What Comes before UnderstandingChapter 12
“I saw him!” Aaron wrung his hands and shuffled his feet in front of the billiard table, intermittently pointing his angry finger at the Monster. The amber flickering light hurt his bobbing head. “He’s the one knocked me out in Herbert’s room. Then he took him.”
Marian stepped back from the ominous Monster, held her arms akimbo, and studied him.
“What are you talking about, Aaron?” Esther demanded. “He’s my friend.”
Aaron picked up another billiard ball and tossed it between hands. “Get out of the way, Esther,” he warned. “He’s dangerous.”
“Stop!” Esther held her palms up. “Whatever you are talking about—you are wrong.” She turned to the Monster. “Right?”
The Monster backed into the corner again. The light didn’t catch him, but if it did, it would have shown his sunken face. “My sins are scars all over me,” the Monster muttered to Esther. “And I doubt there’s little hope for me. But maybe.”
Esther searched for understanding on the linoleum floor.
“See!” Aaron snapped. “Get out of the way, Esther. He’s just as dangerous as the trolls. He’s one of them.”
“Ess,” Marian said and took her sister’s hand. “We need to find Herbert.”
Esther clenched her jaw and jerked her hand away. “I don’t care what you say, Aaron!” She put her hands on her hips and stood in front of the Monster. “I would be some witch’s dinner right now if it weren’t for him. He may have done something wrong. But he’s trying to fix it.”
“How do you know that?” Marian pleaded. “Where have you been all night? Has he helped you look for Herbert at all?”
“Well, no,” Esther conceded. “He said it was no use. That we needed to find the right door before we could find Herbert.”
“You see?” Aaron argued. “He’s lying to you! Keeping you from helping us!”
“But he brought me here to you!” Esther shouted. “He saved you from the trolls.”
“Maybe just to get us on his side!”
“That doesn’t make sense and you know it.”
“Everyone, stop!” Marian put her hands out between Aaron and Esther. She looked at the Monster. “What do you have to say?”
Before the Monster responded, something strange happened. Like a slow wave crashing on the shore, a piece of heaven washed over each of them from head to toe. The house felt different, and the air tasted moist and sweet again. A crisp aroma hit their nostrils. The flickering light shone bright and strong. The lull and repetitive song from Professor Ludwig Wolfgang echoed into a distant drone and then disappeared completely. At first, the children thought it was awful and cowered from the change, but slowly realized how wonderful it was and lifted their heads to look at the well-lit ceiling. Their ears shifted backward, and they smiled. Aaron closed his eyes and sniffed. Esther’s fingers paraded in the air above her head like little dancers. Marian’s eyes glanced to every corner of the bright room in wonder.
“What happened?” Marian whispered.
“The song has ended,” the Monster informed.
“How?” Marian asked and couldn’t help but giggle.
“Not all things need an answer now,” the Monster replied. “Sometimes, if we had it now, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend or handle it. It takes our faith before our understanding.”
Aaron shook himself from the trance and frowned. “This doesn’t change the fact that he kidnapped Herbert.” He pointed his finger at the Monster, again. “We can’t trust a word this guy says.”
The Monster ignored Aaron. “By now, Fritz has caught up to us,” he informed dryly. “And with the song finished, the Professor will send everything after you.”
“Where do we go?” Esther clutched the Monster’s hand.
“It’s that time to pick the right door for me, Esther.” The Monster’s stiff bony finger brushed her cheek. “I’ll take care of Fritz. Before he can get to you.”
The Monster’s heavy feet trudged to the door behind him. His stiff, powerful fist banged on the door three times. He sighed, and the room felt smaller as he did. He opened the door. Beyond his shoulders, the children saw a rocky hillside. A storm covered the dark swirling sky and lightning cracked through it like spider-webs, just like outside the Dolor’s home. At the top of the rocky hill was a decrepit windmill set ablaze by a wild fire. Its wooden blades spun in the windy storm and threw ash and sparks over the hill, cliff, and down into the sea. The mill towered above a mob of blood-thirsty peasants armed with pitchforks, shovels, garden hoes, and billy clubs. In front of them was their battalion leader, Fritz, holding a torch in one hand and leaning on his cane with the other. The sight was so awful and terrifying, Esther turned away.
