Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 45

     Grief is a quiet emotion which happens in the little moments. There’s no room in the noise and the chaos of the storm for hearts to heal. Only once the chaos has died down and everything else is as it should be does loss truly sink in, slowly and with sudden, silent fury. Jack leaned against the passenger side window and watched the once familiar woods fly by as Stan drove them back to the Goodbody family home. With his sister gone, Jack had nothing which linked him to his family anymore. It wasn’t familiarity which drove him back home, but a desire to take a few days to put his head back on straight. Time had left his home untouched, as though it was mired in the past. For once, he didn’t think he would mind that too much. Keeping his sister’s room closed meant her smell would linger. Walking through her doors would be like walking through a portal to the past where she still lived. With a start, Jack realized he understood his father better than he realized.

     All hopes of peace and quiet were dashed the second Jack passed the gates leading towards his family home. The years of debris covering the road in a thick mat had been removed meticulously. The long dormant house was full of noise and laughter. In all the worry about his sister, he had forgotten it. The family meeting was a semi-regular event, which only happened when the head of the Goodbody family called for it. When that happened, all the stray Goodbody’s who had left the family home returned like desperate little birdies escaping the storm. It also called in those smaller families which served the Goodbody family in the field. Each one of them had their own family homes, in imitation of the Goodbody house, only with less bad blood.

     One of the skills Jack had perfected with his sister was the ability to duck responsibility like a well-honed machine. Why waste time talking for hours with people who pretended to like you when you could be training or working? With that in mind, Sam had come up with a path through the house which would avoid almost all the confrontation and get them to the study. The footsteps echoing down the stairs spurred Jack into action. Walking through the hall, Jack took a little used door directly to the left of the werewolf. That led to a hallway which ran the circuit of the left side of the house around to the servant’s quarters. Ignoring the looks Jack got from the staff, he climbed the stairs to the second floor.

     Halfway down the hall was a little room reserved for Uncle Reginald. He never used it, so a younger Jack and Samantha had used it to store things they bought at a novelty shop in town. To Jack’s surprise, they were all still there, useless pieces of junk that they were. It took him one trip to realize what took Samantha dozens. Nothing they ever bought from Remy would work. Still, every time she went, she would browse the store with breathless enthusiasm. Stashed away in a corner was a supply of alcohol from the days when Sam had begun to grow up faster than Jack. A ladder stood in the middle of the room, directly under a hole they had meticulously cut into the ceiling. It led to a room on the third floor right next to the study.

     Climbing the ladder, Jack hopped out into the empty room and closed the hatch behind him. Exiting the hallway, Jack found himself face to face with the one person he needed to see the most, though he would never admit it. Aldea Demois was the current head of her family, and the woman Jack loved. It wasn’t exactly a forbidden love, but he refused to acknowledge it because they were distantly related. She wore a white sundress which came down to just below her knees. She had woven a crown of wildflowers into her light brown hair. The amusement at finding Jack exactly where she thought she would find him twinkled in her blue eyes as she watched him falter in his tracks. That expression quickly turned to concern as she saw the state Jack was in.

     “You look like a wreck, Jack. What happened to you?” That voice was sweet, forbidden music to his ears. “Everyone’s been wondering where you were.”

     “Aldea, I would rather not talk about it right now.” Jack looked at his feet and shuffled back slightly, hoping she would let him pass.

     Cupping his chin, Aldea gently tugged it up to meet her eyes with his, “I’ve known you entirely too long for that nonsense, Jack Goodbody. You tell me what’s wrong right now.”
Unable to avoid the truth when faced with her eyes looking directly into his, Jack blurted out the truth, “My sister is dead.”

     Aldea pulled him into a tight hug, holding him close and refusing to let him go. When she did let go, tears wetted her cheeks. .He knew Aldea and his sister had been close, “What happened to her, Jack?”

     “She was taken from me while we were tracking down a cult in Maine and…” Jack’s thoughts wandered to his father, “Is my father home? He was gone last time I left. Everyone seems confused.”

     Aldea pulled away from Jack and spared a glance for the stairs, “Your father is still gone, and everyone is confused. He called a family meeting, and then he simply vanished? That doesn’t make any sense. With him gone, there’s nobody left to preside over the meeting. If nothing happens soon, people are going to start leaving. I heard Mr. Warden talking it over with his wife this morning.”

     That wasn’t entirely true. Jack was there. He would have argued Julian would make a better leader than him, but Julian valued his freedom and his art enough to throw Jack to the wolves. Maybe he had been running away from this his entire life, but now he had run out of places to hide. He was the de facto head of the Goodbody family, at least until a warm body with more rights to the job than him came along. He thought back to the ride up the mountain, and how willing he had been to wrap himself up in a thick blanket of nostalgia and mourning. The world didn’t need a Goodbody family obsessed with the past. It needed one that was looking forward and thinking about the future.

