Chapter 1: The Magic Shop

"I'm Teddy Meek from a small town named Town. At times I despise it. Nothing here ever changes. Even the people are happy going about their mundane lives."

"So you sought me out and asked me to teach you magic so you could have a life of adventure?"

Teddy felt his body shake. This wizard spoke in such an authoritative tone that he found himself wanting to run back home. But he had to be brave. This mission was far too important to turn back now. "Well, um… No! You're wrong!" Teddy felt the heat of the wizard's glare. The last thing a magician wanted to hear was how they were wrong about anything, but Teddy knew he could explain if this wizard's temper doesn't take control first. "It's more like I need to learn magic! This girl-!..."

"Oh! So you're doing it out of love?" The wizard grew angrier. How'd this strike a nerve too?

"No, you see…" Teddy sighed. "Just let me explain. I thought I wanted to escape my mundane life then this girl moved next door. She was adventurous… Made me feel good…"

The wizard scoffed.

Teddy's clenched his fists and raised his voice for the next part. "This girl was put under a wizard's spell! If you can't tell me how to undo it, I fear the end-times are upon us!"

XXX

Five years prior: At thirteen years old, Teddy Meek looked out his window to the house across from his; new neighbors were moving in. Moves fascinated Teddy. The thought of someone new moving close provided a sense of mystery; with mystery always came fascination. Teddy's father was at the house earlier. According to him, the neighbors had a daughter named Karly, the same age as Teddy.

Teddy relaxed his head on his arms and groaned. He wanted to see what Karly looked like but every time someone came to greet the new neighbors Karly never came outside. Teddy wasn't sure why he cared so much. He'd meet Karly the next day at school. But whenever Teddy tried to focus on anything else his mind always wandered back to the window.

Teddy's mom, Margaret, put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

"Nothing!" Teddy's cheeks reddened, but he didn't turn away.

Margaret knew what her son was thinking. He was always shy around new people and needed someone to push him forward.

"Oh, you know what; I wanted to make the neighbors a fruit basket! Would you like to help me deliver it?"

"Can I?" Teddy's face showed more emotion than he cared to let on.

"Yes, let's!"

Margaret needed to restock groceries, mainly fruit. Why had she polished off the last raspberries after last night's dinner?

She took some grapes, Sun-Maid raisins, apples, and threw them in a basket. The neighbors wouldn't care for such a cheaply made gift; hopefully, she could explain later.

"Could I take this over by myself?"

This question shouldn't have surprised Margaret as much as it did; boys Teddy's age rarely did things with their parents.

"I suppose you could."

"Thanks, mom!" Excited, Teddy ran out of the house and forgot to take the basket.

XXX

Teddy rang the doorbell. For a moment, he tried to remember why he was visiting in the first place... The abandoned fruit basket!

Teddy could sprint back to his house. Maybe he could make it home and back in time. But that was too risky.

Teddy fingered back his hair, checked to see if his laces were tied, hands were out of his pockets and looked for any of the other things adults fussed over. If he was going to explain himself, he might as well look presentable.

A woman in her mid-thirties opened the door.

"What do you want?" The woman asked, her tone unlike his mother's. Her eyes drooped, and she had messy waist length blonde hair

"I-I'm Teddy from the house across the street! We made you a fruit basket to welcome you to the neighborhood and..."

"Bring it in" She went back inside and expected Teddy to follow.

Didn't she notice Teddy wasn't carrying anything? He wasn't sure she looked at him. Her eyes shifted as if looking for something else.

With some reluctance, Teddy followed.

"About that; um... May of uh... accidentally f-forgot to bring in the fruit basket."

The woman turned around, catching him off guard with the amount of anger that came through her tone. "Well, then why'd you come here?"

"I-I was hoping to meet you and wanted to know if you had any kids!" Teddy's uneasiness showed.

The woman sighed. "Karly's in her room. It's just right from here. The first door."

"Thank you!"

XXX

The rooms were in a long hallway.

