News Slice

[WP] Something absolutely world-shaking happened today… Write from the perspective of the one news outlet that, either obliviously or purposefully, is skirting around this incredible story despite how present it is. from WritingPrompts

“Good evening,” Les nodded at the camera with his best anchorman smile. “We’ve got some exciting news share a bit later in the program, so stay tuned for that. But first, we have Calli on site with our top story. Calli? Who’s that with you.” Les smiled at the monitor. Calli, pale woman with long blond hair, stood by a stainless steel prep table in a restaurant’s kitchen. A small black curly-coated pup sat on the table next to her wagging its tail excitedly. His pink tongue peeked out of the side of his mouth.

“This handsome guy is Chef Curly,” Calli smiled at the camera as she petted the labradoodle. “Chef Curly is the world’s first dog to receive his food handler’s certificate. Today’s his first day on the job and we’re here to watch him put his first order through.” Calli said. A tall black hole opened in the air next to Calli and the cameraman turned towards it. Calli gave a quick shake of her head and walked around to the other side of the pup to force the camera to follow her.

“Order up!” A loud voice came from behind them, and Chef Curly gave a short yap. He hopped up on his feet and ran to one end of the table to look at a small screen. The camera followed pup, but there was no black hole in sight. Chef Curly looked at a picture of a pepperoni pizza on the monitor, barked, then he scurried to one edge of the table and hopped over a small gap to a stainless steel counter. He dipped his front paws into a small box and pulled them out covered in plastic wrap. He stood on his hind legs and walked to a clear bin. He ducked his head in the bin and pulled out a pre-portioned bag of pizza dough. Chef Curly carried the dough to a circular section of the counter that spun in slow circles like a record player. He dropped the bag on one edge of the turning circle and bit a dark tab that extended from the bag. He jerked his head up and yanked on the tab, the dough flew out of its plastic and landed in the middle of the wheel.

“Very impressive!” Calli commented off camera. Chef Curly fell on the dough with his front paws and continued to half hop on it until it was flattened out into a whirling pizza crust. After that he bit the handle of a ladle submerged in red sauce and pulled it out to empty it in the center of the pizza. He used the ladle in his mouth too spread the sauce around the disc, then he returned the ladle to its spot.

“He’s a real pro, isn’t he?” Calli said. The moment the words left her mouth a portly man walked in the kitchen and went to the counter.

“Sorry Chef,” he apologized. “This particular customer is in a hurry.” He turned to face the cameraman. “He can make another one after this, and you can record that one.” He grabbed a handful of shredded cheese with one bare hand, and a handful of pepperoni with the other bare hand and tossed them on the pizza haphazardly. The cameraman lowered the camera and looked at Calli with a shrug.

“We’re live!” Calli yelled. He yanked the camera back up and pointed it at her. She cleared her throat. “Folks, I’m sure you all know, the customer’s always right,” she gave her well practiced “on-air” chuckle, then her eyes brightened. She put her hands up, palms out at the camera. “Stay put, I’ve got an idea!” She rushed out of the frame, and out of the kitchen. In less than a minute she walked back into frame with a young woman following her. The woman wore a purple and gold hoodie, with its hood up, and what seemed to be black and gold gloves. Calli smiled at the camera.

“I’m here with Jenny. This young lady was in such a hurry she did not have the time to wait for the most adorable chef in the world to make her pizza. Why the big rush, Jenny?” She pointed the microphone at the woman. Jenny shrugged.

“Seen it already,” she said. Calli’s eyes narrowed for a split second, then widened again when realization struck her.

“Oh.” she said. “Well thank you very much for your time, Jenny. Off you go,” Calli started to visibly “shoo” the woman away, but the rotund man appeared again and handed Jenny a box.

“On the house,” he said. Jenny nodded.

“Thanks! You just earned a regular customer,” she smiled and turned to face Calli.

“And you’ve got way more interesting things to be reporting on.” Jenny waved a hand in the air and a pitch black portal opened in the air. Jenny turned to the camera.

“See you guys in the AlterNet!” She jumped into the hole and it disappeared.

Alien Signals

[WP] You hear the ring of your doorbell. Huh, you mumble to yourself. You check the clock sitting next to your bed. 3:00 AM. It rings again. You go to the door and find a man standing at the door. “Good morning, sir. You are under arrest by the Intergalactic Police for treason against Zof-gathra.” from WritingPrompts

Ronald stared at the Zof-gathran while he tried to finish waking up. Zof-gathrans looked human for the most part, but the third eye on their foreheads was easy enough to spot. Zof-gathran officers were easier to spot because of the strip of golden cloth covering their third eye. The man’s uniform resembled an elegant white ceremonial gown with golden embellishments woven into it. Zof-gathrans did not have anything resembling a police force until they met humans, they never needed it. Finally Ronald’s mind kicked into gear and he nodded at the stranger.

“I understand the charge. I plead not guilty,” Ronald said. The stranger nodded.

“Thank you for your cooperation.” The man bowed deeply, then turned and walked off Ronald’s front porch. Ronald shook his head and closed the door with a smile. The Zof-gathran legal system was still in its infancy, and Ronald knew he could get away with lying to them. He returned to bed, but grabbed his cell phone instead of trying to go back to sleep. He called one of his contacts.

“A Zofa just came by here, he might head to your place next,” he explained. “Just keep your cool. They’re still dumb enough to trust everyone.” On the other end of the call a voice murmured frantically, but Ronald kept shaking his head. “What? Yeah, of course we’re gonna try again tomorrow. I don’t know how such a stupid species like them developed such advanced technology, but as soon as we assume power our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be set for life,” Ronald smiled into the phone thinking of the riches coming to him. “No I don’t think we need a new plan, we didn’t even get to finish using this one yet.” Ronald sighed into the phone. “Because we don’t have time to make a new plan and get the gang in on it, the Zof-gathran emperor leaves Earth tomorrow. It’ll be fine, okay?” The voice on the other end sounded calm again, and Ronald nodded to himself.