     Seeing Jack lost in thought, Aldea hugged him again gently, “I’ll let you go into the study. Do you have anything you want me to do, Jack?”

     “Open all the windows. Clean out every room, whether it’s being used or not. Bring in more food and set up the dining room table. I want the whole family in one room for dinner tonight. This is a new Goodbody house, so it can’t keep looking like the old one.”
Aldea walked him to the study door and let him enter alone. Jack took the opportunity afforded by the stunned silence to enter the study and lock the doors. He sat in his father’s chair, which was now his chair, and fell into a deep sleep. It must have been the deepest sleep he’d ever fallen into, because when he woke up, everything had changed. The curtains against the wall had been pulled aside, and the windows left open. The night air came flowing in, dispelling the sickly sweet smell of his father’s long stay in the room. From where he sat, Jack could make out the stars twinkling in a cloudless sky.
One more addition to the room, which Jack certainly hadn’t requested, was his cousin Julian. He had set up his easel in the room, and worked away painting at it while Jack watched.

     “It’s nice of you to watch over me while I slept.” Jack shifted in his chair and finally noticed a plate full of food sitting on the table next to him. Digging in with abandon, he realized it had been a long time since he had eaten regular meals.

     “After your insistence that everyone eat dinner in the same room, there were a lot of people who were quite insulted that you never bothered to show up.” Julian didn’t look up from his easel for a second while he responded to Jack.

      Jack stopped eating just long enough to ask Julian, “Who exactly was upset with me?”

     “The Warden family in general, because they feel very important. Aldea, because she loves you, and a host of others out of misplaced concern showing as anxiety and anger.”

     Jack sputtered out a mouthful of food, coughing in shock, “She doesn’t love me!”

     “Yes she does, and you know she does, you doofus. I heard about Sam, by the way. Nobody is mentioning it specifically, which naturally means everyone is talking about it whenever they get a chance.”

     “It’s my fault, Julian. She’s gone and it’s my fault.”

     Julian stopped painting, “She’s not dead, Jack. At least, she’s not dead yet.”
Racing to Julian’s side, Jack grabbed him by both arms and shook him, “Don’t you lie to me!”

     As Julian shook back and forth, he pointed a violently waving finger at the canvas he had been working on. It was a painting of Samantha, sitting on the ground against a wall. Her left eye was bruised and swollen and she seemed to be nursing a broken arm, but she was otherwise unharmed. It took Jack a minute to realize what he was looking at.
“Of course, even though this is live, it doesn’t tell us much about where she is. I can only see her and her immediate surroundings, so that doesn’t leave us much to go on.” Julian set his brush down and gently pried Jack’s hands loose.”

     “How do you know your hunting magic means she’s alive?” Jack watched as his sister flicked off some unseen person.

     “Because if she was dead and I had attempted to use hunting magic to track her down, it would have killed me. I was willing to take that risk for this family.”

     “Julian, that was crazy. The last thing I needed was to wake up and find you dead on the ground. What would Raul say?”

     Chuckling weakly, Julian tried to brush aside the concerns, “That’s not his name, and we’re taking an extended break. Apparently, killing monstrously giant spiders really kills the mood in a way that you can’t come back from.”

     Jack watched the portrait of his sister move around slightly every few moments. She was alive. That’s all he could think about, until a lurking thought of his father came along which he couldn’t shake, “Say Julian. You know my father up and left, right?”

     Julian shook his head, “I know what you’re going to ask, but no such luck. Hunting magic only works if I have something to tether the painting to the target. I need a hair, some blood, something I can put into the paint. Your sister left enough hair in her room to line the nests of the most liberal minded song birds in creation, with room to spare. I could find no evidence that your father existed in this room. There wasn’t a speck of him. I tried anyways, and the results weren’t good. You can take a look if you like, they’re in the corner.”

     Facing the wall was a stack of portraits. The canvas was turned away from them so that only the rear of the work could be seen. Jack crossed the room and turned over the first portrait before hurriedly replacing it. Whatever his cousin had painted, it wasn’t human. Horrible, blackened fingers grasped out towards the viewer, as though the figure in the painting wished to drag you away never to be seen again.

     “What the hell is that?”

     Julian turned white, and his hands shook a little as he spoke, “I have no clue. I’ve never failed completely, even without materials, to the point where my painting fails to show my target entirely. Either your father is very good at avoiding being tracked, or…” he trailed off, but Jack knew what he was saying. What kid of monster was his father, really?

     That left the matter of the family meeting. With Samantha currently dangling in the wind, it left the meeting in a secondary position. Returning to his seat, Jack sat back and closed his eyes. How does one stop a meeting which has already been planned? Abandoning his sister was out of the question, canceling the meeting was also impossible.

