Jack and the First Day
Something from human resources came by my desk in the bullpen. Without a word it removed a legal envelope from the leather messenger bag it was wearing and handed it to me. On the outside was my name, the words Orientation Package, and a note that I would be tested on the material in one week. Swell, I dropped out of college for this. I nodded a thank you and it skittered out the door. It would have looked like a four-foot-tall praying mantis were it not for the colorful plumage.
“Anyway, I started camping because my roommate was an asshole. Well, maybe he was an asshole or maybe it was just cultural. Moiz seemed to feel that because he was having a girl over the room was his and I should accommodate him. The problem was that he always had a girl over.”
“And that lead you to becoming the great outdoorsman?” Kelly laughed. Besides her looks which were curvy and just my type, her laugh was adorable. It was filled with joy, had no trace of irony, and wasn’t the least bit condescending. It was a nice change. Kelly laughed at my jokes, my last girlfriend laughed at me when I told jokes. Big difference.
“I got tired of sleeping in the TV lounge every night, so on the weekends I packed up and went camping.”
“What about your friends? Did they come too?” she asked.
“Friends? Yeah, not so much. I just wasn’t terribly social. I mean, I ended up hanging out with some other folks who did a movie night once a week, but that was mainly because they held it in the TV lounge. As I mentioned, I had little choice but to sleep there.”
“So, tell me how you met Ed?” she prodded. Her green eyes sparkled in a way that made me want to tell her anything she asked.
“It all began on the Appalachian Trail.”
The weather was perfect, I’d parked at the north end of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s a three-day hike, I had a three-day weekend so I planned to hike a day and a half then turn around and come back.
Over the first day or so, I’d met a half a dozen small groups and they were all friendly. One guy I remembered in particular looked like a chemo patient. I’d met him the day before and he was coming past where I’d set up camp. He looked like he might have been looking for a place to set up camp himself and it was getting near dark so I invited him to share my campsite. This was an established site. There was already a firepit and no burn restrictions that weekend, so I already had a campfire started with some stew cooking over it.
I figured I’d be doing the guy a solid. Cancer is a bitch. He didn’t have a sprig of hair on him anywhere. I don’t even think he had eyelashes. His eyebrows were penciled on giving him a permanent odd expression. He accepted and put his tent next to mine. By dark we’re hanging out by the fire eating stew and chatting. He told me he was a corporate insurance adjustor who was taking a break between assignments. He liked to tell stories and was good company so I let him have at it. They were mostly paranormal stories about stuff that had happened to him so I figured he was probably recovering from brain cancer or maybe it was the chemo drugs. Weird, but what the hell, he didn’t seem dangerous or anything.
It was almost nine thirty when I heard a rockslide nearby. We’re in the mountains so that kind of thing was likely, though to be fair I’d never experienced one before. At any rate, he chooses then to start telling me about a creature made of rock that had been seen in the area, then asked me if I’d heard about it. I hadn’t of course because I’m not crazy and I didn’t hang with the tin foil hat crowd. Usually.
Lo and behold I’m sitting there listening to this obviously crazy cancer person when a twelve-foot-tall stone thing lumbered…well I guess boldered, into the campsite. It was vaguely human shaped, two arms and two legs, but it didn’t have a head or a face. The bald guy stands up and holds his hands up in the air like he’s being robbed or something while facing the thing.
Me, I’d spent two hours listening to him try to scare me with monster stories so I decided to show him up. I stand up and say something like, “Greetings friend. And you mean us no harm, you are welcome at our fire.” I know, cheesy as hell. If I could do it all over again, it wouldn’t have sounded like I was trying to impersonate Gandalf the Wizard.
The old guy turns and looks at me kinda weird, which I thought was odd as he was the one who had surrendered to it.
Anyway, the rock guy moved over next to the fire and just stood there as still as a stone. Baldy then suddenly grows a pair because he reached out and touched the thing. Brave or stupid, I don’t know, I might have invited it to the fire but damned if I would have touched it.
And it is here things went sort of off the rails. The bald guy- Ed, sits down like the rock thing didn’t exist and started asking me a bunch of questions. Where did I live? Did I have a girlfriend? Where did I grow up? Were my parents alive?
Then he writes my name down, hands me a business card and tells me to call the number about a job interview. Once he’d done that he packed up his tent and waited by the fire. Eventually the stone guy started flashing this green color. It looked like someone had dumped a glow stick on him except it pulsed like it was signaling.
Then Ed gets up, pulled out a radio, and tells some lady what he had and to meet them in the nearest parking area. He shakes my hand, says “see ya,” then he and the rock guy walk off together.
“What did you do?” Kelly asked shocked.
“What could I do? I thought maybe the guy slipped something into my stew and I was tripping balls. I went to bed. The thing was, the next morning I still had his card, and the print on the ground where the stone man stood was still there.”
“So, you called the number?”
“Not immediately. I was having a crisis of sanity so the next morning I hightailed it back to the dorm. When I got there my roomie’s sock was on the knob indicating he was there banging some girl. I sat by the door for a couple of hours with my backpack. I just wanted to stow my gear. Lo and behold he walks up with some blonde chick. He sees the sock on the door and just says, Oops. Not even a ‘dude, I’m so sorry’. Just an oops followed by a hurry up, we need some alone time. I put my stuff away, went to the lounge with my sleeping bag and called the number. I’d had enough of his shit.”
“Where did they interview you?”
“Swanky hotel in town. I didn’t have a suit so I wore my auditioning outfit. My mom picked out the shirt, she said it brought out my eyes.”
