Despite an overwhelming desire to run off and probably get myself killed (or worse), I let the crowd of students exiting school at the end of the day flow around me like a river. It was a strangely calming experience, remaining still while so many people surged past me.
“What were you looking for me for?” Akemi asked once the last few students filtered out of the main doors and off to their busses and rides.
“My witch is missing,” I said. There wasn’t any point in hiding what I was. She’d already sniffed out my true nature and if I was going to ask her for a favor, especially a big, dangerous favor, then lying wasn’t going to buy me anything.
“I didn’t do anything to her,” Akemi said and tried to pull away.
“I know that!” I said and grabbed the sleeve of her shirt before she could get away.
Betty took a step back, separating herself from Akemi and I like she was edging away from the radius of a bomb blast. Akemi didn’t explode though. She just turned to look at me, her eyes showing no reaction at all.
“Penny’s lost because she went into the mirrorworld and took my place,” I said. “She was attacked by a giant toad a few hours ago and I don’t know where she is now. I want to go search for her, but I don’t even know where to begin looking.”
“Why did you come to school if Penny was lost?” Akemi asked.
“She wasn’t lost when I left her,” I said. “There was a mix up and her mother thought I was Penny, so I had to fill Penny’s shoes until we could straighten it out. That’s what I do.”
“Is that why you were meeting with Deidra?” Akemi asked. “Was she going to help you get Penny back?”
“No,” I said. “I didn’t know Penny was missing then either. Diedra noticed me getting out the car. I guess I shimmered a bit moving between being Penny-the-Daughter and Penny-the-Student.”
“Why did she care about that?” Akemi asked. She wasn’t trying to pull away but I could feel the icy barrier between us. She wasn’t going to bolt if I let her go, but she wasn’t going to offer any help either.
“It was my first day here!” I said. “She saw a clueless idiot, I guess, and decided to take pity on me.”
“You’re not an idiot,” Betty said. “But she is out of her depth. Grandma Apples said no one’s supposed to travel the spirit worlds for a bit. Dangerous stuff’s going down.”
“Did you tell her that Penny was missing?” Akemi asked.
“No,” I said, regretting that decision. “I didn’t want to get Penny in trouble. And I thought I could handle it. Or that she could handle it, I guess.”
“How long has Penny been training as a witch?” Akemi asked.
I dropped my hand from her sleeve and looked at the ground.
“Just since yesterday,” I said. “She doesn’t even have any spells yet.”
Silence greeted me in response.
I took a deep breath and looked up. I didn’t expect to see Akemi’s eyes opened wide in shock, and I didn’t expect to see Betty suppressing a series of silent, disbelieving laughs.
“You’re not lying,” Akemi said, disbelief coloring her voice as well.
“I probably should,” I said. “It’s kind of my job. Show people what they expect to see. I apparently suck at that though, so yeah, I thought I’d try the truth and see how that went for me.”
“You’re really serious.” Akemi said. “Penny, really became a witch yesterday and she’s already traveling in the mirror world and beyond?”
“Yeah, but please, don’t get her in trouble,” I said. “This is my fault. If I hadn’t tumbled out of the mirror, or if I’d jumped back in before her Mom came into the room, she would have been in today just like she was supposed to be.”
“That’s not important,” Akemi said.
“If anyone’s going to get punished it should be me,” I said.
“No, I mean, it’s not important that you came into school for her today,” Akemi said. “I don’t know a lot about witches, but I think it should have taken more than one day for Penny to be able to move into the mirror world.”
“Grandma Apples said the first night and the first morning were important for new witches,” I said.
“That’s when they meet their Shadow and their Seeming,” Akemi said. “I thought it was supposed to take a lot of training to switch places with either one.”
“All she had to do was touch the mirror,” I said.
“So she knows nothing about the mirror world? Or any of the spirit worlds beyond it? Or the Hidden Earths?” Akemi asked.
“No,” I said. “And apparently that means that she stumbled into a frog somewhere. Literally.”
“We need to go then,” Akemi said.
“Where?” I asked.
“The Nurse’s office,” Akemi said. “This is too serious to hide. Nurse Chandari will be able to contact the right people to look for Penny.”
“That’s going to get her into a ton of trouble though won’t it?” Betty asked.
I let out a breath I didn’t notice I’d been holding.
“I think that’s ok,” I said. “Akemi’s right. We need to let the people who know what they’re doing handle this.”
Akemi turned away again, but this time I didn’t hold her back. Instead I fell into step behind her and marched down the empty hallway to the Nurse’s office again. Betty fell in with me, marching extra fast to keep up with us taller folk.
“Thank you,” I said, to the both of them. Betty smiled at me but Akemi kept walking without a word.
The nurse’s office was open and welcoming when we arrived there. Unfortunately it was also unoccupied.
“This isn’t normal,” Akemi said. “Chandari’s always here after classes let out.”
“Let’s head to the teacher’s parking lot,” I said. “Maybe we can catch her if she just left.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t look like she’s closed up for the night yet,” Betty said.
Akemi led us onwards again, but this time at a jog that Betty had to run to keep up with. Outside provide as nurse-free as Chandari’s office had though.
“This is bad,” Akemi said, scanning the parking lot for our absent nurse.
“And that’s probably worse,” Betty said, pointing to the far side of the parking lot.
I looked for a car on fire or a killer beast charging us but what I saw instead was Diedra’s Seeming and a few other kids from school. They were walking with an older man and two dogs were walking behind them.
Except they weren’t dogs.
I blinked and refocused on them. Something was wrong about what I was seeing and when I squinted and shook my head and forced my eyes to really watch the creatures the illusion that was covering them fell away.
Diedra’s Seeming and the other kids weren’t walking with a man and two dogs. They were being herded towards a eight pointed tear in space by a man and two Giant Toads!