Stacking The Deck


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c1. Jacob Wants A Job

The Companion

Jacob exhaled for as long as his tiny, pathetic lungs would let him. It wasn't as long as many would expect, but that’s what he gets for being an insignificant human whose idea of good cardio was a quick saunter to the bathroom. 

Here he stood. On the corner of two busy streets in the middle of the cold, grey city that didn’t care about anything from the stupid pigeons that fluttered through the grimy landscape to the rats that scampered through the gutters. It was not an especially clean city, but it was busy none the less- stuffed to the brim with parasites, pests and problematic people of all sorts. 

His cold, brown defeated eyes fixated on the large glass building in front of him. It was big- too big to be practical in any real way. It not only blocked out the sun- it seemed to block out the entire sky. 

His hands shook. His breathing was short and rapid. In his head there was one universal truth in this moment that echoed around his empty skull with such ferocity it could not be denied: 

This sucked. 

Like this REALLY sucked. 

Job hunting at the best of times sucked. Job hunting in the middle of a recession sucked more and harder than any suck he'd experienced thus far in his insignificant little life. Growing up he'd hoped that he would at least be able to find some kind of steady employment to keep him fed and furnished. 

Instead here he was; standing on the corner of a dead street, surrounded by a swarm of zombie suits and staring up at a building that looked more like a prison than a place of opportunity. 

The air also smelled vaguely of turned yogurt, which seemed to fit the general vibe the space was going for. 

His backpack felt heavy- his heart more so. He felt like an imposter. His clothes were disheveled and raggedy- hardly the pressed coiffed paragons of excellence that swarmed all around him. They all looked so professional. He just looked pathetic. 

The glass reflected his awkward appearance back at him- because that is what mirrors do. He was hardly beautiful. He was awkward - long shaggy hair that awkwardly hung in his eyes no matter what he tried to do to keep it away. His eyes were brown and bland like sunken muddy puddles; and the way they sat in his face made him constantly appear tired. His mouth had thin lips that were permanently set in a frown which helped to block out his crooked teeth that made him undeniably British in heritage. His thin beard was short which he grew to hide his narrow chin and was beginning to turn noticeably grey. He bit his lip and scanned the building one final time. He wasn't entirely sure why. Maybe just to confirm that in all realities, it was still there. 

He breathed in. 

He held his breath. 

Then he breathed out. 

And then he entered the building. 

Then he remembered to keep breathing. He felt like that was important. 

Around him the suited folks breezed in and out of the space with such a rapid pace it made his head spin. Most of them clamoured into the elevators that lined the halls and disappeared like phantoms that had barely existed in the first place. Dozens of people, each wearing a drab blank outfit with the same professional haircuts and clean shaven faces brushed past him momentarily before evaporating into supposed importance. 

He took two steps toward the elevator watching as another dozen identical robot people were swallowed by the hungry elevator. For a moment he was envious of them- knowing that the meek resume he held in his hands could never afford him the kind of life they all seemed so resigned to. 

Then with all the subtlety that life is known for, his reality crashed upon him like a tidal wave for in the shadow of the elevators lay a small grungy coffee. 

He frowned. Even steps from success, he couldn’t even apply for a job that qualified him for a good view. He flopped his pack on the ground, unzipped it, and pulled out a crumpled resume. One of the few that he had left. 

According to their post they needed help. After seeing the space, he understood why. Dirty, small and compact the entire space looked cheap. Unlike the glistening chain coffee shop that fell on the other side of the atrium, this one looked and smelled like you would expect a small, forgotten coffee shop to smell like. The letters on the sign were tarnished and rusty and appeared to be adhered with little more than glue and prayer.  He was worried that if someone looked at it  too intensely, it would fall off and crush one of the corporate drones into a bland grey puddle. 

Even from such a distance the smell of burnt coffee was thick in his nostrils. He wanted to be optimistic about his chances, but the little optimism he had left was depleted three job applications ago when he was rejected by an ice cream parlour for not looking friendly enough. That had bugged him. Normally he would have been rejected for one of the countless other reasons to not hire him- of which there were many. In fact, there were so many it was difficult to keep track of what job had rejected him for what: too inexperienced, too scatterbrained, too unusual, not Mormon enough- or maybe just intellectually incapable of handling money in any meaningful way. But not friendly enough? He was plenty friendly. He was a ray of sunshine in human form. He was a steaming pile of optimism that lay in the middle of a dull, grey lifeless city that had long ago forgotten how to be human. He was the epitome of pep and vigor- or at least he had been when he started the job hunting process many moon ago. 

Truth was, after years being stuck in the vicious circle of the service industry, now he stood in front of what could only be described as the final refuge. It was a dirty, gross and an altogether unpleasant location - but at least it had the potential to be something. Even if that something was just a paycheque to prevent him from starving to death. Which he was very much in favor of right now. 

Gripping the tattered resume he tried to flatten the edges of it, but they wouldn’t stay down. He looked into the reflective glass of the mirror and tried to smooth his wild hair to a similar result. He frowned, but at least he matched. Maybe they gave points for consistency. 

Closing his eyes, he tried to give himself a pep talk, but nothing came. He just stared at himself awkwardly in the mirror pouring over every imperfection as doubt flooded through him. He held onto the resume as if it was the only thing that could save his life. He gripped it. He strangled it. He could feel tension overcoming him as he prepared to run for the hills. But then he did the stupidest thing he could do and reached out his sweaty hand and opened the door. 

Stepping into the store was like walking face first into a sock. The smell of dead coffee and dirty floors was  thicker than he’d expected. It was so intense his eyes watered and he wondered what kind of sick human would willingly  come in here for coffee. 

The person behind the counter was more of a lump than anything else. Their doughy body seemed attached to a face that could be generously described as curmudgeonly. Their bushy eyebrows clung desperately to two beady eyes and their face seemed set in a permanent scowl that proudly displayed their yellowed teeth. So in the realm of customer service, he was one of the friendlier managers he had encountered. 

