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.