What do you do when your view of the world gets turned on its head? Eleven-year-old Josh Cooper is surprised when his new nanny ends up being a dude, but that pales in comparison to how he feels when he learns the nanny, Aiden, is also a werewolf. Aiden teaches Josh about the Imaginary World, even introducing him to his friends Larry Fancypants (a suave-yet-goofy vampire) and Steve Lickerman (a tall-yet-meek leprechaun). This fascinating world seems harmless, until Josh learns of the shadowy wraith that’s stalking New York, attacking creatures and stealing their powers. As werewolves are ideally suited for fighting wraiths, Aiden is called upon to help capture the elusive Mr. Midnight, unintentionally drawing Josh even deeper into the strange and mysterious.
Absorbed in these thoughts, Josh didn’t notice the group of men approaching until they were almost in front of him. Their loud, raucous speech blended in with the background noise. There were five of them, taking up the width of the sidewalk.
“’Scuse me, fellas,” said Aiden as he tried to move around them.
Their laughing stopped for a second but started back up right away, even louder than before. The one closest to Aiden replied in an exaggerated Southern accent, “Not a problem, pardner.” His friends guffawed.
“I don’t want any trouble,” Aiden said calmly. “We’re just headed home.”
“Where’s that? Okeefenokee?” This resulted in another round of laughter.
Aiden didn’t respond. He put an arm on Josh’s shoulder and started moving him toward the curb. “Let’s cross the street.”
The Ringleader, as Josh thought of him, stepped between Aiden and the street. “Hey, you brought something to our hoedown?” He grabbed the bag before Aiden could stop him, peering inside. “Organic yogurt? You some kind of hippy hillbilly? Like, a hillhippy?”
Again, there was a chorus of laughter. The others shouted out other possible combinations, such as billhippy or hipbilly. This egged on the Ringleader.
Aiden glared at him as he snatched back the bag. “I’m gonna ask you one time to get out of our way.”
“Or what? You gonna lasso me?”
Taking a deep breath, Aiden turned around and started walking back the way they came, putting an arm around Josh to bring him along. The gang moved to block their path.
Josh glanced up and down the sidewalk. He saw other people, but they were on the other side of the street or crossing to get there, avoiding whatever trouble was brewing.
“Josh,” said Aiden quietly, “you should always try to talk your way out of situations like this.”
“I tried to. I tried real hard.”
“It’s just that, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. And for the people you care about.” The way Aiden said it told Josh they were more than just words; he was dead serious. “Now close your eyes.”
“What?” Josh asked, surprised by this last bit.
“Just close them.” Aiden’s tone of voice left no room for argument.
Josh did as he was told and felt Aiden’s arm leave his shoulder. The laughing stopped instantly. The next thing Josh heard was one of the men saying, “What the—oof!”
He had seen enough karate movies to know what a fight sounded like. This was kind of like that, but different. There was no “hi-yah” to signify a punch. There were only grunts and random nonsensical yells. Heavy thuds made Josh picture bodies hitting the ground. Is that what was happening?
When things went silent again, Josh felt safe to open his eyes. Aiden was the only one left standing. Josh did a doubletake, realizing that it wasn’t his nanny, but a creature wearing Aiden’s clothes. Some sort of half-man, half-beast, it stood there breathing heavily and turning in circles, looking at the men splayed on the ground. One of them started getting to his feet. The beast shot to the man like a dart, grabbing the front of his shirt and pinning him up against the wall of the building behind them. It was the Ringleader, and he was terrified. The creature’s bared teeth were inches from the guy’s face. A low growl came from between the long, sharp teeth.
“Where’s Aiden?” Josh asked, his voice shaking with fear.
The beast looked around with his yellow and black eyes. He let go of the Ringleader, who broke into a sprint the second his feet hit the pavement.
The creature stepped from under the streetlights, retreating into the building’s shadow. In the darkness, Josh couldn't see what was going on. When the thing in Aiden’s clothes came back out into the light, it looked like regular old Aiden.
“What?” Josh asked, the fear gripping his heart and making his breath catch in his throat. “How?”
“Josh, I—” Aiden started.
Josh didn't stick around for any explanations. He started running toward home.