Under the SpellChapter 7
“Why did you say I can’t help Herbert?” Esther asked the Monster, who was again sitting in Mr. Dolor’s recliner. She stood in front of the couch, arms akimbo and fists on hips.
“You won’t be able to find his door,” the Monster said, flatly.
Esther scrunched up her face and crossed her arms. She wandered in a circle, wrung her hands, and stared at the stairway.
The Monster leaned back in the recliner. “Not all doors lead to where you want,” he said. “You need to search for the right door if you want the right answer.”
“How am I supposed to save my brother?”
“You might not be able to.”
Just then, Esther heard someone’s footsteps coming down the stairwell. She looked up to see a short, hunched man with a hump on his back. He was stocky, wore dirty clothes, and carried a cane to help him balance. A bandage covered his left ear. On his right shoulder, the raven perched and glared at Esther and the Monster.
“You stupid oaf,” the short man hollered at the Monster. “First you get me injured, then you bring this maggot back to the house. What are you doing?”
“Something told me we made a mistake,” the Monster replied.
The short man took a box of matches from his jacket pocket and lit a stick on fire. The Monster jumped from the recliner and curled over in submission. Fritz threw the match at the Monster.
“I’m sorry, Fritz!” the Monster screamed and cowered away from the flicked match. He scurried to the other side of the living room and Fritz chased him around the room, throwing lit matches at him.
Esther fell onto the couch and covered her face. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening and felt bad for the Monster. She peered through the cracks in her fingers and watched Fritz chasing him.
“This is why I threw you in with that witch in the wood,” Fritz cackled as he threw another match. “To disappear for good, you dummy!”
“Where did he go?” Marian whispered. The wood slats stopped rumbling. No more voice. No more shuffling on the other side. Herbert was screaming, talking to them, and then, nothing.
She fell to her knees and cried, “Where is he, Aaron!”
Aaron punched the ceiling and tried to make it budge. “C’mon, Herbert,” he shouted. He rammed his body into the wood, but it would not bend. He yelled out his name and begged for him to answer.
“Not again,” Aaron whimpered. “Not again.”
“Did someone take him? He said he wasn’t alone. Oh, God! What if something happened to him?”
“Something already has happened to him,” Aaron replied. “C’mon, we can’t get through this way. We gotta try something else.”
“Where are we?” Marian continued crying. “I don’t know this house anymore.” She leaned against the railing and closed her eyes. Everything since dinner was topsy-turvy. “Mom would know what to do,” she panted.
Aaron slapped the floor. “Of course! Your parents. Let’s get them.”
“The song,” Marian replied.
“We have to try!” Aaron caught his breath and crouched in the middle of the hall. Dust and dirt floated in the surrounding air.
“How do we open her door?”
“We’ll knock,” he implored.
Marian put her head in her hands, feeling waves of desperation and panic crashing over her one after the other.
“Listen,” Aaron put his hand on her shoulder, “I’ve never had what you have. Instead, I got a lot of feeling hopeless. My dad. My mom. But hopeless situations make you realize something. You can get through them if you keep going. It’s just like the swamp in the enchanted forest. Keep swimming and something good will come along.”
Marian nodded her head. She leaned forward on her knees and hands, crouching next to Aaron. He nodded at her in the darkness and led the way toward the stairway.
A blast of sound echoed through the house. The gong was chiming again, and the stairs shook underneath them. They covered their ears as it rattled down the walls and wrenched the house back and forth. The hum fluttered in the air a moment longer until it decayed away and the piano’s melody punched through again in its mesmerizing lull.
Esther was listening to the gong, too, at the bottom of the house. Fritz shrieked at the sound and quit throwing matches. He turned and flew up the stairs in a fury. The raven puffed its wings into the air and disappeared around the corner of the dining-room.
The Monster stood from his cowering position and drew near to Esther on the couch. He stood still next to her and appeared ashamed. His hand went to his face to wipe a tear away, but there weren’t any on it. He remembered he couldn’t cry and put his hand down. He straightened his back and stood stiff as a tree. “I don’t like fire,” he whispered.
Esther nodded and smiled sheepishly. “We can’t stay in this house,” she whispered to herself. She was talking about her family, but realized the Monster probably thought she meant the two of them. She looked up at him. He was staring at her.
