The Piano’s SongChapter 2
The sun peeked its bright face over the enchanted forest in the east. The west wind swept through the live oak in the Dolor’s backyard. Mr. Dolor had built a treehouse in the massive oak when the children journeyed through the forest. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the town had claimed it to fame decades before as the oldest tree in the city, naming it “Old Senator”. After Mr. Dolor created the treehouse, it angered many of the locals, and they threatened to tear it down.
However, for the time being, it represented a nice meeting area for the children to gather in the cool of the day. A woodpecker pounced in staccato circular fashion along a branch above, murmuring to himself and searching for insects under the bark. Marian looked at it while recounting to Aaron the history of strange behavior the Professor possessed—from his fear of garlic, to his long canines, and the fact Esther caught him chewing on a dead rat from his pocket.
“So he’s creepy and doesn’t like garlic,” Aaron said, unamused. He leaned his back against a branch to see the bird Marian was staring at. His feet propped up on a smaller branch running perpendicular from him and avoided the two-by-four Marian leaned against opposite him. Esther hunched in the corner with her elbow resting on her knee and her fist pressed into her cheek. Herbert sat between her and Aaron and cleaned his glasses for the tenth time that morning. Aaron ran his hand through his shaggy red hair and squinted. “It doesn’t exactly make him a vampire.”
“It’s a lot of things,” Herbert interjected. “You just—you just have to meet him.”
“I get it,” Aaron said. “I miss the forest, too. And I miss Balaam and Ponce. But that doesn’t mean there are monsters out here anymore.”
“But—” Herbert insisted.
“We closed the gate.” Aaron made eye-contact with each Dolor, one-at-a-time. “Ponce said we were done. I don’t like grown-ups anymore than anyone. But it feels like—”
“You don’t know what it feels like,” Marian interrupted. “The Professor showed up right after we opened the gate last month.”
“We might be wrong, Aaron,” Esther said, playing with the marigold in her pigtail. “But we might be right. And how much worse is that?”
“Okay,” Aaron sighed. “So what do we do?”
“We tell Mom and Dad?” Herbert asked.
The treehouse was silent. For the few weeks in St. Augustine, the children had grown accustomed to doubting their parents would jump to listen or believe them.
“I’m not afraid of some stupid grown-up,” Aaron said, and smacked the floor of the treehouse. “I’ll just come over and spend the night with my buddy, Herbert.” The boys smirked at one another and extended hands out, wiggling their fingertips together in brotherly fashion.
“And if he is a vampire?” Marian asked soberly.
“We stop at nothing until we get your parents to believe,” Aaron replied. “Or kick him in the butt until he leaves.”
“Anyone got any garlic?” Esther asked.
Mr. Dolor didn’t like Aaron very much. He considered him disrespectful and ornery because of his snide remarks and lack of eye-contact. Mrs. Dolor fancied him, though, mostly because he liked her, too. She reminded him of how his mother acted when he was younger. Regardless, both parents appreciated their children had a loyal friend. Therefore, the Dolors welcomed Aaron often, and tonight was no different.
That evening, another storm had picked up and was busy thrashing outside the Dolor’s home while the family and guests ate. The dinner table was too small for the seven individuals to gather. So the children ate around the coffee table in the living room as the grown-ups huddled in the dining room and discussed the meal, weather, President, and other nonsense that only adults enjoy talking about.
“What do you think about him?” Herbert asked Aaron.
“He is strange,” he replied. “I’ll give you that. But vampire?”
“Did you see his teeth?” Esther whispered.
Aaron opened his mouth and pulled his upper lip back to reveal his teeth like a clown. Herbert looked down at his food. Mrs. Dolor made the Professor’s favorite: steak. He pushed the plate away.
“Look, I won’t doubt any of you,” Aaron said. “I know what we’ve been through. But what does a vampire want with your dad?”
Marian ate in silence. She kept thinking about the first time her dad forgot about her at a business meeting. Mr. Dolor had invited her to a special daddy-date in Cocoa Village for ice-cream. She’d worn her favorite dress and her mother had made her hair extra special. But when she sat with her dad on the bench, each licking their ice-cream, he kept glancing at his watch.
After a few moments, he kissed her on the head and told her a friend needed to meet with him about work. He had promised it wouldn’t take long. But soon after, she was staring at a pigeon eating his melted ice-cream off the brick sidewalk. An hour later, he came back frustrated and eager to leave. That was the first time his work life had hurt her. She had that feeling in her stomach again tonight.
