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Brian S. Pratt

The unsuspecting mage

Chapter 1

Having your nose in a book may be a great way to spend your spare time unless you do it to the exclusion of everything else. You get up, grab your book, then read until night comes when you’re forced to put it down for sleep. Oh sure, you have the occasional interruptions in the pattern like eating and school but that, I suppose, must be tolerated. James Reese, a young man currently in his senior year of high school, does just that. Unless something of dire importance demands his attention, he will be found lying upon his bed deep within a current, favorite book. He sees nothing wrong with spending every available moment reading. Reading to him is grand adventure, new ideas and keeps him out of trouble. His main interest is fantasy-adventure books, though he does dabble in an occasional sci-fi just to not get burnt out with fantastical worlds. Every book he has ever read fills shelves lining his walls. Now pushing over five hundred titles, it is the one thing he takes the most pride in.

An obtrusive knock at the door brings him back from the middle of a particularly exciting battle. “James,” comes his grandmother’s voice from the other side, “breakfast is almost ready. Put down your book and get ready or you’re going to be late for school.”

Unable to continue, he reads another three paragraphs until reaching a break, then carefully inserts a well- worn bookmark and places the book gingerly on his nightstand. He’s read it before. Many of his books have been read several times over the years, and most are still in very good condition. Those that know him best believe that he cares more for his books than for anything else. There are times when he thinks they may be right. Some of his friends kid him when they see him deep within a book he’s read before.

“Don’t you ever get tired of reading the same book over and over?”

James just grins and shakes his head. “Nope.” Then he invariably asks, “I suppose you haven’t ever watched the same movie more than once?” Having made his point, they would leave him alone.

He grabs a shirt and a pair of jeans from off the floor that don’t look too dirty and gets dressed. After slipping on his shoes, he slings his ever-present backpack over his shoulder and leaves the room.

The mouth-watering aroma of scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits fills the house. His grandmother is busy in the kitchen where she is putting the finishing touches on breakfast. “Have a seat, James. It will be ready in a minute.” His grandparents have raised him for the past five years, ever since his parents were killed by a drunk driver.

At the table, his grandfather reads the morning paper. So intent is he on an article that he fails to notice his grandson taking his place at the table. James has some trepidation about disturbing his grandfather. For the last few months, his grandfather has been encouraging him to find a job. Almost daily, he points out ads in the paper that he feels James might be interested in.

It’s his senior year in high school and the summer’s almost here. He knows he needs to make some decisions about his future but has never been that great when trying new things. Some call him antisocial; he thinks of himself as merely non-social. He doesn’t hate being around others, just prefers time to himself with his books.

The noise of James setting his backpack on the floor next to his chair draws his grandfather’s attention. James silently groans as his grandfather leans over to show him what he is sure to be another ad that more than likely he will not be interested in. To his surprise, what his grandfather proceeds to show him has nothing to do with finding a job.

Local Teen Missing

Seth Randle, a teen from Haveston, was reported missing when he failed to return home Wednesday evening. The police have issued an Amber Alert and teams of volunteers are busy combing the local area. Thus far they have been unsuccessful. He was last seen on Wednesday afternoon on his way home from Haveston High School where he is currently enrolled as a senior. If you have any information please call 911…

“Isn’t he one of your classmates?”

“Yes, he is. But I don’t know him very well. He’s on the football team and is well liked by everyone. Hope he’s okay.”

Further conversation is forestalled by the emergence of his grandmother from the kitchen bearing a platter filled with eggs and bacon in one hand, and a pan holding a dozen biscuits in the other. James eagerly takes charge of the biscuits and deftly transfers one to his plate as he sets the warm pan on the table. He helps himself to a big portion of his grandmother’s jam. It won 2 ^nd place at the county fair last year; old Widow Jones took 1 ^st place. His grandmother claims that Widow Jones puts too much sweetener in her jams and that is why she wins every year. About to take a bite, he hears her say, “James, let’s say grace first.” She has that look in her eye. Giving her a sheepish grin, he sets the biscuit on his plate, folds his hands and bows his head for prayer.

His grandfather prays. “Dear Lord, please bless this food to our good, watch over us and guide us. And please help James find a job! In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Leave the boy alone, John,” his wife chides as she places her napkin in her lap. “He’ll find one when the good Lord is ready.” Turning her attention to James she adds, “Make sure to find one that you will be happy with. There is nothing worse than spending your life at a job that is dull and lifeless. One should come along when the time is right. Now hurry and eat or you will be late for school again.”

Stuffing his mouth full of eggs and bacon, he mumbles, “I better eat on the run, then.” He tucks several biscuits in a napkin and stuffs them in the top of his backpack. Her biscuits, especially when they are warm, are hard to resist. “Thanks for another award winning breakfast,” he says before giving her a peck on the cheek, then heads for the back door.

“Don’t forget your lunch, it’s sitting by the door.”

“Got it!” he hollers as he stuffs it too within his backpack.

Once out the back door and in the garage he grabs his bike, hops on and quickly makes his way down the road toward school. Haveston High isn’t much more than a mile away and it only takes him a few minutes to arrive.

Police cars, both marked and unmarked, are in and around the parking lot. Two officers stand amidst a group of students while three officious looking men in business attire enter the office.

Pulling into the bike rack, he grabs his chain and starts securing his bike. His best and only friend Dave rides up as he pushes the lock closed and parks his bike in the adjacent slot.

“Hey, did you hear that Seth is missing?”

James glances to his friend and nods. “Yeah, I saw it in the paper this morning. Wonder what happened to him?” He spies a nearby policeman and he and Dave head that way

Approaching the officer Dave asks, “What’s going on?”

“We’re questioning students about Seth Randle. His mother says he’s been missing since Wednesday evening. Would you boys know anything about it?”

“No,” replies James, shaking his head. “We barely know him.”

“That’s right,” Dave adds.

The officer hands each of them a card bearing pertinent contact information. “If you see or hear anything that might help us locate him, please call.”

“Sure.”

“If we hear anything we’ll be sure to let you know,” James adds.

Heading to class, they both can’t help but wonder what’s happened to Seth.

The rest of the day, all anyone could talk of was Seth. They had an assembly before lunch where they were told the facts surrounding his disappearance. Evidently, he had been heading downtown after school and that was the last time anyone had any contact with him. They were given the standard lesson on strangers and what to do in emergencies, the basic “Don’t talk to strangers” lecture they’ve had for years.

Lunchtime finds James and Dave in their regular spot in the lunch room. Both are brown-bagging it but Dave is not very enthusiastic about the contents of his. Reaching in, he pulls out a poorly wrapped sandwich. He turns to

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