The Frost Giants of Maine

The Frost Giants of Maine”

by Jeff Reynolds

Someone should have told George Simpson it was a mistake to purchase a property in Maine in autumn after the frost giants had left, migrating north to their winter homes. But the old Victorian at the southern end of Old Orchard Beach looked inviting now that Maine’s indigenous wildlife had gone. The color of the fall leaves was at its peak, and the town was picturesque.

His real estate agent, Margaret Cianchette—everyone called her Marge, or sometimes Bucket, both for her resemblance to one and a reference to her unspoken middle name—didn’t bother to mention that the damage he assumed had been caused by a bad coastal storm the week before was actually reminders of Maine’s summer visitors.

“Just look at those lovely views,” she said when she showed him the deck that overlooked the water. “And they’ll be holding the End of Summer festival soon. Will you be here to attend?”

George agreed that the view was lovely. The beach stretched six miles to the north, waves lapping the longest white-sand shoreline in all of New England. Little houses, a few small inns and resorts, but no big condominiums, no giant hotels. The home had access to a goodly dredged channel that would allow him to berth his seventy-foot boat close enough to his house that he only had to walk a few dozen steps to board her. It was a perfect summer home. It would be a perfect place to retire in a few years.

“Yes, it’s lovely,” he said, tapping his fingers on the wood.

Margaret suspected he hadn’t heard her mention of the festival, but she could smell a sale about to happen as sure as she could smell his Old Spice, so she didn’t bring it up again. She liked to say that it was better if you shut up and let the buyer work up a head of steam and talk themselves into the purchase.

“I’ll take it.”

George spent the winter in St. Louis as workers fixed up the old Victorian. No one seemed to care what he did to the place as long as he had a permit and didn’t plan to house any unicorns, which the state of Maine considered an invasive species.

He visited his new vacation home for the first time in April the following year. He spent mornings looking out the bay windows, watching the lobster boats working the harbor. A winter storm came on Tax Day, which everyone thought was appropriate. Another hit near the end of April, which wasn’t as well received and made a few folks grumble, though it wasn’t unusual to get bad weather that time of year. But when May arrived, the weather took the turn everyone waited for each long Maine winter with great anticipation. The last of the Cabin Fever Reliever parties were held, winter jackets were retired to coat closets and cedar chests, and spring officially sprang.

Then the frost giants returned.

For summer folk who bought vacation homes in Maine, wild creatures were a nuisance. They came for the ocean breezes and the beaches. They certainly didn’t come to see moose wading through a bog, or a wild phoenix flitting among the pine trees.

Frost giants were a wicked pisser for those folks.

On June the third, George stepped out onto his deck to enjoy a morning that gave hints of a warm day to follow when he noticed movement. Stepping between homes clad in shingles weathered gray from the salt air came one of the frost giants, with what passed as delicate care for something twelve feet tall and nearly the same mass as an elephant.

The folks gave the diminutive giant no more than a passing glance before returning to their washing, shopping, lobster trap repairing, and beach strolling. Everyone called him Stumpy on account of he was about a head shorter than any of the other frost giants. A terrier decided to follow him down to the surf, barking and nipping at his heels, but opted not to follow him into the chilly waters. Stumpy waded out several hundred feet from shore and plopped down without ceremony into the ocean. The resulting wave doused the terrier, and he ran off yelping.

George had already rung police dispatch by then.

“Ten two two, what’s your emergency,” Carol Michaud answered. She’d practiced the line a hundred times when she’d gotten the job, and had it down pat to where she could say it without sounding flustered. She had a knack for recitation, and thought perhaps she might be able to make it on Broadway since she could sing, too. But everyone who knew Carol said she sounded like a duck being run over by a logging truck when she sang. Not to her face of course. They weren’t mean, just honest.

“There’s a disturbance at the beach,” George told her. “A wild animal.”

This woke Carol better than coffee. Nothing interesting ever happened in Old Orchard Beach, at least not until schools had let out for the summer and the teens started sneaking booze from their parents’ liquor cabinets, and setting fires under the pier. “What sort of creature, sir?” she asked, excited by the prospect of a good story to tell.

“One of those giant people.” George had gotten so flustered he couldn’t remember what they were called.

Carol lost the head of steam she’d been developing. “Frost giant. They’re early this year.”

“Why are they here at all?” George sounded like a man who was about to lose his washing to a stiff breeze.

“Native species, indigenous to northern states and Canada. They’re protected by law, but I think that’s just to keep folks from doing something stupid. They get wicked pissed.”

