Adam and the Three Wishes - Part 1/6

Adam and the Three Wishes, Part 1

By Portia Bennett

Introduction: What would you do if presented with three wishes, no strings attached? Yes, you'd have to be careful; however, there are no time constraints. You have all the time you need to figure out what you want. And, what would you do if those wishes would enable you to be the person on the outside that you were on the inside? That is only part of Adam Grunewald's dilemma.

This is another story in the Cynthia Chronicles series. Other stories in the series are An Incremental Journey, Cynthia and the Reluctant Girlfriend, Cynthia and the Dumpster Diver, Cynthia and the Moment of Truth, Cynthia and the High School Years - Part I, Cynthia and the High School Years - Part II, Charli and the Girl Cave, Bobbie and the Glass Ceiling; and Randi and the College Professor,. The time frame of this story follows about three to four years after Charli and the Girl Cave.


 

Once again Holly H. Hart has willingly provided her invaluable help in proofing and straightening out my poor English. Thank you so much, Holly.

This work is copyrighted by the author and any publication or distribution without the written consent of the author is strictly prohibited. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is coincidental.


 

Adam and the Three Wishes

 

Part 1

Chapter 1

'CONGRATULATIONS, ADAM, YOU ARE THE 666,666,666TH PERSON TO VIEW THIS WEBSITE. THREE WISHES ARE YOURS WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED.'

'Yeah, right,' Adam thought as he looked at the screen that replaced the one that had been there when he signed on to his favorite TG website. 'I click on that 'accept' button, and I'll get so many worms, Trojans, and viruses that my computer will probably be smoked, and my hard drive will crumble.

'All I need is to lose my computer. I lose that, and I lose my job. I'm lucky enough to have a job as it is.'

‘I’ve got to get out of this screen. I’ll just ‘X’ out and go back to the menu.’ Unfortunately, the screen seemed to be frozen. It just stared back at him; tantalizing him with three wishes. The window was flashing at him. ‘It wants me to press accept. Well, I’m not going to do it. I’ll just press “Ctrl-alt-delete”. That’ll get me out of this.’

Unfortunately, nothing happened. It just kept blinking at him: teasing him with three wishes. There was only one thing left to do. Turn it off. That didn’t work either. There was only one thing left to do. He’d have to see if Jim could help him.

Jim Matthews was Adam’s neighbor three doors down from him in the condominium complex in what had been a warehouse in an industrial area of Boston. Adam had graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in industrial safety. Jim had been Adam’s roommate their freshman and sophomore years. Then he got sucked into a relationship and eventual bad marriage to an evil, conniving bitch. At least, that was Adam's opinion of her.

We really need to go back and set some background here. This wasn't the first time that strange things had gone on in Adam's life. It was just one more thing that sometimes had him doubting his sanity.

Adam Grunewald was an insurance consultant. He didn't sell insurance or anything like that. He worked for a third party administrator as a consultant. He received assignments to visit various clients, anything from day care centers and honky-tonks to large chemical plants. He evaluated construction, liability exposures, general safety practices, and workers' compensation exposures. It wasn't bad work, and the pay was good when he worked. He didn't get a salary. He got paid for each job plus his travel. It was a good life, such as it was. He didn't feel he was the best consultant out there, but he felt he was far from the worst. Most of his reports sailed through without a problem; however, every once in a while, he would lock horns with the quality control people. The nice thing was that he didn't have to come face to face with any of them.

Another nice thing about his job was the travel. That may seem strange; however, the travel was only a few hundred miles at most in any day, and was usually less. He would spend two to three days a week doing surveys, and then spend the rest of the week writing reports. It gave him a lot of time to do the other things he liked to do: like looking at the various internet auction sites, playing with his cat, watching HGTV and the various cooking channels, visiting internet sites that featured beautiful nude models, and visiting several internet sites that specialized in TG fiction. Concerning the latter, he didn't like the rough stuff. Life was bad enough as it was without adding mental and physical pain. He just loved to let his mind wander through the 'what ifs'.

After graduating MSU, Adam headed for a job in St. Louis as a loss control representative with a major insurance company. Jim and his wife of two years were going to Boston where Jim had been hired as an IT consultant. Adam had figured that because of the fact Jim's wife detested him he would probably lose track of his friend; however, things changed in a direction that neither Jim nor Adam had considered possible.

