant they were able to recruit from the poor and desperate, as well as those who were bored and searching for meaning in empty materialism. Before Jack was going to bulrush the cult complex, he wanted to find out as much information as he could about the location.

     The building wasn’t hard to find. It sat at the top of a large hill, overlooking a road which wound its way down to the main thoroughfare which ran through both towns. The property was surrounded by a tall chain link fence capped by razor wire. From the road, Jack could only see three buildings. The largest of the three was a barn which resembled a Romanesque cathedral if it were built by the Amish. It was a barn made for worship, and for human food. Close by, was a large brick building which looked to be their dormitory. The third building sat at the bottom of the hill, close to the fence. Jack couldn’t see anyone around the building, but if he had to guess, it served as an intake house for new members. It also probably housed some guards. In the distance, Jack could see a field of wheat swaying gently in the breeze.

      Getting back into the van, Jack nodded and Stan drove them back into town. Asking questions of the locals about the giant ominous complex on the outskirts of town would ring too many alarm bells, and he didn’t want them to know he was there yet. He had two sources of information to tap at his immediate disposal. The first was the file his father had left behind in his desk. The second was word of mouth he could catch just by eavesdropping, and getting a little lucky.

      They chose a diner in the middle of town and sat down to eat two days’ worth of meals, which they had missed while on the hunt. As they ate, Jack flipped open the file and examined the contents in more detail. The cult he was looking for was hardly mentioned at all, but there was a list of Machina and suspected current locations at the back of the file, written on a page in his father’s simple, but elegant, handwriting. So the cult were looking for Machina as well, were they?

     It made sense. If you wanted to bring your evil Elder Plant gods into being, you couldn’t do much better than a piece of magical equipment which could bring those dark realities to life. It also explained why Ezra(?) was helping the cult. If he was looking for a quick way to get his dead wife back, the Deus would be the fastest and most cost effective means of doing it. None of that sacrificing a close friend nonsense, just the press of a button and it’s done.

      They spent the rest of the day wandering around the town window shopping for information. Jack knew he was being overly cautious, but any wrong move could have consequences for his sister. It was only after the sun began to set that he started to give up on the idea of getting more information. It had already grown dark by the time they reached the cult’s property again and parked on the side of the road. If they couldn’t go in prepared, they could at least go in quickly and find her as fast as possible.

     The fence around the complex looked completely unattended, but Jack expected there to be security cameras or some unearthly horror show of plant monsters guarding the cultists. Stepping up to the chain link fence, he tentatively touched the metal and found nothing. No alarms sounded, no cameras whirred, the fence remained completely quiet in the darkness.

      Stan tromped over to await instructions, both of their cleaning bags slung over his shoulder, “Cults ain’t got no common sense. How come they had no idea we was comin?”

     Jack removed his suit coat and folded it over, placing it gently on the ground, “I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I intend to find out. Get me over the fence.”

     Stan shuffled the cleaning bags from his shoulder and handed Jack his bag before hunkering down and cupping his hands for Jack to place a foot on them. Placing his right foot on Stan’s outstretched palms, Jack braced himself and placed his hands on Stan’s shoulders. With a heft, he sent Jack rocketing skyward and over the fence, sailing a good distance onto the property before he landed. He surveyed the property and slowly pulled his steel broom out, waiting to see if there was any reaction to his intrusion. The sharp bristles glimmered in the light which poured from the windows into the night. Time to let Stan in and find his sister.

A note from the fireside~ 6/25/18

     Hello, dear friends. It’s been a very long week off. I missed you all a lot, and I have a few things to mention. Unfortunately, I almost forgot about this because the last couple of days have been busy, messy and frustrating. Good news first. There should be a chapter of Cleaners tomorrow, posted by 5pm. It’s mostly drafted out at this point, and the opening of the story has been flowing really well. This is a mega-arc which will end part 2 and lead into part 3. Second-Hand Rumors should also be out on time. I’m going to be using my renewed vigor and energy to try and up my writing game. Writing week to week gives you a ton of respect for manga artists and writers, who have to keep a schedule or their fans will lynch them and their editors. I’m glad I have the fans I have. I’m so glad you’re here, even after a week off and a late weekend update.

     Second-Hand Rumors also goes into it’s final arc for the part before leading into Second-Hand Lives. It’s not as long an arc, but it’s going to have a doozy of a conclusion. Expect to see some old faces show up again. The Dirt Gremlins are going to make a show stopping appearance as well. Second-Hand Lives will mark the completion of Liam’s story, and it will lead directly into the next set of stories. I consider Paranormal Cleaners to be the main storyline, and it is ultimately on a collision course with those characters in New York City. The difficulty right now is going to be the end of Paranormal Cleaners part 2. In order to make this current storyline work, I had to take an arc from the sequel set of stories, strip it down and rebuild it to suit my purpose. I’m not really sure how much retrofitting I need to do.

