Latasha stayed after school. It was Halloween, and she had something very Halloween to share with Ms Riley. It was a copy of a picture Jessica drew. It was based on the descriptions Emily and Reverend Michaels provided. It looked like a drawing of a goblin she saw in one of Leah’s fairy books, but somehow she imagined Ms Riley would know what it was. She knew she had no one else she could ask.
Latasha sat on one of the lab stools in the biology room and shuffled her feet as she thought about Emily and Emily’s friends. She knew Jessica and Maria, and liked them. She liked Amina too, but Amina scared her a little. She met Mindy a couple of times and Melissa once. They both seemed nice. And now there was Reverend Michaels. Latasha had always been taught to have a deep respect for her elders, and especially for her preachers. She could not call the woman Sara no matter what, but the woman was nice, like Detective Lisa. She could not call her just Lisa either.
Latasha put her hands under her thighs to keep her fingers from nervously drumming and to lift her legs a bit so she could shuffle them better. Detective Ashish said she was a bundle of nervous energy. Maybe she was. She was five-eight, almost as tall as Jessica, but she was only sixteen and maybe still growing. At the same time, she was skinny, and that made her feel like a fence post. She was not terminally skinny, but like one still waiting to fill out. That would have to happen soon if it was ever going to happen.
Thoughts of her own friends finally surfaced in Latasha’s mind. There were four, but as of last year there were really only two. Keisha was a joker who never took anything seriously, especially school. She was not stupid, just lazy. Latasha never noticed it before, but she was sure that Keisha would throw her life away on doing nothing and dragging down everyone around her besides. Janet, on the other hand, was not very smart, but she had a good heart and was good to people. Sadly, that meant she was also easily manipulated and right now Bobby Thompson, the drug dealer had her in his orbit. Presently, Janet and Latasha were not on speaking terms.
“Latasha?” Ms Riley came in holding a stack of copies she had run off in the office. “I thought you would be home getting ready to trick or treat.”
“I’m a bit old for that,” Latasha said.
“Not going to dress?”
Latasha shook her head. “But I probably should be home helping Mama get John and Leah ready to go out. My younger brother and sister,” she explained and Ms Riley nodded while she set down her papers.
“No, not biology. I wanted to show you something.” She held out the paper and Ms Riley took it and stared, mouth shut tight for a second or two.
“This is very good. Did you draw it?”
“No. Jessica at the university. Do you know what it is?”
Ms Riley shook her head. “Sorry.” She handed back the paper.
Latasha took it, but looked disappointed. “Maybe they were making it up,” she said, though she knew better.
Ms Riley stopped what she was doing. “Who was making it up?”
“Emily and Reverend Sara, the university chaplain. They saw this, or something like it on the campus in the dark and described it for Jessica to draw. I thought it might be a goblin.”
Ms Riley paused and the two stared at each other for a long minute before Ms Riley spoke. “It looks like a troll or ogre, but one turned orc. I know there are no such things as orcs. Tolkien just made them up, but that is the current term in use.”
Ms Riley reached her hand out again and took the paper. “It isn’t a dark elf, or what you call a goblin. They can be much more frightening, but this looks bigger and distorted in some way, and in pain. That is the look of an orc.”
“What is an orc?”
“It is one of the little spirits of the earth, like light elves, dwarfs or dark elves, that has turned against their god. A spirit in rebellion, you might say. They get all distorted looking. The distortion is an unavoidable process, a thing our god has done so we can tell each other apart.”
“What?” Latasha took a step back. “What do you mean, we?”
Ms Riley handed the paper back with a smile. “I said they, didn’t I?”
Latasha shook her head. “You said we, and you said our god.”
“You should think about wearing a Halloween costume.” Ms Riley never lost her smile. “I always dress for the occasion. Would you like to see my costume?”
“No. Yes.” Latasha quickly changed her mind.
“Promise you won’t scream?”
Latasha nodded but thought she had better sit down. Ms Riley raised her hand. That was it. Something stood in front of Latasha that was still recognizably Ms Riley, but she was not human at all. She was too skinny, as skinny as Latasha. Her fingers were too long and her ears came to clear and definite points at the top.
“Elf.” Ms Riley said the word in Ms Riley’s voice.
“But you said you were born outside of Boston,” Latasha remembered what Ms Riley once told her.
“I was, and I was born human, too,” Ms Riley said. “How I came to be an elf is a very long story, but let’s just say my husband likes me this way.” She grinned, and Latasha suddenly understood what an elfish grin was really all about. “I wear a glamour, an illusion, but to be sure my natural form is a bit too much even for Halloween.” Ms Riley raised her hand again and most of the more extreme and inhuman bits went away so she looked more human again. She kept the ears, though. “I’ve been practicing. Would you like the illusion of being an elf?”
Latasha got off the stool and took a step back. “It would just be an illusion, not real, right?”
“Oh, don’t be afraid. I don’t have any such power to change you for real. I’m not even sure I can do the glamour. It is hard enough doing the glamour on myself.”
Latasha changed her mind and smiled. “Leah loves fairy stories. My baby sister.”
“Come here,” Ms Riley said. She took something like dust out of her pocket and sprinkled it in Latasha’s direction. She chanted something too soft for Latasha to hear, and then threw her hands out and Latasha felt something.
“Let me see,” Latasha said, but all Ms Riley had was a small mirror in her purse.
Latasha had the pointed ears. Her nose and chin were a bit more pointed and she had that grin on her face. Her hands also looked more narrow and with longer fingers. She looked up again. “It is just an illusion.”
“Just an illusion,” Ms Riley said. “It will wear off at midnight, or when you say, “No more illusion. Illusion go away.”
“No more illusion,” Latasha started to repeat the phrase and Ms Riley clamped her hand on Latasha’s mouth.
“Don’t say it now. I’m not sure I have it in me to do that again.”
Latasha nodded. She picked up her paper with the drawing. “Orc,” she said.
Ms Riley mirrored Latasha’s nod. “Right now there are little ones in rebellion. That has only happened a couple of times in all of history, but they were bad times for all of us. There are not many rebels, but we detected some activity in this area. That is why I had to stay for another year of teaching. And you better do your homework if you expect to pass my class.” Ms Riley shook her long and skinny finger.
Latasha looked at the woman with big elf looking eyes. Ms Riley still looked more elf than human, even if her features, apart from her ears, were within human range, but at the same time she was still Latasha’s teacher. Being an elf had nothing to do with that.
The door to the room opened and Principal Wearing came in. He spoke as he looked down at a sheet. “Mary, I have a question about this.” He looked up and stopped.
What could Latasha and Ms Riley say, but, “Happy Halloween.”