Frank glared at his parents from the back seat of the car, peering at them from over the wilting bouquet of flowers his classmates had given him on the last day of school- well, his last day, anyway.
And yeah, flowers. They gave him flowers. He was offended. He was a guy, he didn't want roses. A little card was attached on the side that read:
We'll miss you, Frank!
And under that was a heart and a smiley face. His fingers played around the edges of the symbols, anger and resentment pulsing in his chest, before he shoved the card into his pocket. Why were his parents doing this?! Didn't they understand it was hard for teenagers to fit in at new schools, new places? Didn't they understand it was especially hard for boys like him to fit in? He groaned and plopped back down on the seat, flowers resting on his chest. His fingers picked at the petals, tossing them to the floor of the car.
He cursed loudly when a thorn pricked his finger, and his mother immediately turned around, her eyes narrowed and her voice stern.
"Don't use that language!" she said to him shrilly, and it took every ounce of maturity he had not to stick his tongue out at her.
Needless to say, for a thirteen year old, he didn't have a lot of maturity to speak of. So as soon as her head was turned back around, he did it.
"I saw that, young man," remarked his dad, who was driving.
"Yeah? Well, I don't care. I don't care about that, or this new place, or school, or you. I don't care!"
His mother sighed, and when she turned back around to face him, brown eyes big with concern, her tone was softer. "Listen, honey, I know it's hard for you! I know. But you'll make so many new friends, and we live on the edge of a forest! Isn't that exciting, Frankie?"
"I'm not six, mom," he grumbled, sinking down in his seat.
"Sure act like it," remarked his dad, and before Frank could shoot something right back at him, his mother said in a confused tone, "Are you sure this is the right way? I think you took a wrong turn."
Frank sat up higher- he was so short he could barely see it even then- but they were now on a winding dirt road that led into the gloomy forest.
Great. His dad had taken a wrong turn, and now they were lost. Just when he thought things couldn't possibly get worse- they had. He had the worst luck, seriously.
He looked out the window as they drove deeper into the forest. He had no idea where they were going, but as long as it delayed them in getting to their new house, it was probably fine.
He started to doubt this logic when a big, stone statue came into view. It was sheathed in moss and had a face carved into it, grinning in a slightly sadistic way. Frank blinked and watched it recede from view as the car moved forward. The forest was starting to seem more and more like a place where a serial killer would jump you, or maybe that guy with the hook who attacked cars.
That made him not really want to look out the window anymore.
The car was bouncing up and down due to his father's insane driving- like, really, who taught the guy to drive- and Frank along with it. He was starting to wish he'd worn a seatbelt, because maybe then his butt would hurt less every time he flew up into the air and then smashed back down- hard- on the leather seat. It was like trotting on a horse. Jesus, that hurt.
"You're going to kill us!" his mother shrieked.
"I have four wheel drive!" his dad laughed.
Frank fumbled for his seatbelt, because ow.
His mother cried out, "Stop! Oh my God, honey, stop!"
His dad pulled on the brakes just in time to stop in front of a reddish building with an arched entryway. It seemed to lead down a dark tunnel.
Frank swallowed. Yeah, this was probably where hookman/serial killer lived.
They got out of the car, Frank not wanting to, but also not wanting to be left alone in there. That was like every horror film, ever.
"Look, a tunnel! Let's explore!" his dad said.
Or, okay, that line was pretty horror-film-cliché too. Exploring never ended well.
"Oh, come on Frankie! It'll be fun. Just a little bit," his mom insisted, grabbing his hand. He tugged it away, glaring at her, and she shrugged before stepping into the tunnel with Frank's dad.
He stayed stubbornly at the entrance. "We shouldn't be going in there. I don't want to go in there."
"Come on, Frank," his dad said.
"You can stay by the car if you want," his mom suggested.
Frank quickly decided he would rather stick with a group then stay stranded and alone. Therefore there was a one in three chance of him being the one who was killed. Plus, he knew stuff. And his parents were absolutely clueless when it came to horror films. And, well, everything.
They walked slowly down the musty hallway. Frank kept looking behind them, and up, to see if there was like, something on the ceiling. That was the worst. Luckily, there was nothing there. Yet. He kept checking.