Sounds came from one room, and he opened the door a crack. He could see pink stockinged feet and legs, in jeans. A girl lay on her stomach atop her covers.

Pulling the door completely open, he could see her face. Eyes focused on the TV. Her hair was like her mother's, but straighter. Teddy found this attractive. She looked like a real life Barbie doll. But cuter.

She turned her head, green eyes widened. Silence. Both sides looked for the right words.

Teddy took a seat on the wood floor.

"Hey, I'm Teddy from next door. I- I hope you don't mind if I join you. I see you're allowed to have a TV in your room! Ours is in the family room only."

"Be quiet. We'll talk during the commercials."

It amazed Teddy just how quickly Karly adapted to the situation, like strangers entering her room was a normal occurrence. Despite this, Teddy found it off-putting that Karly would shut him up. Sure, he came while she was watching TV, but wasn't meeting new people more important that some TV show?

She watched a soap opera his parents watched called P.R.N. While its content wasn't as explicit as shows that would later air in the '80's, parents often criticized P.R.N. for being shown during prime time and featuring several dark themes such as cheating and depression.

Teddy found the show too much for him, but he could see the appeal in watching something this mature. It made him feel like an adult.

There was a running joke where the show's teenage daughter Melina rolled her eyes, sighed and said,

"Whatever,"

She'd do this any time her parents asked her something which she didn't want to answer. Karly imitated this.

"Whatever" Karly imitated.

Teddy laughed. She was way too good at it.

"I like the name, Melina." Said Karly.

"Yeah, me too."

"I know, but I really like it. Sometimes I wish I was Melina, but I'm not beautiful like her."

"Don't say that! You're very pretty!"

"I'm not. I have a cute face, but my insides are disgusting. I'm nobody important, but I do have one thing Melina doesn't…."

"What's that?"

"I know about magic," Teddy swore he saw Karly's eyes change to resemble a cat's. But if they changed they switched back so quick that he wasn't sure; maybe since she mentioned magic teddy's mind was overreacting and making up fantastical situations.

"How'd your eyes do that?!"

Karly giggled. She knew what he meant. "How'd my eyes do what?" Karly teased.

Teddy stood to get a better look at Karly's eyes. "What you did with your eyes…. That was magic; wasn't it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Karly's smile still showed, in fact, it had gotten bigger. She was toying with him.

"You just said you know magic! Spill it, what's your secret?!"

"Tell you what; how about I show you tomorrow? There's a place I'd like to take you."

Teddy agreed. He stayed up wondering about this mysterious place and about when he'd see Karly again. His mind was so clouded with thoughts Teddy wasn't sure when he fell asleep. He overslept his alarm and awoke fifteen minutes later to his mom shaking him awake.

XXX

Teddy met Karly at the bus stop. She wore a black dress and black high heels which were more appropriate for a witch's costume than everyday attire. Her long blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail though a few strands stuck out as if combed in a hurry.

"Good to see you again." Karly curtseyed, trying to be ladylike, an image that didn't fit her at all.

"Good to see you too," Teddy bowed, playing along. Then he noticed Karly's arms were empty. "Where are your school supplies?"

"Who says we're going to school?"

"Isn't that why we're out here?"

Karly's green eyes gleamed. She shook her head. "Leave your books here and follow me. I'll show you."

She ran past Teddy's house at the same time as the bus was pulling up from the opposite direction. Not seeing any other option, Teddy set his textbooks on the ground and ran after Karly.

"Hey, wait up!"

"You've got to catch me first!" Karly sang.

She slowed down for a second to look back at Teddy. A broad smile appeared once she noticed Teddy was following.

Teddy watched her move from far behind. Even with heels and a dress, Karly ran faster. Feet and legs stomped the ground with a careless yet strangely elegant rhythm.

At one point her heel fell off and Teddy quickly stopped to retrieve it. Karly stumbled ahead a few more steps, this time with significantly less grace before kicking off her other heel and running full speed barefoot across the sidewalk. Teddy collected the other heel and continued his sprint now further behind Karly than ever.

