Island of Proof

“500 dollars!?” Lisa grabbed Lionel’s wrist as he reached into his jeans. “Bro, no way you’re dishing out 500 bucks so she can tell you the sky is blue.” She pointed at the menu board that only had one entry.

“Small sacrifice: $500.”

“I don’t even want to know what the higher tiers cost,” she said. “This whole thing screams scam,” Lisa let his wrist go but continued to state her case. She spread her arms to gesture at the quaint shop around them. They stood on one side of a large straw hut. A waist-high wicker countertop sat in the middle of the room. The floor consisted of wooden planks that wiggled at every footfall. A tall black curtain shielded the rest of the shop behind the counter from them. “Just because this place popped up overnight doesn’t mean it should look like it.” A jingling bell drew their attention to the back curtains.

An olive-skinned woman with long sea-green curls washing down her shoulders appeared. She stepped up to the counter and smiled at Lisa and Lionel. She had a bright blue star tattooed on her left cheek with a 35 in its center in golden numbers. Her outfit concerned Lisa in several new ways. The stranger wore a navy blue business jacket; but, instead of the matching pants or skirt, she wore a navy blue sarong around her waist.

“Welcome! Can I interest you in some secrets?” She asked.

“No,” Lisa replied. She grabbed her brother’s hand and tried to lead him out the door. “Keep your cash, Lionel,” she added.

“Oh!” The woman behind the counter gasped. “Did you say Lionel? I’ve been expecting you!” she said.

“So now you’re a psychic too?” Lisa said. She gave on trying to move her brother; he hadn’t moved an inch despite her pulling. She settled for crossing her arms and standing between her brother and woman he wanted to let scam him.

“My name is Isla,” she said and extended a hand over the frayed wicker counter. “Mundo said you wanted to speak to a Middleman?” Lisa glared at Isla’s hand until she pulled it back.

“We have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re leaving,” Lisa said, but she didn’t move. She knew she couldn’t leave until Lionel made the first move.

“Sorry, Miss Isla,” Lionel shook his head. “I don’t know any of those people.” Isla’s crystal-blue eyes flashed with golden stars for a moment, then cleared again. She knocked on her forehead with her knuckle twice.

“Oh no, I’m sorry,” she shook her head. “I couldn’t remember his name, I was told he would remind me of a lion. I assumed it was you,” she shrugged. “I could’ve checked in the same time it took me to assume.” Isla walked around the counter to join them. “To apologize for the confusion I’ll give you a free small secret.” Lisa sidestepped to remain between Isla and her brother as she walked around the counter.

“Alternate universes are real,” Isla said with a smile.

“YOU SEE!” Lisa whirled around and looked up at her brother. “You give her 500 dollars and she’ll say anything that she doesn’t have to prove.”

“Who said I wasn’t going to prove it?” Isla said.

“What?!” Lisa turned back around after watching Lionel’s eyes grow as big as saucers. Isla stood next to a black hole that hovered in the air.

“Of course I’m going to prove it. Want to take a look?” She gestured at the portal.

Quest for Knowledge

“Damn, it’s bigger than I thought,” Jane said with a sigh. She surveyed the spacious library around them, then nodded at her five friends. “Split up,” she said, then pointed at a fair-skinned blond girl. “I’ll go ask and take Sharon with me to help her learn.” Her friends nodded and each wandered off in a separate direction except for Sharon. Jane noticed a sign from the ceiling that pointed the way to the help desk. She turned right and paced down the main walkway lined with study tables. Sharon was quick to catch up.

“Where’s your back half?” Sharon asked about Jane’s missing centaur half.

“It never occurred to me that someone might notice it,” Jane shrugged. “I changed my display settings so that it’s only visible on official servers.” She turned left under another yellow wooden arrow. Sharon followed and saw the information desk up ahead after the turn. “Did you pick a character yet?” Jane asked.

“Not yet,” Sharon shook her head. “There are way too many choices.” She replied as they reached the information desk. A low, metal desk with a computer on top and a surprisingly frazzled librarian seated behind it. The man’s eyes kept flitting to something under the counter as the girls approached.