Adam moved to St. Louis to start work, and quickly found out what seniority was all about. One of the more senior loss control representatives was assigned to be his mentor as he was schooled in the company specific policies and procedures. His mentor was a very pleasant but demanding instructor. She was very good at what she did. He learned early on that she was a lesbian; however, that didn't bother him. In fact, Jim had kidded him about how well he got along with some of the LGTB community at MSU, a fact not missed by April, Jim's wife. She didn't approve of anyone whose sexual preferences did not meet the 'norm' of her West Plains, Missouri upbringing.

It took about three months, but Bev, never Beverly, was finally satisfied that Adam was capable of doing the job. He was thoroughly inculcated in the workings of the company, and was eager to get out on his own instead of being a fifth wheel with the other loss control reps. Being the new guy on the block meant that he was probably going to get more than his fair share of problem clients. It turned out that wasn't the case. All the consultants shared the metropolitan St. Louis area. In addition to that, Adam got the territory going south into the Boot Heel of Missouri. That meant he would have Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, and all the little communities in between. Overnight travel would be a given.

It was his second trip to Cape Girardeau that things got a little strange. He had started his day in Kennett, Missouri where he visited a farm supply company. From there he headed north and east to Sikeston, Missouri. He spent a good part of the mid day surveying a grain dealer. Grain silos, augers, grain elevators, scales, and bins made for a long day. The managers at the risk (insurancese for policyholder) were not exactly happy to see him. It wasn't because Adam had shown up unannounced. It was because they were approaching the peak of the planting season. There wasn't really much that Adam could do about it. His visits were controlled by the policy renewal date.

The place was like a busy bus station in a major city. Trucks were coming and going in close intervals. Because the office was in the scale house, Adam had to fit his interview questions in as best he could. After the interview portion of his survey, Adam broke for lunch before returning to complete the physical portion of his survey.

The hot windy early spring day made for dust and quick tempers, but by the time he left, he was on good terms with owner who showed up after lunch. Adam pointed out an electrical hazard he had found in one of the driers, and a suspected rodent infestation that the exterminator had failed to eliminate. All-in-all, it had been a good survey.

As he was leaving the grain dealer, he noticed that he would be hard pressed to get to his assignment in Cape Girardeau on time. He parked and reached for his cell phone.

"Mr. Bettencourt, this is Adam Grunewald with Missouri River Insurance Company. I wanted to let you know that I'm going to be a bit late for our appointment. I hope that won't be any problem."

"That's quite all right. I know how those grain dealers can be. We'll be here when you get here."

Adam checked his request sheet and forms again. This was one of those surveys for what they called prospective business. That is, his company had not yet written the policy for this business, 'What was the name of that business? He didn't say when he answered the phone. Here it is: SRU Enterprises. What did the underwriter say about it? Hmmm, apparently it's a novelty store. You don't see very many of those these days. How can they afford to pay the rent in a big mall like that?'

Clouds were darkening the northwest horizon as he exited at exit 96 onto Williams St. The Mall was just a few blocks to the east. His instructions on the GPS told him to turn right at the third intersection, St. Francis Dr., and Mr. Bettencourt had told him to come in the entrance next to J.C. Penny on the west.

As he pulled into the parking lot, a blast of wind struck the car. Old newspapers, Styrofoam cups, and wisps of sand probably left over from sanding the parking lot in the last snow storm were racing across the lot.

Adam grabbed his jacket and camera from the rear seat. He looped the camera over his head, struggled with the jacket for a minute, and tucked his clip board under the jacket. The last thing he needed was for all his note taking forms to be blown across the parking lot.

Entering the mall, he paused for a moment to blink the grit out of his eyes, and comb his hair. He could still hear the wind howling outside, but it was definitely much calmer inside. It looked and smelled like just about any other shopping mall in the country. There were all the standard stores one could find just about anywhere in the U.S., except, there was this one strange little store that didn't seem to fit. Written in faded gold letters across the scratched, single pane window was 'Spells á´™ Us'. Under that in slightly smaller letters was 'Spells, Potions and Special Gifts'. What sort of elaborate joke was this? There was even a decrepit wooden sign hanging from a bracket over the front door stating 'Spells á´™ Us'.

This had to be some sort of initiation prank created by the people in his office. But that was ridiculous. How could they know about him, his secret desires and cravings. Yes, he admired Bev for being open about her sexuality, but he was sure he had never hinted at the inner person that he kept prisoner there.

