My doom didn’t take long to find me. In a sense that was convenient I suppose. Waiting for the other shoe to drop can be agonizing. Of course, when the other shoes is the size of a house, it’s kind of a bad thing no matter when it drops.
“Why is Rosie’s house covered in Shadows?” I asked.
“Those aren’t shadows,” Penny said with a cold edge in her voice.
“They’re only letting slivers of light out of the house and their writhing around it like worms made out of charcoal,” I said. “It’s like the house is on reverse-fire or something.”
“Yeah,” Penny said. “That’s how we know they’re not shadows.”
“Us real shadows don’t exactly block light,” Penny’s Shadow said. “At least not without some extra magic to help us.”
“Those things seem extra magical to me,” I said. I noticed that Penny hadn’t changed course but she had slowed our descent as she evaluated Rosie’s house.
I was wondering how we were going to deal with a Shadow Swarm that was large enough to swallow an entire home when Penny’s cell phone rang.
“Rosie, are you ok?” Penny asked after swiping to answer the call.
I couldn’t hear the reply but I saw Penny’s shoulders relax.
“We definitely need to get Grandma Apples involved, this is getting out of hand,” Penny said. Rosie responded with something else I couldn’t hear and Penny added, “Okay, that can be Plan B, but let me fly over to Gran’s house, if you two will be ok?”
Rosie’s next comment made Penny huff in a laugh. “Oh, I’m sure you will,” she said conspiratorially.
“Are they safe?” I asked when she hung up.
“I think so,” Penny said, adjusting the course of the broom and rising back into the night sky. “At least for now. Whatever that stuff is, it doesn’t seem to be able to get past Rosie’s wards.”
“You still sound worried though,” I said. I couldn’t blame her. Having your friend’s house buried in strange supernatural creatures seemed like something well worth worrying about.
“I can’t really see the wards, so if they’re slowly failing, I don’t know how we could tell,” Penny said.
“I’ve never seen the Hungry Shadows attack living people,” I said. I wanted to be helpful, but if I was honest with myself I had to admit that I knew almost nothing about what the Hungry Shadows were capable of doing.
“I wonder why they’re swarming Rosie’s house then?” Penny asked. “I thought they were homing in on you, but they know you left, so why bother hanging around?”
“Maybe they’re not working with the ones that caught us in the street?” Penny’s Shadow said.
“How smart have you seen these things be?” Penny asked me. “Do they act like animals or do they plan their attacks out?”
I didn’t have many memories to draw on, and as we whistled through the night sky I felt like the clouds and the breeze were calling me away and making it hard to focus.
“More like animals, I think,” I said. “They can be kind of clever, but I don’t think I’ve seen them act like people yet. I don’t know if I’d have been able to escape them the few times I did if they could work together that well.”
“I think I want to make one quick side trip before we go to Grandma Apples then,” Penny said, changing the flying brooms course again.
“Where are we headed?” I asked. The houses under us varied. Some were swallowed in shadows of a natural variety. Others push back the dark with lamps and lights that washed out the beauty of the stars above us. None of them writhed though, which was a good sign in my book. We flew for a bit until we were over a stretch of normal, even dull looking, suburban homes before that changed.
“That house there, what’s special about that one?” I asked, pointing at what I assumed to be a home. It was impossible to tell because it was covered in tendrils that ended in mouths gaping with teeth.
“It’s mine,” Penny said.
“Was it like this when you left?” I felt like an idiot the moment the words left my mouth.
“No,” she said, which was obvious from the tension that had seized her. “It’s ok though, none of them are inside yet.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“My Seeming is in there, and she’s not seeing any of this,” Penny said.
“Your what?” I asked.
“It’s a witch thing,” she said.
“Like I am,” Penny’s Shadow added.
“The important thing is that whatever those are, they’re not visible in the normal world,” Penny said.
“Normal world? Where are we now?” I had to wonder if hanging around with witches and enchanters was really a good idea. Granted I’d been rescued from a strange otherworld by one already, but it was less than a day since then and I flying back into another scary place.
“We’re shifted off center a little bit,” Penny asked. “It’s kind of hard to explain, mostly because I don’t understand it all myself, but the short form is that you’ve got the regular world and then a lot of other places that are one step removed from it. They’re still basically the regular world but magical things like to hide in them because the regular world is more dangerous for them.”
“They’re also handy for people who to fly around on brooms and don’t want to attract a lot of attention,” Penny’s Shadow said.
“So are things here real?” I asked.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” Penny said, looking down at the space where her house should be. “Real but not necessarily physical from what I’ve read. Which, isn’t anywhere near enough I think. Let’s go see Grandma Apples. This is about three stages too weird for us to deal with.”
We saw a few other houses covered in the Hungry Shadows as we flew, but Penny, wisely, didn’t take us in close enough to make certain.
At least not until we got to Grandma Apples’ home.
Which was ringed with more Hungry Shadows than I’d ever seen before.
Some kind of shield kept them away from the house, but unfortunately there were no lights on inside.
“This does not look good,” Penny said, bringing us in for a landing beside the front door.
A note was taped below the window in the door. In elegant cursive writing, Grandma Apples had left a message saying ‘Gone to avert the annual Nightmare Apocalypse, Be back in a week or two at most!’