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Tuesday, 05 May 2009 00:00

Jack's Place #2 - A Place of Magic

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- Part Two -

Colin was in the dark—a perfectly complete pitch blackness. What the hell happened? There was silence except for his own breathing and movements. There had been some kind of explosion, then he was on his back on a cold, hard surface.

He was dazed and shivering, but forced himself to his feet. The still air was freezing.

“Is anyone there?” He said feebly. There was no echo. If there were walls or a ceiling, they were very far away. “Please, someone?”

He pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket, but no light could be seen when he flipped it open. The buttons made no noise as he pressed them. He tried the night glow button on his watch, but that was useless as well.

Keeping his hands in front of him, he slid his feet across the ground, making his way step by step through the darkness.

“Colin?” The voice was Jack's. It was coming from Colin's right, but the bartender could not be seen.

“Yes, I'm here!” Colin answered. “Where are we?”

“Colin, I'm going to be straight with you now.” Colin got the feeling Jack was talking him back from the edge of a nrooftop. & ldquo;You need to listen to me, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Colin's jaw trembled from the cold.

“There is a terrible anger in this place, and you don't want it turned on you,” said Jack. “Now, it chose to let you and your friends in. In my experience that's either a really good thing, or really bad.”

Why the hell is he talking about it like it's alive? “Oh yeah? What happens if it's really bad?”

“Well, then it just wants to let you in so it can trap and kill you.”

Colin gasped despite his disbelief. He thought the old lunatic might have it in his mind to kill nhim.

“Honestly though,” Jack continued, “this place doesn't usually waste any time, so I don't think that's the case. No offense buddy, but you'd be an easy kill. That leads me to believe this time it's a good thing—meaning it likes you. However... that can change. Things can go south pretty easily if you keep behaving like you have been. What's happened to you so far is just a love tap. You've pulled the proverbial cat's tail.”

Hell with it. I'll go along and see if I can get out of here. “Okay... what do I do?”

“Alright, just walk towards my voice, very slowly.”

Colin did so and soon, a dull glow could be seen, a blurred vision. As he walked, each step brought it more into focus. First the outline of the bar, then Jack's form behind it. This has got to be the worst trip I've ever had.

“That's good,” said Jack. “Come and have a seat.”

Jack and the bar were completely in focus by the time Colin reached the closest stool. Nothing else was visible, not the door, the window, the floor, or even the wall of novelties that was supposed to be behind Jack. The silent bar was empty, except for the two of them.

“What's going on?” Colin whispered. His breath formed a mist. He rubbed his hands together.

“Well, you're in a place I like to call the penalty box.” Jack took a small bowl of peanuts and placed them on the bar. “You're being watched pretty closely now...”

“Watched? By who?”

“...but it's possible to get back,” said Jack, ignoring the question.

“How?”

“Stay calm, for one.”

“I don't see how I'm supposed to stay calm, when I just got sucked into some freezing black hole in the middle of North End.”

A deep growl rolled through the darkness and shook the stools and glasses on the bar. Colin stiffened. When it subsided, he started to turn his head to see what had made the noise, which seemed to have originated behind him.

“No,” Jack admonished. “You don't want to see that.”

“What? I don't want to see what?”

Jack crossed his arms, and paused for a moment.

“Wrath,” he said finally. “A pure rage. You thought your little werewolf dream was bad? The things you see after witnessing visible fury could put you in a straitjacket. I'm not talking about just seeing an angry face. I'm saying it... manifests. In here, you can see it taking shape, and trust me, you don't want to.”

“You seem to be okay.& rdquo;

Jack smiled. “I guess you could say I'm not your average barkeep.”

Colin swallowed. “Well, then what's next?”

“You're in a bar, order a drink. We have to get things back to normal.”

Normal he says. Well, I guess I'll see where this takes me.

Colin closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, having trouble making a decision.

“Um... m-martini, just like you made it before. That was good.”

“Perfect.” As Jack was preparing it, the temperature rose noticeably. Colin could no longer see his breath.

Something else caught his eye, however. He looked to the stool at his left and squinted. A blurry part of the darkness was lingering there as though a shadow was being cast from an unseen source of light. It seemed to have substance as well—a dark cloud of smoke resisting dissipation. He reached out to touch it, but pulled his hand back quickly as a mouthful of sharp, misshapen teeth appeared, floating in the shadow's upper body. The 'mouth' didn't open, rather it was like a wild dog baring its fangs at Colin for coming too close.

“Oh, don't mind that,” said Jack, placing a napkin and martini in front of Colin. “It's not allowed to bite.”

“What in the... is that the. .. wrath?& rdquo; Colin shot his eyes straight forward. Am I going insane?

