Sunday, 14 October 2012

The house that Jack built

Dr. Roszó let go of the gate, and suddenly felt much lighter, as though he'd been carrying a heavy weight, somehow without knowing about it.  Sweat sprang out all over his body, abrupt and cold, and he shivered.  He looked over his shoulder: Adam was wiping sweat off his forehead and looked a little shocked, and the dull-eyed policeman was still staring resolutely ahead, seemingly acting on automatic.
"That was hard," said Adam.  He rubbed his hand on his trouser leg.  "That felt harder than when I tried opening the gate."
"I know," said Dr. Roszó.  "But that was guiding it through the the gaps in the pattern.  If we'd had to brute force it, it would have been harder still."
"How much harder?"
"Just harder."  Dr. Roszó didn't feel like telling Adam at this point that the pressures involved would probably have crushed the house and its occupant down to a small cube.  Assuming, of course, they could find enough people to generate that amount of force.
"So do we go in then?"
Dr. Roszó looked at the house and wondered how hard it was going to be to get inside there.  So long as the occupant was focusing on the gate, it couldn't be too bad, but the gate was open now, which meant that the occupant may well have switched its attention elsewhere.  He linked with Adam again, feeling the comfort of the flow of refined energy, and looked at the house and garden through enhanced eyes.
The coiling red and black snakes of the occupants power were still roiling around the gate, holding it firmly fixed in its now open position.  Tracing them back Dr. Roszó saw that they were emerging from an upper window, either a skylight or an attic window, set into the roof.  Concentrating, he looked at the front door, and after a few seconds effort realised that the coiling snakes around the gate linked to the front door as well, but that the windows on either side were free from influence and looked to be entirely unprotected.
Then he looked at the path to the front door, and immediately saw the attempts at hiding lines of force beneath it; the paving stones looked rucked up and impossible to cross in this view.  There were tendrils of power spread out across the grass of the lawn as well, but the flower beds bordering three edges of each half of the garden away from the path, were untouched.  Dr Roszó nodded slightly as he recognised this; it would have been impossible to hide their presence there in realsight as the plants would draw up energy straight away and start growing or mutating.
He let the energy flow drop, and noticed that Adam was staring at him.
"I got some of that," said Adam.  "Red and black snakes crawling over and under things.  It was yuk."  He shivered.
"Those are the lines of power," said Dr. Roszó.  "The occupant of the house has trapped the path and the grass, and the front door, but seems to have left the downstairs windows alone at least.  The flower beds are untouched as well, so we do have a path to get in to the house, but it looks like they're upstairs, probably on the top floor.  And I would expect that when we enter the house, the occupant will draw some of its power back so that it can deal with the intruders."
"When?" said Adam.  "You mean we're still going ahead with this?"
"Yes," said Dr. Roszó.  "We have to, we're the guys who deal with these kinds of problems."
"Can't we just call in a SWAT team?"
"Apart from the fact that that's American, we are the SWAT team."
Dr. Roszó looked at Adam, evaluating him.  He'd been hinting at much of this for the last few cases, but Adam had always been on the periphery until now.  Dr. Roszó didn't dare go into the house alone, given that he'd not been able to shift the gate without Adam's help, but he was also horribly aware that Adam wasn't prepared for this.  If there had been any way to pick an easier case to introduce him to these things, he'd definitely have taken it, but it looked like this would be first blood.  For someone.
"We'll have to check the windows first," said Dr. Roszó, deciding to take things as slowly as he dared.  "We need to be sure that there's no more subtle trap set."
"How do we do that?"  Adam's voice sounded oddly hollow, and he wasn't smiling any more.
"Throw rocks," said a new voice, cheerful and female.  Adam turned round, but Dr. Roszó had seen her waddling up the street already behind him.  The short, rotund woman with the rosy-apple cheeks, plaid skirt and ridiculously tiny hand-bag was Madame Annabel, Head of the department.
"Throw rocks," he agreed.  "There's never any need to be any more high-tech than absolutely necessary."
"We have a name," said Madame Annabel, arriving.  "The occupant was once called Jack Panatheikos, but in recent months has been insisting on only being called Jack."
"Who told us that?  The neighbours?"  Dr. Roszó looked puzzled, as the houses nearby had gently twitching curtains that suggested that the neighbours were all home and nervous.  He started wondering where the evacuation squad was.
"The post office," said Madame Annabel.  "Apparantly he's been phoning them up and complaining that his post is wrongly addressed for months, so that they've now gotten into the habit of blacking his surname from every letter and parcel with a marker pen."
"Were there many parcels and letters?"
"Why does that matter?" asked Adam, who was turning his head between Dr. Roszó and Madame Annabel like he was at a tennis match.
"Lots," said Madame Annabel.  "It matters because those parcels may have contained things that have resulted in this... occupation.
"Yes, but how could we know?"
"Ah," said Madame Annabel looking pleased with herself.  "That one's easy; we know the kinds of things that would be needed for this occupation, so we can simply do a sympathetic check if any of them have been delivered here in the last few weeks.  We can go back about four to five weeks for most of them, a bit further with some of the... let's call them exotica."
"We should start with the exotica," said Dr. Roszó.  "Given the strength of the occupant."
"That bad?"  Madame Annabel appeared to squint at the house and the gate, and after a few seconds she relaxed her eyes and looked at Dr. Roszó in admiration.  "You got the gate open with all that going on?"
"Between us," said Dr. Roszó, attempting modesty.
"I'm still impressed," she said.  "Let's get going then!"


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