“Auditioning outfit?” Kelly had cocked her head with a curious expression and it was cute too.
“I started school as a theatre student but I couldn’t dance and I wasn’t particularly attractive so I ended up changing majors.”
“What did you change it to?”
“Information systems management. That lasted about a year when one day in a three hundred level class some girl asked me to turn her computer on for her. It was then I realized that despite the fancy title I was being trained to be an entry level office worker. I switched to psychology immediately after that.”
“You wanted to be a shrink?”
“Not particularly, but I figured a generic degree like that would give me a lot of options in the real world. Instead, I dropped out and ended up here.”
“Tell me about your interview.” Kelly said leaning forward with interest. The front of her button up shirt gaped open revealing some very exciting pale vistas. Focus Jack, don’t be a pig. I pried my eyes back up to face level and continued.
When I got to the room there were three people in it, Ed Mathis the cancer patient, some guy with weird contact lenses who introduced himself as Dian Ceit and a guy who dressed like he’d walked off of the set of nineteen eighties Miami Vice. (Kelly laughed at that and I stole a glance down her shirt to see how her laugh looked from there. I am not a good person.)
I was asked the normal stuff, educational background, where I grew up, my hobbies, my family, if I had any siblings, the usual stuff. Then the questions got more weird. They were hypothetical ones about meeting people whose language I didn’t speak and stuff.
Ed seemed cool with my answers, Miami Vice didn’t seem too put off, but Dian was unreadable. Those lenses of his really threw me off, but to my credit I don’t think I stared.
Finally, they said they wanted me to meet someone. Dian calls out for Melissa and this woman comes out. They asked me to describe her exactly as I saw her.
She was wearing a blue sweater over a sundress, about five and a half feet tall, slim with brown hair and brown eyes. Oh, and she was surrounded by this black outline with a glowing white corona around it. It reminded me of looking at science videos of an eclipse. I lay it all out exactly the way I saw it, weird shit and all. Ed seemed to be impressed when I didn’t freak out over the stone man so I played it cool here too.
They asked me a couple of follow up questions, then they asked me to look at her and describe her again. Holy shit. Right before my eyes the corona drops away and the black outline expands to cover her skin. Her hair just fades away along with all of her facial features. What’s left was wearing a sweater over a sundress, but it wasn’t remotely human. Its skin -I mean I wasn’t even sure it was a her anymore – reminded me of a dog’s nose. It was black, didn’t reflect much light at all and had a cobblestone texture well, like the nose of a dog. Her face had two empty holes where eyes went and one the same size where the mouth should have been. I couldn’t see inside, it was simply too dark. It also lacked a nose.
I don’t think I freaked out too bad. I didn’t run screaming from the room or anything. I must not have done too bad, they offered me the job and here I am.
“Ed doesn’t really have cancer. He has an entity that lives on him. It eats hair and dead skin cells.” Kelly said.
“It was probably the green light you saw. When Ed touched the stone looking entity, it moved over to it to make contact and convince it of our good intentions. We call it Ollie.”
“No shit?” I repeated.
“Also, Dian is an over three-thousand-year-old entity. He runs the place.”
“No shit?” I repeated again shocked.
The door to the bullpen opened and Ed Mathis walked in with his penciled-on eyebrows. Well that explains that. He’s a braver man than me. Just eww.
“What have you got for me Tommy?” Ed asked from the back of the room.
Tommy, at his desk up front, took a file off his desk. It turns out Tommy dresses like a fashion model all the time. Today he’s ditched the linen jacket and silk t-shirt and is wearing something expensive that looks like it was finger-painted by a kindergarten class. His hair was perfect and to be honest, he was better looking than I could ever hope to be. I’m trying to like him despite this.
“Just outside of Sedalia, Missouri we’ve gotten four different reports of a run-in with a tall thin entity that has been peaking in second story windows and scaring the shit out of people.”
“He’s climbing to the second story to peak in?” Ed asked.
“No, he’s just that tall.” Tommy said.
“Ok.” Ed said taking the folder. “Come on Jack, we’re going to Missouri. Beatrix is waiting in the parking lot. If you’re hungry you’d better grab a snack now, she doesn’t allow anyone to eat while inside of her.”
“Wait? Did you just say inside of her?” I asked, confused.
“Beatrix is an entity that can hide in plain sight as a car.” Ed explained.
“Holy shit.” I mumbled. A hair eating entity is gross, but an entity that can pose as a car? That’s kinda cool.
“Have fun.” Kelly grinned patting me on the knee.
“See you soon.” I smiled. I decided right then that I’m going to ask her out when we got back. Physical contact is supposed to be a good sign.
I got up and taking Ed’s advice stopped by the snack table for a bagel and a bottle of water. While I was standing there smearing on the cream cheese, Tommy walked up to me and leaned in all conspiratorial like.
He whispered, “It’s my fault, I should have said something earlier, but just so you know, we’ve got a rule against dating other field agents. I saw you talking to Kelly and I didn’t want you to accidentally faux pas in your first week.”
“Oh…” I said feeling my stomach fall out. “I had no idea, thanks for telling me before I made a fool of myself.” Sad trombone. Jack Casteen, pity party of one, no waiting.
“Yeah, good luck in Missouri, man.” he said brightly walking back to his desk.
“Be sure to bring a pen and pad. I’ll be giving you our official Worldwide Habitations cover story on the way.” Ed said to me as I joined him at the door. “How much do you know about insurance adjusters?”
Not the greatest start of a first day ever.
Delwood lives in the night, silent sentinel of electrons, hope giver to the helpless, and friend to any wayward entities he might happen upon.