“Where else would you go?” The Monster asked.
“It’s too dangerous,” she said.
“Dangerous?” The Monster echoed. He looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes. He spoke as if reciting something he heard from long ago: “Have you never wanted to do anything dangerous? Where should we be if no one wanted to do anything ‘dangerous’? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds or discover what changes darkness into light? I want to find what is eternity. Those things are only in ‘dangerous’.”
“That’s really pretty,” Esther said.
“My creator said it,” the Monster looked at the burnt matches on the ground. “Right before he made his greatest abomination.”
“Me.” Lightning lit the room and Esther thought the Monster looked sad. Though his scars and ugliness covered any sort of clear sign.
Marian and Aaron crept down the steps. Each foot moved like a sloth’s hesitating paw and displaced the weight of the children. A floorboard creaked under Marian’s foot and the children froze in place. Aaron’s eyes raced along the bottom of the steps and he listened for any movement.
A deep, frightening voice came around the corner. “It’s beautiful,” it said. And Aaron wondered what that could mean.
“Someone is in the living-room,” he mouthed to Marian.
She nodded, and the two crept even slower down the steps. Aaron leaned on the railing and his feet touched the floor. He lowered himself and crawled into the dining-room. He waited for Marian to pass and lead the rest of the way.
She slithered toward the hall, taking a detour through the pantry. Around it, behind the bottom of the stairwell, just at the far end of the dark hallway, was Mr. and Mrs. Dolor’s bedroom.
“Okay,” Marian said to herself, and closed her eyes.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“That’s the noise!” Aaron whispered. The kids looked up, down, backward, forward, left, and right before the peculiar jittering hop of a large black raven on the far side of the hall caught their eye. Its little feet chattered across the floorboards like teeth. It stared at the children and rapped its beak into the floorboards.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“That’s the tapping from outside Herbert’s door,” Aaron exclaimed and Marian nodded in comprehension.
The bird spread its wings and fluttered out of the shadows and back toward the living-room and stairway. Marian and Aaron glanced back and forth at one another. They turned back to the parent’s bedroom. Candlelight flickered under its jamb.
“That’s my parent’s door,” Marian whispered.
The children tiptoed forward and Marian tapped on the door. It creaked open from the touch and Marian realized the door had already been opened by someone. She peered inside. The red and gold queen-sized bed stood in the middle of two cherry end-tables. Golden curtains framed the window’s view of the stormy night outside. In the corner, the closet door was cracked open. Mrs. Dolor sat next to it at a white vanity, staring into the mirror.
“Mom!” Marian ran inside and embraced her mother.
“Marian,” Mrs. Dolor said. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”
“Hello, Mrs. Dolor.” Aaron stepped forward and looked around the room like he expected to find someone telling him to leave.
“Mom,” Marian said, “Don’t you see what’s going on? The monsters. The piano playing by itself. The house getting all creepy. The Professor is a vampire.”
Mrs. Dolor exhaled and shook her head. “Not all that again, Marian.” she waved her hand at her. “Is this why you came into my room in the middle of the night and woke me up?”
“But Mom, you aren’t sleeping.” Marian looked at the vanity in front of her mother. “You’re sitting at your make-up desk.”
Mrs. Dolor looked at the desk, confused. “Oh,” she chucked, “how did I get here?”
“Mom, it’s the song!” Marian took her hand. “It’s doing something to you. You have to believe me! Something terrible is happening to the house. It’s haunted. There are monsters, vampires, and goblins. Mom, please, believe me!”
“Marian.” Mrs. Dolor smiled and touched Marian’s cheek. “It was a nightmare, baby. Go back to sleep.”
“I can’t go to sleep!” Marian shook her mother’s shoulders. “Because I can’t go to my room! Herbert’s been taken! Esther’s missing—”
“Where is your brother?” Mrs. Dolor looked concerned.
“Two men burst into his room tonight. They fought Aaron and stole Herbert. Mom, please!”
Mrs. Dolor looked past Marian at Aaron. He was nodding his head and successfully kept from crying.
“Marian,” she said and shook her head, “that’s just not true. I saw both of them tonight. They are fine. But they are making little sense like you.”
