Orientation

[WP] You’ve always expected just a blank nothingness after dying. Now that you actually have you’ve found the truth to be much more terrifying. from WritingPrompts

Susan Dawkins woke in a comfortable position. As she opened her eyes to look around her she realized she lay reclined on a soft leather seat that fit her perfectly. She did not know where she was. The room did not look familiar, but it reminded her of the type of psychiatrist’s office she’d seen on T.V. A brown high-back leather chair sat empty near to her seat. Further against the wall she saw a neat desk with everything organized perfectly. A small potted plant in the corner, a filled bookshelf, and soft white walls made up the rest of the office. 

A soft knock at the door called her attention, and she turned to see a clean-cut man in a dark suit walk in. He met her eyes and smiled while he made his way to sit in the brown leather seat. 

“Hello,” the man said. He glanced down and Susan realized he now held a beige file folder. He opened it and pulled out the only sheet from inside. He lifted it and looked it over front and back, as if he expected more. “Uhh. Susan Dawkins, right?” Susan nodded.

“Yes. Where am I?” The fact that she was not scared bothered her. She felt completely at peace even though she had no idea what was happening. 

“Oh. This room doesn’t look familiar to you?” he asked. 

“No. Should it?” the stranger put the sheet in the folder and put it away, then he smiled at Susan.

“It will, but I guess this is your first time here. My name is Ezekial Yzaguirre, but you can call me Ezey,” he said. “The short version is you died.”

“What? How?” Susan sat up in surprise, but Ezey lifted a hand to calm her down. When she relaxed he shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter, does it? You’re here.” He spread his hands wide to gesture at the small office, then he brought his hand to his chest. “I am your caseworker, and every time you die we’ll meet in this room to see what the next step for you is.” 

“Every time I die? How many times am I going to die?” Again, Ezey shrugged.

“However many you want, I guess?” He reached into the pocket of his dark suit and pulled out a handful of colorful gummybears. He began to chew them idly while he explained. “There’s no limit that I know of, so whatever you want.” Susan looked around the office again, then back at Ezey.

“Elmer put you up to this, didn’t he?” Susan stood from her seat, walked to the door, and swung it open to yell for her best friend. “ELME-” her voice dropped when she realized there was literally nothing outside the door. Like outer space with no visible stars, Susan stared at complete darkness. She turned to Ezey. “You just came in through here. Where are we?”  Ezey stood from the chair, walked to Susan, then closed the door.

“It only works for us,” he said. He twisted the knob and opened the door again, though only wide enough to give Susan a peek into the busy hall. Dark suited men and women roamed the halls coming out from and going into any of the hundreds of doors that Susan saw from the small opening Ezey let her peek out of. He closed the door again, and ushered her back to her reclining seat. 

“There’s no Heaven? Or Hell? Just… offices?” Susan asked, but Ezey shook his head.

“Oh no, there is. But it’s not exactly what you think.” He pulled more gummybears from his pocket. “But, I can tell you more about that next time. It’s just going to take up time. I’ve got other appointments, and it’s only your first time anyway. Most people don’t get to choose until they’ve gone through a couple dozen times, more or less.” 

“We get to choose?” Susan scoffed. “Can I just pick Heaven now?” Ezey laughed. 

“Nope, you make your choice when you’re alive. That’s what these little sessions are supposed to be for. After you die, we go over what you did, where it would have landed you, and how you can do better the next time. The first time you die is supposed to be an orientation, but I’m still new myself. I didn’t realize you were a newbie, sorry.” 

“So you can’t give me any hints to help me get into Heaven next time?” Susan asked with a hopeful tone in her voice. Ezey nodded. 

“Sure, I can tell you exactly what you need to do. But once you’re born you forget everything anyway.” He shrugged, then reached into his pocket and pulled out an open can of soda, took a drink, then put it back into his pocket. 

“Wait. That doesn’t make any sense. If I forget everything, why do we even have these sessions?” 

“Your soul remembers,” Ezey said. “When you die, we put your soul into a shell that looks like the last body you had, that way you don’t freak out. But of course, when you’re born, your soul goes into a new body. You know that phrase, ‘you’re an old soul’? That’s a real thing, your soul persists from one body to the next. Of course, all the memories you make in life are stored in the body and lost with the body,” Ezey said. Susan nodded, as if she started to accept that she really was in this situation. 

“So what now? I just get born again?” Ezey nodded. 

“Yeah, but I feel bad for messing up your orientation. Next time you die I’ll be more prepared, but I’ll give you a bonus this time to make up for it.”

“What kind of bonus?” Ezey rubbed his chin in thought while she asked.

“I’ll let you pick where you want to be born. That should be okay, I think.” Ezey said. He still did not know all the rules, but he knew his superiors tended to be pretty lenient. At least, the one he met. Susan sat up with a large smile on her face.

“Really? I get to pick the city I’m born in?!” Her eyes sparkled with excitement, but Ezey shook his head.

“Nah, we’re not that precise,” he replied.

“Country?” Susan asked, but again Ezey shook his head. 

“Earth,” he said. 

“I don’t get it.” 

“Alternate Earths. Pick one you’d like to try living on.” 

“What? How am I supposed to do that, I didn’t even know they existed. How many can I choose from?” 

“Infinite really. But you can’t pick one off the bat, you have to narrow it down. What kind of Earth do you want to live on? Magical, sci-fi, stone-age?” Susan’s eyes went wide.

“I WANT MAGIC!” she yelled, then clapped her hand over her mouth and followed it with giggles. “Sorry, ” she apologized. “But magic! Any of them, I don’t care.” Ezey nodded.

“I’ll make it a good one for you. Good luck, and I’ll see you next time.” Susan watched Ezey wave at her as the room around them faded into darkness, then Ezey disappeared. 