“What coffee you want?” The man asked. Jacob took  a look at him and regretted it. He didn’t appear to be happy, but despite his grotesque appearance, was probably not much older than him. Maybe mid-forties with a bald head and a dirty apron that made him look like an overstuffed sausage. 

"Hey. Hi. Yo.” Jacob grimaced as he realized that he had said yo. “I’m actually here for not coffee. I mean- I just- I’m here for a job?” With his eloquence on full display, he held out the crinkled up resume and tried to smile. He suddenly felt overdressed which he hadn’t thought was possible considering that his clothes could generously be described as serviceable in tragic way. 

“Why?” The man barked.  

“Because…” Jacob thought about it for a moment. “I need money to live?” 

“What  a stupid answer,” the man said with a huff. “At least it’s an honest one. Give me the resume.” With a nod, Jacob handed it over and the man took it in his grimy hands leaving smudges all over it. He motioned his blobby finger towards the tables and Jacob followed. They made their way over to a small cramped table that hadn't been cleaned since it was created many years ago. If ever. Jacob tried to wipe it off, only to discover that the grime may have been the only thing holding the entire table together. Despite the disgust, he sat in a rickety chair opposite the man. 

“I’m a hard worker. I’m always on time and-,” Jacob hesitated. “I mean I’m usually on time- actually. I guess I’m just too honest to-” 

“You move around a lot, don’t you?” Jacob paused and looked at the man. 

“I mean-” 

“You can’t stay employed in a place for more than three months? What’s wrong with you?” Jacob gritted his teeth. This guy runs a filthy place and he has the gall to insult his working history? Even if his record was lacking at least he’d never worked in such a filthy sludge-hole. 

Maybe he was more resentful than he should have been because the question stung like a bee-sting on an eyelid. It was a question he’d asked himself many times before. Truth was he didn’t have a good answer. Other people had managed to settle into jobs rather easily, but he had always felt like the square peg in the round hole. He never settled into the world the way he should have- the way that everyone else seemed to be able to. If it wasn’t for gravity he wasn’t sure if he could hold himself down- much less a decent job. 

It was never the same reason either. If it had just been attendance, or a few nasty coworkers, or a lack of interest that would be one thing - but when it was something different every time that made every work place intolerable it became hard to figure out why. Why did he have trouble doing what everything else found so easy? Why did he get bored so quickly? And above all - why did it sting so much to be criticized for it? 

“Just unlucky. I’m actually-” 

“Unlucky. More like undisciplined.” The man laughed. “Why on earth would I hire you?” 

Jacob flushed. It felt like he'd just been slapped with a fish. 

“Because… You clearly need the help?” 

“How so?” the man quirked his eyebrow at him confused. Jacob took a moment, and then swung his eyes as if to gesture at the wreckage around him. The café was a mess - there could be no denying that - but it was as if the man didn’t seem to notice. 

“Are you serious?” Jacob stuttered. “I mean- is this-? The mess and the diry and- Why do you have a sign in the window if you're not hiring?” 

“We serve the best coffee in the city. We get line ups in here out the door everyday. And I handle it all without breaking a sweat.” Judging by the smell in the air, it would seem like there was quite a lot of sweat broken, but Jacob didn’t push it. “We don’t want people here who can’t put the effort in. And you don’t appear to have what it takes. We’ll pass.” 

This stung more. Like he'd been slapped with an even bigger and wetter fish. 

“What- Are you serious?” His stomach fell through his legs. Even this crappy coffee shop didn’t want him - what did that mean for his future? What did that mean for him? 

“Hard pass. Look - it’s just you don’t look good on paper, and we can’t afford to take any risks right now. Not with the daily rushes and all,” he said smacking his fat tongue against his horse-like teeth. For a moment Jacob expected him to return the resume to him, but then he used the resume to wipe his mouth and then crumpled it up  before throwing it away. 

“That was-” he began, but the man didn’t even seem to notice him anymore. 

“Look- I know you came out here all happy and hopeful, but I just got no place for you. I won't let you leave empty handed though. I’ll get you a coffee. Half price.” 

“No thanks I-” 

“Fine. Twist my arm. On the house. But the next one you pay double.” The lumpy man said with a laugh- more to himself than anything else. Within moments he had returned placing a hot cup of black coffee on the table. He spilled a great deal of it on the dirty table and didn’t bother to wipe it up. Jacob wondered if he ever had. But before he could say anything, the man had already waddled back to behind the counter and appeared to be singing to himself. 

At least the coffee was free. Jacob gripped it in his hands and brought the sour smelling coffee to his lips. For supposedly fresh coffee it was quite cold, but with a shrug he brought the liquid to his lips and choked a sip of it down. 

The taste. Somehow he choked it down, but it wasn't by choice. Somehow it had come alive and plunged itself down with throat before he could even choke it up. It was an indescribable experience, and not a pleasant one. 

The taste was so bad for a moment he believed in god only to realize that he had long ago been abandoned by him. The flavour was sour and wretched and it made him want to vomit, only to realize that it actually would have tasted better that way. 

Placing the coffee down on the table he blinked as stars filled his eyes. He clapped his tongue against the roof of his mouth trying to beat the taste out of it. Tears filled his eyes. Snot ran from his nose in a tremendous mucus-y waterfall. He silently wished for death but it wasn't coming and he realized that he might have to settle for a serviette. Looking up, he could see a small box perched precariously above him on a shelf. Reaching up expecting napkins, he was surprised when what tumbled down wasn’t a serviette, but a small box of cards. 

With his expected amount of luck, the box landed on his head. Cursing he quickly brushed it off and looked up to where he had grabbed it from with a frown. 

‘No napkins, huh? No wonder he used my resume to wipe his stupid mouth,’ Jacob thought to himself. He put the deck of cards on the table and pulled the inside of his shirt over his mouth. With vigour he licked at it like a salty popsicle in an attempt to clear the residue from his tongue. It didn’t work of course, but he tried. The taste was so foul and encompassing that it seemed to fill his entire essence and every breath just seemed to make it more intense. Soon he would be more coffee than man. 