     “Why don’t you just ask them for help, Jack?” Julian’s words cut in through his thoughts like a knife. Of course, he had considered that. The resources he could bring to bear as the head of the Goodbody family were considerably greater than his own. To ask them for help, at an official meeting, meant accepting his position as head of the family. In truth, Jack had only considered himself as warming the seat that belonged to his father until he returned. Ordering the families to do his dirty work would be as good as admitting he was the heir. The alternative was to deny himself the chance to rescue his sister, and that was simply out of the question.

     “Julian, are you willing to help me find my sister?”

“Of course. Just tell me what you need, Jack.”

     Jack paused for a long time before he responded, “We’re having the meeting as planned. I’m going to ask for help finding my sister and my father. Normally, I would ask my sister to come with me to the meeting as my second. With her gone, you’re the only full relative I have left. Will you sit by my side and help me argue we should look for Sam?”

     Nodding, Julian began to pack up his supplies, “I can do that, Jack. I wouldn’t want you to have to face off with the families on your own. Without your father here, I bet some people would even rather deal with my father right about now.”

     Jack hardly heard his cousin as he spoke. His mind was already on the upcoming meeting. Family gatherings were rare in the Goodbody family, and they only happened when the head of the family called them. That his father had called a meeting and the promptly vanished raised many questions, which he wasn’t present to answer. Varnes Goodbody never did anything without a reason. Maybe if he asked the right questions at the meeting, he could find out for himself why the meeting was called.

A note from the fireside~ 8/5/18

     Hello, dear friends. I’ve missed you a lot these past weeks, I really have. Please forgive my absence this last week, I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking about this blog and my goals and how I’m going about them. Firstly, let’s talk about the upcoming chapters, then I’m going to throw down a little writing theory, or ideas. Lastly, I want to talk about my plans going forward from here and see what you all think. Paranormal Cleaners and Second-Hand Rumors are both going into their home stretches. Paranormal Cleaners will see Jack come home to a house without his father. He’s going to have to navigate his changed position in the family. Really, the whole struggle for him is how he doesn’t really want to be involved with his family anymore, and this is the tipping point in the next couple of chapters. Rumors continues the fight from where it left off last week. I’m still working on that, but I should be able to get it out on Friday. I really don’t want to spoil the chapter, but I’m looking forward to it.

So let’s talk about tone. I am, at heart, a humorist. I think I intended something very different for Jack and Stan from the start. I wanted to make it funny, but here’s the catch. So there’s a gag manga I like to read called, “I didn’t ask for this kind of here” or something like that. It’s about a psychic named Naga who joins an organization of superheroes called Spoon to fight against a group called knife. It’s utter nonsense, but it does have a plot. I may be the only one who cares about seeing a resolution, but you can’t keep telling me characters are so badass and then never let them do much of anything. It’s like watching a baseball player wind up to pitch, and then just quit halfway over and over. My writing for these series buzz the most when I’m being funny, and I get that. I just want you to know that, even if nobody else does, I take the plot seriously enough to want to see it resolved. It has a rough ending spot it’s heading for. There’s so much more history than you know, all planned out, that may never get shown.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew as well, which leads me to my third and final point. Effective as of last week, this inn will close every other week so I can get other writing done. That snafu this last month was really not my fault. It’s hard to write when you’re exhausted from moving boxes all day, and then I went on a trip. I also had some medical problems to deal with, but the stress really got to me. In order to provide you all with the best chapters possible, I have to pace myself better. I have other writing projects I need to complete, and much as I love you, I can’t keep breaking myself like this. You all are my world, as a writer, but I need to figure out how to do this in a healthy fashion. I’m kind of nuts, and I would break myself to get you a good story. I’m sorry for my absence, please forgive me. Expect a chapter tomorrow for Cleaners and Friday for Rumors. Next time we meet will be the week after next. I’ll miss you terribly. Please come and visit us again. I’ll be sure to save your seat right where you left it by the hearth.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 44

     Death follows the Goodbody family. It was as much a part of their family heritage as hunting or individuality. Somehow, it still caught Jack off guard when someone he cared about died. The brilliant sickening light cascading from the chandelier blinded him slightly, leaving his thoughts fuzzy, and his motions sluggish and slow. The cult leader, who just vanished up to the third floor in an undignified escape, was the goal which kept Jack going. Cults were, almost by design, incredibly suspicious of outsiders, but in Jack’s experience they treated other cults in much the same way major corporations treated client e-mail lists. They often networked and bickered with each other about their dueling insane beliefs. While Jack felt certain that his ineptitude had led to his sister’s demise, he could still find what was left of her and give her a decent burial at home. He doubted her spirit would stay there long. She had never been a homebody in life, and what remained of her would follow suit in the afterlife as well.