“Can I help you?” he smiled at them and sat up straighter.

“Hi,” Jane returned his smile. “We’re looking for a book.”

“Well you came to the right place,” he chuckled and pulled the keyboard closer to him. “What’s the title?”

“Actually I don’t think it has one,” Jane said and reached into her pocket. The librarian’s eyes darted under the desk when Jane said the book had no name. She pulled a transparent glass card out of her pocket and held it out to him. “I have a picture though.”  The librarian looked at it and his eyes went wide. He was initially impressed with the technology. The girl showed him a phone like he’d never seen before. It was as thin and small as a playing card and completely transparent, except for the bright colorful image. The librarian was about to ask Jane about her phone when he recognized the book in the picture.

It was the same black leather book that had been plaguing him since he started working at the library six years ago. The same golden lion embossed on the cover that had mocked him every morning like his own private, miserable sunrise. Each day, no matter what, he found the book waiting for him under his desk. But he’d never had anyone ask for it. The librarian had a million questions about the book and why the girls were interested in it, but he knew better than to chase a rabbit down a hole. He would willingly leave all his questions unanswered to be rid of the book.

“YES!” he nodded quickly and reached under the desk. The mysterious book wasn’t there moments ago, he dumped it into the shredder that morning. It became his own way to celebrate Friday.  He’d been waiting for it to reappear when the girls approached. But he knew it would be there when he needed it. “Here you go!” he hopped up off his chair and nearly threw the dark book at the table. He managed to restrain himself at the last second and placed it down gently.

“Thank you! We’ll bring it right back!” Sharon said.

“No, you don’t have to!” the librarian protested with waving hands.

“Thanks again,” Jane said and grabbed the book. She turned and led Sharon away from the desk.

“We don’t have to bring it back,” she said. “We didn’t use a library card to check it out.”

“Oh no,” Sharon stopped. “Do we need to go back?” Jane stopped walking at a wide intersection surrounded by empty tables and shook her head. Sharon noticed the rest of the group walking towards where Jane stopped.

“There’ll be a duplicate back under his desk tomorrow.” She lifted her node and the book to Sharon’s eye level in time to see the girl give her a confused look.

“How? Why?” She asked. Jane smiled and tapped the glassy node to the book. The book dissolved into white powder and disappeared. Jane smiled as she pocketed the node again; a green-skinned boy opened a black portal behind her.

“It’s a quest item. It has to respawn for other players too,” she said then walked into the black portal.

Deer Friend

Sharon panicked when the girl’s eyes met hers. She had been caught staring and now the teenager was headed right to her. Sharon was headed out of the mall when half a small deer distracted her. It was hard to see at first; it was surrounded by a group of teenagers. But she definitely saw light brown fur on something the size of a well-fed Great Dane. It wasn’t until the group moved to the escalators that Sharon realized the truth. The doe’s half was attached to a tan girl with straight, long, dark brown hair.

Their eyes remained locked on each other. When she was close enough, Sharon started to pick out the colors in the stranger’s eyes. They were unlike anything she’d ever seen. Instead of a segmented separation of the iris, the colors all blended together seamlessly. Her black pupil was surrounded by a dark green iris and each color melted into a lighter shade of green next to it. The girl broke eye contact once she reached Sharon and looked past her.

“The elevator moves faster if you press the button,” the girl said. Sharon turned around and realized she’d stopped by the elevators on her way out. She had been, and still was, too distracted by the fact that the girl had four legs. The girl met her eyes again and raised a single eyebrow. “Yes?” she asked. Sharon responded with the first thing she thought of.

“That’s a great costume,” she said as the elevator dinged its arrival. She decided her best course of action was to play dumb and avoid the situation. If the girl thought that Sharon thought it was a costume they could each go their separate ways. The girl’s eyes widened. She grabbed Sharon’s shirt and pulled her into the empty elevator. She held onto Sharon until the door closed; then released her.

“You can see what I am?!” she asked in a whisper. Sharon nodded quickly, her eyes flicked to the girl’s furry hindquarters then back to her odd eyes. The girl sighed and extended a hand. “I’m Jane,” she said.

