The light from the high tower of Argo Manor flickered and faded in the face of the storm. Like an exhausted boxer in the late rounds of a fight, it seemed to struggle against the night itself, weakening against the onslaught of wind and rain. A ferocious gale swayed the tall trees like blades of grass. Crack, boom! A massive limb shattered and fell to the ground. Far below, along the shoreline, armies of waves pounded against the rocks.
Inside the great house, Nestor checked and double-checked the windows and doors. He limped from room to room, finding his way through the darkness amid the ancient furnishings of the house, He knew Argo Manor by heart, as if he carried a secret map of the place, and easily navigated around stuffed chairs, desks, coffee tables, Egyptian statues, and relics from lost continents. He instinctively ducked his head before passing under the Venetian chandelier in the sitting room. After many years of loyal service, Nestor’s knowledge of every dark corner of the house was nearly perfect.
Making his way past the staircase, Nestor reached the grand portico at the front of the house and paused before the large glass windows. Looking out at the lush, rain-drenched gardens, he leaned against the base of the statue of a woman mending a fishing net. Illuminated by eerie flashes of lightning through the windows, the fisherwoman almost looked alive.
Nestor rubbed his hands together briskly. He climbed the stairs, passing the long row portraits of the house’s former owners, and entered the tower room. He cast a reassuring glance at the diaries and the collection of model ships, and then returned to the ground floor. Everything was as it should be, each item in its place. A single diary was missing, of course, but Nestor took that as a good sign.
He came at last to the great stone room and flicked on a light. Scattered on the floor were pencils and sheets of paper, just where Jason, Julia, and Rick had left them after spending the afternoon solving the puzzle of the four locks.
Owl. Porcupine. Elephant. Newt.
And so it was, he noted. They had managed to unlock the door….
Nestor gazed at the heavy door. Its ancient wood was scarred with burns and gashes. And now it was locked again. Sealed off once more. There was no getting in from the side. He knew that much. There was nothing to be done except wait.
“Let’s hope they are safe,” the caretaker whispered aloud, passing his hand across the wood of the mysterious door. He glanced at his watch. The long, slender hands swept gracefully through time in a perfect circle. “They should be there by now,” he figured. His teeth clenched anxiously.
“It has begun.”