Ryan waited with his cell phone pressed against his ear, listening to the slow rings. Three, four, he counted. Two more and the answering machine would pick up. His mind raced. If it was the answering machine, what would he say?
Ryan’s mom dried her hands quick and walked to the phone. It was 3:15. A call at this time of day usually meant Ryan was staying after school for something or another.
Ryan heard the phone click. His mom’s voice, “Hello.”
Mom was there. That was almost worse.
“Hey, Mom,” Ryan said. “Um…” he glanced at the swirling sheet of light that glowed from ceiling to floor in his history classroom. “I’m going to be a little late coming home from school.”
“What’re you doing?” Mom asked casually.
“Uh, something for history,” Ryan watched his history teacher, Mr. Bates, pull a heavy black robe over his teaching clothes. The pointy-eared guy sitting on Mr. Bates’ desk curiously examined the electric pencil sharpener. A hulking guy in chain mail standing by the white board lazily sharpened a battle axe that was larger than the top of one of the classroom desks.
“When are you going to be home?” Ryan’s mom asked.
Ryan took a deep breath. “Well, technically, Mr. Bates says it won’t take more than a few minutes, here that is,” Ryan glanced at Mr. Bates who nodded and smiled encouragingly. “Apparently there’s this alternate dimension where we have to go fight a dragon or something, but with the temporal flow difference between our universe and theirs, no matter how long I’m gone I’ll end up coming back here about ten minutes later, or something.”
Mom was silent for a moment. Then she laughed. “Okay, so just be home in time for dinner.”
“I will,” Ryan said. The woman with a bird’s head and long blue wings stepped from one cat poster to another on Mr. Bates’ wall, reading them with a frown. She made a soft screech and the pointy-eared man answered with laugh. “Unless I get eaten by something.”
“So you’re going to be at the school?” Mom said, in her seriously-now-what’s-really-going-on voice.
“Well,” Ryan said, “Technically yes. Because, like, the portal’s here in Mr. Bates’ classroom, so I guess I’m not technically going to… well… yes, I’ll sort of be here in Mr. Bates’ classroom the whole time. Okay?”
“Okay,” Mom chuckled again. “How about you call me before you start biking home so I’ll know when to expect you.”
“Uh, sure,” Ryan said. Mr. Bates held out a sheathed sword on a thick leather belt. Ryan took it and nearly dropped it, it was so heavy. He hooked it under his elbow and held it tight against him while he finished the phone call. “So, see ya, mom. Bye.”
“Bye,” Ryan’s mom glanced at the clock again. 3:17. Back to washing dishes.