Looking for Bailey

There was no point in denying it: Julia was angry with herself. Trying to find ways to connect with people, she let herself trust Bailey. Now, it appeared that that trust had been misplaced. Jason would tell her not to give up after one failure, but it wasn’t just one. It was merely the latest. Finding Bailey was all she could think about. It wasn’t so much to help Rebecca as it was to confirm the betrayal. She hadn’t really opened up to them, but even the idea that it had been possible irritated her. Having gone along with Bailey staying at the house, she felt some measure of responsibility for their actions.

Outside the house, she retrieved the green crystal from a pocket. Jason had used them as keys to open portals. While that was their main purpose, Julia discovered, after playing with it for awhile, that she could also use it for detecting the use of spatial magic. Jason’s notes hadn’t mentioned that function, perhaps because he lacked Julia’s affinity for such magic. Unfortunately, the crystal uncovered no recent travel by magical means, so wherever Bailey had gone, it was by mundane means.

If she was right about when Bailey had left, Julia was nearly two hours behind. If they had stayed on foot, they were probably  in an eight mile radius, large but manageable. If they used a vehicle of any sort, things became much harder. Hoping that Bailey might still be relatively close, Julia closed her eyes and began expanding her awareness.

In the house, as large as it was, she had essentially created most of the space. It was thus a simple matter to know where anyone might be. While she still had power outside, it wasn’t her domain. She could search, but it was a much slower, more arduous process. The bigger the area, the more effort it took. Given enough time, she might be able to search the whole world, but the power it would take to do so was prohibitive.

Of course, the search would be much easier if she had something with a strong connection to Bailey. Even if she hadn’t set out before looking, she wasn’t sure if they had left anything at the house. None of these thoughts were getting her anywhere, so she pushed them away.

Every time she found someone, she had to stop for a moment to verify it wasn’t Bailey. Luckily, the house wasn’t located in a densely populated neighborhood. Still, there were enough people to slow her down. Ultimately, Bailey was nowhere to be found. Discouraged, Julia was about to widen the search when a thought occurred to her.

Getting from the dining room to the front door wouldn’t take long, but it still required going through a hallway. Without Sarah’s guidance, Bailey would get lost. It would have been difficult to get out, unless they had a badge. If they had a badge, Julia could use that to track them down instead of sifting through every person in the vicinity.

Filtering out everything except badges, she found one nearly ten miles away, just outside the area she had searched. It was Thomas’s, which meant that he could easily be lost inside the house. The idea gave her a bit of perverse pleasure. Telling herself that finding Bailey was more important, she left Thomas’s fate for another time. Maybe Sarah would find him.

Opening a portal near the location, Julia stepped through to find herself in a park. There was a figure sitting alone on a bench. Trying to seem casual and non-threatening, she approached.

“Bailey?”

A clap of thunder startled her, but she tried not to let it show. The figure on the bench looked up. It was indeed Bailey, with a look of profound sadness on their face.

“I’m sorry,” they mumbled. “I didn’t want to.”

All her feelings of anger and betrayal drained away. Bailey was still an unknown, still someone to be cautious around. Yet Julia was unable to deny the evident pain in front of her.

“What happened? What did you do?”

“Nothing.” Bailey’s voice cracked under its own weight. They didn’t try to hide that it was a lie. Another clap of thunder and the rain began to fall in sheets.

“Can you tell me anything?”

They shook their head without saying anything.

“Come on. Let’s go back to the house and out of this rain. Maybe Sarah can help, now that we know there’s a problem.”

“Why? Why would you do that?”

“We need information. Even if you don’t believe we want to help, surely you can believe that.”

“Okay.”

Julia opened a portal and made certain Bailey went through first.

Betrayed?

Sarah was downstairs in the living room when Julia and David returned.

“Where are they?” Julia stormed in. The tone in her voice was unfamiliar.

“Who?”

“Bailey.”

“They should be in their room. What’s going on?”

As Julia fell silent, David entered the room. In response to a look from Sarah, he merely shrugged.

“They’re not in the house,” Julia said after a moment.

“That should be impossible.”

“After David and I left, did you walk them back to their room?”

After thinking for a moment, Sarah realized she hadn’t. “No.”

“That must have been when they left.”

David finally spoke up. “So Bailey is responsible for Rebecca’s disappearance?”