Eventually, Karly ducked into nearby woods. Teddy was fast, but Karly was faster. Teddy was out of breath while Karly showed no sign of slowing. He forced himself to pick up speed. Soon Teddy tagged the back of Karly's shirt, almost missing the running girl completely. He stopped running to catch his breath. Karly looked back smiling.

"Got… You!" Breathed Teddy.

"That you did." Karly laughed.

What was with this girl? Did she just want to be chased? Karly extended her arm which Teddy gratefully took with his free hand.

"No, my shoes," Karly ordered, looking unimpressed.

"Oh!" Surprised, Teddy handed her the shoes and watched Karly crouch on the ground to put them on again. Then stood up and extended her hand again.

"I don't have anything else of yours…. Do I?!"

"No, let's hold hands. It's not much further."

Hand in hand the two ventured deeper into the woods. A new thought came to Teddy's mind. "What is this place like?"

"Umm…" Karly tapped her chin. "Well, it's kinda old. From the outside, it doesn't look like anything special. You can barely even tell it's a shop."

"Why's that?"

"It's illegal to sell magic to humans, yet that's where they make most of their business; by selling cheap magic tricks from the Magic World."

"Wait, what's the Magic World?"

"A whole other dimension only accessed through dark magic. For a long time, humans knew nothing about it… Heck, we still know so little… Wizards are so secretive, but recently Wizards have started revealing themselves under the condition that humans won't attack wizards and wizards won't attack humans back."

Teddy's eyes widened. "Why would we attack each other?"

"Humans and wizards always had a strained relationship. Witch burnings happened because we fear them. Magic is so unknown to most of us and even if we wanted to learn it, only select people are ever trained. Those things together make wizards a pretty prominent threat if they were to attack."

"So why'd that all change?"

"Arthur…"

"Who?"

"Head of the HWA; Human Wizard Alliance. Arthur is perhaps the only person on this planet, even more, aloof than wizards. He spent decades perfecting the perfect technique to counter wizard attacks. He teaches these techniques to other humans too in hopes of keeping us safe. There's just one thing…"

"What's that?"

"He's been alive for over a hundred years, and nobody has even seen his face."

Teddy's jaw dropped. "So is he's like… Immortal or something?"

Karly laughed. "Not sure actually. It's just stories. Who knows how much truth there is behind any of it?"

"But this magic shop…!"

"That's real, and you find a few cool things here or there like magic contacts that change the shape of your eyes at will, but a lot of it's fake too… Cheap items that are claiming to be magic so they can make a quick buck off you. If magic does exist then, I want to study it and learn the mysteries of the Magic World."

"Not me…. Isn't magic dangerous?"

"Yeah, but isn't a little danger worth the price for knowledge? Wouldn't you want to know what's out there?"

Teddy wasn't sure. Magic intrigued him, but it also made his body shiver. He wanted to learn, but not at the cost of his life… At least that's what he told himself.

Karly was still waiting for a response and Teddy doubted she'd be able to understand his inner turmoil. So he swallowed and answered the simplest way possible, "Suppose so…"

They eventually came to this old brick building. Teddy wanted to ask why they were stopping here instead of a magic shop; then he remembered Karly saying the store didn't look like you'd expect from the outside. But Teddy supposed he would see a sign telling people to know this was a business. This place looked less like a business and more like somebody's home.

How'd this site manage to attract enough customers to stay alive? Was it just through word of mouth? How did Karly know? Teddy wanted to ask, but Karly stepped ahead and held open the door.

From the outside, the magic shop looked incredibly small, but the inside was a lot larger. A long string of beads dangled over the door momentarily blocking Teddy's view from the dimly lit, wooden room.

Shelves lined the walls with glowing objects some that resembling lava lamps, jars of what looked like an animal or in some cases human remains, and some objects which looked extremely ordinary. Nothing in the shop immediately screamed magic to Teddy, just odd. But then Teddy wasn't sure what would scream magic aside from a wizard's hat and a wand so anything this store sold should feel underwhelming by default.

