An Unexpected Ally


An Unexpected Ally

Chapter 5

“What was that?” Aaron gawked. 

He froze at the sound of the pendulum’s ring. After the chime evaporated, he stepped onto the wooden floorboard like a ninja crouching against the wall. He hovered for a moment in the middle of the hall, watching and waiting, listening and looking. Dust fluttered in the air, and the stench of mildew and urine filled his nostrils. To his left the hallway ran down to the kitchen, dining-room, and under the stairwell. He saw the dimly lit perimeter of Mr. and Mrs. Dolor’s bedroom door. A moment passed, and he thought of running to their door, bursting through, and pleading for help. But then he remembered their drunken, zombie faces from earlier that night, and the little goblin was somewhere hiding in the shadows. What would they say to them? What if they couldn’t get them to understand even now? 

In front of him was the study. Behind the two French-cut doors, the piano played itself. Its black and white keys danced up and down, and the foot-pedals compressed as if a minstrel ghost played on it. The dreary song drudged through the doorway and into the house. 

His hand motioned behind him to Marian. She crept from a shadow and mimicked his stealthy pose. Behind her, Esther tip-toed out and thought about her game of Spies and Assassins with Herbert. She felt like her life depended on her sneak-ability now. Aaron crept down the hall, but stopped and turned back when he realized the girls had halted in front of the study.

“What are you doing?” His whisper shouted.

The girls didn’t seem to notice. “If we stop the piano,” Esther whispered to Marian, “we can stop all of this.” 

“You don’t know that,” Aaron pleaded.

Esther reached for the curved golden door-handle. 

“Wait!” Marian held out her hand. “We said we wouldn’t go through doors.”

“But this is different,” Esther resisted. “The door is glass. We can see what’s on the other side.”

“This isn’t what we said we were going to do.” Aaron was at their side. 

“Aaron,” Marian reasoned, “she may be right. This could be done in a flash. Wouldn’t that be worth it?” She looked back to Esther. 

“I’m going,” Esther turned the handle and pushed. A strange thing happened that changed the trajectory of Esther’s entire night. It was quite peculiar when she cracked the door open and saw, through the glass pane, the floor of the study, but between the door and its jamb, a field of grass blowing in the wind.

The door swung open further and there was no denying it. Esther stepped through the doorway into a field lit by moonlight. Crickets sung, and the grass bowed in reverence to the wind. A dark forest loomed across the field nearby.

“Wow,” Esther whispered, dumbfounded.

“It happened again,” Marian said from the other side of the doorway. “Get back here, Esther!” 

But before Esther turned, the door-handle jerked away from Marian and Aaron. Five bony fingers wrapped around its edge and slammed it shut. Esther jumped back and stumbled in the grass. She looked up at a haggardly old woman holding the door shut before it moaned and vanished in a puff of smoke. 

“Oh, no!” Esther yelled. 

“Oh, yes!” The old woman cheered. She wore a long purple nightgown and carried a lantern in one hand. Her unkempt hair draped down her shoulders. Warts and boils covered her face and elongated nose. “I’ve been waiting for a delightful young child to come along and help me. And you, young lady, are just the one I need.” 

Esther stood to her feet and brushed the grass and specks of dirt from her nightgown. 

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Esther said, “I’m sure you need help and all, but I need to get through that door again.”

“And what door do you mean?” The old lady glanced around the empty field in the twilight. 

“Well, the one that just disappeared.” 

“Funny thing walking through doors that you had no intent to cross,” the old lady said, holding her lantern up to Esther’s face. “Why would a young lady like you walk out into this field like that, unless you meant to? Or did you mean to come here and catch me offs guard and robs me!” The woman’s hand pressed against her chest like she were a damsel in a play. 

“No! Of course not!” Esther held her palms up. “I’m not trying to hurt you!” 

Esther glanced all over the field for the door, but saw only grass and the shadows of trees. The moon hid its face behind a cloud and the forest grew dim. 

“Well,” the old lady said. “I don’t see any way back. Do you?”

Esther sighed. 

“So unless you want to sleep in the grass and get eaten by a bear, you best come with me to my house. And I have plenty of delicious treats for you if you swear to help me with my chores. Come on!” 

The old woman bent forward and shook on her legs. The lantern rattled in her shaky hand and she turned toward the forest. Her free hand held her nightgown up as she walked.

Esther shook her head and grimaced in frustration. 

“Won’t be long, child,” the old lady called. “My cottage is just on the other side of the tree-line. Wonderful that I met you on this side of the door just then. You may be out here all alone, if not for me.” 

Esther rolled her eyes, murmured, “if it wasn’t for you, I’d be back home,” and followed the old woman. The two walked along an overgrown glen through the forest. The night was silent except for the lady’s lantern banging against its hinges and singing with the crickets. Its amber glow lit the path with the help of flying green lightning-bugs. 

“Do you know how the doors work?” Esther asked. 

“What’s that?” The old lady jerked her head toward Esther. 

“A door in my house led me here,” Esther explained. “And then it disappeared.” 

“I’ve seen too many things I don’t understand, and I’m not about to start learning them now.” 

Esther sighed and followed the lantern’s light and the old lady’s silhouette against it. After half an hour of drudging through the dark forest, Esther’s tired eyes saw a stone cottage under the shadow of a maple tree. Six small lanterns lit its entryway with a golden, foggy light spreading through the chimney’s pluming smoke.

