A Stranger Comes to VisitChapter 1
Growing up is complicated. Doing it alone is near impossible. We need each other to listen, to cry, to laugh, to hope, and to rescue. And when we cannot be with others like us, things get very, very difficult. This is the story of how three children saved the world, but didn’t know it yet. Their names are Marian, Esther, and Herbert Dolor, but everyone at school refers to them as “those peculiar Dolor children”. That is because the Dolors live in a very old house on the edge of a very old Enchanted Forest. And ever since Herbert removed an artifact that locked its gate, mysterious individuals seem to find the Dolors. Even though the children, with their friend Aaron, had discovered the Fountain of Youth and succeeded at closing and locking the gate, they also learned that the gate was never meant to keep monsters in the forest, but rather to keep them out. Sinister individuals like Mr. Dauer seek to take control of the forest and fountain. And the Ghost of Sir Ponce de León warned about unfortunate things to come now that the gate had opened. Knowing when or from where those things will come is something the children have yet to find out.
A few weeks had passed since the children closed the gate of the Enchanted Forest, and everything felt dandy and pleasant, even though a storm had brewed itself up outside and made the air stuffy and humid like a lukewarm sauna. The three Dolor children were at the dining table, playfully reminiscing about their time in the forest, awaiting their tardy father and watching their tireless mother prepare dinner.
Finally, the front door scraped open against the wooden floorboards and the children turned to cheer and embrace Mr. Dolor. But they couldn’t get to him because Mr. Dolor’s hands were full of obtuse, stacked boxes, dangling bags, and loose papers. And all of it was dripping water all over the entryway of the home.
“What’s all that, dear?” Mrs. Dolor asked, twisting her head back from her work at hand—a boiling pot of spaghetti and bubbling pan of sauce.
Mr. Dolor dropped the things on the floor with a loud bang, and kicked the door shut behind him. He was irritated and distracted, but only for a moment, doing his best to acknowledge his diligent wife and happy children. But the miserable rain and an overall anxiety was upon him. “I told you already, honey,” he huffed and puffed, throwing his jacket off his shoulders as if it were the day of duties still clutching hold of him. He rethought that statement, took and breath, and started over with a grin. “I’m thrilled about the direction our business is heading!” He paused and waited for Mrs. Dolor to turn her head again and nod and smile her approval at him. He continued on, “New real estate. New banking partners. New opportunities—oh good, you made a spot for him at the table.” He stepped forward into the amber dining light and pulled a chair beside Marian. “Kids, my boss will be staying with us for a little bit until we get it all figured out.”
The children looked at one another in disbelief and then back at the front door, which had just been flung open. A figure dressed in a long black trench coat and gray felt fedora—that dripped rainwater from its brim onto the wooden floors—was standing at the threshold. Lightning cracked behind him, and his shadow cast against the hallway walls.
“Children, you remember Professor Ludwig Wolfgang,” Mr. Dolor said, standing to his feet.
The kids said nothing as the Professor dropped two duffel bags on the floor next to the pile Mr. Dolor had already created. “Ah,” the Professor said, “home sweet home.”
“Professor,” Mr. Dolor approached him like a humble servant. “Please, let me take your coat.”
“Yes, that would be splendid,” the Professor replied.
Marian turned to her mother. “Living with us?” She said, exasperated.
“Don’t be rude,” Mrs. Dolor whispered. “It’s only temporary.”
“Yes, that’s right, dearies,” Mr. Dolor hung the coat on the rack while shutting the door behind the Professor. “We have the pleasure of welcoming my boss into our home for the next few days while he settles a court issue with his wife and the business. Nothing to be alarmed about—it’s all just some silly misunderstanding on the side of his divorcée. But we have the benefit of blessing the Professor with our hospitality in this season.”
“I’d rather my personal matters remain personal, Dolor,” the Professor said, sitting down at the head of the table in Mr. Dolor’s spot, and Mr. Dolor blushed. “Oh, it’s spaghetti again,” the Professor muttered, looking at the plate Mrs. Dolor had just placed in front of him.
“Yes,” Mrs. Dolor said. “It’s the kids’ favorite.” She smiled at him, but noticed his discontent.
“I am sorry for misspeaking, Professor,” Mr. Dolor apologized. “It won’t happen again.” He sat at the extra spot Mrs. Dolor had prepared between the Professor and Herbert.
“Yes, yes, it’s quite alright,” the Professor brushed it off. “And I do suppose I don’t want to intrude or cause—oh, let’s say, a burden to your household in these next few days. I’m perfectly fine sleeping in a guest bedroom.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Dolor said, holding her fork frozen in air with a noodle dangling off the end. “We’ve only just recently moved to St. Augustine, Professor. And we haven’t quite finished setting up any guest bedrooms, yet.” Marian watched her father’s face spin through an array of expressions of horror, regret, shame, and frustration across the table. “But I set a place on the couch in the living room,” Mrs. Dolor admitted.
The Professor closed his eyes and smiled. “That’s fine, Mrs. Dolor,” he encouraged, but the kids didn’t think he was happy at all.
The children glanced back and forth from one another’s eyes. The room felt empty and wide. Everything was silent, except a long slow slurp of noodle running through Herbert’s lips.
“Do you know why people call it the living room?” Professor Ludwig Wolfgang blurted out.
“Oh, please tell us,” Mr. Dolor smiled and nodded, while the children looked anxious.
