Chapter 3 pt. 2 Ashes to Ashes.
Wherein our hero gets an unexpected job and disaster strikes.
Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.
Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors. Feel free to comment below and thanks for reading!
Hastings Street was tarted up like a festive yuletide stripper, soggy tinsel pasties swaying gently in the breeze from every lamp post. Fairy lights lit up storefronts so doused in glitter that they resembled the aftermath of an event put on by the Pixie Hollow Swinger’s Club.
Outside of Rocky’s Meats, a Salvation Army Santa clanged holiday shoppers to an early migraine with a jolly, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” It took more effort to be seasonally festive in the rain, but the little neighbourhood of Burnaby Heights had practice and it was shaking its Christmas moneymaker for all it was worth. Stirling had barely noticed any of it.
On the short walk from his house, it had finally come to him why he was feeling out of sorts. Not one, but two of his ducks had fallen off the grid.
A year ago Stirling had made a plan the inspiration for which came from a computer program called SETI@home. SETI@home was designed to answer the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”
This was something of a coincidence because it was a question that had been on Stirling’s mind ever since he discovered that he alone could depopulate whole ant colonies with only a bit of concentration.
In their search for aliens, the people at SETI recorded a huge amount of data from the cosmos in the form of radio signals from the Arecibo Radio Observatory. It was so much data in fact that there was no way for them to analyze it all on their own. They solved this problem by sending out packets of information to individual personal computers all over the world. Once received, the computers would grind up the data into a fine powder and sift through it for signals from little green men.
The program was set up to run as a screen saver, simultaneously solving the question of our place in the cosmos, and screen burn-in at the same time. Once a computer was finished with its piece of data, it sent the results back to SETI where the staff looked at it, sighed deeply, shrugged, and kept looking.
Stirling came to realize what the people at SETI had already figured out; some tasks were just too big to do by yourself. He needed agents out in the world to do his work for him. As SETI had an army of personal computers to search for alien life, Stirling decided to use decoys to search out magical life.
Like the people at SETI, Stirling had come to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t a unique and special flower growing wild in the universe. If there was one, there were probably others with similar talents as his. Stories about magic were found in all cultures in all times. As the saying went, where there was smoke there was a Burger King.
He’d come to the realization almost immediately that metaphorically whipping out his eldritch junk and outing himself as a freak on national TV would be a very bad plan. He didn’t think anyone would feel safe if people discovered someone in their midst who could do the kinds of things he could. The best outcome he could imagine would involve him being used as a lab rat while white-coated science monkeys biopsied his brain.
So, how could he make contact with others like himself without exposing himself more thoroughly than a pantie-hating socialite getting out of her car? After some thought, he settled on the solution of creating magic hunting decoys. He would carve ducks, have his contact info laser etched onto the bottom, and ship them all over the world so they could be his calling card to the magical world.
He could sense his magic in them, and if he could, others might too. It had taken months of experimentation, but the first of the enchanted fowl had sold from his Etsy page in November.
Until he had proof that there were other people like him there would always be a little voice in the back of his head whispering that insanity was a lot more likely than the ability to do magic.
Now though, something had happened to two of his ducks. It might be nothing more than they'd been involved in some mishap and destroyed, but it also might not. It was worrying and exciting at the same time. His palms got tingly and his heart beat a bit faster thinking of it as he walked the rain-darkened sidewalks.
He was crossing Hastings and heading for home, his backpack heavy with groceries, when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He checked the display, it was Rebbecca.
“Hey Double b Double c, what’s shaking?” he asked into the phone.
There was a silence, “I’ve asked you not to call me that,” came the reply. “I could fine your ass for harassment.”
“It’s your name, not your boobs I’m talking about,” Stirling replied. “The name ‘Rebbecca’ has two Bs and two Cs,” he explained patiently. “You’d need to have four boobs to have two Bs and two Cs, and for me, that’s just a boob too far.”
There was a pause as she digested this, “So three breasts are your ideal?”
“Total Recall had an impression on teenage me.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Rebbecca. “Just stop it, alright?”
“Fine, did you call to scold me, or is there a job.”
