Instinct nearly raised Root’s hand to knock when they returned to Glabigal’s shack. Given that their previous entry had come in the wake of a very brief meeting between Azriah’s foot and the crooked door, it seemed excessively polite in a callous sort of way to reacquaint with social graces now. That, and the door lay on the floor, owing thanks to the same initial greeting. That, and that, and Root doubted anyone would hear the knock over the sound of Fundevogel crying anyway.

They reentered the shack. Vit and Beel each gave them an expectant and moderately pleading look. Beel had fashioned himself a set of earmuffs out of Glabigal’s throw pillows and one of his rings.

Fundevogel lay splayed on the floor with his limbs all cocked at odd angles like he’d fallen from a great height and landed there with a splat. He contorted them halfheartedly as he cried.

“Here,” said Root. She set the toy by his outstretched arm.

“Hippo!” said Fundevogel, his misery evaporating in an instant.

“Is that what that is?” asked Vit.

Root shrugged. “If it ever was, it’s been having an identity crisis, I’m sure. Not to mention going through twice as many toothbrushes.”

“What!” shouted Beel.

“Take those off, he’s fine!”

“Well, we should get him back to Eliondra,” said Azriah. “Of course, there’s also…”

Root pursed her lips. She hadn’t wanted to be the one to address the hippo in the room.

“Glabigal,” started Azriah, “the boy’s mother said that her two children went missing. Do you… know where the second is?” They all collectively braced for bad news.


“And that would be…?”

“Gave da girl ta my friend from da onion.”

“The onion?”


“Any onion in particular?” asked Vit.

“Da onion. Da. I’m part of da onion.”

Azriah and Vit shared a confused glance.

“He means the union,” said Root.

Glabigal chucked and shook his head. “Funny girl. It’s called da onion.”

“Well, where is this friend?”

“North. I can give directions.”

“Fine,” said Azriah. He took out the heavily scrawled-over sheet of paper. “I think I’ve still got some room on here.”

He let Glabigal dictate the directions. Root and Vit watched Fundevogel wipe the last of his runaway snot on the corner of one of Glabigal’s knitted blankets and then return to making Hippo walk along the cushions of the couch.

“All right,” said Azriah, joining them. “It doesn’t look too far, but it’s a detour for sure. We should hurry. We don’t know, uh…”

“Yeah,” said Vit.

They all looked back down at Fundevogel.

“We can’t travel fast with him,” said Vit.

“No,” agreed Azriah. “Vit, do you want to take him back to Eliondra?”

“Oh, uh… Wow, what an offer, I—hey, north you said? Can I see those directions?” Azriah passed them the sheet and indicated which set of directions they were following this time, amidst the assortment sprawling across both sides of the page. Vit read through them and then did a quick mental calculation. They cracked a tentative and knowing smile. “This is going to take us past the gully. Remember, the one with the troll bridge? I think these directions will lead us around, but if speed is imperative…”

“What are you saying?” asked Azriah.

“That I’m the quickest way across.”

Azriah pulled at his scruff as he looked over the directions again. “Ah.”

“You and Beel take Fundevogel. Root and I will go after Rushela.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely. We’ll be faster just the two of us.”

“All right.” He handed Vit the directions. “We’ll see you guys back in Wunksfeld.”

Vit turned back to Root with a look of eclipsing glee. “Okay Root, ready to cross a gully the fun way?”

Root sighed. “Damn it, Vit.”

Crossing the gully in Vit’s extra arms was not the fun way. Being able to see straight through the arms—the only thing between her and plummeting to a very chilly death—and straight into the dim, churning abyss below did not reassure her faith in Vit, or the thin line of web supporting all of their weight, or the tree branch above doing the same. But they landed unscathed on the northern side and continued on at a jog. They followed the last couple of directions and then arrived shortly after. They came to a halt side by side in the yard.

“Well this is quite the turn,” said Vit looking up at the house.

“Do you think we should’ve expected as much?”

“No. Why?”

Root shrugged. “Just a vibe I got.”