“Yeah. You’re on after Jay and Bluebird take out the guards,” he said. Then he brought his hand up to massage the bridge of his nose.

“Blake is Jay and Johnny is Bluebird. What? No they picked their own codenames, I don’t care what they’re called.” Ronald felt like he was surrounded by idiots. He put a lot of time and effort into his plan, but the only people he trusted enough to help him were almost as dim as the Zof-gathrans. “Fine, I’ll admit that Blake should have been Bluebird, but it doesn’t matter. Once the guards are out of the way you knock out the Empress and I’ll have a chat with the Emperor.” Ronald heard a doorbell on the other end of the line.

“That’s probably them, oh! He’s going to threaten you with the Intergalactic Police, but it’s just a tactic. The Zof-gathrans prefer to handle things on their own. Just stay cool. Okay, yeah. I’ll see you at the coffee shop in the morning so we can try again,” Ronald was ready to hang up, but another question came through the phone.

“Try again to kill the Emperor. Like we did today? God damnit Earl lay off the weed for a while. Now go answer the door and whoever it is just say you didn’t do it.” Ronald ended the call while fantasizing about having all stupid people killed as soon as he was in charge.

“They’re all fucking idiots,” he mumbled to himself as he settled himself in bed. The moment he teetered on the edge of sleep his doorbell rang again, and he threw his covers off in a rage. He grumbled to himself as he walked to the door, but the grumbling stopped the second he opened the door. The same Zof-gathran officer stood on his front porch with Earl, Blake, and Johnny behind him bound by Zof-gathran restraints; they were blindfolded with golden strips of cloth and all their hands were tied together with a single length of white rope.

“Ronald Enriquez you are under arrest by the intergalactic police for treason against Zof-gathra,” the man said.

“I already plead not guilty,” Ronald kept his cool. The Zof-gathran officer nodded.

“Yes you did, and will be noted in your file. However we have a confession that leaves no doubts about your guilt in this matter. Please travel with us voluntarily, I am authorized to use force.” Ronald shook his head.

“Confession? From who, those guys? I’ve never seen them before in my life.” The Zof-gathran smiled, a rare sight for the species. He produced a small purple cube that Ronald recognized as an audio recorder. The stranger touched the top of the cube with a single finger and it began to glow with purple light while it played back the recording.

“Try again to kill the Emperor. Like we did today?” Ronald’s voice came out of the cube, while the Zof-gathran’s smile grew broader. He shook his head.

“You know, we have the technology to travel to any star we want. Intercepting cell phone signals is child’s play. What kind of dumb, stupid, moronic idiot talks about their plan over a cellphone?”

Dog Years

[WP] You are living a good life for a Vampire. Working the night shift in a hospital, chatting with patients. Until a new worker joins the night shift. You’d recognize that stink everywhere, a Werewolf! from WritingPrompts

“I’ve come to suck your blood!” Hampton entered Mrs. Churchill’s room with a toothy smile and the old woman giggled like a schoolgirl. Mrs. Churchill was Hampton’s favorite patient and he always went above and beyond to get her to smile.

“I’m afraid all you’ll find in these veins is dust,” she said with a hint of melancholy. Hampton wrapped the blood pressure cuff around her arm and smiled.

“Nonsense, you’ve got enough to feed a football team’s worth of vampires,” he tried to reassure her. He felt an instant connection with her when she pointed out how much he looked like a vampire. He was a nurse, but she took to referring to him as Dr. Acula when they were alone. She had no idea he was a real vampire, but the running gag seemed to please her. After Hampton checked her vitals he sat down next to her. He always saved her for last to give them some time to chat.

“How’s your night going, Emma?” He asked. “Need anything?” Her eyes sparkled and she glanced towards the open door.

“I need a few minutes with the new orderly I’ve seen walking around,” she smiled. Hampton gave her a playful shove.

“Emma! You should be ashamed of yourself. A woman your age? You’re gonna kill that poor man.” They shared a laugh, then Emma released a gentle sigh.

“What I wouldn’t give to be young again,” she said. Hampton leaned over and kissed the wrinkles on her forehead.

“As soon as I figure out how, I’ll let you know,” he said as he stood up to get back to work. He learned to keep the visits short. The more time he spent with her, the more he wanted to turn her. But that would mean she’d be old permanently, and he knew she did not want that. He decided to ask the new orderly to check in on her frequently. He had not met the man yet, but all accounts painted him as someone friendly and helpful.

After asking at the nurses station, Hampton found the man in the breakroom. As soon as he entered, an awful smell assaulted his nose. Hampton’s hand flew to his face to cover his nose as he processed the scent. It was something he had not smelled in at least a century, but was instantly familiar. The new orderly was the only man in the room, and he stared at Hampton with burning eyes. He must have realized what Hampton was. The nurse put on his best smile and nodded at the werewolf.

“I don’t have a problem working together if you don’t,” he offered. The orderly relaxed visibly and nodded. He stood from the table and walked towards Hampton with an outstretched hand.

“I’m Josie,” he said. Hampton nodded and shook his hands.

“Hampton. I’m surprised they didn’t tell you there was a vampire working here,” he said. The two men walked to the table and sat down, but Josie gave Hampton a confused look.

“You mean you told the hospital?” He asked. Now it was Hamptons turn to look confused.

“No, I meant Mrs. Chang. You got a permit to work here, right?” Josie shook his head.

“Do I need one?”

“YES! Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. But Mrs. Chang runs this city, and all nightfolk need her approval to work with the public,” Hampton said. “Usually she avoids mixing us, but I’d be happy to go with you and point out that we’ve already met.” Josie nodded.

