Seeds of the Dark
by Anthony Lukas
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
“And went back with the Edgar and could see very faint spots. The Cleaner got rid most of it, but some remained.”
“Or they were beginning to grow again,” said Seamus, pursing his lips. They were again sitting in her little office the following morning. “That would indicate a most virulent infestation. We must do further investigation.”
* * *
The next day Jennifer folded her umbrella and pushed open the little bakery door. She saw Jonathan chatting with a man at the counter, and she started when she saw that the man was Seamus. She went past them and into the back, hanging up her coat and umbrella, and putting on her apron. When she went back outside to wash her hands, Seamus was at the corner window table, tapping his laptop and delicately nibbling at an apple Danish.
She busied herself with other customers and went into the table area to clear some dishes. She moved over to Seamus’ table with a “Can I get you more tea, sir?” and peered over his shoulder. He had the Edgar sitting discreetly next to his computer with a wire running from his laptop to a small crown on the statue’s head. His screen was filled with images and numbers flashing by.
“Some real-time measurements,” he murmured; then, louder, “This Danish is excellent! May I try a peach one?”
“Of course, sir.” Jennifer went back behind the pastry cases and was plating the peach Danish when the door opened and he walked in. He ran his hand over his dark hair, a little damp from the drizzle outside. Brown eyes, handsome face, broad shoulders as far as she could tell under his bulky jacket. He smiled at her as he approached the counter. Well, now, thought Jennifer.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Michael. You must be Jennifer.”
“Ah, yes I am,” she said, looking a little confused.
His smile broadened, “I’m Jonathan’s son.”
Jonathan? “Oh! Of course, I’m sorry. Your dad said you were coming home for college break.” But didn’t say...
Jonathan came out from the back, “Thought I heard your voice. I see you’ve met Jennifer. Cute isn’t she?”
Jennifer went scarlet. She cast a quick glance at Seamus, who seemed to be absorbed with his work.
“Subtle as ever, Dad,”, Michael said and shrugged “sorry” to Jennifer. She smiled, as if to say, “No problem.”
They all chatted for a bit then Jonathan took his son into the backroom. When Jennifer looked around there was Seamus standing at the register, smiling that enigmatic smile of his, but now with a touch of mischief. Oh dear, she thought.
He had held up his bill. “May I get that Danish to go, Miss?”
Jennifer approached warily and rang him up. “Thank you, my dear,” said Seamus, “and here’s a little something extra.” He put a dollar in the tip cup by the register. “For the excellent service and, you know” — Here it comes — “because my waitress was just so cute.”
* * *
That night Jennifer was in the Archives, still researching the history of the bakeshop’s building, looking for the origins of the Dark infection. So, far she had found nothing regarding the building the shop was in.
She looked up and there was Miles. Did that man ever go home? Did he have a home?
“Hi,” said Jennifer.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you, but I happened upon something that might be useful to you.”
“About the bakery?”
“About the building next door.” He handed Jennifer what looked like a page from a newspaper that was dated early in the last century.
Jennifer looked where Miles was pointing and saw an article at the bottom of the page with the headline “Tragic Fire At Garment Factory” and, beneath it, a smaller headline: “Women Unable to Escape Flames By Barred Door.” The article described a fire that had broken out at small factory making women’s garments, apparently started by cloth that had been stacked too close to a heating stove located in the center of the building.
The fire had spread quickly and, while those working in the front were able to flee, those in the back of the building were trapped as the rear door had been barred and locked, “to prevent employees from sneaking into the back alley for the unladylike purpose of smoking cigarettes,” tsked the article. Twelve women had been trapped and “succumbed to the fire and smoke.”
That was it! This is what Jennifer had been trying to remember. “We read about this in a local history class,” she told Miles. “I remember my professor saying that people were divided, some saying the owner was grossly negligent and others excusing him and blaming the women, that if they hadn’t been using the back alley for the immoral act of smoking, he wouldn’t have had to lock the door!”
Miles said, “Such fires were not uncommon in that district at that time. But the powers that be resisted reform, since many of them had interests in these factories. And you’ll notice the paper calls them ‘women,’ but many were just girls.” He shook his head sadly. “A tragedy like this could indeed be the seeds of the Dark.”
* * *
The next day, Jennifer stood out front of the bakery, looking at the empty building next door. The bakery door opened and Michael came out with his dark eyes and curly hair. “Saw you standing out here,” he said.