Aaron noticed the bandage over Fritz’s damaged ear and imagined he knew what that ear tasted like. The Monster let go of Esther’s hand and stepped over the threshold onto the rocky hillside.
Esther, noticing he left her side, raced after him. “Wait!” She cried. “What are you doing?”
“This is the only way I know how to make sure you are safe.” The Monster put his hands on her shoulders. “I can’t do it with you. But I can stop him from stopping you. The song is done. And I’ve made sure this door will lead you to where you need to go next.”
“What about the fire?” Esther pleaded.
The Monster stared at the horizon and sighed. He let go of Esther’s shoulders and turned to Fritz.
“Wait,” Aaron cried out. “I know what you did.” He looked at the Monster’s feet. “But I know what you did for Esther, too.”
The Monster looked at Esther. “Thank you for trying to bring beauty into my haunted house, Esther.” He opened his hand before her. Inside was the golden bur marigold, still in perfect condition. “I’ll keep looking for a lake to throw it on one day,” he said.
The Monster put it into his coat pocket and straightened his stiff back. He looked at Fritz and smiled. “You know,” he addressed the children. “My creator said he knew what it felt like to be God when he made me from nothing. But anyone can create something. I think it takes more than that to feel like God. I think it takes dying for the one you love the most. Now I know what it feels like to be God.”
Suddenly, the Monster hunched over like a linebacker and bounded onto the hillside. The children saw Fritz and his army charging the Monster head on, their tools lower in rage, the spinning windmill on fire, and lightning flashing across a torrential storm in the distance. It was magnificent and horrific. The stormy winds blasted the door shut behind him, and the children were alone in the billiard room again. Esther ran to the door and beat her fists against it, screaming in agony, until smears of blood splattered on the door frame where her little hands scraped against it. Tears traced down her cheeks, her body stuttered to the ground, and she fell to whimpering a breathy stammer; the same uncontrollable feeling you get when everything inside hurts so badly, but you can’t control it enough to speak anything more than blurbs and gasps.
Marian knelt at her side and wrapped her arms around her face. “I’m sorry, Ess,” she lamented.
“It’s not fair.” Esther barely got the words out. “He was—my friend.”
Marian shook her head in compassion. “I know, Ess,” she whispered. “But we aren’t out of this yet.” She looked at Aaron, kneeling beside the girls. “We need to take one step at a time until we are.”
Aaron pursed his lips and sighed. He shook his head without words for Esther. He rose to his feet and stepped over the girls to turn the door handle.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Marian cautioned.
“He said it would take us to where we needed to go,” Aaron reasoned.
The door creaked open and, to their amazement, it led into the center of the downstairs hallway. The hall lights illuminated every crack of the passage, passed the kitchen entry and to Mr. and Mrs. Dolor’s bedroom door at the end. It was undeniable now; the piano’s song had stopped.
“The lights are on in the house,” Marian rejoiced.
The light behind Mrs. Dolor’s bedroom door was still on and peeking through the crack in the jam.
“Just like we left her,” Aaron murmured in dismay.
At that moment, the door at the end of the hall creaked open, and the door brushed the hardwood floors. The three children looked down the hallway in amazement to see Mrs. Dolor standing in her nightgown, but seemingly fully awake. “Marian, Esther, Aaron!” She shouted and rushed to meet them.
Esther and Marian raced into her arms and buried their faces in her bosom. They squealed with joy, burst into tears, and exclaimed their love. They hadn’t fully comprehended how much they had missed their mother’s arms until they were wrapping around them once again.
“How did you—” Marian faltered over her words. She looked into her mother’s hand and saw a piece of crumbled yellow parchment.
“I don’t understand any of it,” Mrs. Dolor said. “And I don’t even believe any of it. But I believe you. I have faith in you.”
Mrs. Dolor looked up from kissing her daughter’s faces and met eyes with Aaron. “Come here, sweetie,” she smiled.
Aaron burst into tears and pushed between the girls. He buried himself in Mrs. Dolor’s arms and wept.