“Sharon,” Sharon replied and accepted the handshake. “Why can’t anybody else see you?” she asked.

“They’re not supposed to,” Jane said, then shook her head. “You’re not supposed to. Only Uniq-.” Jane interrupted herself and tilted her head. Her eyes roamed up and down Sharon. “What’s your favorite number?” she asked suddenly.

“19, Why?” Jane’s straight face grew into a broad smile.

“Because that’s why you can see me. Awesome!” Jane cheered and pressed a button for the second floor. The elevator began to rise and Sharon shook her head.

“I don’t get how?”

“It’s kind of complicated to go into right now,” she pointed at the floor number; it changed to ‘2’. “The short answer is you’re special.” The elevator slowed to a stop and the door slid open. There was a group of four teenagers waiting by the door; Sharon recognized them as Jane’s friends. Jane stepped out of the elevator. One of the group members, a teenage boy, held up a burlap sack and nodded. Whatever was in it was leaking dark red. Now that Sharon saw all of them up close he noticed they all were odd in some way. The boy that lifted the bag looked like he had light green skin.

“We’re done already, did you get credit?” he asked. Jane nodded then turned to look at Sharon. Behind Jane, the green-skinned boy wiggled his fingers at the air.

“If you want to find out how special you are, and what to do with it, you should come with us.” Jane took a step to the side and gestured at a large black hole that hovered in the air. Only the green-skinned boy was left; Sharon guessed the rest of Jane’s friends walked into the hole. She decided she needed to find out what was going on.

“Okay,” She said with a firm nod.

Sharp Service

Danny sighed internally when he opened the door; he forgot to use the peep-hole again. He was concerned when he found a well-dressed woman on his doorstep with a large, burly man carrying a small white ice chest next to her. The cooler showed a red logo that resembled a pair of open scissors, he’d seen that logo several times that morning. He looked at the man holding it. ‘Henchman’ is the only word that came to mind when he saw the suited body-builder. That meant the woman was in charge and probably dangerous.

“Can I help you?” Danny asked.

“Mr. Daniel Peterson? 34-year old registered organ donor?” the woman asked. Danny took a half-step back into his house and narrowed his eyes at the strangers.

“Who’s asking?” The woman’s stern face warmed into a smile.

“My name is Susan Noble from Sharp Medical Services. According to our records, you registered as a donor this morning?”

“I.. yes.  I did.” Danny said. Despite the official looking logo and their information; something about the situation still seemed odd. It was one thing to follow up and maybe confirm information but Danny could only imagine one reason why the henchman was holding an ice chest. “Why?” he asked.

“The system matched you to one of our most important patients as soon as you signed up,” Susan said. She gestured at the muscled man; he took a step forward and presented the cooler. Danny heard ice rattle inside of it. “We could really use your liver,” she smiled.

“WhAT!? No, you can’t take it, I’m not dead.” Susan nodded.

“I’m a medical professional, of course, I know you’re not dead,” she sighed. “You don’t have to be.” The man holding the ice chest chuckled under his breath.

“You’re telling me your organization lets you go ask people for their organs before they die? I didn’t know it could be done like that,” Danny vigorously shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. Danny braced his leg behind the door and shifted his weight in case the enforcer tried to barge in. Susan sighed again. Her partner lowered the ice chest with a distinct look of sadness in his eyes. He turned and started walking to their car.

“Well, now you know,” Susan said. “And here’s some advice: read the fine print when you sign something. Our procedures are all spelled out very clearly. Now you’ve gotten Jaime’s hopes up and shattered them all for nothing. Because you couldn’t be bothered to take a few extra minutes and read a couple of paragraphs.” She turned 180 degrees and walked down Danny’s sidewalk towards the car. Jaime was sitting on the front seat wiping his eyes with a tissue.

Vanilla Childhood

Billy stared in awe at the plain below. Thousands of skeletons stood in a formation. Each individual one seemed to be fighting an imaginary attacker. Every punch and kick they launched disappeared into a small black hole. Billy noted several times that the boney limb did not return from the hole but the skeletons did not slow at all. They continued to attack the black holes with what they could.

