Beyond The Holders
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One day you might meet a man. He'll have grey hair, grey skin and a grey suit. He'll be smiling a little too wide, just enough to make you think something's wrong. Then you'll see the eyes: the cold, dead, hollow eyes, and you'll know you're damned.
They've called him many things. Mr. Deadeyes, The Hollow Man, Leg Breaker, The Devil's Grin, and he's come to answer to asshole, but Jack Empty's his favourite name.
There are stories about him; you'll hear them if you're a Seeker long enough. They say he's older than Legion, kept alive by profane deals and unholy pacts. They say most of Them have passed through his hands at least once. They say he's not exactly a Seeker and not really a Holder, but something in between. They say he's been to the centre of Hell and back.
Many people have wondered how a man can have seen so much and still be human. They say he's not. They say that the horror of his life destroyed his humanity, his very soul, and the void created a black hole. They say if you ripped off his skin you'd find nothing underneath, 'cause he's got jack inside him. He's empty. Get it?
They don't know why he still seeks. The cynical ones think it's a game to him. The sympathetic ones say that it's because he can only feel something when he gets an Object, like how a drug addict always needs another dose. All I know is that when you meet him... run.
Jack was running. He'd been running for two weeks now, since the seventh. Jack really wished he'd kept Self-Control; now he was almost out of juice. Jack was still laughing, though; he really wanted to piss them off before They got him.
Jack had ticked off The End, figured that if he could get out of the room in time he would win the Object. Jack figured wrong, and now Jack was in America with nothing but The Eyes, all of them, and the Liar's Note. Sure, the Note would work on a person, but what good was it against Him?
So Jack laughed and ran and waited to die, but whatever hell-spun creatures commissioned Jack's creation weren't done with him. And so Jack found a Haven.
Havens are this grand idea. Probably a vain hope someone conjured up while their buddy was being chased down by one of Them. A Haven, supposedly, will keep Their Forces at bay for twenty hours, forty-eight on the solstice. Just enough time for you to remember what living without Them after you was like. If you - shall we say - overstay your welcome, then They will take all life in a twenty mile radius, forty-eight on the solstice, as recompense. The main problem with overstaying your welcome is that these are happy places, places most people would be willing to trade themselves for: playgrounds, old hometowns, grammy's houses, places we remember from our childhood or places that remind us of when we were happy. They change for each person.
What do I think a bastard like Jack Empty'd do? I think he'd tick a Holder off right before a solstice, just to watch the people burn.
Jack awoke in a warm bed. The place was happy; it radiated from the walls. Jack was disturbed by this, although he wasn't sure why; he held no grudge against joy. Jack laughed through his discomfort and did a quick check of his surroundings. His bag was in a corner and since he wasn't waked in the night whoever owned the house didn't know what was in it. Jack got up and looked in the mirror. He was dirty and unshaven and his suit was torn but other than that Jack was fine.
Jack, although empty, had his manners. He did his best to narrow his smile and warm his eyes so that he only looked to be a haunted man and not a mad one. Next, Jack headed downstairs.
"Thank you," Jack said in his best impression of humanity, "I assume it was you who helped me; I'm Jack."
The woman favoured her left hand and the kid wasn't a threat, playing with his colouring book. The house was idyllic, like out of a fifties TV show. Jack took stock of the room. He noticed all of the ways he could kill them, if necessary. He noticed all the ways they could try to harm him and how to prevent them.
"Nice to meet you, Jack. I'm Sandra, now mind explaining why I had to give a stranger a room in my house?"
Jack took out the Note and handed it to her. She stared at the thing for a while longer than it should take to read a sheet of paper and finally handed it back to him.
"So how long will you need to stay here, Jack?" Her voice was dead, mechanical. The Note was still in her head, rooting its way through her.
Jack smiled. "Two days. That'll be enough."
My favourite Jack story? Well there's this one; Jack's been wanderin' around in this dirt poor town, no one knows why he's there, just been walking around. So one day the villagers get together, they're gonna kick Jack out, 'cause he's been there for weeks.
So they meet Jack and say, "You've been here for more than a month now, haven't contributed anything. We want you out."
Jack smiles and says he hasn't begged for food either, has harmed no one and asks them to leave him alone.
The villagers just get riled, threaten to hurt him if he doesn't get out. Jack's eyes narrow and he tells them how They were created.
Next thing you know most of the villagers are dead or crazy. Except one. This little kid: not old enough to know what Jack's talking about, parents too selfish to save it from the misery of existence. Jack takes it and trains it like an apprentice or pet, then years later after caring for this thing and raising it, Jack just abandons it in an alley. That one always cracks me up.
Jack had it nice in the Haven. He wasn't sure what The Note had said about him, but it must've been pretty good. The kid was bothering him though, it was... familiar. Jack only ever knew one other kid, it made a good pet. Scared the crap out of him one day; called him "Dad". There was just something wrong about that.
But the woman was leaving him alone with the kid. The Note had him come across as trustworthy. Jack wouldn't go out of his way to hurt the kid, but if it came down to it, at least in Jack's mind, who was more important than Mr Deadeyes?
"So, kid, what is it you're drawing?" Jack tried to be nice, he was tired and didn't want to have to kill something today.
"My name's John, not Kid. I'm drawing my family."
Jack looked at the drawing. It was crappy, but Jack could still count the figures in it, "Is that your dad? Where is he?" Jack pronounced dad with two syllables.
"Daddy left last summer. He and Mommy had been fighting a lot. Wanna play hide-and-go-seek?"
Jack was good at hiding. He could slide between the cracks in the walls, merge with shadows, and rest between ticks of the clock. It took the kid five minutes to find him.
