Tom set the bowl on the counter and opened a cupboard. He pulled out a bag of pretzels, opened it, and sniffed.
"Is there a date on the bag?" said Christine.
Tom jumped. He hadn't realised his sister was standing in the kitchen. He glared at the front of the pretzels bag and shook his head. "It doesn't say either way," he said.
Christine shrugged and stepped forward just enough to dip her hand in the bag and take a pretzel. There was a loud snap as she bit off a piece, and her hand flew to her mouth. After some rapid pokes at different teeth, she removed the piece from her mouth and tossed it in the trash. "It doesn't taste stale, anyhow," she whispered.
Tom's shoulders slumped. He dumped the pretzels into the bowl. "Aunt Mabel didn't say either of us had to eat them." He picked up a pretzel that had fallen onto the counter and waved it at Christine. "Happy New Year."
Christine shook her head. "I swear," she breathed, "I don't want to be drinking age to drink. I just want to be old enough to go to my own New Year's party and not get baby-sat anymore."
"You two!" came a screech from the TV room. "You're being anti-social."
"I just need to put the bag in the garbage, Aunt Mabel!" said Tom.
"What about your sister?"
"I had to rearrange the fridge to fit the Coca-Cola in, Aunt Mabel!" said Christine. She opened and slammed the fridge door. "No, the door still isn't sealing. I better move the milk."
"You can't leave the fridge with the door open!"
"I know. I'll make sure." Christine rolled her eyes at Tom.
"Well hurry up. I don't want to miss this idiot from Dubuque. Every time he gets ahead, he buys a damned vowel."
"Who watches game show reruns, anyhow?" hissed Tom.
"Our aunt does," whispered Christine. "And there's a marathon of them until midnight."
"Yay." Tom crumpled up the pretzel bag and opened the lid on the trash bin. When he let the lid drop, it didn't close completely.
Tom grimaced, lifted the lid again, and pushed the garbage down, but when he dropped the lid, the pretzel bag unfolded itself and pushed the lid up. Tom sighed. "Mabel's going to freak if she sees that in the morning. It has to go out tonight."
"I'll hold the door open," said Christine.
"No, it's your turn to go out," said Tom. "I'll hold the door open."
Christine shrugged. "Can't blame me for trying. " It wasn't snowing for once, but it was well below freezing. Aunt Mabel's house didn't have a garage, so they had to put the garbage in cans kept in the alleyway.
"HA!" Christine and Tom both jumped and stared in the direction of the living room. "HA! This ninny from Buffalo just tried to guess Big Foot was from Saskatchewan! Where would something like that hide on the prairies?" There was a thunk as Aunt Mabel hit the side table with her cane for emphasis. "It's British Columbia! Where do they find these people?" The TV set got louder as an ad for a pickup truck played.
Tom swayed his head from side to side. "Sasquatch, Saskatchewan, you could see someone making the mistake."
"It's Saskatchewan, not Sasquatchewan!"
"Okay," said Christine. "Aunt Mabel, the garbage is full. I'm going to take it out."
"Do that," said Aunt Mabel. "Tom, stop hiding in the kitchen. Come sit here."
"I will. I'm going to hold the door for Christine. It's really dark already."
Christine and Tom heard the musical cue announcing the resumption of the game show. They exchanged shrugs, and Christine pulled the bag out of the garbage bin while Tom retrieved a fresh bag from under the counter.
They went to the mudroom. Christine pushed her arms into the sleeves of her parka, and pulled Tom's watch-cap over her ears. She picked up the bag of garbage and opened the outer door. Tom stood in the doorway and held the door with his fingertips, wincing as the cold glass reached the pain threshold.
He heard a loud clang and a grunt. "Did you knock over the trash can?" When Christine didn't answer he stuck his head out the door.
Christine was standing perfectly still with her back to Tom, the garbage bag in her left hand. The knocked-over trash can was at her feet. It was the only thing between her and the white, furry man-creature staring at her.
Tom couldn't see the — person's? animal's? — face in the dark alleyway, but from the tilt of its head, he guessed it was staring right back at his sister. He felt the blood drain from his face as he realised that, even though he was standing on the top doorstep, a good metre higher than the walkway, the creature was still slightly taller than he was.
"Hey!" he yelled. He smacked the brick wall with his hands, which didn't make the loud sound he'd been hoping for. "HEY! This is a private walkway! Get lost!"
The creature gave a startled-sounding grunt, jerked its head up, backed up a few steps, then turned and ran. Tom caught a glimpse of it loping away under the streetlights as he shuffled awkwardly down the steps to Christine, his socks sticking to the ice on the concrete.
"Are you okay?" he said, gingerly stepping onto the frozen grass and setting the garbage can upright.
Christine's mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. Tom took the bag of garbage from her and put it in the trash can. When he tugged at her sleeve, she followed him into the house.
Tom pulled the door shut behind them and double-checked it was locked. Christine giggled suddenly as she pulled off her parka.
"This is Ontario. Southern Ontario, even."
"Maybe it got lost."
Tom's breath came out between a choke and a laugh. "Let's just check all the doors and windows are locked before we give Aunt Mabel the pretzels."