Starspire

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Chapter 20: The Unwelcome Mat

Matt found that reaching his destination had taken barely any time. Entering proved quite a different story. The home of the mad potion mistress contained more doors and potential entryways than Matt had ever seen on a single building.

The building itself was a two-story stone and plaster structure on which the walls were frequently interrupted by an assortment of windows, doors, peepholes, hatches, tunnels, and ladders in a dizzying variety. Some were rectangular, some square and some more elaborate shapes such as stars and hexagons.

Though he circled the house twice, he could find no entrance that stood out as ‘the front door’. Feeling useless, he decided he might as well start knocking and see what resulted. He tried first on a massive black and red door figuring it was one of the largest. A massive golden ring hung in the center, and below the ring, a flaming eye was carved into the wood. He raised the knocker and rapped thrice. The eye glowed red with each successive knock and he could not resist the urge to shutter. It was not exactly the best welcome mat.

Feeling a bit creeped out, he found another slightly smaller door, white with the golden head of a lion as a knocker. He tried it and had a similar result. He then moved on to a great metal door without any hinges of knob. The second she knocked a metal eyeball popped out of the surface and studied her for a long moment before retracting. He called and waited for several minutes and the door did not show any further interest.

“Hello! Anyone there?” He rang a dozen doorbells that sounded with noised from the clanging of bells to the mooing of cows. No sign from within.

Next, he went to knocking on windows, seeing if he could get the attention of anyone inside. Many of the windows were out of his reach and he quickly abandoned this strategy as well.

He hung her head, feeling the frustration well up inside him. Bahati and his dad had probably figured out something by now and were waiting, nervously tapping their feet for her return. He could just imagine the smug look on his dad’s face when he finally stumbled back to them.

Suddenly, it started raining. It started with a drizzle, but intensified into a drenching rain. He glanced up and saw that a group of dark clouds had gathered directly over her head. Only directly over his head.

Mumbling and grumbling, he ran to the left and the right, but the cloud followed him, as if it took personal enjoyment out of torturing him. He felt rage building up inside of him, and the storm answered with a lightning bolt only feet off to his left. He tumbled back and landed in the mud. He had seen this kind of thing in cartoons, but had never thought it was something he would personally experience.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and tried to picture something that made him happy. A picture came into his mind of his family eating Thanksgiving dinner, seeing who could stuff the most mashed potatoes in their mouth, while Tyson made goofy faces to try to make everyone laugh. The thought warmed him like an unexpected ray of sunshine, and when he looked up, she saw that it actually was a ray of sunshine, breaking through the clouds.

It warmed his body and dried his clothing more quickly than he would have expected. He basked in it for a moment and then considered the building again.

There had to be something he had missed. Smoke poured from multiple chimneys on the roof. Either someone was home, or the house was on fire.

He walked straight at the wall and noticed something that he had not before. In front of a seemingly blank section of wall, a straw mat had been placed with the words “Welcome Visitors!” scrawled across it in black paint.

He walked over and stood on the mat. Without a door or window in front of it, he could see no reason the mat had been placed there at all. His frustration returning, he ran his fingers along the wall’s surface and was astonished when his finger slipped into a slight indentation in the seemingly solid wall. He leaned in to examine it more closely and found that it was a keyhole placed directly into the wall.

He stepped back and looked at the wall again. “So, I’ve got a keyhole, but no key. Not really much better than when I started.”

Glancing down at the mat, something stirred in his memory. When he had wanted to hide a spare key, he had always done so under the mat. Tyson would have known that too. Could it really be so simple?

Matt knelt and lifted the mat, revealing a long bronze key. At the end, instead of the usual handle was a replica of a small pocket watch, ticking away. Matt rose and worked the key into the keyhole. It slid in without much effort and clicked when turned. As soon as the key turned, the pocket watch stopped ticking, stuck at precisely three o’clock.

He tried to remove the key, but it would not budge. Taking a step back, he scanned the wall for something that had changed. Figuring that it might have opened a door somewhere else, he started her trip around the house again. Suddenly, a long golden horn shot out from the side of the house and an unfamiliar voice filled the air. “Welcome, are you the potion consultant?”

The voice sounded like a woman’s, low and scratchy as if she were used to screaming at her servants. Sensing that this might be a good way to get in, she cleared her throat and then answered. “Yes,” he said, figuring this would at least get him in. “May I come in?”

“Of course!” called the voice. “Simply use the timely entrance.”

The horn retracted and, at once, a series of numbers appeared on the wall, and the doors and windows spun around so that most of them corresponded with a number. Matt jogged around the house, and found that the numbers progressed from one to twelve.

“The timely entrance,” he muttered. “That’s probably just the closest one.”

He grasped the handle of a door marked ‘6’ and turned. The door opened, revealing a dark passageway beyond. Taking a deep breath, he entered…and instantly found himself on the other side of the house.

He whirled about and found that he had been deposited in front of the door that read ‘12’. He tried going back through the door from which he had come, and found that he once again stood in front of the door marked ‘6’.

He mulled the instructions over in her mind. What else could timely mean?

When he thought of time, he remembered the key to which a pocket watched had been attached. He ran back over to the key and found the watch stopped at three o’clock. Twelve doors and twelve hours.

Confident that he was finally going to enter the strange house, he proceeded to the door marked ‘3’. However, when he got there, only another welcome mat awaited her. He ran her fingers along the wall, seeking another keyhole. He felt the blood rising to his cheeks and a light drizzle began on the back of his neck.

“Calm down,” she told herself. “This has to be it.”

On a hunch, he checked under the mat again. Instead of a key, he found a wide hole, leading down under the house. Could this be the number three door?

It was the only choice now. Crossing his fingers for luck, he jumped into the darkness.

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