“How does she control them all?” He asked Vanilla, then gave his head an extra shake. “That’s not even all of them is it?” Vanilla laughed softly then patted Billy’s head with playful patronization.

“How do you grow your hair?” she asked as she parted his black hair.   Billy enjoyed the tingle he felt down his spine. She almost never touched him; but, he felt affection when she did.

“I don’t grow my hair,” Billy smiled. “It just does.” Vanilla nodded then lifted her hand from his head and ‘nodded’ at Billy with the tip of her index finger.

“And when you do this, do you control each and every muscle fiber?” she asked. Billy shook his head.

“Of course not,” he grinned but his eyes slowly widened as he began to grasp what Vanilla was saying about Ballisea. “Let’s say she wanted a hand to pop out right here and…”  A small black hole appeared in the air between Vanilla and Billy. A skeleton stuck its hand out and nodded its finger at Billy like Vanilla had. Then it retreated into the hole again and disappeared.

“Remember, don’t ever underestimate her.” Vanilla pointed at the dark red sky. “Especially on one of her own Earths.” Vanilla rolled her eyes. “Anyway, for that action, she doesn’t pick a skeleton; she has more of them then you have cells. The skeletons can tap into her magic to make their own portals as long as it’s near her. They’re a hive-mind that know everything she does. Basically, anything she wants done; they do.” Vanilla wiggled her fingers to open a black portal. “To answer your other question; no, that’s not all of them.” Vanilla spread her arms to gesture at the fenced in, barren field around them. “This whole Earth is hers, not just the plain. It’s full of her skeletons. If we use the analogy of a human body again to give you a better idea of how many she has. This Earth could be thought of as one of Ballisea’s atoms.” She took a step towards the portal but Billy stopped her.

“Wait. How do you know so much about Ballisea?” He asked. Vanilla sighed and waved her hand at the black portal to dismiss it. She gave Billy a sad smile.

“I hoped I still had some more time with you before you asked that question,” she said. She wiggled her fingers and opened another black portal; Billy guessed his question changed their next stop. “Before I answer that…,” Vanilla waved at Billy to follow her then stepped through the portal. On the other side, Billy exited the portal into a large, spacious living room. Giant windows lined three sides of the living room, flooding it with golden sunlight. Billy saw water and several small icebergs surround them. The water extended as far as the horizon in all directions. “… I want to tell you about my father,” Vanilla said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Ballisea, but  I want to share this with someone.” Vanilla never talked about herself or her family; Billy looked forward to learning about her.

“Is this the arctic ocean?” Billy asked. Vanilla shook her head.

“This is Mount Everest on my home Earth. When I was little my dad would take me to this playpark that had a rock wall. I loved it so much we started talking about mountain climbing together when I was old enough.” Vanilla sat down on her orange couch. Billy sat next to her. “Then, he got sick. Bedridden for more than a month. My mother died giving birth, so it was just me and dad. Luckily money wasn’t an issue so I focused on taking care of him. I always tried to bring him breakfast in bed.” Vanilla shook her head. “I think it made him feel worse; like he was helpless. One day I heard him talking to someone on the phone. He was feeling sad about missing so much time by being stuck in bed and he didn’t seem to be getting better. I wanted to help him and I wished time would stop so he could get better…,” Vanilla looked at Billy. She had tears gathering in the corners of her orange eyes. “…and it did.”

AlterNet Son

“Fine,” Nathan sighed with exasperation. This was not how his birthday was supposed to be celebrated. He sat in a cramped booth at a slightly-better-than fast food Italian restaurant. “I believe you now; everyone can read everyone else’s mind…. except me.” His parents spent the last 20 minutes doing parlor tricks with other guests in the restaurant to prove their point. He was surprised so many strangers were willing to help but he guessed it came with the concept of a mind open to strangers. “So, what’s so different about me?” When he asked, Nathan noticed a familiar look pass between his parents. If he had not been suddenly questioning his world that day he might’ve laughed at the exchange. The expressions they flashed at each other were a complete conversation. Nathan never learned exactly how they perfected it but he did kind of get the gist over the years.