They emerged on the other side into what looked like an abandoned church, with stained glass and a dry fountain, save for a steady drip into the basin. Frank didn't know where it was coming from, but at least it wasn't like, blood or something. Though that would be pretty cool.
His mom suddenly looked up, tilting her head. "Did you hear that?"
Frank listened. "It sounds like a train," he said.
"We must be near a train station, c'mon," his dad said, walking to the opposite end of the church building thing, where there was just
no wall, and beyond that was a huge expanse of green, rolling hills. Frank had to admit it wasn't exactly a haunted mansion, but even still, there was something creepy about it. It was almost
He ran to catch up with his parents, who were crossing a dry riverbed. His dad was rambling about something...
"Yeah, they built a bunch of these amusement parks, and then the economy went bad and they all went bankrupt and became abandoned."
Frank rolled his eyes. An abandoned amusement park, huh? Evil clowns, here we go, he thought.
The three of them crossed the rocky riverbed, Frank inwardly hating his parents for making the decision to explore. He was tired, and he could tell it could only get worse here on out when his dad paused at the top of the slope, looking towards a cluster of brightly colored buildings in the distance and sniffing the air.
"Something smells amazing," he said excitedly, running up to the buildings. Frank's mother followed, and he rubbed his eyes in annoyance, dragging his feet after them reluctantly. Something did smell good, but he wasn't hungry, and he just wanted to leave.
"I found it!" his dad called, and Frank sighed and followed his mother to where his dad was standing in front of a large buffet. Steam rose from the food, and tents stood over the mounds of delicacies- Frank thought most of them looked really gross, and really, really not vegetarian.
His parents didn't seem to have problems with that though, and both of them soon had heaping platefuls of food.
"You need to try this!" he mom said to him, chewing on what looked like a tiny pink chicken. "It's so tender!"
That was all Frank needed to hear- he was out of there. He wandered around, back to the hills and riverbed. The sky was beginning to dim a little- that was strange, he hadn't thought it was that late in the afternoon.
Shrugging, his turned around back to the little cluster of buildings- and stopped.
"Well, that's weird," he commented, staring at the extravagant building before him. It was a bathhouse- a huge, Oriental style bathhouse, with huge triangular roofs and thundering, steamy water. There were balconies with doors made of glass overlooking the little village, and to cross over to the bathhouse was a large bridge.
Frank had no idea how neither he or his parents had noticed that.
Trying not to feel too uneasy, he walked to the bridge and set his foot on the smooth, dark planks. They seemed to shine. He turned to the railing, running his hand along the equally smooth surface- it was some kind of goldish metal, but not a metal he'd ever seen before.
Frank turned hastily, his whole stomach dropping with terror. This was it; he was going to be killed-
He found himself facing another boy who looked to be about fifteen, long black hair pushed away from his pale face. His green eyes were bright and wide, narrowing when Frank made eye contact. He was wearing the weirdest thing; it was like this super baggy black shirt and equally baggy pants. He had a dark blue sash tied around his middle, and he was barefoot.
Frank stared at him.
"Get out!" the boy cried, waving his arms. "Go! Go, you need to cross the riverbed before dark! Quickly!"
Frank opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
"Fast! They're coming," the boy warned.
Frank did not think that sounded very good, or very sane.
But, he still figured he better find his parents, so he turned, before turning back to talk to the boy- but he was gone.
"I've finally lost it," he said faintly, before running back into the village. It was indeed getting dark- which didn't make any sense. It hadn't been that late
Frank stumbled back in shock.
He'd almost walked into a
a thing. A floating thing that, if he wasn't very much mistaken, looked like a ghost. A dark blob of a ghost.
He stared up at it, but it floated right through him, and he froze.
Everywhere- all throughout the clusters of shops and buildings- were the ghosts. No longer was the 'amusement park' abandoned.
Heart pounding, he ran, trying to smell the food his parents had been eating. What if they- what if he-
"Mom! Dad!" he shouted, shoes pounding against the stones of the streets. Ghosts slunk past him, a few of them glancing at him, but he was too frightened to care. Sure, he'd thought it would be cool for real life to be a horror movie- but he didn't think it would actually happen!
Finally, he rounded a corner, and there was the buffet and
He walked up to the two creatures on the chairs where his parents had sat, stretching his arm out. "D-dad?" he whispered, tapping the thing's shoulder.