He had to get out of this place. He had to escape it. The foul taste that now seemed to be encompassing his entire essence. 

Gripping his bag he pulled up abruptly only to watch it rip. Somehow in the debacle of sitting at the terrible table, it had gotten caught underneath the wobbly legs. When he'd pulled it up, the front part of his bag tore like paper. He cursed and watched as the bags contents flopped onto the table. Taking a moment to curse his terrible luck, he flung them all in the bag, not realizing that he was also dumping the cup with the awful coffee all over them as well. The stench filled his nose which felt like a brick lovingly smashing into his nose. 

“Hey! You can’t steal my cup!” the lumpy man barked perhaps realizing for the first time since leaving the table that Jacob was still there. Seeing no reason to stick around, Jacob threw his torn bag under his arm and ran as fast as his clumsy legs could carry him only to ram face first into a beautiful business woman at the doorway. 

“Watch it.” The woman sneered, but Jacob just mumbled a stifled ‘sorry’ before bolting like a clumsy antelope across the atrium. 

In his life Jacob had been many things- but a runner had never been one of them. Some would say he lacked style, others would say he was inept-  Most would say that he was just an uncoordinated fool who ran as well as a dolphin in a desert. All of these people were correct, but that didn’t stop his floppy feet from fleeing the café as fast as he could fly.  

Sure he looked like a fool. He usually did. But he didn't normally feel foolish. 

Now, he felt like a fool. Running as fast as he could with his torn backpack pouring coffee all over the pathetic excuse for his interview clothes and leaving a trail of brown sludge behind him. He imagined the swarm of crazed suited drones marveling at the confusing image of the demented non-suited creature waggling through their streets with the grace of a drunken calf- but then he realized something else- no one cared. Despite the fact he was running, few people even noticed him. Some were on phones, some were reading papers or drinking their lattes- but no one seemed to notice or care about him. 

After running for what seemed like ages, but in reality was barely a minute, he raced into an alley and experienced an emotion he wasn’t expecting. Giddiness. Or was it joy? It had been so long since he’d felt it he couldn’t quite remember which nuance of the emotion that this was. That jerk who didn’t hire him had insulted his honour and now he had stolen his cup! A perfect case of karmic retribution. 

Of course, in the process he had ruined his backpack, his clothes and a handful of resumes that he couldn’t replace, but at least he had salvaged a bit of his honour with good old fashioned revenge theft. 

On the other side of the alley his giddy run faded to a jog. Then a pensive saunter. Then finally slowing into a stupefied amble as the realizations of what had happened washed over him like the coffee that now entirely stained the back of his pants in the most unfortunate way possible

They were as follows:  

One. He was so useless, he couldn’t even be hired by a café that looked to be on the verge of complete and total decimation and was likely the nemesis of every known health inspector this side of everywhere. 

Two. He was wet and very uncomfortable. His entire being reeked and he was still a few blocks away from his home. He would have to wander the streets as a soppy, soggy mess and the experience was bound to be incredibly unpleasant as the coffee soaked itself deeper into his soul. 

Finally- He had nothing. He had no real plan. His clothes were destroyed, his prospects were bleak, and his resumes were now more coffee than experience. How would he make rent? How would he eat tonight? What was he going to do now that there didn’t appear to be anything that he could do? 

That last question hit him like a brick flavoured box. For a moment, there was an incredible moment of existential terror so complete that it snaked its way up his body and wrapped itself around his throat like a scaly scarf. He felt it thick and hot as he stopped breathing for a moment. He was suddenly feeling totally and completely alone as he contemplated that not only did he not have anything right now- but that there was nothing he could do about it. His stupefied amble faded to an existential total body stop. The tatters of the bag slipped from his fingers. A deep, dark, dread swallowed him and he fell to his knees. He wanted to scream. He wanted to find answers for the stupid questions that screamed through his mind like toddlers on a sugar bender. Big questions like, “What the hell man?” and “Is it me? Am I the problem?” 

But he didn’t do that. In fact, instead of screaming, he simply let himself melt his way down to the ground like a cracked egg slopping out of its shell. He puddled on the ground and felt his body become one with the shockingly hot concrete and sighed for as long as his small stupid lungs would let him. 

The city didn’t seem to notice him. People passed by as they whipped their way around on their way to go to appointments, or get their hair cut, or go to their real grown up jobs. And Jacob just lay there like a putz. Where else would he go? What else could he do? Currently it felt like there was nothing he could say, or do, or be- He was now going to lay here and live amongst the ants, rats and various politicians that scampered around the city's gritty underbelly. 

He wasn’t sure how long he lay there being a man-puddle, but soon, he realized that eventually he would have to move. For one, gravity ensured that pressing his body into the ground was getting very uncomfortable and unless he could find a way to meld himself into it completely he didn’t see how that would change anytime soon. For another- the now cold coffee has taken over much of his pants and was now threatening to break through the under layer. Finally laying on the ground in the middle of a filthy alley was starting to make him feel ever so slightly self conscious. 

There was no way around it he would have to sluggishly make his home. Then he would have to do the things that he did before going to bed at night. Following that he would have to face the same struggles he’d been facing for the past few weeks- or was it months?- all over again. Either way, it had been a short eternity and wasn’t looking to get any shorter anytime soon. The job hunt. The lack of food. The now familiar feeling of existential dread that wound through him like a determined tapeworm. He had nothing, and now even his backpack was destroyed. 

Somehow, he flopped his arm up beside him like a seal on a very strange beach and brought the shredded backpack to his face. He fished around inside of it looking for the mug- his sole victory of the day- in order to bask in the most modest of insubstantial victories- but when he pulled it out, it was broken. The handle had snapped off- which just made everything even more upsetting. Had he smacked it against something? Had he accidentally bashed it while running like a fool? Thinking hard he tried to remember if he had glue at home, or if this would be the expense that finally broke him- again. With clumsy sullen fingers he fished around the remnants of his bag looking for the handle when his fingers stumbled across something else. 