Stabby Dreams

[WP] You finally pluck up the courage to get your first tattoo, a scorpion on your shoulder. When you remove the dressing the scorpion becomes 3D, walks to the top of your shoulder and says "At last! What’s the plan?" from WritingPrompts

Alan Crane stared at the small black scorpion seated on his shoulder. His initial impulse to brush the creature off his shoulder was interrupted by the scorpion’s question. Alan took a quick glance around his messy bedroom to double check for any alcohol or drugs he might have consumed the night before, but he found no traces of anything that would explain away the scorpion as a hallucination.

“Are you real?” It sounded like a silly question coming out of his mouth, but it was the only words that came when he tried to speak. If the black arachnid was not real, it wouldn’t be able to admit it. Alan looked at the site on his forearm where he got the tattoo. The number 40 still decorated his skin, but the spot under it where the black scorpion was supposed to be showed no signs of a scorpion tattoo.

“I feel real,” the scorpion replied. Alan felt needle legs against his skin while the scorpion turned in place to make its case for being real. 

“Yeah, you feel real to me too,” Alan said. “But how did you come out of my tattoo?” The scorpions pincers moved outward slightly, and Alan got the impression that the thing shrugged at him. 

“I just felt like getting up, and then I did. I thought you’d have a plan since you brought me to life.” 

“No plan, it wasn’t intentional. Do you have a name?” The more Alan stared and talked to the scorpion, the more he understood. When he asked about a name Alan understood the scorpion’s side to side dance was meant to be a shaking of the head, as much as scorpions can do without a neck.

“I’ve never needed one… I didn’t even exist until just a bit ago. But I’m not against it if you want to name me,” it replied. 

“Well, I dunno. How do you work? Can you become a tattoo again?” The scorpion spread its pincers to shrug, then it sunk into his shoulder. It became a flat piece of artwork on the new spot again.  “Can you still hear me?” Alan asked. The scorpion emerged from his skin into reality again.

“Heard you perfectly, but I couldn’t reply.”  Alan nodded. 

“So a name. What can you do?”  The second he asked the scorpion’s tail shot forward like a rocket, but it stopped a fraction of an inch away from Alan’s skin. He flinched for all it was worth, but if the scorpion were serious Alan’s delayed response would not have helped him a bit.

“I like stabbing things,” a small drop of green liquid collected on the end of its stinger. “and poisoning them.”

“Okay, your name is Stabby now.” Alan decided. He always preferred simple descriptive names for his pets going back to his first puppy named Barker. 

“I like it,” Stabby said. “So what now?” he asked. 

“I don’t know. How strong is that poison?” Stabby shrugged.

“Never tried it. Let’s go try it. Can we go try it?” Stabby danced eagerly on Alan’s shoulder. Alan nodded.

“Yeah, let me get a shirt on and we’ll go see what you can do.” Alan dressed while he considered what might be an appropriate test. He hoped Stabby’s venom was lethal. His dream was to become a contract killer, and it sounded like Stabby could help him with that. He hated to do it, but in his mind there was only one place they could go to test Stabby’s limits. 

Alan stood outside the elephant exhibit at the zoo and scanned the herd for one that looked healthy.  He held his hand out toward one, palm facing out to show the scorpion tattooed on the palm of his hand which one he picked. Then, he brought his hand up to his face; Stabby stood ready, already out of his skin and in three-dimensional form.  

“Did you see it?” 

“Yes. I’m gonna go stab it, I’ll be right back.” The scorpion hopped off his hand, landed on the grown, and skittered under the outer fence of the enclosure. Alan lost site of Stabby as he wandered into the brush of the exhibit, so he focused on the elephant he chose. 

He should be there any second. I wonder if he stabbed him already,”  Alan thought to himself after about five minutes. 

“I just got here.” Stabby said. Alan looked around on the ground, and on his body, but he could not find the black scorpion.

“You’re here? I can hear you but I can’t see you.” Alan said. 

“Of course you can’t, I’m by the elephant.” 

“How are you talking to me?” Alan asked, surprisingly loud. In the back of his mind he noticed a couple step further away from him after his outburst.

“The same way I’ve been talking to you,” Stabby replied. “You know I can’t actually speak, right? No vocal chords. It’s a psychic link. Anyway, I’m gonna stab the elephant.” Alan felt slightly embarrassed that he thought the scorpion spoke, but it passed quickly because Stabby started counting down.

“Three. Two. One. Stab.”  

One second after Stabby said, “stab” the elephant toppled over on its side. 

This is gonna be awesome,” Alan said to himself.

“I know!” Stabby replied. 

Rewarding Visit

[OT] Sunday Free Write (8-19-18)

“That’s a great goal. You don’t have a lot of experience with Zeroes, so let me give you a piece of advice,” Vegas said. He stepped to the side and gestured the girls towards the house. Dirge took the hint and headed towards the door. Dread followed. Vegas fell in step alongside them and kept talking.

“No matter how many of her you meet, you’ll never meet the same Glory again.” The reached the screen door and Vegas opened it to let the girls in. The group walked into Vegas’ living room and Vegas sat down on a brown leather loveseat across from a matching couch. Dirge and Dread sat on the couch and continued to listen. “A lot of Uniques think that every Zero is like its other copies, but each one is unique in its own way. If you’re looking to meet her again, just give up now. You won’t,” Vegas said. He wore a serious look that Dirge recognized as his “Listen to what I’m telling you.” face. She did not see it often so she made sure to listen when he had that look.

“How do you know?” Dread asked. “There’s infinite universes out there, right?” Vegas nodded.

“Yep, there are. But, Ballisea’s out there too…” Vegas started to explain, but Dread interrupted him.