He pushed the door open, noting the tinkle of the bell that was mechanically activated by the door. There did not appear to be any electronic security at the door. He'd have to make a recommendation about the door opening inward, too. That was definitely against the fire codes. How could the mall management allow this?

The voice he almost expected came from the room behind the counter, "We'll be with you in a moment, Adam. Make yourself at home."

He looked around for the camera that had to be well hidden. He couldn't find it. This was really a strange place. It had to be a setup. 'I wonder if they will mind if I take pictures before I talk to them?'

"Take all the pictures you want, Adam. We're in a bit of a conference back here. Be just a minute," the voice from behind the curtain said.

Adam wandered up and down the aisles, taking some pictures to show the layout of the products for sale. Knowing the rules about touching merchandize, he wasn't about to touch anything. He couldn't believe what he saw. One row had all sorts of vitamin supplements and pills for various ailments. He didn't recognize one brand name. Another row had cosmetics. It was the same thing there. Then, there were shelves full of lingerie and women's apparel. A small area was dedicated to menswear. There was even a selection of athletic supporters. Another row was full of costumes. On the far wall were bins of candy such as jelly beans, toffee, etc. Above the bins were rows of apothecary jars. The labels were in Latin. At least he thought it was Latin. He hadn't taken Latin in high school.

He had to have gone up and down at least a dozen rows when he came back to the counter. A dozen rows! There couldn't have been that many rows. Then, as he looked back to count the rows of shelves and displays, he almost stepped on the biggest dog he had ever seen. No, there were only four rows including the main aisle from the front door to the counter.

"Excuse me fella, I didn't mean to step on you." 'That's a hell of a guard dog. That's a hell of a liability exposure letting him be in the store area during business hours.'

"He's never bitten anyone that didn't deserve it."

Adam looked up to see an elderly man of indeterminate age. He was dressed casually, and his long hair and beard were neatly trimmed. Behind him were two of the most beautiful young women he had ever seen. One was a beautiful golden blonde. She was fairly tall, almost as tall in her heels as Adam. Her blue eyes sparkled, and her smile was captivating. The other girl was a redhead. Her bright green eyes were stunning, as was her smile. She was taller than the blonde, and appeared to be athletic. Adam wasn't sure what clued him to the athletic thing. He realized she had a nice tan. Then he saw that her left hand was not tanned. She was a golfer.

"Adam, I would like you to meet Cindy Lewis and Bobbie Schmedlap. They dropped in for a visit this afternoon. We've been friends for a long time."

"Adam, it's great to meet you. I know His Wis..., er Mr. Bettencourt will be glad to help you." She and Bobbie shook his hand.

"So, you knew I was a golfer," Bobbie said as she gently shook his hand. "Not many people would have picked up on that as quickly as you did. You're pretty observant."

"I guess I have to be to be any good at this business," Adam responded. "There are a whole lot of people relying on my skills as an observer. I think I observed something else, too. You're not from 'these here parts' are you? My Kansas City ears detect a foreign accent."

"Right again, Adam, we're from Connecticut. Well, it was nice to meet you. I know we'll see you again," Cindy responded. "Bobbie and I have to get back to school, so we've got to hit the road." The two gave Mr. Bettencourt a hug and a kiss before going through the curtains and out, Adam assumed, the service door to the parking lot.

'Why would two girls from back east be going to school in Cape Girardeau? I know it's a good school, but I can't imagine two girls from Connecticut wanting to go to school around here.'

"Oh, they don't go to school around here. Cindy's going to Boston College, pre-med I believe, and Bobbie's going to Wake Forest. Bobbie's the U.S. Women's Amateur Golf Champion. She'll win it again before she goes pro. You might have seen her picture on a Sport Illustrated cover.

"I think you have a survey to complete, and you need to find a motel room before the weather turns real bad. They're going to get about 10 inches of snow around here tonight. They'll have a room for you at the Holiday Inn Express after you finish here."

They moved to the back room where Adam completed his physical survey. He noted that the toilet seat in the small rest room was broken, and advised Mr. Bettencourt to get it fixed. The housekeeping was a bit lacking, nothing very serious; however, the dust and spider webs were a bit bothersome to Adam who was a bit of a neat freak. Finally, it was time to finish the interview portion.

"How many employees do you have?"

"I'm the only employee at this time. I might get a trainee in a few years."

"I didn't see any store hours posted on the front door. What are your hours of business?"