“I’m not sure, but there was a delayed spell that was triggered somehow. Nothing in the cafe showed evidence of enchantment, which suggests something was brought it. I assume it wasn’t Rebecca, so . . .”

“But why?” Sarah asked. “Bailey seemed genuinely concerned. And Rebecca agreed to meet with her. Why would she do that if Bailey was a possible threat?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I had hoped to talk with them. We need to find them.”

“Maybe Thomas can help?” Sarah made the suggestion even though she knew it was likely to upset Julia. Now was not the time to worry about that.

“Thomas . . .” Julia sounded thoughtful rather than angry. “Didn’t he vouch for Bailey when they first arrived?”

Sarah had forgotten that detail. “You’re right. He did.”

“Are you suggesting he had something to do with this?” David sounded genuinely shocked.

“No.” That response from Julia surprised Sarah. “I don’t trust him, but if he really wanted to do something to Rebecca, there were simpler ways of going about it. I’m just wondering how he could have been wrong about Bailey.”

“Hold on. We don’t know that it was Bailey.” Sarah felt compelled to point out that all they had was speculation at this point.

“Fair enough. So what do we do now?”

There were too many unknowns. How could they keep from just chasing shadows? 

“Julia, will you try to find Bailey?”

“You didn’t even need to ask.” Julia turned around and walked out.

“David, would you back me up? I want to check something out. Back up would make me feel a little better.”

“Sure. You want to tell me about where we’re going?”

“Yeah. Come on. Let’s get ready.”

Cafe Interlude

Now that he was alone with Julia, David found himself searching for the words he had wanted to say for awhile. They were sitting at a table in the cafe where Rebecca had disappeared. Julia was turning a green crystal over and staring at it intently.

“So what did you want to talk about?” She didn’t look up as she asked the question.

“What do you mean?” It was a reflexive response.

“You volunteered to come with me, even though there wasn’t anything for you to do. I’m assuming it was because you wanted to talk.”

Maybe it was because she always seemed aloof, or maybe it was the anger that was lurking just beneath the surface, but David was still unable to shake the way she intimidated him. Still, there wasn’t likely to be a better chance than this.

“I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry.”

“For what?”

“That I was unable to protect you from . . .”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not your job to protect me.”

“But, if I had . . . then Jason . . .” As soon as he said it, he regretted it.

“Stop.” She looked up from the crystal with fire in her eyes. “What happened, happened. Thomas screwed up. Put you in an impossible situation. Put us both in harm’s way. Nothing else needs to be said.”

David looked down at his hands. “Sorry.”

Julia did not respond, instead pouring all of her attention back into the crystal. It was impossible to read her, and, according to Sarah, Jason was the only one who had known her much at all. He wanted to find a way to connect with her, but mentioning Jason seemed to make that even more unlikely now.

Instead, he watched her examine the crystal. Whatever it showed her, he was unable to see it himself. The realm of magic was impossibly large, and he doubted anyone had even the most superficial familiarity with the whole of it. Nonetheless, he wanted to learn all he could. This did not seem like a good time to ask.

Without warning, Julia stood up. “We have to go. We need to get back to the house. Right now.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Not now. I’ll explain when we get there.”

Family Meeting

Sitting around the dining room table, everyone looked to Sarah. It may have been Thomas’s house, but all the residents recognized Sarah as the de facto leader. It had been she who called them all together.

“Rebecca is missing,” she began, without preamble.

“I thought she had already left?” David hadn’t been happy upon hearing of her departure.

“She had,” Sarah replied. “But Bailey and I went to meet with her.” She gestured towards Bailey, who ducked their head sheepishly. “During that meeting, she vanished amid a bright flash of light.”

“So you think she was abducted,” Julia said, rather than asked.

“I don’t really think she would have agreed to meet if she was just going to leave in the middle of it.” Sarah tried not to sound defensive.

Julia held up her hand. “I’m not doubting you. I just want to understand what happened. Was there any sign before she disappeared? Any indication of what sort of magic was used?”

“No. I wasn’t actually there. I had gone outside to give Bailey and Rebecca some privacy. I saw a flash, and when I ran back inside, Rebecca was gone.”

“Bailey? What happened? Tell us everything you can remember.”

Clearly nervous and upset, Bailey looked up at Julia. “We were just talking, catching up a little. I think she was scared, but not of me. I was asking her for help with my living situation. Next thing I knew, a bright flash knocked me backwards. When my vision cleared, Sarah was standing over me, and Rebecca was nowhere to be seen.”