      His thoughts came crashing back to reality with Stan’s mallet, which swung through the air in a short, tight arc and smacked his head into what remained of the wall they had just knocked down. The lenses of his glasses shattered and crinkled to the ground, his ruined frames quickly following them, slipping from his face. This would be a race then. How fast could Jack catch up with this farce of a cult leader while keeping ahead of Stan? Slightly dazed, he snatched the shaft of the mallet before Stan could retract it to strike him again, he grabbed the mallet head and pulled it off. Trying to remove the mallet, or break it, would prove to be too time consuming. With this, at least Stan only had a long stick. What damage could he do with a stick?

     When he had a free moment, and Stan was no longer trying to kill him under the orders of a man they had never met before, he would have to examine him to find out what was going on. Only the unhinged and chaotic nature of the moment stopped that question from rising to the top of his mind. Concern for his friend, along with the time it would have taken to fight him, meant that a frontal confrontation was out of the question. Stan wavered for a moment, holding the handle to his mallet with a dumbfounded expression he had never seen before. It must be the light, which was affecting Jack’s ability to focus as well.

     Time felt as though it was drawing to a stop as Jack dodged away from Stan and took his first step towards the stairs. The cloaked cultists rushing towards the stairs to cut him off looked as though they were moving in slow motion. It was a sensation which Sam had described to him often, the feeling of absolute concentration she achieved when hunting. On rare occasions, he had experienced the same sensation, but it was rare that the work he took with Stan pushed him to that extreme. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he could see the openings between the bodies cascading down the stairs in a river of angry, undulating idiots.

     It was his instincts which saved him, almost pushing him back a step without even knowing why. The mallet handle shot past him and flew off into the building before lodging itself into a wall. Apparently, that’s what Stan could do with a stick. Time to put some distance between himself and Stan. If they got into a fight, Jack would almost certainly win, but it would take precious moments which his quarry could use to escape capture. Rather than let the moment run away, he decided to let Stan be the one to take out the cultists racing down the stairs. It was the least he could do for Jack, given that he had already attacked him twice.

     Once he decided to avoid any fighting, his path became easier. Advancing up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, Jack slipped himself through gaps in the crowd of cultists. Worming his way in between them, he could hardly slow down a moment with Stan chasing him. Anyone who fell behind him was violently thrust out of the way, as Stan struggled to deal with the brainwashed, robed traffic barriers Jack left in his wake. As he reached the top of the stairs, Jack grabbed one particularly hefty cultist by his robe and helpfully shoved him down the stairs. The cultists below him tumbled down like dominoes directly into Stan, who had to brace himself to stop them from pushing him back. That gained Jack a precious few seconds.

     It occurred to him while he ran up the stairs that Stan’s behavior would immensely improve if that chandelier weren’t shining anymore. That must be what was affecting his own movements, and if it were affecting Stan’s motor skills as well, it would explain why he was having a relatively easy time keeping ahead of him. There was something strange about that light, however. Something which clearly went beyond a normal chandelier. The cult leader had mentioned receiving it recently. Mentally, Jack added it to the list of questions he wanted to ask the man when he found him.

     Reaching the third floor Jack quickly located the chain which held the chandelier suspended over the second floor. It had been lowered via a winch to shine down onto the second floor. That was likely why portions of the floors and walls were missing, so that the light could shine on as many places in the building as possible. He wanted to give it a closer examination, but Stan’s footsteps gave him no pause for thought. All he needed to do was stop the chandelier from shining. The walls around him lacked any switches and the cord ran around a wall off into the third floor. With that in mind, he took the chain in his hands and lifted it up slightly to give himself some slack. Just as Stan reached the third floor, Jack snapped the chain holding the chandelier into two with a sharp jerk. Letting go of the chain, it swung downwards towards the floor and shattered into pieces.
The lights from the chandelier vanished with that crashing sound, and the pain which Jack hadn’t even realized was lurking in the front of his head went away. Stan collapsed to his knees, dust rising around him as he fell forward, barely managing to support himself on his hands.

     Jack was at his side in an instant, checking his forehead with the back of his hand and gently pulling an eyelid open to check his eyes. The pupils were dilated and appeared to writhe slightly as though they couldn’t maintain their shape. As Jack watched, the movement slowly came to a stop.

     “Sorry…boss. Ain’ no way I could’a stopped. Them lights was in my head.” Stan slumped forward and gently hit the ground. His heavy breathing reassured Jack that when he came to, he would be back to his old self.

     Getting up and adjusting his tie, Jack scanned the third floor. The walls remained mostly intact, but thankfully he hardly had to look for his target very long. He was the only other person moving in the whole building. Everyone else was either dead, unconscious, or wishing mightily that they were dead, thanks to Stan’s rampage. The few cultists who were conscious merely sat, holding their heads. Stopping, he leaned down and examined one. He seemed disoriented, lost, and entirely confused as to where he was, or even when he was.

     Leaving the cultist, he turned his attention back to their former leader. As Jack listened, he could hear footsteps retreating away from him, headed downwards. Oh, of course. There would have to be some second set of stairs reserved for a making a quick escape in case the Feds got interested in why so many people were coming onto the property, and just decided to never leave.