George cursed. “I know what a frost giant is,” he told her. “What you haven’t yet told me is what you’re going to do about it.”

“There’s nothing we can do, sir,” she said, as patient as ever. She’d practiced patience, too, with her nieces and nephews when they kept asking why the sky was blue, or why female centaurs had breasts instead of udders. “I’d suggest staying away from them, they sometimes forget to look where they’re going.”

She hung up on George.

By then, a second frost giant had joined the first, wading further into the bay, waves from its passing legs rocking the Wilhamenna, which puttered around the harbor picking up lobster traps. The captain turned a few points to starboard and gave them a wide berth.

George walked back and forth along his deck, his face bright red, muttering loudly to himself. In another state they might have taken that as a sign of madness and had someone check on him, which probably would have saved the town a lot of grief in the long run. But Mainers generally felt it were best to let folks alone as long as they did the same. Most everyone’s a little mad anyway, especially when faced with the prospect of long New England winters. That much cold and snow would drive anyone insane.

George invested in fencing. He brought in a Saco construction firm and had them build concrete walls ten feet high around his property, topped with a strip of electric fencing. At night he would sit on the deck and watch the bugs and small mammals fry when they touched the top of the wall, eerie blue sparks signifying one less critter to bother him. He found it comforting, and took to giggling every time there was a loud zap.

But his permit only covered a simple, picket fence instead of the monstrosity he’d paid for. “Says here,” the inspector, Vern Frost, said, “that you can’t build something that large.”

“I think you’re reading the permit incorrectly,” George said, holding up a folded one-hundred-dollar bill.

“Nope, I’m not,” Vern said, reading the permit extra careful. Then he eyed the money. “What have you got there?”

“A little something for your time.” George spoke low so no one would overhear him. Not that anyone would be surprised that he bribed Vern. That’s what everyone did. Although Vern would tell you that most offered a few deer steaks or a bottle of Allen’s coffee flavored brandy. No one had ever offered a one-hundred-dollar bill before, so he wasn’t sure it was real.

“I already got paid,” Vern said, sliding a hand under the strap of the greasy coveralls he wore rather than take the possibly funny money. “You ain’t got to pay nothing, but you do gotta fix your fence. It’s too darned big.”

George took out his wallet and added two more hundred-dollar bills to the first. “What about now? Is the fence still too large?” He pushed the money at Vern and insisted he take it.

“Welp.” Vern looked at the fence for a while, tipping his head one way and then the other. “You ain’t done nothing yet, so it’s still the same size. But I’ll mark here where it says compliant if you promise to fix it.”

“Fine, I promise.”

“Good enough.” Vern tucked that money away in one of his pockets. He bought a used Skidoo with the cash from his cousin, Chub, but he lost it when it broke through the ice on lake Passamaquoddy that winter, leaving him out three hundred bucks and the price of the gas he paid to fill it. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He ripped off a sheet and handed it to George. “Put that in your window. You have a nice day.”

Things went well enough until one of the frost giants, noticing the blue sparks one night, decided to investigate. He touched the fence and got a tickle from the electric wiring. He decided that seemed fine and sat down, pressing his back against it and using it for a scratching post, until a section of the structure collapsed beneath his weight.

George stood in the gap the next morning, wearing a bathrobe and holding his coffee as he looked at the ruin of his plan.

Marie Desjardins walked past along the beach and stopped to chat with him. “Wall’s too big,” she said. “Vern is gonna ding you on that.” She walked on.

Folks refer to the summer that followed as the OOB War, or George’s War. Some of them remember it fondly, given the amount of money George Simpson seemed willing to spend to rid the town of what he liked to tell anyone who would listen was an infestation of nefarious monsters. But George was from away, and people from away are always getting upset about something. You can’t take them too seriously.

George decided to buy the properties surrounding his own. He’d’ve probably dug a deep moat, or built a wall so big even the giants couldn’t wreck it. It was a silly plan, everyone said, but they gave him points for trying.

Two large properties bracketed his to the north and west. The former was an empty lot that separated his property from the rest of town. Only the foundation of an old mansion that had burned down half a century before reminded folks what it had been used for.

The latter sat along a curve of the Saco river, sharing the dredged channel that George’s yacht, the Ava Maria, used, and was owned by withered old Mrs. Wilhelmina Elsworth, a distant heir of the D&N Baked Bean company. Some said you could still smell the molasses on her when she came into the Shop and Save to pick up her groceries. Other than getting her groceries, she was rarely seen except when rocking on her porch as she looked out over the bay.

