Kyle sat on the back step of the convenience store. He opened a bottle of up-to-date milk, sniffed it, and poured it into a bowl. The alley cats jumped down from the fence and crawled out from behind the dumpsters, racing for the bowl. Soon there were a thousand tiny tongues lapping at the milk and Kyle couldn’t help but smile as he petted their heads.
“You’re all alone, just like me,” he sighed, standing up as it started to rain. He headed back inside as the cats scattered to avoid getting wet.
“Hey, I closed up,” the manager said, tossing the keys to Kyle. “Remember, keep the lights off and the noise down. If anybody finds out you’re living here, I’ll lose my job.”
“I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I can,” Kyle said. “I’m sorry about all of this.”
“Yeah, well, you can’t sleep on the street,” the manager said, grabbing his jacket. “Bring the papers in when they arrive. I’ll be here at five to open.” He left, pulling the shutters down behind him. Kyle was left standing in the darkness. He wandered into the break room and curled up on the filthy sofa, losing himself in his thoughts.
I miss you, Robert, Kyle thought. I’m sorry. I wish I could come back, but it’s not looking likely. It’s been a week since you threw me out. I look at the face of every customer, hoping to see yours, but you’re not coming, are you?
He concentrated and a flickering flame formed on his fingertip. I can even cast a little magic without the circle now. Wonder what you’d think of that? Not that it matters any more. My magic training is over before it even really started. That world is closed to me forever. He extinguished the flame and sat up, unable to relax. He stood and walked to the back door, opening it and watching the rain fall. He pulled up a dirty plastic chair and sat just inside the door.
A black cat made its way out from behind the dumpster and over to him, sitting by his feet.
“Hey,” he whispered, scratching behind its ears. “I screwed up big time, you know. I had a second chance at building a future in the witching world and I threw it away.”
“You’re a witch?” The cat asked, in a heavily accented female voice.
Kyle knocked his chair over in surprise, falling backwards onto the hard concrete floor. He pulled himself up quickly, dusting his clothes off. “You’re a familiar?”
“That’s right. My true name is El Gato, my given name Catalina. Still, I’m being rude. This is no way to introduce myself. Let me drive down there.”
The cat became just a cat again, darting off to hide behind the dumpster. Kyle sat and ate a snack bar, not knowing what to do with himself. A witch, here? Did Robert send somebody to check on me? He looked up to see a young Hispanic woman, about twenty-five, walking down the alleyway. She was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans that made her look like any ordinary woman of her age.
“So, we meet in person,” Catalina said, extending a hand.
Kyle took it and shook firmly. “I’m Kyle.”
“Good to meet you, Kyle. Now tell me, what is a witch doing working in a regular job?”
“I was expelled,” Kyle said.
“Why? Did you dabble in blood magic?” Catalina asked.
“No.” Kyle looked down at the ground. “I used a charm potion on my master. I thought his life was in danger.”
“Oh. A small thing to be expelled for. Did you apologize?”
“Of course I did,” Kyle said. “He wasn’t listening. He was so angry.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve ruined my life, Catalina. He saved me from this place and I threw it all away.”
“Hush,” Catalina said. “Who is your master?”
“Robert. His witch name is Raven.”
“Ah, Raven. Oh, misery loves company, yes? Such a sad man, and now such a sad apprentice.” She laughed.
“You know him?” Kyle asked.
“Of course I know him. You may have met his friend Tempest too. They are all part of my master’s coven.” Catalina leaned on the wall.
“You’re the Coven Master’s apprentice?” Kyle asked.
“That is correct,” Catalina said. “Kyle, you want to go back, yes?”
“Of course I do,” Kyle said. “I was only there for three days, but that life… It’s all I ever wanted.”
“You too, huh? I can relate. I was fourteen and living on the streets of Mexico when my master found me. He took me away from that Hell and gave me a life, and I will always love him for it.” She looked away, suddenly embarrassed. “Kyle, do you love your master?”
Kyle thought about it for a second. “He’s special to me,” he said, “but it’s only been three days.”
“Still, you know you would follow him anywhere, yes?”
“Yeah, I would,” Kyle nodded.
“Then you need to go back. Tell your master that. He will take you back, if you are sincere. Raven is not a cruel man. He will not turn away one who truly wishes to learn.”
“I did a terrible thing,” Kyle said. “I intruded on his mind, interfered with his free will…”
“It is not all that bad,” Catalina smiled. “It was just a potion. A poorly thought-out plan, for sure, but it would have worn off in time.”