Any other time Jennifer would have felt a bit of a tingle at Michael of the brown eyes and dimpled chin seeking her out, but somehow today she wasn’t feeling it. She was thinking about what had happened in that building. She managed a polite smile.
Michael said, “Yeah, building’s kind of sad, isn’t it? Dad has told me that several types of businesses have tried to make a go of it there... A restaurant and different kinds of stores. But none could make it. He says it’s kind of strange, but employees would come and go, and after a while the owners gave up and closed.”
That seemed an important fact to Jennifer, something she should tell Seamus. Still she did not move, just stared at the building and listening to Michael talk and she then was aware that he had stopped and was staring at her.
“Are you okay, Jennifer?”
She waved her hand, “Actually, I am feeling a little under the weather. Just tired, I guess.”
“You should go home. I can fill in for you. You know my dad won’t let you work if you’re not feeling well. Go on home.”
But she went to the Foundation offices instead. She was in her office working on her report to Linda, sipping a mocha, trying to get a bit more energy when Seamus floated in.
“Am I disturbing you?”
“No, of course not. I was about to go find you to talk about the bakery.”
“Ah,” said Seamus, in a way that sounded like “Yes, I know.”
Jennifer showed the newspaper article and some other material she had found in the Archives: editorials, police and fire department reports and told him of her conversation with Michael.
Seamus nodded slowly. “Yes, yes. We must investigate that building more closely. We’ll need to get inside.”
“Leave that to me, my dear. An empty building in a commercial district shouldn’t be that hard to get into.”
And of course he was right. As usual, thought Jennifer. Seamus had contacted the owner, expressing in interest in perhaps leasing or buying the space. The owner had been delighted to turn over the key.
* * *
They came in the front door and were standing among the dusty shelves and other discarded things. Jennifer walked around, trying to picture what it had been like all those years ago, women and girls bent over tables, sewing from early in the morning into the night. Had the skylights above been their only source of light?
Jennifer felt weighed down by the thought of the unending drudgery in which they must have lived. She shook her head and drifted to the back of the building and stared at the back door, trying not to imagine the terrified women huddled there, desperately trying to escape. She walked back to Seamus, who was taking measurements with his phone.
“How can we counteract what happened here?” asked Jennifer. “Those poor people dying. And what kind of lives did the fire end? Day after day of the same work and labor. For enough money just to exist to come and work more? Imagine the years of misery and sadness accumulated here.” Jennifer shook her head. “I don’t see how we can fix this,” and felt tears coming to her eyes.
Seamus was staring at her. “Of course we can succeed here. It will take work, but we can do it.”
Jennifer was shaking her head again. “I don’t know..”
Seamus had grabbed her arm and hurried her out the door. “Jennifer, it’s the Dark. You’re infected. We must get you away from here.”
* * *
At the Foundation Jennifer slumped in her chair with Seamus eyeing her. Miles came in, carrying a... record player?
“Now you sit there and listen, Jennifer,” said Miles. Seamus started the record and two men’s voices came on. What were they talking about? Jennifer didn’t understand, but gradually she could hear...
“Who’s on first?’
“No, he’s on second.”
“Who’s on second?’
“No, no. Who is on first.
“Who’s on second?”
“No, Who is on first base. What is on second.”
“What’s on second?”
And suddenly she was laughing, and then crying and she couldn’t stop.
Seamus sat holding Jennifer’s hand, letting her cry. Miles sat opposite, a look of deep concern on his round face. Finally Jennifer was able to make herself stop crying. He held a glass of water to her. “Sip this.”
Seamus said, “I am so sorry, Jennifer. We simply did not realize how virulent this was. We would have taken extra precautions.” He patted her hand. “How are you feeling now?”
“Much better,” she said, wearily. She nodded at the record player. “Abbott and Costello? On a phonograph record? You could have downloaded that routine to my phone, you know.”
Miles shook his head. “Digital is just a computer interpreting bits of data. Phonograph records are a preservation of the actual sounds made at the time as well a recording of... other factors present at the time of the recording. Now you rest a bit and then we shall get you home.”
* * *
Two days later she stood in front of the building with Seamus. He said, “Ready?”
She took a deep breath. “Ready.”
They went in and she busied herself helping Seamus unpacking two Cleaners. They set one of them in the center of the big room and one closer to the back door. Jennifer resolutely made herself place the Cleaner near the back, shaking off tendrils of melancholy she could barely detect. She made her way back to Seamus who was waiting with their dark glasses.
