Heart & Sun

“God damn Corazónes,” Ballisea grumbled to herself. She glared down at the curly-haired teenage girl. “Fine,” she added. The tall, horned woman made a gesture with her hand, and the skeletons surrounding the girl sunk into black holes. The portals raining bone soldiers from the sky also closed.

“Forever,” the girl reminded Ballisea about their agreement.

“For now,” Ballisea said. She smirked at the girl.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Libi,” the girl replied with full confidence. She saved her Earth from certain destruction using only her words and determination. She wasn’t afraid of the pale woman with bone-white horns.

“How would you like to travel and see other universes? This Earth is one out of an infinity of alternate universes. With your abilities, you could save quite a few of them.” Libi narrowed her eyes at Ballisea. She’d always had a good intuition about people lying to her, and she could tell that the offer was genuine. Even if the timing was suspect.

“You’re just trying to get me to leave,” Libi said.

“I’m giving you a chance that you would never have had, nor will again. You probably didn’t know that there are others like you,” Ballisea said. Libi flashed back to moments ago, Ballisea said something that made her think.

“A…corazón?” she asked. Ballisea nodded. “I’m a heart?”

“You’re Unique,” Ballisea said.

“Then how can there be others?” Ballisea sighed and shook her head.

“You’re unique because of who you are, not what you are. Why is that so hard for people to understand? You are Unique Soul #27, El  Corazón. That soul in…,” Ballisea gestured at the teenager. “… in that body make a Unique you that isn’t found in any other universe. So, would you like to see the multiverse and meet others like you, or do you want to stay in the small pond of your home Earth?”

“I…,” Libi paused for a moment, then nodded to herself. “… I want to travel,” she said. The moment the words left her lips, the ground disappeared under her; and, she was swallowed by a black hole. Ballisea sighed in relief.

“Finally,” she said. She immediately reopened black portals in the sky to start raining skeletons again. But, after a moment faint guilt began to burn in the back of her mind. She sighed again. “That’s going to keep bothering me,” she grumbled at the gnawing sensation. “Better deal with it now.”

The bones raining from the sky never reached the ground, they were swallowed by black holes once she realized she needed a different tactic.

A black hole appeared in the air next to her; a mountain of a woman fell out and landed on one knee. She stood, taller than Ballisea.

“Shatter it,” Ballisea said. The red-haired giant raised her fist for momentum and brought her fist down fast. The instant before she made contact, a black hole opened under her fist to absorb the blow. Ballisea sighed.

“Nevermind,” she said and dismissed the giant with a wave of her hand; she sunk into a black hole. It happened slower and more controlled than Libi’s exit. Then, Ballisea sunk into her own exit, mumbling on the way out. “God damn Corazónes.”

Death & Experience

.

“What if I say, ‘no’?” Kyle asked. Elsa shrugged under her black cloak.

“You stay here until you change your mind,” Elsa replied. She gestured at the elegant bathroom around them. Kyle had a bad night. An overflowing toilet and a slippery floor guaranteed he’d never have a chance to propose to his girlfriend. It was the only reason they were in the upscale restaurant. He went to the restroom to find his nerve and never returned.

He managed to see his girlfriend for a moment during the initial commotion of someone finding his body. But, Death showed up shortly after and kept him from going after her. Now, paramedics were carrying his body out and he was left alone in the restroom with Elsa.

“As a ghost?” Kyle asked. Elsa half-shrugged and half-nodded.

“I guess, technically. Sure,” she said.

“I’m going to stay,” Kyle said decisively. Elsa nodded at him.

“‘Kay,” she said. “How long?”

“Uh..,” Kyle hadn’t expected Death to be so accommodating. But, he also didn’t expect her to be a young woman in her early 20s with a chestnut brown ponytail. She looked like a fresh-faced intern on her way to becoming a permanent employee. “…Forever?” he said. Elsa grinned at him and shook her head.

“Let’s start with a shorter timeframe first,” she said. “I’ll come to check on you in a year, sounds good?” she asked.

“And I can still say no then too, right?” Kyle asked. Elsa nodded.

“Sure, if you want.”

“Great! I’ll take the year!” Kyle blurted out. He immediately began wondering how to best haunt his girlfriend to let her know he was there.

“You got it,” Elsa replied. Then, Kyle blinked. The second he opened his eyes Death spoke up.

“Ready?” Elsa asked.

“But, you just gave me a year,” Kyle whined. Elsa nodded.

“Yeah, I did. Do you want another one?”

“It hasn’t even been 30 seconds!”

“No, it’s been a year,” Elsa nodded. “But, you blinked and missed it,” she grinned. “I can prove it,” she walked out of the restroom and encouraged Kyle to follow her. He hesitated for a moment, but his curiosity got the better of him.

He exited the bathroom expecting to find the staff cleaning up and the patrons gone after his accident. Instead, he found an empty, dusty dining room full of cobwebs.

“Congratulations,” Elsa said with a giggle. “Your accident ruined their reputation. They closed three months after you died and haven’t been able to sell the location.”

“But you said I could stay,” Kyle complained again.

“And you can; I have to make sure you don’t affect anything. The easiest way to do that is to time-lock you.”