They stared at the house another moment.

“Looks like the new patch on the roof is holding up,” said Vit.

“Yep. No new teeth marks.”

They stared some more.

“You sure this is it?” asked Root.

Vit consulted the directions again. “Yep.”

The house was darker than when last they’d visited. No lights shone from within and no smoke rose from the chimney. Which was just fine by Root, because that smoke had made her queasy anyway…

Ah. Hm.

“You remember when we were here before, Grelga was cooking something?” asked Root.

“Yeah, she was baking. Er, no, she said supper, right? Wait, you’re not saying—”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh. Oh no.”

“She seemed cagey about it, no?”

“I…” Vit thought for a second. “I guess she did. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”


“She seemed nice!”

“I don’t know, she kind of gave me the creeps.”

“Her cookies were good.”

Root raised an eyebrow.

“No. You don’t think…?”



Root tried to count on her fingers. “How many days ago were we here, again? Was it two? Or three?”

“Uh. Hmm. I think…” Vit did some calculations as well. “I can’t remember. Maybe two?”

“And Eliondra’s kids went missing two days ago.”

“You think she would’ve… y’know… so immediately? Glabigal still had Fundevogel.”

Root shrugged. “Depends on how hungry she was, I guess.”

“And you think Glabigal had time to… deliver…?”

“Maybe Grelga went by to pick her up. Or maybe there’s some kind of postal service for people shipping kids around.”

“Two days ago in the morning, Eliondra said, right? It’s late, so that’s pushing three days.”

Root dropped her hands from her previous attempt at counting. “Damn it, when were we here last?”

Vit studied the house, then lowered their crestfallen gaze to the dirt.

“I think…” started Root. She hated to say it. “I think we’re too late.”

“Should we knock, do you think? Try to confirm? Hmm, well… do you think she could overpower us?”

“Doubt it.” It sounded like something Azriah would say.

“I guess we have to go break the news to Eliondra, huh?”

“Hey, one out of two. Plus, you know.” She mimed holding a pregnant belly. “Kind of a wash, right?”

“Poor Rushela.”

They were just turning to leave when Root picked up a faint sound—voices on the air, approaching from beyond Grelga’s house. She motioned for Vit to stop, then be quiet, then leave a candy raspberry on the bush, then listen. She couldn’t make out the words, but she thought she recognized one of them.

Grelga appeared around the corner of the house, toting with her a wide wicker basket. Behind her followed a timid looking little girl around seven years old with the same blonde hair and freckles as Fundevogel but—hopefully—a more limited lung capacity. Or longer temper. Or both, ideally. She carried a matching basket.

“Hey!” called Vit with as much accusation as they could put into a single word. They hurried across the yard. Root followed.

“Oh, it’s you sweeties, hello agai—”

“Stop right there!” said Vit. “Are you Rushela?”

The girl looked between Vit, Root, and Grelga, startled. She nodded.

Vit let out a sigh of relief. They kept their arms up, ready to web Grelga against the side of her house, which she certainly wouldn’t want. If nothing else, the stickiness would surely rip away chunks of the gingerbread and compromise the structure of the whole wall. “We’re taking the girl back to her mom.”

“I don’t—” started Grelga.

“Your days of eating kids are over,” said Root. She’d summoned her sword and now tried to wield it intimidatingly, which was proving difficult due to the shadows cast by the eave of the roof making the smoke hard to see, as well as Root’s own demeanor. She really just couldn’t get into the spirit of the moment when she was drawing her sword on—even if only in appearance—an old woman standing a mighty four-foot-six and leaning on a cane of peppermint candy.

“Eating children?” said Grelga, balking. “Good gracious, I would never!”

“Yeah?” said Vit. “Then what do you want with her?”

“Why, an apprentice of course! Someone to help out around the house and on my outings to ease the burden on these tired old bones. You all were so helpful when you visited three days ago, it really got me to thinking.”

Three days,” said Root to Vit.


“But what about your cooking the other day?” said Root. “In that enormous oven? And you kept telling us to ‘never mind that.’”