“You don’t understand,” Kyle said. “When he was under that spell, he wanted me… and I wanted him. If Tempest hadn’t showed up…”
“Nearly is still not a crime,” Catalina said. “You are guilty of what, being an idiot and being a man?” She shook her head. “You would throw away your future because of this?”
“He would have come for me if he wanted me to return,” Kyle sighed.
“He is probably waiting for you,” Catalina said. “He wants to know if you are dedicated enough to return despite your shame. Are you?”
“You really think I have a chance?”
“I do,” Catalina said. “Think on it, Kyle. Think about the words you wish to say, and go back to your master with a humble heart. Raven will listen, I know it.”
“Thanks,” Kyle said, feeling hope in his heart for the first time since the expulsion. “I didn’t even think that I might be able to go back. His words were so final.”
“Angry words usually sound that way,” Catalina said. “I have spoken many of those myself. Fortunately, my master is patient.”
“Catalina, can I ask you something?”
“Are you… in a relationship with your master?” Kyle asked.
“Only in my dreams,” Catalina sighed. “He is married to a non-magical woman. I love him, but I would never get in the way of his marriage. I keep my feelings to myself. He must suspect something, though. There are so many master and apprentice love stories, both in witch history and modern day life. The bond one shares with their master is a special and sacred thing.”
“I really like Raven,” Kyle admitted, “but we’re not that close yet.”
Catalina smiled. “You said yet. Already he is special to you.”
“I guess so,” Kyle said, blushing.
“Come on. Let’s take you home,” Catalina said.
“No, not yet. I need to think about what to say,” Kyle said.
“Well, just make sure you go. Don’t let this chance slip away.” Catalina turned and walked away. “Come, kitty. Let us go home.” The black cat followed her.
“I won’t,” Kyle said. He watched Catalina leave the alleyway, her familiar in tow. What a woman, he thought. Just a few words from her and I feel like I still have a chance. He took his chair inside and closed the door, his eyes adjusting to the gloom of the convenience store. I don’t want to stay here forever. I have to let Robert know that I’m sorry.
He lie down on the sofa and fell into a deep sleep, dragged down by exhaustion and emotion.
* * *
Robert made a cup of tea and sat down in the kitchen. So quiet, he thought. It was nice to have company for a short time, but it’s over now.
He felt a presence in the room with him and looked around, but saw nothing. Just tricks of the mind. I’m going to bed. He took his cup of tea to bed with him, curling up under the blankets as the first flash of lightning lit up the night.
* * *
Kyle woke with a start as the first flash of lightning lit up the room through the skylight. He looked around him as a feeling of dread started to fill him up. It’s just a storm, he thought. What are you, a child?
The feeling of dread didn’t subside, however, and Kyle got up and went to the back door, throwing it open. Something’s not right about this storm, he thought. It feels evil. I can’t even explain why.
Robert’s in danger.
He couldn’t explain where the thought came from or why, but once it was there Kyle couldn’t shake it. I have to go now. I have to see if he’s okay. He grabbed some fresh clothes and threw them on, hurrying out the back door and locking it behind him. The rain was pouring down and he was soaked before he reached the corner, but he ignored it and broke into a run. A huge fork of lightning hit a tree close to him and he jumped as the tree burst into flames.
He passed through the graveyard, gasping for breath, his shirt hot and wet against his chest as he reached Mayberry Hill and started his climb. He stopped halfway for breath and pressed on, reaching the door and knocking. No answer. Of course, why would he be up at this hour? The foreboding feeling still remained in his gut and he decided to try the door. It opened with a creak, and a wave of horror filled Kyle’s gut.
Something’s terribly wrong. I can feel it. I have to go in there. I have to save him. He summoned all his courage and stepped inside, turning on the light as the water on his clothing dripped onto the carpet. He hurried ahead, looking into the empty kitchen. No, not here. He’ll be in his room by now. He climbed the stairs slowly, looking out for the danger he could feel in the air.
Kyle took a sharp breath as he heard Robert’s cry coming from his room. He threw the door open and gasped as he processed the scene.
Robert was on his knees, a knife in his hand. One wrist was already slashed, blood pouring down his arm. A specter in the shape of a man stood over him, some kind of umbilical cord wrapped around Robert’s neck like a noose. He saw Robert going for the other wrist, the knife held in one trembling hand.
“Robert, no!” Kyle cried.
Robert looked up as if in a daze. The specter looked up as well, looking at Kyle with wicked eyes that seemed to bore into his very soul.
I can’t be afraid, Kyle thought. Robert’s going to die if I can’t defeat this thing. This is the spirit of his master that has a hold on his soul. This is what Tempest was talking about.