     In a building with three stories, and stairs which could only lead down, Jack at least knew the general direction he was headed in. Racing back down the stairs, and winding around the bodies he had pushed past only minutes before, he reached the ground floor in record time. After waiting for just long enough to be sure that his quarry hadn’t simply left via a side door, checking from the front door for flapping robes in the distance, Jack decided to explore the first floor. It didn’t take long to find a door which led down into a basement. In his haste to escape from Jack, he had left it open, but it wouldn’t have taken Jack long to find it anyways.

     It led downwards into a crypt of sorts, with a seemingly endless amount of spaces open for bodies. Many of the spaces were already filled, with believers or apostates, not that it made much difference at this point. He found the cult leader desperately scraping away at a wall with his fingernails. Jack scratched his head. Why would anyone go down this path if there was no way out? Maybe he expected Jack would just leave, under the assumption that he had already left. Panic or overconfidence had led to his downfall.
“I didn’t do anything wrong! This isn’t my fault!” The cult leader’s hooded robe fell away, and the result was as spectacularly underwhelming as Jack had learned to expect. He was a thin man, with pale eyes and a sort of dreamy expression on his face. His few wisps of hair spoke of stressful hours running a rat race which, as a cult leader, he no longer needed to run. On the chart of banal evil, he was evil milk toast, capable of hurting people only because someone had given him something so powerful even he couldn’t screw it up. The power in his voice had vanished, replaced by a cowering, wavering voice which sounded more natural coming from his frame.

     “We’re surrounded by those who followed your beliefs, whatever they were, and you have the gall to tell me that you didn’t do anything wrong?”

     “The light! The light will save us all, which shines from any source which has the stone! It knows all, and sees all, and…”

     Jack stopped listening as the situation became clear. It was different than whatever Jack could have expected. This thing he had found, or been given, it was so powerful it had warped his mind. The blind was leading the blind, “And who gave this thing to you?”
“Goodbody!”

     After that, he fell silent and looked down at his hand. He was holding a small black cylinder with strangely familiar black markings. Prying it from his hands, Jack turned away and returned to the first floor without a word. He found a groggy Stan waiting for him.

     “Boss, I ain’t never had that happen before. I got no idea what happened.”

     Holding up the black cylinder he had taken mere moments before, Jack shook his head, “It sounds like everyone was being controlled by this thing. It looks almost exactly like the one we took from Creepy Bug Guy. We can’t let anyone else get their hands on these.”

Stan scratched his chin thoughtfully, “So the reason yer father had them notes on this cult was that metal piece’a…”

     “Yes, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Cult of the Fields, or my sister. We’ve been had, Stanley. All we can do is head back home and get to work recovering what’s left of my sister. I find it hard to believe she’s still alive at this point, given how many of their people she killed in her one woman rampage.”

     “What about them cultists? I smell no blood on you either, what about the guy in charge?”

     Jack paused, “I left him alive, technically, but he’s all alone now. The only member of a cult more helpless than the suckers on the lowest rung is the biggest sucker sitting on top. You learn to think you’re invincible and you forget how to take care of yourself. That guy was a nobody before, and he’s still a nobody now. If the other members of the cult don’t find him, he’s going to die on his own. Nobody will even remember his name.”

     “What’s his name?”

     “I don’t know, I never asked.”

     Tragedy never happens for a reason. People gave purpose to them afterwards, something Jack refused to do. In his haste, and his fear, he had sought out his kidnapped sister and failed to find her. Ezra’s companion, Ishmael Denavi, had sent him on a wild goose chase, and in his eagerness to find his sister, he had fallen for the ploy. He had found another Machina, likely the reason his father kept notes on the place. He had planted a seed, tended it, and watched it grow twisted and evil from afar. That didn’t give this trip purpose, nor did it give his tragedy a meaning. His sister was almost certainly dead, and that was something he would live with. When he found his father, he had some questions he needed to ask him. His father might not like the questions, but Jack wasn’t sure he even wanted the answers. The long trek back to the van and the ride homewards would give him plenty of time to think it over.

A note from the fireside~ 7/22/18

     Hello, dear friends. This will be a short post. I really didn’t want to write this post. God knows I wanted to avoid writing this post. This last week has been such a mess. I have two rough drafted posts, but I finished them far too late for my wife to look at. This last week was mostly spent helping my sister in law move out, and then my wife and I had a mini vacation planned. Between those two things, I got so little writing done. I’m sorry. I was tempted to wait until tomorrow to write a post, but you deserved to hear it from me today. God, I screwed up this last week. For what it’s worth, the added time has really clarified in my mind what I want to get done. Please forgive me, dear friends. I’ve been sick and I’ve been tired, but that’s no excuse. I’m going to give my wife two posts to edit tomorrow, and hopefully this week will be smoother and I can give her two more on Friday. Thank you so much for your patience. You all mean the world to me.