“What?” Marian let go of her mother. In her mother’s glazed eyes, a distant expression stole her hope. Her mother’s drunken stare was incapable of comprehension. It made her knees weak, and she drooped to the ground.
“Just like I told them—” Mrs. Dolor smiled. “Nothing is wrong. We just need to all go back to sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep, Mom!” Marian shouted, and tears streamed down her cheeks. “I want to find them and get out of here!” She glanced at Aaron next to her. He stood in front of the cracked closet. She thought she heard a noise like a sneeze from the closet. Aaron didn’t seem to notice.
“Marian,” Mrs. Dolor whispered, and Marian looked at her mother’s sorrowful eyes. “I want to believe you, baby. But I just—can’t.” Her hand went to her forehead, and she pouted. “Oh, this awful headache.”
“Mom, are you okay?” Marian touched her shoulder.
“Oh!” Mrs. Dolor looked at Marian, shocked. “Marian, where did you come from?” Her mother looked at her as if waking up from a dream. “Honey, what are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I don’t—” Marian was speechless.
Aaron closed his eyes. “It’s my fault,” he said. “We shouldn’t have come.” He helped Marian to her feet, and they both realized that the song was keeping Mrs. Dolor from being able to help. They walked defeated to the door.
“Marian,” Aaron said. “Seeing your mother like this—Well, I think I heard a voice last night outside Herbert’s bedroom talking about us. And…I hated the thought of it then, but I think it was your dad. Now that I see your mom not making any sense—is it possible your dad is helping them?”
Marian stole a last glance at her mother, still staring at the vanity mirror, and shook her head. Aaron took the handle in his grip and closed the door behind them.
Just before it shut, Marian saw the closet door next to her mother swing open. Herbert, Esther, and a flash of orange and red fur jumped out. Her brother and sister were wearing different clothing, and Esther’s hair was down around her shoulders instead of up in pigtails.
“Oh, wait!” Marian shouted.
The door shut.
“What?” Aaron exclaimed.
“I saw them!” Marian grabbed Aaron’s hand. “I saw them, Aaron! Herbert and Esther!” Aaron reached for the door-handle and the gong’s chime rung. The handle shook in Aaron’s palm.
Esther sunk into the big leather couch. The pillows enveloped her little body like a pincushion. Across from her, the Monster stood staring at the matches on the ground.
“I don’t think you’re an abomination,” she said. “But I think I understand what you mean about danger. Without any danger, I guess we couldn’t do anything really meaningful. Or fun. I do like roller-coasters.”
The Monster smirked and glanced at her. “I like flowers,” he whispered. “There aren’t any flowers where I come from.”
Esther watched the sad giant. She dug into her pigtail and pulled the Bur Marigold from it. She examined the yellow flower in her hand and pet its delicate petals. They were as pristine as the day it was plucked from the River Rinkling in the Enchanted Forest.
Esther crawled off the front of the couch and handed the flower to the Monster. The floorboards on the stairway creaked like someone was sneaking around the corner. She turned to see who was coming.
“It’s beautiful,” the Monster said, touching the petals and stamen. His hand quivered above it. “It’s the kind of flower that floats well.”
Esther looked back at the Monster after no one came around the corner. She suddenly realized how safe she felt with him. Even the sound of creaks and groans in the shadows didn’t startle her as much as she had expected they would.
“Like, an ugly old lake,” the Monster continued, “could be made beautiful if it just had something like this on it.”
“Well, that’s where I got it,” Esther smiled. “On a river. But it wasn’t ugly. It was lovely. The most wondrous river I’ve ever seen.” Esther smiled at the ground, remembering. “Maybe we can go there sometime.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Esther glanced back at the stairway when she heard tapping and a commotion like flapping wings coming from the hallway next to her parent’s bedroom. The raven zoomed by the living-room and up the stairs.
Esther looked back at the Monster, but he was frowning. He crushed the flower in his enormous hand. “No,” he said. “There’s no such thing as beautiful places anymore.”
Esther looked at the squashed flower in the Monster’s fist. Her chest shuddered at the sight of it. She wiped a tear from her face and took a deep breath. “Why did you do that?”