“Thanks, I appreciate that. I’m new in town, and didn’t know I needed to check in with anyone.” Josie said.

“Yeah, you definitely need to get registered. It’s not a big deal, but it helps them keep track if someone gets turned publicly,” Hampton started to explain, but the moment he realized Josie wasn’t registered something else distracted him.

“Wait! You’re not registered!” Hampton jumped up excitedly. “You can turn someone and no one would know! You gotta come with me!” He grabbed Josie’s hand, but the man remained seated.

“What? Why?”

Hampton relaxed a bit, and released Josie’s hand.

“Sorry, I got excited. There’s a patient here that I’ve grown attached to, but if I turn her she’ll just stay old. If you turn her she’ll grow young again, right? At least I’ve heard that’s how werewolves work. It kind of resets the body… right?” Hampton asked eagerly. Josie nodded, but gave Hampton a grim look.

“Yes, but it’s hard on the body. A lot of people, even in their prime, don’t survive it,” Josie explained. Hampton chuckled and cocked his head towards the door to get Josie to follow him.

“Trust me. Emma’s willing to take that risk,” he said.

Life of Pettiness

[WP] Universal Groundhog Day. Everyone in the world is living the same day over again. from WritingPrompts

“Wait who won yesterday?” Sally asked her gathered coworkers. She did not know everyone on the staff, but she assumed all 20 were there. She eyed the mob of office workers dressed in sneakers and running clothes, each carrying a variety of sharp weapons. After a moment of murmurs Paul Sanchez, someone she did recognize, raised his hand.

GODDAMNIT!” Fred ran out of the room without waiting for Paul to name his target, the group’s laughter followed him.

“Five minutes, Fred!” Sally yelled as the door slammed. Then, she looked at Paul to confirm his choice. “The usual, Paulie?” He nodded. Killing Fred became enjoyable again when he was able to enlist the whole office. He did not even bother to keep track of time anymore, but he guessed it had been about 50 years since he met Dana Sharp. He reminisced about that day while Sally watched the clock.

Paul caused a month-long time loop, though he did not know it was him. One day, decades after it began, the loop was different. He met a woman that not only broke him out of the time loop but showed him how to control it. The damage had been done, and his Earth would always be looped, but he learned how to exert some control over the length of the loop. His latest experiment, at Dana’s suggestion, was to let everyone in on the loop. She advised him to keep it short until people got used to it and add more days as time went on. While he couldn’t break them out of the loop, he hoped to eventually make the loop long enough that it didn’t matter. Sally cleared her throat.

“Paul, take the day off. You’ve been winning too much lately. Everyone else,…  GO!” The workers bolted towards different exits so that none became crowded. Sally sat down on her desk and smiled at Paul.

“Why is it always Fred?” she asked, then gave a shrug. “I don’t like the guy either, but EVERY time?” Paul smiled.

“I’m petty,” he laughed. “I don’t even hate him anymore, but I used to. That’s good enough.”

“It’s stupid, but the game is the only reason I come to work anymore,” Sally sighed. “Time loops really suck after a while, everything gets boring if you do it enough times,” Sally waved a dismissive hand out the window. “Even murder.”

“Yeah, but at least the world is in on it this time. You can’t imagine what it’s like alone,” Paul said. He looked down at the floor and hoped she wouldn’t see the sadness collecting in the corner of his eyes.

“I know, but what’s going to happen if it never breaks?” Sally asked. Paul shrugged. He never really had feelings for Sally when they worked together, but the loop seemed to make everyone more relaxed and he began to see a different side of her as time went on. He decided to take her to a different Earth the next time he reported in. He heard cheering and loud footsteps coming up the stairs.

The office door burst open. The first thing Paul saw was Fred’s head on a pike. Eric, one of the interns, vigorously shook the pike up and down as he led a parade of employees back to Sally.

“Congratulations, Eric,” Sally said. She stood and winked at the crowd. “The rest of you better start sucking up to him. I guess that’s it for today, see you all today,” she laughed and turned to leave. Paul stood up and followed her out.

“What’s your plan for the rest of the day?” He asked as he joined her in the elevator. The doors closed, and Sally shrugged.

“I don’t know. I didn’t plan on getting out of work early. You?” The doors closed and the elevator began to descend.

“I’m going somewhere, and I was wondering if you’d like to join me?”

“Sure, I’m game for something new. Where we going?” Paul reached for her hand with his left hand while his right hand reached into his pocket.

“Somewhere time isn’t looped.” He said. He pulled out a black card and dropped it on the floor of the elevator. The faux marble linoleum disappeared beneath them leaving only a pitch black void darker than anything Sally had ever seen. They sank into the darkness slowly instead of the free fall Sally expected from going into a hole.

Sally opened her eyes, though she wasn’t sure if she had them closed. One second she saw only darkness, and the next she saw what looked like a futuristic bachelor pad. Something resembled a bed rested against one corner of the wall, and a large screen on another wall was obviously a TV. Piles of clothes dotted the room, most on the floor, some on the bed and other chairs. What she could see of the floor looked like solid glass with water flowing under it. Everything had some decorative lighting on it.

“Where are we?” Sally asked. “And how did we get here so fast?” Paul sighed.

“This is my room. Sorry about the mess, I didn’t expect company today,” Paul explained. He grabbed her hand and led her out of the room through an automatic door that slid open as they approached, then closed behind them. The hall was almost all white, with bright lights scattered at regular intervals.

“Where are we?” Paul asked to let her know he was going to answer her question. “This is an alternate Earth where time isn’t looped. How we got her so fast was the card,” Paul stopped. “THE CARD!” he released Sally’s hand, put his hands up in front of him. “Wait here a sec,” dashed back to his room. After a moment he came out again and flashed her the black card before he put it in his pocket. “If I forget that, I’m stuck. Anyway, the card opens a portal back to this Earth. I come back every now and then to report in and get a break from the loop.” Paul led her through the halls, turning this way and that at random intersections. After Paul finished his explanation Sally stopped in place and pulled her hand out of his.