Buying the first property turned out to be easy. It was owned by the town, and they were happy to find someone to pay the price they’d been holding out for. They would have come down quite a bit since no one had paid taxes on it in decades. But they decided not to mention that to George since he seemed so eager.

The other property turned out to be a problem. Mrs. Elsworth would have none of his nonsense about the frost giants and wouldn’t sell at any price. “They’re not my problem,” she said. “I don’t bother them, and they don’t bother me.” She slammed the door in his face.

He tried again. He brought a bouquet of flowers and some local boys playing Mariachi music. None of them were Mexican, but they’d seen an Antonio Banderas movie and it sounded like a good idea at the time. This netted George a court date for trespassing and a bill from the band for the replacement of the instruments damaged when Mrs. Elsworth stepped onto the porch with a shotgun and opened fire. George and the musicians ran, the trumpets and guitars hit the ground, and Mrs. Elsworth spent the morning using them for target practice.

The police came and stood by their car, watching. When George approached them, they smiled and nodded.

“Aren’t you going to stop her?” George asked.

The older of the two stared at Mrs. Elsworth for a while, and then shook his head. “Nope. She’ll run out of ammo soon enough.

The band disbanded soon after the incident. They weren’t particularly good at playing, and they’d taken a lot of flak for musical cultural appropriation. Two of them became the core of the new wave punk rock country group, Flounder, which released two gold records, including the hit single Harpy Take Flight of My Heart, and were widely considered responsible for the death of rock and roll as an art form.

Maine was very proud of them.

With the July fourth holiday approaching, the beach was packed. The frost giants numbered in the dozens now, spending much of their time splashing in the water, or playing catch the boulder. They were pretty good at it, too, which made everyone happy since the boulders were the size of Buicks.

George’s calls to the emergency line had become a routine every night and every morning. Carol, who handled the duties from eight PM to eight AM, usually took his calls. They provided a book end to her otherwise dull routine. She told her sister she liked the old coot, and probably would have gone out with him if he asked. She’d always been attracted to older men, especially ones with nice boats.

“Ten two two, what’s up this morning, George?” she asked.

“Those giants are mucking up the river channel,” George said.

“Well that’s not so bad, is it?”

“They’re bumping my boat. They might sink her.”

Carol could hear the noise of cracking knuckles as he squeezed the phone. “They’ll be moving on soon, once the day warms up.”

“It’s overcast today,” George said, yelling now. “It’s not going to get above sixty-six!”

“Pretty much a heat wave then,” Carol said.

“Can’t you send someone out?”

“No dear, there’s nothing we can do.”

“The police?”

“No, sweetie.”

“The coast guard?”

“No, handsome.”

“The navy?”

She thought for a moment. “The navy?”

“Yes?” George said. He sounded a tad hopeful.

She thought about it for a bit, popping her gum. “No darling, the navy won’t come. Someone tried that in seventy-three, and the defense department laughed them out of the state.”

She hung up and returned to her morning news programs. Someone had let their banshee out and the Portland police had their hands full trying to capture it. She shook her head and turned the volume up. She just didn’t understand people these days with their exotic pets. There ought to be a law against it.

George wrote a wicked good editorial that the Portland Press Herald published on July 4th. George had a way with words, a result of his mother’s devotion to his learning, and an Ivy League degree. He thought a call to action might thaw the coldest Maine hearts.

On July fifth, George strolled along the beach, whistling. The hour was early, and there were only a few people near the water. Most were recovering from the festivities of the night before and still asleep. Some hadn’t bothered to go home and were snuggled up on beach towels and blankets, in various states of dishevel.

The frost giants were already in the water. George watched them and waited as the sun rose over the horizon, as pretty a shade of pink and orange as he could wish for. When a young couple approached, walking arm and arm down the strand, he stepped in front of them.

“Do you see those ugly beasts out there?” he asked, nodding in the direction of the frolicking behemoths.

The man shrugged. “All the time.”

The woman pressed against him grinned. “Pretty cool, ain’t it. We ain’t got nothing like them down in Boston.”

George frowned. “Do either of you read the newspaper?”

They walked around George, and the man spoke again. “Newspaper? Who reads papers anymore?” Before they were out of earshot, the man asked the young woman, “What was your name again?” She laughed in response.

The rest of the day was much of the same. Few had read George’s rousing words. Fewer still cared either way. No one had been persuaded by George’s arguments that the frost giants should be run out of town by the army. Only Owen Grigsby, an old lobsterman who cast his traps off Pine Point seemed to agree with him.

