A rather depressed Barney Spume stands looking doubtfully at the 'antique' car he has just been handed the keys to by his uncle, executor of his grandparents' wills. It was windy and the day had turned grey, not that Barney minded – he just came from the reading of the wills his grandparents had written, and before that, their funeral. His relatives had laughed at what he was left; undoubtedly they all knew it looked like it belonged in a scrapyard. If a scrapyard would even take it. At first they had been worried that he was even mentioned; his grandparents had had a soft spot for him, knew he was broke, knew he was yet again unemployed, and knew he was single. He didn't have anything going for him in his life, and his relatives expected the bulk of the inheritance to go to him.
Barney hadn't expected it, but had still dreamed of it.
Barney had, however, expected more than the hunk of junk sitting in the rain before him.
It was raining now, that settled it for Barney. He shrugged and opened the door. It was a little stiff, but not unmanageable. It wasn't as if he had another option to get home other than ask his parents for a ride and sit in awkward silence. He would have to go to Access Nova Scotia on Monday. But the lawyer said it was okay to drive the vehicle now.
Dreading what he might discover if he tried the ignition, Barney started poking around in the car. While it hardly looked freshly detailed, there was a distinct lack of clutter. Actually, there was only a single envelope in the glove compartment; not so much as a penny on the floor. Sure, the penny was discontinued years ago, but this car was old.
The envelope had something flat and dense on one end; a key probably. It was also addressed to “My fool grandson, Barney Spume”. It made Barney smile, and he almost didn't open it.
But he did, and boy would he come to wish he hadn't.
If you are reading this, then I am most likely dead. If I'm not dead ... then I have just finished discussing everything in this letter with you and you needn't read it. If I am dead, I hope it was an accident or natural causes. Either way, I regret launching you into a secret world I managed to keep the family hidden from for decades. I wouldn't bother, but you see ... I am the last of an important family.
Of course there are your aunts and uncles, your father, your cousins. But as far as the people I worry about are concerned, none of you exist. I was furious with your great-uncle when he left this property to me, recklessly leaving a trail to the family ... but I am getting ahead of myself.
Actually, if you're reading this because I am dead, it is probably best if you just go to the address I'll write on the back and use the key enclosed to enter the house. Things should sort themselves out nicely that way, I think.Love,
Great-uncle? Barney had never heard of any of his grandmother's relatives. He had always just assumed there weren't any, to be honest. Secret worlds, mysterious relatives, and a connection to his recently departed grandparents? It sounded way better than real life to Barney right at that moment, so he slid the key into the ignition, turned it, and it roared to life. It was bloody loud, and Barney groaned.
But when he pulled out onto the road, the car quieted down. Barney didn't think cars were supposed to work that way; he would have expected it to get louder. He didn't worry about it, though. He just kept driving. He should be able to make it to this house before the sun set.
The sun was setting when his phone's GPS app told him he had arrived at his destination and indicated it would be on the right. He didn't even see a driveway near there, so he kept driving until he saw the next mailbox. Too far. So he turned around. He passed it again, but at least this time he saw something that might have been a driveway at some point. He drove slowly this time and pulled over when he found it again.
Sure enough, on the ground in the bushes on the other side of the ditch was a rusty mailbox with the address he was looking for painted on it. The driveway was grown over and washed out, but he could see a house through the remaining leaves.
Leave it to Grandma to forget to mention she didn't maintain the place at all.
It took him longer than expected to reach the steps, which were thankfully made of concrete. He was sure he had heard something in the bushes several times, but couldn't see anything. He hoped it was just a squirrel. The battered door was still standing, and when he tried the knob it didn't turn. The key fit in with some pressure, but didn't seem to be the right one.
He knew it must be the right one. Unless this was an elaborate prank by one of his cousins.
After some jiggling and banging, the key finally turned.
But the door didn't open. He felt the mechanism move, he knew it was no longer the knob holding the door closed. Was it barricaded from the inside? That wouldn't make sense if he was supposed to be able to open it with this key. Shrugging, he kept the knob turned and started pounding his shoulder and hip into the door, willing it to budge.
Unexpectedly, the eleventh try worked. Barney swung with the door and wound up on his ass looking out at the overgrown yard. And noticed he wasn't alone.