“That depends on whether you keep calling me Double b Double c,” she replied.
“By Grabthar’s hammer, I promise to stop calling you by that name.”
“Whatever, weirdo. It’s a good thing you have me as a buffer between you and your customers. You’re just too strange sometimes.”
She was more right than she knew. Years of little to no social interaction and working the night shift had atrophied Stirling’s mouth-brain barrier to the point that it was better if he had someone else to be the public face of this company. The blind had seeing-eye dogs, Stirling had recognized in himself the need for a speaking-mouth person. Being one of the most socially adept people he knew, Rebbecca was his first choice.
“Agreed,” said Stirling, “it’s why I pay you the big bucks. You’re the Jon to my Ponch, the Beau to my Luke.”
“This is what I’m talking about. This is why you don’t have a girlfriend.”
“The Salt to my Peppa,” he continued undeterred, “and, dare I say it, the spaghetti to my meatballs.”
Rebbecca sighed. “The job’s in East Van, I’m texting you the address and contact info, they need it done today. Like in the daytime when normal people work.”
“Really? You told them about the off-hours double-time?”
“Yeah, boss, they said it was urgent, something about ruined stock, got the credit card number and everything. You won’t burst into flames if you go out in the sun will you.”
“Nah. I’ll pack my parasol. What’s the job?”
"A warehouse with a rat problem.”
“Ewwwww,” he said drawing the word out.
“I know, right? Mammals are nasty.”
“It’s the extra fluids,” he said sagely. “Alright, I’m almost home, print me out an invoice, and let them know I’ll be there in an hour, give or take.”
“Bye, Beccy!” he said cheerily into the phone.
“My name…!” he heard as he pressed the disconnect button.
Twenty minutes later, Stirling was suited up, and in the van speeding down Hastings, missing ducks momentarily forgotten. Double time was always welcome, especially around the holidays when work tended to fall off around Christmas.
He arrived at the address and pulled into a paved parking spot along side of the building. It was one of the many warehouses that clustered around the rail yards in East Van. The building at the address Rebbecca had provided was long, grey, and aggressively uninteresting.
Stirling hopped out of the van, positioned his faux respirator on top of his head for best effect, and mounted the steps that led to the building. An unenthusiastic-looking twenty-something guy wearing ironic glasses and a flannel shirt sat behind the reception desk looking at a tablet. The distinct scent of recently smoked pot filled the air.
“Hi, Stirling Haig, I’m here for your rat problem,” he said by way of introduction, peeling off an elbow-length rubber glove and offering his hand.
The receptionist shook his offered hand on reflex. “Rats?” he asked, seeming confused.
“Yeah, I’m the pest control guy,” he said, handing over a card with his dead bug graphic.
This got him a long blank stare. “You know, rats? they’re small, furry, spread the Black Death. I’m here to make sure yours have eaten their last piece of cheese.”
“I know what rats are, but we don’t have any.”
“Pretty much. We make kayaks.”
Stirling checked the text Rebbecca had and rattled off the address.
“That’s us,” the guy agreed, “but nobody told me you’d be coming in.”
“I was told the contact would be a guy called Brad. Is he around?”
“Sorry, nobody named Brad even works here, I think someone might be jerking you around.”
“Can you maybe just give your boss a shout and double check?” He was going to be pissed if this was a false call. They didn’t happen often, but they happened.
The receptionist shrugged, picked up a phone from the desk and dialed some numbers. “Nobody would’ve even be here today if we weren’t expecting a shipment, everyone’s off until after Christmas,” he said before speaking to someone on the other end of the phone.
Then Stirling felt it.
To sense one of his decoys he needed to concentrate, but the decoys were to the contents of his safe, what the residents of Tokyo were to Godzilla. No concentration was necessary to feel it. The cold presence of the safe in his workshop was always there in the back of his mind. Except now it was quickly disappearing from his senses.
“Motherfucker!” he shouted and dashed out of the building.
Stirling pulled into his driveway just in time to watch the fire department shake off the last drops of water from their hoses onto a charred hole in the side of his steaming workshop.