“Darned if I don’t pull up a fouled trap ’bout every other day,” he said, chewing on the stem of his pipe. “Them giants gets the line caught up in their toes, and they crush the traps.”

“We should have them put down,” George said.

“Well,” Owen said, squinting at the giants, who were splashing each other and sending small tidal waves onto the beach, “I don’t know about that. I’d just like it if’n we could keep them away from my traps. Would be a might bit messy if we started killing them. Big corpses, you know. Gotta cut ’em up. Might not kill ’em. Just make ’em angry.”

He went back to mending his traps, mumbling about strange folks from away, and George went home. The surge of support he expected from that letter never came, though he received a trickle of sympathetic notes. One elderly woman from Bath sent him an apple pie, with a postcard that said, “Might as well get used to them, dear. I have.”

The pie was delicious.

The guard dogs George bought wouldn’t go out at night and knew better than to bark at people the size of houses. He turned them over to the Humane Society shelter after three days of watching them hide behind the sofa when the giants came close to the house.

The banshee took one look at the giants and fled north into the forest. She was a lot smarter than George, apparently.

In desperation, George turned to the internet. You could get almost anything on the internet. Razors, cars, lingerie, homes, vacations, pets, even entire orchestras.

There were other sites as well where you could hire killers. Men and women from around the world who, for a large sum of cash, would hunt down a problem for you and put it out of your misery. Monster hunters from Italy and Israel, trained by their country’s armed forces, and who specialized in the task of eradicating monsters.

He hired two of the best, a Russian team who referred to themselves as Boris and Natasha. One hundred and twenty-seven confirmed kills, twenty-three of them against the monsters of the world, and reputed to have killed off the last wendigos of Canada. Their prices were insane, but George had plenty of money.

They flew in to Portland International Jetport one late July evening. George had a driver pick them up and bring them back to his home, where they spent the night in a guest room. When they’d settled, George locked himself in the panic room he’d had installed in the basement. He’d taken one look at them and figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

George got up early like always and got himself his coffee. He looked out his kitchen window up the dark length of beach, the east only now growing gray with the approach of dawn. He’d taken a sip when a sharp crack split the morning air. Startled, he dropped his blue mug and it shattered on the floor.

Halfway between his home and the boardwalk, a blossom of fire erupted. The explosion woke pretty near everyone in town who hadn’t already been awake. More than one person ended up with cut feet when their windows shattered.

Then there came the rapid fire of a machine gun. George stumbled onto the deck and cracked his ankle against an Adirondack chair too close to the door. Hopping on one foot, he craned his neck to see the roof.

Natasha lay on the roof, little more than a black outline, holding the less lethal end of a machine gun that jutted beyond the eves. Fire from the metal barrel licked the morning air, sending glowing rounds up the beach. The explosion had faded to the flickering light of many small fires, and a pall of smoke spread over the small homes and shops.

George yelled at her to stop, but his words were drowned by the chatter of automatic fire. He tripped and fell backward onto his ass while holding his ankle. Then he writhed around on the deck for a few moments, clutching his ass.

Lights came on in homes and people ran outside to see what the ruckus was about. There were shouts, cries of alarms, someone screaming to call the police. Carol soon had more excited Ten Two Two calls than she could handle. After she retired, she told everyone at the old folks’ home that it was the best day of her entire career.

The firing on the roof stopped. A black box thumped onto the deck next to George, a spent magazine cartridge. In the brief silence, George screamed, “Stop shooting!”

She opened up again, ignoring him. The giants clustered around the pier in confusion as they moved away from the site of the explosion and incoming tracer rounds. That’s when the entire length of the wooden structure rippled like a great wave, fire blossoming under the walkway. The boardwalk went up in that second explosion, showering wooden splinters in all directions as fire consumed it. It was the greatest calamity to hit Old Orchard Beach since the ferry, Acadia, had been sunk by a kraken.

Two of the giants fell, striking the water and sending a wave crashing up the beach and against the shingle. Well, George got a bit excited. As destructive as the execution had been, it seemed Boris and Natasha were succeeding.

But the frost giants were moving now, chasing a small figure that could only be Boris racing along the sand. No one from town knew who the running man was. But they could tell the giants seemed to think he was the one causing all the noise and destruction. Mainers hadn’t professed much in the way of admiration for the giants over the years, but now they rooted them on like they were cheering a Red Sox game.

The giants crushed everything in their way. Beach umbrellas, stairs leading to the sand, lifeguard shacks; all trampled under hairy feet, each step trembling nearby homes. The people who’d come out onto the street ran west away from the destruction as the nearer giants crashed through homes and shops.

