His dad's long gone, mom is missing, and Billy tries to avoid capture by an evil prince.
Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1953
Lovett Manor was not a haunted house and Evelyn Lovett was certainly not a witch. Sure the house needed a little maintenance—what with the vines that seemed to be overtaking its face, and a few loose bricks here and there. The dingy, gray color did make it look a little creepy at night. Perched high atop a bluff, towering above the water, it was the largest home in Hilton Head and nearly a hundred years old.
Most of the townsfolk highly respected widow Lovett, including the mayor. Only a few people were afraid of the supernatural happenings at the manor. Mrs. Lovett was prone to being carried away in dreams and visions, or whisked off into other worlds. It was not uncommon for her to go missing for a few days at a time. When she came back home, she’d tell of mysterious places she’d been, and even claimed to entertain visitors from these strange lands in her home. Some people didn’t believe her tales, but found them entertaining nonetheless. Others snickered behind her back, calling her a kook.
“She’s just a senile old woman,” they would say, or, “Very peculiar that one, better to stay away from her.”
It was on a dark, stormy night that one such visitation occurred. Mrs. Lovett had a dream, or she thought she had one anyway; so much happened on that dreadful night, she couldn’t remember if it was real or if it was a fantasy. Either way, in her dream, she saw children that she did not know, living with her in the big house by the sea. These seemed to be average children, but they were all able to do extraordinary things. Each one had special gifts and abilities. She hadn’t forgotten about that dream, keeping it close to her heart. But, the first dream was just a prelude—a foretelling of what was about to take place.
It all began with the letter delivered at midnight. The small town was battling the worst hurricane of the season. Waves thrashed against the rocks below; lightning exploded like fireworks. Thunder crashed and rolled in the distance. The only sounds were those from the storm.
Mrs. Lovett tossed restlessly in her four-poster bed, listening to the marble-sized raindrops pelt against her bedroom window. Pumpkin, her suddenly anxious little tabby kitten, paced nervously across the floor, jumped when she heard a sound at the door. It made her fur stand on end. Mrs. Lovett scrambled for her feathery robe in the darkness. Not sure if she’d actually heard a knock, or a rap of thunder, she hurried toward the stairs.
All day she’d had this feeling of anticipation, like someone was coming or something was about to happen. She normally felt this way when she was about to receive a visitor from the other world.
The good ones she didn’t mind—they came bearing gifts or messages from the other place. It was a treat to have one of these special guests. It was the visitors from the dark world that stressed her so.
She shuddered, remembering the creature that had shown up the last time. It was early one morning when she came into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Everything seemed normal; the sun was shining, birds sang cheerfully from the windowsill. She sifted spoonfuls of the rich, woodsy grinds, deeply inhaling the warm mocha flavor. The percolator began to bubble and spit.
It looked like it was going to be another beautiful day. Then a slight breeze tickled the back of her neck. It was an eerie breeze, a deathly chill in the sliver of air around her throat. Shivers went down her spine and shook her from head to toe. Slowly, she forced herself to turn in the direction where the air moved.
There, by the breakfast table, not more than three feet from the kitchen sink where she stood, was the ugliest creature she’d ever encountered.
“Oh!” She gasped, caught off guard, and stretched her hand backward to grab a knife from the sink. “Who are you? What do you want?”
Why she’d grabbed the knife, she couldn’t recall. She had seen creatures of this type before, but never had one been as ghoulish as this. It looked like a dead man or the apparition of a dead man anyway. The shape kept shifting, as often they did when the amateur spirits dared to materialize in broad daylight.
“My name is Erebus and I’ve come from the desert.” The figure spoke in a wavy voice, trying to sound as scary as he looked.
Evelyn snickered at his lack of experience. “And what is the reason for your visit?” she asked.
Her fearlessness apparently irritated the spirit. “I’ve come for the children,” he snarled. He flickered a little closer, no doubt in an attempt to intimidate her.
“I have no children here,” she said, keeping her left hand on the knife she’d felt in the bottom of the suds. It was a useless weapon against a ghost, that was for sure. But for the moment, it was all she could think of.
“You’re right to say you have no children here now, but I know they are coming and I’m here to stop you from receiving them,” said the ghoul.
He came closer still; she felt his reeking breath against her face. It filled the kitchen with a rotten smell, leaving a nauseated feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Mrs. Lovett lurched forward to put him off guard, she ran past Erebus to the back door. Before she could get outside, he was there in front of her, a monster barricade. She tried to run again, toward the living room. Erebus started to spin around the room like an angry tornado, opening cupboards and throwing plates and cans, forks and spoons. Everything in the kitchen sailed through the air. Mrs. Lovett ducked and dodged, shielding herself with her arms, which took most of the blunt from the flying objects.
This went on for about half an hour, until finally, from underneath the table, Mrs. Lovett raised her right palm, revealing a scar that resembled a dove, and a ray of light beamed from it. She yelled. “Get out! Get out! You have no right to be in my house, get out of here!”
At the sight of the scar, Erebus stopped his fury and the room went ghastly quiet. Mrs. Lovett waited, still crouching from her hiding place. Erebus yanked the table from the floor and held it suspended in the air. He glared at the now kneeling woman, a disheveled mess; her hair gone awry, panting for breath, and blood trickling from the torn pieces of her white cotton blouse. “Make no mistake about it,” said the ghoul. “I will get the children, the little rejects!”
He dropped the table and vanished. Evelyn fell in a heap to the floor.
That’s why she had been having such a hard time getting to sleep on this particular night— she couldn’t shake the uneasiness she’d had all day, hoping that she wasn’t about to have another evil visitor. Is it the nasty weather threatening to come? she wondered. No, it was something else, something bigger than that. In her meditation that morning, she hadn’t gotten anything— not even an inkling of an idea of what was to take place.