Teddy focused on a shelf with only six black leather diaries with a key and a small padlock. This shelf was empty aside from that display. What was so special about a bunch of journals that the shop owner felt they deserved a spot all to themselves? Most weren't in good condition either.

"This looks like a sham." Teddy dared to whisper since he couldn't see the store owner anywhere near.

"Oh-ho, a sham ya say?" a stocky, bearded old man appeared behind Teddy and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Why do you think that? I assure you my business is entirely legitimate."

The man didn't seem angry; he almost seemed happy.

"Let me show you something." He didn't give Teddy time to answer his previous question and led Karly and Teddy deeper into the shop.

A shirt rack blocked off the back of the shop from customers, but the merchant rolled it aside and led Karly and Teddy past it down a winding staircase.

"So what do you plan on showing us Bom?" Asked Karly, catching Teddy off guard. Had they even acknowledged each other before this?

"You know his name?!" Of course, she knew his name; she called him Bom! The question slipped out of Teddy's mouth without much thought.

To Teddy's relief, neither Karly nor Bom teased him for this.

"Yeah, but Bom is just a nickname."

"It's short for my real name." Bom flashed Teddy a smile.

"What's your real name?!"

"Bald Old Man,"

"Bald Old Man?" Okay, now I know you're joking! Nobody names their children that!"

"Mine did. Do you know how in most sci-fi or fantasy books the main character is always trained by an old, wise mentor that eventually dies?"

"Yeah,"

"Well, my parents were a bit crazy. After reading a bit too much fiction, they decided their son has to grow up to be that wise old mentor and assist a hero in saving the world."

"Since when would our world need saving?"

"Like I said, they were crazy. But in the event of an apocalypse, we're prepared."

"Oh...I'm sorry." Admitted Teddy. "My parents just expect me to get good grades."

Bom's smiled slightly. "Ah, thankfully I've never dealt with that. Dropped out of high school to study magic."

Teddy looked over at Karly who looked back at Bom with a dead expression.

"Maybe you can ask him to train you," Teddy whispered.

Karly shook her head. "He told me he's moved past that life and refuses to practice anyone in magic unless he sees them as a worthy student."

Bom walked down the last step. How many stairs were there? Teddy felt like he'd been walking for hours. A bit past the last step was a door Bom had to unlock.

"I don't usually let anyone back here, but I've known Karly a long time."

The room was completely dark until Bom flipped on a light, gave the building a more natural, home feel rather making it look like a dim shop basement.

Smaller than the store room, It kept wooden floors and walls. However, it abandoned its shelves full of magical creatures for a small single bed, a writing desk, and a regular light source.

"Do you live here?" Teddy asked. He hadn't expected someone to live at this magic shop, but that would further explain why this place resembled a home more than a shop.

"I live here, but I would not call it my home. If home is where you want to be then, I'm not sure I've found home yet."

"What do you mean?" Karly asked. Teddy was relieved he wasn't the only one puzzled by this statement especially since it had also stumped Karly, a fellow master of engaging wordplay.

"They say home is where you want to stay. I've been a lot of places, met a lot of people. Once I thought I found a home when I fell in love, but I couldn't stay faithful. She knew about my involvement with magic and how addicted I was studying it, finding new spells and such and how I was addicted. I feared my continued participation would do nothing but isolate me from the ones I love most. I promised her I'd stay away from magic and begin a normal life with her, believing that love was enough to keep me from going astray. It worked for a few years, long enough for her and I to have three kids together. Then, I found my wand in the basement and thought maybe I could practice a bit more without her knowing. Pretty soon, I was addicted again, embarrassed to admit I let sin back into my life, I left home and came here where I practice and sell magic in mostly solitude."

'That's depressing;' thought Teddy.

He thought he could understand where Bom was coming from but found it pathetic that he gave up on love so easily, especially since there were a wife and children involved. Was his pride worth that much to him?

"So why did you tell us this?" Asked Karly; earning her a surprised look from the others in the room.