A rather petite young woman was sitting cross-legged on a magnificent buck, a cherry-red bob drawing his eyes. She was waving and pointing, so he waved back. She facepalmed and cursed, looking frustrated. Taken aback, Barney was about to call out when he felt hands grab his face and shoulders, yanking him backwards alarmingly fast. In his surprise, Barney accidentally kicked the door shut, cutting off his view of the intriguing girl. He also saw his phone where it must have fallen from his pocket and thought to himself “this can't be good.”
Barney must have blacked out for a minute, he was laying in a decrepit living room disoriented. He was tied up with an impossibly long string of colourful handkerchiefs, his arms pinned to his sides and his legs unable to move. His captors – there had been four hands, he knew that – were nice enough to have laid him on a smelly chesterfield though, so they couldn't be all bad.
He changed his mind seconds after having that though when a monstrous creature dropped from the ceiling in front of him.
It was a clown, with four arms and four legs. It had an enormous, bulbous, ass. And eight eyes. How did he miss the eight eyes? It was a spider-clown. It even had furry fangs hanging from its mouth.
At first, Barney didn't realize the thing was speaking. Its voice was muffled, and it didn't sound like English. But it was emitting a sound that sounded something like speech, pacing back and forth in an awkward waddle, and every once and a while it would stop and all eight eyes would stare at him expectantly.
After several minutes of this, Barney came to the horrific realization that it was telling jokes. He was a literal captive audience to a stand-up comedy routine he couldn't understand. He wished he could laugh anyway, but he couldn't. He almost started crying instead.
Thanks, Grandma, what the hell have you gotten me into? He thought to himself.
Then there was a bang, and suddenly several bearded men in pink dresses swarmed the room waving sticks around. There was a lot of noise, a lot of bright lights flashing, and some disgusting smells.
When he felt his bonds being cut, he held his breath and bolted as soon as he was able to do so, tripping a few times as he ran. He didn't know where he was running, but he saw a door and it broke when he hit it. He almost made the large tree on the other side of the yard before he tripped over something and fell in front of it.
He crawled the last few feet, and sat leaning against the tree, wheezing.
Things got weirder yet again.
There was a short, human-like being standing there looking at him, clutching a filthy hat. Barney couldn't ignore the sad puppy-dog eyes and finally managed a weak “hello?”.
“Gordie is sorry for tripping you. He is just curious if you are the new master.” Okay, the thing spoke. In the third person.
“Master? I am not a master of anything.”
“You are not master of the house now? Gordie thought – ” but the creature was cut off by a shout from the open door.
“Of all the incompetent independent operators I've had stumble into one of my contracts, you really take the cake! And then you run away when I rescue you! I ended up calling in backup for you, and that poor creature will be lucky to survive their treatment. What were you doing waving at me, anyway?” It was that intriguing red-head. At least her voice quieted by the time she reached him. Gordie was nowhere to be seen now though.
“I thought you were my neighbour come to say hello. I mean, you were waving at me.”
“Wait, were that thing's jokes really that bad?”
“Yes, jokes. I couldn't understand it, but it was clearly doing a stand-up routine. I'm sure it wanted me to laugh, but it just wasn't funny.”
“Wish I wasn't.”
“Come on, we can talk on the way back to headquarters. They'll want to debrief you.”
“The regional office of the Men in Pink,” she paused for a second. “You aren't an independent operator, are you?”
“Took you long enough. No clue what is going on. Nothing in Grandma's letter prepared me for this.”
“Here,” he said, handing over the envelope.
“The letter. See for yourself.”
“There's nothing ... just a sec.” She held her hand out almost as if she were going to take the letter from him and closed her eyes mumbling to herself. “Well, at least you aren't crazy. I don't think so anyway. But whatever is written on this paper is layered in too many wards for me to read. Looks blank to me.”
“Uh, yeah. If you give me a ride we can beat the cleanup crew back.”
“I suppose. Not sure I want to set foot in this place again anyway.”
Barney woke up on a narrow cot in a dark room. There was faint green light coming from a circle on the ceiling ... and that was it. One second he and the redhead – whose name he hadn't gotten – were walking towards the pile of scrap he was using to get around, the next ... well, he wasn't sure. But he was sore now, like he had fallen a few times.
He started to wonder if recent events had actually happened or if he had had some sort of meltdown and his family was forced to leave him in some psychiatric facility and he was in a solitary lock-down chamber ... but he wasn't wearing a straitjacket and the walls weren't padded. And real-life wasn't like a soap-opera. But still, aside from his strange surroundings, how on earth could the events at that house have been real?