The figure reached the edge of the sand a few hundred feet from George’s house and dove into the surf. The frost giants were a second behind. The one in the lead launched itself high into the air. George watched the creature’s vast bulk blot out the sky. Natasha sent rounds into his flesh, unable to slow the beast as he arced through the air and crashed into the shallow waters, just as the tiny figure broke the surface. It immediately disappeared beneath the body of the giant, and the splash sent a plume of spray two hundred feet high.

Natasha screamed and rose to her feet as the crowd of giants crossed the empty lot in front of George’s home. One stepped in the hole of the old foundation and tripped, taking down a couple more with it. But the rest came on. Tracers from Natasha’s rifle hit the ones in the front, staggering them, but they rushed forward, stumbling as they howled with rage. Oh, but they were wicked pissed. The windows of George’s house shattered with the sound of their bellows.

George crawled towards the sliding door and into his kitchen. That was the last time anyone saw old George. The figure on the roof ran up the slope as the giants crushed the remaining parts of George’s wall, and then crashed into the old Victorian. The structure collapsed under their weight. Natasha fell backwards into the debris, disappearing in a cloud of wood and plaster dust.

The giants spent a couple of hours tearing up the place. They sunk the Ava Maria as well, which blocked the channel for a couple of months. Folks got a bit worried when they started moving back towards town, but they’d tired themselves out by then.

The giants gathered at the edge of the surf and looked at the bodies of their friends who had been killed. That’s when someone realized Stumpy was one of the dead, and word soon spread. A few people might have killed George themselves at that point if he’d showed his face. Stumpy was as close to a town favorite as any frost giant, and it hit people pretty hard.

Folks kept well away as the giants picked up the dead bodies and carried them off into the woods. When the giants returned to the beach the next day, it was as though nothing had happened. Other than there were fewer of them, and a lot of folks were still upset about Stumpy. The town took up a collection in Stumpy’s name and put it towards the End of Summer festival that year, which made folks feel a little better.

A year later, when they dredged the new channel next to the remnants of George’s house, Wilbur Clayborne and his sons found the body of Boris buried in six feet of mud and silt. The weight of that giant had driven him right down deep into the muck, and he’d been preserved by the coldness of the water. They had to call in the coast guard to help defuse the explosives strapped to his belt. Vern enjoyed the television notoriety and spent the next few days being interviewed by the local news and picking up free beers down at the Ceryneian lodge by retelling the story to anyone who asked.

The townsfolk picked over the remains of George’s house. It was a tragedy, but there was a lot of good wood to be had. They put some aside, planning to use it for the festival bonfire. A small good from a bad ending.

They eventually found George’s body locked in the panic room. The door might have gotten damaged during the attack, because they needed a blow torch to cut it open after they found it. Or maybe the giants broke the handle on purpose to keep him there. But he died there in that dark hole, and some thought that was better than he deserved.

That fall, Mainers gathered to watch the migration of the frost giants as they returned to their winter homes. Along the route people tailgated from the back of their pickups and station wagons, applauding and whistling in appreciation, trying to make up a little for what George had done. The giants ignored them, muttering to each other in their own guttural language about the strange little people from away.

Early in October, when the last giant left the beach, the town of Old Orchard held its annual End of Summer Festival, like they did every year. They took a week off from work and spent it fixing some of the damage to each other’s homes and shops. The pier was a total loss, but they would reach out to the state to see if there was any grant money available to rebuild it.

They held a communal picnic for families with children on Saturday afternoon. Then the adults reveled at a drunken debauch on Saturday night, painting their skin with the ink of squids and dancing around the burning effigy of an enormous wooden figure with curving antlers built from the wood of George’s home. On that night, Old Orchard remembered the old gods and goddesses, the many-limbed and many-toothed, who birthed the world in the dim recesses of a time long before.

For those few days of the festival, Old Orchard remembered its summer visitors—excepting George—and thanked them for their patronage, before hunkering down for cold weather and snowy days. Then they waited for the visit of the Blue Ridge Bigfoots, who came north to Maine every winter to ice skate and ski.

______________

Jeff Reynolds is a writer from the foggy coast of Maine who works for Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, home of New Horizons and Parker Solar Probe. His work has appeared in Analog, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld magazines. He’s a graduate of the Viable Paradise writers’ workshop, and the creator of the Speculative Fiction Magazine Subscription web page. You can find him at https://www.trollbreath.com

 

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