The Labyrinth and the Sundial
Mrs. Dolor and the children crept through the dining-room, kitchen and hall, before making their way past the bathroom, down the hall, to the door to the garage. They didn’t see any monsters or enemies, but heard the hushed pitter-patter of movement upstairs and in hidden places. Outside, the storm endured, crashing its lights and banging its winds against the windows and siding.
Opposite the garage was the study; the children peaked through its glass door. The piano stood alone and its keys no longer moved. In fact, they were smashed to bits and lay broken all over the floor.
“What happened?” Marian said.
“Don’t open the door to find out,” Aaron quipped, and Esther frowned.
“Wait—that’s right!” Marian jerked back to her mother. “Mom, we can’t open doors. They lead to other places—”
Before Marian could finish warning her mother, Mrs. Dolor creaked the garage door open. Her silhouette froze and filled the entry; a beam of light reached around her shoulders, waist and legs. And beyond her was a long narrow hallway, lined with old wooden shiplap at the top, bottom and sides. As Mrs. Dolor stepped inside, she had the uncanny feeling of walking into a human-sized mouse trap maze. Marian followed her inside while the others waited to see what would happen next.
Mrs. Dolor approached the end of the hall where the wooden path opened up into a small room with an enormous granite bowl at the center. It set on three ceramic columns, and off the top edge of the furthest side, a wide triangle made of granite jutted out over the center.
Above the bowl, a single bright orb hung in the air without any support or rope. It was a floating light, just out of Mrs. Dolor’s reach. The light cast a shadow from the triangle onto the center of the bowl, and the shadow pointed at a strange character etched in the bowl’s side.
“It’s a sundial,” Mrs. Dolor whispered, amazed and bewildered by the strange artifact.
“I thought sundials were flat,” Marian whispered like her mother, too frightened to speak any louder.
“Remember the old Greek myths I read to you? Older dials, like the ones in those stories, used bowls instead of flat stones.”
“What is this place?” Marian asked. She looked left and right at the long halls leading from the small room with the sundial. Twelve hallways in total, that led to dim passages turning into separate corridors.
“I think it’s a labyrinth,” Mrs. Dolor replied, and Marian looked at her, confused by the word. “A maze,” she said.
Back at the door, the other children felt confident enough that no strange creature would chase their mother and sister back through the passage. They ventured into the tight wooden hallway. Herbert noticed Starlight’s light pulsating bright and faint as she rode on his shoulder.
“What’s the matter, Starlight?” He asked her. She looked at him, and her little green eyes were sad. She frowned and hugged his shirt collar before putting her head between her knees. Herbert frowned too, not because he knew what was bothering Starlight, but because he was worried about his father.
“What is it?” Esther asked as she approached the granite sundial in the center of the small room.
“Mom says it’s a sundial,” Marian replied.
“That tells the time?” Aaron asked.
“Yes,” Mrs. Dolor answered. “—or at least, that’s what sundials do. But that’s not the sun hovering over it, and I don’t know what these markings mean.” She leaned over the bowl and looked down its hollow interior. Strange markings and hieroglyphics shimmered on the edges. The shadow of the triangle’s point lay between the etching of a broken piano and a bowl on three legs.
“That picture of the bowl looks kind of like the sundial, doesn’t it?” Mrs. Dolor asked out loud to no one in particular.
The children leaned over to see the markings. Looking down in front of them was the marking of three hairy creatures bundled up together. Then an etch of a castle. The broken piano and bowl were next. Then a large bird. Then two circles under a flat table. Then a large bat. Then a piano; followed by some weird shapes with lines and circles that could be stick figures, but they were all jumbled and in weird positions, like one was carrying the other. Then a stick figure tied up in a chair. Then a wood-burning oven. Then a lit match, and back to the hairy creatures.
“What do they mean?” Herbert asked.
“Those hairy figures remind me of the trolls,” Aaron said.
“I was in a castle like that,” Esther whispered.
“The piano was broken like that, too,” Marian added.
“And a witch was thrown in an oven like that,” said Esther.
“I was tied up in a chair,” Herbert said.
“There are twelve images,” Mrs. Dolor said. “And twelve doors around us.” She surveyed the room and studied each door. “But look,” she swept her hand up for the children to follow. “Some of the doors are shut. How many? Eight. Eight are shut.”
“I don’t understand,” Marian said.
“What’s special about these moments?” Esther asked herself. “There’s a match. I remember Fritz chasing the Monster with matches. And then I heard a gong from the house.”
“When the trolls grabbed me and Aaron, a gong chimed,” Marian said.
“I heard a gong when I was tied up in the chair,” Herbert said. “It was so loud, right above me. The Pendulum.”
“And those strange stick figures look like when they took you, Herbert,” Aaron added.
“So it’s all a story?” Esther asked.
“But what’s the beginning?”
“The piano,” Aaron said matter-of-factly. “It all started with the Professor’s song.”
“But that’s gone now. And we haven’t seen any scary people since then. Why does it show more images?”
“I remember the Top-Hat Man and the Professor saying the song didn’t matter,” Herbert replied, “as long as the Pendulum didn’t speed up all the way. Like they would lose somehow if they didn’t get what they wanted before the Pendulum started swinging fast again.”
“What do they want?” Marian asked.
Herbert hesitated. “The artifact,” he answered.
“From the Enchanted Forest?”
“Why?” Aaron asked, and Herbert shrugged.
“The story pictures and gongs are following us,” Esther gathered. “And it looks like it’s about to chime again. Its almost pointing at the bowl and floating orb. That’s where we are now.”
“And there are four doors left,” Marian added.
“The orb. The bird. The circles under the table. And the bat.”