“No,” Jack chuckled. “It's one of the very few that survived it. And it's going to be here for a long, long time.”

Colin took a sip with a shaky hand, and his eyes opened wide. He stared down into the martini glass, looking for signs of dissolving powder or discoloration in the liquid.

Jack shook his head. “I promise you, Colin. I didn't lace your drink, now or before.”

I give up. Colin's shoulders slumped. “Can you help me get out of here, Jack?”

“Well, there's good news and bad news about that.& rdquo; Jack placed his hands on the bar. “The bad news is, it's not something I can do for you. My hands are tied. The good news is, it's relatively simple—all you have to do is apologize.”

“That's it?”

“That's it. But the trick is, you have to mean it. If you don't, this place will know, and you'll be stuck in here until it decides to let you apologize again. Unfortunately, that can be any amount of time. I have never been able to guess how long it was for anyone.”

“I think my apology would be genuine... I think.”

“Well, let her rip then, and good luck.”

Colin closed his eyes, and breathed long and deep. This ought to be interesting.

“I'm... sorry.”


~


“Colin!” He felt Tom grab him by the shoulders. “Where'd you come from?”

Colin looked around, the bar had returned completely. It was not quite the dramatic teleportation he had been expecting. Tom and Amy were both standing nearby, although they looked shocked to see him. The other patrons were seated at their tables and stools, and back to ignoring them.

Jack clapped softly. “ Well done, Colin. ”

“Oh, thank God.” Colin stood up. “Let's get the hell out of here.”

“Not just yet,” said Jack.

Colin stared at him for a second, then nodded and pulled out his wallet. Don't want to piss off the bar again. “Of course, what do I owe you for the drink?”

“Never mind that. That one's on the house.” Jack pointed at the window, still covered in the black, tar-like substance. “As long as that window is like so, no one's leaving. It should only be a short while, a few hours maybe.”

A couple of the other patrons grumbled at those words, but still kept to themselves, not even looking at the trio.

Colin opened his mouth to protest, but held his tongue, and slumped down on his stool instead. Tom and Amy sat down beside him.

Squirming in his seat, Colin related what he had seen to his friends. They waited until he was finished before saying anything themselves.

“After that explosion, or whatever it was,” said Amy, “it looked like you just vanished into the wall. We tried to find out what was going on, but then Jack disappeared too, and no one else would talk to us. We were scared to try the door, after what happened to you.”

“Then poof!” Added Tom. “Here you both are again. I don't know what the hell to make of this place.”

Hell just might be it,” said Colin. The lights flickered, causing him to flinch. “No offense,” he added towards the ceiling, his head sinking between his shoulders. He put a hand over his eyes. “What is happening to me? Am I on drugs or not?”

“Hey you're not alone in this, buddy.” Tom gave him a friendly nudge with his elbow. “We're all seeing shit. Something really weird is going on here.”

Jack snickered. He tried to cover it up with a convincing cough, but Colin caught it.

“Did you guys see the shadow monster sitting over there? No.” Colin pointed to the other side of Amy, where he had seen the thing, and she nearly spun off her stool to check. “You guys didn't get sucked into a black hole. Something is going on with me in particular.”

“You're half right,” said Jack. “Because the visions affected you so strongly, you may have a little more of the gift than your friends here. However, what just happened to you in the penalty box has nothing to do with that. Anyone who acts up gets that treatment.”

“Penalty box?” Asked Tom.

“That's what he calls the place where the shrooms turned on me,” said Colin.

“Long story,” said Jack. “But hey, I guess you guys might just have the time for it.”

Oh God, here we go. “You promise there's nothing mind altering in these?” Colin asked, lifting up his glass.

“ Well... ah.” Jack scratched his cheek.

Colin shook his hands at him. “Besides alcohol, of course.”

Jack nodded “I swear.”

“Alright then... fuck it,” said Colin. “Keep the drinks coming, and I'm all ears.”

“In that case, I think I have just the drinks for the occasion.” Jack popped the tops off of three frosty Samuel Adams Boston Ale bottles. “Now, this is an older tale, mind you, but I think it'll give you the best impression of this building's nature.” He set the bottles in front of them so they could see the logo, which included a likeness of the famous Boston Founding Father. “I came upon this story while I was trying to research this place's origins—no easy feat. As you might have guessed by now, it chooses when it would like to be seen, and by whom, so it doesn't show up on any city plans or records. Now, I have access to archives that some might consider to be more or less...apocryphal. But it's there that I found the journal of a man named William Holliday. In it, he described what had to be this place in colonial times, and I have evidence to back it up.” He reached down behind the bar, and gently lifted a long wooden box with a hinged lid. It was about the size of a travel humidor. “There are some stories that lay hidden in the shadows of history, my young attorneys. Tonight, well, this morning, we're going to go into that shadow, and take ourselves a little peek...”


