“Oh great! We found them! They were just hiding in the tiny attic, that we already checked, all along!”
Carl had grown increasingly belligerent as the day went on, while the others remained quiet, perhaps out of exhaustion, or, as Jade suspected, because Carl welded some form of power they didn’t want to overstep. She could tell he was the type of person who wasn’t used to being contradicted, which made her all the more eager to take him down, notch by notch.
“Everyone who isn’t a professional detective, with the exception of Fat Solomon, out of the room. I don’t want anything disrupting the area.”
They all began to head downstairs, except for Carl.
“You too, big boy,” said Jade.
Carl raised himself up to full height, despite still being the shortest person in the room. “I want to know what you’re doing in the attic when anyone with eyes can see there’s nothing here.”
“Carl, Carl, Carl. Do you know what a detective does?” asked Jade.
Carl eyed her suspiciously. “I’m not a moron. They find things. Like how you’re failing to find our kids, who, if it wasn’t obvious, aren’t in the fuc-“
“They find clues, Carl. Fingerprints, trails, tiny little things, mostly overlooked, that help point them in the right direction. Now, if you were a detective, Carl, and the last place a group of missing children was heard was the attic, and you wanted to find clues about where they went, where would you look?”
Carl scrunched his forehead. “The attic.”
“And where are we now?”
“And that means…?”
Jade waited while Carl puzzled through that one.
“It means you’re not a detective, so get your ass downstairs while we try to find some clues to figure out whether your brat is dead or not.”
Carl turned bright red and started towards her, but suddenly found himself facing what appeared to be a large wall wearing a trench coat. Even with their comparable body types, Fat Solomon beat him in height by an easy two feet.
“You can’t intimidate me, asshole,” spat Carl. “You’re not allowed to hurt your client.”
“Trust me,” said Fat Solomon. “It won’t hurt.” He licked his lips.
For a while, no one spoke. Then Carl turned and marched out of the room, slamming the door as he went.
Jade raised an eye at Fat Solomon. “Has anyone told you that you have a special way of dealing with people?”
“Hey, I’m not complaining. Now…” Jade opened up her coat and took out a strip of leather with a series of loops stitched into the side. Each loop held a small, cylindrical crystal, half of them pulsating with a dim glow. She removed one that wasn’t glowing and held it up as she walked around the room. “Four kids. Two older, twins, blonde, gotta be a leader type in there, guessing the brother. Youngest is nerdy, fat, probably reclusive, if his Dad is any indication. Middle kid is a girl, most normal out of all of them, but with a unique name, which makes me thing she’s the main character here. What do you think, young adult coming of age?”
“It would explain the whimsy.”
“Well, for their sake, I hope not. They never have any survival instincts. This is why I try to stick with Noir, at least those guys can fend for themselves.” By this point, Jade had canvased most of the room. She occasionally glanced at the crystal in her hand, as if waiting for something to happen.
“Come on, you know it’s the closet,” said Fat Solomon
“Probably,” said Jade. “I was just hoping it would be something a little less cliché for once. A bunch of kids on vacation in the countryside find their way through a magical portal in the closet? Shoot me now.”
“You gonna complain all day or what?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Jade as she swung open the closet door. At this, the crystal in her hand began to slowly glow, various colors shifting over its surface. She hesitated, studying it.
“We been there before?” said Fat Solomon.
Jade shook her head. “Brand new. I swear to god, there better not be any thinly veiled religious allegories in this one.” She slashed downward and a small vertical rift began to grow in the empty space of the closet. A darkened forest could be vaguely seen through the portal, as if a thin sheet of Jell-O had been spread over the surface. Jade gestured towards Fat Solomon. “Ladies first.”
For a moment, it looked as if Fat Solomon wasn’t going to make it through the thin rift, but at the last second it opened up to let him pass. The last thing through was his right hand, middle finger extended.
Jade began to head in, but a noise caused her to turn around.
“Hey! W-What the hell is this?!” Carl stood in the hall doorway, fists clenched. “You’re not going anywhere. I want to know what the hell that thing is and what you did with our kids!”
“Carl, you’re a goddamn idiot,” said Jade, as she took a small step towards the portal.
Carl jumped, surprisingly quick for his size. He grabbed at Jade as she pushed herself backwards and snapped the rift shut.
She felt wet dirt underneath her hands as she fell to the ground. Fat Solomon glanced back at her. “Problem?”
Jade picked herself up and wiped the grime off her hands. “Carl. Taken care of.”
“Whatever. We made it through. Let’s just do what we came here for and-“ She looked at her surroundings. They were standing in the charred, blackened ruin of a large forest, burnt and twisted trees extending in all directions. The sky was thick with grey clouds, only instead of rain, a viscous dark sludge poured down upon the ground, casting a shadowy, sticky gloom across the field.
“Jesus. What kind of a shithole dimension is this?” Jade reflexively reached under her jacket and stopped, frozen. “Oh no.”
“My belt. The crystals. Our only way back home. They’re…not here. I left them on the other side.”