“You mean you can get out of the loop any time you want? Why do you keep going back?” Paul shrugged and gave her a lopsided grin.

“Fred.”

“FRED!?” Sally shouted with a combination of outrage and surprise.

“Yeah. Like I said. I’m petty.”  

Sharp Acquisition

[WP] You’ve been in a time loop for decades now. You’d be insane if it wasn’t for all the things you’ve done differently each time. But now you’ve run out of things to do. You’ve gone everywhere, met everyone, read every book, learned every language… You’ve done literally everything. from WritingPrompts

Paul rolled over in bed and stared at the ceiling. The morning sun cast a golden light on the cursed popcorn ceiling of his bedroom. The sunlight created thousands of tiny shadows against the texture. Over the years he scraped it off several times until he decided to start hiring a crew. He felt grateful the loop reset every month instead of daily like he’d seen in the movies. He did not know what caused it, but there were worse months to repeat, June wasn’t so bad.

Paul sighed and rolled over again instead of calling his regular workers. He knew he was missing his chance for the day, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. He’d tried everything and visited everywhere. He had murdered, robbed, saved lives, and fed starving homeless people. He knew how to live absolutely any life he wanted for the next month, but he already tried them all. And no matter what he did June 1st always came after June 30th.

He stared at the tattoo on his hand, a skull decorated with the number 14 on top of its bone-white dome. The skull smiled at him as if it knew what he was going through. The tattoo was the cause of the loop. He did not know how, but in his gut, he knew it was the tattoo. He got the tattoo on June 30th and woke up a month in the past. He went through the loop four times before he realized what was happening, a month is a lot of time to keep track of. Each of those first four times he got the same tattoo in the same spot from the same artist on the last day of the month.

Once Paul realized the tattoo might be to blame he chose not to get it that month. But he woke up on June 1st again, this time with the tattoo already on his hand. He tried everything to remove the tattoo. From laser removal to a cheese grater to chopping his hand off entirely. Any time the tattoo was damaged the loop reset immediately. Any time he was killed the loop reset immediately. He could not escape it. After silently cursing the tattoo for a moment Paul’s stomach growled and he began to get himself out of bed.

After a stop in the bathroom for his routine, Paul walked out the door and hopped in his car. He checked his watch and realized he still had time to pick up some money before breakfast. By now he knew one of his most hated co-workers was making the daily deposit, so he enjoyed stealing from him and the company at the same time. Paul made his way to the bank but stopped his car on the side of the road before arriving. He popped the hood and got out to pretend to be concerned about his engine. Right on time a red Porsche pulled up next to him and rolled down the window.

“Hey, Paul. Something wrong?” Fred asked with a mocking smile. Fred was a petty man and often reveled in Paul’s misfortunes. “Shitty car finally gave up the ghost, huh?” Paul walked to Fred’s side of the car, leaned in, and slit the man’s throat. As Fred’s hands flew to his neck Paul opened the door, yanked Fred out, climbed in, and drove off with Fred’s car and the deposit. Two blocks later he ditched the car and walked out with the money.

He enjoyed killing Fred hundreds of times and often tossed in snappy one-liners before he did, but even that got old after a while. He’d never been caught, at least not within the month. Sometimes he even continued going to work after killing Fred out of morbid curiosity. Paul pocketed the cash and tossed the deposit bag, then he went for breakfast at his favorite restaurant. The moment he walked through the doors Paul panicked. Someone was sitting at his booth. He glanced at his watch, but the time was what he expected. No one but him sat at that booth at this moment, for decades. Now he saw a fair-skinned woman with short dark hair wearing a white suit. He turned to leave, but he heard someone call his name.

“Paul!” a female voice said. He turned and saw the woman in white waving at him. “I’ve been waiting for you, come sit down,” she said with a sharp smile. Paul turned around again and started to leave the restaurant until he heard her voice again.

“Okay, that’s fine. I’ll try again next month,” she said. She knew. Paul considered that maybe she knew how to fix it, so he decided to join the woman at the table. The woman eyed Paul while he sat down, but she did not say another word until Paul was seated comfortably. The waitress was quick and Paul ordered his food. After the waitress left the woman in white leaned over the table and smiled at Paul.

“How do you know?” Paul asked.

“Straight to the point. Good man,” she chuckled to herself. Paul shrugged.

“I haven’t needed patience in years. How do you know?” he asked again. The woman’s eyes rolled up as if she were thinking.

“Time loops are kind of hard not to notice,” she replied.

“But how do you know I’m not in it like everyone else? Who are you?”

“My name is Dana Sharp. And I know you’re not in it because you’re a Unique. La Muerte to be specific. Controlling time is one of your powers,” she said. Paul stared at her.

“I’m not sure what that means, but here’s another question. Why aren’t you affected, Dana Sharp?” Paul asked.

“Ms. Sharp, please. I’m not affected because I’m from a different Earth. I got here after your loop started so it didn’t affect me.”

“So you’re saying I made this loop. Why can’t I stop it?” Dana shrugged.

“I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out. In the meantime I’m offering you a job on another Earth that isn’t looped.”

“You’re inviting me to an alternate Earth, what about this one?” Dana shrugged again.

“June forever. But don’t worry, it makes no difference to them,” she gestured at the crowd of people in the restaurant.

Vegas’ Friends

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.] 8-26-18

Dread froze at the sight of Ballisea in Vegas’ house. Her heart pounded in her chest and she clenched her fists waiting for someone to make a move. Ballisea focused her gaze on Vegas, the corners of her mouth stretched upward.

