Jack: Rise of Faerie
I think my struggle has been similar to most people’s. Put aside the blood and the gore and my night job, and I’m just as vanilla as the guy eating his six inch sub in his office cubicle beside you every day at work. I like to think I have it together better than that guy, but who am I kidding? Just because I can kick some serious Faerie ass doesn’t mean I can eat a sub without using a wad of napkins and covering my shirt in mayo. Shit happens.
Bear with me when I say shit happens, because for you and I that statement probably means two entirely different things. For example, think of your favourite Starbucks Barista. She’s probably a young girl, in her early twenties maybe, who always has a smile on her lips and has a freckled nose and dimpled cheeks- at least, that’s what my Starbucks Barista looks like. Her name is Jenny. One day your Barista fucks up your half-caf, grande, skinny, no foam Hazelnut Latte. If you’re a total asshole you’re going to throw an adult sized tantrum in the middle of the cafe. The average person may simply say ‘shit happens’, and drink the latte anyways. Five dollars is still five dollars, and Jenny (or your own Barista) probably made you a delicious latte, and you’re secretly grateful that it’s not skinny. Merry Christmas to you, from Jenny, your friendly neighbourhood barista. Enjoy that two percent milk and full sugar syrup. You deserve it.
When I say ‘shit happens’, chances are somebody I know just died. Am I being dramatic? No. Am I insensitive? Also no, but people I know die all the time, and at some point a guy’s gotta develop a tough hide and be able to shrug his shoulders and move on.
Let’s go back for a moment and talk about Jenny. The Starbucks Barista, keep up.
We can both probably agree that she’s one of those rare people who are good to their core. She makes grumpy old bastards their coffee every morning at five o’clock. The sun hasn’t even began to play peek a boo yet, and she manages to make those old farts smile before they leave. It may be temporary, but she draws it out of them nonetheless. She needs a raise.
I’m getting side tracked here. Jenny’s a sweet girl with a heart of gold. She takes the bus to work every day despite the time because she believes in creating a cleaner atmosphere for the three kids she’s going to have with her high school sweet heart by the time she’s thirty. She volunteers at the animal shelter down the street from her apartment on Sundays, and she always visits her grandmother in an old-folks home on Friday nights for shitty food but great company.
And there are things out there that want to hurt her.
It’s my job to keep people like Jenny the Barista safe. I make sure her bus ride home at night is uneventful, and the things lurking in the shadows don’t gather the nerve to ever make a move. If they do, they’re in for a world of hurt, because I’m not a sweet barista who asks if you want whip cream today because yesterday you thought you looked fat when you got up, so for the first time in three months you tried your mocha with no whip. I don’t get tied up in the niceties. I’ll wrap your tongue around your throat and strangle you with it if you threaten people like Jenny.
All right, that time I was being dramatic. I think the point I’m trying to make here is simple: Don’t fuck with me.
November in Vancouver isn’t like it is in most places. Usually by the end of November winter has put its foot in the door and the sky has let loose the beginnings of snow. In Vancouver it’s just gray and rainy. It smells like wet asphalt all the time, and the city life is set to the music of car horns and the steady hum of rain hitting car hoods, pavement, and umbrellas.
I live on the upper floor of a sixteen story building off of Pender Street, right in the heart of downtown. It’s quieter the higher up you go. It’s a place I can hide from the busy sidewalks… and my boss… but more about him later.
My place is pretty basic. One bedroom, two bathrooms. I don’t have a dishwasher, which I don’t mind because I find cleaning dishes somewhat therapeutic. I like to clean, and if my place is ever messy that’s a bad sign that shit’s about to go down because I’ve been too busy focusing on not dying to worry about vacuuming or dusting. But for the most part it’s tidy, and most importantly, it’s safe. I’m thankful for my electric fireplace at this time of year. I will admit to enjoying a drink by the fire and looking out at the city’s lights, which would soon become more colourful as the Christmas lights begin to appear. For now the city is aglow in yellow.
I was sitting on my sofa with both heels resting on my coffee table when red lights swirled to life down on Pender, and two ambulances wailed down the street. I stood and left my bottle of beer on the table, donned my jacket and boots, locked my door behind me, and rode the elevator down to the lobby of my apartment building.
McNaulty, the night security guard, looked up from his computer screen at the front desk and nodded to me, “Evening, Jack.”
He and I had a mutual understanding that worked well for both parties. He didn’t ask questions about where I went at night, so in return I brought a cup of coffee with me when I returned at four in the morning.
