The Endless NightChapter 6
Marian watched her sister walk into the windswept grass of a dark field. “It happened again,” she whispered, anxious and perplexed. “Get back here, Esther!”
Marian reached for the door, but it jerked away from her hand. Five bony fingers wrapped around its edge and slammed the door shut. Marian grabbed the handle and Aaron rammed his body against the door. Someone was holding it shut on the other side.
“Esther!” They shouted. They pounded on the door and tugged the golden handle. Finally, the grip on the other side loosened. The door gave way.
It led to a dank hallway similar to the one leading into the parlor. Above their heads, a fluorescent light flickered on and off, jittering as if it had an upset stomach. Spiderwebs and their hosts lined the long perimeter of the dark walls. Centipedes, roaches and scorpions sprawled across the floor and collectively scurried for the open door when they detected the new light. Aaron slammed the door shut.
“I hate bugs,” he gasped.
“Where is she?” Marian dropped to her knees with her head in her hands and cried.
Aaron looked up and down the hall for any sign of enemies. Appeased, he dropped next to Marian and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Who are you?” Esther asked. The dark, menacing figure refused to move or say a word. “I’m Esther.” The table stood between her and the Monster. She took a step toward the front door, but the Monster stepped with her. His torso twisted to turn his arms, and he moaned as he moved. She stepped back the other way, and his body twisted and took a step toward her.
Esther licked her lips and furrowed her brow. “Are you going to hurt me?”
The Monster stared from his deep, dark eyes. His expressionless face confused her. Nothing stirred but the crackle of the fire in the nearby living-room. Esther looked up and down the dozens of scars on the Monster’s arms and hands; deep grooves that left holes and revealed dry bones underneath the skin.
“Do those hurt?” Esther asked.
The Monster turned his body on his heels and stomped into the other room. Curious, Esther followed. The Monster avoided the fire with a wide berth and approached the front door. He turned to meet her eyes. Then, he lifted his mighty hand and pounded his palm into the center of the door three times. He reached down for the round handle and turned it. On the other side of the threshold, Esther saw the Dolor’s living room.
She was drawn toward it like an insect to a bug zapper, her eyes wide and mouth open. She stood just before the entrance, next to the towering Monster, and looked up at him.
“Who are you?” She asked.
His gaze dropped from the entry to her pure, delicate face. She stood no higher than his waist. “A monster made by a scientist with too much power,” the Monster replied. She had been hoping he could speak, but was surprised nonetheless when the sound came from his deformed throat. The voice sounded like rusty bolts tumbling over sand and gravel. “—and not enough sense.”
“How did you get the door to open to my house?” Esther stared through the passage at her living-room. She imagined the door stood in front of the fireplace below the television. The coffee table and couch rested in front of her in the darkness. Behind them, the kitchen light lit the empty dining-room.
“The Pendulum has slowed,” the Monster said. “—and Time with it. We stand between a moment and a minute.” He looked up at the Dolor living-room and raised his hand into the air, pointing. “And when time slows, many doors will lead to and fro.”
Esther furrowed her brow. She looked back at the clock on top of the witch’s mantle, next to all the pictures of children’s faces. “Are you saying that Time stopped?”
“If Time stopped, none would exist,” the Monster growled. “No. It is merely frozen. In this place and that. And the night will not end until the Pendulum resumes.”
“I need to find my brother,” Esther gazed into the Monster’s black eyes.
“I know,” he replied.
Esther took the Monster’s hand, and the two stepped over the threshold into the living-room.
Herbert’s throat was weak, his voice pale and strung out, the esophagus split open and bleeding from the screams. His mouth dried up; he gagged, and his body trembled. He squeezed his eyes, but they were too empty to produce any more tears. Overhead, the Pendulum swung up the opposite direction in stuttering, stop-motion tempo. Outside, the lightning flashed without a sound. Herbert watched the disc float and wondered what passing out was like. His head nodded back and forth against his shoulders. The blood rushed to his feet and his eyes rolled in their sockets. He imagined he was on top of a wide building, crammed between massive structures of gray concrete. They towered over him, and he felt his insides churn. He leaned forward and threw up on his lap.
“Please,” he whimpered.
Something stirred in the shadows. The sound quickened his heart. He searched the darkness, reaching his squinted eyes out as far as they could go, wishing his glasses hadn’t fallen from his face. The moonlight cast a beam through the eastern window and Herbert saw a long, wispy tail slide through the air.
He clenched his jaw and shouted at the darkness, trying to sound menacing, but his voice came out frail and barely as intimidating as a house cat. Nails scratched against the wood floor in the shadows. Thud! A sound like an axe nailing into the wooden beam. Chattering teeth. A low growl. Slopping liquid splashing on the floor.
Herbert shook in his binds like a madman and felt the rope loosen. A surge of adrenaline raced up his spine. The hope was almost unbearable, and the dread made him slur and mumble nonsense.
Lightning blinked, and for just a brief moment, he saw the thing in the darkness. At first, he mistook it for a dog, but it hunched on its hind legs like a chimpanzee. On its back were long quills, standing on end and swaying against one another like an anemone. Its left leg had four sharp nails scratching at the wood. On its right leg, a sole talon, twice as long as the others, dug into the wood. Drool, like oil, dripped from its pig face and razor teeth.
