Witch Trial

Witch Trial

Every witch has his day

Kevin Mishnar is a rare being, even among his own kind. Being a full-blooded witch, he’s been hunted by humans and even the supernatural world. With powerful magic, and some help, he’s survived every threat.

He has a good job, a wonderful sister, an amazing girlfriend, and great friends. He couldn’t ask for anything more. But when someone close to Kevin gets caught in supernatural chaos, he has to wonder.

Would his loved ones be better off without him?

Alicia Teague has been around the supernatural all her life. Half-demons, ghosts, and vampires. She’s even dating a witch. When Kevin disappears from her life, she’s left to pick up the pieces. But she can’t leave the supernatural behind, even if she wanted to.

Her brother wants her help with the family business.

  • Chapter 1

    Vanilla extract.  A slice of lemon.  Tapioca pudding.  Minced garlic.

    The common household kitchen items were spread across a long folding table.  A pot of boiling water sat on an electric hot-plate to the side, its bubbling the only sound in the basement.  Each item was treated with the utmost care and respect, separated and organized, as if they were the components to a bomb.

    From the eye of the young man staring at them, that was a real possibility.

    Kevin Mishnar let out a deep sigh, one of many over the past twenty minutes.  He stood and paced.  This was the part of magic that he hated the most.

    The waiting.

    It took three weeks for the four items to come to him.  The lemon was first.  It popped in his head while at work, as he fixed a computer for the boss’s daughter.   The pudding and garlic came when he was cooking dinner.  Only the vanilla extract had an amusing story behind it. 

    It popped while he was with his girlfriend, Leese, in the early hours of the morning.  They were together, doing what young couples did, when the ingredient came to him.  If Leese wasn’t a wonderful girlfriend, Kevin’s muttering of vanilla extract while she ground her hips into his might have been a mood killer.

    But Leese knew Kevin was a witch, and knew about the strangeness that came with it.

    Like sometimes obsessing over half completed potions.

    He glared at the folding table.  It had been another three weeks since the extract came to him.  He didn’t understand how magic worked, at least with new potions.  They just happened.  Sometimes a single potion came to him, or a flurry came at once.  Sometimes they were quick and easy, others took months.  Kevin kept a notepad to jot down every ingredient.  He wouldn’t know what the potion did until it was completed.  Magic, if nothing else, was a tease.

    He turned on some music and sat on the couch.  He tried to take his mind off magic.  Sometimes focusing on a potion helped it along.  But there were times that distraction was the best thing.  There was no magic formula.

    Kevin admired the basement he called home.  He still lived in the house his friend Victoria gifted him.  Legally, it belonged to Kristin, his sister.  But he was more than happy to claim the basement as his own.  A bed, couch, TV, computer, bathroom, he didn’t need more than that. 

    There were a few other witch’s touches as well.

    Kicking his feet up on the couch, he surfed through the channels.  The allure of seven o’clock television on a Friday night didn’t exactly grab him, and he found himself staring at the table once again.  Frustrated, he stood up and turned off the hot-plate.  It was another trick he often went to.  Sometimes being near boiling water, a catalyst for many potions, would get the magical juices flowing.

    But, for the moment, he was impotent.

    “Some witch you are,” he muttered.

    He approached his witch’s touch, the shelves that took up an entire wall of the basement.  The shelves were lined with potions and ingredients.  Most came from the kitchen.  Kristin would never realize they were missing, since he did all the cooking.  Others were more exotic.  Flowers from a tomb, preserved owl eyes, bones of a sparrow, bat wings.  Kevin didn’t even want to think about what witches in the past used, all while hovering over a cauldron.

    His gaze drifted back and forth between his vast array of ingredients and his work table.  He wondered if a guess was in order.  Some of his favorite potions came from simply guessing at an ingredient or two.  Maybe nothing would happen.  But that nothing could turn into inspiration for another ingredient, or even another potion.  Sometimes just the act of brewing a potion led to more.