“We met her, and we totally survived,” Dread puffed her chest out, and deliberately chose to leave out the fact that Ballisea let them live on purpose. Vegas chuckled.

“Well of course you did, she won’t kill Uniques ‘less they get under her skin. It’s Zeroes she goes through like popcorn. I wanna know what went down, but first lemme finish what I was sayin’,” Vegas said.

“I mentioned Ballisea was out there. Not as a warning, but because she’s still out there killing Zeroes. She kills every Zero she sees, hoping to spawn her husband again.” He explained. A noise distracted them. Dirge and Dread looked towards the entrance to see Lauren, Vegas’ wife, coming into the house.

“Hey girls! How’s it going?” she asked, excited to see the teenagers. “Staying for dinner?” she lifted a pair of shopping bags to indicate there was plenty. Dread stood from the couch and grabbed the shopping bags from Lauren without a word. “Thanks, Dread!” With her hands-free, she walked to the loveseat and sat next to Vegas. Dread came back from the kitchen, and Dirge looked at her for an answer. She nodded her head.

“Yeah, we’d love to stay, thanks!” Dirge said. Dread sat next to Dirge.

“You’re just in time, babe,” Vegas said. “The girls were gonna tell me about their run-in with Ballisea.”

“And Flutter!” Dread added. She stood from the couch and reached into her pocket to pull out Flutter’s golden scale. She held it up proudly for Vegas and Lauren to see.

“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” Vegas said and stood from the loveseat. As a habit Dirge replied.

“Oooh oooh aah,” she giggled. Vegas and Lauren joined in, but it was the first time Dread had seen the interaction. “Cause he’s my uncle,” Dirge explained in a whisper to Dread while Vegas disappeared to the kitchen.

“Oh. okay,” Dread said. Vegas returned with a large, long, golden box.

“Bring that scale over here, let’s try something.” Vegas set the box on the table with a heavy drop. Dread walked over with the scale, Dirge and Lauren also moved closer to watch.

“What is it?” Dread asked.

“Well,” Vegas said with a grin aimed at Dread. “If that’s really Flutter’s scale you got there, then you can consider this a reward. This used to belong to Flutter,” Vegas pointed at a small black circle on the top of the box. “And only she can open it. But that scale should do the trick.” Dread stepped forward and pressed the scale against the black circle. It blinked a flashing green light, made a beeping sound, then the top of the box unlatched.

“Congratulations. Now thank your lucky stars that Flutter isn’t known for holding grudges.” Vegas opened the box. Inside a long sword with a wide green blade and a golden handle rested in a green silk-lined recess.

“Whoa…are you sure I can have it?” Dread asked. “Wait, what do you mean she doesn’t hold grudges? How do you know that?” Dread pulled the sword out while she waited for Vegas’ response. It felt heavier in her hand than her axe in the AlterNet. She gave it a couple of test swings and decided she liked her axe better.

“Flutter’s as gentle as a kitten, everyone knows that. That’s why I’ve been telling you to run if you see either of them. They won’t chase you,” Dread gave Dirge a side-glance when Vegas said that, because Ballisea seemed to take a special interest in them. Dirge giggled. “And if you get out of their way they won’t bother you.”

“If Flutter’s so gentle why’s she evil and killing Zeroes with Ballisea?” Dirge asked.

“She doesn’t have a choice,” Vegas looked at Dread. “You especially need to listen to this. Calaveras are as tough as they are because they’re meant to be guardians. Calaveras can form a link with a Celestial Unique that makes them both stronger, but that link is kinda like an open door between their minds. They’ve been linked for so long, and Ballisea is so powerful that she can pretty much run Flutter’s mind if she wants to. Luckily for everyone she doesn’t want to very often. The point is, Flutter will do anything Ballisea really wants her to do, and she’ll think it’s her own idea to do it. You can’t reason with her, can’t fight back against that kind of mind control. It’s best to stay out of their way,” Vegas said. Then he nodded at the sword in Dread’s hand. “But if you run into them, there’s nothing else that’ll hurt Ballisea as much as that sword.” Dread lifted the sword and examined it with newfound awe. She discovered nearly invisible intricate golden lines etched into the sparkling green blade.

“Is it enchanted?” Dread asked. Vegas laughed.

“Nah, nothing like that. Ballisea’s really petty and takes a lot of things personally. She hates that sword.”

“Yes I do,” Ballisea’s voice said from a corner of the room. Everyone turned to see her stepping out of a black portal into Vegas’ house.

Pizza Planet

[WP] When Alice ordered one with everything, from the new pizza shop around the corner, this was not what she was expecting. from WritingPrompts
#229 8-18-18

“Hi. Can I speak with a manager, please?” Alice asked the cashier at the till. The young girl nodded and disappeared to the back. While waiting Alice looked After a minute a sort man with a shinier name tag came to help Alice.

“Yes, Ma’am? How may I help you?” he asked while wiping his hands with a red-stained white rag.

“My order was wrong. Can you guys replace it? You can take this one back, I’m not out for free food or anything.” She turned the box around and opened it facing him, she was not sure if she could stomach looking at it again.

“I do apologize, we’ll get a new one in the oven for you. But, uh, what was wrong with this one? You ordered it with everything, right?” The manager looked at the receipt taped to the top of the box. Alice nodded confirmed it.

“It’s probably my fault. I didn’t know what ‘everything’ was,” she apologized. She was perfectly willing to pay for a new one if she had to, but she felt that it wasn’t necessarily her fault. She could not find a list anywhere of the horrible things she found on her pizza. “Can we just make the next one pepperoni?” She asked, hopeful. The manager nodded with a smile. He gestured for her to take a seat and walked to the back of the kitchen. Alice played on her phone and waited for 10 minutes before the manager appeared at her table with a box.