He leaned back in his chair and it creaked as my boots scuffed across the marble floor. He cleared his throat and put his hands behind his head. “Robbery in progress on Robson Street.”
I paused with my hand on the door and cast McNaulty a glance over my shoulder. He rolled his shoulders in an innocent manner. “Not that you care, I know.”
“Right,” I said, “I don’t.”
McNaulty seemed to be under the impression that he was in on my little secret. I never gave him much information to convince him otherwise, but he was sure that I was some sort of vigilante who high tailed it after the police to try to catch the bad guys that gave the Vancouver Police Department a run for their money. Tonight, for example, McNaulty thought I was heading to intervene in the robbery. It was best to let him believe that.
I pushed through the revolving door of the lobby into the rain, pulling my hood on and then stuffing my hands into my jacket pockets as deep as I could. Just because we don’t get snow in Vancouver at the end of November doesn’t mean it’s warm. In fact, it’s worse, because the wind from the mountains and the chill from the ocean creates a slanted rain that manages to hit your face no matter how you try to protect yourself.
I nuzzled my chin into the collar of my jacket to ward off the chill that was already seeping into my skin as I took a left down Pender, and groaned inwardly as my fingers slipped through the holes in the pockets. I had owned this jacket for a long time. Probably six or seven years. It was a black military style jacket with dark buttons and a zipper. The hood and inside was lined and the whole thing was decently water proof, depending on how long I was exposed to the rain for. It was in rough shape from my history of run ins with Faeries, and my sewing work wasn’t all that impressive. Parts of the sleeves, mostly around the shoulder, had been stitched with an olive green coloured fabric that looked rather terrible in daylight. But it was my favourite jacket, and I didn’t intend to stop wearing it until it quite literally fell apart and was beyond repair.
My long legs made short work of the sidewalk as I searched for a taxi. If the weather hadn’t been so terrible I wouldn’t have had to resort to public transit. I’m not really a people person, if you haven’t already come to that conclusion. My motorcycle, a matte black Yamaha Bolt, was in underground storage in my apartment’s underground. It was patiently waiting for the dryer months to roll around while I impatiently waited.
The first yellow cab that passed was full, but I was able to flag down the second one and asked my driver to take me to the Pacific Central Train Station. He obliged, and I watched the meter creep up in price as we drove down towards the ocean, stopping at the occasional traffic light and waiting in the deserted street.
The cab driver dropped me off beneath the red glow of the train stations neon sign and I paid him his fifteen dollars in cash. I waited until he had rounded a corner and his taillights disappeared, then I went in behind the station, made my way down to the tracks, and slipped between the train cars to the old section of the tracks that were built before the West Coast Express- mostly they had been used for transporting building supplies out to the suburbs. Now they were never used. But no one came out here, so it was the perfect place to meet the other Wardens and get a rundown of what was going on in the city before the night really got started.
When I rounded the last box car I could see I was not the first to arrive; on the tracks ahead of me stood two other men. Their heads were bowed and they spoke quietly. I knew them well.
I’m not saying I like them- just that I’ve known them for a long time. Everyone has a co-worker they don’t like but have to work with anyways. Grin and bear it. Fake it ‘til you make it. The good ones make up for the bad ones. In my case, I don’t like any of my coworkers. I detest them, and I know they don’t have much of a taste for me either. But we’re all adults. We try to keep it as civil as we can, for the most part.
My boots crunching on the stones and dirt between the new and old tracks alerted the two men to my arrival, and they stepped apart from each other and cast wary glances in my direction. I pulled my hands from my pockets and spread my fingers wide. “It’s just me, don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
The two Wardens I was speaking to were called Marx and Stevens. They were always a cuddly duo, arriving to these nightly meetings together and leaving together. It’s none of my business, so I never said anything. If it ever impeded their ability to do their jobs maybe I would, but I know as well as the others that Marx and Stevens were formidable Wardens, and their mistakes were few and far between. Having someone with you who you trusted to have your back must be a comfort.
Marx scowled at me as I stepped up onto the track with them, then he shook excess rain water off his hood and watched as Stevens raised a hand and patted me on the shoulder in greeting. “Hey Jack, haven’t seen you in a while.”
Ah yes. I’d missed the last couple of meetings. Missed probably isn’t the right word, the accurate statement would be that I skipped the last couple of meetings. I’ve been doing this job for a long time, so I don’t need the pep talk at the beginning of my shift to get me pumped up. And I sure as hell don’t need the safety talk either. It’s a risky business that we’re in, and I’ve managed to stay alive and do this job a lot longer than most. I know the things not to do. The new guys on the other hand, definitely needed the meetings. I rolled my eyes to the dark sky and shrugged my shoulders lightly, “I had places to be.”