     This last week was a bit of a wake up call as well. My Patreon deactivated, I assume because it had been about a year and I was getting zero patronage from people. I’m not sure I can blame them. I’m not sure what I could have done. Maybe it’s because I always considered Patreon to be a shot in the dark? I certainly didn’t spend enough time on there to convince people I would be around. It make me think a lot about my writing and what I want to do with it. It motivated me to improve for you and start trying to be more systematic about my editing and writing. I guess it’s just depressing that I’ve been working on this story for years, and I feel like I have little to show for it. Now I’m just complaining, so I’ll wrap up by mentioning a few more small details. This next week will begin our first official cycle of five weeks on and one week off. Depending on how well my writing goes over the summer, there may or may not be a period of break in December, as there was last year, because my wife works at a bakery.

     I guess the best way to end this is by saying thank you for your visit. You are the oasis of hope in the desert of hopelessness which writing can feel like. I like forward to seeing you next week, and I hope you enjoy the stories to come. Please, pull up a chair and stay for a bit. When you leave, I’ll save your seat right by the fire where you left it.

A note from the fireside~ 6/17/18

     Hello, dear friends. I hope you’re having a good father’s day weekend. I myself haven’t been so fortunate, though I hope to be a father someday. We’ve got a few things to talk about this week. Goodness, that sound so serious. Maybe I can be a father after all. Anyways, the current arc for Paranormal Cleaners is done. It leads directly into the last arc for this part. Very likely, this over-arcing story will lead into the third part and make up the end of the story. In the original version, everything was going to get wrapped up in the next arc, but I felt this portion of the story needed a little weight. It’ll be interesting to see how this effects the overarching story for Paranormal Repossession, the second overall story.

     Second-Hand Rumors also ended it’s arc this week. It was a small arc, and not a lot happened in terms of actions, but I think the character development was very important. The last arc will encompass the end of the part. I am looking forward to the build up and the ending, and I would love to hear what you think about how it ends. Liam started off in a very different place, but in this last chapter he admitted he was becoming friends with someone. I would love to keep writing, but I am exhausted. This last week was so very long. I work a job where I am on call. I got called in every day, and I have a major project to work on for a student. With that in mind, I am cutting this weeks author’s note short. Next week, we’re going on break so I can try and get back on schedule. I might post something this next week, but let’s just say we’re closing our doors until next Sunday. I will miss you so much. Thank you, as always, for coming to my inn and spending some of your time with me. I am so glad that you came. I will save your chair for you right by the hearth.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 17

     Friendship was a concept which Liam found frightening. In his long existence, he had only known a handful of people who genuinely cared about him enough to help him without asking anything in return. Universally, people who were that kind died young, though maybe Liam’s long lifespan skewed his opinion on what dying young entailed. When Simon returned to the surface, he took Liam with him, rather than making him walk up the steps all by himself. The trip with Simon took much less time and the stairs up the long dark corridor felt much less ominous while they walked together. Maybe, Liam realized, Simon had put their relationship into the cast of paying off a debt because he knew Liam wouldn’t understand any other sort of relationship. Thinking back on their time together, Simon didn’t seem to care about the monetary value of possessions all that much. Maybe, just maybe, Liam had found a home at last.

     As they reached the top of the stairs, something black and furry with sharp teeth rubbed against Liam’s leg. As it’s head passed, Liam could tell it had sharp teeth. Somehow, he didn’t feel threatened, as though it was just saying thank you. Thinking back, Liam remembered the muffin and the chewing sounds which had seemed so threatening the first time.

     “Awww,” Simon exclaimed, his yellow left eye turned towards Liam, “You made a friend! I’m happy for you Liam.”

     Strangely, Liam didn’t feel like making a sarcastic retort. Maybe it was the coffee, or the lingering remnants of his hangover, but Liam just felt grateful for the experience.

     Simon opened the door at the top of the stairs and the sunlight poured down the hallway, dispelling the darkness which before had seemed so cold, but now felt quite warm. Stepping out into the world with him, Liam gave Simon a head start before he followed him again. His path was much more direct this time. There were fewer twists and turns, and his steps were surer and less frantic. As they walked, Liam watched Simon’s back very closely. He still saw flitting images of something following, just out of sight.

     They kept on like that until they reached a large apartment complex in Grenwich Village. Once he reached the front door, Simon stopped moving and looked back in Liam’s general direction. Liam slowly caught up and Simon turned to look at the front door, “I think this is an important question for you, Liam. How are you going to take responsibility for your actions? I know you didn’t mean to hurt them, but you did.”

     Liam turned his gaze to the ground, “I think I’ll just be honest.”

     Simon clapped a hand to his shoulder, “That’s a good start.”