Julia sat back in her chair and began chewing the inside of her lip.

“So that’s it?” David asked. “We don’t have any leads?”

“Peter,” Sarah replied. “He has already tried to get her once. Maybe this was him again.”

David looked at Julia. “Could he have escaped wherever you sent him?”

“Yeah. I mean, I just got him out of the house; I didn’t imprison him.”

“Who’s Peter?” Bailey asked.

“Someone from Rebecca’s past, before you. Did she tell you anything about her life back then?” Sarah found herself surprised that Bailey didn’t seem to know.

“No. She never wanted to talk about that.”

“Oh. Well, he had tried to get her to leave with him about a month ago. Are you sure you didn’t see anyone else?”

“It was just me and her.”

“This is a waste of time.” Thomas finally spoke up. “Rebecca left the house. She isn’t our responsibility any longer.”

Before Sarah could respond, Julia leapt to her feet. “Just abandon her to fate? Do you already know? Is that why you are so quick to give up on her?”

Thomas stayed in his seat and kept his voice even. “First, you get mad because I tried to save you. Now, you are mad because I am not trying to save Rebecca. You need to be a bit more consistent.”

“You are avoiding my questions.”

“Alright. I do not know what happens to Rebecca. My point is simply that she left. If she had stayed, we could have helped her. And she knew that. She must have had reasons for leaving, for not relying on our help. I simply believe we should respect her choice.”

“I’m not comfortable with that,” David said. “She is still our friend.”

“Beyond that, I feel responsible for her being there in the first place. I tracked her down and got her to come meet us. I want to make sure she’s safe, even if she doesn’t want our help.”

Thomas stood and shrugged his shoulders. “You do not need my permission. You are each free to pursue whatever you wish, as long as you do not endanger the house. I choose to return to my studies.”

As he left, Julia glared at his back.

“That . . .”

Sarah cut her off. “Let him be. I understand your frustration, but let’s focus on Rebecca.”

Julia slumped back down into her chair. “Fine. But we need to deal with him at some point, and soon. Otherwise, I don’t think I can stay.”

“We will. For now, would you please check the cafe?”

“Sure. What am I looking for?”

“Since you specialize in spatial magic, I was hoping you might be able to figure out what was used, how she was spirited away.”

“I’ll go with her,” David volunteered.

Sarah looked at Julia, who simply nodded.

“Okay, while you two are gone, I’m going to retrace some of the steps I took finding Rebecca in the first place.”

“What can I do?” Bailey looked at each of them in turn.

Sarah thought for a moment. “If you can remember anything, either from the cafe or from your past with her, that might give us something to go on. Anything at all.”

“I’ll try.”

“Okay.” Julia stood up again. “I’ll let you know if I find anything. Let’s go, David.” The two headed towards the front door.

“Be careful,” Sarah called after them before leaving the room herself.

Motivations

Bailey could only toss and turn in the bed, not sleep. It was comfortable enough; in fact it was probably more comfort than they had experienced in months. The problem was that this was Rebecca’s room.

Nothing of the missing mage’s possessions remained, yet Bailey could tell. The room smelled like her. She must have lived here for quite some time. If Rebecca’s housemates were allowing someone else to use it, they weren’t expecting her back, at least not soon. Their motive for letting Bailey stay was a mystery, but if Rebecca was gone, there was little point to staying.

Finally giving up on sleep, Bailey threw the blankets off and got out of bed. All of the rooms were mostly empty. A bed and set of drawers in the bedroom. A couch and coffee table in the main room. Nothing that might serve as a distraction. Restlessness growing, Bailey approached the main door.

Sarah had warned against wandering the hallways alone. Opening the door, there was nothing obviously dangerous outside. Bailey stuck their head out and looked both ways. The hallway was empty and appeared just as it had when they had been escorted to the rooms. For an extended moment, Bailey considered taking the risk. It wasn’t fear that stopped them but curiosity. If they left, they would never know why these people had let them stay.

Closing the main door, they turned to the one that led to the kitchen. It opened easily, and the other side was obviously a kitchen. A double-sized refrigerator stood against one wall, and a large island took up the center of the room. Several stools were placed around it. One of them was occupied, and upon hearing the door open, Sarah looked up.