Marx scoffed at me and received a gentle elbow to the ribs from Stevens. The two shared a look that I know only couples give each other. There was a moment where they ‘spoke with their eyes’, before Marx conceded, and extended his hand for me to shake. I shook it.
“How have you boys been?”
Marx put his hand back in his raincoat pocket as the waves from the ocean crashed against the rocky shore below the train tracks. “Busy. Lots of weird shit going on Jack. Lots of it.”
I knew what he was talking about. My nights had been starting earlier and ending later. The monsters I hunted were becoming easier and easier to find in the dark crevices of Vancouver’s alleys and abandoned buildings. “Yeah, I hear you. Winter is always worse than summer.”
“Don’t be daft, Jack. We all know it’s more than that.”
I was saved from the conversation by the sound of more footsteps approaching from behind. The three of us turned to acknowledge the arrival of a few more Wardens. There were four of them. They had a light hop in their steps and they laughed quietly to each other, bumping into one another like high school kids on their first day of senior year. I groaned loudly as they hopped up on to the tracks and pulled their hoods back, revealing young faces with broad smiles and youthful eyes. They were teenagers. How utterly terrible. One of them, the tallest, stepped up to me and offered his hand.
“Hi,” he shook my hand firmly. His grip was warm. “I’m Nate. We’re from the academy.”
“I figured as much.”
“You must be Rivers, Marx and Stevens told us all about you. It’s an honour to meet you sir, we’ve all been looking forward to our chance to get out there and really see these things in person. You know, the textbooks are great and all that, but to be up close and-”
“Slow down kid. I’m not Rivers,” I said. Marx and Stevens were chuckling behind me. “Rivers is a grumpy old fart with a long beard. Do I look old to you?”
Nate turned bright red and rubbed the back of his neck. “No, no sir. Sorry. I was being presumptuous. I meant no offense. You don’t look that old-“
“Define that old, kid.”
“Ah- that’s not what I meant either!” As Nate’s friends laughed at him he turned a brighter shade of red.
Part of me really wanted to run with this, but I could feel something change in the atmosphere. Rivers would be here soon. “Don’t worry kid, I’m just busting your balls. I’m Jack.” I thumped him heavily on the shoulder. “Now put your big boy pants on guys, your night is about to get real.”
It was clear that my warning meant nothing to them. They still thrummed with excitement and it reminded me of how children behaved in line ups at the mall waiting with their parents to see Santa Claus. Their eyes were wide and bright, Nate fidgeted with his hands in his pockets as the others whispered quietly to each other.
I saw Rivers arrive before the others. He appeared behind Marx and Stevens, clothed in a long dark robe. I couldn’t see his face, but I didn’t need to see much of him to be able to tell who it was. The air felt colder. I kept my eyes on him while I waited for the others to notice his arrival.
They didn’t notice him until he spoke my name in his clear, old voice. “Jack,” he said, ignoring the startled yelp from the kids to my right and the flinches from Marx and Stevens, “I was not expecting you tonight.”
“I wasn’t expecting to be here either.”
I saw his hood move as he looked me up and down slowly. Paranoid old bugger. I opened up my coat, showing him that I had no weapons on me. Just a black shirt and black jeans. Nothing fancy. When I felt I had given him enough time to inspect me I wrapped myself up again, trying my best not to shiver visibly.
Rivers turned to Marx and shook his hand, and then Stevens, then the three of them spoke quietly for several minutes. Marx glanced over his shoulder at me and quickly looked away when my eyes met his.
Let me just enlighten you a little bit more, here. I don’t get paid what I should be to do what I do, okay? Rivers contracted me out nearly ten years ago when I left the Academy- well, I sort of left. I didn’t really have an option. He recognized my talent and knew it would be foolish not to keep me around on his side of the fight. So he set up an account in which he transfers me cash once a month. It’s enough for me to afford my apartment and live comfortably. It’s not enough, however, for me to waste a lot of my time standing around in the cold with these assholes. Would you stand outside in the rain on abandoned train tracks with a bunch of dickheads you can’t stand for a below average wage that involved putting your life at risk every night of the week?
I didn’t think so.
“Well boys, it’s been a pleasure as usual, but I’m going to head out there. You can have your little pow wow and shout ‘wardens’ on the count of three if you like, but I’m out of here.”
“Take one of the boys with you, Jack.”
