MAISIE PARKER PLAYED a lonely game of hopscotch in front of the abandoned house.
“One, two, three, four, nobody lives there anymore,” she sang as she jumped through the boxes. “Five, six, seven, eight, better make sure to close the gate.”
She reached the end of the board and wiped her forehead. It was hot. So hot that you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. Maisie giggled. Her grandma had said that after breakfast. Frying an egg on the sidewalk? How silly.
She picked up the stone and tossed it into another box. “One, two, three, four, leave some salt at the door. Five, six, seven, eight, only iron sets them straight – ”
Maisie whirled around to see a tall man peering through the overgrown bushes. He wore a three piece tuxedo, complete with cummerbund and tails, and white spats over his pointy shoes. His face was unnaturally pale, his eyes black, and his mouth a deep red.
Were his ears… pointy? Maisie couldn’t tell; his puffy white hair conveniently covered them. She frowned and stuck her hands in her pockets.
He stepped out of the bushes and bowed. “Little girl, I am the new resident of this lovely old mansion. To my consternation, I have dropped my keys down a long and narrow hole, and my hands are simply too large to retrieve them.” He paused, as if waiting for Maisie to respond.
Maisie held her tongue. Strangers were few and far between in this little piece of nowhere. When meeting one, it was best to be polite, and only polite.
A vexed expression crossed the man’s face. “Quiet little thing, aren’t you? No worries.” He forced a smile. “Might I borrow yours… your hands, I mean? Your hands are nice and small. Nice, small hands, perfect for reaching into long, narrow holes.”
Maisie swallowed and took a step back. Years ago, grandma had rubbed an ointment on one of her eyes. “Things live in the woods that look like people, but aren’t,” grandma had said. “You need to be able to see the difference.”
Maisie blinked, then closed her untreated eye. Where once stood a dapper older gentleman now stood a creature with green skin, a huge lower jaw, sharp and jagged fangs, and yellow eyes that blinked like a lizard.
“Give me your hands, little girl… ” The creature lunged for her.
Maisie screamed and threw a handful of salt in its face. The creature howled as she ran as fast as she could to her grandmother’s house.
“Grandma… troll! TROLL!” Maisie screamed at the top of her lungs. “TROLL!”