Neighborhood NightmareChapter 3
The next morning, Marian, Esther, and Herbert munched on eggs, bacon, and tater tots in the kitchen. It was a teacher-work day, which meant no school for three whole days! Mrs. Dolor sipped on her coffee and watched the News in the nearest room. Mr. Dolor left earlier for work.
“Do you think the ghost will come back if we visit the entrance again?” Esther asked.
“I hope not,” Herbert replied. “But I do feel bad about letting those weird animals out. What do you think, Marian?”
Marian ignored them. She planned to finish her play today and hadn’t any desire to enter the forest.
“It’s Halloween in February,” the kids overheard the television in the other room. “…reports of the infamous Skunk-Ape have returned to St. Augustine.”
The kids looked at one another and jumped from their stools, racing to the living-room.
On the television, a woman with blonde curly hair, wearing a red blouse, reported from somewhere in the city. Cars drove and pedestrians walked by in the background. “Last night,” the lady continued, “…several accounts of the urban myth came into the local sheriff’s office here behind me.”
The camera cut away to a clip of a skinny man with a straw hat and two missing teeth. His lips were moving, but the audio wasn’t up on his clip.
“…Local reports,” the lady reporter’s voice was over the clip of the straw-hat man. “…came during the midnight hour of Thursday night—”
The man’s volume rose. “That’s what I seen, yeah,” he said confidently. “It looked like a big hairy man—but he was humongous—standing right there, right over there, on top a my neighbor’s house…”
“…Also known as the ‘Swamp Sasquatch’,” the lady reporter continued, “…the Skunk-Ape’s sightings go as far back as 1960, and have recently returned to evergreen St. Augustine, FL…”
A second clip appeared. This one of a large elderly woman in what appeared to be a nightgown.
“Oh, I’ve seen it many times in my life.” The woman closed her eyes like she was remembering. “…seven, eight-feet-tall, easily. It can jump as high as a five-story building. And it’s mean as a firecracker. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s mad at all them snakes and toxic waste ya’ll keep dumping out in the Everglades.”
“What toxic waste?” The lady reporter asked her.
“Mmm-hmm,” the woman responded.
The clip ended and cut back to the lady reporter, smiling. “The Skunk-Ape is famous in many parts of south-east America,” she said. “Most notably, being seen over the years in parts of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and yes, of course, Florida. Only time will tell if Florida’s new mystery resident is one of fact…or myth. I’m Lucy Ransom, reporting live from downtown St. Augustine.”
The shot cut away to the studio. A man in a suit with black hair was smiling. “Wow, that’s incredible stuff, Lucy,” the man said. “In other news—the weird just keeps getting weirder. Reports from members of the Flagler Equestrian Center for Beginners and Youngsters say they witnessed a unicorn riding alongside various ponies and stallions this morning. While no official photographs were taken, this eyewitness drawing from 7-year-old AnnaBelle Joy gives us an idea of what it may have looked like.”
A picture of a little girl holding a crayon drawing came onto the television. The drawing was of a black horse with a white mane and long silver horn on its head.
The television clicked off.
“Well, that’s a bunch of nonsense.” Mrs. Dolor took a sip of coffee and stood up from the couch. She turned from the screen and saw all six of her children’s eyes glued to the blank television. “You alright?”
“Uh, yes!” Marian replied.
Mrs. Dolor laughed. “Hey, I’m sick of unpacking boxes,” she said. “Let’s do something fun! How about I get the pool and slip n’ slide out?”
It’s remarkable how fast the Floridian wintry mornings can turn to sunny, sultry afternoons. It’s even more remarkable how refreshing cool water feels on such a hot afternoon. When you grow up, you rarely like water splashing you. Some people will say it ruins their hair or clothing. Others are concerned it will destroy the electronic devices they are carrying. But when you are a young, there’s not much more fun than soaking your brother or sister and being soaked in return.
If you want to know a fantastic trick you can pull on your mom or dad or brother or sister, take a piece of Scotch tape and tie it around the hose on the kitchen sick. That way, when they go to turn on the sink next time, it will spray all over them. They may get mad, but it’s good for them. Sometimes, grown-ups need to act like children again. Don’t tell them I told you about it, though.
Regardless, no matter how old you get, when the sun is baking your back, splashing cold water feels wonderful. It’s a lot of fun to sit in a pool and grab the garden hose and spray it straight up, so it rains down on top of you. It feels like a hot and cold shower, which you otherwise only experience at a water-park.
The pool and slip n’ slide took away all the thoughts of bad first days, bullies, monsters, and ghosts. Mrs. Dolor and the children played lifeguard, water-gun standoffs, and Marco Polo for hours. The world made sense again. Skunk-ape’s and unicorns were fictional. Nice kids, happy teachers, and easy questions existed in school. They just hadn’t been found yet. Ghosts weren’t real. Mom and Dad loved them. It all made sense. Though Esther secretly enjoyed believing in unicorns.
The bad thing about slip n’ slide afternoons is they end. And sometimes, they end with sudden unhappiness. That gloominess came today in the form of two cars pulling up to the house. Mr. Dolor got out of one vehicle and a stranger got out of the other.
“There’s my family!” Mr. Dolor cheered as he walked into the backyard. “I’ve got a special guest for dinner tonight. It’s my new boss, Mister—excuse me—Professor Ludwig Wolfgang. He just started today, and we really hit it off.”
Mrs. Dolor smiled like she does when she wishes Mr. Dolor asked before he made a decision. “Oh, wonderful,” she said.
Professor Ludwig Wolfgang stepped around the corner of the house behind Mr. Dolor. He wore a tight black suit, with a black shirt underneath. There was so much black clothing that he looked like he came from a funeral home. His hair was slicked straight back and shiny. When he smiled at the family and greeted them, two great big cuspids shown through on the corners of his mouth like a Great Dane.