A pig turned to face him and he scrambled away, gasping. "Dad!" he screamed. "Dad, what- you?!"
His head snapped to look at his mother- only to be greeted by another pig, grunting at him. Both of the pigs were gorging themselves on the food, unable to pick it up anymore with their hooves, they were falling off the chairs.
There was a snapping sound, and from behind the buffet counter, a dark shadow held a whip, which arched through the air before smacking down across the two pigs- his parents- and both of them rolled to their sides in pain, still snuffling and nosing through the food.
Frank backed away, before he remembered something.
"Go! Go, you need to cross the riverbed before dark! Quickly!"
He broke into a run again, his lungs protesting, but he could care less right now. He had to- the riverbed, he had to cross it before dark.
He ran down the stairs leading to the cluster of buildings and down to the riverbed. He leaped off the last step and into-
"Water!" he gasped, hauling himself out of the inky water and onto the first step, now utterly drenched and dripping.
He lay there, eyes wide. He stared at the sky. It was different. There was
something off. Then he realized- all of the stars were different
and there was no moon.
He sat up, chest heaving. "I'm dreaming," he said frantically. He stood up shakily. "I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming!" He pinched himself. Nothing happened. No! He pinched his other arm, and then the other one, and then the other again, until he had little dark bruises on the paleness of his arms.
"This isn't real," he whispered. "It can't be."
Suddenly, something cold touched his ankle. He looked down and jerked back in shock- more of the blobby ghosts were rising from the lake. He choked back a scream and stumbled away from them, back up the stairs and through the villages.
He glanced down at himself, maybe out of habit, and held up a hand in disbelief.
He was fading. He looked like a ghost- he was translucent, the color leeching from his body.
He made a garbled sound and stumbled to the side, landing in the shadow of one of the buildings. He curled up into a ball, tucking his legs up to his chest and burying his head against his knees- a bundle of disappearing Frank.
What if he was
what if he was dead? What if that's why he wouldn't wake up? Why he was waning with every passing second
He shuddered with sobs, even though he wouldn't allow the tears to come.
"Hey," came a soft, somewhat familiar voice.
Frank stiffened and slowly emerged from his protective position. His eyes widened. It was that boy.
"You," he said, voice only quivering a little.
"Me," agreed the boy solemnly, before opening his hand, which had been loosely clenched into a fist. He held it up- in the center of his palm was a dark purple berry. Frank sniffed and blinked at it.
"You need to eat this," the boy said, holding it between two fingers. "It'll stop you from vanishing."
"I'm not-" he objected, but the boy grabbed his arm, and in reflex Frank smacked him- except, he didn't. His hand and arm went straight through the boy's face, who looked at him mildly.
Frank looked at it, obdurately distrustful despite his precarious state.
The boy sighed, "Please. It won't turn you into a pig."
Frank looked up at his face and then to the berry. "I don't believe you."
He made an exasperated noise and shoved the berry in between Frank's lips. Frank's mouth opened in surprise and he swallowed the berry, choking a little. "Gah!" he said in disbelief. "What was that-"
The boy only smirked. "See for yourself," he said gesturing to Frank.
Frank looked down at his hands, and sure enough, he was solidifying, the color seeping back into his body. "Oh," he said, feeling a little silly. "Um, thanks."
The boy rolled his eyes and held out a hand. "I'm Gee."
Frank took his hand cautiously. "Frank."
Gee nodded. "I know your name."
Frank's eyes widened. "Um
how?" Do I want to know? was what he was thinking, though he didn't voice it.
"I've known you for a long time," was all he said, patting Frank's now solid shoulder before standing up and offering a hand. "C'mon. I need to get you to the bathhouse."
Frank remembered the huge building. He let Gee help him up, ignoring his past words, because they were a little creepy. "Why the bathhouse?" he wondered curiously.
"You need to get a job there," Gee said. "I know it sounds crazy, and I'll tell you more once we get there, but the person who owns the bathhouse- a spirit named Raymond- is very evil, and humans aren't exactly
Frank's eyes bugged out and he gave Gee a long look, up and down. "You mean you're not
He looked amused. "Human? No."
And he left it at that. The two of them walked in the direction of the bathhouse.