His mother looked at his dad through narrow eyelids with her eyes rolled up and backward, his dad’s eyes were wide and filled with panic. The look roughly translated to his dad saying, “I wasn’t ready for that,” and his mom’s response of, “I told you this would come up.” Nathan realized they were willing to let that question go unanswered if he didn’t ask; it only made him more curious.

“Why does there have to be anything different?” Nathan’s dad asked with a broad smile. On some level Nathan was glad to have a father that couldn’t lie his way out of a paper bag; but, this wasn’t the time for it. Nathan looked at his mother expectantly. She nodded. Nathan sighed but nodded too. Hers was an acknowledgment that the answer was coming eventually. After she said whatever she had to say first.

“What kind of a price would you put on the world?” she asked Nathan. “Better question: Do you think someone could buy Earth?”

“Wh-what?” he tilted his head.

“Honey, I don’t think-,” Nathan’s father started to interrupt but she waved him away and kept talking.

“Hypothetically, if someone wanted to buy the Earth. What do you think it would take for the sale to happen?” Nathan chuckled.

Hypothetcally, the world’s leaders wouldn’t ever agree to it. They couldn’t, where would all the people live?” he asked his mom. The woman smiled.

“Well that’s the biggest concern, right? The people. If a deal were worked out that took care of every resident, then no problems right?” Nathan shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess?”

“20 years ago our…,” Nathan’s mother grabbed her husband’s hand on the table when she said ‘our’. “…Earth was bought by a corporation named Sharp Development.” Nathan’s eyes went wide but his mother continued speaking. “It wasn’t this Earth.” Somehow Nathan’s eyes grew wider. His mother smiled and nodded. “Alternate universes are real, your father and I are from a different Earth.” Nathan closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. After a few seconds, he exhaled and looked at his mother in the eyes.

“I have a lot more questions now, but let’s finish this one first,” he shook his head. It was a hell of a birthday. “If you and dad are from different universes, but I was born here… why am I still the only one not reading minds?”

“It’s not actually mind reading. It’s called Whispering, it’s like a text message to the brain,” she said. The woman held her hand out above the table with her palm facing her son. Glowing blue text appeared on her palm as Nathan watched.

[Hi son. -Jimbo] the text said. Nathan looked at his dad and chuckled.

“Who’s Jimbo?”

“It’s my AlterNet character.” Nathan nodded. He didn’t know what that meant but he hoped to find out later.

“Why haven’t I learned how to Whisper?” He sat up straighter. “Are you going to teach me?” Both parents shook their heads.

“When Sharp Development bought our Earth they offered everyone a chance to start a new life in the AlterNet by leaving their body behind.”

“What’s the Alternet?” Nathan asked. The second mention of it made him curious to find out sooner rather than later.

“It’s like a giant MMO. Your father and I were more than happy to spend the rest of our days adventuring together.”

“Wait a second! You guys made video game characters on another Earth? Where do I come in?” Nathan’s mom released her husband’s hand then reached across the table for Nathan’s. She squeezed it reassuringly.

“Your father and I…” she lifted her hand. Her fingers disintegrated into white powder, then reformed again in front of Nathan’s eyes. “…for all intents and purposes ARE video game characters. The reason you can’t Whisper is that you were born on this Earth. You’re an NPC.”

Frosty Reception

“So what can I do with the Circus?” Emily asked. The silver-haired teenage girl twirled a playing card between her fingers as she talked to Mundo. The two girls stood in a school gym next to a giant floating black sphere; the dark ball was bigger than either of the two girls. Moments ago the gym resembled the inside of a large circus tent; but, Emily dismissed the card and the gym reverted to waxed hardwood floors.

“The Circus is one of the most flexible decks. You can do almost anything with it, depending on what you pair it with. Add Fantasy cards for solid healing. You can tank if you use Robots or DPS if you go with Ninjas. Steampunk will boost our resources…,” Mundo paused and shrugged. “It’s probably better if you wait until we have a full team to pick your other deck. Right now we’re just a Wizard,” Mundo pointed at the black sphere. “A cardmage…,” she pointed at Emily, “…and a druid.” She pressed her hand against her chest. “If we don’t get any crafters resource management won’t be a problem.”