“Thank you!” she said. She had the presence of mind to check her order there and lifted the lid in front of the manager. Instead of the bright red meaty circles she expected she found the golden melted cheese dotted with chicken nugget halves. “What’s this??” she asked.

“Pepperoni?” The manager’s response came in the form of a question.

“How do you get this far into having a pizzeria without knowing what pepperoni is?” Alice asked. The manager looked at the chicken nugget pizza, then back at Alice.

“It’s not pepperoni?” He asked. Alice shook her head. Her mind tried to justify a reason for him not knowing that, but she could not find one. She flashed back to her first pizza with “everything”. Shrimp, french fries, spaghetti and gummy bears. She looked around at the empty restaurant. Initially, she thought it was empty because it was new, but she could not remember when it first appeared.

“What’s going on?” She asked. The manager looked at the ground, and tears started to flow in heavy streams from his eyes while wracking sobs racked his chest. Alice’s heart went out to the stranger and she stepped forward to give him a hug. To her surprise, he eagerly returned the hug and cried into her shoulder. He calmed down enough for them to sit down at a nearby booth. Alice pulled napkins from the dispenser to give him, and he wiped his eyes dry.

“Will you help me?” he said at last.

“With what?” Alice asked. The manager laughed to himself like it was a stupid question and spread his arms wide to gesture at the restaurant as a whole.

“This. I need to get this pizza shop going so that people want to come and eat here. But I don’t know how to do pizza.” he said.

“Then why make a pizza shop?” Alice asked the obvious question. “If you’re willing to hire me on as a manager, I’ll take the job.”

“Of course! We’ll give you whatever you want as long as you help me. I wouldn’t have done pizza if I had a choice, but you know how it is. If the higher-ups want you to open a pizza shop, you open a pizza shop.” Alice nodded, she totally understood unreasonable demands from faceless bosses.

“But wait, that doesn’t make any sense. If you want to make money, you’re starting off really badly.” Alice commented as the cashier girl she talked to earlier handed her a clipboard with what looked like an application on it. She started filling it out immediately.

“Oh, we’re not in it for the money. We have all the money we need. , I said, I need to get people coming through here. Don’t worry though, now that you’re on our team we won’t eat you.” The manager pulled his face off. Alice did not realize it was a mask until he held a loose-hanging piece of flesh-colored material in his hands. The face behind the mask was small and grey with large solid black eyes.

“But what the hell is pepperoni?”

Dental Deceit

[WP] 9 out of 10 dentists recommend this toothpaste. You are the 1 out of 10 who doesn’t – and for a very good reason. from WritingPrompts

“Great job,” Jason West, D.D.S. gave his young patient a lollipop then turned his attention to the boy’s mother. She sat in a wooden chair against the wall in the small exam room. “He did well. No signs of any cavities, but he had some more debris than last time. He could benefit from brushing his teeth more often.” The boy’s mother released a light sigh.

“I know, but we can’t find a toothpaste he likes,” she complained. “And I was just going to pick one and make him use it, but there’s so many choices. Which one do you recommend?” She asked.

“We have our own custom-made formula, nothing but the best for my clients. The receptionist can give you a free sample on the way out. If you like it we sell tubes,” Jason explained.

“Thank you!” She thanked him and led her son out of the examination room. Jason returned to his office and sat down to work on his computer while he waited for his next appointment. After several minutes a voice came from his intercom.

“Doctor, the Bright Clean rep is here to see you. Again,” one of the receptionists from the front desk explained her interruption. Jason sighed, the pressed a button on the intercom to reply.

“That’s fine, send her in. Thank you.” After a minute a young blonde woman walked through his door with a blinding smile.

“Doctor West, thank you for seeing me again.” The woman made herself at home in a chair across from Jason’s desk.

“This is the last time. I’ve already told you I’m not interested in recommending your product to anyone,” Jason said. The woman shook her head with a knowing smile and reached into her small purse.

“I’m here because we changed the formula a bit.” She pulled a thick envelope from her purse and handed it to Jason. “Maybe this new information will sway you?” Jason opened the envelope and flipped through the several dozen 100 dollar bills within. He closed the envelope and tossed it back at the woman so that it landed in her lap.

“Still not interested. Thank you for your offer, but I’ll stick to endorsing my own brand.” He glanced from her to the door to hint that she should leave. Instead, she scooted up in her chair and stared at Jason.

“Why not? Did you even count how much money is in there?”  Jason shrugged at the woman’s question.

“Looked like 10k more or less?” he asked. custom-made was surprised at his answer, but she nodded that he guessed correctly. He smiled at her.

“Why am I going to recommend your toothpaste and give Bright Clean more money when my own toothpaste clears nearly that much every month on its own?” He asked, and she seemed to genuinely rack her brain for an answer. After several minutes of silent thought, she shook her head.

“But how do you produce that much toothpaste here?” she asked. Jason smiled and winked at her.

“Obviously we don’t, you’re very poorly informed about your competition for a representative. We order from a third party manufacturer that produces bulk toothpaste and they brand it for us.”

“So you found some low-end factory to sell bottom shelf toothpaste to your clients?” Jason laughed hard enough to make the rep uneasy.

“Lady, we use the same manufacturer Bright Clean does. We’re getting the exact same toothpaste, but I’m putting it in a different container.” Jason continued to laugh. The woman’s eyes widened but then narrowed to slits. She leaned forward.

“So what you’re saying, in a roundabout way is that you DO recommend our toothpaste, but we can’t pay you enough to get you to admit it in a commercial?” she asked. Jason kept laughing but he began to nod his head as well.

“Yeah, I guess you can say that. Bright Clean is really good toothpaste, but I’ve got a condo to pay for,” he said.