    Or something crazy could happen, but he tried not to think about that.

    He went to his go-to ingredient.  Sugar.  He poured a pinch into his palm and went to work.  Turning the hot-plate back on, he mixed the ingredients.  Vanilla extract.  A slice of lemon.  Tapioca pudding.  Minced garlic.  A pinch of sugar.  All in boiling water.  The garlic threw a mouth-watering aroma through the basement, making him hungry.  His finger hovered over the bubbling mixture.  Every magical potion needed the touch of a witch.  With a quick stir, he would either have something new to write in his witch’s journal, or a blistered finger.

    “Let’s see what we got.”

    He stirred the mixture quickly.  It didn’t change color, nor did his finger burn.

    “Hmm, wow.  I wonder—”

    A loud popping sound interrupted, followed by a cloud of smoke attacking him.  He stepped back and waved frantically, trying to clear the air.  The smoke refused to give in.  A coughing fit seized Kevin, and a moment later the basement was full of smoke.  He could see nothing.  He almost tripped over the couch trying to put distance between himself and the ruined potion.

    The smoke alarm went off.

    “Shit.”

    “Kevin!”  It was Kristin, shouting from upstairs.  Kevin heard the basement door open.  “What’s going on?  Is there a fire?”

    He peered through the smoke.  He felt no heat, saw no flames dancing from his work table.  No fire, it was just another potion gone bad.

    “No, everything is cool.  It’s just, uh….”

    “Damnit, Kev,” she said.  He heard her moving down the stairs.  “You’ve got to stop doing this.  Last month, you almost burned the house down.”

    “I did not.”  He stumbled to the corner and felt for his reading glasses on the desk.  With another sigh, he slipped them on.  “It’s just a little smoke.  Not that big a deal.  I’ve seen worse when you try to cook—”

    His eyes went wide as he trailed off.  Wearing a simple pair of reading glasses allowed him to see through anything, and that included smoke.  Kristen was three feet away from the hot-plate, waving her hand in front of her.

    “Watch out—!”

    It was too late.  She wore a black dress, and slammed into the table with her leg.  The failed, boiling potion spilled all over the carpet, and her bare skin.  Kristin screamed as she fell to one knee.  Kevin heard the sick sound of her thigh and hand sizzling.

    She called his name.  Kevin sprang into action.  He jumped over the cord to the hot-plate and landed at Kristin’s side.  She trembled as the pain locked every muscle.  He gripped her arm and urgently pulled Kristin to her feet.

    “Ow!” she hissed, sucking in a breath of air.  “Shit!”

    Kevin urged her up the stairs, keeping a hand on her back.  Kristin half walked, half stumbled.  The smoke filled the stairwell, making both of them cough.  She nearly fell forward once, but Kevin caught her.  He helped her out of the basement and into the hallway.  The kitchen was just ahead.  He set her at the dining table and opened the fridge.  Her burns were already starting to blister.

    Kristin cried quietly behind him.

    “Hold on,” he said. 

    He had fought vampires, werewolves, demons.  Retrieving a bottle of water should have been easy.  Hearing his sister fight pain made his hand shake.

    “I am holding on,” she said.  Her voice dripped with sarcasm.  “Just take your time.”

    He created the first potion he ever discovered, long before he knew he was a witch.  All he needed was water and the touch of a finger.  The bottle of water turned bright blue before losing its color.

    Kristin took a deep drink.

    Kevin watched her and waited for the magic to happen.  The blisters on her thigh slowly vanished.  She flexed her hand, but it was still a deep shade of red.

    “Drink a little more.”

    “I am.  Just wait.”

    One more drink.  Kristin rubbed her leg with her injured hand.  Her color returned to normal.  She turned her palm over in front of her and wiggled her fingers.

    She stared at her brother.  They were adopted, not biologically related, but that didn’t matter.  They loved and looked out for each other.  If it wasn’t for Kristin, Kevin wouldn’t be the person he was.  She worked hard to take care of them after their parents died.

