McKenzie waved to her parents outside the window as the train grumbled to a shaky start. She stood on her seat and pressed her face into the glass as they moved sideways out of her vision. At last she could just barely see them still waving, her mother running after them with her scarf blowing in the wind and her hat wobbling, and then they were gone. McKenzie stayed frozen to the window until the train rounded a bend and she plopped back into her seat.
“Well,” she said to herself, “that was fun.”
The small girl crossed her arms and stared across the small compartment at her younger brother, Ezra. He was bundled up so tightly that he looked more like a pile of coats and mittens than an actual person. McKenzie just blew a tuft of hair out of her eyes and shook her head.
Mommy and Daddy had only said it would be a few hours until nightfall, and then they would go to sleep, and then when they woke up, they would be in North Carolina where Grandma and Grandpa lived. What McKenzie didn’t get, however, was why they had to go south to get to North Carolina. Shouldn’t they go north to get to North Carolina?
She sidled along her seat and brought her face close to the window. Outside, she saw lots of nature like the pictures in calendars or stuff. McKenzie blew a circle of fog onto the glass and then drew a happy face. The misty white face smiled back at her for a moment until it began to slowly melt away. Finally only the nose was left. McKenzie rubbed her hand against it and the whole face vanished.
She looked over at Ezra. “What?”
“I have to pee.”
McKenzie rolled her eyes and stood up. “Ok, Ezra, let’s go.” She grabbed her brother’s hand and began leading him into the aisle. “But make it quick!”
* * *
Ezra was slumped asleep on the other side of their compartment when McKenzie glanced down at him hours later. She herself was still perched on her seat, face to the window, this time looking out into the dense fog that they had plunged into a few minutes before. It was so white and fluffy it was like cotton candy, and yet just past its softness, McKenzie was certain something was spiraling through the fog next to them.
Then there was a wretched screech and the train shook at it went on. There was a bump, then another, and the whole train trembled around them before it jerked to a complete stop. Ezra tumbled onto the floor and McKenzie was flung into the back of her seat before tumbling onto the floor next to her brother. Above them the lights flickered.
“Ow, ow, ow,” McKenzie groaned as she sat up, rubbing herself all over.
“What happened?” Ezra said as he, too, sat up.
“The train stopped,” McKenzie said. “You okay?”
“Yep,” Ezra said. McKenzie wasn’t surprised; he was in so many coats, he probably hadn’t felt anything.
“I don’t get it,” McKenzie said as she stood up and pressed herself into the window again. “Why’d the train stop?”
She stared into the fog. And then kept staring, certain that something was stirring out there, something big.
“Shh! I’m trying to pay attention!”
“Not now, Ezra! I’m trying to see–”
“What?” McKenzie whirled around, spinning herself so fast that she slipped and landed on her bum. And staring down at them was something stirring, definitely something big.
It looked like a pair of large eyes on the other side of the glass, a pair eyes belonging to a catlike white face that was twisting down around the train to look in through the top of the window. Its nostrils flared, fogging the window from the outside, and when the glass cleared, all they saw was empty fog once again.
“What was that?” McKenzie shouted as she jumped up and rushed into the glass again. No matter how much she looked in all directions, however, the creature was nowhere to be seen.
“Come on,” McKenzie said as she grabbed Ezra’s hand, “we’re finding out what that thing was!”
She pushed open the compartment door and the whole train was pandemonium. Men and women were running in all directions; people were crowding around all the windows; and people just woken from sleep were screaming.
Determined to figure it all out, McKenzie wasn’t intimidated by any of this. She slid against the aisle wall and pulled Ezra slowly behind her as she dodged adults hurtling themselves every which way and over and under dislodged luggage that had spilled onto the floor. Finally, they made it to the end of the train car and McKenzie stared up at the small window set in the door.
“You should stay inside,” she said.
“No, Kenzie! Me go, too!”
McKenzie looked down at Ezra and his beady eyes, which were his only features that she could see with how tightly his hood was drawn shut.
“Well,” she said, “I might need backup.”
And then she reached up and opened the door.
A gust of cold air whipped in beside them, twirling in flakes of snow and some bits of broken leaves. None of the adults seemed to notice, however, so she slipped out onto the small step just outside the door and pulled Ezra right up beside her. There was a thud behind them and the door was shoved shut. Someone probably fell into it, McKenzie figured.
What now? She looked all around, but with all the fog and the two train cars, she really couldn’t see anything.
The ladder! She could climb onto the roof and then she would surely see what that catlike thing had been!
“Ok, Ezra,” she said and turned her brother to face her squarely. “I’m going to climb up. You stay here. Promise?”
Ezra began to shake his head.
“Promise?” McKenzie repeated more sternly.