“Hello, Bailey. Come on and have a seat.”

It wasn’t an order. The woman seemed genuinely to want Bailey to sit down with her. That just added to their overall puzzlement. Sarah was a stranger; why would she be so friendly?

They walked in and sat on a stool across from the woman. Something was different about her, but it took Bailey a moment or two to realize that her hair was shorter and perhaps a little darker. There was something else, too, but it was impossible to pin down what else had changed.

“Did you get a haircut?”

Sarah chuckled. “Thanks for noticing, but no. I just changed my appearance a little. My special talent.”

“Ah.” Magic, then. Bailey wasn’t used to mages being so open with their gifts. This was her house, though, so maybe not so open after all. “Rebecca’s not coming back, is she?” They had considered slowly working up to the question but thought it might be better to try to catch Sarah off guard.

Sarah ducked her head a little, perhaps out of embarrassment.  “I don’t know. I hope so. I think she’d be better off here.”

“Why did she leave?”

“I think that’s her story to tell, not mine. I’m sorry.”

Bailey nodded. As much as they wanted to know, Sarah’s deference to Rebecca’s privacy was something they could respect.

“Okay, but then why did you let me . . .”

A door suddenly materialized in the middle of the kitchen, interrupting the conversation. Julia walked through, looking much as she had before, and the door vanished.

“Oh, you’re both here. Good evening.”

Sarah gave a small wave.

“Hello again, Julia,” Bailey said.

“I hope the room is okay. If you need any furnishings for it, let me know.”

Sarah frowned. “Not stolen, I hope.”

Julia rolled her eyes. “No. I remember the rules. I have sources, legitimate ones, so you don’t need to worry.”

Bailey tried to interpret the dynamic between the two women, but couldn’t. They seemed friendly, yet guarded. There was something between them, but it wasn’t clear what it might be.

“I guess a television wouldn’t hurt.”

“No problem.” Julia looked at Sarah like she was daring the other to ask where it would come from. “One thing you should know . . . Sarah probably warned you about the hallway . . . But I wanted to reassure you that I won’t go into your rooms without your permission. Another one of the rules. As long as you’re a guest no one can get into those rooms without your approval. Unless there’s an actual emergency. Just in case you were worried about that.”

“I . . . I wasn’t.” That possibility hadn’t even occurred to Bailey, thought it probably should have. “But thank you for letting me know.”

“No problem. I’ll drop off the TV first thing tomorrow.” Another door appeared behind her.

“Julia. Wait.” Sarah stopped her. “I don’t want to intrude but . . . if you want to talk . . .”

Julia smiled, which seemed to catch Sarah by surprise. “Thanks Sarah. I know you want to help. I just need some time.” Then she stepped through the door and vanished.

There was silence in the kitchen as Sarah was lost in thought. Eventually, Bailey decided to leave her to her reflection. Just as they stood to leave, though, Sarah spoke.

“You want to know why I said you could stay? It’s for her. You seem to coax her out in a way no one else has been able to. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve seen and heard Julia more since you arrived than in the two months prior. It’s completely selfish, but I hope you’ll stay. And to make it worth your time, I am trying very hard to get in touch with Rebecca. Maybe you can even get her to return. Obviously, I’ll understand if you want to leave. But I hope you won’t.”

Sarah didn’t wait for a response. She stood and left the kitchen quickly – by an apparently normal door – as though she was afraid Bailey would reject her.

It was several minutes more before Bailey stood and went back to their room. They didn’t know what to make of Sarah or Julia. Only when they were back in bed did they realize they had forgotten to get something to eat.

Bequest

Trying to understand what she was reading, Julia shuffled through a stack of papers. It wasn’t that Jason’s handwriting was atrocious, though it was; instead it was the words themselves that didn’t make sense. She could read each one, but they wouldn’t go together properly. The only thing she could be confident of was that these represented Jason’s research in magical energy. Few mages specialized in raw magical power – Jason was the only one she knew personally – and her own training covered very little of the theory. Most mages, herself included, only learned enough about it to provide energy for their own spells.

Periodically, she would stop and try to read through a page. Jason had said he would teach her about this aspect of magic. Along with so many other things, his death had put an end to that plan. Comprehension of his notes danced just out of reach. So many times she thought she was beginning to grasp some of the ideas, only to have them slip past her once more.