He pulled it out and realized that in the confusion, he had accidentally scooped up the deck of cards with the rest of the café detritus. Taking a moment he gripped the box and  marveled at them. Despite the lazy and tacky nature of the rest of the café, these seemed to sparkle with joy and quality. 

Held together in a simple box that looked incredibly dusty- which was a detail that did seem on brand for the café- they looked to be high quality. From what he could see the designs underneath were surprisingly intricate. Brushing a thick layer of dust off the front, it revealed stunning colours and elaborate intricacies of designs. 

With new curiosity, he opened the box. For a moment he felt what could only be described as a small pop of magic that erupted from the simple card box. He wasn’t sure if there were sparkles, or glitter, or anything shiny that fell out of it, but he felt as if there could have been. They were just the right kind of classy to justify it. The cards slid out smoothly and were much heavier than he had expected. They felt thick and solid, more like polished wood than a simple, cheap cardstock like he had expected. 

And the details! The cards were beautifully illustrated with thick heavy line work and sparse pops of colour that seemed to vibrate off the card. These were actually nice- not just the fake kind of nice that you have to qualify with a comparison, but genuinely nice. 

With a newfound vigor he peeled himself off the concrete and placed the cards in his pocket. With an excited pep in his otherwise unremarkable step, he galloped to his house- Or at least what could generously be described as a living space. In reality it was little more than a few closets taped together that rested above a fish shop, a cheese store and a vegan apothecary that sold various herbal medicines and teas for injured pets. Not even bothering to remove his shoes he erupted into the room, took the cards from his pocket, and then somehow, remembered to breathe. 

He put the stack down on the table and grabbed the first card. It was a beautiful illustration of a long and elegant bird that looked absolutely radiant. It had a long neck and narrow beak, and a beautiful tail that flared out on the bottom half of the card. The illustration was beautiful. The details were so intricate and the creature itself was stunning. He wondered if these cards were worth something as they certainly appeared to be old- but somehow still fresh and pristine like they'd never been held before. As Jacob looked at the card he could feel something stir inside of him. He read the bottom of the card and smiled as a gentle comfort seemed to bathe the room in a peaceful and contented feeling. 

“The Companion,” he said with a smile. When he said the words, the card began to vibrate softly. Slowly a soft gentle warmth began to emanate off the card as the lines along it went from black to a brilliant gold. The illustration became luminescent and intensified as the card began to glow. The card lifted out of Jacob’s fingers and began to pulse and shine as flecks of beautiful golden glitter began to splatter off it. An angelic ring began to fill the space as the card took on a more bulbous shape like a balloon beginning to inflate. Soon, it began to spread out, with two wings emerging from the card like a butterfly breaking through a cocoon. The golden hum intensified as the sound crescendoed and the world itself held its breath. 

Then just as suddenly as it had begun it ended. Jacob wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but there on the table now stood a dumpy looking seagull that was staring awkwardly at him. It stood crooked to the left and had disheveled feathers that gave it a wild expression. One of it’s beady red eyes was bigger than the other and its tongue seemed to stick out the side of its beak just enough to give it a permanently confused expression. 

For a moment, neither Jacob nor the seagull did anything. They simply stared at each other. Jacob wondered how such a creature came to be sitting in what passed for his kitchen. The seagull did nothing presumably because it was a seagull. He wasn’t sure how long they stood there regarding each other but it was somewhere between a moment and forever. Neither moved. Until the seagull did. 

“Who the hell are you?” the Seagull asked. Jacob staggered back and collided with the counter of his too-small excuse for a kitchen and knocked one of the cabinet doors off its hinges. Mind you, most of his cabinet doors were more for show than function. In fact very little of his apartment was actually functional the way you’d expect a regular house to be functional. For instance his shower, when it worked, would often choose a different temperature to operate at every other minute resulting in scalding water one moment, and ice cold the next. Most of his appliances worked in a similar fashion, but this wasn’t the most important detail to note right now. What was important was the seagull had spoken to him, and it wasn’t until he collided with the cabinets that he realized that he wasn’t dreaming. 

“What the hell?” Jacob exclaimed as he clambered back to his feet. 

“That's what I’m asking. Who are you? What are you doing here? What’s going on?” The seagull spoke, or more precisely squawked with great accusation. Jacob blinked at the bird with his mouth agape. He held out his finger as if to poke it when the bird nipped its beak. “What are you trying to do here you pervert!”  

“I can understand you-” Jacob said to the bird. The bird looked at him strangely- which was especially odd considered it was indeed a bird. 

“Oh yeah? Fascinating. Do tell- who the hell are you and how the hell did you get me here?” 

“You- You were a card.” The bird quirked its head to the side as only a lumpy seagull could. 

“Yeah?” He didn’t seem to understand the question.

“And… Now you’re a bird.” 

“I’m Teddy. You can call me Teddy. Now, I’m going to ask you one final time. Who the hell are you and what am I doing here?” 

“You- the deck- it fell into my bag.” Jacob said motioning to the remnants of the bag as if somehow that would explain everything. Teddy, the bird, looked at him. 

“That doesn’t appear to be much of a bag.” Teddy barked. 

“But- I didn’t mean- I mean you were just a deck of cards and that place was-”  

“So- You found a deck of strange cards and then you stole them?” Teddy asked, sounding especially sour. 

“Stolen is kind of a strong word. They fell in by accident and now- I mean I just wanted to use them to- I mean to see them and then you-” Jacob stammered. He was beginning to feel more comfortable talking to the bird, although he couldn’t get past the condescending tone that it used. Teddy held up a wing as is to silence him. It worked. 

“Were you given this deck of cards?” 

“Well no. Not so much.” 

“Then, let me be frank. Ahem. What the actual hell man?” Teddy squawked. “You opened a deck of cards that didn’t belong to you just to look at them?” 

“I mean- Well yes? Is that bad?” 

“I mean- yes?” Teddy said matching Jacob’s odd intonation. “What makes you think I’m going to stick around here knowing you obtained these cards through such an underhanded deviant act?” 