A note from the fireside~ 7/15/18

     Hello, dear friends. I can’t begin to express how much I’ve missed you. This week has been very long, very disappointing and very full. I will attempt to do my best to avoid giving you too much personal details, that’s not really what these posts are about. Neither Cleaners nor Rumors posts are ready. I’ve tried so hard this week to get any writing done.  Today, I rough drafted most of a Cleaners chapter and things felt more certain this week than they have in weeks past. Chapters 44 and 45 will wrap up this arc, and I have something special planned for the end. It’s given me an opportunity to tighten up the last part for Paranormal Cleaners, which excites me greatly. Second-Hand Rumors as well, I felt bad about. Something felt off about this last couple of chapters, and I realized that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. It’s been a learning experience, but it’s not fair that you had to suffer through those chapters.

     I had an epiphany on how to save this last arc and keep my promises mostly intact. I feel bad that there were no posts this week, but everyone had to pitch in to deal with a family emergency. On top of helping my sister in law move, I spent the last couple of days looking after my nephew, who is two years old. Anybody who has a two year old knows exactly how exhausting that can be. That I got any writing done today is honestly shocking. I can’t make any promises for this next week either, because we have to move all their things into a storage unit. I will do my absolute best to find a way to make this up to you. I feel dreadful about the way things have gone. This last week did have some silver lining to it, though. For weeks, I’ve been attempting to function on my desktop. I function much better on a laptop. Maybe it’s silly, and maybe it’s not something I should take seriously, but nobody ever questions the Natural about his bat from a tree struck by lightning, or maybe they do. I have no idea, I still haven’t seen the movie. Anyways, long story short, I splurged and bought myself a laptop this weekend. It’s glorious not sitting in my wife’s grandfather’s studio chair, which is wonderful and sentimental, and had some sharp thing sticking out of it, which pushes into my butt. The seat is almost entirely worn away, in terms of cushioning too.

     Anyways, I just wanted to let you all know what’s going on. I might count this as a break week, and start the five week counter over, though this week was hardly a break. Honestly, taking the time to sit down and write this little note to you has lifted such a great weight from my mind. Once more, I am so sorry that there were no posts this week. I’ll try to be better about posting on my author’s page on Facebook about that in the future. Thank you for coming and seeing me every week. Your visits mean the world to me and my wife. Please come back again soon. I’ll be sure to save your seat right by the hearth where you left it.

A note from the fireside~ 7/8/18

     Hello, dear friends. I hope you’ve been well this last week. I’ve been thinking about you a lot, for more than a few reasons. I have a few things to talk about this round, so we should get into it. This week’s Cleaners was no fun to write. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve had to rethink where the story is going for the forseeable future. The end of this chapter certainly points out some of those problems. Jack needs a reason to stay, as opposed to just leaving. He does have one, and so do I, but it will really change the tail end of Cleaners. Thematically, I think it works better, because the original point of the opening story as a whole is Jack getting intertwined with his family again. His sister getting kidnapped is a good way to do that, and it ties the story back into the main antagonist, Ezra, or Dr. Lightning. Expect to see him a few more times in the next part, looking ahead. Rumors as well is steaming ahead towards its ending. The interruption of one of the Fourteen Kings will certainly prove to have ramifications both for the end of this story, as well as the following series of stories. It was unexpected for me, so it took a long time to get that feeling right.

     I wanted to briefly discuss health issues with you as well. I don’t mention them often, or I try not to, because that’s really not the point of this blog. I will mention it here, because I care about you. I’m sorry the story was late this week. I wanted so badly to post on time. I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and perhaps because of that my bipolar disorder has been acting up as of late.  I’ve also been fighting off some sort of sickness, which has made it difficult for me to recover mentally or emotionally. With that in mind, I’ve decided to plan on posting late this next week. In an ideal situation, that will be Friday. I’m doing this because I plan on spending the opening of my week rough drafting like mad. I’ll come back towards the middle of the week and redraft what I’ve got, get it edited and post it. Saturday or Sunday might be more realistic, but I have high hopes.

     Thank you for being so patient with me, dear friends. My wife works hard editing for me, and I work hard trying to get her work which is easy to edit. This week must have been hard, because I consider these chapters to be a bit of a train wreck. I look forward to next week, though. I’ll miss you, and I hope this week finds you well. I’ll be sure to save your seat by the hearth, right where you left it.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 43

     Growing up in a powerful and secretive family, Jack understood the mystique of cults quite well. Loneliness can be a fate worse than death, and being part of a cult made you part of something bigger than yourself. That’s all well and good, until it all goes wrong and the scales get pulled away from your eyes. For Jack, the loss of his brother was the event which caused him to finally leave it all behind. Even before that, though, he had been considering leaving. Cults also come with their own problems, which Jack was intimately familiar with. If you spend all your time looking inwards at your own group, you’ll never notice the intruders slowly sneaking up on you until it’s too late.

