Andy was on his way home. He still had a few HSC exams to go and he was studying, really, he’d just gone for a walk to clear his head and get some exercise. The late afternoon was turning to early evening as he passed a house where a group of kids were saying “Trick or treat!” to the person who’d just opened the door. It was, in his opinion, a silly attempt to import an American custom. That particular bunch of kids weren’t even dressed up in costumes, they were just going around to people’s houses and knocking on doors to ask for lollies. Just because they did it on American TV shows didn’t make it a good idea to do it here. It was just plainly the wrong season for the day of the dead for a start.
There was also the issue of what the Elf might think of it. The Elf had taken over this city, the biggest city in the country, by making it snow where snow didn’t belong and things were different now. It wasn’t clear where he stood on stuff like that. There were a few new rules, most of which didn’t affect Andy or people like him but one of the ones that did had gotten his sister a job. If you were registered for unemployment benefits you had to take a job if he gave you one. Sally was working on a nightly food truck now that catered for the homeless near the city centre. She swore blind that one of the guys she worked with was a troll. Apparently he dealt with any ‘trouble’. Working all hours of the night in dodgy places, Andy was glad she had someone to deal with any ‘trouble.’
The two girls his own age seemed to come out of nowhere. They were giggling and talking to each other in a language he didn’t understand as their hands plucked at his clothes. They laughed more as he tried to swat their hands away. A group who seemed to be their friends were around them now, preventing him from walking away, and they were laughing too.
Finally he snapped at them, “Lay off it will you two? This isn’t funny.”
There was something short and sharp said by a man in the language the girls were using and the two girls stopped grabbing at him. The group around them parted to let in a tall man who was probably the same age as Andy’s father. When he spoke it was in English but it was the voice that had stopped the girls, “You can see them?”
That seemed an odd question. “Well, yeah.” Andy was putting his clothes back where they ought to be and snatched his handkerchief back from the girl with the longer hair. “It’s not like they and the rest of your friends are invisible.”
“What is your name, young man, and what do you do?” The man had a neatly trimmed, greying beard and a vaguely European accent.
“Andy Spencer and I’m doing my HSC. Why do you ask?” Andy was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.
“That’s the big end of secondary school exam isn’t it?” When Andy nodded, the stranger produced his wallet and pulled out a card which he handed to Andy. It proclaimed him to be Petr Turchanikov of Team Four. The address was a few streets over in a light industrial area. “I work for the Elf. Come and see me when your exams are over, we have a lot to say to each other.”
“Okaaaay.” Andy wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to follow this up.
“Andias, no it would be Andrew here, wouldn’t it? Andrew,” the man sounded extremely firm, “come by the end of the second week in November or I will send someone to get you.”
“Yes.” Turchanikov was almost smiling. “Now go home, you should be inside before it gets dark. Tonight you should stay home and inside. If you must leave the house, do not leave the property, do you understand?”
“Uh, no?” This was a little weird.
“You will after we have our little chat at the end of your exams, now if you will excuse us, we must be going.” The man nodded and the group moved on. The last Andy saw of them was one of the girls looking back and waving at him, her hand passing through a garden shrub that intruded onto the footpath.
Suddenly he really felt like going home.