“Excellent!” she said. She sounded far more chipper than she did moments ago. “Now then.” She grabbed the money-filled envelope from her lap and tossed it on to Jason’s desk.

“Technically you missed your chance, but I’m just too kind-hearted for my own good. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to keep that money, and Monday morning you’re going to show up to film a commercial for Bright Clean.” Jason stopped laughing, but something told him she was very serious. He built up enough courage to ask one question.

“If I don’t?”  The woman reached into her purse, then Jason heard his own voice. “…Bright Clean is really good toothpaste, but I’ve got a condo to pay for.”

“If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time finding clients to help you pay for your condo.”

Easy Life

[WP] Every time you die, you are reincarnated, but you keep all your memories. You can’t tell anyone or else you will die permanently. from WritingPrompts

Greg opened his eyes and recognized the small, tastefully decorated office. It reminded him of a psychologist’s office every time he woke up in the room. He took a deep breath and relaxed back against the leather reclining chair he sat in. After several minutes a knock sounded on the door, then the noise was followed by a man in a dark suit entering. The knock seemed more of a warning than asking permission.

“Hey, primo. How’d it go this time? Ready to move on?” The suited gentleman asked.  Greg shrugged.

“I don’t know, ‘cuz, I can still do it better. Let me go ’round again,” Greg asked. The suited man reached into his pocket, pulled several french fries and ate them while he considered Greg’s request.

“Man, I should’ve moved you on a long time ago. My job’s gone if anyone finds out I’ve been sending you back with your memories.” The doubts began to creep up on him, as they did every time. Greg knew just what to say.

“Hurry up, Ezey,” Greg used the nickname he gave his cousin, Ezekial Yzaguirre, when they were younger before either of them died. Ezey passed away first, and Greg was surprised to find his cousin employed as a case-worker in the after-life. “My daughter just got pregnant. If you hurry I can be friends with my grandkid! C’mon ‘Cuz. God put you here for a reason, help the family, primo. I’m not gonna say anything to ruin it for either of us.”

“Alright, fine. But this is the last chance. Next time I’m moving you on, whether you’re ready or not,” Ezey said as he munched on another handful of fries. “Deal?” He asked. Greg nodded and offered Ezekial a handshake. He closed his eyes and waited to be born again.

Greg opened his eyes and recognized the small, tastefully decorated office. It reminded him of a psychologist’s office every time he woke up in the room. He took a deep breath and relaxed back against the leather reclining chair he sat in. After several minutes a knock sounded on the door, then the noise was followed by a man in a dark suit entering. The knock seemed more of a warning than asking permission.

“Alright, primo, I got your paperwork here. Just need a signature.” Ezey handed Greg a clipboard and a pen. Greg refused to accept the clipboard.

“What do you mean? Nothing happened! I don’t remember a thing,” he complained. Ezey shrugged.

“Bad luck, primo. Stillbirth.” He pressed the clipboard into Greg’s hands.

“That’s not fair, it doesn’t count!” 

“You’ve been around 10 ten times. If you haven’t learned that life isn’t fair yet, that’s deliberately choosing ignorance,” Ezey said. “Sign the paper, ‘cuz. We made a deal.” Greg looked down at the white sheet of paper. It was entirely blank except for a golden ‘X’ and a glittering golden line for his signature.

“What happens if I don’t sign it?” 

“You have to go around again,” Ezey began to explain. Greg’s face lit up.

“That’s what I want!” But Ezey shook his head.

“You have to go around again, from the beginning. Clean wipe, start all over. All the memories you’ve kept so far will be gone. 

“Oh. Yeah, I don’t want that,” Greg sighed, defeated. He picked up the golden pen and signed his name with golden ink. 

“Don’t worry, primo. You’re gonna love the next life,” Ezey reassured his cousin.

Cold Hans

[wp] You hear something making noises beneath your bed. You decide to investigate and find a monster of all things. He tells you he came to seek shelter from the cold. from WritingPrompts

Jerry opened his eyes. The seven year old boy held his breath under the heavy comforter his mom covered him with when she tucked him in. A rustling noise woke him up, but he could not hold his breath long enough to hear it again. He gave up, released his breath, and closed his eyes to try and go back to sleep. After several moments he heard the rustling again; now that he was awake it was clear the sound came from under the bed. He smiled to himself and reached for the flashlight he kept under his pillow. 

“Pleasebeamonster, pleasebeamonster, pleasebeamonster,” he whispered to himself over and over as he turned the flashlight on. He rolled over and off the bed as fast as he could to give the monster as little warning as possible. He landed on the floor with the flashlight pointing under the bed. He saw a pair of pale blue palms blocking the flashlight.

“Watch it, that’s bright!” a male voice said from behind the hands.

“Sorry!” Jerry pointed the light away from the man, but it still illuminated the space beneath the bed. The voice belonged to a bald, blue skinned man hiding under Jerry’s bed. “I have a monster under my bed!” Jerry sounded giddy and he dropped the flashlight to wave at the stranger eagerly with both hands. 

“Don’t get used to it junior, I’m just passing through. The tunnel gets really cold on winter nights and I didn’t plan very well,” the blue man shrugged. “I’ll be gone in the morning. Maybe some other monster will come along and keep you company.” 

“But you’re here for tonight, right? What’s your name?” Jerry asked. The blue man shook his head. 

“Go back to sleep, kid. I’m not looking for a playmate.” After that he lowered his head and rested it on his blue hands as if he was trying to take a nap.

“Oh, okay. Goodnight Mr. Monster,” Jerry said. He stood from the floor, climbed on the bed, and began jumping on it right in the middle. He knew his mom would not hear the noise, she never did. After about a dozen jumps the blue man crawled out from under the bed and stood in Jerry’s room. The tall, lean man’s skin was blue from bald head to barefoot toe. 