"I'm open when somebody needs me to be open. Sometimes the store is open to the public, but that is usually between appointments. We're very specialized here."

Adam wrote down 'hours vary' in the appropriate block.

All in all, there were about 50 questions to be answered. It was strange because so many of the answers did not fit what Adam would have expected to find in a major mall like this one. Not that it was required; however, there was no automatic sprinkler system in the shop. Adam was certain that every other business in the mall was protected by fire suppression sprinklers. "No, we've never had sprinklers in here. The water would cause too much damage. Besides, it's impossible for a fire to happen in here."

"I can tell you have an excellent security system in here. I couldn't find your cameras. They are very well hidden. So do the pictures come up on your computer monitor?"

"Yes they do as a matter of fact." Mr. Bettencourt turned his monitor so that Adam could see it. There were views of the entrance, aisles, cash register, back entrance, and several other strategic areas in the shop.

"Is that what you wanted to see, Adam?"

"Exactly."

"I thought so.

"Adam, is there anything I could get you, soft drink, jelly beans."

"Thank you, Mr. Bettencourt, but I think I'll pass. If the weather is going to be as bad as you say I'd better get to that motel."

They shook hands, and Mr. Bettencourt watched as the young man headed back into the mall. "You were absolutely right, Cindy. What do you think, Bobbie?"

"There's no question about it. He's just so full of denial. We have some work ahead of us, don't we? We're so glad that she told us about him."

Chapter 2

A virtual plethora of restaurants figuratively greeted Adam as he departed the lobby of the motel. He took a quick look around before deciding to take his car to the Olive Garden even though it was only a bit more than a block away. The light drizzle that had started when he left the mall was now a spitting rain that may have had some sleet in it. It had been in the upper 70's that morning, and by now it was probably in the upper 30's and still dropping. He caught the news out of St. Louis in his room, and there was already chaos there and points west. It was snowing in northwestern Arkansas, Oklahoma, and northern Texas, and the forecast was for record snowfalls in some areas. They were already talking about the fact that the fruit crop was going to be heavily damaged.

It was definitely snowing when he parked his car close to the front door of the restaurant. There were a lot of empty parking places to be had. Probably many of the normal Friday night diners had decided to stay home.

"Just one for dinner?" the very attractive greeter said as he entered the faux Italian decor. She might have been just a bit on the plump size, and that probably made her pushed up breasts appear a bit larger than they really were. She was probably a year or two younger than Adam. She gave him a knowing smile that probably said she knew he was checking her out, but that was okay. Yes, he was checking her out, but it was only to admire how nice she looked, how utterly feminine she was. She radiated a power that Adam knew he would never have. She was beautiful and confident; just like those two beautiful women were that he had met that afternoon.

There was something strange going on, and Adam was just beginning to realize how strange it was. He had blithely gone through his survey that afternoon, and had never thought twice about what had been happening. For instance, Mr. Bettencourt had greeted him by name when he came through the door. How did he know who he was? He could have been any customer from the mall. And, how did he know he was visiting a grain dealer when he had called earlier. He was sure he hadn't mentioned that. Then there was the size of the shop. It wasn't that big, but he could swear there were at least a dozen rows of goods; however, when he looked back, there were only four. He'd have to check out his pictures. He knew he had taken pictures of all it.

Then there were the other things. He had wanted to get permission to take pictures, and Mr. Bettencourt gave him permission. The only thing was, he hadn't asked. The two beautiful women were another problem. He realized early on that the stunning redhead was a golfer. Now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure that he remembered seeing something about her on television; however, that wasn't the strange thing. The strange thing was that she complimented him about guessing right. Again, the problem was that he was sure he hadn't said anything. He had just thought it. He was certain that the only thing he had said about them was realizing that they weren't from the local area. Mr. Bettencourt commented that they were going to college back east. Then, what were they doing here in Missouri?

He ordered a Margarita, Caesar Salad, minestrone, and a chicken dish with pasta. It was more than he could eat.

It was a near blizzard by the time he left the restaurant, and he lost traction several times in the short distance back to the motel. The snow was about three inches deep and the temperature had to be in the low twenties. The television confirmed that and the fact he wasn't going to be traveling anywhere for at least another day. The ground had been relatively warm when the storm had started and the resulting slush was now freezing solid. Interstate 55 was at a complete standstill and might not be open for at least a day. Adam was stuck in Cape Girardeau.