“Sammy! It’s so wonderful to see you again,” Ballisea said, then she cast an eye at Lauren. “…and one of you.” Vegas stepped in front of Lauren and stared up at the tall pale woman.

“She’s the same one, Balli. What do you want?” Ballisea’s smile straightened out and she moved to Vegas’ couch and sat down crossing one leg over the other. Dread felt everyone else in the room relax and she un-clenched her fist.

“I just wanted to give the little Calavera,” Ballisea winked at Dread. “A reminder. I’ve got your frequency now. I can show up anywhere you are. Any time. I didn’t expect to hit the jackpot.” The horned woman chuckled to herself.

“Honey,” Vegas said aloud without taking his eyes off Ballisea. “Take Threnny an’ Dread into the kitchen for a bit, alright?”

“C’mon girls, help me get dinner started,” Lauren said calmly. She disappeared into the kitchen without another word. Dread caught Dirge’s eye unsure what to do, but the curly haired girl nodded and slipped into the swinging door behind Lauren. Dread followed.

“We need to get Regal,” Dirge said. She was about to step into a portal that she just opened.

“It’s fine,” Lauren said. She began putting away the groceries that Dread left on the counter. “She won’t hurt him. And she won’t hurt me as long as he’s around.” Dirge sat down at the small round table. Dread noticed she looked worried and confused.

“Everyone’s always told me to run from Ballisea! Why is she just sitting in your living room!?”  She shouted at Lauren. The woman wrapped her arms around the seated girl.

“Listen. Keep running away from her. No matter how civil she might seem, that woman can slip into ‘kill’ mode in the blink of an eye.” The woman sat at the table and motioned for Dread to join them at the table, then she continued talking once Dread sat down.

“Remember what Vegas told you about Ballisea looking for her Zero?” Lauren asked. Both girls nodded. “She won’t hurt Vegas or me, because we have what she’s looking for. I’m the Zero he loves as much as she loved hers.” She sat up straighter and tried to repress her smile. “She taught Vegas how to use his powers, but she kept him imprisoned because he wouldn’t be with her. His luck keeps his frequency from her, but every now and then she’ll find us,” Lauren looked around the kitchen, then shook her head. “We’re not going to move this time.”

“Sorry,” Dirge apologized and stared down; she picked at a frayed edge of a red and white checkered placemat. Lauren reached for Dirge’s hand to console her.

“You better not even think of staying away to…,” Lauren flashed a grin and used air-quotes. “…’keep your uncle safe’. She already knows where we live, and she won’t hurt him. We’re as safe as can be.” She gave Dirge her most reassuring smile. The kitchen door swung open behind Lauren and the girls smiled when they saw Vegas stepping into the kitchen. Lauren turned in her seat.

“She’s gone. I got her to promise to use the door from now on,” Vegas shrugged. “It’s a start.” Lauren stood from her seat and Vegas sat down on it to let her sit down again on his lap.

“Already?” Dread asked. It surprised her how easily Ballisea left. Vegas nodded.

“She has other things to do, she just wanted to intimidate you. But don’t let her. She can show up anywhere any time, but she almost never does. Enough about her though,” Vegas turned to Dirge and smiled. “So, how you, gonna try to catch your carrot?” he asked. Lauren’s eyes lit up.

“You found your carrot!?” she smiled. Dirge nodded while her pale cheeks grew red. “That’s great news. Forget cooking, we’re going out.”

“Can we go to Donna Chang’s?” Dread asked louder than she intended to. She fell in love with the food the first, and only, time she visited it with Vegas and Dirge. Her hopes fell when she saw Lauren shaking her head.

“Sorry. She moved again, but we haven’t found her yet.” Lauren looked at Dirge. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. I’m just so excited for you.” She leaned over and gave Dirge another hug without leaving Vegas’ lap. “Like he asked, how are you going to catch it?”  Dirge shrugged.

“I don’t know. I was so excited that I figured it out, I came straight here,” the girl said.

“Well, what’s your carrot?” Lauren asked.

“I met a Zero that I wanted to be friends with, but Ballisea killed her. So I decided I want to meet as many of her Zeroes as I could and make friends with them,” Dirge explained her goal to Lauren, and the woman nodded.

“You met her in the AlterNet, right?” Lauren asked. It was Dirge’s turn to nod in response. “You need to get out there and play more to meet more people. It’s more fun with Dread now, right? The game isn’t meant to be soloed like you did when you were younger.” Dirge listened to the advice, but her mind seemed focused on something else. After a second Dirge reached into the pocket of her dress, pulled out a folded piece of paper then handed it to Lauren. After the woman read it she handed it to Vegas but smiled at Dirge.

“That’s definitely a great place to start,” Lauren said. After Vegas finished reading the sheet he handed it back to Dirge then added his own comment.

“If you girls are going to run Derby, I’ll introduce you to the best Derby coach I know in the AlterNet, his character name is Jelly_Jim,” Vegas said. “He’s a Borracho too.”

Strung Out

[WP] Every hand crafted item contains a tiny spark of magic. This enchantment grows in power the more it is used or the longer it ages. Your party has discovered what appears to be a 1000 year old untouched temple. from WritingPrompts

“Gimme some light over here,” Chase asked Leah. She shined a flashlight on the area that Chase indicated. He ran his fingertips up and down the rough stone surface. The light revealed a large etching carved into the wall. Chase stood back to get a better look at all the lines. The groves resembled a “less than” sign with several straight lines connecting the top and the bottom brackets; it reminded Chase of several triangles stacked on each other, then turned on its side.

“There’s another one over there,” Leah said. She aimed the light on another symbol that literally mirrored the first one they found. Instead of the triangles pointing left, the two symbols appeared to be pointing at each other. The second symbol was carved into the wall parallel to the first.