“I don’t understand what this all means,” Mrs. Dolor said. You can imagine she was so perplexed by the children’s deductions, having never gone to the Enchanted Forest or hearing entirely about their night thus far. “But I think we need to keep moving on,” she decided.
The children knew their mother was right. But the night’s mysteries felt so close to being revealed to them. Each of them wanted to figure it out, but knew they may never understand the sundial or pendulum.
“Faith before understanding,” Esther whispered.
“Which path do we take out of here?” Herbert said.
“I think we take the next open door,” Marian said. “And continue the story.”
“But why don’t we take the last one and be done with it?” Aaron asked.
“That sounds like a good idea!” Herbert agreed.
“Doesn’t that feel like cheating?” Marian asked. “We don’t know what is out there.”
“It’s a picture of a bat,” Aaron said. “It’s the end. I bet it’s that vampire professor.”
“All the more reason not to go,” Marian said.
“But Dad is with him,” Herbert interjected. “If Mom is free from the spell, then Dad should be, too! I say, we go through the door and find Dad and he will fight the Professor for us.”
“Is it right for us to skip ahead?” Esther asked. “Shouldn’t we trust the way the story is supposed to happen? What if we aren’t ready for the end yet?”
“What do you mean?” Marian asked her sister.
“Well, what if I skipped ahead from the beginning to the castle? It may have made me get there faster, but I wouldn’t have the Monster with me. He got me over the mountain and through the dark castle. Who knows what could have happened without him?”
“I don’t care.” Herbert crossed his arms. “I don’t like going any further without Dad.”
“Herbert, honey,” Mrs. Dolor dropped down to her knees in front of him. “If your father is in there, the first thing he would want is for you to be safe. That’s the most important thing. We need to get through this maze and get out of the house. Once we alert the authorities, they will save him.”
“We are the authorities!” Herbert yelled. “We need to save him!”
“Sweetie—” Before Mrs. Dolor could reply, something happened. The wooden slats under their feet started to rattle. The boards shook and the floating orb over the granite bowl floated a little to its right. A faint hum was in the air that sounded like a distant chime ringing.
“It’s the Pendulum!” Aaron hollered.
“The door!” Esther shrieked.
In a flash, and before anyone could argue or think about it any longer, all five raced toward the next open hallway. A wooden door slid from a gap in the slats that no one noticed before. It rushed out and closed up the entry just as Herbert dove in last behind the others.
In the dark hallway, Mrs. Dolor and the children stumbled over themselves. They searched their pajama pockets for something to create light, before realizing how silly of an idea that was. Then a green light glowed in the middle of the tight hallway, and everyone stared at Starlight. Esther noticed Mrs. Dolor reading a strange piece of yellow parchment. She leaned in close to read the lines:
When you find us:
Get to the garage
Get through the maze
And no matter what, don’t turn back!
Mrs. Dolor crumbled the paper up in her hand when she saw Esther reading it. “Come on, kids,” she said and led them to the door at the other end. It opened to the garage. They had made it.
Mrs. Dolor held the door open as, one-by-one, the children stepped into the soft light of the garage. Marian came last, and Mrs. Dolor started to push the door closed, but it jerked out of her grip, slammed shut, and disappeared into dust. She looked up, taken aback, to see a hairy, grotesque creature with a long nose and bald head towering over her. Behind him were his brothers, one brandishing a large club, and the other wearing glasses and leaning on a peg leg made from a stairway column.
“You must be the Mother Dolor,” The ugly troll growled. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Wimbledon. And these are my brothers—Thimbledon and Stump.”
Marian and Aaron pushed Esther and Herbert behind them and rushed forward to their mother’s side. The angry, evil grin of the trolls looked a thousand times more menacing than before. They knew there wasn’t any room for conversation or delay this time. The trolls meant to kill and eat them at once. Thimbledon raised his club in the air above Mrs. Dolor’s head. Her eyes followed it while her mouth fell open.
“Mom!” Marian screamed. The club flew through the air. Wimbledon grinned. Stump shuddered on his peg-leg. Herbert and Esther covered their eyes. Aaron’s chest ached. A flash of green zipped through the air. In a magnificent emerald flash, Starlight exploded with light. It shone over every crevice and pore of the trolls’ bodies, and as it touched their grotesque shape, their skin began to change. The family watched the green light ripple down the trolls’ chests and limbs like a pebble thrown into a still pond. A wave cresting up and out—only behind the wave wasn’t water, but crust, and then solid stone. The wave continued outward and downward until it reached every part of their bodies and only three large, hairy troll statues remained.
Mrs. Dolor looked up to see Thimbledon’s massive club hovering sheer inches above her face and the stare of the evil troll statue glaring at her.
“Starlight did it!” The kids squealed.
“She saved us!”
But their joy was quickly robbed of them. Starlight’s humble smile came on her lips seconds before it filled with horror. A beak snatched her waist and threw her into the air. Terrified, her eyes met Herbert’s, and she reached her hand out one last time for him. The raven crunched Starlight in two and threw her down its throat.
Two transparent wings drooped out of the raven’s mouth. Their quiet glow of green faded to grey, and the raven slurped them down. The raven’s red eyes stared at the children, and its powerful wings threw the air underneath them. It flew away into a low vent above Mr. Dolor’s automobile.
“No!” Herbert screamed in agony and fell to the ground. The children’s hearts sank as they saw their beautiful fairy friend die before their eyes. Thunder cracked the sky outside, and the garage bowed under the weight of the rain. Somewhere far away, at the top of the Dolor home, in an attic that no normal door could ever open, the Pendulum moved a little more, and a gong echoed down into the house.