“Thank you!!” Jane shrieked with delight. She reached out and wrapped her arms around Carol for a one-armed hug; she was careful to hold the small gift-wrapped box out of the way with her other arm. The two friends met for breakfast at a cafe. Jane was the first to arrive and she chose to sit outside to enjoy the cool October morning. She had just chosen a table when she noticed Carol dashing up to her with a gift. After they separated, Jane grinned. “But my birthday’s on the 10th.”
“Yeaahh..?” Carol nodded as the two women sat down at the table.
“Today’s the 9th,” Jane said. She smiled when Carol whacked her forehead with her own hand.
“Sorry,” Carol apologized but Jane shook her head.
“Better early than late!” she joked. She set the gift on the table and pulled at the pink bow to open it. She was interrupted by a yell A woman screamed from a nearby table; Jane and Carol both looked for the commotion.
“What the hell!?” Carol blurted. Two bleached-white skeletons approached the outdoor section of the cafe. The patrons crowded by the door to get back into the cafe; but, the staff was quick to block the door to keep the skeletons out. Carol stared at the skeletons trying to process the situation; then, she noticed a black hole open in front of her and Jane. A tall pale woman in a black flowing dress stepped out of the dark portal. She looked at them and Carol’s eyes drifted up to a pair of bone-white horns twisting out of the woman’s inky-black hair.
As she stepped out of the hole, a second, smaller, horizontal portal appeared between her and Carol. It hovered higher than the tip of the woman’s horns. A scrawny girl with frizzy, golden curls fell out of the second hole.
“Ow!” she yelped when she landed on the concrete butt-first.
“Hola, Luna,” the woman smiled at the girl.
“C’mon!” Jane whispered at Carol to get her attention. She squeezed her friend’s hand and tried to lead her away; but, Carol could not think clearly enough to move. She kept her focus on the strange woman and the girl, but she noted more and more skeletons arriving in her peripheral vision. They seemed to be walking out of portals like the woman.
“B.-Ballisea?!” the girl sounded equal parts impressed, shocked, and terrified. She made a point of standing up while defiantly staring at the horned woman. However, the moment she was on her feet she took a wise step back; a step closer to Jane and Carol. “Mundo called you to give me a ride?”
“Little one, please,” the woman said with a playful sigh. The sharp smile never left her lips. “No one asks me for favors.”
“Then…,” the girl looked around them. The gated patio was mostly empty except for the two women behind her. The patrons that could not get into the cafe ran away to try and find somewhere safe. Everyone inside the cafe stared eagerly out the window. More than a dozen skeletons surrounded the patio but none of the skeletons crossed the gate yet. All the cars on the nearby street were abandoned in a rush. “What am I doing here?” she asked.
“I didn’t get your name last time,” Ballisea said.
“Astrid,” the girl replied.
“Thank you, Astrid. Off you go.” A black hole opened in front of Astrid.
“Get ready…,” Jane whispered and squeezed Carol’s hand again. She tugged her friend’s hand in the direction of Astrid’s portal to signal her intent.
“That’s it?” Astrid asked. “You just wanted my name?”
“For now,” Ballisea replied. “Bye-bye.” At her words, the skeletons surrounding the patio climbed over the short fence. Astrid shrugged and walked into the portal.
“NOW!” Jane shouted and dashed to follow Astrid. To her surprise, Carol moved with her.
“Ummmmm, not you,” Ballisea said. Her tone sounded like it was a completely unimportant stray thought. As if she were choosing a flavor of ice cream. Saucer-sized black holes appeared all around Jane; and, only around her. White skeleton arms shot out to block her path. Carol stopped running and looked at her friend, then she looked at the black hole.
“Your friend is already dead. All them,” Ballisea said. The sky began to darken and turn red. “Make a choice,” she said.
“I’M SORRY!” Carol yelled. She ran into the portal without looking back.