Frank was a little nervous about this Gee who had supposedly known him for a long time and who wasn't human. He looked human enough- maybe a little feminine and a little too perfect looking, but
"Okay, you need to hold your breath as we cross the bridge," Gee said quietly. "Even the smallest breath will break the spell, and everyone will be able to see you."
Frank nodded slowly. They were nearing the bridge now, and he tried to keep his panic down- there was a steady stream of what could only be various spirits, masks with long robes that hovered above the planks, the blobby ghosts, fat toad like creatures, and spirits that looked like women, but with crazy hair colors and animalistic features.
A few feet away from the bridge, Gee took Frank by surprise and reached out, holding his hand tightly. Frank looked down at their interlaced fingers, but Gee just said, "Stay close. Take a deep breath
." They stepped onto the bridge. "Hold it."
Frank did, pinching his nose shut with his free hand and puffing out his cheeks with stored air. Gee, for his credit, didn't laugh at him- well, Frank heard a snicker, but he was just going to let that slide. People- no, not people, spirits- were on all sides, and many of them said things like, "Hello, Master Gee," but as much as Frank listened, he couldn't find a clue as to what exactly Gee was.
Frank was probably turning blue; he needed to take a breath desperately. As if Gee could sense it, he tightened his fingers and said softly, "Almost there, hold it."
And they were about to step off the bridge and onto the other side and Frank needed to breathe-
-and a frog jumped in front of them, bouncing up and down and saying, "Master Gee, Master Gee, where are you, Raymond's been looking everywhere!"
Frank gasped, unable to keep it in, sucking in lungfuls of air.
"A human!" cried the frog, but as it seemed that he was about to scream, Gee pointed a finger at him and Frank wasn't sure what had happened- but the next moment the frog was suspended in a black bubble, eyes open, seemingly paralyzed.
"Let's go," Gee said urgently, pulling Frank along behind him. He sprinted to the side of the bathhouse and somehow few people recognized them- everybody was in a panic, probably due to something Gee had done, like the magic with the frog. No, thought Frank, he was not a human.
Gee ducked through a few archways and Frank struggled to keep up with him, clutching his hand for dear life. Finally, he skidded to a halt in a sort of garden, and crouched down in front of a little hedge, pulling Frank down next to him. Sounds of chaos could still be heard from the bridge.
Frank was breathing hard when he turned to Gee, saying quickly, "I'm sorry I took a breath, I shouldn't have, I mean, it was my fault."
Gee shook his head and looped an arm around his shoulder comfortingly. "No, no it isn't. You're fine, really."
" started Frank. He bit his lip and unconsciously leaned further into the warm circle of Gee's arms.
"Are pigs," finished Gee sadly. "I'll take you to see them, I promise. But first, you need to get a job here- then even Raymond himself can't harm you."
"Yeah, about that," said Frank, drawing away and peering at Gee, "how do I do that, exactly?"
Gee looked at him, considering, then said, "Don't freak out," and gently placed his hand on Frank's brow.
Instantly an image filled his mind and he lurched back a little before biting his lip and forcing himself to relax, leaning into Gee's touch.
"You must go to Robert the Boiler Man," Gee said, and Frank saw a series of steps leading along the side of the bathhouse, to a small door. The door opened and Frank saw a boiler, felt the heat- or maybe it was just Gee's hand- and saw the fiery furnace like insides of it. "You must convince Robert to give you a job. He will make up excuses, try to get you to leave- get that job. The work will be hard, but you'll be safe." He pulled his hand away and the image dissolved, leaving Frank feeling a bit dizzy. "Alright?"
Frank nodded. "Yes. Okay."
"Good," Gee beamed at him.
Frank wet his lips with his tongue, hesitating. "Gee," he started.
"Well, if you're not human then what-"
Gee suddenly froze, and then he threw himself across Frank, pinning him up against the wall.
He was taken aback- he hadn't been hugged by anyone in a while, not counting Gee's hug a few minutes ago, but the thing was, Gee wasn't really hugging him, but smothering him, his body pressed firmly against Frank's and his head tucked right up against Frank's shoulder. His hot breath was hitting Frank's neck and it was making it hard to think.