I stopped mid turn and almost toppled over off the tracks. I felt a smile start to creep over my face and my lips peeled off my teeth involuntarily. “Are you mad?”
Rivers didn’t answer me. I heard Stevens muttering to him frantically.
Then I started to laugh.
This is embarrassing, this kind of thing doesn’t often happen to me. Laughing, I mean. A chuckle here and there, a scoff maybe. But this was uncontrollable laughter that had my sides in pain by the time I managed to get it under control. “You’ve lost your mind, old man,” I wheezed, “you want to send fresh meat out there with me? Why?”
Marx chimed in. “I agree with Jack. What is the purpose of investing time into training new recruits only to kill them on their first day?”
“Hey,” I said defensively, “I’m not that bad.”
“You can guarantee they’ll live?”
“Never said that.”
Marx turned to Rivers. “There is no sense in this.”
“It’s perfect sense. Jack, take Nate with you. Dial it back a bit tonight so he can learn. Show him what the job is like.”
“The kid will quit before morning,” Marx mumbled.
“I can keep him alive, that’s easy.” I cast a glance at Nate, who was shivering violently. I doubted it was because of the cold. “But he’d be better off with one of you.” I nodded towards Stevens.
Rivers shook his head. “I’ve made my decision. He goes with you. The other three will go with Marx and Stevens. You know your routes. Jack, don’t go looking for trouble tonight, just stay on the look-out. That’s why we’re here. Meet back here for your report by five.”
I rolled my head back and closed my eyes, letting the rain hit my face and run down my neck into my shirt. It was cold, sure, but it was calming. Nate was a shaking mess beside me, and I didn’t have a bone in my body that gave a shit whether or not he was scared. He remained quiet for a little while, no doubt watching me with his beady little eyes while I faced the dark sky like a madman. I waited for him to work up the nerve to speak. It took a long time, but eventually he spoke. “S-sir? Should we go? The others have already left.”
The corner of my mouth curled up in a smile and I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. His face was set, his jaw firm. He still shook, but he had reasoned with himself for the last five minutes or so and gone through the steps of overcoming his fear, which was the first thing I learned when I was in the Academy.
“Good,” I told him, “step one, check. What’s step two?”
His eyes flicked back and forth between mine while he processed what I was asking him. He closed his eyes and I watched him visualize his notes. “Step two,” he muttered, “step two...”
“Step two is patrol.”
Nate blinked. “But. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
“This is the real world now, kid. We know where the bad guys are. No need to patrol. Four eyes for a whole city and they want us to just walk around and hope we’re in the right place at the right time? Not gonna happen. We need to find the riff raff.”
“But Rivers said-”
“Rivers left you with me, which means I make the decisions now. If you do what I say you’ll be fine. Got it?”
“Okay, next rule is don’t call me Sir. I don’t like it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Jack is fine.”
“Okay. Sorry Jack.”
“No more talking.”
Nate followed me on my night walk like a lost puppy dog, poking at me with questions and agonizing over the details of why I was never at the academy. He swung himself around lamp posts with such gusto that a couple of times I thought he would start belting out ‘Singing in the Rain’ at the top of his lungs. After we’d been walking for a couple of hours, I decided singing would have been preferable to the word vomit that spilled out of him.
“The people in my class never stop talking about you, you know. You’re like a legend on campus. Some of the newbies actually knew who you were before they even started training- weird hey? They’re like, twelve! I guess their parents told them about you, right? I mean, it’s the only way they’d ever know.”
“Dude, I don’t think you get it.”
“I think I get it.”
Nate swung himself around another lamp post and vaulted his body in front of me. I scowled at him as he poked me in the chest and said, “I think you like being mysterious.”
“No,” I pushed him out of my way and continued to walk, “I like being left alone.”
Nate caught up with me and fell into pace with my strides, having to do a little hop step every couple of paces to keep up. “All the time?”
“If you say so.”
He slapped me in the shoulder as we passed a pizza joint full of neon flashing lights. “Have you eaten here? This place is the bomb. Only a dollar a slice and if you’re really drunk sometimes they give you a free piece just to get rid of you. The last time I was here some guy tried to start a fight with a buddy of mine. Murphy- he goes to the Academy too. Well, let me tell you. That guy was picking a fight with the wrong dudes.”
Nate continued to tell me the story, and I pretended to listen. It’s a skill, honestly. His voice would rise with excitement and I’d look at him and nod, and he’d just carry on and tailspin into another story. As he blabbered on I paid attention to the streets.
