Billy woke in an instant; his eyes flew open the moment a question popped in his mind. He sat up in his sleeping bag and looked around for Vanilla hoping she had the answer. Vanilla was sitting at the edge of the lake looking through a telescope. It was pointed upward at the purple sky above the orange band of the rising sun. As he stood up to walk to her Billy wondered why time was stopped. He could feel the slight resistance around him as he moved. It felt almost like he was moving in water but not as severe. Despite moving through frozen time often this was the first time he noticed the sensation. Now he had two questions for Vanilla.
His footsteps crushed dozens of twigs and leaves as he walked. Vanilla turned from the telescope to face him. Over the past few months, Billy noticed Vanilla getting sadder. She still made the effort to wear a smile for him, but he could tell it was a mask. That morning the mask was gone entirely. She looked like she’d been crying, but she gave him a friendly, sincere smile when she saw him. She stood up and gestured for him to sit at the telescope.
“You have questions,” she said in a tone that would have made him feel embarrassed if he didn’t. He nodded. Before he could ask Vanilla held her finger up to keep him quiet. “Look through there,” she pointed at the telescope. “Tell me what you see.” Billy leaned into the eyepiece. He saw exactly what he expected to see.
“Black sky and twinkling stars,” he said. He shrugged and leaned back from the eyepiece to look at Vanilla. He felt the resistance of frozen time around him again as he moved. “Heeeeey. How does that work?” he said. Vanilla winked at him.
“There you go,” she said. “Think about that…,” she pointed at the sky. “…for a while. We’ll talk about it after your questions. What do you want to know first?” Billy narrowed his eyes and tilted his head.
“Well, now I want to know why you’re so sure I had questions?” He asked. Vanilla nodded.
“That’s a good one,” she said. Vanilla thought for a moment then held her hands out in front of her as if she were holding an invisible box. “Okay, let’s say you have an organized drawer of whatever. Socks, soup cans, a place for everything and everything in its place, right?” she asked. Billy nodded. “Great, now. One day you go out and buy a lot more stuff. You come home and throw all the new stuff in the box on top of everything that’s already organized. Your plan is to kind of sort it out it little by little every time you reach in the box.”
“No. That’s a horrible plan I’d organize it then and there,” Billy said. He sounded insulted. Vanilla giggled and dropped the invisible box.
“Maybe. The point is that’s how your mind works. Last night you got a lot of new information dumped on your brain. So much that you don’t even know what you know yet. That’s why you have questions.”
“How much could he have known? He wasn’t even Awakened yet.” Billy asked about last night’s victim.
“You absorbed his soul, not his brain,” Vanilla said. “What else is on your mind?” Billy decided to finally ask the question that woke him up.
“What’s the Void?” he asked.
“Ha!” Vanilla laughed then wiggled her fingers at the space between them and opened a small, apple-sized portal. The small black hole hovered in the air facing Billy.
“On the other side of that portal is a different Earth. But to get there we travel through the Void.”
“Huh,” Billy scratched his head. “I was so curious that I thought it’d be more interesting.”
“It is,” Vanilla said. “but you’ve never heard of her.” Billy swiveled his head around to scan the lakeshore but did not see anyone.
“Her who?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you right now, but this is a fantastic learning opportunity,” Vanilla said. She placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled down at him. She did not look as sad as a few minutes ago. “Last night you learned something you didn’t already know. When you asked about the Void that was the first in a long line of questions that won’t end until you hear her name.” Vanilla tapped his forehead. “And then you’ll have a million more. So I want you to pay attention to how you feel when I say it. Okay?” she asked. Billed looked up at her and nodded, then he closed his eyes to listen.
“Ready,” he said.