“Get Ira to bring a set of floodlights,” Chase said. Leah tossed him the flashlight, then she unhooked the radio from her belt and brought it up to her mouth while pressing the “talk” button.

“Hey babe?” she spoke into it. Chase continued to examine the wall. He discovered a vertical groove between the two triangular shapes.

“Honey? Can you hear me?” Leah asked again when no response came. After another moment she heard garbled static. “I guess it doesn’t reach down here. I’ll go get him,” she said. “You gonna be okay on your own?”  Chase nodded.

“I’ll be fine. Oh! Since you’ll have an extra pair of hands bring a cooler too. I got a feeling about this spot.” Chase remained focused on the vertical carving. As far as he could tell it was a straight line placed exactly between the two other etchings.

“‘Kay. Be back in a few,” Leah waved while she started walking down the narrow hall back the way they came from. The path was illuminated by evenly spaced lights they dropped on their way in. Chase turned his attention back to the vertical line. He moved close again and then realized it was wider than it was a moment ago. Not much wider, but now he could trace the tip of his pointer finger through the groove.

“Huh,” he said to himself, then took a step back to look at the entire wall. Chase used the flashlight to look at the two triangular etchings again, but something shocked him so much when he looked at the vertical line again he dropped the fingertips. The line looked wider again. This time he knew for sure because he realized it was an opening or door of some sort. A thin golden line of light glowed through the vertical crack. He picked up the flashlight and turned it off to be sure.

How is it opening?” Chase wondered. He heard no sound at all. On instinct, he turned the flashlight off, closed his eyes, and counted to five aloud. He opened his eyes again after “one”. The opening in front of him was now wide enough for him to step through. He glanced at the path back to their camp, but he made his decision the moment he saw the opening. He walked through the opening into a large ante-chamber flooded with golden light. The light came from a room further in. A sudden thought made Chase whirl around in a panic, but he relaxed when he saw the door remained open.

I don’t trust you for a second,” Chase thought. He decided the ante-chamber produced enough natural light that he did not need the flashlight. He put it on the floor in the doorway. His hope was that even if it closed, Leah and the others might find the flashlight. Chase accepted his fate, turned his back on the door and moved to the golden room. He did not pause to check if the door behind him was still opened when he reached the door to the next room. Instead, he took a deep breath and imagined a room full of glittering gold and jewels. He rushed in but the interior of the room stopped him in his tracks.

In the center of the room stood an obsidian pedestal, and on it sat a treasure more beautiful than Chase thought he could ever imagine. It had no strings, but somehow he knew it was a golden harp. Large rubies formed the number 53 on one side of the instrument, the harp itself was no taller than maybe two feet. His frame of reference was the skeleton sitting at the harp with its hands hovering on each side of the harp as if ready to play. After he noticed the skeleton he looked around the rest of the room. He quickly counted at least 20 different skeletons all in the same general area. The seat in front of the harp.

“CHASE? YOU IN HERE?” He heard Leah’s voice behind him, and for some reason it made him uncomfortable. He suddenly felt rushed and decided not to respond. His feet carried him towards the seat, but the only thought in his mind was that he needed to try the harp before the crew catalogued it and sealed it away. He rushed to the harp and pushed the seated skeleton off the chair into the pile with the others.

Where the hell are the strings?” he asked himself. Despite having nothing to pluck Chase readied his hands on each side of the harp sand he began to play the air where the strings would be.

“Chase?” Leah sounded closer. Chase looked up to the entrance hoping she wasn’t there yet; when he looked back at the harp he found himself plucking delicate, dark red glowing strings. A hint of a smile formed on his face and Chase let himself relax. He heard no music. The strings were silent, but he continued to play and smile to himself, enjoying the act. Red strings were now clearly visible.

“CHASE!” Leah yelled. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???” He looked up from the harp and saw her standing at the entrance with her hands on her hips and a very disappointed look on her face.

“I don’t know,” Chase said. He looked back at the harp and smiled. “But I can’t stop.”

Dressed for Success

[WP] You are the hero of legend, prophesied to save your people from the oppressive overlords…but you are an animal at the zoo. from WritingPrompts

“It’s not going to hurt him, is it?” Jack’s niece, Hannah, asked her uncle. He stood by a cold, aluminum medical table; and, Hannah stood on the other side watching intently as he manipulated an unconscious king penguin. Jack shook his head.

“He’ll be a bit sore when he wakes up, but they’re tough birds. We need to tag him to keep track of him, otherwise, we wouldn’t go through all the trouble.” He grabbed a small gun-shaped device from the side of the table and handed it to Hannah. “I’ve already put in the tracking chip, but we still need to catalog him for our zoo. You want to do the honors?” The dark-haired girl looked at the device and found two dials on the back end with numbers.

“What number?” she asked with bright eyes. She was thrilled when her uncle offered her a chance to visit the zoo behind the scenes. Hannah’s biggest dream was to be a vet and this tiny taste of it almost proved to be too much excitement. 

“This guy is number four. Use both dials,” Jack instructed her. He turned the penguin on its side to make it easier for her, and he pointed at a spot on its thigh. Hanna set the first dial to zero and the second to four, then she pressed the tip of the micro-brand against the bird and pulled the trigger. It made a satisfying “click” sound and the smile that took up most of her face somehow grew larger. Jack took the gun from her hand and turned around to put it away, but Hannah called his attention the moment he dropped the micro-brand in its case. 

“Uncle Jack?” She sounded concerned and Jack turned around in a hurry. He felt Hannah move closer to him, and noticed that the room looked brighter somehow. The unconscious penguin emitted a soft golden glow. 

“NO WAY!?” Jack screamed. He grabbed Hannah’s hand in a hurry and led her out of the room while reaching into his pocket for his phone. 

“What’s going on?” Hannah asked. Jack hurriedly scrolled through his phone, but answered her question without looking up. 

