The Emeldahm Inn [2/5]
Jacob isn’t human, I don't know what he is
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“What the hell are you?”
“I’ll explain everything, promise. But right now we need to get out of here. Your keys-”
Jacob glanced around with his one remaining eye. My car keys were lying by one of the fallen hotel patrons. He yanked me and Minerva toward it, stumbling over the body of the lady in the sun hat.
“Pick them up,” he said. “And let’s move.”
I stared at him. He didn’t take his hand off his right eye. The inky black blood that had stained the front of his dress shirt was making strange crackling noises. Tiny bubbles surfaced through the stain and burst into bits of dark smoke.
“Please, we haven’t got much time.”
I picked up the keys. Jacob began to run, towing me and Minerva behind him. We wove through the bodies on the floor and made our way toward the stairwell. As Jacob slammed his shoulder into the door, I glanced back at the garage.
The fallen bodies were beginning to stir.
On the far side of the garage, Percy slowly pulled himself to his feet. He looked up at me and grinned.
Then Jacob pulled us into the stairwell and slammed the door shut behind us.
Whatever Jacob was, he certainly wasn’t fit enough to run up six flights of stairs. By the time we got to the door to my room, I had somehow become the one pulling him along.
Breathing heavily, he finally took his hand off his eye to start rummaging in his pocket. I did a double take. There was no trace of the black blood anywhere on him, no wound on his face. His shirt was clean. His eye looked perfectly untouched.
He pulled out what I assumed was a master card key, unlocked my door, and practically shoved me and Minerva inside. He slipped into the room behind us and closed and locked the door.
Then he staggered across the room and collapsed onto my bed, panting.
Minerva paced by the door, unwilling to step any closer to him. I stared at Jacob until what had just happened finally hit me full-force.
I stumbled back and pressed my back against the door as Jacob sat up.
We locked eyes for just a moment. I stiffened, thinking of what he had done to Percy. Or rather, what I assumed he had done. The pistol to the side of his own head, the bullet through the little boy’s.
To his credit, he looked away almost as quickly as I did.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to-”
Minerva cut him off with a bark. Jacob flinched.
He was scared, just like Percy had been. Whatever monsters they were, Minerva could see straight through them.
I decided to play it up for all it was worth.
I unclipped the end of Minerva’s leash from my belt and held it up between my fingers, as if I was ready to let go of it at a moment’s call.
“Tell me you hate dogs too,” I said.
“N-no! I love dogs. My college roommate used to have a puppy and she was really cute, it’s just…”
He trailed off.
“Ever since… ever since the curse, dogs always look at me like I’m a monster.”
I stared at him. He averted my eyes.
“What are you?” I asked again.
He held his arms self-consciously. At first I was afraid of his eyes, but he was back to the nervous clerk from last night, refusing to meet my gaze.
“My name’s Jacob,” he said quietly.
“I knew that.”
He looked down at his collar where his name tag used to be. The tips of his ears grew pink.
He took a deep breath.
“I was cursed at Emeldahm Station.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you shouldn’t go there, Abigail.”
I flinched a little. I hadn’t expected him to remember my name.
Jacob raised his head.
“The Emeldahm Station Mural Project isn’t what you think it is,” he said. “Emeldahm Station has no good reason to stay open. Practically nobody takes the subway there and the underground is so old it’s barely up to safety code anymore. A couple of months ago, the city metro was planning on demolishing the station.”
I waited. Jacob took a deep breath, again.
“But that station is a haunted place. It’s home to three… three things, creatures that take the form of little boys.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You met one of them just now. Percy.”
For a moment, it was silent save for the rush of blood in my ears.
“Percy is the only one of the three who can leave the station and walk around outside,” he said. “He goes around handing people rolls of Smarties, and whoever eats them becomes his puppet. They cluelessly go about their daily lives until Percy hijacks their minds whenever he likes and makes them do things at his will. That’s probably how he took control of the Urban Artists’ Collective and initiated the Emeldahm Station Mural Project.”
Even as my eyebrow crept higher, I absently touched my hand to my pocket, where I had put the pieces of candy that I would have eaten if Minerva hadn’t torn them up.
“I don’t know what the boys at the station are,” Jacob said. “Monsters, or demons, or haunted kids. But they all have evil powers like that. Their souls are bound to the station, so if the station were to get destroyed, they would die with it.”
I was staring at Jacob like he was mad. But I couldn’t deny what I had seen, and what I had seen was a horde of people puppeteered by one very small, very strange little kid.
“Why are you protecting her anyway, Jacob?” he had asked. “I thought we were friends.”
“Then what are you?” I demanded, for the third time. “You… you’ve got some freaky power too.”
“I’m not like them,” Jacob said quickly. “One of the kids, Dominique, cursed me to be like this. But he spared my personality. Identity. Whatever. I’m not evil. I… I’m still me.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“It’s true. You’ve got to believe me.”
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His tone was verging on a plea. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny pistol. I gripped the doorknob behind me, but Jacob just put the gun down on the carpet and nudged it away with his foot. Then he put up his hands like I was a cop ready to arrest him.
“Really helping your case here,” I said, staring down at the gun. “That thing’s definitely illegal.”
“I have my reasons,” he said. “It’s for self-defense. Look, I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t know why Percy tried to feed you the Smarties, but I’ll make sure he doesn’t try it again. Just trust me. Please?”
I rubbed my eyes like the lights were too bright. Outside the hotel, I could hear the distant sounds of the city outskirts.
“What am I supposed to do, then?” I asked.
“Just don’t go to the station. And get away from Emeldahm if you can.”
“You mean… drop the Project?”