She let the papers she was holding fall to the desk and rubbed her eyes with her hands. A headache had formed from all of her concentrating. She needed a break. Rook, Jason’s cat, jumped onto the desk and rubbed up against her arm. When she looked up, he was staring expectantly at her with his deep green eyes. Scritching behind his ears almost always made him happy. This time, though, the cat didn’t close his eyes and lean into the affection. He just stared at her.

“Are you hungry?”

She really didn’t expect him to answer, but she couldn’t think of what else he might want. As expected, he didn’t react.

A thought occurred to her. “Do you want to show me something?”

At that, Rook jumped down and walked to the main room of the apartment. Once he knew she had followed, he jumped on top of a chest of drawers and began pawing at the top drawer.

Ever since Esther had told her the cat’s name, Julia wondered if the animal actually spoke to the landlady. Sometimes, he seemed to behave as if he knew what she had said, but he never talked to her.

Inside the drawer was a simple wooden box and more papers. Julia had spent most of the last few weeks at the apartment, but there was so much to go through, she suspected she hadn’t found even a quarter of the things Jason had hidden all over. The box was secured with a trick latch, but by now, she had worked through enough of them that it didn’t take her long to get it open.

Upon opening the box, she found four different color crystals: blue, purple, yellow, and orange. They looked very much like the green crystal she had used to open the door that led her back to this very apartment. Six small mounts were spaced evenly in the box, and two were empty. Perhaps the green was one of the missing crystals. That left one unaccounted for.

She closed the box and turned her attention to the small stack of papers. There was the same, nearly illegible, handwriting she had been staring at for the last few days. This time, however, the words didn’t slip through her mind.

Julia,

I intend to give you this box in person, but I also know that events don’t always go as planned. If you’re reading this note, either I’m dead, or you’re snooping. If it’s the latter, knock it off. You’ll get this when I give it to you. If it’s the former, well, I guess you should keep reading.

Julia looked up at Rook. The cat was licking his paw and ignoring her.

“You couldn’t have shown me this earlier?”

Rook simply jumped down and walked into the kitchen. After taking a moment to blink her eyes clear, Julia began to read again.

Inside the box are several crystals. You are already familiar with the white ones I use to store energy, so I didn’t bother putting one in. And since you’ve found your way back here, you must have also discovered what the green can be use for. Admittedly, the green are likely to be the least useful to you. But it was your magic that helped me create them. The rest of the crystals you will need to figure out on your own. Carefully. Remember how we met, and don’t repeat my mistakes.

The pages with this should help you get started. Nothing else will make sense until you master these. I said I would teach you about my own magic. This is me making good on that promise. Study the crystals; I think you will figure it out.

Yours,

Jason

P.S. I think the cat is conspiring with the landlady. Probably harmless, but I thought you should know.

Julia wiped away a couple more tears and chuckled a bit. Jason’s version of paranoia always made her laugh. The box sat in front of her on the chest. It almost felt as though the crystals inside were calling to her. Some sleep was probably in order, but she didn’t think she could wait any longer. She opened the box and pulled out the blue crystal.

Being Social

As they walked back into the living room, Sarah was surprised to see another person in the room talking with Bailey. Even more unexpected, that person was Julia. She looked far more casual than the last time she’d seen her, before Jason had been killed. She had her hair tied back and was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Her demeanor was friendly. Sarah had no idea what to think.

Julia looked at her as she entered. “Hello, Sarah.” She was obviously ignoring Thomas. “Bailey and I were just having a little chat. Were you planning on inviting her to join the house?”

“What? No. I mean, it was raining outside and Bailey needed help . . .” Why would Julia jump to such a conclusion?

“Ah. Well, Bailey was just about to tell me how they met Rebecca.”

Oblivious to all of the strangeness regarding Julia, Bailey nodded. “My . . . uh . . . my teacher threw me out. It’s not much of a story, really. I was homeless, and Rebecca helped me out. Found me a place to live and gave me some advice. She was nice to me. Told me to come here if I ever needed any help.”

“And you need help now?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah. I . . . I lost my apartment. Times have been tough, and I . . . didn’t make rent. I really don’t want to be homeless again. I thought Rebecca might have some ideas. If I could just talk with her.”

Sarah sighed. “As I told you, Rebecca is busy with something important right now, and she’s not available.” She ignored the questioning look Julia gave her. Bailey appeared crestfallen. “However, I think we might be able to arrange for you to stay here for a little while. What do you think Julia?”