     Remaining still, knowing his sister was so close, and forcing himself to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness was one of the most difficult things Jack had ever done. Successful hunts require three things, things which had been pounded into him since he was a child. Planning, patience, and determination. With his only remaining sibling on the line, he found himself sorely lacking in the first two traits. If he were his father, or his sister, he could have made up the difference in pure talent. Lacking that talent, he would just have to move fast and hope that nobody caught onto their presence until they were already gone.

     Returning to the fence, Jack hefted his broom up into the air. The steel bristles twinkled in the low light before he brought it down twice, slashing a hole in the fence for Stan to clamber under. Looking back to the compound, he studied the buildings and considered which one to attack first. The largest building was the barn, clearly intended as a place of worship. It looked empty, however, and Jack felt safe leaving that building for last. The lights were on at the smallest building, which lay directly next to the gate leading into the compound. That would be the safest place to start, and it would allow for a quick escape route if their rescue went south. The largest building sat atop a hill. The lights coming from the third floor danced slightly, showing movements in the light which he couldn’t comprehend. Instinctually, he looked away from the lights. Best to start with the smallest building first. When you’re trying to rescue someone from a cult, it’s best to work in one solid direction, like rolling up a carpet full of Dirt Gremlins so you can release them all into the wild at the same time.

     The building they started with, which stood by the gate, was a rather deceptive piece of architecture. It’s design was simple, bricks and windows with a small front door. Light streamed out from the windows, illuminating the road leading up to the other buildings. At first glance, it was a completely harmless building, with nothing special to show for itself. A closer examination revealed some troubling features. In a few places on the building, the brickwork had been pulled away to reveal reinforced concrete. The front door, which had been painted a bright blue color, was actually made from reinforced steel. These design choices made it’s sinister purposes quite clear. If you were joining their little club, that building would welcome you inside. Like most cults, it was easy to get in, but very difficult to get out again.

     Jack stood to one side of the door and nodded to Stan. Taking a few steps back, Stan raised his foot in the air and smashed the door into the building. Stepping inside, Jack scanned the room. To his surprise, they weren’t greeted by a wave of cultists occupied by plant monsters. A quick tour through the rest of the building revealed nothing worthwhile. The first floor held only empty offices and some locked doors which leaked the smell of dried blood from the rooms behind them. Though Jack felt sure the blood was too old to belong to Sam, he kicked the doors down anyways to confirm it. He was thankfully right. The second floor was made up of simple bedrooms. Each room had it’s own gun rack, but all the guns were still hanging in place. The beds were warm, and the sheets were flung back to the bottom of the bed as though they had been tossed aside in a hurry.

     “Looks like someone called an emergency meeting.” Jack looked out the window of the room they were in towards the large dormitory building. The lights which shone out from the window gave Jack a slight headache as he watched colors within the lights dance.

     “We best go break them up, boss.”

     Jack headed for the door, the trance of the lights broken by Stan’s voice. Stepping back outside, he once again took a few impossibly long moments to adjust his vision to the darkness. Avoiding the road, they crossed the yard to stand at the bottom of the hill which led up to the building. The slope which led up to the main building turned out to be incredibly useful, due to the tall grass which grew on it. Once they hit the slope, it became difficult to make out any movement amongst the long grass leading up towards the main entrance. Once they reached the top of the slope, they stopped and waited.

     Once he was satisfied that they wouldn’t be seen, Jack dashed to the side of the building. Taking a quick peak through the window, Jack was dumbfounded by what he saw. Whatever original purpose the building had been intended for, it could no longer serve that purpose. Aside from stairs leading to the second floor and load bearing bits of wall, the most of floor had been pulled out, leaving him clearly able to see the second floor. From where he was, he could see the entire cult gathered in one group on the largest bit of remaining floor, looking upwards towards a hole in the ceiling. From the ceiling, a chandelier slowly descended, attached to a chain. That chandelier was what gave out the strange lights which had been bothering Jack’s eyes for so long.

     The light blazing out from the windows made it quite difficult for Jack to see what was going on, but as he got closer he could hear the shuffling inside. The murmuring of the people milling around in what Jack assumed was the opening hall could be heard even from outside, making Jack think the amount of people was far more than he had originally expected. Warning bells started going off in his head as he noticed strange things about this cult. They wore robes, which Jack had never noticed in worshippers of the Elder Plant gods thus far, and not everyone in the crowd was human. There wasn’t a law against non-humans worshipping evil plant deities that he was aware of, but those monstrous plants seemed to view people as produce, so what did that make a lizard person? Jack wanted to know, because several of the cultists had scaled tails poking out from under their robes. Some of the others had teeth poking out from their mouths which indicated goblin ancestry somewhere in their background.