He was left alone with his thoughts for too long; he was sitting in the corner on the cot hugging his knees when a door slid open, letting in blinding light. A figure stepped – rolled? – into the stream of light, looking like nothing recognizable ... unless you counted an armless human torso balanced on an exercise ball as 'recognizable'.
“Reason for incarceration?” it said in a bored mechanical voice, like something from a cheesy science-fiction show.
“I was actually hoping you could tell me,” Barney replied, hoping he didn't sound sarcastic or snarky.
“Recount the events leading up to your presence here.” Worth a shot, Barney figured. So he started with the inheritance and didn't leave anything he could remember out, even if it made no sense. “Wrongfully accused of harbouring a known fugitive then. The appeal process will be initiated on your behalf.” The door slid shut and Barney could hear the thing roll away muttering to itself about lazy and incompetent teams.
Barney just stared at the door in horror, caught between pleading and demanding release. He didn't even bother to give voice to his frustration. But someone else did.
“He means well, but his hands are tied. I try to avoid him.” Whipping his head around to face the source of the voice, Barney found a smokey man poking his head through the wall. Then the rest followed. The figure was dressed in a suit that wouldn't look out of place in the 1930's with a handlebar moustache and pointed goatee, both well oiled. His legs merged together and ended in a tapering cloud reminiscent of ghosts and genies. “Anto Mattia Potenza, at your service. Or the service of your late grandmother, rather. She left to you the estate of her deceased brother, one Blake Titus Benbow. This couldn't go through the usual legal channels of Canada for ... well, obvious reasons.” From his smokey suit, he withdrew a folder and offered it to Barney.
Feeling foolish, Barney reached for it. Much to his surprise, it was corporeal.
“Now, if you'll sign here, you become the proud owner of a neglected estate infested with all manner of creatures you don't want the locals interacting with.” Barney took the proffered contract and pen, signed, and handed them back. Anto tipped his hat – had he been wearing a hat a moment ago? – and walked through the wall.
“You is the Master! Yay, we is having a master again!” Gordie, who Barney was completely unaware had been in the room with him all this time, did a little dance before freezing and looking at him with narrowed eyes. “You is going to be a proper Master, isn't you? Stay in the house and do stuff?”
“I suppose I will. It sounds incredibly more interesting than what I'm used to. But what exactly do you mean Master? I'm no slave-owner.”
“Not slave, no. Servant, or ... Gordie doesn't know proper words. Master protects us, we help the Master. Gordie knows things the new Master doesn't. Oh, the Patriarch is coming! He is knowing you are the new Master.”
“Who is the Patriarch, Gordie?”
“Gordie's family is big. Patriarch is the father of all Gordie's family. He important, in charge of things we not bug Master for. He will not be happy with the perversion of our kinds magic.”
“Perversion of magic?”
“This room ... meant to trap ones that want hurt others. Now it traps whoever the silly pink-men put in here. Like Master. Patriarch can fix, though. He can, he can.”
Just then a new light source appeared. One tile of the floor started emitting bright blue-white light, strongest around the edges. A skeletal and bearded being of similar stature to Gordie sitting cross-legged rose up through the floor and the light faded to a dim glow.
“Greetings, Master. I am the Patriarch. I have been with your family for two hundred years, and the Patriarch since your great-great-great-grandfather's days. I am afraid I have forgotten my name. You may call me what you wish.” The ancient being trailed off and looked around, a pained expression on his face. “The perversion of my magic disturbs me. May I correct it, Master?”
“I would be grateful if you did, Patriarch.” The being smiled and closed his eyes. He hummed for a few minutes.
“It is repaired. Only for this room, though ... I am old and tired. Would the Master like the Estate prepared for his return?”
“Prepared as in cleaned up? I am afraid that wouldn't be a good idea. Wait for me to return, then we will make the estate livable again.”
“May I return now, Master? As I have said, I am old and tired.”
“Of course, Patriarch. Go home and rest.”
The light flared up again, and the Patriarch descended into it once more. Then the light winked out leaving Barney sitting in the darkness once more.
“Gordie, how is it I didn't notice you until you spoke?”
“Gordie's kind is good at not being noticed, Master. With silly pink-men we not even try; they not to see us anyway. Gordie can't open door, though, so Master still stuck in here.”
“That's okay, Gordie. With the magic fixed, I think we can get out.” Barney actually had a plan. He had no idea if it would work, no idea when he would get to implement it, but it was a plan.