Julia appeared to consider the idea for a few moments. “I imagine I could find some space somewhere.”

With an outsider present, Sarah had to struggle to conceal her shock at Julia’s willingness to engage with house matters.

“More importantly, however, are we sure this is a good idea?” Julia looked back to Bailey. “I don’t mean to sound uncaring, but we have experienced more than one . . . misfortune recently. I’m not saying you would cause any trouble, but we need to be careful.”

“I can vouch for her.” Sarah had momentarily forgotten Thomas was present. She braced herself for Julia’s outburst, but it never came.

Instead, Julia remained focused on Bailey. “Bailey, do you know this man?”

The question was a trap, of course, but the newcomer had no way of knowing that. The implications for any answer were unpredictable, especially to someone unfamiliar with Julia and Thomas.

“No, I don’t.” Their uncertainty was palpable. “I know he told Sarah that he had seen me somehow.”

“Well, I won’t hold that against you.” Julia directed her attention to Sarah. “I don’t know. If it’s temporary, I’d say it’s your call. You run the house, after all. I can set something up with a few safeguards. It would be good to get Rebecca’s take.”

“Yes. I’m trying to get in touch with her. Can you give Bailey a room and access to the kitchen? I think the room next to David’s is free.”

Julia’s face grew dark, and Sarah quickly worked to tamp down her anger. “Not his. His room is yours. For as long as you want. I meant the room on the other side.”

Confusion abruptly replaced fury. “But that’s . . .”

“Yes. It is currently not being used. I think it would be perfect.” Sarah hoped Julia would pick up on her meaning and not pursue the conversation any more in front of Bailey. She still didn’t want their visitor to know Rebecca was gone.

“Okaayyy. So you want me to make sure the room is clear and put in a door to the kitchen?”

“If you would.”

“Alright. Just give me a few minutes.” Julia stood and gave Bailey a rare smile. “Don’t worry. It’s weird here. Just go with it.”

Sarah stared after her as she left and then turned to Thomas. “What do you make of that?”

Thomas was staring at the doorway through which Julia had recently left. “I don’t know. Maybe she has made peace with everything? She clearly still wants nothing to do with me, but perhaps . . .” He trailed off without finishing his thought.

Bailey took the opportunity to speak up. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. It’s just that Julia is not usually so sociable,” Sarah answered. “She must like you.”

“How is she going to put in a door in just a few minutes?”

Sarah exchanged glances with Thomas. “If you know Rebecca, I assume you would know . . .”

“Oh. You mean magic? I just didn’t know it could make doors.”

Sarah smiled, a little relieved. “Well, it depends on who is using it. I should tell you, there are a couple of conditions for you to stay here. Except for the kitchen, you won’t really have access to other parts of the house. And you won’t be able to leave your room unless you are with one of us. We’re not trying to keep you prisoner; you’re free to go any time you like, but you must be accompanied by one of us. I hope you understand.”

“That’s fine. I’m just happy to have some place to stay. Do you know when Rebecca might be available?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t. I hope it won’t be too long. If you accept the conditions I’ve laid out, I think I can show you your room now.”

“Thank you.”

Esther

The apartment looked the same as it always had, as though Jason had never moved out. Maybe he hadn’t. The question was why? Julia looked around at all the clutter and tried to guess why he had kept this place. No answer immediately suggested itself.

She sat down and started going through the nearest pile of paper. It consisted mostly of notes in Jason’s indecipherable handwriting. Before she could begin a new stack, there was a knock at the door. She sat very still and waited for whoever it was to go away.

Instead, they began to fiddle with the lock. Her first instinct was to leave and return later, but she stopped herself. She didn’t want anyone tampering with Jason’s things. Standing and preparing to defend herself, she waited for the door to open.

When it did, she was surprised to see an older woman dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt standing on the other side. the woman pulled a set of keys away from the lock and stared at Julia over a pair of reading glasses.

“I heard you up here,” the woman said in response to a question Julia hadn’t asked. “Where’s Mr. Wizard?”

The situation had become something unexpected. “Mr. Wizard?”

“Your friend, Jason Wizard. He is your friend, isn’t he? Or should I be calling the cops on you?” The lines on the woman’s face suggested she was in her 80s, but there was nothing frail about her.

