December 10, 2022, Earth-reconciled time
Yub-Shnagshoroth perched on a frosty ledge beneath a vast, dark sky filled with glowing green curtains. But not really.
The Astronomer had finished taking notes on his regular scrying, and now saw fit to pass some time in the Halfway Room. Here, he could visualize anything and everything his instruments and personal logs had recorded; but just as importantly, he could go anywhere he wished in the mortal dimension, with the caveat that he was out of phase. His surrounding environment would not be entirely solid to him, nor he to it. Still, it was the closest he could usually come to being back on planet Earth. And he cherished it.
Out there, on the frigid island of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, it was deep into the polar night, a season of darkness lasting nearly four months. Overhead, the soft carpet of a billion stars felt almost as vast as it truly was. Off to the north where he was presently looking, the aurora borealis danced slowly. He'd seen it only once during his captivity on the island of Hokkaido, but since returning to the Yokai ergosphere it had become one of his favorite things to spy upon. And there was scarcely a better place from which to spy than Svalbard.
On this particular evening, however, the near dead emptiness of his favored hilltop vantage was broken by a familiar presence. He'd felt it once before, in 1922, at this same time of year. It was... frankly, a soiled kind of presence.
He wasn't entirely sure until he felt the half-solid ground quiver beneath his leather bench. Then he knew.
HALLO AGAIN, MY LADY. I SUPPOSE I KNOW WHAT IT IS YOU WANT.
2:00 pm, December 21, 2022
For Ithaca, NY, the night of the 20th had been a disgusting mess of lake effect snow, amplified by a polar vortex. By early afternoon of the 21st, the 3 or so feet of snow had finished falling. The sun was out, and the day was just about warm enough to start to melt the snow before sundown. Which, of course, only made shoveling that much more essential, and that much more arduous.
Josefina Torres, my long distance girlfriend, was pooped, and was seated on the porch bench having a nice daydream about elves, when a shudder in the boards beneath her feet snapped her out of her reverie.
At first, she could identify no cause. Then she saw it in her peripheral vision. Something moving, far down the driveway, though when she turned to look in that direction it was too obscured by snowfall to make out.
Gradually the something drew closer, until it had a clear outline. Bipedal, roughly human-shaped, and enormous. Then she could make out that they had hair, albeit grossly unkempt, and clothes, however atrocious and ragged. And as tall as they seemed to be, they'd have been taller still were it not for an extreme case of hunchback. This was a monster alright.
Somehow unsurprisingly, they were moving with a purpose toward Steinmetz Farm.
"Shit," Jo said under her breath. She cupped her mouth in the general direction of the door and hollered: "Sheldon?!" I didn't hear her over the hum of the kitchen hood; when I came running soon after, it was because by then, the whole house was shuddering.
Turning back to the driveway, she saw that the hulking, troll-like creature was now coming up on my pickup truck. She gasped. They were over 8 feet, probably closer to 9.
And a woman, unless Josefina missed her guess.
She folded her arms and made her best resting bitch-face. "What business do you have here, monster?"
The giantess's eyes went wide; they were far more expressive than one might expect from such a creature. She looked vaguely affronted. In answer, she reached into a leather satchel hanging from one massive wrist, and produced a sealed Pyrex dish full of baked goods. She smiled, evidently pleased with herself. And then, in a voice that was at once cheerful, and like a chorus of snarling hounds, she said,
"Is this not the huset of Herr Sheldon? I bring julekake and skolebrød, fur studen."
It all looked and sounded delicious. But Josefina didn't let up.
"That's kind of you, I'm sure, whatever it is you're trying to teach. But listen up Frau Farbissina. As Herr Steinmetz's girlfriend, I'd know if we were expecting company. This farm is a sanctuary for troubled monsters, not a Shell station for every swamp thing with blue balls. We have a Google Calendar for chrissakes! I'll ask if he can make some space on Monday, but Hanukkah is my time to get demon dick..."
She stopped talking when she saw the giantess's expression change. Suddenly, she didn't look so deferential. She looked like Kali, contemplating some smiting.
"No one defies Grýla," she growled softly.
Just then, the screen door flew open and I stuck my head out into that shitstorm. The apron strapped to my chest declared, “Shtup the Cook.”
"Did I hear my na—oh holy sh—hello there! I'm Sheldon! Did, uh, did The Astronomer possibly send you?"
I felt immediately sheepish. Josefina, as expected, was rolling her eyes. But at least the visitor's scowl vanished.
"Ja! Yub-Shnagshoroth told me that this year, I might spend the first night of Yule with Herr Sheldon. You know, in lieu of murdering a score of innocent families in some remote village to replenish myself for the next century?"
Damn that assfaced manipulator, I did not give my informed consent for this.
But aloud, I said: "First of all, we certainly do appreciate that generous reprieve for humanity, and I'm, uh, I'll certainly try to help. That said... Yub-Shnagshoroth really didn't explain the situation properly. I thought I might have just dreamed the whole thing. Like a regular dream, not a 'visitation from the 10th dimension' kind of dream."
I shot Josefina a helpless look; she glowered, shrugged, and finally nodded slightly.
"Alright," I continued, "why don't we... I'm sorry, what was your name?"
"Grýla. Grýla Juletrollet."
"Well, Grýla, why don't you come inside and have a seat, and we can sort this out over some hot tea?" I gestured towards the door, then added, "And do watch your head, the ceilings are quite low."
I was turning to duck back inside when the ground began to shake again, even more violently than before. And I could clearly see the cause: following its master up the driveway was, impossibly but unmistakably, a cat. A housecat the size of a house.
This was certainly fine and dandy and normal.
"Don't worry," the monster said with a wry smile. "Jolakotturinn can stay out here, he is outdoor pussycat."
As if in response, Stilgar appeared momentarily beside me, flattened his ears back, hissed loudly, and turned and sprinted back down the hall. A bemused Grýla ducked through the doorway after him. Josefina and I just gazed blankly at each other for a moment.
"What did I get myself into this time," I said softly.
"That's my line, Squiddy."