    Walking up the steps, Simon opened the door and stepped inside. The apartment complex was like nothing Liam had ever seen. The gnome village was all inside the building. Houses were stacked on top of each other and set into the walls. Small walkways started from the ground floor and worked their way up sets of stairs to different levels, allowing access to different floors. The outsides of the tiny houses were painted bright colors, like yellow or blue, but many of the houses had heavy damage and showed signs of burning. In the center of the room, which encompassed the majority of the apartment, there was a large stone pillar. Homes were set into the pillar, with stairs leading around the edge. Spread all around, in orderly corridors, were the streets and shops of the village. When the inhabitants caught sight of Simon, they waved and cheered. Liam noted there were fewer gnomes than he would have expected. Many of the shops and houses had sustained damage recently as well. Life continued for the gnomes, in spite of their losses. Two members of the Aliway family were working on restoring the houses on that floor as best they could. They entirely ignored Simon and Liam when they came into the village.

     A human sized stair case went up to the next floor, and Simon led him up the stairs until they reached the fourth floor. In the middle of that room, in dire need of repairs, was the residence of the gnomish mayor. The street which led to it’s relatively sizable front had been made wide enough for Simon and Liam to cross. Once they reached the building, Simon tapped on it with his finger and waited. The gnome, Abram, which had met Simon earlier popped out of the house and closed the door behind him.

     “Simon! My friend, thank you for all you’ve done. Who is this you’ve brought with you?”

     Simon bowed his head to the somber gnome, “This is Liam. We talked at length about his involvement with your village.”

     Abram peered up at Liam, pulling a pair of spectacles from his pocket to get a better look at his face, “Well, it’s nice to put a face to the name.”

     Liam sagged forward a bit, “That’s a far nicer greeting than I expected.”

     Tapping his foot, Abram looked around at the work on that floor, “Evil people don’t need excuses to do evil things. I explained this to Simon, and yet, he’s still mad. Your friend is a very serious man. Repairs are going well, and with the added protection we’ve been seeing a lot of new arrivals to the community. How long can we expect your guards to stay?”

     Simon scratched his chin thoughtfully, “As long as you need them. Under the circumstances, it would be foolish to have them go. If my dad needs them somewhere else, I’ve got other means to watch over you.”

     “Thank you, Simon. That’s the best news I’ve had all day,” Abram peered over his shoulder, “Does your friend like wine?”

     “He dabbles,” Simon responded.

     “I overindulge.”

     “Normally, I would council temperance, but with guests here and repairs well under way, it’s a day to celebrate.”

     It hardly took a long time for the village to set out a feast. They must have been preparing it before Simon and Liam even arrived. Each family took their table from their house and placed it on the main street in a long row, so the whole community could eat together. Simon and Liam sat against the wall to stay out of the way. Liam drank more than a few cups of wine, but the cups were so small that it was going to take far more booze to get him drunk. Simon neither ate nor drank, he simply watched the gnomes celebrate their newfound friendships and the new birth of their town with a small smile dancing around his lips.

     It was late in the day before they finally left. Liam didn’t know where Simon was going, but he walked slowly, as though he were lost in thought. Liam continued to follow him as arranged, but more closely this time. He was buzzing a bit from the gnomes wine, and tired after a long day of walking. Suddenly, Simon whirled around on his heel and punched with his right hand straight at Liam’s face. The change of pace was so sudden, Liam hardly had time to react at all. Simon’s hand went whirring by his head, grabbing at something Liam couldn’t see. With his right hand holding onto what looked like nothing, he repeated the gesture with his left. When Liam looked closer, he could tell that something was wriggling around in each of Simon’s hands.

     “I should have known it was you two. You’re the only ones who could’ve stayed out of my sight for so long. You might as well stop fooling around now that I’ve got you in my hands.”

     The air around Simon’s hands shimmered for an instant, and gradually two small figures became visible in them. They were tiny, winged creatures with sharp teeth and spiky hair. It was hard to tell, because they were so small, but they looked related to each other.

     “What the hell are those things?”

     Simon looked genuinely shocked for an instant, “These are two pixies. They came from Trash Island, which is not the nicest town. Their names are Snickers and Speed Queen.”

     Liam scoffed, “It sounds like they were named after whatever their mother first saw after…”

     “Pretty much. Pixies get names like that around there. These two are no good scoundrels. If they were following me around, they weren’t doing it for fun. Who asked you two to follow me?”

     Just as Liam was wondering which Pixie was which, one of them spoke, “Hihihi, we just followed you because we were bored.” The other pixie frantically tried to fly from Simon’s grasp, as though she could get away through sheer force of her wings.

     “I will pull your wings off and burn them if you don’t tell me who told you to follow me.” Liam realized that his friend would follow through on his threats.

     “Denavi!” Speed Queen yelled.

     Simon let them go immediately. Standing on the sidewalk, with the setting sun lighting them, he watched them fly off into the distance, vanishing before they had left eye sight with whatever strange ability had allowed them to become invisible in the first place.

     “I guess we know who the culprit is, since they just gave us a name.”

     Simon exhaled from the pit of his soul, “They told me nothing, and they weren’t going to give me any more information.”

     Cocking his head, Liam looked at Simon, “He said Denavi. I only know one person who has that name and who would hire little fiends like that to follow you.”