It actually wasn't long before the door slid open again. Three obviously irritated older bearded men in the pink dresses stood outside. Barney lay on the cot and ignored them. They started yelling at him about false accusations and slander. Finally, frustrated by his lack of reaction, the ringleader sent his two lackeys in to get Barney's attention. They waved their sticks ... and nothing.
“What are you imbeciles playing at? Do I have to do everything myself?” The third man stepped through the door. Barney stretched, stood up, and took a step towards the door. The three men laughed and stood aside.
“You just may have to, but good luck with that.” They looked confused. Barney stepped through the doorway to their shocked amazement, and he shut the door and locked it. “Does Gordie know the was out of here?” He asked, hoping Gordie had actually followed as he had lost track of him again.
“Yes Master. But first we go to old Master's office. Probably still his.” Gordie led him down a series of hallways, and up some stairs. They walked past several offices, many occupied with doors open, but drew no more than curious glances. Gordie produced a key from somewhere and opened a locked door.
It was dusty inside. Very dusty.
“Gordie is sorry, he not clean office in long time.”
“Don't worry about it Gordie. But why are we here?”
“Gordie knows things Master needs. Nobody stop you if you wear jacket,” the little creature said, pointing at an overcoat in a severely faded red hue. Barney realized it was pink, but at least it wasn't a dress. “Need these, too!” Gordie handed him a wooden dowl like the sticks the 'pink-men' were waving around, and a small medallion on a chain.
Looking closer at the medallion, Barney could make out an eye in the centre of a star with ... thirteen points. 'Benbow' was engraved on the back. He hung it around his neck, put on the jacket, and pocketed the wand. That was what it was, Barney was fairly certain.
“Hey, what are you doing in old Benbow's office? You put those things back!”
Barney froze for a second, then took a deep breath and turned toward the door, extending his hand. “Barney Benbow, at your service,” he said, smiling painfully.
“Really? We have a Benbow again?” Barney nodded, unable to stop himself from raising an eyebrow. The wizened old man in the doorway punched the air and gave a little hop, trying to whoop but ending doubled over, hands on knees, wheezing.
“Grandfather, you really should try not to get so excited.” The voice sounded familiar. When the speaker stepped into view to put a hand on the man's back, looking worried, she looked familiar too.
“You! First you don't warn me there's a giant spider-clown coming to get me, then you lead me into a trap that lands me incarcerated!”
“What? Oh, don't worry, they got me too. But I know people around here. So were you lying then or now?
“Well ... technically I am Barney Spume. Blake Titus Benbow was my great-uncle, and I just inherited his estate. Where the assault occurred. I'll be leaving now, unless Gordie thinks there is something else I need here.”
“Nope, ready to go Master.”
“Where is my car?”
“Being examined at the Amherst office.”
“Amherst office? Where are we now then?”
“Amherst was the closest regional office to your uncle's estate. Your car was left there, but you were brought here to the Halifax office. Easy enough to get there; I can get it out for you, just to piss off those imbeciles who have taken over this place. Lexus Lauren Linwood. Call me Lexus. Come on. See you later, grandfather.”
“Yes, yes, get the Benbow out of here Lexus. I have work to do. This is going to be fun!”
Barney followed Lexus to an elevator, but when they got in he discovered that instead of floor designations, the buttons were labelled with Nova Scotian town names. Except one for Ottawa. Lexus pushed 'Amherst', and things got unpleasant. It felt like he was both being crushed and inflated at the same time, and his eyes hurt. He started seeing lights and the pressure in his ears built. He did hear the elevator ding just before the doors opened, but it was muffled and sounded like it was coming from a long way away. Lexus stepped through the doors and looked at him with a confused expression.
“What was that?” he said, and could barely hear his voice. She gestured for him to exit the elevator and he did so with only a slight stumble. His balance was off too.
“Oh ... your first time using the transfer chamber. Can be a bit rough, but you get used to it quickly enough. If you can manage to walk around the corner we can stop for a minute without looking suspicious.” Barney nodded and followed. He actually recovered quickly after that, and they moved on.
Lexus led Barney to a fenced parking lot, flirted with the man in the office off the garage, and walked out with the keys. She handed them to Barney, and they drove up to the gate, which opened for them.
“You want me to drop you off somewhere?”
“I think we need to have a long chat. How about we go back to your new digs?”