    But like any brother and sister, they fought.  He knew just from a look when she was angry with him.

    As she sat in silence, Kristin gave him that look.

    To add more fuel to her fire, the smoke alarms throughout the rest of the house went off as well.  Kevin winced as Kristin covered her ears.  Smoke made its way to the kitchen.  He ran to the cabinets and started gathering ingredients.  Flour, vinegar, sugar, an empty Cool-Whip bowl to contain the smoke.  A few drops of water from the sink.

    He quickly mixed the potion in the bowl and gave it a stir.  Standing in the thick of the smoke, near the basement door, he held the bowl over his head.  The smoke pulled in on itself, growing smaller and smaller.  It flowed across the couch, the stairs, the carpet, making its way toward Kevin and the magical container.  It flowed up his body, and he had to cover his mouth to keep from gagging.  When the house was finally clear, he slapped the lid shut.

    Everything was eerily quiet.  The alarms went dead.  The only sound was from Kevin’s TV, still on in the basement.  Kristin kept giving that look.

    As if the tension wasn’t thick enough, Kristin jumped when Oscar leapt across the table.  She squealed and balled up her fists in shock.  Kevin’s cat was always either at his side, or waiting in the shadows to frighten someone.  Being an all-black feline gave Oscar an advantage.

    “Oscar!  Go away!” Kristin shouted.

    Kevin regarded her for the first time since he heard her come home from work.  Confusion set in as he looked her up and down.  The black dress she wore stopped just above the knee and showed off her slender shoulders.  Heels and makeup, which was ruined due to tears.  A light bulb went off in his head, not unlike when he discovered new magic.

    “Ah,” he said.  “You’re going on that date with Todd.”

    “No.  I was going on that date with Todd.”

    “What?  Why are you canceling?”

    “I don’t know.  Maybe because I just got burned to a crisp.”

    Kevin felt awful.  He didn’t want to be the cause of her not going out on a Friday night.  Kristin’s social life was improving, but she needed to get out more often.

    “But you’re fine now.”

    Her voice softened a touch as she stood and looked herself over once again, feeling her leg and hand.

    “Yeah, thanks.”  Her hard edge returned.  “Look at me.  My dress is ruined.  And my makeup, I don’t even want to know—”

    He laughed, drawing a glare.

    “You’re right.  You don’t want to know.”

    He took the bottle from her and set it on the table.

    “Just change,” he said.  “Fix your makeup and go out.”

    Finally, she managed a smile.

    “I don’t know.  I’m afraid you’ll blow the house up.”

    “I won’t.”

    “Let me guess.  Your latest potion isn’t quite done.”

    “I’ll figure it out.”

    “Well, stop.”  She paused as she passed the basement doorway.  Her nose wrinkled as she sniffed.  “Is that garlic?”

    He ushered her away, toward the stairs by the front door.

    “Don’t worry about it.  Get ready for your date.”

    “I already did.  Once.”

    “Get ready again.  You’ve got other dresses.  I’ll clean up the basement.  Don’t worry.”

    “Okay, okay.  I’m going.”

    Kristin was halfway upstairs when she stopped to turn around.  She gave him a long look.

    “Kev,” she said.  “You don’t have to be a witch all the time.  It’s okay to just be a stupid, regular guy.”

    He wasn’t sure of her point, or what she was trying to say.  He was a regular guy.  He was an assistant IT specialist.  He didn’t own a ghost business.  Or manage vampire affairs out of a mansion.  Or whatever it was Jack Kursed did.

    He didn’t know what to say, so just went with humor.

    “Well, I’ve got the stupid part down.  Go get ready.”

    “I’ll do that,” she said, turning on the stairs.  Her voice went quiet as she disappeared to the second floor.  “And don’t burn the house down!”

