Grandma Bone was an unpleasant sight at the best of times, but after midnight she looked her worst. Her skinny frame was wrapped in a shaggy, gray bathrobe and her big feet ecased in green woolen slippers. A long, white ponytail hung over her shoulder, and her sallow face had blotches of white cream dotted across it.
“Hello, Grandma,” said Charlie, trying to make the best of things.
“Don’t be insolent.” Grandma Bone didn’t like people being cheerful at night.
“Why aren’t you in bed?”
“We were hungry.”
“Rubbish.” She treated everything Charlie said as a lie. “I heard cats.” She began to descend the stairs.
“They were outside, Grandma,” Charlie said quickly.
She stopped and stared at the glass fanlight above the front door. “What sort of snow is that? It doesn’t look normal.” She had a point. There was something different about those spinning flakes, but Charlie couldn’t have said what it was.
“It’s cold, white, and wet,” said Uncle Paton, stepping out of the kitchen. “What more do you want?”
“You!” snarled Grandma Bone. “Why didn’t you send these boys back to bed?”
“Because they were hungry,” answered her brother in a superior tone. “Go to bed, Grizelda.”
“Don’t you order me around.”
“Suit yourself.” Paton ambled back into the kitchen.
For a moment Grandma Bone remained on the stairs, glaring down at Charlie.
“I’ll get a glass of water, Grandma, and then we’ll go straight to bed.” Charlie looked at Billy. “Won’t we, Billy?”
“Oh, yes.” To an orphan like Billy, Charlie’s strange, quarreling family was endlessly fascinating. He nodded emphatically at Grandma Bone and added, “Promise.”
Grandma Bone gave a Hmph of doubt and shuffled upstairs.
Charlie drew Billy into the kitchen again and asked in a whisper, “What did they say, Billy? The Flames. About the Shadow?”
“They just said a word,” Billy replied. “It sounded like ‘listen.’ No, something different, an old-fashioned word for ‘listen.’”
“Hark?” Uncle Paton suggested.
“Yes, that’s it.”
“That’s hardly a name, dear boy.” Uncle Patton bit into a hunk of cheddar. It’s more of a command. Perhaps you misheard.”
“I didn’t,” said Billy gravely.