     Since the cultists were expectantly waiting for something, and Jack could see no sign of his sister in immediate danger, he decided to wait. He didn’t have to sit idle long before their leader showed up. He wore a different colored robe, with ornate nonsensical markings along the hood he had pulled ominously low. From where he was situated, Jack couldn’t see the man’s face. Light from the chandelier bathed him in shadows beneath his hood. The arrival of their caretaker led to thunderous applause that was so loud it knocked Jack back onto the seat of his pants in shock. It died down quickly and the speech began.

     “Friends, it’s been three years since I had this wonderful new chandelier installed and in that time we have gained so many new friends.” a man was speaking, though he got cut off by a small shower of applause. This was, as Jack learned quickly, was a usual occurrence in his speech regardless of what he said.

     “But sadly, we have lost friends as well. Some of them have left us for better situations and despite their promises to keep in touch, and some of them had to be sent away for good.” This was punctuated by a loud boo and some hisses from the captive audience. “But despite those losses, our home remains as strong as it ever has. We will not tolerate any weakness from within this family…”

     “He sure rambles on some, don’t he?” Stan leaned on his mallet and rubbed his head before fishing for a cigar.

     Jack simply listened and watched the man’s actions. In the pit of his stomach, he tried to push aside the nagging feeling that something was very wrong. It was more than the strange headache he had, it was a feeling that he had been lied to. Turning to Stan, he noticed his normally placid friend’s forehead was covered in beads of sweat, and his face barely hid the pain he was feeling. The light from the chandelier was affecting him even more than Jack.

     Jack patted his arm and pulled him away from the light a bit more, making sure they both were in the shadows, “Are you alright, Stanley? You can sit this one out, if you want to. I won’t cut your pay, since this isn’t technically a job.”

     Stan laughed, a low rumbling noise that managed to be drowned out by yet another cheer, “Boss, wherever you go I gotta go too. I don’t know no other way.”

     Jack nodded and smirked, a tight and satisfied smile, “Well then, let me make the entrance. The problem seems to be the chandelier so once I take it out, you should be fine with your headache, right?”

     Jack looked back at the front doors in the middle of the building and then returned his gaze to the strange chandelier and the cult. It would take far too long to get in through the front door, especially when they could just make their own by breaking the wall down. Jack nodded to Stan and waited while he found the right spot to attack.

     Stan nodded and tapped the wall a few times, pressing his ear to the wall and listening carefully. Making sure to stay out of his way, Jack listened as well as with each tap, Stan got closer and closer to the sweet spot. Eventually, Jack tapped Stan to tell him that he had, indeed, found the spot. All buildings have some weak points, no matter how hard you try to get rid of them. The problem in making yourself an entrance in a wall became having the proper application of strength and most people didn’t have a Stanley at their disposal. Jack did. Stan wound up with his mallet and looked at Jack. Jack swung his broom out to the side, holding the long handle in two hands as Stan began his swing. The mallet hit and blew a huge hole in the wall, and thankfully didn’t send the whole building tumbling to the ground.

     Light from the chandelier poured out into the darkness, spreading it’s strange multi-colored glow into the night. Stan stumbled back away from the light into the darkness, holding his hands over his eyes. Jack’s headache grew worse as he stepped into the building, but it still felt more bearable to him.

     From his perch high above Jack, the cult leader pointed down at him and shook his finger, “The blasphemer comes to take me away from you! Defend me, my children!”
The man wound up to say more, but Jack used the opening to yell out his own demand, “Give me back my sister!”

     “You can never have your sister back!”

     The whole world came crashing down around him. Jack knew that a demand for his sister would have led to a recounting of his actions in Ramshead. That he didn’t even mention Jack’s sister by name gave him all the information he didn’t want to have, “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

     That statement took the cult leader off guard, “You’re…from the nearby town, right? We just took in a new girl this last week and…”

     Jack hefted his broom over his shoulder and examined the stairs leading up towards the third floor. Every single one of those cultists was going to get into his way. He could tell from the determined, vacant expressions on their faces. Something in their fanaticism felt wrong, however, as though it didn’t come from true belief. As a cult leader, he might have some information for Jack that could help him find his sister. The only thing to do was ask him, and then kill him.

     “I’m going to kill you. Just stay right there, and I’ll come to you. This is what you get for wasting my time.” Jack placed one foot on the steps leading up towards the third floor.

     “Protect me!” The cult leader turned and ran in the most undignified manner Jack had ever seen for a man wearing long robes and a hood. The air shifted behind him and Jack reflexively dodged to the side as a mallet came careening by his head. Stan stood behind him, with a crazed look in his eyes. His cigar lay abandoned on the floor, curling wisps of smoke into the air. As the cultists ran down the stairs to meet him, Stan raised his mallet again, aiming directly for Jack’s head.

     “Well,” Jack realized the light from the chandelier was affecting his friend more than he had realized, “I’m definitely docking your pay for this.” Looking up the stairs, Jack braced himself and started to run. This whole thing had gotten very complicated.