“Because- Finders keepers?” Teddy looked up at him and started to smirk. Then he let out the seagull equivalent of a chuckle. Then a seagull laugh. Then a maniacal seagull bellowing guffaw that reverberated around the room. It was terrifying. Then he looked Jacob square in the eyes and screamed. 

“ARE YOU SIX? Finders Keepers? What the hell kind of cards do you think these are?” Teddy was so angry Jacob could hear him vibrating. 

“They’re cards?” Jacob said, struggling to find the problem. 

“Stolen cards! That you stole! You thieving stealing thief man!” Teddy bellowed. 

“But- They’re just a pack of cards? I don’t get-” 

“No kidding you don’t get it! Because you’re a bloody idiot! Now put me back, and return the deck of cards before I get damn cross with you!” 

“You already seem pretty cross at me.” Jacob said. 

“Damn right I am! Now pack them up and put us back before you do something stupid and-” 

“Look, Teddy- calm down. You’re over reacting. These are just cards. You’re making them seem like this big deadly thing when they’re just pieces of cardboard. Look-” 

“What are you-” 

“It’s just one card.” Jacob said picking up the next card in the deck. 

“Put that down right now you stupid thievy man!” 

“It’s nothing! It’s no big deal. Look- The Blast. See noth-” But before he could finish, the world went white and there was the distinct sound of a huge explosion. 

And then Jacob quickly realized that he might be in trouble. 

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c2. Jacob Goes KABOOM

The Blast

Chapter Two

Now seemed like a good time to take stock of what had just happened. 

In fairness, Jacob wasn't sure what had just happened but he did know that was hurtling through the air at rapid speed. What should have been his apartment around him was now the open sky above and the bustling dull city below him. Then the city was above him and the sky below him- and so it went until he realized that whatever was happening would not end well. 

He wasn’t sure how fast he was traveling, but he knew that it was too fast to descend with grace. In fact, considering all the sad grey concrete and construction around him, he knew that this would likely end in disaster - at least for him. Most likely his untimely death. Seeing little he could do about it, he took a breath and tried to enjoy this one solitary moment before the inertia of his flight inevitably crushed him into a pulp. 

Then he slowed. It wasn’t  noticeable at first, but the world around him stopped rotating and returned to normality. Sure, he was still propelling through the air at record speeds, but at least he was not flying as fast as he had been. 

After a deliberate blink, he craned his neck up to get a sense of what happened. What he was sure of was the immense pain in his waist and groin. But when you were being carried by his undergarments that made sense.  Looking up he could see a pair of tiny grey wings flapping as quickly as they could as a small, determined seagull hefted him by his unders snatched tightly in its beak. 

Before he could comprehend what happened they hit the ground. Landing in a park only a few inches shy of a jungle gym they crashed and tumbled through the sand. After a moment of laying there in the sand Jacob looked up to see Teddy laying on top of him. His small seagull wings flopped over his chest in some kind of strange bird hug. Teddy was clearly exhausted by the effort he had used to fly them over, and Jacob wasn’t sure whether he should thank him, or fear him. After waiting until the bird had finally caught his breath he looked up and spoke. 

“You saved my life."

“Don’t get used to it.” Teddy cawed between deep gasps of air. 

“Thanks.” Jacob crawled up to a sitting position and rubbed his head. Teddy hopped from his stomach to his shoulder and then nipped his ear. “Ow!” 

“You deserve it! You can’t even tell me you don’t! You did something incredibly stupid back there and now we’re here and who even knows the damage that you did! And I’m very mad at you! And now we need-” 

“But I didn’t do anything. I just read a-” Teddy nipped his ear again. 

“You just read the name of an incredibly volatile card and caused it to go boom-boom and now here we are! You’re a real stupid piece of work aren’t you?” 

“But it’s just a card. How can-” Teddy pressed his head firmly into the nose of Jacob and pressed his tiny seagull head until Jacob had to go cross-eyed. 

“You’re real dense ain't ya?” Teddy said as he hopped from the shoulder to the head. “You did something stupid and now we've got to go put out some fires.” 

“But if these cards are-”

“I’m not being metaphorical here. You see that giant plume of smoke that’s billowing out in the direction of where your house was? That’s because that’s where your house was. Keyword there is was. I suggest we go to it and try to recover what we can if there is anything. And I suggest we do it now.” Jacob looked over to the smoke and froze. Was that his house? It didn't seem real but- “I said NOW!” 

Teddy’s yell launched him into action. He leapt onto his feet and raced through the park in an attempt to get back to his apartment. He ran like one of those joggers that he had seen so many times before, but much worse. He flopped through the park as fast as he could manage on his awkward legs. He only once stopped to catch his breath. 

Once free of the greenery, the path back to his place was easy- the roads were all  straight and uncomplicated. But the more that Jacob looked up at the black plume, the more he could feel dread seep into him. It was like someone had dropped a blob of ink into the air and was letting it infect the sky. He didn’t like it- he rarely liked clouds at the best of times. But this was an ominous, mysterious and most unpleasant cloud was made up of the burning remnants of his home. In his mind, this made it a physical embodiment of ‘the worst’.  

He wasn’t sure what he'd expected when he arrived back on his street- but when he got there it was shockingly quiet. He had expected news copters, reporters, homeless people scurrying through his unmentionables and nick-knacks, but instead- it was all pretty plain and unassuming. All around him it was business as usual, only with a thick well of black smoke pouring from what used to be his home. Sure his apartment walls were shattered into rubble in the streets, but the people walking by didn’t seem to care. Even the three stores that rested directly underneath his space were still operating as if nothing had happened. The apathy in this moment was staggering and Jacob couldn’t help but feel a bit offended. At that moment one of the store owners who was sweeping opened the door to kick the dust outside. 

“Hey!” Jacob called out. The wiry man looked up at him with a frown.


“My house!” 

“What about it?” The man shrugged. 

