Chapter 2: Monsters and Magic

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Jane Constance Huang of Waltham, Massachusetts had never been so sure she was going to die.

The Thing in front of her was humanoid, with eyes like a cat's and irises of savage crimson. Its mouth was fanged, disproportionately wide, with dark purple lips that stretched across its face in a streak like the Joker's smile. It was so tall its head almost scraped the ceiling of her uncle's study, and ridged black scales sheathed its body.

Behind the monster, the portal through which it had just emerged glinted like liquid mercury. It was a small hole, about the height and width of Jane's closet mirror, and the image beyond shifted constantly—one moment clouds and sky—the next, a dark forest.

Thirty seconds ago, Jane had been staring at said portal, puzzling over its sudden appearance in her uncle's workroom, her algorithms textbook forgotten in her lap. Barely ten seconds later, the portal had turned dark and this alien Thing had emerged, unfolding its limbs like some sort of demonic flower.

Now, the creature scanned the room with crimson eyes, turning its head with a predator's grace. Jane had never seen anything like it in her life, but she knew without doubt that she didn't want it to see her. She sat very still, hugging her textbook, hardly daring to breathe. The creature smelled rank, like sewage overflowing from a backed-up drain.

Please, she thought desperately, please let this Thing have bad eyesight

As though sensing her thoughts, the creature's molten eyes swiveled toward her. Jane gulped.


It started toward her, slowly, deliberately. A mouth opened, revealing hideous canines in that far-too-wide mouth, and a tongue that was black and rotting. The smell was worse than ever.

"UNCLE BAUER!" Jane screamed. "SANDRA!"

She sprinted for the study door.

The Thing moved at the same time as she did. She heard its scales rasp across the floor of the study. Sharp claws like razors closed on her wrist, drawing blood. The skin felt horrible, chalky, like soap left to dry. It dragged her by the wrist, backward, toward the portal through which it had come.

Blind panic consumed her. She yelled and screamed—swatted at the monster with her textbook—tried to dent its horrible, scale-crusted skin—

The monster gave a final yank toward the portal—

—and things got very hazy...

She had a sense of falling, of tumbling through vast quantities of time and space in the blink of an instant. Everything was blurry, out-of-focus; there were no sounds, no sights, no smells. Her senses screamed with confusion. I'm too young to die, she thought, frantic—I haven't accomplished nearly enough in my life yet, unless you count getting good grades, and a few Habitat for Humanity trips that mostly involved not trying to smash in my hand with a hammer

This thought fragmented and was replaced with thoughts of all she still wanted to do with her life—Become a doctor! Start a company! Save the penguins!—which cycled on repeat before being replaced by a final, more pressing thought: I wonder what that flat, gray thing coming toward me could be...

She slammed into the ground. Breath exploded from her lungs. Her senses returned in a ruthless deluge of pain that immediately made her wish for the void again.

When at last she was able to move without wanting to scream, she dragged herself to her feet.

Stone met her eyes—high arches, stained glass windows, a small altar with a row of stone effigies. The air smelled musty and old. Beams of sunlight trickled through the windows, casting kaleidoscopes of color on the floor.

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