    *****

    Kevin eyed the carpet with disdain.  He’d already said his goodbyes with Kristin, wished her luck, and heard the front door open and close above him.  The carpet just behind the couch was sopping wet, and the scent of garlic, while wonderful, wasn’t a good smell for a basement.  He put away all his ingredients.  Witchcraft was over for the night.

    He still carried the container of magically trapped smoke.  He’d have to dispose of it later.  Setting it on a shelf, a smile crossed his face as he thought of potential uses.  It would be a fun prank to play in the bathroom at work.

    He grabbed an enchanted sponge off the shelf.  Wiping it a single time across the carpet, it absorbed all the moisture, leaving the fabric dry and fresh.  He used magic of a different sort for the scent of garlic.  A liberal spraying of Febreze.

    Satisfied with the cleanup, he turned his attention to the rumbling in his stomach.  He wasn’t sure what he enjoyed more.  Cooking up potions, or cooking up food.

    It didn’t take long to get the kitchen rolling.  Kevin was deep in his version of a Friday night out.  He liked going out, liked spending time with his friends and family.  But he equally enjoyed a night on the couch, with his spell-book in his lap and a black cat on the cushion next to him.

    He made plenty of food, in case Kristin’s date went badly.  Steak smothered in mushrooms, steamed green beans, and baked potatoes.  He sampled a mushroom while enjoying the scent of the steak.

    “One day, Jack,” he said.  “You’ll cook like me.”

    He was shooing Oscar off the counter when his phone lit up.  After giving up his phone, and using magical stones to communicate, Kevin finally relented and purchased a phone once again.  Kevin and Leese both endured too many embarrassing incidents, with Leese even getting in trouble at work, because of their magical communication.  Voices booming mysteriously, or Leese hunched over a rock in a corner.  Kevin communicated with text, like every other person over eight years old.  They saved magic stones for emergencies.

    Which, thankfully, there had been none.

    He unlocked the phone to see it was a text message from Leese.  He smiled as he read the single sentence, what had turned into a private joke between them.

    Can I come over and play?

    There was no accompanying topless photo.  Although he had plenty, Kevin hung his head in disappointment.  He could always use more.

    He went downstairs to his desk, where he stored countless pictures of places important to him.  Victoria’s kitchen, an alley close to work, Alex’s house, and Leese’s bedroom.

    Some magic was simple, like trapping smoke or cleaning a carpet.  Then there was magic that was life-changing.  Like granting a human immortality.  Or using a picture to travel across the world.

    The process had almost become rote.  Kevin grabbed a photo of Leese’s bedroom in her apartment, then headed to his shelves.  He plucked an already-prepared glass vial from a neatly labeled rack.  He drew two circles, or rather portals, using the potion.  One on the picture, and another on his basement wall.

    Placing the photo inside the drawn portal completed the ritual.

    The portal came into being, taking the picture with it.  He always kept multiple copies of every picture, for that reason.  On one side was Walton, Maryland, Kevin’s hometown-tiny-corner-of-paradise.  On the other side was Baltimore, home to most of Kevin’s friends.

    Including his beautiful girlfriend.

    Even after a hard day at the veterinarian’s office, Leese was radiant.  Kevin realized he was biased, but she never had trouble turning heads.  She still wore her scrubs.  Her blond hair was short, only barely long enough to make a ponytail.  Her skin was flawless.  He always wondered what magic she possessed to have a tan throughout the year.

    Her smile was genuine, but weary.  Fresh clothes and a purse were slung over her shoulder.  A pair of jeans and a blouse.  He couldn’t help but notice the lacy underwear.

    “Hi, sexy.”

    “Hey, yourself.”

    He stepped aside for her to cross the portal.  He took her hand so she wouldn’t trip.  Leese was gorgeous, smart, sweet, and kind.  She was equally as clumsy.

    Her nose wrinkled as Kevin closed the portal behind her.

    “What is that?”

    He laughed.

    “Garlic and Febreze.”  The thought of garlic made him think of dinner, still on the stove.  “Shit.”

