The family sat around the kitchen table in the small cottage on Stolmock Street not far from Ruby Mansion. Every evening the group was serenaded by screams that seemed to emanate from the dungeons that were rumored to exist in that ancient domicile. The terrifying sounds served as a soundtrack for the family drama enacted around the dinner table. Everyone knew Ruby Mansion was haunted. It was once owned by Carmine Stolmock, the notable scientist who disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Presently, the mansion was owned by Ransumm Rotobar, a man with an insatiable appetite and powerful connections. The family paid rent to Rotobar, other than that they were not concerned about the squalid stories told about the man. They had their own drama to contend with. Mother was the star of the show. She was a good mother except when she was angry. Anger seethed in her bones like a bubbling volcano – she called her outbursts “tough love.” She seldom used extreme measures – usually Mother was silent, smoldering and slowly turning red. Dinner was a ritual. The three children always sat at the table with mother. They followed her instructions, cooking and serving – then, they all sat and spoke the “prayer of obedience” before eating the results of their labors. At sixteen, Alec was the oldest, somber and intelligent but not very brave. Sister Kim was fourteen, asserting her independence at every opportunity and always being punished. The youngest, Hank, was thirteen and brain damaged. Hank was always confused. Alec spoke first, “What does it mean, Mother?” She did not answer at first so Alec continued, “This letter – didn’t you write it?” Alec felt a cold wind blow across his bones as Mother stared with incomprehension. He knew not to press the issue. Mother wanted the meat served on pink, plastic plates – her choice whenever she was angry. The lump of meat looked bruised and bloody. Sister Kim couldn’t take the impasse so she changed the subject, “I saw a girl with a purple tattoo – it was beautiful.” Mother turned her attention to the girl – eyes like pointed spears, face red. Sister Kim was an artist and that only added to Mother’s ire. The girl’s eyes glazed over like candied yams. No telling what Mother might do. In the next room, the radio burbled: “More crime promotes increased sales of lethal weapons.” Mother smiled. Alec felt safe enough to go back to the topic of the letter, “It says there was an accident. Did something happen to dad?” At last Mother replied, “Children, your father is fine. You know how upset he makes me sometimes. He is in the closet. We won’t be bothered again.” Young Hank moaned, “Is this real.”
“No Hank, this is not real – of course THIS IS REAL, you idiot.” Mother was red again. “Your sweet, worm-of-a-dad is hanging on a hook in the hall closet – and there is a hook waiting for each one of you so you better behave!”
The screams from Ruby Mansion followed Mother’s outburst like the finale to a dirge. The children sat stone-faced with ice water replacing the blood in their veins. At last, Mother broke the silence, “Eat!” she gushed with an encouraging smile. Alec, Sister Kim, and Hank lifted forks, each child moving like an automaton. Wind moaned like a banshee plucking a harp made from fish bones. Mother hated fish but was drawn to the bones. She smiled, but it didn’t last. There was something disturbing about the wind – something that irritated Mother. The wind was sniffing at the front door, mewling and whimpering … reminding Mother of her newly departed husband. The wind called out to her … suddenly the door smashed open. The frightened children were embraced by the light that flowed into the cottage on the wings of a ferocious storm. Light was everywhere. Light burned down the walls of the house and the children were free. No one knew what happened to Mother. No one remembered her. In the same moment when the light poured into the cottage, Rangle Ditmouth entered the Red City. He returned with the Harlequin-beat Angel. Rangle brought the storm and he was about to confront his judge and master, Ransumm Rotobar.