The house wasn't the same for her anymore. Its halls, once seeming so comfortable and radiant, now were confining, dark, and drafty. Ever since her father had disappeared three weeks ago, she hadn't been able to bring herself to enter his study, once the hub of her and her siblings' fun, as it was always full of little treat boxes that their father had brought back from his travels abroad, as well as all the puzzles, games, and toys that she or her brothers desired. The study, where her father had last been seen, was now regarded by herself and her peers as off-limits, though whether because it was hallowed or haunted, nobody could quite tell. She pushed open the door to her bedchamber to find her three step-brothers lying sprawled on her floor.
“Oy, Maria! Glad to see you're finally back! Did you bring us something from Wingate?” Maria's stomach churned. Her brothers had teased her ever since she was young, but, lately, ever since the man of the house (the boys' step-father, her father), had gone, their jokes had taken on a different tone. Even as she thought this, the oldest of the boys, Stephen, reached up a hand and pulled her to the floor. She hit hard on her tailbone, and the basket she had been carrying, filled with apples from one of their mansion's many orchards, tipped on its side, spilling its contents all over the floor.
“Leave me alone, Stephen.” Maria tried to walk away, but Stephen wouldn't let go. He let her stand up, then twisted his grip on her ankle so that she fell again, this time right into the lap of Harold, the youngest of the three. He wrapped his arms around her and proclaimed,
“Look what I have here, boys! Lookie what I got!” Johnny and Stephen immediately threw themselves onto Harold, half-jokingly trying to get Maria away from him. She wriggled out of the heap and onto her bed.
“You're all drunk!” She yelled. “You've been at dad's liquor, haven't you. You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Leave me alone!” Johnny looked up at her, his eyes bleary under the alcoholic mask.
“Now, I was agreeing with you right up until that last sentence. You shouldn't have said that last sentence, Maria. Now I'm going to getcha!” Johnny leaped up onto her bed, missed landing on Maria by about three feet, which gave her the time to jump off her bed, slide out the door, and lock it behind her. She stood with her back to the locked door for a second or two before bolting to the study. The one place they would never look for her. She slammed the door open and stepped into the room. As she eased the door shut, she decided that the room looked just like it did when Maria's father was around, except that the one thing her father never allowed the children to touch – his wardrobe from Saudi Arabia – was open. Unable to resist her curiosity, Maria peeked inside. What she saw made her step back. A huge void, filled with nothingness, no light, no dust, no anything, lay where the back of the wardrobe should have been. Maria reached her hand forward and it went past the ends of the walls of the wardrobe, into this void, and she could feel a gentle force, like a vacuum turned on low, pulling at her hand, trying to get her to come in farther, come closer, closer, closer. Maria leaned forward a bit more, and suddenly, a small set of jaws, like that of a snake but with lots more teeth snapped shut just below her hand. The spell was broken, as if the vacuum had been shut off, and Maria, too terrified to speak, crawled out of the wardrobe, clicking the doors shut behind her. She sat against the wall, crying silently, scared enough to want to talk to her brothers, but smart enough to know that that would put her in a much worse spot than she already was. Wait... her brothers. Surely, Maria thought, this is just some elaborate joke contrived by those evil, devilish things. She slid up the wall until she was in a standing position.
“All right, good joke, boys. You can come out now!” She crept towards the door to the hallway. “I suspect you think you're smart, don't you? But I've got you figured out. So ha! You can... come out now... boys?” Her hand on the door, Maria heard a noise from behind her. A sort of bestial growl. She turned, slowly, expecting to see one of her brothers standing a few feet from her. Instead, she saw a huge beast, part man, part bull, standing across the room from her. Maria's spine tingled in fear and anticipation, and she felt dread burning in her gut like acid.
The minotaur took a step towards Maria, and only then did she notice the large stick he held in his hand. He spun towards the outside wall of the study and smashed his stick through it, letting in cold air and a darkness that seemed to want to swallow the room.
The beast turned to Maria, wind from outside bringing its horrific stench to her nose.
“Your father sends his regards.” it said, leaping out the window and into the darkness.