“Hold on, emergency. Don’t worry, you’re safe. Go stand by the door, lock it,  and don’t let anyone in.” He pointed down the long hall to the only entrance to the back of the penguin habitat. Jack brought the phone up while he instructed her. As she walked away she heard bits of his side of the conversation. 

“Mundo! I need you here now. Turns out one of my penguins is a Unique. Yeah, number four. Is he dangerous?” Hannah could not hear any more past that because he started walking the other way while she moved to block the door. After watching her uncle pace back and forth for several minutes her uncle came back to her with his phone in hand. He showed her the screen.

“This is my friend Mundo.” Hannah took in the picture of a handsome brown-skinned man with long dark pony-tail showing over the front of his shoulder. “He’s the ONLY one you unlock the door for. Not many people come through here, but it happens. I’m gonna go see if the penguin wakes up.”

“But what’s going on?” she asked again. She sensed that Jack was calmer than before, but he still seemed anxious and unsure.

“When Mundo gets here, I promise you’ll find out,” Jack said. He tussled her dark curls and added a smile to reassure her. “If you’re going to be a vet, you definitely need to know about this.” He gave her a thumbs up gesture and then turned to walk back into the room where they left the glowing, unconscious penguin. 

Hannah killed about twenty minutes on her cell phone sitting under the portholes of the door when a knock startled her. She stood up and found the same handsome man from her uncle’s phone smiling at her through the circular window. She unlocked the door in a hurry to let him in. 

“Hi, I’m Mundo,” he extended a hand and Hannah shook it. 

“I’m Hannah,” she smiled. 

“Si, I know. Your uncle talks about you a lot,” he glanced towards the door to the back of the penguin’s habitat, then back to Hannah. “He says you’re gonna be a vet. Lock the door again and come into the room.” He was already halfway down the hall by the time he finished speaking. Hannah locked the door and ran to catch up. Both of them entered the room at the same time to the sound of roaring laughter. Each of them recognized it as Jack. 

Hannah felt like her eyes were ready to pop out of her head when she saw her uncle Jack laughing and carrying on with a very awake penguin. The penguin noticed her and Mundo enter the room and he lifted a flipper to wave at them.

“Hi!” the penguin said. Hannah fainted. 

Her eyes opened to see Jack and Mundo staring down at her; and, she felt a cool damp rag on her forehead. She tried to sit up, but her uncle held a hand out to caution her.

“Hang on, there’s no hurry. You’re safe. Relax.”

“What happened?” she asked. She let her body loosen and dropped her head back down.

“You fainted,” Mundo said with a smile. “You were out for a few hours.” 

“The penguin…” she sorted through her memory fragments. “…he waved at me. And spoke?” Both Jack and Mundo nodded.

“Yes, that actually happened. He feels really bad for scaring you,” Jack explained.” Hannah looked at Jack and narrowed her eyes.

“Can you tell me what’s happening yet?” she asked. Jack shook his head. 

“We’ll get to that, but now that you’re awake we have to leave the zoo. 

“Why?” She asked. “I was only out for a few hours? It was about nine a.m. when I let Mundo in the door.” She felt her uncle grab her hand and pull her to sit up and she let him. 

“A lot happened while you were knocked out. The short version is that Ping, the penguin that waved at you, now owns the zoo. He’s a nice guy, but he really wants us off his property.”

“What?” Hannah asked while the two men led her out of the back room and through the narrow hall. “What do you mean he owns the zoo? How does a penguin own a zoo?” Jack shrugged.

“He’s really charming,” Jack said. Mundo let out cell phone belly laugh, though it seemed to be a private joke.

“He convinced the whole board to donate it to him. Something about his ‘people’ and the other animals being oppressed.”

“So the animals are running the zoo now?” Hannah asked. She found an answer to her question when they stepped through the doors Hannah had locked and out into the zoo proper. Immediately she noticed all the herbivores were freely wandering the grounds. She assumed they were, but Jack corrected her.

“Technically Ping runs the zoo. He’s going to do some restructuring, but the good news is I still have a job,” Jack chuckled. “And you’ve been invited to help around the new zoo too if you want.” 

Hell’s Kitchen

[WP] “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” we chant. Another agent appears inside the pentagram and screams. The dark lord feasts tonight. from WritingPrompts

Flayer the Frightful made a gesture with his red, scaly hand and immediately the screaming agent collapsed unconscious.

“Take her to the kitchen,” Flayer commanded. The other demons were already filing out of the summoning chamber laughing and talking amongst themselves. Flayer sighed, walked to the sleeping woman, and tossed her over his shoulder to deliver her to the cook. As he navigated the halls he turned a corner and bumped into an apprentice demon who was more focused on his friends than where he was going.

“Watch where you’re going,” Flayer said with his most authoritative tone of voice. The young trio of demons looked startled for a second. They seemed ready to apologize profusely until they realized who they ran into.

“Sorry, Flailer,” the one that bumped into Flayer said while his two friends did a poor job of stifling giggles. Then they moved to the side as one to go around him. Flayer did not bother correcting the boy, he was used to the mean-spirited nickname, “Flailer the Failure”. The name genuinely hurt his feelings, but as a demon he did not really have anyone to complain to. He took comfort in the knowledge that the Dark Lord understood him when no one else did.

Flayer arrived at a set of tall, black iron, swinging doors and pushed through to the kitchen. The chef, a short, round, yellow-scaled demon, looked up from his spot in front of the stone oven and his face dropped.

“I’ve already started cooking and you’re changing the menu on me?” he complained. “This is why nobody likes you,” the chef, Flayer’s only real friend, complained. Flayer shrugged and dropped the unconscious woman on the solid block of obsidian that was used as a prep table. “Careful!” the chef reprimanded Flayer. “Last time you bruised one, the Dark Lord was fuming for a week.” Flayer sat in a nearby chair and gave the chef a weak smile.