     “There are no more Denavis. There haven’t been for a long time.”

     “Why is Adrian called Adrian Denavi then?”

     “That’s a story for another time. Come on a walk with me, Liam. I have more work to do, and I don’t feel like doing it alone tonight.”

     Liam followed him without another word as he walked forward. Somewhere in the last few years, Liam realized that he would follow that man anywhere. As the stars came out and twinkled down over them, breaking through the orange glow around the city, they visited the Mythic peoples. Everywhere they went, Liam saw many emotions played out all at once. Hope, fear, courage, sadness, determination and so many more, all because one man came to visit them. Somehow, a petty thief like Liam got to come along for the ride. Maybe this job was the best thing he had ever stolen.

     “I want your help getting some information, Liam. It’s going to be dangerous, but you’re the only one I can ask.”

     Simon’s voice cut through his thoughts as he followed him, “Sure. I can do it. Hey, how did you know they were going to follow you today?”

     “I had no idea, but I figured you would attract the attention of whoever was following me with your distinctive face.”

     Liam bristled a little at that, “So I was your bait? What a dick.”

     Simon chuckled, “You would be madder at them then I if you knew the gestures they were making at you. Besides Liam, I knew you would be alright. I trust you.”

     The world stopped, while Simon continued to walk away. Had anyone ever said that before? Liam felt determined to get the next job right, no matter what.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 41

     People live their lives possessed of an inherent, and flawed, understanding of the possible and impossible. Even Jack, for all the fantastic things he had seen, had such a mental list. At the very top of that list, just below his father ever saying a kind word to him and above rehabilitating a Dirt Gremlin to be clean, was his sister getting beaten in a straight fight. Jack liked it better when that was still impossible. Jack spent his childhood watching his sister grow and envying her abilities. Even though people called him a golden child, destined for greatness, he knew otherwise. Samantha Goodbody was his older, far more talented sister. If she had taken her duties more seriously, there’s no telling how far she could have gone. In her heart of hearts, Sam loved the open road and the thrill of the hunt. That love had gotten her into trouble before, but it also got her out of it, for the most part.

     The trail of corn husks and cult resistance led to the town hall, which hardly surprised Jack. Town halls represented power and authority over the masses, something all cults both desired and loathed. A cult occupying a town hall was madness clothed in sanity and order, just like the real government, only with more plant gods and human sacrifices. In front of the town hall, his sister’s trail and Jack’s blood ran cold. Hefting his long handled dustbin over his shoulder, he eyed the town hall with suspicion. Either she was in there, or she was being taken away. One option led to his sister, and the other option lost her trail, perhaps forever. With a limited time to make a choice, Jack chose the option which made sense to him. A cult so heavily established in a town such as this would never run from their holy ground, and they would never give up such a valuable prisoner.

     The town hall stood next to the village green, at the center of which a row of corn stalks had been planted in neat rows. It might have seemed silly, or innocuous before, but now it seemed downright ominous. The town hall itself had been build atop a small foundation, which allowed it to tower over the other relatively short buildings. Due to its height, it was impossible to see in through the windows without marching directly up the front steps or getting a tall ladder to peer in through the enormous windows on the sides of the building. Steps from the sidewalk led up to massive front doors, which opened in the center and led into the building. Even from the street, Jack could tell they were locked.

     Gripping the handle of his dustbin, Jack walked up the steps towards the building. Standing in front of the double doors, he hefted the incredibly heavy dustbin over his head and brought it crashing down on the door. It smashed through the center and ripped any locks on them apart. Both doors went swinging inwards and crashed into the walls. Stepping inside, he readied his dustbin for another swing, if he was attacked.

     To his surprise, the walls and offices inside the town hall remained intact. Somehow, he had expected the interior of the building to be covered with plants, or lit with candles made from human flesh. Given their feverish dedication to maintaining a façade of wholesomeness, he wasn’t quite surprised. The doors led into a wide hall with clerk’s offices on either side before they reached another set of doors, which probably led into the town meeting hall proper. From the windows of every office, there were cult members watching him. From under their shirts, the plants occupying their hosts wriggled and squirmed, moving the shirts around and gently poking out small roots which seemed to examine Jack as he walked forward. As they watched, they swayed gently back and forth, as though their bodies were remembering being swayed by gentle summer breezes.

     None of them made eye contact with him as he progressed slowly towards the doors to the town meeting hall. Since they made no effort to stop him, he made no attempt to attack them. His sister was the priority, and that meant no more distractions. The worn floors creaked under Jack’s feet, drawing attention to him with every step. The doors into the meeting hall looked old and worn, as though a stiff breeze would push them over. Pressing his hand to the doors and gently shoving, they swung forward with no resistance at all, until they hit the wall.

