Chapter Seven: Maxxie

“I don’t see why we’re here,” I grumbled as Jace tugged on my arm, urging me onward. Snow floated around us in heavy flurries. His fingers were cold and tight around my hand. He guided me into a tiny alleyway and brought me to a large blue door.

     “He’ll tell us what they mean,” Jace explained as he rapped twice. I tightened my scarf around my neck. “He’s very smart.”

     “But he’s crazy.”

     “Who you calling crazy?” a raspy voice said. I turned to see a short, wrinkly man standing in the doorway, his beady eyes squinting at me. The wisps of his gray beard framed his pointed chin and his bald head was covered with a burgundy coloured beanie. The overalls he wore hung loosely off his thin frame and they were covered with various unidentified stains. There was also a faint smell of decay emanating off of him.

     “Hello Mr. Sheppard,” Jace said with a smile. “How are you?”

     The old man waved his hands around. “Cut the chit chat, boy. Come in, come in. Watch your step.”

     I followed Jace into Mr. Sheppard’s loft. I made my way through the building cautiously, continuously eyeing the creepy things surrounding his house: smudge sticks hanging off the ash gray walls, trees twisting and turning along the walls and furniture, a Siamese cat sitting in the corner of the room, staring out the stained glass window. A twisted and smashed gramophone hung from the ceiling with purple flower pouring from it and books were littering the floor. It looks as if a tornado had ripped through here, leaving only a few tidbits of things for Mr. Sheppard to use.

     “Interesting home,” I murmured. Jace elbowed me. Mr. Sheppard only brushed me off.

     We arrived in the kitchen where Mr. Sheppard began tending a bowl of foul smelling something. It took all my might not to gag as the odor circulated around me. Jace gave me a look and I swallowed back my bile.

     “So what is it you boys need?” Mr. Sheppard demanded, stirring a wooden spoon around the pot. I dug my face into Jace’s back to get away from the smell.

     “We would like you to try and ‘decode’ these letters we’ve been getting,” Jace explained. “So we can our son.”

     Mr. Sheppard sipped the green liquid he was stirring. He nodded and said, “Yeah, I heard about your son. Shame.” He held his hand out. “Well, let me have the notes then, hm?”

     I coughed as Jace pulled the notes out of his jacket and handed them to the old man. I watched carefully as the wrinkly man read the words and sentences, his eyes squinting more and more until they looked like slits being swallowed in a sea of skin. How did Jace ever even meet this guy? He was the witch doctor of the twenty-first century; a lot of artsy people would go to him if they ever wanted organic remedies without the drugs of the hospital or doctors. But although he was very smart, there were stories floating around that he was actually crazy. One time I had even heard that he jumped into the Hudson River in attempts to walk on water.

     “So, is there anything you can find?” Jace asked. “Anything at all?”

     The older man raised a bony finger. He raised an eyebrow and looked at us. No, he looked at something behind us. He stepped away from his stove and walked to the tree cascading around his house. He reached up and pulled a small piece of paper from one of the branches. My breath caught in my throat. No. This couldn’t be. It couldn’t be another… no, it was impossible. There was no way the Joker could predict we’d ever come here. We never saw Mr. Sheppard.