It took a step toward him, and the flash of light disappeared. Herbert screamed as loud as possible.
“Did you hear that?” Aaron lifted his head up from Marian’s side. He looked down the hall at nothing.
Marian wiped away a tear. “What?”
A faint scream echoed down through the house.
“Herbert,” Aaron shouted.
The children jumped to their feet and raced to the stairway.
Esther and the Monster stepped into the living-room, and Esther heard the piano’s music once again. The Monster closed the door behind them and it evaporated to dust, just as it had in front of the witch in the grassy field. The Dolor’s fireplace remained where it once was and for a second Esther imagined Santa Claus getting into houses the same way.
She gazed around the room. It was dark and still. The dishes from her dinner with her siblings and Aaron were still on the coffee table in front of her. Mom never cleaned them up after the first song played. She looked at the dining-room table, lit under the amber glow of the kitchen. She shook her head and sighed.
“I miss my family,” she whimpered. “Who knows where they could be by now?”
The Monster plodded to Mr. Dolor’s reclining chair. He dropped his legs from under him, without bending at the knees, and lowered down to it. He moaned as he leaned into the back of the chair.
“Time hasn’t moved since you left them, Esther,” the Monster growled. “I suspect your sister and friend are waiting for you outside the door you disappeared through.”
Esther wiped her eyes. “What?”
“I told you.” The Monster looked at her. “Time is frozen in your home.”
“Well, c’mon then!” Esther shouted. “We need to go to them! Why are you sitting down?”
“I’m just resting. Waiting for new life.” The Monster closed his eyes.
“Help me!” Herbert’s faint scream echoed through the house.
“Herbert!” Esther stuttered toward the dining-room.
The Monster leaped from his chair and snatched her waist with his mighty hand. “You can’t help him, Esther!”
“Why?” Esther fought against his arms, and he let her go. She looked up at the Monster like a juror, angry and despondent.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
She spun round and found a raven perched on top of the wooden cupboard between her and the front door. It stared at her as if learning and remembering; its long black feathers shimmered in blueish hue against the incandescent lights. It rapped its beak against the wood three more times—tap, tap, tap—and flapped its broad wings into the air, before taking off and swooping upstairs. Esther watched it disappear, and a chill raced down her spine.
“That’s the raven,” the Monster said. “The Professor’s spy.”
Around and around the steps, Aaron and Marian raced. Their hands slid along the top of the railings and squeezed the caps on each turn. Second floor, third floor, fourth floor… How many stories were there? Where did they come from? They continued chasing steps up and around, wondering how many more would come, listening for the cry of Herbert.
Like a torpedo, a black raven bolted up the stairway between them and knocked them to the ground. It banked on a dime and flew down the hallway just above.
“What was that?” Aaron yelled.
“Keep going!” Marian hollered. “Just hang on, Herbert! We’re coming!”
Herbert heard his sister’s voice through the floorboards. Oh my God, thank You! He couldn’t see the creature in the attic, but knew it was somewhere. He screamed Marian’s name and pulled his hands against the binds, looking and waiting for the creature to pounce. Sweat dripped down his forehead; the salt stung his blurry eyes.
Lightning flashed. His neck jerked around like a bobble-head; his eyes traveling along the empty floorboards and up the walls and ceiling. In the rafters, next to the swinging Pendulum, the creature’s tail swayed. Two red eyes glowed at him like a cat. He screamed and wrenched his body against the ropes. The chair wobbled and lurched forward. Herbert yelped as his body hit the ground and the chair lay on top of him.
“Hang on, Herbert!” Marian yelled. “We hear you!”
Her hand squeaked along the railing and squeezed another cap. Her body spun and came onto the last set of stairs. She raced up the fifth step and her head banged into the ceiling. Aaron rushed beside her and put his hands up against the wooden slats. He groped around the boards and cracks for an opening.
“Herbert?” He hollered into the boards.
On the other side, Herbert felt the vibrations of Aaron’s shuffling hands and heard his voice.
“I’m here!” He yelled back.
“Oh, thank God, we found you!” Marian shouted through the ceiling. “Where are you? How do we get to you?”
“Through the door!” Herbert pulled at his binds. The ropes felt looser now that the chair lay on his back.
“What door, Herbert?” Marian shouted and Aaron searched. “There’s nothing here!”
Herbert pulled a hand free. He ripped at the rope like a lunatic. “It’s right in front of you!” He yelled. “Please—hurry!—there’s something in here!”
Herbert looked over his shoulder as the last bond fell off. The lightning flashed. The creature dropped from the rafters. Thud! Its nails dug into the floorboards and it opened its mouth to growl. Drool and greasy oil dripped down its pig jowls.
Herbert screamed and clawed at the chair. He got it free from his back and lurched himself forward on the floor to the attic door. His hands fumbled at the latch. The creature took a step forward and raised its single claw into the air. Herbert’s shaking hands jammed the hook open. He sprung to his knees and yanked up the door. The creature swiped. He fell through the opening. A claw scraped open his back. The door slapped shut.