     Originally, the town hall must have doubled as the local church. It still had the pews, although they had been rearranged since the cult took over. They had been moved to face a small stage in the center of the room, with aisles leading up towards the raised platform. On the platform, a man stood with his face turned away from Jack. In front of him, laid out on a gurney, Jack could make out a pair of feet. The man worked so intently that he hardly seemed to notice Jack enter, but Jack could hear the metallic clink of small metal instruments. As he got closer, he could see the bloodstains all around the platform. A single light lit the platform, but the windows all along the wall let in some moonlight at well. A nagging thought pulled at the back of Jack’s mind as he walked closer, but the blood around the corpse was old, and the feet were too large to belong to his sister.

     “Are you going to stalk me all night, or are we going to have a nice chat?”

     Jack gripped his weapon tighter, swinging the heavy dustbin out to the side in order to swing it more easily. It’s heavy metallic end knocked over a pew as he passed it, “I don’t have anything to say to crazed lunatics who help cults take over the world by replacing people with plant monsters. Just tell me where my sister is and I’ll make it quick.”

     Once more, the metallic sounds stopped, “I suppose it’s too much to ask for you to just let me get back to work?” Dr. Lighting grunted in annoyance, “Very well, Jack Goodbody. You ruined my lab, so I suppose I can spare you a moment of my time. I’m not helping this cult entirely of my own volition, but they’ll help me all the same. I just want to bring my wife back.  As you’ve learned, the material I’d been collecting falls apart when another human’s spirit is inserted into them. The materials the cult has been giving me experiences no such setbacks. I was hoping to learn how to transfer the effects to human on human transfers and bring my wife back.”

     “I would tell you that you’re mad, but I suspect you don’t care. You do realize they’re just using you, right?”

     For the first time since he entered the room, Dr. Lighting stopped working. Pulling off his surgical gloves, he turned to face Jack, a curious unreadable expression on his face, “I’m not without protection, Mr. Goodbody.”

     Jack scoffed at the very notion that someone would be willing to help Dr. Lightning for anything other than money, “And who exactly is your sponsor?”

     Dr. Lighting merely raised a finger and pointed it at Jack. The voice behind him caught Jack so off guard, he almost fell over when he heard it, “Hi, Jack Goodbody.”

     Diving to the ground with a grunt, Jack rolled into a defensive position, but the man standing behind him made no move to attack him. He was thin and wiry, and he had long brown hair which reached down to his shoulders. He seemed young, almost too young to be called a man, but the confident look in his green eyes spoke volumes of his confidence. Green eyes? The last time someone told Jack of a strange young man with green eyes, it had led to his death.

     Ignoring Jack, the young man looked up to Dr. Lighting, , “We’ve done everything we can here. I’ve called the federales, if we stick around any longer we’ll get caught up in it. Time to go, Ezra.”

     “I told you to stop calling me by my real name, Ishmael. How much time do we have?”
Ishmael looked slightly thoughtful for a moment, “Hours, at most. Pack your things and get ready.”

    Swiping at Ishmael from his crouch, Jack missed his leg by a wide margin as he stepped back. His movements were strange. They looked slow to Jack’s eyes, but in reality they must have been impossibly fast in order to dodge his movement, “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me where my sister is, you scum!”

     Once again, Ishmael’s movements confounded Jack. His eyes could see the foot rise up and move to kick him in the chin. He simply couldn’t keep up with the motion, and the kick sent him flying upwards from the floor and into some pews.

     “I’m going to have to stop the little Goodbody first. Ezra, you should get ready to leave.”

     Ezra hopped off the stage and started for the door. Rising on unsteady feet, Jack watched the man who knew where his sister was going head towards the door. Hopping over the nearest pew, he dashed for the entrance to stop Ezra from leaving. In an instant, Ishmael vanished and reappeared directly in front of Jack, with his hand laid flat on Jack’s chest.

      “We’re not done yet, Jack. I can’t have you ruining my fun while I’m still playing.” With a shove, Ishmael sent Jack flying across the meeting hall and crashing into the wall.

     Rising with a grunt, Jack knew his dustbin was simply too heavy to keep up with Ishmael. Those green eyes kept bothering him as well. With nothing to lose, Jack simply asked, “You’re the Denavi who stole the silverware from Charles Beaufort.”

     Ishmael nodded, his grin growing wider and his eyes showing a little of the madness his family was infamous for, “If you had gotten there first, I would have killed you both to get my property.”

     Tearing the side from a pew, Jack brandished it and readied himself for another attack. Ishmael advanced, the bloodlust evident in his eyes. The sound of glass breaking, the sound which saved Jack’s life, was all that stopped him in his tracks. Stan must have gone back to their van and grabbed his bag, because it came launching through the window and landed right next to him. Ishmael began his advance again, dashing towards Jack. If Jack couldn’t react on time to where his opponent was, he just needed to stop him at the point of impact. As Ishmael closed in on him, Jack grasped his long, thin bag and waited. Ishmael pressed his palm to Jack’s chest once more and pushed. Grabbing Ishmael’s wrist, he came along for the ride this time. Crashing against the wall once more, he managed to hold on and stop Ishmael from getting away. Grabbing the Mop handle with his free hand, he pulled it out and brushed it across his opponent. He hated using that Mop, which erased the existence of anything it touched, but there was simply no way he could catch up to Ezra while fighting a Denavi.