Being stuck was not the end of the world. He didn't have to go anywhere if he didn't want to. When he looked out his window the next morning it was still snowing lightly, and he could see the snow blowing in the blustery wind. There were many more cars in the parking lot than when he had checked in the previous night. That was another strange thing. They had known he was coming. He was already in the system. Maybe Mr. Bettencourt had called over for him, but how did he know what hotel he was going to? Maybe he just hadn't been paying attention. It turned out that the hotel was now nearly full.

After an adequate breakfast, he decided to work on his reports. His office was shut due to the weather; so he left a message for his boss. He knew he would be covered if he had to spend another night there. It really didn't matter where he put his hours in. As long as he made sure his time sheet showed everything there wouldn't be a problem.

He did his reports on his laptop as he always did. He downloaded the photos from his camera and verified what he had seen the previous day. He had gone up and down at least a dozen rows of merchandise; however, the storewide photo showed only four rows. It had to be some sort of optical illusion.

The farm supply store report was routine. There was nothing out of the ordinary to report. He did make a recommendation that they put some brightly painted posts at the entry to the parking lot to remind drivers that there was a fairly deep drainage ditch there and that they shouldn't cut the corner. That was a standard recommendation as far as his company was concerned. Bev had taught him about that early on.

His report on the grain dealer took considerably longer to do. He had about a dozen structures he had to report on. Fortunately, they had been able to provide him with a scale drawing of the facility. Still, filling out a separate form for each structure took a while. He was able to clone several of the forms, and that did speed up things a bit.

It was mid afternoon when he discovered a problem. In spite of all the photos he had taken, he had forgotten to take a photo of the front of the Spells-á´™-Us shop. He'd just have to go back.

The snow had stopped, and the parking lot at the hotel had been cleared a bit as had the street and the mall parking lot. There were huge mounds of snow in the mall lot that were getting larger and larger as more of the lot was cleared. There were actually a few stores open. The health food store was brightly lit, and he could see a couple of sales people standing around. Health food store!!! That was where the Spells-á´™-Us shop was yesterday. This was crazy. Had he come in the wrong entrance? No, there was J.C. Penny just like yesterday. The beauty supply store was right next door to the shop just like it was yesterday. What was going on?

The last thing Adam needed was to ask the health food store employees if they had been there the day before. Obviously, they had been. What sort of hallucinations had he been having? He took a picture of the front of the store just because he had been there.

Back at the hotel for want of anything better to do he finished his report. He'd just take a hit for not getting a picture of the front of the store. He turned on his camera and looked once more at the view screen. There was the picture he had just taken - and there was a picture of the front of the Spells-á´™-Us shop. He shook his head and quickly downloaded the photo to his report. Proofing the report once more, while not understanding what was going on, he sent his completed report off before anything else changed.

He still had a few hours before dinner so he decided to have a little recreational time. He quickly went to one of his favorite sites that featured beautiful young models. Most of them were European, and he thought he recognized some of the scenes where the photos were taken. He was sure that one group was taken in St. Petersburg. Others had to have been taken around the Mediterranean area. The models were young, usually slender, and quite pretty in their imperfections. Their skin, although young and taut, frequently had minor moles here and there (had he realized it, he would have known that the airbrush was frequently used in more professional publications). For the most part, they were not overly busty. Many were barely a B-cup he was sure. There were a few that pushed the D-cup size and larger, but they were in the minority.

He viewed about 30 pictures of one of the newer postings. He felt that familiar pang of want. 'If only,' he thought as he down loaded a few of them to his computer. He had a collection of nearly 4,000 photos of young women whom he found to be very attractive. He would have been ecstatic if he could look like any one of them.

Running out of new photos, he went to a site that he didn't go to as often. It featured more busty women and many of the models were obviously enhanced. He found the artificiality to be a turn off; however, there were some pictures of some women who were not professional models who were natural as far as he could tell, and who were quite attractive, not slutty at all. He added those to his collection. He then cycled through his older photos, and deleted a few pictures that he found not to his liking. Most were those of girls he was pretty sure had implants. That was the last thing he wanted - implants.

He looked up from his tasks and noticed it was dark and it was dinner time. The weather was benign enough that he decided to walk to another chain restaurant that was a bit closer than the Olive Garden. Besides, the not so authentic Italian cuisine did not pull him back.