“Oh wow,” Emily grinned. She was excited to be a ‘founding member’ of her first roller derby team. “I thought there was more of a team. Do we even have a name?” she asked. Mundo shook her head.

“I couldn’t think of anything. Do you have any ideas?” she asked. Emily shook her head also.

“No. Kirk might!” she looked at the large dark sphere. “Whenever he finishes making his character I guess.”

“IS THIS THE DERBY TRY-OUTS?!” A teenager shouted from the gym’s entrance. Emily and Mundo turned to see a young pale, almost blue-skinned student with his light blue hair pulled back.

“YES!” Mundo yelled back. The young man smiled and walked into the gym to join them.

“Try-outs?” Emily asked Mundo as the male student covered the distance. Mundo shrugged.

“Since we were going to make characters for you and Kirk anyway I put the word out about try-outs to fill out our roster.”

“Hi. I’m Frost,” he said when he arrived next to the pair of girls. “#42”

“Emily, #21,” she smiled and waved.

“Mundo,” Mundo replied.

“Mundo?” Frost looked surprised. “Is this your Earth? How are you here?” he asked.

“I’m not,” Mundo said. She lifted her hand in the air. It crumbled into white powder and spilled to the ground but never reached it. The white particles disappeared before falling very far. “I’m safe at home,” she smiled.

“Oh, nice,” Frost nodded as Mundo’s hand reformed at the end of her wrist. “So is this everyone trying out?” he asked. Mundo nodded.

“So far,” Mundo extended her fresh hand at Frost. “I think it’s safe to say congratulations! You’re in.”

Little Monster

“Under the bed?” Mason repeated what his daughter said. The eight-year-old girl looked embarrassed but nodded. “Aren’t you getting a bit too old for this?” he asked her.

“Yes, daddy,” she whispered quietly. Her soft voice was filled with shame.

“This is the last time I’ll help. You’re a big girl now and next time you handle it yourself.” Mason did not like being hard on his daughter but he did it so his wife did not have to. She was far harsher on the girl. Mason crouched to his knees then adjusted himself to lay on his stomach. He used his phone as a flashlight to illuminate the small pocket of darkness. He jumped slightly when a small, pale face looked at him. His daughter looked exactly like her.

“Daddy, there’s something on top of my bed…” she whispered at him. She looked frightened but her trembling slowed when Mason smiled at her.

“How did you get down here so fast?” he asked. The girl rapidly shook her head.

“No daddy I’ve been here! After I brushed my teeth I got in bed but there was someone there already. I was too scared to run to the door,” she said.

“Are you playing a trick on me?” Mason asked She shook her head vigorously. “So if I look up on the bed you’re saying I’ll see something there?” She nodded. “Alright, here.” Mason reached his hand under the bed and grabbed her tiny hand. “I want to make sure you don’t get up there as fast as you got down here. Here I go…,” Mason sat up on his knees, pulling the girl forward as he did. She still remained mostly under the bed, but she was closer to his side now. He held on to her hand and looked up on the bed. Then he crouched low again and shook his head.

“Nothing there,” he squeezed her hand. “Tomorrow, after you get a good night’s sleep, I want you to tell me how you moved so fast, okay?” He tugged her forward to stand her up on his side. He remained on his knees as she stood up then pulled her in for a hug once she was on her feet. The girl noticed her mother standing at the door; she smiled at waved but her mother looked angry. She leaned against the door frame with her arms crossed and a stern look on her face.

“She’s getting too old for daddy’s help,” her mom said. Mason shook his head and stood up.

“If she wants a bedtime snack, there’s nothing wrong with helping as a favor,” Mason said. The girl looked up at her father when he said ‘snack’ but he kept talking. “But you’re not wrong. We’ve already had that talk, haven’t we?” Mason turned and looked at his daughter. The eight-year-old girl by his side grew even more concerned when she watched her dad look at the bed when he asked, ‘haven’t we?’ She looked at the bed and saw a girl that looked just like her nodding her head with red glowing eyes.