     To Jack’s utter shock, the mop did nothing to Ishmael. His shirt fell away, but the man himself was unharmed. Before Jack could react, Ishmael slammed the butt of his palm into Jack’s chin and sent him rocketing towards the ceiling. He lost his hold of the Mop, which clattered to the floor, taking a section of wood away where the Mop head had landed. Jack fell to the ground heavily, unable to move. Looking upwards, Stan’s hulking form was already hovering over Ishmael, a massive fist hurtling downwards like a meteor. Impossibly, Ishmael stepped to the side and used his friend’s momentum to flip him into the wall. Stan sagged forward and landed next to Jack.

     “You two need a lot of work before you can catch up to me. I’ll give you a reward for playing with me, though. If you want to find your sister, the cult has a big compound in Connecticut. They’re headed there. It’s in some ritzy town I’d never heard of before.” Turning his back on them, Ishmael headed towards the door. Every other step was a skip, as though he had really just enjoyed himself.

     “Why are you telling us that?” Jack coughed up some blood after be spoke.

     “What? Ezra never expressly told me I can’t stab the cult in the back. It’s not like we’re friends with them either, and besides that, I want to see if you can rescue your sister before she gets used for monster mash material.”

     Jack seethed with rage, but he stayed down. Getting up and fighting again would just result in getting more hurt, and that would hardly help Sam right now. He needed to get home and ask his father for help. Surely, even though he was sick, even though he hardly seemed to care about his children, his father wouldn’t let her die like that.

     Ishmael waited to see what Jack would do. When he was satisfied that Jack was staying down, he left the building, following Ezra. Rising on unsteady feet, Jack put the Mop back in his bag and gathered his dust bin. If Ishmael was right, they didn’t want to be around here when federal agents arrived either. Helping Stan to his feet, they beat a hasty retreat to their van and began a desperate journey back home. If Ishmael was telling the truth, they had precious little time to figure out where his sister had been taken, before she would truly be lost forever.

A note from the fireside~ 6/10/18

     Hello, dear friends. Oh lord, have I missed you this week. I am so excited! I have a few important things to tell you. I meant to post on my author’s page on Facebook about this, but it’s been a doozy of a week. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. The first set of Cleaners chapter rewrites is done! This is the most important set of rewrites! The other ones will roll out slowly as the weeks go by, but most of them are cosmetic changes, or things that needed to happen story wise. With chapter 18 up, I can now officially focus on chapter 41 and wrap that up. I wouldn’t expect it to be up tomorrow, but Wednesday is a hopeful day. Given that I am aiming for every part to be 24 chapters long, to give each story some regularity, that leaves 7 chapters until the end of part 2 for Paranormal Cleaners. Hold on to your butts, cause it’s going to be a very bumpy ride. The opening of part 3 will be especially fun once we get there.

This week in Second-Hand Rumors is a little slower, and I would like to explain some of my logic on this chapter with you. Liam, being a thief, spy and general ne-er do well, doesn’t get a lot of good things in his life. This chapter ended up being a little light on substance because of that. I realized that, between Jack and Liam, you get a lot of darkness and sometimes, it’s nice to inject a little light into a story. Hence, a rare display of Jack’s personal kindness in chapter 18 when he left a family in the best shape he could, and Liam visiting a part of the Mythic world that isn’t a complete mess. That’s not to say it is without suffering, but I am happy I got to share a bit of my lighter side with you.

Next week, we are visiting the Gnome village, which has been referenced a couple of times. The design I had in my head was quite nice, so I hope it translates to the page. I might wrap up this arc early, rather than drag it out too long. The other reason I wanted a breather was because the last arc for Second-Hand Rumors is going to be a doozy. Expect lots of high octane Dirt Gremlin espionage action, and one of the most climactic fight scenes we’ve had yet. I’ve been looking forward to this part, because it helps bring Liam a little further on thematically. I am, admittedly, worried about the end of part 3. I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, but you should never write a story based entirely on themes, in my opinion. I’m not saying give the fans exactly what they want all the time, because sometimes I don’t know what I want until I have it. I’m just saying I care about you all. When you’re done reading a completed story of mine, I want you to be happy, crying, exhausted and fulfilled. If I can give you any of those feelings, I will have succeeded in my own purpose on this Earth. Also, I really like Dr. Brown as a throwaway character. He’s coming back for sure.

I’m so glad you came back for another week. My humble hearth just wouldn’t be the same without you. Please come again next week, dear friends. I will save your seat right by the fire.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 16

     Though your average passerby might doubt it, due to his rugged, rat-like exterior, Liam occasionally dabbled in friendships. Friends were a rare currency in the big city, and good friends were even rarer. A good friend who also happened to be your boss, who took you out drinking and then took you for a cup of coffee the next morning, was the best friend in all creation. He had even bought Liam a muffin, which his stomach eyed with the suspicious disdain of a career drunkard. Liam mulled these thoughts over as he downed his cup of scalding hot coffee, wondering how Simon had managed to talk him into a drinking contest with two half goblins and a rather inebriated talking rabbit. Simon was speaking to him, but Liam wasn’t catching most of the words.