    He ran up the stairs.  Leese followed, smiling and laughing.  He turned the stove off and quickly shuffled food around.  Despite the hurried panic, nothing burned.

    Leese dropped her clothes on the couch and joined Kevin in the kitchen, sitting at the table.

    “Is Kristin out?”

    “Yeah.  On a date.”  He looked her up and down.  “Don’t you have that dinner with Cindy’s parents tonight?”

    She rolled her eyes as she slouched in the chair.

    “Don’t remind me.  I love them, but I’m so tired.  I’m sleeping in till noon tomorrow.  You mind if I shower here?  Tracy beat me to the bathroom.”

    Kevin laughed.  Tracy was Leese’s roommate, and loved her hot showers.

    “Sure.  You want something to eat?  There’s plenty here.”

    “No, but thanks.  I’ll eat at the restaurant.”  She had one foot on the basement stairs, and enough energy to blow a flirty kiss.  “Don’t peek.”

    “I’ll try not to.”

    He enjoyed dinner while listening to Leese shower in the basement.  She sang, badly, and it took effort not to choke on his steak with laughter.  The bathroom in the basement didn’t have a door.  He completely lost it when he heard Leese shouting at Oscar.  The cat strolled into the bathroom and scared Leese when he jumped at the curtain.

    “Kevin!” she shouted.  “Come and get your cat!”

    He set his dirty dishes in the sink and peered into the basement.  He hoped Leese couldn’t sense his smile.

    “What?” he said.  “He thinks you’re hot.”

    You’re supposed to be spying on me.  Not Oscar.”

    The slinky cat trotted up the stairs.  He stopped at Kevin’s feet, just long enough for a quick mew and a scratch behind the ears.

    “Good boy, Oscar.”

    *****

    Kevin was on the couch watching television when the shower stopped.  Leese stepped out wearing only a towel.  He’d brought her clothes from upstairs, but she didn’t bother reaching for them.  Instead, she joined him.  Stretching her lean legs out, she shifted a few times before getting comfortable.  He rested a hand on her side as she snuggled her head in his lap.

    “Sorry if I’m getting you wet.”

    “You can get me wet whenever you want.”

    “What are you doing tonight?”

    “Just what I’m doing now.”

    “You’re not going to visit Tiffany?”

    He laughed.  They both had grown close to Jack’s adopted daughter, much to Jack’s dismay.

    “Not tonight.  Jack’s been in a bad mood.  More than usual.”

    Leese winced at the thought.  Jack wasn’t known for his pleasant demeanor.  For him to be in an active, noticeable bad mood spoke volumes.

    “Is he still mad?” Leese asked.  “About Oscar?”

    Kevin cringed as the memory came back.  Oscar was a well-behaved cat, but there times he liked to run.  He ripped through Jack’s home one evening during a visit, while he was cooking dinner.  He crashed into a lamp, sprinted over the breakfast bar, knocked plates of food to the floor.  Tiffany thought it was hilarious.  Jack didn’t.

    It was no more damage than Tiffany’s young friends did when they had a sleepover.  But Jack always had more patience when it came to Tiffany.

    “Uh, yeah, he’s still mad.  He said I should start playing with kids my own age.”

    Leese chuckled so much her towel nearly came undone.  She turned on her knees and leaned on Kevin.  Her laughter was infectious, and he couldn’t help but join in.

    “Jack’s such an asshole,” she said.

    “I can’t argue that.”

    “But he is right.  You need to play with kids your own age.”  She swung her leg over his and straddled him.  She nearly fell, but he grabbed her hips to steady her.  “I’m your age.  What do you want to play?”

    He gently tugged at her towel and shifted under her.

    “That depends.  How much time do you have before dinner?”

    Leese smiled and leaned closer.  She wasted no time in pulling off his shirt.

    Their lips had barely touched when the phone in Leese’s purse rang.

    They laughed together as she gently cupped his face.  He kissed her neck, drawing a squeal, before she bounded off the couch.

    “I’d better see what’s going on.”