“A long time ago, when people were more often sick, and hospitals were harder to come by—they called it the death room. And you would take your sick loved-ones to die in the front room. The local doctor could monitor them easily at the front of the house when he visited. I suppose once people stopped getting sick, and hospitals became conventional, people didn’t like the notion of one of their common rooms deemed a “death room”, any longer. Interesting.”
The table fell silent again, and Herbert slurped another long noodle off his fork.
“Very interesting,” Mr. Dolor smiled.
“May I be excused?” Marian asked her mother.
“And me?” Esther added.
“And me!” Herbert shouted after jumping from his seat.
The three of them scurried into the hallway washroom together. Marian shut the door behind and locked it. Her palms pressed against the wooden door like she needed to hold it shut for a moment’s breath, as if making sure they were really alone. Then her head spun around in excitement. “What in the world is going on?” She galled.
“He’s a vampire!” Herbert shouted and covered his mouth when the words spilled out.
“I thought he was supposed to go away when we shut the gate,” Marian reflected aloud.
“Yes!” Esther said. “But when we shut the gate, it was to keep the Fountain safe and monsters away. I don’t think the Professor was ever in the forest to begin with.”
“Just like Dauer.” Marian nodded.
“Then why did he show up—become Dad’s boss—right after I broke off the artifact?” Herbert asked.
“I don’t know, Herbert,” Marian replied. “But he’s here and there’s not much we can do about that now.”
“I wish Mom and Dad would see how creepy he is,” Esther said.
“I don’t expect creepiness has anything to do with it, Ess,” Marian replied. “He’s Dad’s boss and Dad thinks he’s good.”
“It’s like that time Mom and Dad drank that glass of wine,” Herbert whispered.
“I think it’s a little worse than that, Herb,” Esther replied, and rolled her eyes at him.
“Did Ponce de León say anything about this?” Marian asked.
Esther shook her head. “Only what I told you,” she replied. “He made me think things were going to get really bad, though.”
The walls of the bathroom felt small and lonely.
“So what do we do?” Herbert asked.
“We stick together tonight,” Marian said. “Herbert, you sleep on our floor. That way, we can look out for each other.”
Herbert nodded and hugged Marian.
“Is there any way we can prove it to Mom and Dad?” Esther asked.
“I wish we had Balaam or Starlight with us,” Marian thought aloud. “But I think little will convince them of what we know.” She brushed her shirt like she was brushing her fear off of it. “C’mon,” she said. “Let’s get ready for bed.”
The children changed their clothing, brushed their teeth, sipped glasses of water, and prayed with their mother before getting into bed. Marian fell asleep with ease, but Esther and Herbert sat up, restless. The idea of a vampire in the house spun their imagination until both knew sleep was hopeless. They resorted to play because not much else could distract their mind away from worry.
By the time they finished three rounds of 21 Questions and Herbert picked a different dinosaur every game, they played make-believe. There aren’t many pretend games that won’t wake older sisters, so Esther and Herbert chose Spies and Assassins, which is basically silent hide-and-seek.
Esther closed her eyes and counted in her head to twenty, before sneaking around the bedroom in the dark and finding Herbert hiding behind Marian’s dresses in the closet. Herbert closed his eyes and counted silently before crawling under the bunk bed and grabbing Esther’s foot. Esther closed her eyes again and started counting. She heard the door creak and knew the game extended further than the bedroom now.
Herbert crouched low to the floor, and his feet scurried underneath him, tiptoeing the edge of the hall rug. His pointer finger and thumb extended to look like he carried two pistols. He crawled to the right, ducked under the end table in the middle of the second-story hall, and waited. He watched Esther’s door slowly open, and a figure scurried out into the shadows. The shadowy assassin went to the left, the other way down the hall, before entering the bathroom.
Herbert stole from under the table and retreated down the stairwell. The third step creaked under his weight and he froze in excited fear. He looked behind him and didn’t see any movement or sound. He continued downward toward the front door of the house and took a right before dropping to all fours.
It was the sound of the Assassin Esther’s foot creaking on the third step, just like Spy Herbert’s. Herbert scampered away into the living room and crawled under the coffee table. Esther’s shuffling noises had disappeared. He popped his head up between the coffee table and the couch, peering out into the darkness, hoping to spot the assassin’s movement.
Herbert jumped and slammed his forehead into the edge of the coffee table. Before he had even felt the pain, he shot his eyes around to see the Professor’s head laying on a pillow on the couch.
“Ah! What do you want?” Herbert shouted.
“I’m just resting, Herbert.” The Professor whispered. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” Herbert backed himself underneath the coffee table and squirmed out the other end.
Esther bounded into the living room. “Ha!” She cheered. “Caught you!” Her grin faded when she saw the Professor on the couch and remembered where their guest had been sleeping.
“Say, Herbert,” the Professor said. “Where is a delectable young man like you supposed to be sleeping during the night?”
Herbert was speechless.
“He sleeps upstairs,” Esther stood beside Herbert. “With us.”
The Professor smiled and then frowned. “This is going to be quite a taxing adventure for all of us, isn’t it?” He said to himself.
“What do you mean?” Esther asked.
The Professor turned over on his side and pulled his fedora from the back of the couch. He placed it over his face. “Goodnight, Dolors,” he whispered.
Esther and Herbert ran away without a word. They stomped up the stairs, stormed down the hallway, slammed the door shut, woke up Marian, and jumped under their covers.