“Better hurry,” Leo checked his watch. “10 seconds. She’s really punctual.” He stood with his friend in a small, dim back room. Leo’s friend, Steven, was hunched over a counter scrambling a pen across an official-looking form.
“Not helping,” Steven grumbled while he tried to initial every checkbox on the form. Finally, he dropped the pen and pushed the form to the young woman behind the safety glass.
“Four,” Leo began the countdown.
“Hand, please,” she said. Steven placed his hand on the counter palm up; then, pushed it through the small arched opening he sent the paper through.
“This is going to hurt,” the woman said. She grabbed something that looked like a single-handed stapler and pressed it against Steven’s wrist.
“Two,” Leo’s grin grew larger with every count.
“Yeah! I’m READY!” Steven used his other hand to slap the counter from the excitement.
“One.” She pulled the trigger. Leo heard the familiar crunch as the device shoved a metal rod through Steven’s wrist. He screamed and yanked his hand out of the window to rub it. He saw no blood, just a small orange dot, like the one on Leo’s wrist. The pain dissipated quickly as he rubbed the dot.
“Did it work?” Leo smiled and pointed at the clerk on the other side of the counter. She remained still; and, still held the mechanical device inches off the counter as if Leo’s wrist were present.
“The clerks don’t get the treatment. It’s a precaution against having people join after the 8th day starts.” Steven stared at the woman through the glass hoping to catch her breathing, or see her blink, or some other proof it wasn’t real. She was perfectly frozen.
“Man, how long have you known about this?” Steven asked his friend. The tall, lean man shrugged.
“‘Bout two months I guess.” Steven was surprised and almost took it personally.
“What? And you waited this long to tell me?” he whined only half-joking. Leo stepped forward and put his arm around Steven him to guide him out of the dim room. The room was at the back of an ice cream shop. As they stepped out Leo gestured at the room full of time-stopped patrons and employees. Only one person, the manager, was capable of movement. He sat in the corner flipping through a magazine.
“It’s a 24-hour period that most people in the world don’t know about; they don’t even realize it happens,” Leo explained. He tapped Steven’s forehead with a finger. “Don’t you think there’d be rules to something like that?”
“Oh,” Leo had not considered that. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. So, what are the rules?” he asked as they left the 24-hour ice cream shop, ‘Vanilla Treats’, and strolled along the empty strip mall.
“Rule number one: Vanilla doesn’t like trouble-makers. No stealing, killing, looting, and so on.”
“How’s she gonna know?” Steven asked. He did not plan on being a trouble-maker, but he was curious. Leo stopped walking and turned to face Steven. He raised his arm and pointed at the orange dot.
“These track us,” he said, then grinned. “and she can stop time across the world. I don’t think you want to get on the wrong side of that.” Steven nodded.
“Good point. What else?”
“What else what?” Leo asked; he resumed walking.
“You said, ‘rule number one’ like there were more.”
“No, that’s it. She doesn’t like trouble-makers.”
“Where did Vanilla come from? Why’s she doing this,” Leo shook his head. “for free?”
“Rumors say she’s from an Alternate Universe. She wanted to do something nice for this Earth and I guess she doesn’t need money. Or maybe just not our money,” Leo shrugged. “I don’t think anyone knows for sure.”
“I do,” a woman said behind them. The two men whirled around, surprised, and saw a tall white-haired woman wearing a flowing orange dress.
“Vanilla!?” Leo asked, astonished. He recognized her from pictures, but Steven had never seen her.
“Hello, Steven. I’m glad you signed up,” she ignored Leo completely.
“What do you me-,” Steven began to ask but he never finished his question. Leo blinked.
When he opened his eyes Steven and Vanilla were gone, then he heard cars drive by. Time started again for everyone.