~


Thursday, October the 6th, 1763 ~ I see no end to this nightmare. I mistakenly believed that the elusive miscreant I have been pursuing had lost its taste for Indian prey. But I see now that powerful superstitions, which span many tribes, were the effective element. The peaceful among them believed that some ancient spirit of vengeance plagued their land, in retribution for the bloodshed being caused by the rebel, Pontiac. However the simple, preemptive measure of sleeping with the children nestled between the adults seems to have frustrated the villain, driving the troubles eastward to the colonies where they presently occur.

Yes... sadly another child has gone missing—Benjamin Holcott, a boy of eight from Boston, Massachusetts. Once again, only the absence of the boy, and ominously blood-stained bedsheets, are proof of the atrocity. The abduction occurred in the deadest of night, from the boy's own bedchamber. The parents, asleep in an adjacent room, were affected by no noise sufficient to rouse them. As before, no sign of forced entry could be detected, despite a well secured home. The windows remained latched, and the doors locked. Benjamin has become the third child to vanish by this fashion in the colonies—always among the opulent, where the children are separately accommodated at night.

All efforts to root out the malefactor have produced only frustration. The constables in Boston have enlisted my aid, with the condition that the cooperative remains unofficial and secret. Such was not the case with the disappearances in Kingston and Springfield, where they regarded me and my investigative efforts at best with indifference, at worst with mistrust. Unfortunately I have produced little result in either case—I am no closer to a discovery at present than I was those many months ago, when this all began.

It greatly taxes what little remains of my endurance to pen these words. Committing my failures to history is soul-numbing misery. In desperation, I have dispatched a request to the mysterious Order for help, as this enemy is well beyond my ability.

 

~


From his perch on the uncovered wagon, William Holliday gazed out at the moonlit harbor, watching the fog roll in off the water and glide gently across the docks like translucent, windswept curtains. His companion, Frederick, blew warm air into his cupped hands, then held them to his stomach as he rocked in his seat. The haunting beauty of the scene had a more somnolent effect on William. More than once, he awoke with a start from a drowsy tilt.

There, Mr. Holliday!” Frederick thrust a dirt-stained finger out towards a large shape taking form in the harbor. “Just as I said. Porters working that sloop yonder said they overtook the ship you was looking for, The Promise, by a matter of hours. Now here she comes.”

It was true enough. A lumbering three masted schooner drifted into view, easing her way towards an empty dock.

William's mouth gaped in a massive yawn, then he shook his head, trying to free some of the weight from his eyelids. He produced some coins from his belt pouch and pushed them into Frederick's hand. “ Well done, Frederick.” Sleepiness thickened his voice. “ That will be all.”

“Most generous, Mr. Holliday. My family thanks you!” Frederick tipped his hat, hopped down from the wagon, and bounded off into the street. William cautiously lowered himself, and tied off the horses. He then began his short journey down to the dock beside the arriving ship. William didn't bother worrying if the approaching vessel was indeed The Promise. Frederick was a poor man, but in all their dealings so far, an honest one.

William's slow, swaying gait drew him across the creaking dock boards. The roiling fog floating past gave the illusion that he was moving faster than he was, and he felt as though he were wandering into a dream. He narrowly escaped injury when a coil of heavy mooring rope passed before his eyes and slapped hard onto the wood at his feet, causing him to jump.

“Look lively down there!” a man called from the ship.

Not knowing what else to do, William simply waved at him, then moved aside as other men on the dock secured the lines.

He squinted at the ship's name plate, shrouded in mist. It was an old boat, but the crew had pride enough to keep “The Promise” in bright, new paint. William thought it was a fitting name, seeing as it carried the promise the Order had made to him in a letter received only three days past. It detailed the Order's intent to send one of their number to ascertain the degree of the threat he had informed them of.

William was too exhausted to spare any energy for excitement. After over a month without incident, the last week alone had seen two more Boston children vanish, and he had slept very little in that time. Still, he wanted to make a good impression and vowed to himself to be there when the Order's representative took his first steps in New England.

“Eve'nin, Mr. Holliday.” A coarse voice spoke from amidst a row of large crates nearby. It belonged to an elderly man William knew as the cook from the boarding house where he stayed. Most called him Captain, because he continued to wear seafarer's clothing, though it had been many years since his days in a ship's galley.

William preferred to call him by his given name. “Good evening to you, George.” He came closer until he could see him clearly and smiled at the wiry old man. George, wearing his familiar dark blue peacoat, was set up in a small space between the crates, seated beside a portable wheeled stove of William's own design and fabrication. “I see you're making quick use of the... well, I guess I never did decide on a name for it.”