“If I play with you for a little bit will you let me go to sleep?” the man asked. 

“My mom says I can’t play with strangers,” Jerry replied with a smirk. The tall blue man sighed. 

“My name is Hans,” he said. Jerry stopped jumping on the bed at last. He walked to the edge and fell on it in a seated position.

“I’m Je-,” Hans interrupted him.

“You’re a sleepy boy that’s going to go to bed after a game,” Hans said. 

“But-,” Jerry’s protest was interrupted again by a heavy rustling noise coming from the closet. Jerry and Hans both looked at the closet, then at each other. 

“Looks like you got yourself a playmate kid. Go check it out,” Hans smiled at Jerry, but Jerry shook his head and retreated to the center of the bed. 

“No way. Closet monsters are dangerous.” 

“You’re not kidding,” Hans chuckled to himself as he huddled on the bed next to Jerry.

“You go check it out!” Jerry said. “You’re already a monster.” 

“Look kid, I’m not a monster. I’m just a guy from a different universe that happens to have blue skin. We use the tunnels to travel between universes, and it just so happens that in this universe all our tunnels open under beds.” Hans said with a shrug.

“And the closet?”

“I dunno, your universe is weird. The closet is another set of tunnels to another universe. That universe definitely has monsters.” 

“So you’re just being a chicken. You’re gonna let a monster eat a seven year old boy?” Jerry asked. Hans shrugged.

“Well, I’m not against it.” The noise came from the closet again. 

“Go check it out, or I’ll move my bed.” Jerry said. He had retreated even further back from the closet, and sat at the far end of the bed while Hans remained in the center. The blue man sighed.

“Fine, but if I die it’s your fault,” he said. Hans stood, paced across the room and entered the closet. Jerry checked the time on his tablet and waited. After 15 minutes he began to get worried. After 30 minutes he started to debate waking his mom, but did not know what to tell her. At 45 minutes Hans strolled out of the closet at the same moment Jerry was reaching for the door.

“Where ya going, junior?” Hans asked. Jerry turned and smiled at the blue man. 

“What happened??” Hans smiled and winked at Jerry.

“Kid, you’re some kinda lucky charm. I’m gonna stick around under your bed, because I got me a date with a hot closet monster named Cardigan. She looks a bit like a demon, got ram horns and the whole works, but she seems nice.” 

“Can we play a game?” Jerry asked, but Hans shook his head. 

“Not tonight, it really is late. But like I said, I’m gonna stick around. We can play tomorrow night, okay?” Jerry nodded and hugged the blue man. 

Chasing Reality

[WP] You are a homicide investigator and you have just been assigned a really high-profile case. However, you’ve had a disorder since you were a kid where you can only speak using song lyrics. [Link to post.] (08-14-2018)

 

“Detective Song?” A policewoman approached J.J. Song as he crossed the yellow plastic strip around the crime scene. He nodded and extended a hand to introduce himself, but the policewoman grabbed his hand and interrupted him before he spoke. “Oh It’s okay!” she said and brought a finger to her lips to keep him quiet. “I’ve heard all about you, don’t say…,” she winked at him and nudged his rib with her elbow, “I mean don’t sing a thing.” She laughed at her own joke, and J.J. joined her. It was far from the first time he’d heard it, but she seemed to be happy. J.J. nodded at her with a smile and enjoyed not having to speak. “This way,” she said finally and turned around to walk towards a covered corpse.

 

They reached the center of activity and the policewoman lifted the tarp to reveal the body to J.J. A short, tanned, young man wearing several gold chains and nothing else. J.J. opened his mouth to ask a question, but the policewoman was quick to interrupt him.

 

“Yep, the guy from that reality show. We’ve already got someone fetching a warrant for the show’s tapes, and the cast is on their way downtown for questioning. Oh, by the way, you can call me Brandy. Like the song, you know?” she smiled at him.  J.J. nodded. He did not have a reply to that and instead turned to look back at the athletic corpse. Three different stab wounds dotted the star’s chiseled torso. J.J. walked around the man looking at the body from different angles. He also noted signs of strangulation around the neck, bruises in a strange pattern. Another officer approached them and addressed Brandy.

 

“We got a confession from one of the co-stars,” the new officer said. “Chase Johnston.” J.J. took in the new information and shook his head. He opened his mouth, but Brandy interrupted him again.

 

“You’re right, J.J. That doesn’t seem right. But I am surprised that you watch the show too.”

 

“What?” the other officer asked. Brandy sighed as if her conversation was interrupted.

 

“Chase wouldn’t hurt a fly. Anyone that watches the show will tell you that.” Brandy explained. The other officer shrugged.

 

“I’m just the messenger,” he turned to walk away. “But you know they’re just actors, right?”  Brandy turned her attention back to J.J.

 

“Of course they’re actors, right?” She scoffed. “But anyone can see Chase has a heart of gold.” J.J. gave a polite nod, but Brandy kept talking before he could add to the conversation. She pointed to the body. “Drew here was like Chase’s brother. No way he would’ve killed him.” J.J. remained quiet while she thought. Despite her eagerness to talk over him, J.J. considered her a bright young woman. He already had an answer, but he wondered if Brandy would figure it out. After a moment of silence, she kept talking.

 

“Not by himself anyway… but what if..” her eyes went wide. “MONICA!” She yelled and grabbed J.J. by his dark tie. J.J. nodded at her with a smirk. “That conniving little tart,” Brandy hissed, then she looked at J.J. with an awkward smile. “This is better than the show!” J.J. nodded at the body. “Oh yeah, sorry.”

