I often visited with my grandparents before and after school. They lived only a few houses away. After school, one afternoon, Afi and I sat at the kitchen table. He shuffled the cards so we could start a game of gin rummy.
“Afi, what’s a,” I tried my hand at the Icelandic word, “grey-la?” It was a very poor attempt.
The word startled him and I hoped he wasn’t too disappointed in my poor pronunciation.
“Where did you hear that word, Elskan?”
“From Mom. She was on the phone with Auntie Lil. She said she felt like a gre… a gra… a...”
“Gre-la.” He said the word slowly and I repeated it.
“What did she mean?”
His thick eyebrows wove together. He looked like an approaching storm. “You listened in on a private conversation?”
“N-- Yes. But I couldn’t help it. She was talking too loud.”
He laughed and I knew I wasn’t in trouble—at least not with him.
“What’s a Gryla?”
“Gryla is an old woman who lives up in the mountains in Iceland. When children are bad she steals them and—.”
“Oli, stop that,” my amma scolded charging into the kitchen. “You’re scaring her.”
I’m not sure how many spooky tales Amma saved me from but she didn’t save me from the old woman. Gryla haunted me for forty years—filling my nights with shivers and shakes. Until one fateful morning, she yelled at me. “Write my story!”
Having no choice, I held the pen as it flew across the page.
Later that day I shared the story with my writing group and they helped me transform it into…