Dinner was okay; however, the Margarita was a bit better than the night before. He had a glass of wine with dinner, and then ordered a glass of port and some cheese for dessert. The food quality was so-so; however, his waitress was another enviably attractive young woman who seemed to be genuinely pleasant. Once again he felt an emotion that was difficult to describe. If they had been friends, he would have gladly made love to her, not that he was very experienced in that sort of thing. He'd had a girl friend in college, and they had gone to bed several times, and as good as it had been, he felt more like a tool for masturbation than being a true partner enjoying love making. That relationship didn't last, and the last he'd heard, she was between girl friends, or maybe it had been boyfriends. He wasn't sure.

The trip back to St. Louis the next day wasn't too bad. The road crews had done a good job, especially on the bridges; however, some of the shady areas, especially as he neared St. Louis were refreezing as soon as the sun was off the pavement. His little apartment complex hadn't changed much while he'd been gone, other than whoever had cleared the parking lot of snow hadn't done a very good job of it. Whoever it had been seemed to have thought that his designated parking spot was the place to push all the snow. He parked in an empty spot away from the building. He'd see to getting his spot cleared on Monday.

It had been steadily clouding up as he proceeded north to St. Louis, and it was actually starting to snow lightly. The forecast had been for snow flurries with little or no accumulation. He grabbed his small case and laptop. At least he had another day off before he had to report to the office. He could do much of his work out of his 'home office', but his boss liked to bring all the staff once a week to go over things in person. Truthfully, most of it could be done online, but his boss, Dave Roberson, believed that personal contact was still the best. Adam tended to agree.

He almost missed it as he opened his door. In the corner under a planter he had put there the previous summer was a small dark object. It was a small kitten, barely a handful. Its front paws were tucked under its tiny body, and its little head was drooping so that its nose almost touched the cold concrete. It was probably dead Adam thought as he quickly bent over to see. It wasn't dead. It gave a tiny, hoarse meow, and struggled briefly. Its eyes were barely able to open.

It had to be six or seven weeks old. It was long haired with a white, almost Phantom of the Operaesque mask covering the right side of its face. It had four little white boots, actually two gloves and two boots. The most important thing now, though, was to get the little kitten warmed up.

Adam opened up his shirt and placed the kitten up against his body. The unpacking and other things could wait for a while. The kitten didn't struggle, and Adam was sure whether it had given up or was trying to soak up the warmth of his body. Making sure that he wasn't crushing it, he searched for the heating pad he knew he had. Of course it was exactly where he knew it would be; right next to the extra blankets in his small linen closet. In the bin for recyclables he found the small cardboard box he had placed there several days before.

Not knowing exactly why, he placed the box on a pad of newspapers in corner in the kitchen next to the pantry. He put the heating pad in the box covering it with some clean towels, fluffing the towels up to make a little nest. He checked on his little protectorate, and suddenly noticed a little prickling sensation. The little fellow was flexing his front paws and lightly digging them into Adam's belly. Not ever having had a cat before Adam didn't understand what kneading was about. The little kitten was happy. It felt safe. It was warm.

"So what am I going to call you, little fella?" He checked again and confirmed that the kitten was definitely a boy. Do you think you can stand being alone for a little while? I don't have any kitten food, and I think you need a box to do your 'you know what' in, and you probably need a bed. There's a Wal-Mart just down the street. I won't be long." He gently placed the little kitten in the bed, checking to make sure it wasn't too warm. He wasn't really sure how much too warm was.

He had to clean about a half inch of snow off his windows, but it wasn't snowing, and he thought he could see the post sunset sky clearing in the west. It was going to be very cold the next morning.

When he returned, he noticed that a corner of the newspaper pad had been shredded. There was obvious evidence that it had been used as a toilet. The cat had burrowed back down into the bedding; however, it was alertly watching him as he entered the kitchen. "So, what do we have here?" Adam said addressing the obvious deposit in the shredded paper. "I think I got to the store none too soon."

Fifteen minutes later, things were to Adam's and he hoped, the kitten's satisfaction. Figuring out where to put the litter box took some work. There wasn't really a good spot for it. He finally settled on the utility closet where the water heater was located. The door would have to remain open, at least until he could install a pet door. He didn't think the kitten was big enough to operate one for a while, as it was. He had replaced the shredded paper and placed the kitten in the litter box, hoping it would get the idea what it was for. Of course, the kitten immediately jumped out, shaking its feet to get rid of the clinging particles.