His legs shifted and Frank swallowed back a lump of fear, because Gee was half on top of his sitting form now, legs sprawled out on either side of Frank's hips and thighs, his hands resting against the wall next to Frank's head. Frank made a low whimpering sound and twisted a little, squirming. Maybe Gee wasn't human, but he certainly felt like one, the lines and curves of his body seeming very much human and also very much male. Maybe he was a vampire. Frank's neck prickled with goosebumps at that thought.
"Shh, stop that," Gee urged, and Frank realized something- the breaths on his neck weren't so much breaths as pants- nervous, quick inhales of air. Gee's body was tensed against him, like a string pulled tight, and Frank could feel Gee's rapid pulse beneath his shirt. "That bird up there is looking for you," he explained slowly, and as Frank tilted his head up more, he could see the sky past Gee's face, and in that sky was a bird- or at least, that's what he thought it was, and it was circling like a vulture.
"Oh," he said softly, and slumped down a little so Gee could cover him more completely. It wasn't hard, he was pretty tiny, but Gee made a low, appreciative noise, his body relaxing a little. And this way, Gee's potentially vampiric mouth wasn't centimeters from his neck; instead, Frank's head was tucked neatly between Gee's collarbones, the silky fabric of his clothes tickling Frank's face. They smelled good, like-
Gee pulled away, standing up and motioning for Frank to do the same. Frank's question seemed to have been forgotten.
"Get the job," he said seriously, "but remember this: I'm your friend. Okay?"
Frank looked at him for a long while, into the green eyes that, now that he thought about it, seemed a little
off, somehow. At last he nodded, still squinting at Gee's eyes.
Gee gave him a weird look and then stepped away, murmuring, "Be safe, I'll see you soon."
Frank nodded again, gratefully, and mumbled, "Yeah, you too," before slinking out of the garden and to the stairs that Gee had shown him.
What seemed like an eternity later, he was stepping gingerly off the last of the countless steps along the side of the bathhouse. He gulped and didn't dare to look down- he could feel steam rising from the hot water below, making the air incredibly humid and his hair stick to his head wetly.
The door before him promised even more heat, though- the single round window carved out in the center of it showed something reddish and glowing beyond. Frank splayed his fingers out on the glass and drew back quickly; the glass burned his hand.
He bit his lip, and then turned the knob and with some effort opened the heavy metal boiler room door.
What he saw when he wandered into the room itself almost made him run back out and up the stairs again.
There, on a high pedestal with a contraption built into it that looked almost like a bicycle, was who he assumed to be Robert the Boiler Man. But the thing was
Robert the Boiler Man was not a man. Rather, to Frank, he looked very much like a
"Spider," Frank breathed, eyes fixed on the "man's" four pairs of arms, which plucked strong smelling bits of something from jars around him, tossing them into bowls before him, which he poured into a chute that he opened by pulling a string with another one of his arms. It made Frank dizzy to watch.
The Boiler Spider ignored him, and Frank moved his gaze up to the creature's face, which had blonde hair and a beard, much of his face hidden by dark, tinted glasses. From what Frank could see of his skin was pale and waxy looking, although most of it was hidden by the faded gray waistcoat he wore- probably had to get it custom made, Frank thought dazedly.
Then he remembered what Gee had said and blurted out, "Sir, I need a job in the bathhouse!"
Boiler Spider ignored him.
"I need a job!" he half shouted. "Are you Robert the Boiler Man?!"
There was a rapid squeaking from right beside his feet, and he glanced down, jumping back in surprise. All across the floor, countless little black smudges carried large lumps of coal, before going to the boiler on the opposite side of the room and tossing the coal in, scurrying back away from the heat. They weren't spiders, they looked almost fluffy.
The little black things were bunching up near his feet, crowding around him and squealing. Unsure of what to do, he took a big step back, only for them to follow him. He looked to Boiler Spider helplessly, only to start when the other looked back at him- well, he thought he did, he couldn't tell behind the glasses.
"What do you want?! And get those soot sprites away from you, back to work, you stupid smoke spots!" Robert glared at him, the glasses practically counted as his eyes. The 'soot sprites' scurried away, back to hauling their coal.
"I want a job, sir," Frank said earnestly.
"No you don't," Robert assured him.
"I do, though," said Frank, confused.
"Nope," said Robert, going back to pedaling on the weird bike and tossing herbs here and there.
Robert growled, "Can't you see I'm busy?"