 

“I’m willing to bet Monica whispered in his ear. Those marks around Drew’s neck looked familiar, and then I remembered. They look like they’d match up perfectly with Monica’s knit scarf, smart of her to do it in July,” J.J. finally got words out when Brandy’s attention was on the corpse. By the time he finished speaking Brandy stared at him with wide eyes and mouth agape.

 

“YOU CAN TALK??! They told me you can only sing,” she said. A small blush filled in her cheeks as embarrassment overcame her. J.J. shook his head and gave her a kind smile.

 

“I can only speak in song lyrics, but I don’t have to sing them.”

 

“But.. what song are you using now?” She asked. “I don’t get it.”

 

“It’s not as debilitating, or fun, ” he gave Brandy a stern look. “as most people think it is. In reality, as long as I’ve heard a word in a song somewhere, I can use it. I listened to a lot of music, and then just eventually wrote my own to help get me to reach some words I was still missing.”

 

“You can write your own music?” Brandy asked. J.J. nodded.

 

“Sure, it’s just little jingles, but it works. It’s not like my disorder knows what songs are popular and only lets me use those lyrics. Anything set to music I can add it to my vocabulary.” The second officer approached again.

 

“New victim and they’re tying it to this case. Another cast member, Monica something.”

Intimate Idiocy

[WP] At work, you always meet this girl in the lift. Very cute, but almost always silent. Randomly talking to your boss then, you discover that there is no girl working in the building. You meet her only when you take the lift alone. She’s already there, and you are always the first to leave. [Link to post.] (8-13-2018)

 

“Good morning,” I smiled at the young woman as I stepped into the elevator. She nodded and gave a polite, but weak smile. I couldn’t blame her. Personally, I hated people trying to talk to me, but I needed to solve this mystery. I saw her nearly every day, and she always seemed to be dressed and prepared for work. However, after I gave her description to my boss he assured me she was not employed in the building. I reached to press the button my usual floor, 12, but hesitated. The button to her floor, 15, glowed with a soft white light.  I stepped back without pressing any buttons.

 

“You have to press a button for it to work,” the woman said next to me. It was the first time she ever started a conversation with me in the past few months since I first saw her. Despite her smart-aleck response, her voice carried no humor. She sounded annoyed, but I recognized her morning grouchiness for what it was, I wasn’t a morning person either and did not take her annoyance personally.

 

“Uh, yeah. Meeting on 15 today. Guess we’re going to the same floor.” I shrugged and tried to give her a warm smile. I heard what sounded like a cross between a “tch” and a sigh escape her mouth, but before I could say anything she stepped forward and highlighted a different floor. 12.

 

“Wow, it’s funny how things work out. Thanks for reminding me, I forgot I had a meeting on 12 today.”  I glanced at the counter and noticed we were coming up on the 10th floor. Thinking as fast as I could I jumped in place slightly, then pulled my phone out of my pocket with the screen angled away from her.

 

“Whoa,” I said startled. “Sorry, had it on vibrate.” I excused myself to her, then brought the phone up to my right ear, so that she could not see it wasn’t illuminated. “Yeah, I’m almost there. In the elevator. Yeah I’m already passing 11, I’ll be there in a second.”  The elevator slowed to a stop and a ding signaled the 12th floor.

 

“Are you sure?” I asked my imaginary coworker as the woman stepped out of the elevator. “Alright, thanks,” I said then brought the phone down and followed her out of the elevator. She looked startled when she saw me stepping out of the elevator. I shrugged at her with a smile. “They canceled the meeting, can you believe it?” I heard the elevator doors close behind me, but she continued to stare at me with annoyance in her eyes.

 

“We’re not supposed to get off on the same floor you idiot!” she yelled. I heard snickers coming from the cubicles, but did not see who they belonged to. I looked around the office, but the layout was completely different than what I was used to. The curiosity bothered me more than her anger.

 

“Did they redecorate last night?” I asked her. She brought her hand up to massage the bridge of her nose and I immediately felt bad. I knew what it meant when I did that to someone, and I was ruining her life at the moment.

 

“What’s going on?” I asked. She dropped her hand, took in a deep breath, then met my eyes.

 

“C’mon, I’ll take you to HR and see if they can get you set up.” She reached out for my hand, but I stepped back.

 

“HR? I’ve worked here for 8 years, I think I’m pretty set up,” I said. She shook her head.

 

“You worked over there for eight years. But today you had the brilliant idea to step off the elevator, and now you work here. Come on, I still haven’t even started my day.” She grabbed me and pulled me through an unfamiliar maze of cubicles. None of the occupants looked like my coworkers, but I did notice someone enjoying a candy bar that I thought was no longer produced. I made a mental note to look for one for myself later.

 

We stopped in front of an office door and the woman knocked three times before stepping in. I followed her. An older woman with greying hair smiled at me from behind her desk.

 

“This idiot followed me.” The girl from the elevator held my hand up as if to indicate which idiot she was talking about.

 

“How exciting!” the woman behind the desk said. “Have a seat and we’ll get you squared away.” The young woman dropped my hand and walked out of the office. I sat down.

 

“What’s your name?” she asked.

 

“Ernie Cedillo,” I said. I heard her keyboard click several times while she stared at the screen. Then she nodded.

 

“Here you are, Ernest Cedillo. Head of logistics, is that you?” she asked. I nodded.

 

“Yeah, for eight years.” She smiled.

 

“You’re in luck, we need a Head of Logistics here too. This’ll be easy.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but what will be easy? What’s going on? I stepped off the elevator and now I have a stranger pissed off at me, but I’m getting a new job. But it’s still my same job?” I shook my head trying to process everything.

 

“I’m sorry, dear. Sometimes it’s the little things that slip through the cracks. Let me explain it to you, at least as I understand it.” She took a deep breath and scooted forward in my chair to listen intently.