“It’s getting worse, Cookie” he complained. “The youngsters are learning to disrespect me from the other summoners.” The chef walked over and patted Flayer on the back.

“You knew this was going to happen when you gave him the job,” Cookie said. Flayer nodded. “Stay strong. It’ll pass when they realize you made the right decision. The main buzz in the cafeteria for the past few weeks has been about how everyone’s pulling in way more souls than when you were the Dark Lord.” Cookie rubbed his friend’s back. “Right now they only see that he’s doing better than you. Eventually they’ll figure out that’s why you gave him the job.” Then, Cookie shoved Flayer off the chair. The tall red demon scrambled to get his feet under him, but he managed to stay upright. “Go be sad somewhere else, I’ve still got work to do. We’ll hang out later,” the chef said. Flayer nodded and walked out of the double black metal doors again. Cookie turned and looked at the unconscious woman wearing a red shirt and khaki slacks, then shook his head.

“You’ve got some weird tastes, Dark Lord,” Cookie chuckled to himself and approached the woman. “There’s got to be a more efficient way to do this,” he complained as he grabbed a black cleaver.

Cookie lifted his arm and brought the flat side of the cleaver down on the woman’s nose.

“Boop,” he said with a chuckle. The woman’s eyes flew open, and she screamed immediately at the sight of a rotund yellow demon waving a cleaver at her. She tried crawling away from him, but she fell off the obsidian block and hit the ground hard. By the time she picked herself up ready to run Cookie stood in front of her holding the cleaver up over his head.

“LISTEN!” he yelled. The scream startled her enough to calm her down for a second and Cookie took the opportunity to point at the cleaver with his other hand to make sure it had her attention. Then he carefully laid it down on the obsidian table and backed away from her with his palms stretched outward.

“I’m not going to hurt you. I woke you up instead of killing you, right? Listen.” He said in a softer tone. The woman’s body seemed to relax slightly but her eyes kept darting around the room to look for exits.

“Where am I?” the woman asked. Cookie chuckled.

“Really?” He brought his hands to the top of his head and pointed to two stubby brown horns poking out, then he reached behind him to pull his pointed tail forward.

“But I was a good person…,” she said. It seemed like she might have a breakdown, but Cookie was quick to interrupt.

“You’re not dead!” he said. “You’re a guest.”

“A guest?” She asked. Confusion washed across her face. Cookie nodded.

“Our Dark Lord is having a feast tonight, and he wanted some company. That’s it, just join him for dinner then you’ll be sent back.”

“I’m not gonna get eaten?” Though she did not know exactly where she was, the fact that she was in a kitchen was obvious to her. Cookie shook his head.

“No. You’re just here because I’m the chef and I need to know what you like. So, what do you want to eat?” he asked. He hoped it would be something simple, or maybe even something he was already working on for the Dark Lord. The woman exhaled a laugh and smiled.

“Really?  REALLY??” Cookie nodded.

“I like all kinds of stuff I guess. Chinese food, fried chicken, pizza, sush-” Cookie interrupted the rest of her list.

“Pizza? You like pizza? Great, you’re having pizza tonight. Dark Lord loves pizza.” Another flash of confusion covered the woman’s face for a split-second.

“Pizza? The Devil likes pizza? I thought it would have been virgin blood or something.” Cookie gave the woman a look that, despite having never seen a demon in her life, she immediately understood as “wow you’re stupid.”

“Virgin blood is a drink, not a meal,” he said. “And I said the Dark Lord, not the Devil.”

“They’re not the same thing?”  Cookie shook his head.

“Hell is complicated, but they’re all basically different titles. Devils are ranked higher than Dark Lords, but in any case the point is there are more than one. They’re more like regional supervisors. OUR Dark Lord happens to like pizza,” Cookie said, then gave another soft laugh. “Hell, you might even know him.”  For a third time, confusion washed over her fact.

“Why would I know him?”

“Well I’m not saying you definitely will, but the possibility is there. He used to work at State Farm too. Do you know anyone named Jake?” The woman made an off-putting face.

“No, but he sounds hideous. I hate that name so much.”

Bag of Fish

[CW] Flash Fiction Challenge! Location: A Zoo | Object: Backpack

“Here you go.” Melody handed Dread a small black leather backpack decorated with a red scissor logo.

“Huh?” the white-haired girl asked. She lifted the bag up to inspect it, but she only held it for a second before Melody yanked it from her hands and gave the bag to Jenny instead.

“Here you go.” Melody looked at Dread again. “Just pick out the animal you want, Jenny’ll do the rest.” Then she looked at Jenny again. “You know how, right?” The girl nodded and smiled at the woman with a thumbs up gesture.

“No problem.”

“Gear is the last part of orientation.” Melody addressed Dread again. “After you pick a pet head to the locker room for the rest of your equipment. You’re just an exhibition team,” Melody cast a side glance at Jenny when she reminded them. “However, Ms. Sharp still wants you girls to have the best equipment available. I’ll see you at practice next Saturday. Welcome to the team,” Melody smiled at both girls. Then she gave them a polite nod and walked out of the Zoo’s lobby.

“Shark, right? Uh,” Jenny glanced up at the large map displayed at the entrance. “Aquatic this way.” Jenny took the lead and Dread followed. They reached a narrow hall flanked on both sides by large glass walls. At the entrance to the hall the girls stopped at a small podium that showed a lit display. Immediately Jenny began poking and swiping at it until she found what she was looking for.

“Okay, they’ve got three Unique sharks.”

“What souls?” Dread asked.

“Uh,” Jenny scanned down the list. “La Rosa, La Rana, and whoa. A human one, El Valiente! That’s the one you want, right? Gotta be.” She smiled at the taller girl. Dread shook her head.

“No.”