Lately, I had tread more deserted parts of the city. Back streets and alleyways and corners that people never wait on. I slipped down roads with burnt out lights and stuck to the sidewalks along unlit store fronts. It was the best way to find what didn’t belong. But having Nate with me changed things. I couldn’t be as reckless when I had someone else that I was responsible for bobbing around me begging for some sort of recognition or gratification. He was new at this; he’d only read text books and had a bit of training in a safe and controlled atmosphere. Out here we didn’t necessarily have the upper hand. Not unless we could see the danger coming a mile away. Nate couldn’t see anything past his own nose.
I couldn’t hold his ignorance against him, I suppose. I had been the exact same way when I was his age. I didn’t know what the Faeires really were- what the Unseelie really were. I ended up over my head on my first night walk. I was with another student, a young asthmatic boy named Arthur with thick glasses and a tendency to stutter when he was nervous. He died that night because were were woefully unprepared for the dangers that lurked in the dark.
My ignorance had nearly gotten me killed alongside my classmate, and I could see Nate forming the same pattern as he talked my ear off and ignored everything we were supposed to be looking for.
“Listen kid,” I stopped walking and he slammed into my back. “We have a job to do out here. Did you pay any attention to any of your lectures?”
Nate’s eyes flicked back and forth between mine before he decided to stare at my nose while he formulated an answer. “I... uh… yeah. I did.”
“Did your mentors tell you to yammer along your whole route like a gossiping high school girl?”
“Well. No. But-”
“But nothing,” I held up a hand to silence him. “You’ll get yourself killed out here.”
“Not when I’m with you.They can’t lay a hand on you.”
I studied him for a moment. “Do the textbooks say that?”
“Exactly.” I turned from him, crossing a narrow street that lead down a tight alley way. It smelled like garbage and wet dog. “Let’s go kid. We still have time. Tonight may not be a total loss.”
When I didn’t hear the pitter patter of Nate’s frantic footsteps, I stopped and heaved a dramatic sigh. I looked at the sky, like there was something up in its inky blackness that could help me deal with this useless teenager. It gave me no advice, so I bit back my snarl and faced the kid, raising my hand in front of me and jabbing an accusing finger in his direction. “If I have to treat you like a child I will, now on the count of three you’d better-”
Nate stood at the mouth of the alley, his arms slack by his sides and his lips slightly parted. His face was pale, and his chest rose and fell in a frantic rhythm beneath his black rain jacket. His eyes were wide and unblinking. I followed his gaze down the alley, through the darkness, past the garbage cans, over the abandoned shopping cart, and through a haze of smoke that puffed out from a vent on the side of the building on the right.
At the other end of the alley I spotted what Nate was staring at. From this distance all I could make out was a figure, illuminated only by the glow of a single street light at the end of the alley that flickered and wavered. The creature was motionless; rigid. It was a big one, I could tell that much. I also knew it was watching us.
I heard Nate swallow beside me. He tried to speak but I think his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth so he only managed to moan and whimper. I stepped closer to him and closed my hand over his shoulder to steady him. I could feel the gaze of the creature follow me as I moved. I never took my eyes off it.
It was the shape of a man, standing on two legs with two arms that were only slightly longer than normal. It was motionless, but had it moved I would be able to pinpoint that it was catlike, and somewhat ancient in a sense that it had an eerie grace as it walked. It’s skin would be dark, bubbled, and probably twisted like rotting tree roots or branches.
Another sharper smell met my nose that was not wet dog or garbage. It smelled like rotten eggs and old meat. Nate smelled it too, because he staggered two steps backwards, pulling himself away from me and shaking his head to gather his wits.
Then the street light at the other end of the alley winked out, and the creature was no longer illuminated by light. It’s silhouette blended into the darkness of the alley, and I could no longer determine where it was. A soft clicking sound echoed out of the alley, and I heard a few garbage bags being rustled around.
Nate was hyperventilating. His breaths were quick and shallow and he was trying to back away. I gathered the front of his jacket in my fist and pulled him up beside me. “Alright kid, this is it. I hope those Wardens taught you something useful.”
“Hell no,” Nate breathed, “I’m not ready. Not ready. Can’t.” He shook his head, his hair swishing back and forth across his now sweaty forehead.
I felt myself start to smile. It was an involuntary contortion of my face that I tried to stop but couldn’t. The smell from the alley intensified and the clicking was louder. “Don’t you know who I am?” I asked, then I winked, and pulled Nate into the dark, dank alley with me, letting it swallow us up like some ravenous beast.
In here, there was only silence.
And the horrible stench of the thing that shared the silence with us.
In here, Jack O’Connor was free.