"You both seemed interested in my life so I thought you'd want to know."

"I assumed you were showing us something magic. I don't care about any of this."

Karly's cutthroat straightforwardness irked Teddy. He kept quiet. It was best not to pick sides. Bom looked irked and embarrassed as well. Teddy hoped Bom didn't think poorly of him too. As Karly's friend, it would be easy for Bom to group him and Karly together of having similar ways of thinking.

Still, Teddy wasn't embarrassed by Karly. He admired that straightforwardness, especially since he found it so hard to speak his mind. Just being straightforward wasn't as appealing to him when it made friendly bald old men sad.

"Well, I brought you here for a different reason." Bom shuffled past the bed towards a dresser drawer. He opened it and removed a bent up stick.

Was it a magic wand? Teddy expected wands to look a little more done up, perhaps out of plastic like a magician's wand, not like a stick Teddy could have found in his backyard.

Karly's eyes lit up, thinking the same thing as Teddy; she snatched the stick from Bom and grasped it tight, turning away so nobody could take it back. "How much?"

"Wait, that wand is just for beginners. Even if I sell it to you-you still won't be able to perform most magic."

"I don't care! How much is it?"

XXX

As soon as Karly was out of the shop, she twirled the wand excitedly and pointed it at a nearby tree. "Levitate!"

"Wait, what if it crashes on us coming back down?!" Teddy argued too late. The words already were spoken, but the tree didn't move either.

Karly scowled. "Maybe the tree's too heavy." She pointed it at Teddy. "Lift him!"

"What?! NO!"

"LIFT TEDDY!"

Again nothing.

Karly shook the wand. "This is junk!"

"Perhaps there's a trick to it that Bom knows!" Karly had been so impatient to start using the wand she didn't even stop to ask Bom how it worked.

Karly's eyes lit up. "You're right!" She ran back to the shop to find the inside completely void. They had only been out of the store for less than a minute, but already the shelves were empty as if no one had even been there, even the clothes rack that blocked off the stairs was gone.

"What the…" Karly muttered in awe. "How'd he…"

Teddy moved past her and called down the stairs, "Bom, you down there?" No reply so he and Karly ran down.

The door that Bom kept locked was left wide open. This room was even more barren. Not a single item from Bom's bedroom remained. The lights didn't even work.

For a moment Teddy questioned if he'd even met Bom. Was this his imagination? But this whole experience had been so vivid Teddy couldn't imagine it being fake.

"I just don't understand…" Karly said. "I've been coming here for years then out of nowhere he just… Why?!"

Teddy chose not to answer. He went back upstairs. He must have escaped with magic, but where to? Surely Bom couldn't have vanished with everything. There had to be something he left behind somewhere.

Then he saw it.

One, ordinary-looking diary Teddy had seen on the shelf lay on the floor underneath one of the shelves as if it were knocked off.

Teddy pocketed it before Karly could notice. If there was any truth behind this magic like Karly and Bom made it seem Teddy wanted to know.

At least with this diary, he wouldn't be learning any spells, just observing.

Without any leads, Karly and Teddy headed home. They didn't worry about Bom; he was capable of handling himself. Mostly They were curious.

During dinner, Teddy didn't dare speak of what he saw. Scary as it was, to risk his parents finding out that he skipped school today was much scarier.

Teddy was exhausted and fell asleep immediately after dinner. Tomorrow he'd show Karly around the school and maybe even solve the mystery of the bald old man.

XXX

The next day, Karly wasn't at the bus-stop leading Teddy to believe she was skipping school again. He felt a pain of jealousy since she never asked him to join.

Once at school, Teddy met his friends Eugene and Harold. Eugene always sat by Teddy during class while Teddy wasn't as close with Harold, but usually saw him during lunch or recess.

"Hey, Teddy, where were you yesterday?" Eugene asked, rushing towards his friend as soon as he stepped off the bus.

"You missed the pile of homework our teacher assigned!" Harold added.

Teddy hesitated. Where was he even to begin? By now the whole experience with Karly almost seemed like a lifetime of adventure; one that Eugene and Harold had no part in.

