There were giants that way. That was all James ever used to say. In the woods out back, down the path to the right, past the old sewer runoff, and into the clearing next to the skunk cabbage.
There were giants.
He would whisper it from his hospice bed. James was real good at that. James was the type of kid that could tell a bedtime story so terrible, so shocking, that it made all the little hairs on your neck and arm prickle up like crazy.
I am not so good like that, but I will try.
They were three mean giants, and each was dirtier and nastier than the last one.
The biggest was the lady giant.
James called her Big Red, on account of her long, matted red hair that was the shade of my bedsheets. She had a real crackly voice, and when James imitated Big Red, he coughed and gagged like he had some of her hair caught in the back of his throat. I always got a good giggle out of that impression. One time, James was so loud when he was doing the Big Red voice, Mom came into our room and turned the light on because she thought we were playing past bedtime. We laughed and laughed. Then Mom had to check on James’ medicine again.
Big Red never wore any clothes. James said that was because there weren’t any clothes in the world that could fit her huge, gnarly belly. Her skin was gross, too, like a saggy pint of old ice cream. James said that Red reeked so bad that he would know if she was coming from a mile away. She smelled like burning cabbage and old French fries, and when she talked, two long, lonely yellow teeth poked out of her mashing gums and pinched together.
She was also, approximately, a gazillion feet tall.
The next biggest giant was a man giant. The other ones called him Rippo, and he was a trillion feet tall. Rippo was the meanest giant, because once he got a hold of a kid, he would hit him and hit him until the boy was forced to fall asleep for a little while. He had all of his yellow teeth left, and they were sharp like knives that could cut-cut-cut through your skin in a second.
James showed me the marks.
The last giant was maybe only a million feet tall, and the clothes he wore were real dirty and gray and ripped all the over the place with weird patches. James called him Muscrat, on account of the fact his voice was always squeaky like a mouse, even though he looked more like a cat. Muscrat was the best at slinking and sliding between the trees or making himself unseen. He reminded me of our housecat, Mellow, because both of them had really long nails, and every time those nails touched your skin, a little red line would follow.
James showed me those marks, too.
I didn’t believe him, though, not really. One day when James was at the doctor’s office, Mom took me to the local library and found the biggest book on giants in the whole place. Mom was too sad to read it for me, but I got the idea from the pictures.
There were never any real giants. Giants were make-believe, stupid stuff for kids and babies that lived in stories and fairytales. Even still, the next day at school, I brought my giant book to class and told them all about the things I learned. Stuff about how giants lived in mountains. Stuff about how they were millions of feet tall. But when the teacher saw the book, she just told me to read something my age, and then all the kids laughed at me.
After a while, I got tired of James’ stories.
Each night was a new chapter. Sometimes it was about where they lived, or what they ate, or who they killed. I remember one night when he talked about how the giants used the bones of kids they ate as tools and decorations all around their old wood cabin in the Valley. It was so scary and so detailed, but I still knew none of it was real.
Soon enough, the stories were downright stupid. How could you be scared of something you knew was fake? Two library books had already told me the truth. The kids laughed at me. My friends didn’t like me anymore.
One night, I told James he was a baby, and I did not want to hear his dumb baby stories anymore.
Not long after that, James got a lot
more sick sicker. Mom promised it was not because of our fight, but I didn’t believe her, either. The doctors said the holes in his head were not healing right, and the little hospital in our house was not good enough, and he needed to go to the city full-time. I cried when he left. When he got there, we visited each and every day and night, but the news was always bad.
One day, Mom told me James wouldn’t be able to talk anymore. I missed the stories after that.
Another day, she said James could not smell. I wondered how he would smell the giants and know if they were coming.
Then after that, James did not know we were in the room at all.
On the last night, I cried in the hospital room and begged James to wake up. One more giant story was all I ever asked. He was so quiet and so still, and his chest moved up and down so smoothly it just seemed like he was sleeping.
I told myself the doctors were idiots and he was fine all along.
Maybe he was dreaming about the giants and couldn’t wake up because he was fighting them in their kingdom. Maybe it was a big battle that lasted days and weeks and months. But deep down I knew that was wrong. Deep down, I just prayed his eyes would open one more time.
But nobody answered.
The monitor beeped and beeped and beeped for a little while, and then it didn’t.
Mom took me home after that.
The next night, my mom had to take care of some things for James and promised to not be gone for long. She made me promise that I would be a goood good and brave boy. I told her that I would.
My fingers were crossed the whole time.
Twenty minutes after she was gone out the front door, I was out the back door and into the woods. Down the path to the right, past the old sewer runoff, and into the clearing next to the skunk cabbage.
I needed to see it for myself. Even to a six-year-old, there was something about that story that never felt right. James had never told anybody else about the giants. Just me. He said they would eat him if he ever did. But he trusted me with the truth, and it was up to me to find it out.
It was dark. I never planned on it being that dark. There were no lights out there, but there was a full moon and clear sky behind it. I was lucky to have that, because without it I may not have been able to follow James’ instructions so good.
It was quiet. It was the type of quiet only the woods can give you, without the humming of electricity and car motors. It was so quiet that I could hear the sound of the campfire in the clearing from a long way away.
There were three people gathered around it.
The woman had bright red hair. Her voice was loud and unmistakable as it crackled to her friends beside her. The man was massive, with a burly chest covered in hair that dipped down to his shoulders. The third was passive, hiding behind a tree just out of the light of the flames. I couldn’t see that one so good. They stood in front of an old cabin connected to a side street I had never seen before.
I did not stay to find out more.
James told me that if you took your shoes off and ran on the pine needles, the giants might not hear you. The dry ends of the leaves and brush cut my feet. But I was super quiet. In minutes, I was at the back door. I dove into the surprised arms of my mother.
And then I told her everything.
I told her about James’ stories every night before bed. I told her about the giants. I told her they were there right now.
She panicked and called the police.
The whole department showed up soon after. Three vagrants were arrested for trespassing, possession of narcotics, and as suspects in the disappearance of a young girl in nearby White Valley. The lawyer lady told me that I helped them solve the case. None of it made much sense to me, though, at the time.
I told the policeman my story about James and the giants. I asked him whether he caught real monsters. He thought about that for a long time. He waited until my mom was out of the room before he replied. Then he looked serious.
“Sometimes people are the monsters, kid.”
I liked that.
After that, I started to see.
Because those three never looked like
Giants giants to me.