The motley crew of Max, starched and creased in all of his barely-five-foot order, and Master Legba, with his worn and disheveled seventeenth-century suit and top hat stooping at well over seven feet, made their way up the steps of the old orphanage. They entered the hallway at the far end of the stairwell at the same time as the elevator dinged at the other end. Mrs. Cara stepped out and turned to stand in front of Fahad’s door. Max jumped back around the corner and awkwardly tugged the towering sorcerer with him.
“Why are we hiding?” the tall man whispered.
“It’s Mrs. Cara.”
The tall man peaked around then looked at Max, who was seething in rage, then looked back out.
Cara stared at the door as torn as she had ever been. She had read the file on Fahad and understood what a vile piece of flesh he was and not even imagine having a civil conversation with him, much less… she couldn’t even think about it.
Legba looked back at Max and he could tell he was about to do something rash. The old man opened his hand and a silver thread grew out of the tip of his index finger.
Max watched the thread with curiosity approach his temple. From the way Legba’s eyes went from confusion to sorrow, Max knew, all of his memories were at the wizard’s disposal.
I don’t want your pity, Max thought bitterly as he swatted the thread, making it snap.
“I beg your pardon, Max,” he smiled down at him, then sent the thread around the corner and down the hall toward Cara. A golden-blond strand of her hair moved and she looked around for a draft, then refocused on her dilemma.
Legba said in his deep sing-song whisper, “Don’t fear. She’d not going to do it. She knows that doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing.” He winked at Max and continued, “Watch. She’ll stand there for a few more moments, then go back home.”
They watched her for a moment, then leaned back around the corner and were startled to have been crept up on and ambushed.
Three children, one armed with a silver-painted mallet, another with a plastic bow and arrows, and the third with an armful of books, stared at them as if they had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Legba went creakily down onto one knee, which still had him towering over the children.
“Ho, traveler,” said Angus.
“Ho, seeker,” whispered Legba.
Max shook his head incredulously and whispered, “How could you guys possibly know one another?”
Legba looked a little embarrassed and said, “Actually, they have confused me with the King of the Giants, whom I am proud to say is rumored to be among my lineage. But then I yielded to these heroes of olde and they enlightened me to their noble quest.”
Mr. Angus, the maintenance man stuck his head out the nearest door and called, “You kids come back inside! It’s too late for ya’ll to be roaming the halls.”
Three kids said, “Fare thee well, Traveler.”
“Fare thee well, heroes,” whispered Legba.
Max shook his head as the kids disappeared into the room.
“Do they all live in there?” Legba asked.
Max chuckled, “No, but they are inseparable. They are probably all spending the night and lil’ Angus’. Hey, what were you…do you live around here?!”
“No, very far from here. Have you ever heard of the Miskatonic River?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“No, of course, you wouldn’t have… She’s gone.”
“Mrs. Cara. And we should hurry. This is time-sensitive.”
The miniature Max and the towering traveler crept down to Fahad’s door. With a piece of chalk, he began to quietly draw the symbol from the napkin, exactly reproducing it. The top hat titan only had to add a few suggestions – make sure that symbol goes all the way to that wall – that eyes must be directly over the symbol pi or you’ll send him to his closet instead of the rift.
They both stepped back to compare the door to the napkin and nodded their heads in agreement.
“You did good, Max. Now, when you come out of the rift, just knock on his door and run. When he opens it, he’ll be in the rift. These doors only go one way, so you’ll be rid of him.”
The church bells rang. The wispy warlock said, “That means we have five minutes to cross. Are you ready?”
The tiny time traveler looked into Legba’s eyes and said, “Whether I am or not, you’ve been more than fair. Where do we go?”
He pointed to a broom closet next to the elevator. “It’s right in there.”
“In the broom closet?” Max said as he opened the door.
The closet was empty, but every square inch of the custodial cubbyhole had been chalked with thousands of lines and symbols in languages and runes that made Max marvel at its complexity.
“How? How long did it take you to do this?”
Feeling pride at his astonishment, Legba replied, “I’m pretty quick at it. Are you scared?”
“My Dad says heroes are always scared. Overcoming fear is what makes us the good guys.”
“He sounds like someone I’d like to meet.”
Max looked at his shoes in brief contemplation, then asked, “If the doors only go one way, then how will I get back?”
Legba chuckled, proud of his ingenuity, and gave a halfway sinister smile. “You won’t get there through this door. I’m sending you the long way around and I’m going to pull you back through this door.”
“How will I know what to do?”
“Heroes always know what to do.”
I have heard hundreds of commanders give speeches to hordes of men facing impossible odds, but I have never heard a phrase more perfectly timed to steel a trooper’s courage. Max’s heart swelled with pride because Legba confirmed – Max was the hero. This was one of the chivalrous tales.
“When the bells chime once more at exactly eleven, I’ll close this door. You’ll have fifteen minutes in the rift. Don’t panic. I’ll pull you out at eleven fifteen, so don’t get distracted and lose track of the time. Go to the nursery, clip her hair, come straight back.
“What if she’s not there?”
Legba stood up to his magnificent height and his eyes rolled back into his head with a tremble and when he recovered he stooped back to Max. “She’s there right now. Go.”
“Thank you, Master Legba.”
“Don’t thank me. Catching a traveler is like reaching into a landslide blindfolded and pulling out one specific grain of sand.” Then he winked. “Just don’t be late and I’ll catch you.”
With that, he closed the door and the world became black.