Just outside the closet, Adam had located a mat where he placed a pet watering hole and a dish of dried kitten food. The kitten was obviously hungry, and literally dove into the dish of food. It finished off the meal with a long drink of water from the pet watering dish. The water poured down a little slide, and the kitten tested the rippling stream with its paw before he decided it was okay to drink. After that, there was the required grooming.

The kitten jumped a little as Adam pulled up a chair to watch. Then it resumed its task. It wasn't very proficient as it went through the motion, but Adam felt it would get it right in a few months. Adam hadn't had a pet since a Cocker Spaniel that he had grown up with. Old Sunshine had been a great pet and family dog. He had been broken in by his older brother and sister and had been about five when Adam had been born. He had always been there, and then he just disappeared.

Adam had been twelve at the time which would have made Sunshine about seventeen. They had been on a Fourth of July outing at The Lake of the Ozarks. They had camped there for years, and frequently had the same camp site. Sunshine had been a great outdoor dog, and he was fearless. He protected his territory, and probably was a bit obnoxious vocally in claiming it. This year, though, Sunshine was showing his age. He creaked along, but it seemed that his spirit had left him. Still, he insisted on following the family as they walked to the point to see the fireworks display. The last they saw of him he was about a hundred feet behind them in the closing darkness. They never saw him again. They never got a replacement.

So, Adam was now watching this little kitten that seemed very at ease. "Well, I guess I'm going to have to find out where you came from. I can't imagine that someone would just dump you out there. Well, taking in account people these days, that is entirely possible.

"So, if nobody comes looking for you, do you think you might want to stay? I have to travel a bit. I know that cats don't like to travel. Would you mind being alone for a few days at a time?"

"Brrrup?"

"Most of the time it's just one night at a time, and it's not every week. What I just did was not normal. If it hadn't been for the snow, I would have been home two nights sooner. Usually it's just a bunch of twelve hour days.

"Crap, this is silly. I'm talking to a kitten that I've known only for a couple of hours like we can really understand each other. Besides, I don't know your name."

"Brrmp."

"Well, I think Phantom suites you very well. It has a bit of a mystery about it. Like, where did you come from, and why did you pick my front door to show up at?" He leaned over to pick Phantom up, and Phantom didn't struggle a bit. His tiny paws hardly made an impression on Adam's thigh. He circled three times, flipped over on his right side, scrunched around a bit, placed his paws over his eyes, and went sound asleep.

"So, now what am I supposed to do? I need to fix dinner. You've had yours."

Adam marveled at how quickly and how deeply the little kitten went to sleep. He lifted a little foreleg with his index finger. It was as limp as an overcooked noodle. He let it drop. There was nothing holding it back. The reaction with his tail was the same. It had no body. It just fell like the lightest of feathers. The little kitten barely filled the palm of Adam's hand. He gently placed it in the pre-warmed bed before he started fixing his own dinner. Some left over pasta, a warmed up Italian sausage, just medium spice, and a green salad made a quick and easy dinner. The sausage and noodles had been left over from a dinner earlier that week.

His phone rang as he was opening a bottle of Pinot Grigio. He had suspected who it was at the first ring, and he was right. It was his parents' number displayed on the screen. Since his dad seldom called, he took an educated guess. "Hi Mom, what's up?"

"Well, we hadn't heard anything from you in a while, and with all that snow, your father suggested we call. I think he will be on the other phone in just a second."

"Hi, son, are you surviving the blizzard?"

"No problem; I was down in Cape Girardeau when it hit. I spent two nights down there before coming back this morning. The roads were mostly okay. They did get a bit icier as I got into town." He decided not to tell them about the strange survey at the Mall. There wouldn't be any point in it. Besides, they didn't know why it was so strange. He still wasn't sure what was going on, although he was beginning to actually believe what he had experienced was real. He just wasn't sure he was ready to believe it. He wanted to; however, things did not go exactly like he had been led to believe. If they had, he would probably be some mindless bimbo pole dancing in some strip joint. Besides, he'd never read anything about two gorgeous young women who were friends of The Wizard. Some authors had The Wizard with an apprentice, but they obviously didn't work there.

That dog could have definitely been a wolf. He was certainly big enough. That would have looked great in his report if he had said wolf rather than 'large dog'.

That certainly wasn't the wizard he'd been led to believe worked there. This one was rather clean cut, and he certainly wasn't wearing a tatty robe or gown.