    Kevin stood with her and reached for his shirt on the floor.  Leese was too quick, scooping it in one finger as she teased him.  She danced across the basement to her purse.  Hands on his hips, he admired the peek-a-boo her body was playing with the towel.

    Leese checked the phone before answering.  Unlike vampires and werewolves, Kevin could only hear her side of the conversation.

    “Hey, Cindy.  What’s up?”  Kevin tried to snatch his shirt, only for Leese to hold it behind her.  “I’m over Kevin’s.  You want to say hi?”

    Before Cindy could object, Leese was already tapping at her phone.

    “No.  Don’t put it on….”  She sighed.  “Hi, Kevin.”

    He laughed.  Like Cindy, he didn’t like group talk over a speaker-phone.  That was a big reason Leese always turned it on.

    Kevin liked Cindy, Leese’s sister-in-law.  She was probably smarter than any of them, a large part of why Alex’s business was so successful.  Leese and Cindy were sisters long before Cindy’s marriage to Alex made it official.

    “Hi, Cindy.  How’s it going?”

    “Good, good.”  The awkward conversation continued.  “What are you up to?”

    “Well, right now I’m trying to get my shirt back from Leese.”

    “Oh, Jesus.  Sorry I asked.  Leese, are you there?  Are you even listening?”

    Leese set the phone down to engage Kevin with both hands.  They continued to play like children.  She stuck her tongue out while pushing him away, moving his shirt about.

    “Yeah, I’m listening.”

    “I’ve been texting you for twenty minutes.”

    “Sorry.  I just got out of the shower.”

    “Can you make it to dinner earlier?  Alex might have a job tonight, and my dad was hoping to make it an early night.”

    Leese adorably pouted, sticking out her lower lip with exaggeration.

    “But I want to play with my boyfriend.”

    “Play with him tomorrow.”

    “Oh, alright.”  She shifted to serious as she picked up the phone.  “How early is too early?”  She checked the time and ran through routes in her head.  “I can be there in twenty minutes.”

    “Perfect.  I’ll see you soon.”

    Leese hung up and smiled apologetically.  She tucked her phone away as she moved to her clothes.  He wasn’t happy their time was cut short, but enjoyed watching her drop her towel, slip into her lacy panties and a pair of jeans.

    “Aww,” he joked.  “I guess playtime is over.”

    She fastened her bra and approached to take his hand.

    “I’ll make it up to you.  Promise.  Hey,” she said, struck by a thought.  “Do you want to come?”

    He smirked at her phrasing.  Her cheeks turned red.

    “I meant to dinner.  Food.  Eat.  Drink.  You know.”

    A touchy subject he’d been carefully avoiding.  Alex, Cindy, and Leese had known each other all their lives.  They were a tight group.  Even as close as Kevin liked to think Leese and he had become, there were still things only the Teagues did together.  Dinner with Cindy’s parents was an example.  Cindy put those plans together, and she didn’t invite him.  It would have been rude and awkward to invade the Teague family’s space.

    “No, thanks.”  He gestured upstairs.  “I’m going to put food away for Kris, cleanup the kitchen.”

    “Okay.”  She leaned in for a quick kiss, but quick turned into a thirty-second embrace.  She pulled away just enough to give him that smile of hers.  “You know, an early night means I can come back over.  We can continue that game.”

    He slapped her butt.

    “My joystick will be ready.”  He winced and shook his head.  Smooth was never a word used to describe him.  “Holy shit, that sounded terrible.”

    Leese laughed, not deterred in the least.  She put on her blouse and straightened it. 

    “Yes, it did.  Do I look okay?”

    “Beautiful.”

    He’d told her that countless times, and Leese blushed every single time.  She approached the wall and gave it a tap.

    “Could you hook me up?”

    “Sure.”  He retrieved the potion and went to his desk.  “Do you know where you’re going?  Maybe I can get a picture from the web.  Save you a few minutes.”