Have I ever seen Jack? I think I did once. I was going after Peace when I saw him. He was asking to see "The Holder of the Cost" I practically screamed when I saw him. The way he moved, it just wasn't human. He'd be perfectly still until he moved then he'd go so fast you could still see him where he used to be.
A friend of mine, Charlie, said that he had Fame, and I'd believe it, he hadn't found an item until then and your first changes you. Charlie didn't brag about it to no one other than me, and I didn't tell a soul, but two weeks after he found it Jack shows up at his door. All he'd say before I killed him. Poor guy. Jack's a rat bastard. Jack could have just killed Charlie, but instead he did... that.
Jack grinned his too-wide grin when he found John. John didn't notice. The children never notice.
"Boy," said Jack, "you sure are good at this."
"Thanks, me and my friends play it every day at lunch time. You have much better hiding places then them, though."
"I probably do," he grinned. "But they do not always work."
"What d'ya mean?" asked John, confused. Why would a grown-up need to hide?
"Well there is a mean man after me and I can't hide from him. But if you were to... no," smiled Jack, a plan in mind.
"What is it? Can I help?" John was eager to help. Jack seemed like such a nice grown-up and John could never help mommy on those nights when she'd cry herself to sleep.
"Well I need something you have; it's called a Ba. If you give that to me I promise that once I talk to the mean old man we'll play again."
"Well, what's a Bah? I've never seen it."
Jack grinned, "Of course not, it's invisible."
"Oh. Okay then, you can have it."
Jack's grin receded a bit. "Well, this isn't the kind of thing you can give away. There needs to be a... tell you what; I have a special hiding place; if you can't find me there I'll get your Ba. If you can, I'll give you these." Jack showed John his diamond cufflinks. Kids liked shiny things and they were, in fact, valuable so it was a fair game. Almost.
"Alright," smiled John, it was win-win in John's mind. If he lost he helped out Jack, if he won he got those neat things.
"Good," and with that Jack slipped into The Yellow Road.
Y'sometimes hear, instead of the old story of Jack besting The Devil and winning some soul he was interested in, a story about Jack going to a place called The Yellow Road. They say that it's the place between nightmares and death.
An old, rotten place filled with despair and hate. They say that Jack walked along The Yellow Road, which isn't really yellow, or if it is it's not a road, and came to this giant Emerald. In the Emerald was, well, there were things outside the Emerald which gave Jack a run for his money and this thing was ten million times worse. I heard that... that He was in there.
They had a conversation of things dark and inhumane. About the ends of worlds and of places where despair loses value and suicide loses point. They say that a dark, evil deal was made.
What was the deal? God doesn't even know and we better hope it's never made good.
But Jack always makes good on his deals.
The game went on after the challenge had finished because Jack was having fun. He remembered what it was like before he'd been Jack Empty. He remembered his childhood. He remembered hunting down rodents and breaking their necks. And something else clicked.
"John," Jack called, "I want to ask you a question."
"What is it?" John yelled from his hiding place.
"What's your last name?"
Jack felt the gun against his head. Jack was calm.
"John, go to your room!" Sandy Empty called.
"But me and Jack-"
"JOHN, GO TO YOUR ROOM!"
"I'm already there."
Jack smiled, "You named him after me."
"You're an egotistical bastard."
"So it was an accident that my pet's child has the same name as her master?"
"Shut up. Why are you really here?"
"Why did you leave me alone with your spawn?"
"I needed to buy the gun."
"You could have sent him to a friend's house last night." Jack smiled, the conversation brought him back to happier times. It reminded him of pulling the limbs off his first Holder.
"Why. Are. You. Here," Sandy hated Jack, she had dreamed of gutting him for the last ten years of her life. She wanted to repay him for all the cannings, the false smiles, the looks he would give her which she would pretend she never saw. The looks that would make her know he would never love her. She was a pet, not a child.
"Why did you bring me into your hovel? Why aren't I dead yet? Put the gun down, Sandy. I own you today just as much as the day I found you."
Jack stood up. And Jack smiled. It was a human smile, not the bland mockery he normally plasters across his face. That did nothing to brighten it. If anything it made him all the more horrible, "Take care of the boy. I believe he will be very important one day."
And Jack stepped out of the house and onto the street. The End was waiting.
"Well, Yochanan, We thought you would say in your Haven till your time was up and let these people pay for your misdeeds. Yet you shield them from Us and sacrifice yourself. Why?"
Jack smiled, "I had a deal. It needs to be done. I hope the boy is happy with himself." Jack laughed; cruel, long and horrible. "I thought you didn't talk."
"This vessel is not talking, We are. You have done nothing but shuffle the deck. You don't work out of greed. You don't work to destroy the world. You don't even work to kill Us. We are tired of you," the man smiled, its approximation was worse than Jack's, "But we will take great pleasure from your screams." Then The End grabbed Jack.
"No. You won't," and Jack laughed. He laughed as he was dragged back to that room in the asylum. He laughed the whole time.
They say if you had sought The End during the nineties instead of the usual man talking to himself you'd have heard laughter. Nobody knows why. Some also say that if you had heard Jack's laugh before, you'd have noticed a remarkable similarity.
Do I think Jack's dead? I'm not sure. If he is though, I thank god the guy's got no soul.
'Cause they say he's older than Legion, kept alive by profane deals and unholy pacts. They say most of Them have passed through his hands at least once. They say he's not exactly a Seeker and not really a Holder, but something between.
They say he's been to the centre of Hell and back.
[Continued in Jack Returns]
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|Last modified on 2012-02-20 14:22:07Average Rating: 5 / 5 (5 votes)Viewed 33786 times|