“Okay,” Ezra mumbled. “Promise.”
“Good,” McKenzie said. “I’ll be right back!” She grabbed onto the ladder and then hoisted herself up, one rung at a time. It wasn’t too far to go after she’d helped Mommy and Daddy put the tree-topper on their tree before Christmas. Finally she reached the top and stood up, wobbly at first, but then quickly gaining her balance.
But there still wasn’t anything! She turned around and around, but there was nothing. Only the same wet fog she had seen through the window, only the fog and some snowflakes and… and what was that?
McKenzie held out her hands and watched as small white hairs blew in the wind and caught on the threads of her mittens. She brought her hands closer to get a better look at them, but just as she did, the train jerked forward and she lost her balance. She slipped in the snow, right over the ledge, and was sliding toward the edge–
Then she hit something and stopped. All the wind was sucked from her lungs as whatever she had landed on began writhing around her. Something furry and wet touched her cheek and McKenzie finally opened her eyes. She was face-to-face with the catlike face she had seen before!
It sniffed her, and then the face retreated. Only then did McKenzie realize that this furry little face was only the head of a much longer, snakelike creature–and three other furry serpents were wrapped around her, holding her in the sky!
McKenzie tried not to scream (they had caught her, after all), but suddenly she was moving again, fast through the air, and a small screech escaped her lips. She was swung around, right through the fog, until she saw a much larger and much more menacing face. It’s mouth opened slowly and McKenzie cringed.
McKenzie felt the hot breath blow over her and swore that she was about to be eaten. But instead, the things holding her swung her through the air once more (her stomach tumbled up and down a couple times) until she was held over the front of the train, smoke still puffing up into the fog. It took her a moment to see what it was trying to show her, but then she saw it.
It was much larger than a person, but still much smaller than whatever had picked her up. It was slumped over the track like a large gorilla, its face flat and menacing, but what stood out the most were its hands: Instead of fingers, it has furry serpents each with their own face at the end. Her stomach jumped up inside her when she realized that all of the cat-snakes holding her were actually the giant’s fingers!
McKenzie hummed for a moment. “But what can I do? I–I can’t move it, it’s took big!”
The giant must not have listened well, however, because the moment McKenzie said “move,” it had swung her around and placed her atop the smaller giant lying across the tracks. It was warm beneath her, rising and falling under her as it breathed.
“It must be sleeping,” McKenzie said as the giant’s living fingers retreated from around her. She crawled across the giant’s furry body until she was right next to its face. Its eyes were closed and its mouth was open; an icicle of drool hung out from between a couple of its teeth.
“Wake up!” McKenzie shouted at it, right next to its ear. “Come on, wake up!” She kept on yelling, but no matter how loud she screamed, not a thing stirred the giant.
Finally, McKenzie plopped down on it–and then it startled awake, standing up so fast McKenzie tumbled down onto the train tracks. The light fell on her face as the massive machine began to move again. McKenzie was frozen in place and couldn’t move. Any second the train would reach her and then it would all be over, forever!
She shut her eyes and recoiled right as something struck her and she went soaring upwards. But… she didn’t hurt. McKenzie opened her eyes and saw the smaller fingers of the little giant holding her and the foggy monster pulled itself onto the train. Car after it car it carried her over until she saw Ezra clinging to the door between two of them.
“Stop!” she shouted and the giant stopped. It looked down at her and then down at Ezra and then back at her.
“I know,” McKenzie said, “I had fun, too, but now I have to go back inside.”
The giant licked her–“EW!”–and then placed her gently next to Ezra. As its fingers unwrapped from around her, she hugged them gently and then watched as they retreated upwards.
“Come on, Ezra,” McKenzie said, shoving open the door and dashing inside with her little brother behind her, “Quick!”
They reached their cabin just in time: The giant had its head hanging over the top of the train, looking in on them both. McKenzie waved to it (Ezra waved, too) and then the giant tried waving back. But he couldn’t hold on with only one hand, so he tumbled off the train and vanished into the fog instead.
McKenzie rushed up to the window, but by the time she had gotten there, the fog had all vanished and the only thing she saw was a clear, moonlit night with a white cloud retreating behind them.
“Kenzie,” Ezra said.
“How long till we get to Grandma’s house?”
McKenzie stared out the window for a moment more and then turned to her brother. “Well,” she said, “not till morning.” She helped Ezra onto his seat and then sat down opposite him just as before. “So go to sleep, okay?”
“Okay, Kenzie.” Ezra rolled onto his side and was instantly out.
McKenzie, however, was as awake as she had ever been. She’d met a giant! Two giants actually! She couldn’t wait till they arrived–she wanted to tell Grandma and Grandpa everything!