“Nor'd I,” said George. “Been a great help, though. Come, fire's on. It's warm here.”

William accepted the offer. It seemed like it would be some minutes before The Promise was ready to disembark it's passengers.

“Have some soup?” George offered.

“You know? I think I shall.” William set himself on a crate next to the stove. A flame was crackling within, and the soothing warmth made his tired eyes flutter. No. It won't do to appear drowsy before the Order's man! He took a sharp intake of breath, letting the crisp, cool air revive him, if only for a moment. “On second thought, you warm me enough, inside and out, and I might fall right off this dock.”

“Well, let's see what can be done about that.” George ladled some soup from a large iron pot into a small black cup. “'Twill bring you back to life, sir. Sure as salvation.”

“Oh, I forgot.” William felt his empty belt pouch. “I gave the last of my specie to Frederick. Can I owe you?”

“Nonsense.” George grasped William's hand and nestled the cup in it. “Consider it a small repayment, for working this contraption up for an old man in need.”

In truth, William had been thankful for the distraction. With the lack of evidence leaving him little to investigate, it had been driving him mad having nothing to do. Creating the portable stove had given him a much needed feeling of accomplishment.

Surprisingly to William, the soup did actually have a rejuvenating effect. By the time the crew had finished tying up, and set a ramp to the gangway, he felt more energetic than he had in weeks.

“You do realize that this is an Irish vessel,” William said. “If you added beer to your offering, you're like to get more business.”

“I thought about that, sir,” said George. He took William's empty vessel. “But most Irish fresh off the boat only have but one cup. What then will I do with all this soup?”

The two leaned back and laughed toward the sky. William admired George. He was such a simple and happy old man—always quick to smile. William had been mired for so long in the boggy wake of a child-killer who left no evidence of himself, that the sound felt foreign to his lips. He hadn't realized how much he missed his own humor.

It seemed every time a smile lit his face these days, a dark cloud wasn't far behind. I should never have started this. I'm no constable. I don't even know what I'd do if I ever did manage to corner the villain. But I can't stop now.

As passengers began to descend, William positioned himself out of the way at the end of the ramp. Most of the passing men were accompanied by their families. He suspected none of those were from the Order. Every time he spied a solitary traveler however, he called out for his guest. “Mr. Daughtry? I'm looking for Mr. Alaster Daughtry?”

“Aye, I'm Daughtry,” said one man with a thick Irish accent. His face was obscured beneath the hood of a black cloak, which concealed the rest of his body as well. “Are you William Holliday?”

“I am.” William held out a hand as the man approached.

Just what you'd expect from the Order—dark... mysterious... his musings were interrupted by the the rank stench of liquor and bile exuding from the man ...and drunk?

Alaster stumbled over the last step onto the dock, but caught himself and straightened. “Pardon me.” He took William's hand. “Have to get my land-legs back.”

“Of course.” William tried to keep his expression neutral until he could assess the man further. “Welcome to Boston, sir.”

Alaster pulled his hood back, and set his eyes past William, seemingly having trouble focusing. He had graying hair, with an unkempt beard, framing sunken cheeks and blistered lips. “Ahh, that's soup I smell isn't it?” he said in George's direction. George was filling the cups of other passengers with steaming liquid. “I'm near gut-foundered. There came a point where I could simply no longer stomach bland porridge, salted meats, and sea biscuits any further.”

“Please.” William gestured him toward the stove. Inwardly, his mood was darkening. What kind of man had the Order sent him?

When it came to Alaster's turn, George took the Irishman's cup, but turned down the coin he offered. “Keep your money, sir. Any friend of Mr. Holliday eats free by my fire.”

Alaster returned the coin to its home, somewhere in his cloak. “Very kind, Ol' Pop.”

The walk back to William's wagon was in awkward silence, broken up by the occasional slurping of soup. When Alaster's cup was empty, William fumbled around his scattered thoughts for something to say. There were so many questions earlier, but he could recall none of them.

Something new came to mind as they reached the wagon. “It will be light soon. Have you slept well enough to begin the day, or will you be requiring more rest?& rdquo;

“Well, I fell prey to a somewhat childish impulse when I heard we were approaching port. I stayed awake on deck to catch my first glimpse of the New World at a distance. Wasted effort really, being night with fog as thick as that soup. In truth, I could use a day's recuperation.”

“Very well, sir.” William whipped the reins, urging his black and gray Percherons to a trot. Relief and disappointment pulled him in different directions when considering the Order's ambassador. He hadn't really known what to expect, but it certainly wasn't the man seated next to him.

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