A plate slammed onto the table, and a fork clanged on the floor. The children jumped up and looked at the dining room. Mrs. Dolor stood next to the table, shocked. Mr. Dolor stared at her, holding his plate that he had just slammed firmly onto the table. The Professor sat at the head of the table, cutting another piece of meat and shoving it into the side of his mouth.
“What are you talking about?” Mr. Dolor fumed.
“I just don’t understand why Herbert needs to move out of his room for the Professor,” Mrs. Dolor cringed.
“If the Professor wants a room to himself, then we should accommodate him,” Mr. Dolor demanded.
“He has his friend over, honey,” Mrs. Dolor said. “Can we talk about this in private?”
“No!” Mr. Dolor shouted. “We are going to talk about it right here and right now.”
“It’s alright,” Professor Ludwig Wolfgang held his palms up. “I shouldn’t have asked. I’m fine with another night on the couch.”
Mr. Dolor took his glare away from Mrs. Dolor and smiled at the Professor. “I’m sorry, Professor,” he said.
“The last thing I want to do is drive a wedge between you two,” the Professor said. “Ugh!—I gorged myself. I’ll be excused to the washroom.” He stood and left the room.
The Dolor children stared at their parents sitting at the table in silence. A candle flickered between them like a fading dancer. Aaron put his hand on Herbert’s shoulder. A few awful, silent minutes passed before Mr. Dolor pushed his chair back and left the room.
Something slow and musical was washing over the house like a melting, frozen wave. Deep, low hums crawling along the floor; then a string of frail notes, hammered by prancing mallets, floating in the air. A song—like cloudy September rain—lulled under a sustain pedal’s compression. The sound skated, twirled, and leapt into the children’s ears. It sounded beautiful and terrifying; altogether enrapturing, beguiling, seductive, and abhorrently repulsive, wicked, and sinister. Esther described it later, “like a lion that stares at its prey before it strikes.”
“What is it?” Marian asked.
“Music, stupid,” Aaron replied flatly.
Marian punched him in the arm. “I mean, where is it coming from?”
“The study,” Esther answered. “It’s dad’s old piano.”
The haunting melody froze the children. But it wasn’t their father playing it. Down the hall past the washroom, opposite the garage, the Professor sat at the piano bench, lowered his head between his shoulders, and pounded at the keys in repetitive violence. Mr. Dolor stood in the hall between the Professor and his wife. His eyes glossed over and his mouth fell open as if intoxicated with wine. He leaned against the wall when his knees buckled.
At the dining-room table, Mrs. Dolor appeared indistinguishable. Her shoulders pulled back, and her neck straightened. Her mouth lay agape and her head nodded in slow motion. Tapping on the table, her fingers jittered in syncopated rhythm, following the movement of the Professor on the piano.
“What’s wrong with them?” Esther whispered.
“I don’t know,” Marian replied.
The group left the living-room and approached Mrs. Dolor.
“Mom?” Marian said, placing her hand on her mother’s shoulder.
Aaron waved his hand in front of her face. She didn’t blink or alter her tapping. Herbert continued past the kitchen and found his father in the hall. He tugged at his shirt. Mr. Dolor didn’t notice.
The Professor stepped around the entrance to the study. He stood in the middle of the hallway nearest Mr. Dolor and Herbert. Lightning cracked outside and illuminated the Professor. His silhouette loomed in stark contrast. The piano played in the study without him.
“Dolor,” the Professor addressed the children’s father. “If I am to sleep on the couch again, I presume you wouldn’t mind if I invited some friends to our house tonight.”
“Of course, Professor,” Mr. Dolor sounded like a zombie. “The more the merrier.”
“Splendid.” the Professor snapped his fingers, and the music stopped. Mr. and Mrs. Dolor blinked and shook their heads like waking from a dream. They squinted their eyes and cringed in pain, putting their hands against their foreheads.
The Professor stepped past the children and parents into the living room. He removed a bottle of liquor from his luggage and went to the kitchen. “That’s enough for now.” He smiled to himself and poured the spirit into a glass.
“What are you doing here?” Marian demanded. Her hand was on her mother’s.
Professor Ludwig Wolfgang pulled the glass from his lips and swallowed. He smiled at Marian and the others. “You’ll just have to wait to see,” he said.