“I told you, that was my supper.”

“Well, yes, but you sort of didn’t tell us what was for supper exactly, and I thought—”

“A great big roast hog, if you’re so inclined to know.”

Vit, noticing their arms were still raised and that that seemed a tad inappropriate, lowered them. “All that food just for you?”

“I’ll have you know I’m a busy old spirit, and sometimes it befits me to cook a big meal to have leftovers for the week.”

“Ah, that—no, that’s actually quite smart.”

“I suppose… that is, perhaps we did a bit of stereotyping,” said Root. “I’m sorry for that.”

Grelga tapped her cane impatiently. “Now, is that all?”

“Uh, well no, actually,” said Root. “Rushela, you—uh, well, you’re not in any danger here?”

“No. Ms. Grelga has been very kind to me. She’s been teaching me to forage so I can go about it on my own, see?” she held out her basket. It overflowed with all manner of sweets, from bushels of licorice to pouches bursting with chocolate rounds and candy berries to hefty dollops of some coconut mass like the caps of mushrooms.

“And you’d like to do this apprenticeship?”

“Yes, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Root shrugged. “Suits me.”

“I think,” started Vit, “the responsible thing to do here… Rushela, your mom is very worried. She has no idea where you’ve gone.”

“Oh. Yeah, she doesn’t know.”

“Right. So Grelga, I’m sure we can work out the conditions of an apprenticeship with Mrs. Lark, but it might be best for Rushela to visit home, at least briefly.”

“Hm. And how do I know you two are not the child eaters?”

“That’s a good point, actually,” said Vit.

Root scoffed. “No it’s not. Come on, we aren’t going to eat her. Rushela, we just saved your brother, Fundevogel. Our friends brought him back to your mom.”

“Ah, yes. Your friend,” said Grelga with a wispiness in her voice that made Root’s mouth sour. She didn’t suppose Grelga was thinking about Beel.

“I will be back soon, Ms. Grelga,” said Rushela.

“Yes, all right. Here, let me put together a permission slip for your mother to sign, that way we can avoid any more of these intrusive little drop-ins.”

Grelga took the baskets into the house. When she returned, she handed an envelope to Rushela.

“One other thing,” said Vit, just as Root turned to go. “I told Rette you said ‘hello.’ She says ‘helloooo!’” Root winced.

Grelga’s face brightened. “Oh, yes of course! Well, next time you see her, tell her I say hello again.”

“We will,” said Root, who didn’t mean it at all. She’d sustained enough hearing loss that week to last her a lifetime.

Glabigal drummed his thick, sausagey fingers on the wall. Those four… whatever they were—cops? Vigilantes? Scabs?—they’d left his house a mess, abducted his boy, and left him all tied up with nothing to do. He drummed to keep himself entertained. The creaking of the home’s warped timber frame swaying in the breeze joined his symphony, as did the rumble of his stomach. Boy, he was hungry. He knew he shouldn’t have put off his cooking until he could pick up those special sweet mushrooms from the shop in town; the fresh ones would be on sale at dawnhe wouldn’t have had to wait much longer. Oh, he should’ve just gone without.

Footsteps approached the door, and then something entered. It was one of those bothersome ones—the same one who tied him up, the one with the webs. It was alone this time.

“Oh, hey,” said the thing. “I came back because… well, I think we might have had a misunderstanding. We just went to Grelga’s house and found Rushela. We didn’t realize Grelga just needed an apprentice; we thought… well, it sounds kind of silly now, but we thought she was going to eat the girl. That’s ridiculous, right? Anyway, we didn’t let you explain yourself earlier, but I’m sure you probably just needed an apprentice too, right? Someone to help out around the house?”

“Mm?” said Glabigal. “No. Little boy was gonna be dinner.”

“Oh. So you were actually going to eat him?”


“Ah. Okay, well… uh, never mind then.” The thing patted its weird hands on its legs. It looked around for a moment, gave an awkward wave, and then left again.

Glabigal drummed on the wall. Stupid webs.