I didn’t mean to slip into the Inbetween – or the ghost lands, like some people call them. I wanted to stay with Penny. She seemed to have some idea what to do about all the insanity that was popping up. Or, at least, she did until we found the note that said Grandma Apples wasn’t available.
I watched her sag and then tremble on the broom. She’d seen her friends house and her own swamped in Hungry Shadows, she’d saved me from a horde of them, and she’d been counting on her mentor to put everything right. I couldn’t blame her for feeling a bit overwhelmed when it turned out she was going to have to go it on her own.
The problem was her panic layered itself on top of my own and before I knew it everything faded to a weird twilight dimness.
I was home. I was in the Inbetween.
The Inbetween version of Grandma Apples house was amazing. It looked exactly as it did in the living world. It had a solidity to it that everything else, even very old places that were well maintained seemed to lack.
The rest of the houses on the quiet little suburban block were more typical. Each had the same walls and windows and roof that they did in the living world, but if you looked at them out of the corner of your eye you could see that they weren’t really there.
It was the other things that weren’t there that caught my attention though.
The Hungry Shadows were missing.
That shouldn’t have been surprising. The Inbetween was a place for ghosts. I couldn’t recall seeing Hungry Shadows there before. They seemed to prowl the living world, or from what Penny said, a magical shadow of the living world that was half a step removed. I guess that’s where ghosts tend to go too when we find ourselves drawn to the living world. In any case though, the Inbetween seemed to be strangely safe thanks to its “only dead things” policy.
That sounds creepy, but the truth is, once you’re a ghost yourself, there’s really nothing frightening about it. I mean, dying is clearly no fun. I guess. That’s one of the things I can’t remember, and I’ll be happy if that particular memory to never returns.
Once you’ve passed over though? There’s a whole lot less to be afraid of. The Inbetween is like a very quiet rest stop for the most part. There are other ghosts of course, and some of them are a bit strange, but it seems like unless you had some connection to them, or to the place where they were currently haunting, you never saw other ghosts, and they never saw you.
I considered making a connection to Grandma Apples place, which is basically as complicated as touching it or walking inside, but a subtle pressure pushed me back. That house was for the living, and only a select few of them. Without an invite or someone to vouch for me, I was pretty sure I did not want to mess with whatever Grandma Apples’ house had going on.
Moving back to the living world should have been simple. I knew Penny and she was right nearby. Except I couldn’t see her. Or her shadow. Without that kind of link, I had nothing to touch to pull myself over with.
“I guess witches are protected from ghosts,” I said to no one in particular. The funny thing about speaking though is that it reaches out and makes you fill a much bigger space than you can with your body alone.
And that lets other people connect with you.
“Most do, yes,” an elderly black lady said, her skin as dark as the comical witch’s hat she wore and only a shade deeper than my own. She’d been walking the path that led away from Grandma Apples house, and had stopped and turned to look at me after I spoke.
“I’m sorry, a friend brought me here, I didn’t mean to trespass,” I said, wondering if witches could turn ghost girls into ghost frogs.
“It’s no worry,” the witch said. “If an Apples didn’t want you here, the grounds would be up in arms already.”
“You’re not Grandma Apples then?” I asked.
“I suppose I am,” she said, “Just not the one you’re thinking of.”
That was all sorts of confusing, until I thought about it for a second.
“You’re a ghost too!” I said.
“For a long time now,” she said. “Was just stopping in to see if my great-grand-daughter needed a hand, but it looks like she’s already flown off to deal with things so I expect she’ll be fine.”
“You’re great-grand-daughter is Grandma Apples?” I asked, knowing that the answer had to be yes given the situation.
“That’s so, but maybe it wasn’t her I heard that called me here,” Great-Grandma Apples said. “You look like you’re having some trouble too?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Well I’m afraid I’m old enough that there’s not a lot I can do anymore,” Great Gran said. “Sit for a bit though and tell me what’s bothering you. Maybe I can remember something that’ll help.”
She pointed to a pair of benches near a shrub, so I walked over and sat down, following her lead.
“I don’t even know where to start,” I said. “I guess the biggest problem is that there’s hordes of Hungry Shadows all over the place in the living world.”
“Hungry what-now?” Great Gran asked.
“Shadows,” I said. “Great, big, dark things with teeth and stuff.”
“Shadows don’t have teeth,” Great Gran said. “And shadows themselves aren’t any danger at all.”
“I think these one’s ate me,” I said. “Or at least a part of me. Pieces of my memories.”
“That doesn’t sound like a shadow at all,” Great Gran said. “But it could be something that’s hiding in a shadow.”
“What kind of things can hide in shadows?” I asked.
“All sorts of things,” Great Gran said. “And all sort of people too. What you’re describing though? That doesn’t sound like a person or a thing at all. That sounds like a nightmare!”