 

“Now, I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I know. You’re from a parallel Earth. Our companies are built on the same spot on two different Earths.”

 

“So then, what? Is the elevator like a portal? Why don’t people cross over all the time?” I asked. The woman smiled and shook her head.

 

“That’s the funny part. It only happens when the same people in different universes are in the elevator at the same time,” she said. “But unfortunately once the balance is broken, there’s no way back. You’re stuck here, but at least you have a job.” she smiled. I stared at her while my mind caught up.

 

“The same people?….. That woman that brought me here..”

 

“She’s you from this universe, dear. It might explain why she thinks you’re an idiot,” she giggled.

Glorious Purpose

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.] (8-12-18)

 

“Hey,” Dread called Dirge’s attention. The two girls were on their way out of the Schoolyard to Jelly-Jim’s place. “Glory seemed cool.” She wanted to console Dirge but did not know enough about her or Glory to do it effectively. The shorter girl with raven curls nodded silently as they walked through the public square. After they passed through the crowded hub Dirge turned right instead of the left turn Dread expected.

 

“Did you get lost or is it me? I thought Jelly_Jim’s was that way,” Dread pointed down a stone road to their left.

 

“Do you remember Glory promoting me to Quartermaster before she died?” Dirge asked. Dread nodded. “She asked me to do something for and I need to get something from her shop to do it.”

 

“Okay.” Dread nodded and let Dirge lead the way. They walked a few more steps in silence before either of them spoke again.

 

“She was the first Zero I thought I could be friends with,” Dirge said quietly. “Ballisea said your mom was a Zero, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Dread nodded. “After I found Ballisea’s orbs, I hoped I’d find my way back home again. Even if I did, it would be to see my dad. My mom wouldn’t have lived that long.” Dirge stopped walking in front of a shop and walked into it. Dread tried to follow her, but any time she tried to cross the threshold nanos formed a barrier to stop her.

 

“Hey,” she called Dirge. The curly haired girl turned around in the shop surprised to see Dread still outside.

 

“OH! Sorry, the shop’s still closed,” Dirge said. She brought up a translucent square in front of her and swiped through it a few times. “Okay, try it now,” she said. Dread reach a hand up and pushed it past the door, then the rest of her body stepped inside the shop.

 

“So she gave you the shop?” Dread asked. She glanced around at all the instruments hanging from the walls and decorating the display table.

 

“Nah. I don’t have time to run it anyway. But she did ask me to find someone to give it to.” Dirge walked around the sales counter and crouched out of sight to search the lower shelf.

 

“Whoa. How’re you going to pick?” Dread asked. Dirge rose from behind the counter with a Node in her hand.

 

“With this!” Dirge inserted the Node into a slot on the sales counter. The surface of the counter vibrated slightly and then changed from sturdy wood to near-invisible smooth glass. Small-print text appeared in rows on the glassy surface. The text stretched from one edge of the counter to the other, and top to bottom. Dread realized the text was a long list of names.

 

“Is that her friend’s list?” Dread asked, but Dirge smiled and shook her head. She placed a hand on the counter and swiped to her left. The display moved, all the rows of names disappeared to the left while more came in from the right. Dirge swiped it again several times.

 

“It’s her Zeroes. The Alternet lets Zeroes form a group chat with themselves and she kept their info on this Node.”

 

“You have to give the shop to one of them? That looks easy, there’re thousands to choose from. We can do that before we go back to Jelly_Jim if you want,” Dread offered, but Dirge shook her head again, still smiling brightly.

 

“No way, I’m gonna take my time and do it right for her.” Dirge sounded excited. “But, we do need to make a stop before we go back to Jelly_Jim.” Dread shrugged.

 

“Okay, where to?” Dread asked, but Dirge was already half-way through a pitch black portal. Realizing she wouldn’t get an answer Dread followed her into the dark. She recognized the quaint house waiting for her on the other side.

 

“UNCLE VEGAS!” Dirge cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled toward the house. After a few seconds a short man with a blue mohawk opened the front door, then the screen door.

 

“Hey shortcake, why all the fuss?” Dirge dashed from the yard to run up the steps, then she leaped towards Vegas to wrap her arms around him.

 

“I FOUND MY CARROT!” she yelled while squeezing him. The attack hug caught him by surprise, but he settled into it quickly and returned the hug. They danced back and forth in joy while Dread approached up the steps.

 

“No foolin’?  That’s great!” Vegas smiled at the girl.

 

“When did you find a carrot?” Dread asked. She did not know what to make of the sudden joy, but she wanted to know why Dirge was so happy. Dirge shook her head.

 

“Not A carrot. MY carrot. It’s something Vegas taught me, and he made me promise I’d tell him when I found it,” Dirge explained.  Dread shrugged and looked at Vegas. He held up a finger to get her to wait, then he stepped inside the house. He returned after several seconds holding a small wooden rod, string, and a carrot. He held the stick up horizontally and the carrot fell partway until it pulled the string taut.

 

“A carrot on a stick is used to keep animals moving forward.” He held the rod above his head to dangle the carrot in front of his face, then he walked forward trying to bite it. “They’ll never reach it, but they don’t know that. A carrot is something that gets you moving, without worrying about the outcome. My daddy told me that if I found my carrot I’d have a life goal to work towards,” Vegas explained, then he lowered the stick. Dread looked back at Dirge.

 

“I don’t get it.”

 

“Might be easier to explain it with an example,” Vegas said. He also turned his attention to Dirge. “You came all this way, what’s your carrot?” Dirge pulled Glory’s Node from her pocket. She held it up to show Dread and smiled at her.

 

“I want to meet Glory and be friends with her. As many as I can.”