Wizard? That was the name Jason had used? As smart as he was, his lack of common sense still amazed her.

“Yes. He and I are friends. But he’s not here right now.”

“I thought so. You used to come around occasionally. Hadn’t seen you in awhile. Thought maybe you’d had a falling out. Anyway, rent’s due. Jason asked me to collect it from whoever was here.” The woman walked into the apartment and headed to the kitchenette area. She put some water into the kettle and set it on the stove. While it heated up, she took out two mugs and a couple of teabags from the cupboards.

Julia watched all of this in stunned silence. This woman, Jason’s landlady, seemed quite at home here. Had she visited often? Julia couldn’t recall meeting her before. The cat appeared from wherever it had gone off to and began rubbing up against the woman’s legs.

The kettle finally whistled, and the woman poured hot water into each of the mugs before dipping the teabags in. “Do you take any milk or sugar in your tea? I know he has sugar, but I can’t be sure there is any milk.”

“No.” Julia was still not sure what to make of all of this.

“I hope you don’t mind if I use some sugar. Helps bring out the taste. Come on, now. Have a seat.” The woman sat down at the small table across from the stove. From a covered bowl, she extracted two sugar cubes and dropped them into the mug in front of her. Julia walked over and sat down in the other chair.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Esther. I own the building.” The woman’s smile was genuine. “And what’s your name? Jason never told me.”

“Julia.”

“Julia. Nice to meet you.”

“Do you know Jason well?”

“He’s been living here for years. You get to know people a little after so much time.”

That didn’t really answer her question, but Julia decided not to push the issue. “Well, I’m afraid Jason isn’t here right now.”

“So you said, but rent is still due. He is a good tenant, but I have bills to pay.”

“I’ll make sure to tell him.”

The woman’s smile didn’t fade, but a tinge of sadness crept into it. “This must be hard on you, no doubt. If you’re here alone, I assume something happened to him. He told me it might, and that I should expect you if it did. I guess I hoped he was just pulling my leg again. I am sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

Julia shook her head. “If I get you the rent, can I keep this place?”

Esther reached out and patted her hand. “Of course.”

The cat jumped onto the table between them and laid down. Esther waved her hand at the animal. “Rook, get down.” In spite of her expression, her voice didn’t convey any real threat.

“Rook?”

“Oh, he never did bother to figure out his name, did he? The cat’s name is ‘Rook.’ Jason would have known if he had ever bothered to ask.”

Julia stared at the woman. “Who are you?”

“I already told you. My name is Esther. I own the building. Rent is due on the first of the month, which was yesterday. I know you’re in mourning, so I can wait a few days. But not too long, okay? And be sure to keep the tea and sugar on hand.”

Julia nodded and took a sip from the mug in front of her. The tea was warm and comforting. She felt more peaceful than she had in a long time.

A Door to the Past

After David left, Julia turned back to talk to Jason’s apparition, but it, too, had gone. She dropped into a chair and stared at nothing in particular. She really had nothing to do, at least nothing she wanted to do.

Surprising her, Jason’s cat jumped into her lap. She hadn’t seen it since Jason’s death; in fact, she hadn’t even been certain that it was still around until just now. As far as she knew, Jason had never given it a name. It jumped back to the floor and crawled under the chair. Julia stood up to go find some food for it.

Before she even took a step, something hit her foot. The cat had knocked a green toy into her. She bent down to pick up, not a toy, but a green crystal. It radiated power, but it didn’t look like the power storage crystals Jason normally created. Indeed, she had never seen him make or use anything like this. Getting down on her hands and knees, she looked under the chair to see if there was anything else under it that might be a clue to what the crystal was for.

The only thing she saw was the cat, who meowed at her and walked away. Julia sat back onto her legs and examined the crystal more closely. There was power, but it was already bound up in some purpose; it wasn’t the freely available power that could be found in Jason’s usual crystals. Without more information, there was no way of knowing what it was for. The cat began meowing repeatedly, so she walked over to where it was sitting, next to a small cabinet. Inside the cabinet was a bag of cat food. She found a bowl and set it down on the floor.

While the cat ate, she continued to turn the crystal over in her hand. It stubbornly refused to give up its secrets. Casting her gaze around the room, she saw nothing remarkable, nothing incomplete or out of place. Her eyes finally settled on the door to Jason’s back rooms. She had avoided going back into the other parts of his personal space. Even though he was gone, it felt wrong, as if she would be prying. The door was now ajar. The cat must have opened it and gotten out. That was a good thing, else it might have starved. 