Frank sighed and crossed to the other side of the room, the wall of which was entirely made up of wooden cabinets that slid out- even now, Robert was stretching to open one and pull something that looked like chives out.
Suddenly Frank heard a sharp cry from the ground. Surprised, he looked down- only to see a soot sprite that had dropped its lump of coal and was now squirming underneath it, trapped and unable to move anywhere. Frowning, Frank picked the piece of coal up and off of it, taken aback by the weight of it.
The sprite he had saved wriggled away, disappearing into a little collection of what looked like mouse holes, where all the sprites were coming from. The sprites all seemed to stare at him, pausing in their journey across the floor.
"Um," he said awkwardly, holding the coal in both hands because wow, that was heavy. "What do I do with this?"
"Finish the job," Robert snapped from his bicycle, still not turning around.
Frank steeled himself, looking towards the angry furnace that the coal was being deposited in. Okay
he could do this. Edging across the floor, slowly followed by a stream of soot sprites, he neared the anvil like protrusion just before the furnace. He could feel the searing heat from here, and as he got closer it felt like the skin was being peeled off of his face from the rising temperature.
He was finally right in front of the furnace, which opened for him like a mouth. Gasping, he tossed the heavy coal into the maw of the boiler, watching the thing snap it up hungrily. He jumped back onto the wooden floor, rubbing his eyes furiously. They were watering from the acrid smoke and burning heat.
All the soot sprites were looking at him like he was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. They were actually pretty cute, Frank thought as he peered right back at them.
Then all of them dropped their coal.
Frank looked helplessly out at the hundreds of soot sprites writhing under their heavy lumps of coal. There was no way he could carry all of those, let alone pick them up. Luckily Robert saved him from that fate.
"Get back to work! Stupid sprites! I'll turn you all back to soot if you don't get a move on right now!" Frank sighed in relief, only for Robert to turn on him. "And you, boy! What are you still doing here?! I don't have work for the likes of you!"
Instantly all the soot sprites moved towards Frank like an angry black wave, and he stepped back, only for all of them to gather around his ankles and legs, chirping indignantly at Robert and jumping up and down.
Robert looked alarmed and said, "Alright! Fine, fine, fine-"
"Hey, Boiler-Man," came a distinctly female voice from the little door on the opposite wall. Frank turned, the soot sprites receding, seemingly mollified now that he'd gotten the job.
There was a girl standing there, with long black hair and wide, dark brown eyes. Frank knew she must be one of those animal-women, there was something overly soft about her features, and flicking behind her was a fluffy tail, dark brown furred and smooth looking. Her jaw dropped open when she saw Frank and immediately she turned to Robert, gaping, "Human! There's a human, what's he doing here?!"
Frank started to panic and the soot sprites tensed again.
Robert only said calmly, "Don't worry yourself, Lin, he's only my grandson. He wants a job."
The girl, Lin, narrowed her eyes at Frank before shrugging and producing a basket, from which she took a handful of things that looked like rainbow star shaped sprinkles. She threw them to the soot sprites like birdseed, and they swarmed around her, gobbling up the stars. It was really bizarre.
"So, you gonna give him the job then?" Lin asked Robert.
"I suppose I should. You should take him to Raymond."
Lin closed the basket and looked at Frank. "Well, then, come on, human."
"My name's Frank," he muttered, almost tripping when he tried to follow her up the step and through the little door.
She only glared at him. "Thank the boiler man! He's really sticking his neck out for you!"
"Thank you, Mr. Boiler Man," Frank called back over his shoulder. The two of them crawled through the door and emerged in a wide, bustling hallway.
"So your name's Lin?" Frank asked her as they hurried along through the crowds of spirits, many of which stared at Frank.
"Yeah, Lin," she replied.
what are you?" he wondered, hoping his question wasn't too rude.
She turned on him, hands on her hips. Spirits flowed around them, seeming to accept Frank's presence since he was with Lin.
"You humans really are as dim-witted as they say, aren't you?" she snapped, before softening a little and sighing. "I'm the spirit of an animal called a sable."
Frank opened his mouth to ask what that was, but she cut him off, saying snippily, "They're adorable."
He nodded slowly, furrowing his brow and following Lin again, until they came to an ornate elevator.