“Leave him alone!” Kyle said, summoning a flame between his hands. It flickered and waned, but he concentrated until it was constant and then he hurled it at the specter. The specter chuckled, the fire going right past it and hitting the curtain, which erupted into flames.
“Never mind you, I’ll take this boy’s soul!” The specter let go of Robert, who slumped forward, and made a lunge for Kyle. Kyle jumped backwards, dodging the specter.
“Kyle…” Robert said, reaching up from the floor. “Vincent, leave him be! It’s me you came for!”
“Oh, really? You would protect him over yourself? I guess the master-apprentice bond is still strong. Like it is with us.” The specter lifted Kyle into the air, wrapping the umbilical cord around his neck. Kyle reached for his throat, trying to pull the invisible rope from his neck as it suffocated the life from him.
“Like it was with us. Once. When you were still human and not this… this thing.” Robert stood up, his blood dripping onto the floor. There was steel in his eyes as he regarded his former master. “I let you come back into this world. I let you whisper to my soul and take my strength until you could pass through the gates and take form here. I wanted to believe you had changed, that a spirit like yours could be redeemed, and I along with it. I was wrong.” He summoned electricity between his fingers and let it fly, the lightning inside coinciding with the lightning outside the window.
“Let… him… go!” Robert yelled, continuing his barrage of lightning attacks. Vincent let go of Kyle and he collapsed into a heap on the floor, clutching his neck and gasping for breath. The specter floated across the room and knocked Robert into the wall. Robert slumped on the floor, the curtain burning behind him.
“You’re bleeding out,” Vincent said. “How long can you go on, murderer? How long before you die? I shall enjoy watching you suffer, even if you were my former lover. One does not turn on his master. A lesson you will learn.”
Kyle pulled himself to his feet, looking around for a weapon. A sword rested up against a shelf and Kyle picked it up, diving towards Vincent. He swung the sword and felt it cut through the specter as though it were flesh. Vincent screamed as he vanished, pulled back into the dimension beyond the grave.
Kyle rushed forward and cut the curtains down, stepping on the flames until they were out. He dropped the sword and rushed to Robert’s side, cradling him in his arms.
“We have to get you to a hospital,” Kyle said.
“You came back…” Robert said. “I never thought I would see you again.”
“I’m so sorry,” Kyle whispered. “I never meant to hurt you. I was only trying to help.” He tore off a piece of Robert’s shirt and tied it around his wrist.
“I know… You and Tempest… you were right.” Robert closed his eyes and Kyle shook him. “Robert!”
“He just passed out,” a familiar voice yelled from the doorway. “He’s going to be fine.” Tempest walked over to Robert and picked him up, throwing him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We have to get to the hospital. Nice job with the silver sword, kid. Silver’s quite a trick against the undead. Did you even know that?”
“No,” Kyle said. “I just grabbed the first thing I could find.”
“You did well,” Tempest said. “Come on, we have to hurry.” They rushed downstairs and loaded Robert into Tempest’s car. Tempest raced through the streets to the hospital. “So how did you know he was in danger? I could feel the evil from a mile away, but you…”
“I felt it,” Kyle said. “It was like instinct. I just knew he was in danger.”
“I’ve known him for fifteen years,” Tempest said. “You’ve known him for three days. How could such a bond have formed? Never mind, we’re here.” He pulled the Mini up to the E.R. door. “You take him in. You’re a little less conspicuous than me.” He gestured to his sparkling coat.
“What do I tell them?” Kyle asked.
“The truth. It was a suicide attempt. Don’t worry, he’ll breeze the psych tests and get out of there.” Tempest sighed. “It’s an intentional cut. You can’t exactly say he slipped and fell on it.”
Kyle picked Robert up. He was surprisingly light and warm, and Kyle carried him into the E.R. “I need some help over here!” Kyle cried, and suddenly he was swarmed by doctors and nurses who took Robert from him. He felt helpless as Robert was taken away and he was relegated to the waiting room. Tempest slipped in and sat down beside him.
“Don’t look so glum, kid. You saved his life.” Tempest opened a soda and sat back, at ease.
“You knew what was happening, so why didn’t you do anything?” Kyle rounded on Tempest.
“I couldn’t do a damn thing but watch.” Tempest sighed. “A specter like that can’t be defeated until it comes into this dimension. I would have stayed close to Raven, but I got expelled along with you. He even kicked my peacock out of the yard.”
“We deserved it.”
“Perhaps, perhaps. Don’t sweat it, kid. He has to forgive us now.” He sat back and sipped his drink while Kyle paced the hallway. He nearly jumped on the doctor when he emerged.
“He’s going to be fine,” the doctor said. “You are…?”
“His friends,” Kyle said.