    “That’s okay.  I’d rather drive there.  Then I can leave whenever.”

    He plucked out another picture of Leese’s bedroom.

    “You got it.”

    A potion, two portals, and one picture later, Leese kissed Kevin goodbye and approached her bedroom.

    She stopped at the mouth of the portal.

    “Oh, I almost forgot,” she said, turning to face him.  “We have to talk about something real quick.  Something serious.”

    He fought panic.  They didn’t normally make small talk around a portal.  It would stay open for several minutes, unless he closed it himself.  But Leese’s roommate didn’t know about magic, didn’t know about the supernatural world, and she didn’t need to.  They were always careful in how they went about getting Leese in and out of her apartment.  There was no need to change Tracy’s life with a misplaced or mistimed portal.

    “Okay,” Kevin said, leaning toward her bedroom.  The door was open leading to the hall, and he could hear the shower still running.  “What’s going on?”

    “Listen, uh….”

    Her struggle for words was surprising.  She always took the lead in their relationship, always made the first move.  If it wasn’t for her approaching him at Alex and Cindy’s wedding, they might never have talked.

    “My mom’s coming to town next week.”

    He’d heard a little about Leese’s mother.  She was a lawyer, and a single mother.  Always busy, always away.

    Kevin waited for the rest, but it didn’t come.  He listened once again for Tracy, getting nervous.

    “Okay, cool,” he said.  “Uh, that’s a good thing, right?  I know you haven’t seen her in a while.”

    “Yeah.  So, do you want to meet her?”

    He didn’t hesitate.

    “Sure.”

    “I was thinking…maybe we could do dinner or something like that.”

    “Great,” he said, smiling as inspiration struck.  “I can cook for you guys.”

    “Really?”

    “Yeah.”  He took her hand.  “Are you alright?”

    “Me?  Oh, I’m fine.  It’s just…you know, the meeting-the-parents thing.  Some guys run away from that.”

    He laughed at the idea.  After everything they both had been through, dinner with Leese’s mother didn’t sound that dangerous.

    “Just let me know when.”

    “Good.  Awesome.”  She backed through the portal, nearly tripping.  Kevin caught her.  Her smile was bright, energetic, nervous.  “It’ll be just us.  No Alex or Cindy.”

    “It’ll be fun.”  The shower stopped.  Kevin approached the portal and placed his palm near the edge.  “You’d better get going.  Before Tracy gets nosy.”

    She gestured for one more kiss, across the portal.

    “If dinner gets done early, I’ll send you a text.”

    “Tell everybody I said hi.”

    Kevin closed the portal with a drag of his hand.  He was alone once again, with only Oscar to keep him company.  Oscar settled on the back of the couch, curling into a ball.  Kevin scratched behind his ears as he joined him.  Goodbyes still felt strange when it came to portals, even after so many of them.  There was no driving away, no watching someone leave from a doorway with a wave.  There was only a bare wall.  The basement felt empty without Leese’s warmth and energy.

    He stored the leftovers for Kristin, although she didn’t come home early.  He hoped her date was going well, and texted her for confirmation.  The simple reply brought a chuckle as he loaded the dishwasher.

    Don’t wait up.

    He sprawled out on the couch and mindlessly watched television.  Oscar curled up at his feet.  The hours passed, and he slowly drifted to sleep.

    Chapter 2

    “Kevin.”

    The voice was familiar.  Male.  It sounded close by.  He cracked one eye open to see the television still on, although he’d muted it sometime in his journey of sleep.

    “Kevin?  Are you there?”  The tone was urgent, worried.

    “Huh?  What?”

    He sat up to see Oscar still at the foot of the couch.  In his sleep-induced confusion, he wondered if Oscar had somehow found the ability to talk.  Maybe he sipped at one of his potions.  The clock on the nightstand informed him it was after two in the morning.

    “Kevin.  Answer, damnit.”

    The voice finally came to him.  He hadn’t heard it in a while.

    Alex Teague.

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