“It's- What? Just look!” Jacob pleaded but the man simply shrugged and continued back inside. As the door was closing he could hear someone ask “Who was that?” and the man simply shrugged. Jacob frowned and with a sigh, ran into what had formerly been his space. 

Awkwardly galloping inside, he climbed the haphazard stairs with Teddy riding on his shoulder. He opened his door, which instantly slid off of its hinges and landed with a thud in the middle of the room. Inside he saw the remnants of what had been his apartment. It was about the same size- but it didn’t look much different. The space was still small, but now was more empty- and also there was very clearly a giant scorch mark in the center of the room which appeared to have blown an enormous him-sized hole in the side of the building. 

Pouring through the wreckage he knew he should feel something. Maybe sadness or grief- but instead, he felt numb. Like he had expected this. Or maybe he had deserved it. Somehow he had expected that his entire life would be reduced to a decimated apartment. At least now the space had a  window. 

“It’s… It’s all gone.” Jacob said, trying to figure out the complex web of emotions he was currently experiencing. Was he happy about this? Sad? Maybe just hungry? He had no idea. He just looked and then felt Teddy poke him in the neck as if to wake him up.  

“Yeah, a lot of it. But that’s not important right now. We need to find those cards.”

“We do?” 

“The one card did this. Do you want to see what some of the other ones can do?” Jacob looked from Teddy back to the giant hole in the wall. Then back again just to make sure. 


“Then get looking numb-skull.” Teddy squawked as he fluttered down to the table and began to comb through the wreckage using his beak as a sifter. 

With Teddy on the hunt, Jacob looked around and noticed one of the cards sticking into the wall like a dagger. He reached over to it and felt it thick and sturdy in his hands and slid it out. It was covered in soot, but after the way the last card had damaged things, he wasn’t sure he wanted to read another one right now. 

He looked around the kitchen area and found two other cards - one on the fridge door and the other sticking into the knife holder. Teddy flapped over with two more in his beak. He put them in Jacob’s hands and frowned as best as he could considering his face was a beak. 

“Two. I was hoping for more.” 

“I got three.” 

“Five cards does not give you a full deck.” Teddy said. 

“Do I need a full deck?” Teddy shook his head as if he was trying to be a very patient teacher to a dimwitted toddler. 

“Yes. You can’t return a handful of cards when you left with a full deck now can you?” 

“I mean- Can’t I? They probably don’t even know these cards are missing. I mean why would they just leave them lying around like that when-” Teddy held up his wing in a dismissive, ‘silence’ motion. 

“You don’t even know what these cards are- or what they represent- or anything really. And you would keep them despite knowing that they do not belong to you?” 

“They’re pretty.” Teddy blinked at him exactly three times. Each blink progressively slower than the last. Each one bringing his little beaked face closer to him. 

“You would put yourself in grave danger and terrible peril because they looked… pretty?” 

“I mean- you came from one. And you seem kind of neat. Why would I want to give them away?” Teddy exhaled for a period of time far longer than he should have been able to with tiny seagulls lungs. Then he inhaled deeply and did it again. He looked at Jacob. 

“You really don’t know what kind of powers you’re dealing with here do you?” 

“Is that bad?” 


“Well… How bad?” Jacob asked.  Teddy did his breath thing again. 

“Bad. It is not something that I think you should do.” 

“Why not?” 

“Do you always ask this many questions?” 

“Only when I’m not getting a clear answer.” 

“I don’t want to tell you anymore because then you’ll know too much and you won’t be able to go back to not knowing anything!” 


“So?!” Teddy squawked. “So that’s bad! You’re not trained! You’re not ready! You don’t even know what the cards are, or what they can do, or how to use them. You’re not fit to be Wielder so you should just give the cards to me and kindly drop dead!” Teddy was breathing very heavy now, but Jacob looked at him with a curious glint in his eye. 



“What’s a Wielder?” Teddy paused for a moment, and then he screamed.  Jacob hadn’t realized that  a seagull could scream, but it appeared that they could in this situation. It would have been almost impressive if it hadn’t been so loud. Then he stopped, shook his head to regain his composure and looked back at Jacob.  

“I shouldn’t have said that. Now you know too much. Now you know the word so you can find out things so there’s no point in leaving. I’m stuck with you.” 

“You sound sad.” 

“I- It's fine. No. It's not. But I'll be- I mean it's- Lets just say it's fine.” 

“You don't sound fine." Jacob remarked. 

“Just-” Teddy took a breath and didn't say anything else. 

“This is good though. It means you can-” 

“That is not good! We only have five cards and now I have to protect you and-” 


“What? What is it? What on earth can be so important-” 

“There’s someone at the door.” Teddy and Jacob turned to the door to see a buxom brunette woman with a big smile on her face. She wore dark makeup and and an impressive power suit. 

“Hello.” She said with a surprisingly sweet voice and a thick accent. 

“Hi.” Jacob replied. 

“Don't say hi to her!” Teddy exclaimed. 

“That would be rude.” Jacob retorted.

“You should run,” Teddy whispered in his ear. 

“Why? She seems nice.” Jacob retorted. 

“You seem to be in a bit of a mess here don’t you?” She replied. 

“Nothing I can’t fix.” Jacob smiled. He was lying. He had no idea how to fix most things, least of which an apartment. 

“I meant the other thing.” She said motioning to the cards. 

“Oh. Uh- no?” Jacob said. 

“Of course. Do those belong to you?” 

“I mean- uh-” Jacob was as eloquent and charming as ever. 

“If they didn’t, it would be a shame if something was to-” she replied inching closer to them, when suddenly Teddy interrupted. 

“For crying out loud, just run!” Teddy grabbed one of the cards from his hand and flicked his beak into the air sending the card spiraling in front of Jacob. He flapped hard towards the dark gothic woman and began to beat at her with his wings. “Read it!” 

“The shift?” Jacob asked, and the card glowed golden. It began to spin and warp until it formed what looked like a portal. As he looked at it, Teddy flapped back towards him as the woman tried to beat him away. “Let’s go already!” 