Hand Picked

“YAAY!” Emily clapped her hands and hopped in place with glee. “This is awesome!” she said and grinned at her two friends, Mundo and Kirk. The three of them stood in the school gym. The violet-haired girl, Mundo, was helping them through the tutorial.

“Did you choose a class yet?” she asked Kirk, a brown-haired teenager. He nodded.

“Wizard,” Kirk said.

“Great, see you in a bit,” Mundo replied. She tapped at a node in her hand. A cloud of black nanos materialized around Kirk like it did for Emily. The swarm closed around Kirk and enclosed him in a large black sphere that hovered above the ground. Mundo turned her attention back to Emily. “So let’s talk about what you can do now. The tutorial covers basic AlterNet information but it’s up to you to learn how to play your class, okay?”

“Definitely!” Emily nodded enthusiastically.

“Great. Let me help you out. Each class is a bit different in how it handles specs,” Mundo noticed Emily tilt her head. “Spec is short for ‘specialization’. Each class has different things you can specialize or focus on,” she said. Emily nodded in understanding. “For Card Mages…,” Mundo pointed at Emily to make sure the girl understood what she was. “…their spec is defined by what decks they pick. Decks are themed cards like undead, fairy tales, robots, ninjas and so on.  You can choose up to two themes to work with.” Emily reached into her pocket and pulled out a playing card with a large circus tent on it.

“Zone: Big Top,” a deep male voice echoed around the gym. The white floors changed to a dark red color.

“I didn’t mean to!” Emily grew flustered then turned to Mundo. “How’d I do that?” She asked. Mundo grinned and grabbed Emily’s wrist. She lifted the girl’s hand and waved it in front of her own face.

“#21, La Mano, get to start the game with any card from their deck,” Mundo looked around at the circus-like interior around them. “And it looks like you chose the circus as one of your decks.”

Death’s Mystery

Alliane narrowed her eyes at the bright red numbers on the clock; she urged them to change. After several seconds she realized the colon was missing; and, it did not seem to be coming back. She rolled over in the bed and pushed at her sleeping boyfriend, Jonah. He slept on his back and was not breathing. Alliane glanced out the window and noticed the patio light was on; she herself turned it off before going to bed. With a sigh, she stood from the bed.

She knew it would be a while before she got to bed and stopped in her closet to change. After dressing in jeans and a t-shirt she made her way out of the bedroom, through the hall then into the kitchen. A lean young man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit was waiting on the patio for her. The patio lights illuminated him from behind and cast his shadow onto the white kitchen tiles.

“It couldn’t wait ’till morning?” Alliane asked as she slid the glass door open. The young man smiled.

“It is morning,” he said.

“I meant when the sun’s out,” she said as she joined him on the concrete slab outside her back door. She closed the sliding door behind her, then crossed her arms and gave Billy her full attention. Billy shook his head.

“There’s nothing to see when the sun’s out,” he replied. “Before Vanilla died she showed me something. She promised we’d talk about it later but…,” Billy gave a sad shrug. “…she died before that. I wanted to show you.”

“Okay,” Alliane nodded. She was glad she changed clothes.

“Thanks,” Billy smiled and turned to walk toward Alliane’s back yard. “Time is stopped right now, right?”  He looked at her over his shoulder and asked.

“As far as I can tell,” she replied. She did not have the power to stop time like Billy, but she guessed it was him when she noticed her alarm clock didn’t move.

“Then take a look through this…,” Billy stopped next to a telescope. Alliane didn’t recognize it and assumed he brought it with him. “… and see if you can explain it.”

“Explain what?” Alliane asked as she made herself comfortable by the lens and peered up at the night sky. The telescope was trained on a single glinting, twinkling star that winked at Alliane. She stared at the star for several seconds waiting for something to happen. It did not do anything other than glimmer like a star. She pulled away, looked up at Billy and shrugged. “What am I looking at?”

“If time is stopped here on Earth…,” Billy pointed up at the sky. “Why isn’t it stopped out there?”