Now that the door was open, it felt like a sign for her to finally enter. After all, his belongings needed to be dealt with, especially if anything else was alive back there. Clutching the crystal tightly, Julia steeled herself and walked into the next room.

To someone who didn’t know Jason well, the room would have looked cluttered and disorganized, as thought someone had been in the middle of three projects and left suddenly. She knew better. He had probably been in the middle of at least six projects. Chaos was his order, and he understood it better than anyone else she knew. She couldn’t always follow how his mind worked, but there was no denying that he saw patterns no one else could.

Three more doors led away from this room. One would go to his personal chambers. Another went to a more traditional lab space. And the third . . . confused her. She had made these quarters according to his instructions. There should only be two doors besides the one she had come through. Had he added a room without telling her?

Opening this extra door revealed nothing but a blank wall. There was no doubt that Jason was odd, to say the least, but he always had a reason for everything he did. So what was the point of a false door? She closed it and examined the side facing the rest of the room.

It appeared to be just a normal door; there was nothing odd about it at all. The door handle was made of glass and cut to look like a large gem. A little fancy, perhaps, but nothing extraordinary. Otherwise, it was a simple wooden door that led nowhere.

A meow startled her. The cat was standing next to her looking at the door, obviously expecting to be let through. She obliged the cat, but the wall was still there. It sat pawing at the wall, apparently confused. She closed the door again and went over it carefully. This time she noticed a notch in the handle. It looked like it belonged, so she hadn’t noticed it the first time. There was no other indentation or marking anywhere. She pulled out the green crystal and fitted it to the notch. Effortlessly, it snapped into place. This time, when she opened the door, she saw the inside of a familiar apartment. It was where Jason had been living when they had first met.

The cat did not hesitate to enter its old home. Why did Jason have a door to this place? Was there something important here? She couldn’t begin to guess the answers to her questions, but she was determined to find out. Carefully, she followed the cat through the door.

A Bad Feeling

The sidewalk was full of people walking to their afternoon destinations. Some were staring down at their phones; others looked straight ahead while managing to avoid eye contact with anyone. The bustle was typical for the time of day, and even surrounded by so many others, everyone kept to their own private worlds.

A young boy, no more than ten, wove his way through the crowd and tried, with only modest success, to avoid being jostled. As he reached the corner of the block and waited for the light to change, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see a middle-aged man, with a wild look in his eyes, bending down to talk to him.

“Excuse me, young man, can you tell me where Maxwell’s Cafe is? I seem to be turned around.”

The boy knew he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but the man did not seem dangerous despite his looks. Pointing back the way he had come, he said, “Two blocks . . .” A truck roaring past drowned out his voice for a moment. “Two blocks that way. It’s on your right. There is a big blue neon sign.”

“Thank you.” The man straightened and began walking in the direction the boy had shown him.

Seeing that the light had changed, the boy crossed the street and continued on his way. 

*     *     *

“Why did you do that?” Julia asked Jason. “You know where Maxwell’s is.”

Jason looked back over his shoulder at the boy and smiled. “Did you notice the truck that went by?”

“There are a lot of trucks going by.”

“One went past when the boy was giving me directions.”

“Okay. Maybe I remember that.”

“It ran a red light. If he hadn’t stopped to give me directions, he would have been in the street. That truck would have run him over.”

“You knew about the truck?”

Jason chuckled. “No. I just noticed it go by when he was talking.”

“Then why . . .”

“I knew he was in danger. I just didn’t know the details until I saw the truck.”

“So you stopped him . . .”

“. . . to keep him out of danger. Yes. I just get these flashes, something is good or bad. The boy must have brushed me, and I picked up on his immediate fortune.”

Dumbfounded, Julia just looked at him.

He chuckled again. “Just something I’ve always had. Never details, just a sense of success or failure, good or bad.”

“Seems handy.”

Jason gave her an enigmatic smile.

“Wait a second. Why did that building fall on you back when we first met? Shouldn’t you have been able to sense that whatever you were doing was a bad idea?”

“But it wasn’t.”

“A building. Fell. On. You.”

“And as a result, I met you.”

“That counts as a success?”

Jason shrugged. “Good ideas work in mysterious ways.”