She pointed to the elevator. "Raymond is on the top floor. Pull the lever every time you want to go up."
"Where are you-"
"I have business to do," she snapped, before shoving him to the elevator. Frank decided he didn't like sables very much, whatever they were.
He stepped into the elevator and quickly pulled on the lever, which was large and red and very hard to miss.
Up he went.
He lost himself in his thoughts as the elevator traveled farther and farther from the ground. He wondered if maybe Gee was an animal's spirit, too. But there was something reverent about the way all the other spirits had said his name, not just Gee, but Master Gee. What animal would be so awe-inspiring and looked up to? A lion, maybe? He shook his head. He couldn't see Gee being a lion, he was too delicate, and there was something about his eyes
they were almost-
He took a deep breath and stepped off the elevator onto the top floor of the bathhouse.
"Here goes nothing," he said, although really, there was a lot resting on his shoulders right then. He literally needed this job.
The room he entered was huge, with a massive arched ceiling, and sumptuous carpeting, Oriental rugs that he guessed probably weren't Oriental. A heavy chandelier hung high above, flickering with some sort of probably magical light. Frank still wasn't entirely convinced that all of this was real
it was too terrible and fantastic at the same time.
There was a giant pair of double doors gilded with various jewels and precious metals just across the room, and Frank strode up to them, trying to seem more confident than he really was. That was hard to do when you're a tiny thirteen year old boy with the kind of face that old aunts like to pinch; but he put up a valiant effort.
He blinked at the door and tugged on the handle. It didn't open, but the door knocker- which he hadn't noticed- opened its mouth (it was in the shape of an ugly gargoyle) and snapped at him, "You're not even going to knock?! Rude little boy."
The doors swung open- and revealed another set of doors, and then another and another and another.
Frank stared, jaw agape.
"Come in, then," said a male voice.
Frank stood still, frozen on the spot.
"I said come in," repeated the voice, and it was as if someone had attached a hook to his chest and was reeling him in like a fish, because Frank flew through all the open doors, through countless hallways, before finally the sensation disappeared and he was flung onto the floor from the inertia.
"Get up," said the voice carelessly. Frank did, stumbling unsteadily.
"I want a job!" he announced immediately to the person before him, who sat at the large mahogany desk in the room, which was adorned with many gold coins and shiny gems. The figure was shrouded in shadow, that is, until he stood up, looming over Frank, who edged away.
The man- Raymond- was tall and sturdily built, with dark, angry eyes and tanned skin, and a halo of messy chestnut brown curls surrounding his face. He looked very human and very opulent, too, several bands of silver wrapping up his arms, and a dark red ruby pendant glowing at his throat.
"I want a job!" Frank cried again, despite the furious expression on Raymond's face.
"Shut up," he grumbled.
"I want a job," he insisted.
"And I want you to shut up," Raymond said, sneering at him and waving his hand in a sharp horizontal motion. Instantly, Frank's mouth basically zipped shut, and he tried to open it but found himself unable. He mumbled deep in his throat to try and get some sort of words out, but nothing passed beyond his lips. He huffed out through his nose and it turned out more of a snort.
"Now, where was I," Raymond muttered, settling back down at his desk and sifting through a stack of papers.
Frank continued to make desperate guttural sounds, eventually resorting to gesturing wildly and jumping up and down to try to get his point across.
"Oh, do stay still, you're very annoying," Raymond said, pointing a finger at him. Instantly, Frank was frozen on the spot, unable to move his limbs- but his mouth had come unzipped. Apparently two spells didn't work together.
"I want a job!" he yelled breathlessly.
"Shut up!" thundered Raymond, and at once there was a loud, scared sounding meowing from somewhere beyond the room. Raymond gave Frank a look that was positively murderous and said in a growled voice, "You've woken my baby! How dare you." He hurried off, across the room to a bunch of curtains, pulling them back and sticking his head in. "Oh, darling, calm down, I'll make the scary human go away." He glared at Frank.
"I want a job!!" Frank practically screamed, because he may have been small, but he had some rather powerful vocal chords, as it turned out.
Raymond panicked when his 'baby' started meowing again, and quickly said, "Okay, okay fine. You get the job, fine."
He went back behind the curtains and Frank looked up as a contract floated towards him, along with a large black quill pen.