Jacob didn’t so much step through the portal, as he could feel himself being pulled through. The environment around him melted away revealing something new. He caught a final glimpse of his apartment from the inside as the woman frowned at him with a scowl on her otherwise pretty face. Before he could figure out what was going on- he was somewhere else. 

And Teddy did not look happy about it. 

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c3. Jacob Gets A Coffee

The Shift

When it came to coffee, Jacob was not a man of refined tastes, but he knew what he liked. He liked coffee that was dark, smelly and liquid. He knew what was bad, like the cafe he’d applied to earlier, but he also didn’t go out of his way to enjoy the fancier stuff. If he could describe his coffee as anything other than dark, black and liquid- it usually wasn’t for him. 

So it was surprising when he found himself sitting in the middle of a coffee shop that he otherwise never would have entered. It was a space that used experimental names for coffee sizes, and had a wall full of maps with strange names for beans like “aromatica”, “resinaltra” and “decaf”. He feared that it was too fancy, which was confirmed when he realized that he only understood about half of the words and numbers on the board. 

Then he realized that Teddy was still perched on his shoulder. 

“What the hell was that?” Jacob asked. 

“That’s The Shift. You used it and it brought us here. Nifty huh?” Teddy beak-smirked. “Congratulations, you now know how three of your cards work. Which is to say that you are still woefully unprepared for being a Wielder- but now we're stuck. ” 

“You’re very negative you know that?” 

“Maybe I have good reason to be!” Teddy snapped. “Look, this entire experience is stressing me out, so can you please pull yourself up to the counter and order me a coffee?” 

“You drink coffee?” Jacob wasn’t sure why that was the thing he found most surprising but it was. Teddy shrugged.

“If they’ve got something stronger by all means, but I suspect coffee is as tough as they go here.” Teddy hopped off his shoulder and flapped down to one of the small excuses for a table. The tables were circles with layers of fabrics on them and no chairs to be seen- instead the elaborately dressed patrons sat on cushions as the sounds of a rain forest played through the space broken only by the occasional gong. 

Following behind a slovenly middle aged woman clad almost exclusively in glittery gold Jacob waited. He found himself distracted by her necklaces, and the strange bounce of her grey hair in a sloppy bun held in place with a chopstick. As the woman grabbed two small barrels of white frothy milk and sneered at him, Jacob made his way to the counter. The woman behind the counter had  blue hair and a perpetual frown on her otherwise pleasant face. He wasn’t sure if she was disinterested, or if her face had simply frozen that way. 

“Hi.” She said, her voice was surprisingly sweet. The contrast was disconcerting.  

“Hi. Coffee?” 

“Yeah. We got it."

“Can- Can I have some?” The girl appeared amused. 

“What kind” 

“The- Coffee flavoured one?” 

"Got it. Big? Little?” 

“Big. Two big please actually.” He tried to smile at her but he wasn’t sure what his face was doing. It felt like parts of it were moving of their own volition. 

“Okay. Cool.” She said as she turned around and started working on a machine that he didn’t realize was used to make coffee. It spun and shook as brilliant colours flashed across it. If he didn’t know better, he’d have tried to put a quarter in to win big.

“You want it sweet?” 

“Yeah. That would be nice.” 

“Cool.” She replied. “Is that your bird?” 

“Uh- yes. He is.” Jacob stammered. Would Teddy be offended by this? He looked to Teddy and realized the answer was most definitely yes. “That's my bird.” 

“We don’t normally allow animals in here.” 

“Oh. He’s my- uh- emotional support bird.” She raised her eyebrow at him but didn’t do anything else. 

“Cool.” She said, turning around and giving him two steaming cups of coffee that seemed to shimmer. They smelled amazing. He could feel his mouth salivating as he breathed in their thick, sweet, delicious aroma. “That’s fifteen.” 

“Fifteen. Dollars? For two coffees?!” The shock was so palpable he felt it. 

“Yeah?” She replied with a tone that implied that he was crazy for asking. 

“Wow- that's-” He stopped himself and sighed. She had already made them. And they did smell good. 

With a nod he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of money that he’d hoped was enough and handed it to her. A twenty. Probably his last twenty. She didn’t even seem to notice and took the bill and slid it into a jar.

“Next!” He turned to see a woman with a shaved head and black lipstick, and a body painted man in a cowboy hat behind him. He turned back and politely waited for change, but after a moment he did some math in his head and frowned. 

“Thanks.” He muttered. He grabbed the two surprisingly small cups for such large, expensive coffees, and brought them to the table.  

“Some operation they got here.” Jacob frowned as Teddy hopped over excitedly to where Jacob put the coffees down and paused. He looked up at him with a grimace on his seagull face. 

“This is it? You didn’t think to get a large?” 

“Apparently this is large.” Jacob said as he sidled onto one of the more comfortable looking cushions to discover that the comfort part was  an illusion. He instantly slid to the floor and frowned. “Cost fifteen bucks for them both.” Teddy looked up at him incredulously. Jacob wasn’t sure how a seagull was capable of so many nuanced expressions. “Then she kept the five dollar tip.” 

“That is… That feels wrong somehow.” Teddy sounded wounded. “Awe well, a high’s a high.” The bird plunged his face into the coffee and guzzled down half of it in one gulp. The noise was something like a slurping straw and a baby’s scream. Either way, it attracted attention from the other tables. 

“You think you can… keep it down?” Jacob asked becoming acutely aware of judging eyes on him. 

“Of course. It’s only coffee. A birds stomach is surprisingly spacious for the things it likes. If this was whisky then you’d have to worry. I’d probably drink it just as fast though” 

“I mean with the noise. You’re being a bit- loud.” 

“Oh, am I now?” Teddy squawked. “I’d hate to think that my noise level was bothering the other patrons!” He then threw his head back and yelled in that awful seagull squawk that only they can perpetuate. A few other patrons hushed at them, but otherwise didn't seem to pay them any mind. 