While the kids cleaned themselves up, Mrs. Dolor made dinner for the family and guest. Mr. Dolor and Professor Wolfgang talked about business and boring things on the couch and reclining chair. The living-room smelled of cigars and liquor.
At suppertime, Mr. Dolor let Ludwig sit in his chair at the head of the table because he was the guest. Mrs. Dolor made spaghetti and meatballs with garlic toast. The kids’ favorite. Marian loved Mom’s special sauce. Esther loved the meatballs. Herbert loved to slurp the noodles from end to end through his lips.
“Oh my,” said Professor Ludwig Wolfgang. “I didn’t know we would be served garlic toast.”
“Is there something wrong, Professor?” Mrs. Dolor asked.
“I’m terribly allergic to the stuff,” he replied.
“Honey, why did you make garlic toast?” Mr. Dolor asked spitefully.
“I’m sorry, Professor, I had no idea,” Mrs. Dolor replied. “Let me take that from you.” Then she turned to Mr. Dolor and glared at him. “If I had a little time to prepare, I could have cooked something a little more appropriate.”
“Thank you, it’s quite alright,” the Professor replied, shaking his hands in the air. “I believe I have a bit on my hands, though. Where is the restroom, please?”
“Herbert, can you show our guest to the bathroom?” Mr. Dolor asked with a smile. Herbert furrowed his brow and put his fork down. He led Professor Wolfgang around the corner.
“I thought you already had a new boss,” Marian said.
“Yes,” Mr. Dolor replied excitedly. “But this newer one that we just hired today is really going to take us places as a company! I’m very excited about his vision. We are going to begin looking at new real estate ASAP.”
After dinner, The Professor entertained the Dolor parents with the piano in the study. Meanwhile, the children huddled in the downstairs bathroom. None of them thought well of Professor Ludwig Wolfgang and needed to tell each other why.
“After dinner, when he excused himself the third time,” Esther began, “I saw him go round the corner in the den. I peeked around because it just felt odd. He pulled something out of his pocket and was chewing on it. I am absolutely sure of it—it was a dead rat, and he was biting right into it.”
“Ugh, that’s disgusting,” said Herbert. “When I took him to the bathroom the first time, he called me delectable. Isn’t that what grandma always calls her chocolate cookies?”
“Shiny long teeth. Allergic to garlic. Wants to eat kids. And chewing a rat in his pocket. It’s settled, we know who—or what—he is,” Marian said. “And we need to tell Mom and Dad.”
I’m sure you’ve already guessed what the Dolor children surmised. Professor Wolfgang wasn’t an ordinary man. He was a vampire. Let loose from the Enchanted Forest, no less. And it was their responsibility to warn their mother and father.
The children found their parents in the living-room, as the Professor was finished with his piano playing. He had just excused himself for the fourth time to the restroom. Perfect! Now the kids could talk to their parents in private.
“Mom. Dad. We have something to tell you,” Marian began.
“What is it, honey?” Mrs. Dolor replied. She knew it was something serious from their formality.
Before the question was even out of her mother’s lips, Esther burst out, “Professor Wolfgang is a vampire!”
“Yeah!” Herbert joined in. “He wants to eat me!”
“What?” Mr. Dolor said.
“It’s true!” Marian jumped in.
“He’s got long teeth!”
“And eats dead rats!”
“And is afraid of garlic!”
“Kids,” Mr. Dolor said, and held up his palms.
“And it’s not just that,” Marian began. “The news said it, too. A smelly gorilla—or skunk ape—whatever the news said. We saw it. On top of the house last night. And a unicorn with black hair and white mane.”
“—And silver horn on its head!” Esther interrupted.
“That’s right,” continued Marian. “It’s all real.
“What are they talking about?” Mr. Dolor looked at their mother.
“It was something silly on the television this morning,” she replied.
“But it’s not silly,” Marian pleaded. “We broke open the gate outside.”
“Into the Enchanted Forest!” Herbert explained.
“And the ghost of Ponce de León told us that we let loose a bunch of monsters!”
“And we saw them run free,” Marian said. “Well, we saw the gorilla and unicorn.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Mr. Dolor tried not to shout. “That’s enough. We get it. It’s time for bed.”
“But you don’t understand!” Marian begged. “Professor Wolfgang is one of them! He’s a vampire from the Enchanted Forest. And you can’t trust him.”
“Enough, young lady!” Mr. Dolor’s face turned red when he realized that their guest had probably heard his outburst. He lowered his voice. “I know it isn’t easy living in a new town and going to a new school, but it will get easier—”
“That isn’t it, Dad,” Marian tried once more. “I mean, yes, it isn’t fun—but—”
“I don’t want to hear anymore of this,” he interrupted. “Get your pajamas on and get to bed. Now.”
Marian slunk her head between her shoulders and shook it. Esther opened her mouth until she saw her mom’s face. Even Mrs. Dolor looked upset. Herbert was astonished. He took the longest to accept the fact that his parents wouldn’t listen. He stamped his feet on the ground four times before stomping off to his bedroom. It isn’t fair that no one listens to a ten, eight, and six-year-old when they say something contrary to what they believe. But that’s just the way life is.
The kids stopped at the bottom of the stairway, as Mrs. Dolor turned the evening news on to distract herself from the children’s outburst and her embarrassment.
“…a six-foot-tall swamp monster,” a reporter on the television said. “The eyewitness report says it slashed at her leg with its claws.”
The kids looked at one another. Fear crept down their spines. Especially fear for their father and what his new boss would do to him. The children knew what they needed to do.