“Home sweet home,” the old lady cheered and clapped her hand against the rattling lantern. She stumbled through the picket fence and up the stone path. 

Esther smelled pumpkin pie and butterscotch in the air, and even amidst her frustration and forlorn circumstance, she felt delighted. “Mmm.” 

“Oh, I told you I had treats.” The lady pressed her body against the front door and shoved it open. 

Esther’s foot stepped over the threshold, and she paused. Her mother would be so disappointed in her entering a stranger’s house. But deep down, Esther knew she hadn’t any other choice in the matter. The old lady was right. Where else could she go in the middle of the night? She took a deep breath and brought her next foot over. 

The cottage was quaint. White marble stone and red cedar lined the walls and ceiling. A fire lit the main living room and its flicker danced against the old lady’s bent shadow. She dispensed her lantern and put it on the mantle next to a collection of wooden frames. They displayed the portraits of many children. 

“Are those your grandchildren?” Esther asked. 

The woman turned and smiled at Esther. “I’ve got pie,” she said. “Would you like some?” 

“I’m not very hungry, thank you,” Esther replied. “I was actually in the middle of sleeping only a little while ago. Before my brother was kidnapped. That’s why I need to hurry back. I need to find a door back to my home.”

“No way to do that in the middle of the night, sweetie.” The lady smiled. She walked to her kitchen and opened the oven. With an oven mitt, she pulled a pumpkin pie from inside. “So you might as well enjoy some treats and rest.”

Esther’s eyes wandered around the room. The light danced along the red cedar ceiling. She thought about visiting her grandmother’s log cabin in Inverness and killing caterpillars with Herbert. She giggled and then frowned.

“I hate the idea of going back to sleep and waiting ’til morning,” she thought aloud. The old lady kept rummaging. “Where are you, Herbert? Where are you, Esther?” 

Esther looked out the window and noticed the outline of a man standing against the picket fence, under the porch lantern’s glow. It surprised her and made her jump.

“Oh! Who’s that man?” Esther asked. 

The old lady didn’t look up from the pie she diced up. “Oh, don’t mind thatman,” she smiled. “He’s just visiting for a bit.” 

Esther looked again. He wore a dark suit and stood as still as a tree, staring into the forest, with his back turned. On any other night, his shadowy silhouette would have been downright creepy and frightened her. But tonight, amid the lonesome, cold forest and sad, haggard fence, his presence made her sad. She thought he looked lonely. 

“Oh!” The old lady hollered. 

“What is it!” Esther ran to the kitchen. 

“My wedding band!” The woman cried. “My wedding band fell off.”

Esther rushed to the frantic old lady, stumbling over herself at the kitchen counter. 

“Where—?”

“It must have fallen into the oven!” The old lady pulled down the oven door and coughed at the heat. She backed up behind Esther and begged, “Please, sweetie, help me! I’m too feeble to look down there and see.”

Esther bowed down in front of the oven and wondered if she should trust the strange old woman enough to have her back to her in this dark house. But before she could think twice about it, the old lady’s pale face changed color to a hideous dark blue and her teeth grew jagged and wicked. Her hand grabbed at Esther’s little forearm and she was very strong for an old lady.

“Let go of me!” Esther shouted. She looked into the old lady’s eyes. They grew dim and demonic, and she realized the lady wasn’t a sweet old woman waiting to give treats to young children. She was a witch waiting to cook them in her stew. 

“Why not have a look in that oven, little girl!” The woman shrieked and pushed Esther onto the ground in front of the oven. Her spindly hands wrapped around Esther’s shoulders and pulled her up. The edges of the hot iron singed Esther’s pigtails, and the witch cackled wildly. 

Just then, the front door to the cottage flung open and slammed into the wall next to it. Two heavy steps pounded into the cottage and the floorboards shook. The witch let go of Esther and shrieked in horror. Esther dropped back to the floor and scurried away from the over and under the dining-room table. 

“You’re not supposed to do this!” The witch screamed. 

Esther listened to the scuffle, trying to keep her head down, and praying she could disappear and be back with her parents and siblings. The old hag shrieked again, this time in pain. Esther glanced from under the table and saw the witch lifted into the air by two powerful arms. The arms flung her across the kitchen and her little, wrinkly, old arms flailed into the air, crashing into a row of hanging pots and pans. Her body landed on the kitchen counter and flopped to the ground. Then the bulky man gripped her squirming and floundering body in his arms and tossed her into the open oven and kicked it shut. Esther covered her ears at the shrill howl and agony of the witch burning alive. An image of the hag’s face pressed up against the wrought iron vent, bald and melting away, replayed in Esther’s nightmares for years to come. 

Esther cowered under the table, shaking and praying that the man hadn’t seen her. But then his heavy feet stepped toward her and stopped in front of the table. He wasn’t moving or saying a word, but of course he knew she was hiding under there.

Esther slunk back and came from under the table on the far side. She looked up to see the man in the moonlight. He was tall, stiff, and wore a black suit jacket that was too small to cover his arms and dirty clothing. He had deep-set eyes and a long scar down his forehead, nose, and cheek. Two metal nodes jut out from each side of his neck from where his creator, a maniacal doctor, brought him to life using lightning and the parts of dead men. 

Frankenstein,” Esther whispered.



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