“Ready?” he asked again.
“Ready,” she said firmly, donning her glasses.
“Given what happened here, this may take longer than usual,“ said Seamus.
They started chanting and the statutes began glowing with that inner white light and soon the bright light filled the rooms. The light from the statute near them grew in intensity, held steady for a bit, then seemed to dim, but then brighten again.
This fluctuation happened again and Seamus frowned and stepped closer to the glowing Cleaner. He watched it flicker for a moment then reached out his hand and touched the statute’s head. The light got brighter and held steady. He glanced at Jennifer and said, “Sometimes they need a little assist.”
Jennifer couldn’t even guess how you could assist a Cleaner.
After a few minutes it dimmed and became a white stone statute. Seamus had his phone out and was scanning the wall of the building.
Jennifer went back to the Cleaner by the back door, it looking like it also had finished. Just as she reached out and grasped it to put it back into its bag, Jennifer saw that in fact it was still glowing very faintly. As she touched it, she was thinking of the women who had been here. She remembered the dark splotches on the bakery wall. She imagined herself scrubbing away at the stains, somehow soothing the fears she seemed to now sense, wiping away the misery and fear that were the stains.
The statute began to brighten and then glowed brightly for a couple of minutes and when Jennifer imagined she had cleaned away all of the stains, it dulled and became the statute of a smiling, bald man.
Jennifer stepped back, feeling a little light-headed and turned to see Seamus staring at her.
* * *
Seamus and Miles sat opposite Linda in her office, each sipping tea from of her Bleek ceramic cups. Linda placed her cup in its saucer. “You think she empowered the Cleaner?”
Seamus said, “It was pretty obvious to me that she had. But she seemed unaware of what she had done.”
“Huh,” said Linda. “This is most interesting.”
“That’s putting it mildly, milady,” smiled Miles. “It’s darn fascinating. We thought she was a sensitive, and her susceptibility to the Dark pretty much confirmed that. But this goes well beyond just being a sensitive.”
Linda nodded agreement. “And the Dark infestation?”
“Jennifer went back a couple of days ago with the Edgar. No sign of it in the bakery or the empty building. It looks to have been eradicated.”
“Excellent. And the bakery’s owner, Mister...”
“Lombardi. The general melancholy brought on by the Dark appears to be alleviated, but of course he is still left with being the owner of a small business and all the headaches and mild depression that comes with that.”
“That is not in our purview,” said Linda. “Very good. It looks like our work is done. Has Jennifer made her exit from the business?”
Seamus smiled. “Not exactly. She had been pondering if there was a way to increase the bakery’s business. Apparently she has conceived a web and a social media campaign to boost business. And, coincidently, the owner’s son has some knowledge regarding constructing such sites. So they are working together to create and launch the website. I’ve seen some of it. It’s quite clever.”
“And he is quite cute, I imagine.”
“You could say that,” said Seamus.
“I’m glad,” said Miles. “She’s been through a lot.”
“Is she all right, do you think?” asked Linda.
“Seems to be,” said Miles. “But an experience like hers leaves a mark. It changes a person. She could feel those women’s despair. Such deep emotion could have caused damage. I’m glad she’s got this distraction.”
* * *
At one of Lombardi’s little tables, Jennifer and Michael were looking at a screen displaying an ad for the bakery, fine-tuning some of the images and copy. Jennifer glanced at Michael. It was nice to be with him, and she was happy to be working with him on Lombardi’s net and smart-phone campaigns. Michael was easy to be with, with his easy smile and casual manner.
They were looking at pictures that they had taken of some of the bakery’s customers to include on the web site. One was of a little girl in a pink dress, standing in front of the display case, her eyes wide and a wide smile on her face. You could almost hear her squeal of delight at the sight of all the delicious pastries in the case.
Jennifer smiled at the little girl’s picture. Then, Jennifer seemed to have a vision of another young child in front of the case, one dressed in rough clothes and with sad eyes. Jennifer knew that the sad-eyed girl was standing in front of a display the like of which she had never seen and would never see, and who would never in all her life, squeal with delight.
It seemed to Jennifer that while she was seeing the girl in the pink dress with her eyes and her brain, she was seeing the ragged girl with her heart, and her heart ached as it never had before.
Copyright © 2014 by Anthony Lukas