The snow fell hard that night. It fell hard and fast and quiet as if it were trying to hide not just everything that was happening, but everything that could be about to happen. It didn’t need to bother. Except for James Hephaistion Alexander and a few others, nobody was awake to notice what was going on.
The little village of Mount Desert was mostly still this particular cold December evening. No cars zipped through the tiny mountain range that surrounded most of the town. No tourists motored along Route 1, craning their necks out of the windows of their sport utility vehicles to gaze at the dark and heavy ocean waves that crashed into the granite rocks and cliffs. Even the local police station positioned at the bottom of the town office building was quiet and motionless. Officer Frost, the only policeman on duty, hung out in the squad room trying to get warm. His eyes were glued to his computer screen where he’d uploaded various music videos about partying in the USA.
In the center of town, shops waited for winter’s end so that they could open again. Mount Desert was a town with a split personality. In the summer, it was full of wealthy people from away, people from places like Connecticut and New York, people with last names that were on libraries and museums. In the winter those people went back to their real homes, leaving a town of 1,000 or so lobstermen, teachers, artists, and scientists who worked at Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor. The shops were boarded up except for Gut’s, the tiny grocery, and First National, the bank. This night those boards over the windows stayed up as if the stores were hiding behind them, afraid of what might happen in the dark.
And it was dark. Very. Despite the snow.
Though it was hours past his official bedtime, James Alexander crept on his hands and knees across the icy floorboards to his bedroom window, making sure to avoid all the creaky places. His grandmother had been stomping around downstairs. James refused to think about her because thinking about her made him shudder all the way down to the middle of his bones. It was her teeth, maybe, and the way they seemed five sizes too large for her wide mouth. Or maybe it was just her voice and how she cackled and barked more like an angry dog than like a person. Or maybe… No, he would not think of her.
Instead of thinking, James pressed his small nose against the icy windowpane and wished: Make her go away. Please, please, please make her go away. As he stared down at the snowy lawn, his breath came out in a quick, excited gasp and fogged up the window. He wiped a circle clean so he could see better. It turned out he didn’t need to worry about his grandmother hearing him sneaking around the bedroom. She wasn’t in the house at all anymore. Instead, she stood out on the side lawn. The wind whipped at her thin gray hair, yanking it up in straggly strands. She wore no shoes, but waited in the snow barefooted. James had never seen her naked feet before. She always kept them inside these hideous pink running shoes that were so large he thought they must be super-sized. Now, he could understand why she always wore them. She was trying to hide her huge and misshapen toes.
“Why isn’t she wearing shoes?” he murmured, but instantly realized that a better question might have been why she was outside at all, standing naked-footed in the icy snow. He shivered just thinking about it, or maybe he was shivering from the cold in his room. She had duct-taped the radiators shut because she thought heat made boys weak.
She began stomping, which Jamie knew from personal experience was never a good sign. She seemed to be saying something even though she was alone. Against his better judgment, Jamie leaned an ear against the window. The cold snapped at him, sending icy shivers of pain through his skin. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite hear what his grandmother was mumbling, but he could hear something else . . . the deadly stomping of heavy things coming closer. He pulled away. His pulse pushed hard and fast against his skin as his grandmother began clapping her hands the way people do when telling dogs to hurry.
Jamie stayed silent as he watched, silent even as fear froze his fingers against the windowpane.
Twenty large, ugly creatures with bulbous noses emerged from the woods at the edge of the yard. They each stood about seven feet tall. They thundered across the property directly towards his grandmother. James almost shouted out a warning, but something inside him, some tiny little nugget of common sense, stopped him.
His grandmother waved the creatures along. They rushed toward her, green-skinned, and so much larger than regular people. Their ears stuck out from their bulbous heads and their hands—James shuddered—their hands were as large as tigers’ paws with thick fingers that looked as if they could smash rocks.
They weren’t people at all, he realized, forgetting to breathe. They were monsters.
His grandmother jumped up and down in her excitement. The creatures caught up to her, and for a moment James couldn’t find her among all the greenish gray skin. Then he saw her at the end of the line, taller than normal, her skin tinted both greener and grayer. Her ears and nose had broadened out, but it was her. He recognized the hideous orange-flowered housecoat and her cackling laugh as she ran off with the rest of the beasty things into the dark night, gone.