I was curious, in a professional sense, what sort of terror Penny’s “Grandma” would turn out to be. Wizened old crones didn’t feature as much in people’s imaginations as they used to, but every once in awhile a movie or book would launch the archetype back into public awareness and a Nightmare would find themselves playing the part.
Grandma, or Grandma Apples as she asked to be called, was nothing like any of the scary witches I’d taken the form of though. Or at least not like any of the ones I could remember.
“Would you like some tea with the cakes?” she asked as she buzzed around her tiny living room, dishing out sweets and pastries to the small horde that had descended on her place.
Rosie and Penny had flown Betty and I from the hospital to Grandma’s place on magic brooms. Heather had followed along as a ghost and had been introduced to Grandma Apples at the same times as I was.
Grandma Apples had taken one look at us and smiled. She showed no surprise at a ghost and a Nightmare showing up on her doorstep first thing in the morning. Instead she invited us into her dining room where she had places set up for all of us.
Even the ghost.
We took seats that had little crocheted napkins with images distinct to each of us. I had a pillow that either spoke to my need for a real night’s sleep or the fact that I’d been a Nightmare. Penny had a picture of a black cat on hers, and I couldn’t see the ones which Betty and Heather had.
The only one who didn’t sit at the table was Rosie, who stayed on her broom. As it turned out she didn’t have the use of her legs, something I probably would have noticed earlier if I hadn’t been trapped in my own headspace so tightly. Grandma Apples had left space for her to float up to the table though and while she took up a little more room than the rest of us, Grandma Apples house seemed to fit us all perfectly.
The breakfast treats appeared in a purely mundane manner. No magic involved from what I could see, apart from the magic of having delicious food available when a horde of young people descended on her house.
Despite the pancakes I’d stuffed myself with, I was able to easily make room for a plateful of cinnamon rolls and croissants and raspberry danish. After walking back to the hospital and talking with everyone I was famished again. What surprised me was that Heather appeared to be ravenous too.
“I am so tempted to go back to my body and hobble over here,” she said.
“You don’t need to do that,” Grandma Apples said. “Just take a bite of whatever you like.”
“It’s not going to be the same though,” Heather said. Right before she bit into a freshly baked bread roll. The moment it touched her ghostly tongue her eyes lit up like she was seeing fireworks.
“Anyone who needs to be fed, gets fed if they come here,” Grandma Apples said.
“You really are magic!” I said.
“Credit where credit is due, that’s the food’s magic, not mine,” she said.
“If you can do that though, does that mean you’ll be able to take care of the Fisherman?” I asked. We’d explained Heather and my stories to her in brief terms as she’d brought out the first round of food for us.
“That depends on what needs to be done about him,” she said.
“What is he?” Penny asked.
“A parasite I would imagine,” Grandma Apples said.
“How did he know to find me?” I asked.
“When you survive by preying on others, you learn to identify those who are vulnerable and take what you want from them. Whatever magic he possesses that let him rip you up is probably paired with something that lets him track or intercept people in your situation.”
“So he’s done this to others?” Penny asked.
“Yes. Someone who’s willing to hurt someone else so casually isn’t going to do it just once. I’m sure when we find him, we’ll discover that this is a pattern for him.”
“What are you going to do to him?” I asked.
“If I find him first, I’ll talk with him,” Grandma Apples said. “Sometimes it’s an odd set of beliefs that they’ve absorbed that drives someone to do things like this.”
“If you’re not the one who finds him who would?” I asked.
“There are people from all sorts of magical backgrounds who act as wardens and protectors and law officers,” Grandma Apples said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of them were already hunting for him. That’s not a certainty though. Nightmares are outside the domain of most magical types. For a lot of us, you’re not even real, at least not as far as our magic can grasp you.”
“Nan seems to be pretty real now though,” Penny said.
“Real enough to need another plate of danish it looks like,” Grandma Apples said.
“I should say no to that but I don’t think I can,” I said.
“Well just dig right in then. I’m happy to have these go to people who enjoy them.”
“I wonder if we even should do anything to the Fisherman,” I said. “I mean what he did hurt, but if it made me real enough to enjoy stuff like this so may it was for the best?”
“No!” There was fire in Grandma Apple’s previously kindly voice that I was glad wasn’t directed at me. “The Fisherman didn’t make you more real by taking something from you. You were real long before he violated you. The good you’ve made out of what happened is all to your credit. He deserves no thanks, no kindness, and no mercy for it. Do you know what a monster is?”
“I was one,” I said.
“No you weren’t,” Grandma Apples said. “No Nightmare is. You’re a natural phenomena. You give people the ability to understand the fears that are already eating away at them. No, a monster is much more vile than that. A monster is a person who treats another person like a thing.”
“A lot of people do that though,” Penny said.
“A lot of people are monsters, at least some of the time,” Grandma Apples said. “That’s why we grow though. To learn to be more than monsters.”
“I thought monsters were the kind of things we were supposed to kill?” Rosie asked.
“No, we’re not supposed to kill them. Oppose them? Yes. Fight them? Yes. Protect those they try to hurt? A thousand times yes. We’re supposed to do all those things, but the ultimate goal isn’t to kill the monsters. That’s a loss for everyone. We win when we can show a monster how to be a person once more.”
“How do we do with someone like the Fisherman though?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Grandma Apples said. “Each monster’s different, that’s why we talk to them first.”
“But won’t that just let them hurt us?” I asked.
“It can,” Grandma Apples said. “Which is why you did the right thing. Some monsters aren’t yours to fight. Sometimes, a lot of times, you want to call in people who know how to handle them, or who aren’t as exposed. There’s no shame in that. No one needs to be able to take on the whole world on their own. It’s why the rest of us are here.”
“Can I help?” I asked.
“You already have,” the Queen of Nightmares said as she stepped into Grandma Apples living room.