     Liam adjusted a pair of dark sunglasses his friend had given him to combat his skull splitting headache. Simon sat across the table from him, also wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looking much worse for wear than he normally did.

     “I’m being followed. I can see something, someone, out of the corner of my eye. It starts when I leave the house and it follows me wherever I go. I need you to watch my back today, Liam.”

     “Are you sure you’re not being paranoid?”

     Reaching across the table, Simon snatched the glasses from Liam’s face, exposing his red streaked eyes to the vengeful gaze of Mr. Sun, “Because I’m kind of a big deal. I’m honestly surprised that nobody’s tried this before and also that you still haven’t picked up on that yet.”

     Following the sound of his voice, Liam knocked his employer’s sunglasses to the floor. He was rewarded by a sharp intake of breath, “I know you’re a big deal, that’s not what I’m getting at. Why don’t people just spy on you in your study? It’s kinda stupid to follow you around when even I know roughly where you’re going to be about half the time.”
“Do you want the job or not?”

     Liam hesitated for an instant, “Sure. I’ve wasted days doing dumber things.”
Resting a hand on Liam’s shoulder for an instant, Simon rose to his feet, “Thank you, Liam. I can’t trust anyone else to figure out what’s going on. It might take a couple of tries, even with your help. “

     Turning towards the front door, Simon suddenly turned on his heels and headed behind the counter. Grabbing his sunglasses and slipping them over his tortured eyes, Liam called out to Simon, “Wait, we’re starting now?”

     Simon stopped at the door into the kitchen, “What? Of course we’re starting now. I’ve got work to do, and we don’t have time to waste.”

     Darting through the kitchen door, he was gone. Quickly cramming his uneaten muffin into a pocket, Liam desperately followed. This was hardly the Simon which Liam had been working for over the last few years. Something had changed, either in their relationship or in Simon himself. He was careful, crafty and he planned several steps ahead whenever he took action. This spontaneous Simon was something new and that scared Liam a little. Spontaneous got people killed, usually the spontaneous ones and sometimes, the people around them.

     Striding from the coffee shop’s back door, he took a left immediately. Liam waited a discrete amount of time before following. If Simon was being followed, Liam couldn’t stay too close. When you’re tailing someone to find out if they’re being followed, you need to remain unseen, but keep your target in your sights at all times. As the morning wore on, Liam started to feel uneasy. Simon never overreacted to anything, the privilege of the truly strong, and if he thought he was being followed, he was. From that moment on, to Liam’s eye, every man in a dark suit eyed them carefully. Every random bump and encounter seemed forced, as though Liam was being tracked or warned off following his employer. Sometimes, he thought he could make out a creature following Liam, but it always darted out of his own vision so quickly that Liam dismissed it as his own imagination playing tricks on him.

     Whenever possible, Simon stuck to alleys and stayed off the main roads entirely. The path he took was more erratic than the one Liam vaguely remembered taking the night before, and he had been six sheets to the wind, with one sheet not on duty on account of drunkenness. As they travelled, Liam wondered if this was what Simon’s life was like when he wasn’t around. He always seemed so at ease, but Liam and Simon rarely met outside the Nair mansion. If this tension, this unbearable tension, was true power than Liam wanted no part of it.

     As the sun rose high above them and the shadows in the alleys ceased to provide any relief from the heat or the piercing light, Simon came to a stop in the middle of a small alleyway. Liam paused at the end alley’s entrance to watch him carefully. Whether someone had been following them or not, Liam could hardly say. If someone was following him, they were invisible, or they were doing it from a distance. Focusing on Simon again, Liam realized he was gone. Reaching the end of the alley should have been impossible, but he was gone. Walking cautiously to the center of the alley, Liam turned to look at what Simon had been examining.

     It was a door, but unlike any door Liam had ever seen in New York. It was made of wood, and was miraculously free of any dents or graffiti of any kind. On the door was an engraving of a tree. It reached upwards with branches full of leaves towards the top of the door, and towards the bottom of the door with its roots. If Simon went anywhere, he went into this door. Opening it, Liam discovered a set of stairs which went on endlessly into the darkness. Before taking the first step, Liam briefly wondered where Simon was leading him.

     The moment he placed both his feet on the steps, the door slammed shut behind him. No matter how hard he tried, Liam couldn’t get it open again. Quickly giving up, Liam started down the steps. It wouldn’t be like Simon to get them both killed so easily. Ahead of him, torches hanging along the walls lit the way ahead of him. For what felt like hours, Liam walked the steps. The torches ahead of him lit up, chasing away the darkness and revealing more steps. Behind him, torches would extinguish themselves, hiding all traces of the path back upward from his sight. Once, in an act of desperate frustration, Liam threw his muffin into the darkness behind him. He never heard it land, and there was a loud chewing sound for a few minutes after that.