"Sign on the dotted line," Raymond called to him.
Frank plucked the contrast and pen from the air, holding them and reading over the piece of paper to make sure he wasn't selling his soul or anything. He didn't find anything pointing towards eternal servitude, so he shrugged and signed Frank on the line.
Raymond emerged from the curtains, looking significantly ruffled. He asked Frank if he was done before holding out a hand. The contract and pen both flew into his hands. He studied what the other had written before grinning and looking back down at him.
"Frank, is it?"
"Your new name is Thomas. Master Gee will escort you downstairs; you start tomorrow."
Frank spun around, only to face Gee, green eyes carefully neutral and face totally devoid of emotion, the perfect poker face. Frank furrowed his brow in bewilderment.
"Come," Gee said flatly, gesturing for him to follow.
Frank did, walking after him until they reached the elevator and both of them entered, Gee standing stiffly next to him, looking straight ahead. He made no move to congratulate him and showed none of the affection he had earlier.
"Gee-" said Frank, but the other turned to him, eyes bright and irate. "You will address me as Master Gee, Thomas," he said curtly.
Frank blinked at him, surprised. "I-"
"We've arrived at our destination," Gee said without looking at him, stepping out of the elevator car and not waiting for Frank to follow him. He had to run to keep up, his mind spinning. Gee had said to remember he was his friend- but he was acting far from friendly now.
They came into the circular main room of the bathhouse, where spirits were just beginning to exit- dawn was coming soon and Frank supposed the bathhouse closed during the day. All the creature's heads turned to look at the two of them.
One of them, a pudgy toad with a goatee who seemed to be a sort of receptionist, said in a horrified voice, "A human?! Master Gee, what is this foul scum doing in the bathhouse?"
Frank stiffened and edged closer to Gee, but he, much to Frank's dismay, moved away.
"He got a job from Robert," Gee said coolly.
There were gasps and the toad-man shot back, "Well, I don't care. He's not working at my station!"
"He's already signed the contract, his new name is Thomas," said Gee. "He has to work here, whether he likes it or not."
Frank looked at him, aghast, but Gee still ignored him. Frank glanced over and saw Lin standing off to the side with some other animal-women. He wondered if they were all sable spirits.
"Lin!" he said, hoping for somebody to be nice to him in this awful place. She made a face at him.
"Why don't you take him, Lin," Gee said, shoving Frank towards the sable woman.
She looked at him, annoyed. "Oh, don't you dare bring me into this."
"Yeah, you take him, Lin," someone laughed.
Gee turned to the rest of the angry spirits, saying in a loud, leeringly delighted voice, "He probably won't last too long. Work him until he can't do anymore, and then cook him up, fry him, boil him, I don't care."
Frank's eyes stung with what could have been tears as Lin pulled him down a hallway and in through a door. Then she turned to him and held him by the shoulders, beaming at him.
"You did it!" she said happily. "Thomas, I was really worried about you!"
Frank sniffed and said, "Yeah."
"Hey, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned. "Don't pay any mind to those guys, they're all idiots." She gestured loosely in the direction of the others in the bathhouse.
Lin, are there two Gees?"
She looked at him funny. "No, thank god, one is enough." She handed him some loose fitting clothes much like the ones Gee wore but white. "Here, you can put these on in the bathroom over there." She jerked her head to a small door behind him. "Don't trust him," she said seriously, "he's Raymond's henchman, he does everything Raymond wants him to, and he's actually very dangerous. Okay, Thomas?"
Frank nodded numbly, tears still sliding down his cheeks, though he turned away and went to change his clothes so Lin wouldn't see.
Frank couldn't fall asleep that day- yes, day, as it turned out the residents of the bathhouse were nocturnal- so he just lay on his cot, snuffling and crying into his pillow. He didn't know what he was doing here. He didn't know how he was going to get out, didn't know how he was going to get his parents and most of all- he didn't know what to do about Gee.
He heard the door to the sleeping chambers open, and immediately fell silent, eyes wide. He could hear the steady breathing of Lin and her spirit friends around him, and also the breathing of someone else, now. There was the soft creak of footsteps and Frank shivered when a hand gently touched the back of his neck.
"Meet me on the bridge. I'll take you to see your parents."
Frank scrambled out of bed as soon as the footsteps were gone.