“I told you, the Project is fake. The boys orchestrated it.”
“But I have to do it.”
This time, it was Jacob’s turn to look at me like he couldn’t believe me. I sighed.
“Fake or not, the Project is important to me.”
“You’re just painting on the walls,” Jacob said. “Is that more important than your safety, possibly your life? Percy has control over all the guards in the station, you know. He has hordes of people at his beck and call. We got lucky this time, but humans are like remote-controlled toys to him. He could easily hide away and command an army to come and get you.”
I bit my lip.
“And as soon as you set foot into that station, it won’t be just Percy who can get to you. Dominique practically lives in the walls of the underground. You could tiptoe around the station and he would know exactly where you were. Even worse than that, he can sift through the memories in your brain and twist up your mind.”
A tremor crept into his tone.
“He’s the one who cursed me,” he said. “Turned me into this… this human voodoo doll. He didn’t have to lift a finger to do it. I only got away with my sanity because he decided it would be fun to spare me, but he could just as easily have taken away my mind and turned me into a monster like him.”
“And lastly Aron, he’s got these terrible shadows-”
“Aron,” Jacob said. “The third boy.”
“I don’t even know if he has a last name. Who’s Aron Terrence?”
I fumbled in my pockets until I found the old photograph. When I took it out and held it up for Jacob to see, my hand was trembling.
Jacob stood up and walked over. Minerva crouched down and growled, making him stop short. He peered at the photo from three feet away.
His eyes grew wide.
“That’s him,” he said. “How… what is this picture?”
I dropped the case into the palm of my hand and looked down at it. The girl and the boy and the dog. It gave me the same stinging sensation in the corner of my heart that it always did.
“Is that… is that your dog?”
I shook my head. “No, this is before Minerva was born. That’s Gracie, her mom. And that girl is me, and that…”
I pointed to the little boy.
“That’s Aron, my big brother. Before he died in an accident at Emeldahm Station thirteen years ago.”
For a moment, there was silence.
Jacob looked like he had something to say, but the words were getting stuck in his throat. He stepped closer, much to Minerva’s distress, and looked at the picture twice over.
Something made a loud thud against the door right behind me. We all jumped.
“What was that?”
Jacob bit his lip.
I put my eye up against the peephole in the door. Standing outside in the hallway was Eileen, the front desk clerk from the morning. Her shirt was crumpled and her perfectly styled hair was pressed out of shape.
She was smiling an unnaturally wide smile.
“It’s Eileen,” I whispered. “What do I do?”
Jacob looked as troubled as I was. As if by some silent agreement, we crept back quietly away from the door, even Minerva knowing well enough to keep quiet.
We heard some quiet shuffling, and then a card key slipping onto the card reader. With a click, the door to the room swung open.
As soon as Eileen saw us backed up against the bed, her smile turned tense. Her eyes went to Jacob’s pistol on the floor, and then to the old photograph in the palm of my hand.
Then she giggled like a little child, a sound that instantly sent chills down my back.
“Well, well,” she sing-songed, her voice terribly giddy. “Looks like I’m too late to stop the sleuthing.”
I shoved the photograph into my pocket. Jacob quickly picked up his pistol.
“Get out of her head, Percy,” he growled. “Don’t you think you’ve given her a rough enough morning?”
Eileen smirked. Or rather, Percy smirked through Eileen.
“Careful with the gun, now. You don’t want to shoot your boss, do you?”
Jacob clenched his teeth.
“You surprised me down there,” Eileen - Percy - said. “Really. You did a good job of acting as if nothing changed, but you really have become one of us, haven’t you?”
“Shut up. I’m nothing like you.”
“You’re just like me. You have the power to control people.”
Eileen made a finger gun and mimed shooting herself through the head. Then she giggled.
“You know what this means, don’t you? Your soul is bound to Emeldahm Station now. If the station dies, we all die with it.”
Jacob’s eyes widened, as if only now realizing he wasn’t normal.
“That’s right,” Eileen said. “I saved your life with the stupid mural project, too. So do your best friend a favor, would you?”
She jabbed her index finger toward me.
“I’m sure you already know what her deal is. Don’t let her get into the station. I don’t know how Aron’s gonna feel about her, but it won’t be pretty.”
“What do you mean?” I gasped. “What do you know about Aron?”
“I just like keeping my friends as my friends,” she said. “Your big brother’s gone, Abigail. Don’t come looking for him.”
I shuddered as I realized Percy knew my name.
“That’s enough,” Jacob said. “Leave.”
Eileen smiled and took a small bow.
“As you wish.”
We were silent for a good minute after the door closed.
“Well,” I finally said. “I know where I’m going next.”
“Shut up,” I said, strapping my spray-can belt back around my waist and grabbing Minerva’s leash. “And call me Abbey.”
Jacob shut his mouth, raised a finger, then opened his mouth again.
“Abbey, I really don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Don’t try to stop me. I’m going to that station if it kills me.”
“It’s more possible than you think,” Jacob warned. “Dying, I mean. I really think-”
“You think I should stay put, just like Percy wants me to?”
Jacob pursed his lips.
“I signed up for the mural project because I needed to come back to this place and make peace with the past, Jacob. And now I’m hearing my dead brother is trapped in that nightmare station as some sort of monstrous demon-child. Do you really think I would want to stay put?”
I slung my backpack over my shoulder, clipped Minerva’s leash onto my belt, and turned to face him.
“You’re coming with, aren’t you?”
Jacob cleared his throat. His eyes darted about like he was looking for a way out.
In the end, he said nothing.
“Great,” I said. “Come along.”
Episode 3 comes out on 12/18/2020
written by magpie_quill