"Well, I met this girl…"

"Oh! A girl?" Harold interrupted, playfully patting Teddy on the back. "That's my boy!"

"Wow Teddy, I didn't think you had it in you! ... Skipping class with a girl." Eugene added to the banter.

Teddy waved his hands defensively. "It's not like that! I mean it is sort of, but we didn't kiss! I don't even know if she…"

"But you like her!" Inquired Eugene.

"...Maybe a little." Teddy looked away because he didn't want his friends to see him blushing.

"What's her name?" Harold asked.

"How'd you meet?" Eugene added.

So Teddy told the story in the most detail he could muster. He decided to include the part about the Bald Old Man and the diary because if he couldn't trust his friends, who could he trust?

"Did you open the diary yet?" Eugene wondered.

Teddy shook his head. He reached into his large, coat pocket and drew the diary. "I've been afraid of opening it myself."

Eugene, being the bravest one, took the diary, unlocked it, and flipped through the pages of regular lined paper. Again, this book had proven to be remarkably ordinary.

Teddy frowned. But his encounter with the Bald Old Man was real! Wasn't it? But how would his friends believe any part of Teddy's story when the only evidence he had of magic was fake?

"I don't see it," Harold confessed.

"I don't know!" Teddy admitted. "I thought this was real magic! I mean… You weren't there! You didn't…!"

"Teddy, we believe you." Eugene interrupted. "If you say it happened then it happened. But I don't think this diary is anything special."

"Unless there's more to it!" Teddy argued. He remembered Karly's wand. Was he grasping at straws for wanting more out of them? Or was there another channel of power that he couldn't access?

"Perhaps," Eugene handed the book back to Teddy. "Who knows?"

Disappointed, Teddy slipped the book back into his pocket.

The bell rang for the start of class, so Teddy and his friends rushed inside. Ms. Kuno always made the worse fuss when her students were tardy, especially if they were out having fun somewhere.

"Why were you late?!" Kuno demanded.

Teddy, Eugene, and Harold made it in on time. She was yelling at one student Dan Munchausen.

"My mom left late," Dan replied. Kuno was red in the face Dan kept his cool. He was always smug. This upset Teddy, but he knew this bothered Harold and Eugene more.

"Was it fun?" Kuno asked through gritted teeth.

Dan shrugged. "...Not really."

"THAT WASN'T A NO!" Kuno roared. "I DESPISE FUN!" She took a piece of chalk and wrote FUN in big letters on the board then crossed it out. "Let me tell you class, my husband he used to love fun. Then he died!"

Eugene raised his hand. "How did your husband die?"

"What? My husband isn't dead!"

"But you just said…"

"Did I say he died?! I meant to say he didn't. He used to love fun then he didn't. I hate fun." Kuno looked at Dan who was still standing with her in front of the class, waiting to reveal her harshest punishment. Instead, Kuno glared at him. "Why are you still standing? Take your seat!

"Um... Yeah, alright." Dan was confused by how many times Kuno changed topics in less than a few minutes, but not surprised. Most mornings were like this even the part about Kuno making the class think her husband was dead was common occurrence by this point.

'Between Professor Kuno and the Bald Old Man this entire town is mad.' Thought Teddy.

It was like Wonderland the characters in his life had their quirks that they'd never outgrow. But Karly was different. As a newcomer to Town, she was always trying to make new discoveries. Teddy admired that.

It made him want to see more of the world. He didn't want to spend his life in this small Town. He wanted to explore the world and have wild and crazy adventures just like Karly's.

Tell me more…

Teddy was certain he heard a whisper from close to his ear that caught him by so much surprise that it snapped him out of his train of thought. Teddy jerked his head towards the voice. Eugene was sitting beside Teddy and looked at him when Teddy turned his head.

"Did you say something?" Asked Teddy.

"No, you look frightened. Is everything alright?"

Teddy released a slow breath and relaxed his shoulders. "Yeah, just hearing things."