     Just as he was beginning to wonder if he was going mad, another door appeared in front of him. It also had a tree engraved on it, but this tree’s branches bore no leaves. Instead of leaves, all the branches were filled with birds. What concerned Liam were the roots, which each bore a skull at its base, deep below the earth. Pushing the door open, Liam’s eyes were again assaulted by the brilliant light of the noon day sun. It took his poor eyes a minute to adjust, after the long darkness, but he could hardly believe what he saw once he opened them.

     Most Mythic peoples lived in plain sight. The old ways were dead, magic was dead, and those who lived on the Earth did so in fear of their human counterparts. This underground paradise bore no resemblance to the Mythic world Liam knew. This was the old ways, the manner in which Mythic People lived before humans became so dominant. High above Liam was the closest approximation of the sky Liam could imagine. Mist covered the impossibly bright blue earthen ceiling, approximating clouds. Beneath his feet, grass swayed in the breeze. What took his breath away was the city laid out in front of him. The grass at his feet quickly gave way to stone pathways, which led away between buildings and off into the distance. Rising up above the city, looking down over the city, was a massive tree which reached into the artificial sky. Far ahead of him, Liam could make out Simon. His suit was an instant giveaway in a city filled with point eared elves wearing tunics.

     The city was surrounded by an enormous market, filled with wooden stalls. They swayed in the light breeze which ran through the streets. The smell of cooked food wafted through the winding pathways the stalls created, and while Liam couldn’t understand Elvish, he got the gist of what the vendors were saying. “Buy from me, it’s better and cheaper here.” As he followed Simon, with his eyes only on him, he bumped into a child and knocked him over. Leaning over, Liam was surprised to find fear in his eyes. Liam had never been feared before, but he had never knocked an elven child over before either. Giving him his hand, Liam helped the boy to his feet. Smiling, the boy offered Liam a candy, which he took and put into his pocket.

     Many of the elves ignored Liam as he followed Simon through their streets. Those who paid him any mind, viewed him through suspicious, narrowed eyes. He decided against trying to steal from anyone. It’s best not to steal when you have no idea how you’re going to get out of a bad situation. Instead of working, Liam took the time to observe his surroundings as he followed his boss instead. Every city had a story to tell. If cities are living things, the streets and people are it’s lifeblood and veins. The city told Liam a story, and he didn’t fancy it.

     The majority of the buildings had stone first floors, but the floors above them were wooden. Every building was ornately carved with the faces of previous occupants, or famous family members from bygone ages. Some houses were completely covered in such faces, their regal features looking down on the streets. Some of them only bore a few, and their houses looked newer as well. Planted between the houses were tall Elm trees. Some of the trees were being used for housing or shops. Some of the shops bore carvings, ornate works of the sun or the stars, which Liam couldn’t understand the meaning of.

     Even though the city looked prosperous, the lifeblood, the people were a little thin on the ground. Many of the houses were empty or boarded up. Having worked around Simon and his life for a while, Liam had assumed the elvish population in New York was steady. All the empty houses made Liam wonder where they had gone. It didn’t take long to reach the center of the city. Towering above him, four massive trees grew together into one, having been gradually coerced through generations of careful tending. The intertwined trunks shot up towards the ceiling, where they had long ago pushed through the earth and upwards towards the city.

     Underneath the trees, two thrones sat surrounded by elves. Their occupants made no motion to rise as Liam’s friend approached. Simon strode confidently up the two thrones and bowed. Liam would have gotten close enough to hear what they had to say, but the glares he was shot dissuaded him somewhat. He waited until Simon was done talking.

     Returning the way he came, Simon stopped to check on Liam, “You, my friend, are one of the few individuals who have seen the one of the World Trees and lived to tell about it.”

     Arching his head back to look at the ceiling, Liam cupped his hands over his eyes, “Where does the tree go from here?”

     Simon looked up with him, “Some of the branches go to Central Park. I don’t know about the rest. Now, I know I was being followed by someone since before I got to the coffee shop with you. Are you absolutely certain that nobody followed me?”

     Liam rubbed at his eyes, “Maybe? I couldn’t tell. You’ve got me a little freaked out right now.”

     Nodding thoughtfully, Simon resumed his walk, “I trust you, Liam. Let’s give it another shot. I’m not sure you’re going to like where we’re going next, though.”

     Liam perked up at that, “And where is that?”

     Simon’s next response sent a shiver down Liam’s spine, “The gnome village in Grenwich Village. This is your world, now Liam, and these are your people, even if they aren’t. You’re going to have to see them at some point.”

     Liam waited for a good few moments before following Simon. He wanted to help his friend, but nobody likes walking back into their mistakes. Maybe, after all this time, Liam had to grow up a little and stop running away.