The knock came again. Evelyn ran her fingers through her brown hair, pulling it into a tidy braid. She pulled her robe around her tall, thin frame as she bustled down the hallway.
The cat screeched when she pounced on its tail in her haste. Gingerly, she scooped it up to caress its tiny paw. “There, there, Pumpkin,” she cooed and kissed her pet.
Carefully, she skipped over the fifth step of the staircase—the creaky one. There was no one else in the huge house, but she didn’t like hearing that squeaky step; it reminded her of the emptiness in her home. The house moaned under the force of the howling wind.
By the front door, a child’s rain slicker hung under a coat rack on the wall above a bench. A pair of galoshes was strewn on the floor. On the right wall, an old picture of mountains made of jewels, and beautiful gold castles adorned with pearls and turquoise, hung over an ornate bureau. Overhead was a beautiful French chandelier, its shimmering brass and crystal made strange shaped reflections on the high walls and ceiling.
“Who on earth could be calling at such an ungodly hour?” she muttered to herself. She feared the interruption could mean an evacuation of the area. This was sometimes the case in storms of this velocity. Quickly, she opened the door but no one was there. The rain was driving hard. The moss, swinging wildly in the trees, looked like ghosts flying about in the dim light. The wet vines—shimmering and wiggling over the dark, stone walls—gave the illusion of crawling snakes.
KNOCK … KNOCK.
The sound came again— and Evelyn realized with relief, that the noise came from a loose shutter conking over the dining room window. Evelyn sighed. “I’ll have to tell Tingsley to fix that tomorrow,” she said as she closed the door. “Let’s go have ourselves a nice, warm cup of milk, hmm?” The kitten snuggled in closer, purring into the crook of her arm.
In the kitchen she clicked on the light, and took milk and butter from the fridge. Soon, a kettle of steaming milk whistled on the gas stove as Mrs. Lovett spread butter and cinnamon over pieces of sugared toast. The appeased kitten lay on a shaggy rug, lapping from a saucer, while Evelyn sat at the dining table, sipping and crunching. The wind shrieked by the back door like a wounded coyote.
“It’s okay, Pumpkin.” Mrs. Lovett stroked the kitten. Its fur spiked, ears perked, as it listened intently. “It’s that time of year you know … hurricane season.” She licked the sugar from the corner of her mouth and flicked a crumb from the table toward Pumpkin. “June is a bit early in the year for one this strong, though.”
Evelyn loved her pet, but she longed to have children. She and Mr. Lovett had only one child, a son, John. John died of cancer when he was only ten years old. It was hard on Mr. and Mrs. Lovett. Later, when Mr. Lovett lost his own battle with the horrible disease, it was almost more than Evelyn could bear. She cherished her summers spent with her little niece now. She credited Sarah for healing her heart. She surely wasn’t lonely; she had many friends around town to share her hobbies with. There was the book club, the bridge club, the tea club, and her shell seekers club—not to mention the various committees on which she served. She just wanted to share her blessings and lavish her love on little ones. Because of her wealth she did not have to work—Mr. Lovett had left her a fortune. Being a firm believer in thriftiness, she didn’t spend much.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
The loud noise startled her this time; there was no mistaking that someone or something was at the door now. She glanced at the clock hanging over the sideboard. “Quarter past twelve,” she read. “Oh dear, no one in their right mind would be out on a night like this. I do hope this is one of the good visitors, pet. I really am not in the mood for a battle tonight.” Evelyn rushed to the front door, fearing the persistent stranger would beat it down.
A man, twelve foot tall, dressed in a white suit stood there. An angelic glow surrounded him. The wind blew violently around him, but the visitor didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Aponivi, so good to see you.” Evelyn smiled.
A white envelope was suspended in mid-air. Unfazed, Evelyn grabbed the envelope.
She examined the letter addressed to:
IN CARE OF MRS. EVELYN LOVETT
“But,” she said, turning the envelope over. “I don’t know who—”
She was about to tell Aponivi that Billy Lawrence did not live there, that she didn’t know who he was, and that since this was the only house on Sand Trap Lane, someone had made a mistake. But when she looked up, he had disappeared into the night. As soon as he was gone, the storm subsided as if the hurricane had brought him to the manor then just as quickly took him away. Perplexed, Mrs. Lovett tucked the letter into a bureau drawer in the foyer.
Evelyn turned to see Sarah, her pajama-clad 9 year old niece, sitting at the top of the stairs. Sarah had curly red hair with creamy white skin. Her eyes were wide with wonder.
“Who was that man?” Sarah asked. Evelyn opened her arms wide as Sarah rushed to her. Evelyn embraced her, and looked her in the eyes. “He was a translator from the invisible world. You remember the stories?” Sarah nodded, rubbing her eyes. “He’s magical like you, aunt Evelyn?” Evelyn smiled, squeezing her tight. “Yes, he is.” She stood and swept Sarah into her arms. “Let’s get you back to bed, young lady.” The little girl yawned. “Is he coming back?” Evelyn hugged her close on the way up the stairs. “I don’t think so, dear. Not tonight.”
Back in Evelyn’s room the little orange cat was finally able to settle down at the foot of the bed, gently purring herself to sleep. Evelyn was comfortable enough as well; she slipped into a peaceful rest. The uneasiness was gone. But sometime in an early morning hour, the dream came again. This time it was about a little boy. He was a peculiar boy with special powers. He was able to journey into the invisible world.
When morning came, Evelyn had completely forgotten about the letter, thinking that in her agitation she’d dreamt of the visit in the night, as well as the little boy.