Jack smiled, hovering near the newly constructed door. Fish awkwardly attempted to reciprocate the motion, disoriented from the two teleportations in less than five minutes, her stomach swelling with pain, her brain fuzzy and misfiring in all directions. She had played with teleportation when she was younger, but at best she managed to kill a few frogs by accidentally having them manifest in the middle of the floor or wall and, in one horrific event, another student’s head.
Iris was calm, serene. She slithered up to Jack and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jack,” she said, sweetly, “did I catch that right? Jack? How about you just cut the chase and tell us why you brought us here, to this house. It’s because it wanted you to, isn’t it? It’s because you can’t seem to leave this place.”
Jack closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. They seemed so small, Fish and Iris, like lab rats lost in a maze, awaiting their next electroshock treatment, paws out hoping for a treat.
Jack had never been the kind of person to wish for much. He appreciated stability and the chance to work hard, hopefully reward himself with small pleasantries here and there, a cup of coffee, a good movie, decent conversation. He liked human connection when he could find it, though that particular interaction had presented itself fewer and farther between as he had gotten older, found a secure job. He had never imagined power, the concept alone escaping the edges of his thought. When the concept had passed through his brain, it was in the guise of money and command..
This was anything but control, but it was all power. After he had been able to hack through the pain, the hooks and gears embedding themselves inside his chest, clearing away unnecessary debris of his soul, he waltzed up to the precipice and found it beautiful. His fingers tingled and his heart tugged in all directions. He could see the darkness swirling in negative space. He knew that if he reached out he could grasp it in his palm and let it seep into him and wash throughout his system. He could go anywhere, slipping between the cracks of reality into forgotten spaces, where haunted doors creaked open and cabinets slammed shut. He could do anything, the energy and matter of this space bending to his word and will. This was no small reward. This was life.
Jack opened his eyes. He smirked and brushed Iris’ disfigured hand from off of his shoulder.
“It requested I bring more people home,” he said flatly, imitating inflection and tone. His voice was flatter, distant. Jack could see them twitch, their brains twirling for a response, their lips poised to spew vibrations into the air.
“And what,” Iris replied, “does it need us for?”
Jack could tell she was nervous, the subtle quaver in her voice spilling loudly in his ears. And with the dark lines around her eyes and the immense amount of energy permeating her aura, he could tell that she was rarely shaken, having seeing everything under the sun.
Jack shrugged and walked through the door.
“Wait!” Fish yelled and darted after him...
Iris stopped her short, her eyes darting around the room. “He’s not him, you know,” she whispered to Fish. “He’s this place, or he almost is. It’s trying to escape and Jack is acting as the key.”
“Then what,” Fish hissed, “do we do?”
“I’m going to help him,” Iris replied and hopped through the door. Fish rolled up her sleeves, clenched her jaw and followed them into an exact replica of the room they were just standing in. The air seemed heavier, thicker, but everything stood as it was on the other side of the door.
“Where are we?” Fish grunted, brushing sawdust off of her sweater.
Iris looked back at her, pity adorning her countenance. “Don’t you remember anything from school?” she asked. “We’re just another layer down. Nothing to worry about.” Iris turned to face Jack who was gazing out the empty window, trees swirling in the wind. “Jack, I can help. I’m meant to be here. This could be the culmination of all of my life’s work. I just need a few books. Please, just let me go get some from my private collection and I’ll be right back.”
Jack did not turn his gaze but reached his right hand back and placed it on Iris’ forehead. Iris shifted uncomfortably while Jack gripped tighter. “Understood,” he said under his breath and then vanished.
“What are you doing!?” Fish shouted. “You can’t help him! We need to free him from this… this house!”
Iris turned and put a finger to her lips and then Iris’ voice echoed inside of Fish’s head, “It can hear you, dear. Don’t you trust me?”
Fish shook her head no and stampeded toward her.
Jack reappeared between them. “Ah,” he said and turned toward Iris. He dumped a duffel bag onto the ground full of old books. “I acquired all the ones you were thinking about. Where do we begin?”
Iris began to scramble and sweep books up into her arm, careful not to damage their frail covers or brittle pages. “We begin,” she huffed, “with a sacrifice.”
Jack’s grin grew wider across his face.
“Of someone close to you,” Iris continued. “A friend, perhaps. I’m assuming you have friends, Jack. Be a dear and pick one up while I start the preparations.”
Jack clicked his tongue and walked forward until he stood outside The Twin Crows, night settling heavy in the air. Snow flitted downward until it lingered upon his cold skin. He approached a man, dressed for the weather, dragging on a cigarette while plugged into his phone.
“Hey man,” Jack tossed the words, “can I bum one?”
The man regarded Jack with bemused disdain. “Dude, what happened to your shoes? You’re going to freeze to death.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh, about that,” he said and waved his hands in the man’s face. Jack stared in glee as the man panicked. He wondered what sort of monster he appeared to him. Certainly it must have been horrific for him to drop everything and run away. Jack picked up the pack of cigarettes, retrieved one, and placed it between his lips. It spontaneously lit. Jack strode into the bar.
“Huh?” Jack asked, exhaling a plume of smoke into his face.
The bouncer coughed and stood. “Out. Now. You can’t smoke in here.”
Jack inhaled deeply before blowing concentric circles to the ceiling. “Oh?” Jack asked. “And what, little man, are you going to do about it?”
The bouncer reached for his baton. Jack laughed while reaching for the darkness in the negative space. He grabbed a handful and shoved it into the bouncer’s chest. The bouncer went limp immediately, but no one in the room seemed to notice.
Jack waltzed forward, commanding the sea of patrons to part as he paraded toward a booth in the back room.
“So predictable,” Jack scoffed. They looked so feeble and afraid, he thought, huddled into a booth, probably positively worried sick about what happened to him. Jack sidled up to them before they noticed him. “Finn, Trish, how’s it going?”
Finn gestured so widely he knocked his beer onto the table. Trish covered her mouth.
“So surprised to see me?”
“J...J...ack?” Finn stammered, “it’s been nearly a year. Where the hell have you been?”
Jack cocked his head, “Has it been that long?” He reached across the table and grasped their elbows. “Well, I suppose I am overdue for a housewarming party.”
The air emptied out of the room as they disappeared.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)