“Look, it’s fine- I just- I- I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on right now. Or how we ended up here. Or where we should be going next but-” Teddy stopped yelling and fluttered up to Jacob’s shoulder. He spread his wing over his lips and hushed him. 

“Shut up you silly stupid man. It’s okay. No one else here can here me talking.” 

“Because you’re magic?” 

“No. Because we’re in a coffee shop and no one can hear anything in a coffee shop.” 

“I don’t think that’s true-” Jacob said looking around.

“Look, we’re here because when you used the card, I steered us based on my desires to have a coffee because I knew you’d be useless and wouldn’t know how to steer things. And I was right, so here we are.” 

“You couldn’t have chosen a less expensive place?” 

“Oh don’t worry. I don’t mind the price.” Teddy said as he preened his feathers. 

“That’s not what I-” 

“I brought you someplace easy, relaxing, quiet and private so we could run through exactly what’s going on here.” Teddy said. 

“You’re going to actually tell me what’s going on?” Jacob asked. 

“In a sense yes. But also no. There’s a lot to go over and I get bored if I have to repeat things, so even if you don’t fully understand, I’m still going to keep going.” 

“That doesn’t seem to be-” Jacob started but was instantly cut off. 

“Perfect. Now, let’s start at the most basic fact. You got this deck of cards. These cards contain powerful abilities that can change the world around you for the better.” He then pulled out the blast card from Jacob and displayed it. “Or worse.” 

“Yeah, okay I gathered that much.” He said. “You’re being my companion and all that and now- well this one-” He didn’t dare say it’s name of course- “Causes things to go boom.” 

“When you have a full deck it’ll be stronger. If you were to use it now it’ll be little more than a small pop.” 

“I don’t- I don’t understand.” Jacob looked at the cards and frowned. 

“I know- but you already know that I’m not going to repeat anything so we keep going.” 

“So you’re- well you’re you which seems obvious. This one goes boom. This one- shifts things- to other places?” Teddy nodded. “Good. Okay- I think I'm getting it. What about these ones?” 

“They work the same as the others. But it’s not enough. A deck should consist of dozens, if not hundreds of cards. We need to go out there, find more, and add them to your deck so you have a better chance of surviving. Preferably the cards from the same deck as this one. When cards live together in a package they get to know each other more so they’re better at finding each other. I can still feel a bunch of them out there so we just need to find them and add them to our deck before someone else beats us to it.” 

“Like that lady who was coming into my apartment?” Teddy blinked at him.

“I’m shocked. That could be the first insightful thing you’ve said. Ever. I am flabbergasted. I am in awe. I am humbled.” Jacob couldn’t help but feel like Teddy was being condescending. “She was likely a Wielder like you. And she was likely coming to the space to try to gather some of the cards."  

“But why?” 

“Because idiot, she wants more power. Each card grants you a bit of ability, but also makes you stronger. Bigger deck, bigger abilities and stronger powers. Right now we could shift maybe a block or two, with a couple hundred cards, we could go around the world.” 

“Cool. So I need to get more cards.” 

“That's a supreme understatement.” Teddy remarked. 

“So… Where do we start.” 

“Well let’s start here.” Teddy said pointing to one of the three other cards that Jacob hadn’t touched yet. “This is the flash card-” 

“Like a bright light? Not like- you know- what people do in an alley way when you don't expect it?” 

“Right.” Teddy said before pausing. “Also, never say that again. That's supremely violating. Got it?” 

“I’m good.” 

“This one- The Effervescent.” Teddy pecked at it. 

“Sounds powerful.” 

“It can make tiny bubbles in things.” 

“Oh.” Jacob said. “But… that’s good right?”

“If you’re craving soda water, absolutely. Everything has its purpose but this card is a bit limited in its functionalities. With a few cards you can make tiny bubbles in things. With a lot of cards, you can make tiny bubbles in a lot of things.”

“That doesn't sound-” Teddy didn't wait for Jacob to finish and pointed to the last card. 

“Do you really need this one explained?” Jacob looked at the card and read it. The Echo. 

“I’m guessing… it makes an echo?” 

“It makes an echo.” Jacob looked down at the cards and suddenly felt a strange feeling knot in his stomach.  

“Okay- So I can make a flash. I can make a small pop with the - you know- kaboom card. I have you to keep me company- I can make an echo… Tiny bubbles-" His voice faltered. "These… These don’t seem particularly useful, do they?” 

“No. No they do not.” Teddy said. “But everything has a purpose, a place and a time. If we can find the right situation we can use these cards to subdue just about any of the cards that we come across.” Teddy looked at the cards at his feet and frowned. “I mean… somehow. Maybe. I mean anything is possible technically. It's just a case of- We will see I guess.” He then stuck his nose back in his coffee and guzzled the rest of it in one easy swallow. “You gonna finish yours?” 

With a shrug, Jacob took one last sip of coffee before sliding the cup to Teddy. He then devoured it with similar vigour to the last cup. 

Jacob then turned his attention to the cards in his hand and frowned. What was he going to do with these? 

As Teddy finished the last of his coffee with a loud “ah” he turned his attention to Jacob and smirked as only he could. 

“Come on ya turd turkey. Lets get training. We've got dangerous business ahead and you need to know how to not suck at life. So we've got a lot of work to do- and very little time to do it.” 

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c4. Jacob Does Bubbles

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c.5. Jacob Talks To A Cop

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c.6. Jacob Goes Psychic

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c7. Jacob Chills Out

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c8. Jacob Has A Night

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c9. Jacob Wakes Up

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c10. Jacob Gets Focused 

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c11. Jacob Goes Out

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c.12. Jacob Does Shopping

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c.13. Jacob Drinks Something

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c.14 Jacob visits someone

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c.15. Jacob talks to Sisters

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c16. Jacob Fights Donuts

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c.17. Jacob sees a raccoon

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c.18. Jacob Gets Sneaky

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c.19. Jacob Goes Back Again

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c.20. Jacob fights donuts

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c.21. Jacob Fights For Himself

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c.22. Jacob Becomes

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