"Adam, are you listening to anything we're saying?"

"Uh, sure, Mom."

"So, what do you think?"

"About what? I'm sorry my mind was wandering a bit."

"Your sister; Harvey finally asked her to marry him."

"That's great. They've been going together for six years."

"You haven't been listening at all. They're expecting."

"Oh wow, when?"

"Hopefully, after they get married in July. You haven't been listening to one thing we've said. Is everything all right? Are things okay at work?"

"They're fine," he said before he changed the subject. "I have a kitten. It was by the front door when I came home. I thought it was dead, but it seems fine now. It's sleeping in the bed I made for it." He looked over at the bed, and the kitten was nowhere to be seen. Then he heard some scratching coming from the pantry. There was a brief pause before there was more scratching. Then Phantom appeared shaking some left over grit from his paws. He went to his watering dish and lapped at the water coming down the ramp.

"Hey, everything's fine. The job's great, but I am worried about the workload a bit," he said as he watched Phantom start to explore his territory.

"Too much work?"

"No, it's just the opposite. It's getting to the point where I'm having trouble filling out the time sheet. If it wasn't for the travel time, I'd be hard pressed to justify my existence. The downturning of the economy has the company cutting back a lot on what they want loss control to do. They don't send us out on as many risk evaluations as they used to. Now they wait until after the business is written, which means that they're not writing as much as they used to. Underwriting is just not willing to take the chance on what might be a marginal business.

Adam's dad had no trouble understanding what Adam was getting at. He was an independent insurance agent in Kansas City, and his business had been taking a hit as well. Businesses were going with the cheapest insurance out there regardless of the quality of the service. Companies he wouldn't come even close to putting his clients with were taking his business.

Adam and his parents traded a few more banalities before saying goodbye. 'Emily's finally going to get married' It's about time'. He was very happy for her. Harvey was a good guy, even if he had been a bit of a bully when he was in high school. He was three grades ahead of Adam, and there was that dominance thing out there; however Emily had made it clear very early that she would not put up with any such behavior with anyone. Their beginning romance would come to a dead end right then.

Emily and Harvey had gone to the same junior college; Harvey because of his grades, and Emily because of finances. Harvey's grades improved, and they both went to MSU. Adam followed them there three years later, partly due to a scholarship. By this time Emily and Harvey were living together off campus, and were essentially a 'married' couple - just not officially. Well that was about to change.

Once again, Adam was brought back to the present. 'Boy, my mind seems to wander a bunch. Now, where's that cat.' A noise in the bedroom narrowed the location down. Phantom was on top of his dresser, pushing a golf ball to the edge just as Adam breached the doorway. He looked up as Adam entered and the ball plummeted to the cheap carpet. "Brrup."

"Yeah, that's what gravity does. I guarantee that that will happen every time. If you promise not to get into too much trouble, I'll let you have the run of the place," Adam said as he placed the ball back on the dresser. "I'm going to take a shower, and I'm sure you don't want to do that."

Adam didn't think too much about his body other than wishing it was more like Emily's. He wasn't bad looking. He wasn't overly athletic, but he was good enough once he started maturing in high school to make a pretty good accounting for himself. He liked to play golf, and played to an honest eight handicap. It was just fun. He wasn't trying to prove anything. His dad had beaten him regularly when they first started playing. They were just about even now. His dad was still a better golfer. At least he was more serious about it.

He turned on the shower, tested the water temperature, and stepped in.

Phantom returned to the top of the dresser. He didn't seem to have any trouble jumping from the side of the bed to the top. It was quite a jump for a kitten his size. He stepped over to the golf ball, gently batted it around a bit before pushing it toward the edge. He peered over the edge as gravity inexorably did its thing. Only it didn't. The ball gradually slowed until it stopped about six inches above the floor. Then it reversed course reaching the top of the dresser a little bit more slowly than it had descended. The ball then rolled to its place. Phantom jumped back to the bed, then bounded to the floor. He walked into the bath and hopped onto the toilet seat where he waited for Adam to finish his shower

*******************************

What has Adam gotten involved in? Well, we can guess a lot of it. We've met several of these characters before, and it will be interesting to see what their involvement is in Adam's future. The insurance industry may not be the most interesting thing out there, but it is part of real life, just like cheer leading, shopping, getting makeovers, and being an on-stage performer. Someone has to do it.



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