Grandma Apples being at school should have been a good thing. Penny had been swallowed by a toad, our shadow was off who knows where and I was failing utterly at my job of being a stand-in. What we needed, all of us, was someone who could give us the first clue what we were supposed to do.
“Why are we stopping?” Betty, my goblin companion, whispered as I pulled her silently against the wall.
“I know who’s in there,” I whispered back.
“Is she bad?” Betty asked.
“No, I think she’s good,” I said. “She was really nice yesterday, but I think I might be in trouble.”
I wasn’t sure what the punishment was for a Seeming failing at their most basic function, but I doubted it would be fun. Could they melt me down like a silver mirror and make a better model to replace me? I had no idea.
“You’ll be able to hear a whole lot better inside the Nurse’s office than you can standing out here,” a shadow said as she stepped away from the wall.
I shook in surprise but managed to stifle my yelp.
“Grandma Apples?” I asked, recognizing the shadows size and shape.
“She’s in there,” the shadow said. “I’m just the lookout.”
“Lookout for what?” Betty asked.
“Nothing that concerns you,” the shadow said. “Now get on in there. She’ll want to see you.”
I looked at the door, then back to the shadow and then back at the door. If there was a choice there, I wasn’t seeing it, so I stepped away from the wall and turned to go in.
“You don’t have to come with me,” I said to Betty, seeing no reason for her to get in trouble for associating with me.
“And have to go back to math class?” Betty asked. “Nope, I was given a mission and I’m seeing it through.”
We walked into the nurse’s office together therefor and as we did I noticed that the conversation within had already stopped. Grandma Apple’s shadow must have let them know we were coming.
“Ms. Rodriguez, Ms. Black?” Nurse Chandari said. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“I tripped in class and banged my head,” I said, which was at least fifty percent true.
“Perhaps we should continue this at another time?” Nurse Chandari asked Grandma Apples.
“No, this is convenient really,” Grandma Apples said. “I wanted to speak with Penny anyways. This will save her a trip.”
“Ok, let see what sort of damage you’ve done then,” Nurse Chandari said, turning back to me.
After shooing Grandma Apples and Betty out into the front of the office, Nurse Chandari had me sit on one of the beds in the office while she shone a light in my eyes and made me follow the tip of a pen around with me eyes. She also checked out the back of my head and made non-committal “hmms” as she looked for my brains leaking out I guess. I could have saved her the trouble since it felt like I’d left my brains at home today.
“I don’t see any signs of a concussion or significant injury,” she said. “How were you feeling before you fell?”
Instantly terrified by the sight of a giant frog appearing from nowhere.
But I couldn’t exactly tell her that.
“Fine,” I said. “I just tried to move back and went a little too far with the chair and the desk and everything.”
That had the benefit of being entirely true.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about then,” Nurse Chandari said. “But if this happens again, or if you feel dizzy or light-headed it’s important that you get it checked out. I’ll have to add this to your permanent record too, so don’t go treating any other falls lightly.”
I had no idea if the school really kept a “permanent record” for us, but regardless it made an effective threat.
Of course, since I was a Seeming and not a flesh-and-blood girl, the last thing I wanted was a doctor poking and prodding me. Or trying to take a blood sample. That wouldn’t go well for anyone. If Penny had any issue with fainting though, I’d drag her to a doctor myself.
“Is it safe to come back in?” Grandma Apples asked from the doorway. Behind her I saw Betty peeking around to catch a glimpse inside.
Chandari sighed and shook her head.
“Yes, but are you sure this is wise?” she said.
“Penny needs to know this too,” Grandma Apples said.
“Know what?” I asked.
“Halloween is coming up,” Grandma Apples said. “I know you haven’t been properl trained yet, but you probably know that’s the time of year when all the ghosts and goblins are out to play right?”
“I guess?” I said. “I thought it was all candy and costumes, but that was before…”
I didn’t quite know how to finish that thought, but Betty handled it for me.
“Before you became one yourself?” she asked.
“Penny’s not a goblin, or a ghost though,” Grandma Apples said. “She’s a witch and that means Halloween is a extra special time.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“There’s a lot I need to teach you, but we’ll keep it simple for now,” Grandma Apples said. “Witches are half folk. We belong as much to the world of people as we do to the world of spirits. On Halloween, those two worlds are as close together as they can be. It lets us be ourselves in a way we can’t at other times of the year.”
“So witches really are stronger on Halloween?” Betty asked.
“Not stronger,” Grandma Apples said. “More in tune.”
“I don’t get it.” Betty said.
“Don’t worry dear, a lot of witches don’t either,” Grandma Apples said.
“That doesn’t sound bad,” I said.
“It’s not,” Grandma Apples said. “Being in balance can be a wonderful thing.”
“But something bad is happening isn’t it?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” Grandma Apples said. “Halloween and the days leading up to it offer opportunities for all sorts of people. Even people who don’t like the half folk.”
“Humans?” I asked.
“Normal folk aren’t tied to the calendar like we are. They can dislike us all the time,” Grandma Apples said. “No, I’m speaking of people from the other side of the Lesser Divide. You can think of them as Spirit Folk.”
“Like goblins?” I asked.
“We’re not spirit folks,” Betty said. “We’re the children of the Earth.”
“Then what are humans?” I asked.
“Annoying,” she said.
“Humans and goblins are more alike than either side will admit,” Grandma Apples said. “But Betty is correct, the Spirit Folk I speak of are a different sort of being entirely. The laws we live under, physical and magical, are different from the ones which govern them.”
“What are they doing that’s bad?” I asked, a very specific worry blossoming in my heart.
“They, or their agents at least, seem to be collecting magic,” Grandma Apples said. “From object and places and people.”
My heart twitched at that. I knew where this conversation was leading, even if no one else in the room did.
“Which is why I needed to see you Penny,” Grandma Apples said. “I think you should be safe here and at your home. Anywhere in the human world in fact, but going across the Lesser Divide may be dangerous. Until we have the culprits in custody, I think you should take magic slowly so that no one tries to steal you away.”
I reached out to Penny, trying to sense however I could, whether my original was ok or not.
She was there, a vast distance away, but everything around her was darkness and she couldn’t move at all!