“But, I don’t get to experience anything like that,” Kyle said. Elsa nodded.

“Well, that would be cheating. You’ve had your turn at experiencing life and now you have to get in line again if you want another turn. Just like everyone else. Other people want to enjoy life too, you know.”

“Wait… again? I get another life?” Elsa shook her head but smiled.

“Where do you think I’m supposed to take you?”

Sharp Ruby

“I promise I won’t say anything!” Ken begged. The mid-40s archeologist sat in a brilliant, solid gold office. The walls, floors, and furniture all shined and sparkled. He noted the cushion on his solid gold chair seemed to be made with golden threads when he was escorted in by armed guards. After his promise to stay quiet, he took another sip of the golden liquid his host offered. He didn’t know what it was, but it was cool and delicious. Well needed after his trek to El Dorado.

“I’m sure you can see things from my position,” Ruby said. “It’s nothing personal; but, I can’t afford to take you at your word.” In her human form, Ruby resembled a young woman in her early 20s. But, her skin consisted of translucent, red crystalline scales. She wore a crisp white shirt with a red silk vest and matching bow tie. She eyed Ken through a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. “However, we do offer several different options for how you’d like to proceed.”

Ken glanced back over his shoulder. The pair of guards that found him were still in the room at attention. They wore white security uniforms and were human as far as Ken could tell. He was glad they told him he’d be meeting a dragon before he got there. He turned back to Ruby and chuckled nervously.

“Uh… do any of them involve me living through this?” he asked. Ruby smiled and shook her head.

“All of them do,” she said. “We’re not monsters; we just like our privacy.”

“We?” Ken asked. “Are there more dragons here?”

“Well, you’re already in on it. There’s no harm in explaining it further; you’re keeping the secret anyway,” Ruby smiled. “I know what it’s like to have unanswered questions.” Ruby lifted her hand and gave the guards a dismissive gesture. Ken turned and watched them exit the room and close the golden door behind them.

“My name is Ruby,” she said. “And, ‘We’ is a company named Sharp Development. I run one of their dragon spas.” She gestured at the golden room around them.

“A SPA!?” Ken blurted out. Ruby nodded.

“Dragons like to relax too, you know. Both Sharp Development, and our dragon clients value privacy. Unfortunately, I need to remove you from this Earth to guarantee continued secrecy.”

“You said I wasn’t going to die!” Ken whined. Ruby nodded.

“Sharp Development has branches on thousands of alternate Earths. It’s as simple as moving you to one of those. We will provide all your necessities while you find your footing on your new Earth. If you like, you’re even welcome to come work for the company.” Ruby pulled out a red crystal clipboard pre-loaded with forms and placed it before Ken with a pen. “It’s not anything you have to decide right this minute, but I do need you to sign this non-disclosure agreement before we continue finding a spot for you.”

“NDA?” Ken asked. He found the situation amusing and chuckled to himself as he signed it. Ruby nodded.

“Even if you choose to join Sharp Development, what we do here is to be kept secret from other Sharp Employees,” she explained the papers he didn’t read. “If word got out that we are a dragon haven, we’ll have hunters coming in from every universe.”  Ken tilted his head.

“Wait. I’m willing to believe there are alternate Earths… but, don’t they all have their own El Dorado?”

“It’d be considerably easier to find if there were one per Earth,” Ruby said. “The myth of El Dorado developed because the city moves around, we don’t spend too long on any one Earth.”

“You move the whole city…. to another Earth?” Ken asked. Ruby shook her head.

“I don’t, Ms. Sharp’s assistant does the move for us.”

“Oh,” Ken said. It was all he could say. He could point out that he was amazed the city was moved at all; and, didn’t mean to imply that she herself made the move. But, he was in awe that it sounded like the city was moved by a single person. It made him think the company was definitely something he wanted to be part of.

“So, let’s talk about placement. Where do you see yourself,” Ruby asked. “Tell me about the Earth you want to live on.” Ken shook his head.

“I want to join Sharp Development. What kind of jobs can I find?” he asked.

“Every industry you can think of and several you can’t imagine; it’s a wild multiverse out there,” Ruby smiled. “Too many to go through here. But, Ms. Sharp has a special recruitment server. It’s like a perpetual job fair so I’ll send you to take a look around.”

“Thank you, Ruby!” Ken said excitedly. Ruby smiled.

“Don’t thank me,” she said. “Just keep your mouth shut.”

Sharp Arrow

Heather sighed in relief as she stepped into the main chamber of the pyramid. The heat of the sun was replaced by a welcoming, cooler temperature indoors. Heather jokingly wondered to herself whether the pyramid had central cooling.

The floors and walls of the main chamber were made of all white stone and, surprisingly, glass. Heather approached a small table in the center of the room and found a red pitcher full of ice water, and several cups on it. There was an inviting white sofa with several red pillows on it next to the table.

“I’m either dead or crazy,” Heather mused while she poured herself a cup of water. “Ah, well,” she sighed and sat down on the couch to sip her water and take in the situation. Heather was okay with being dead. She joined the race across the desert knowing it was dangerous. She was required to sign several waivers to be allowed to compete alone.

“You got a death-wish lady?” was the question put to her at every step. She didn’t. Something in her told her she needed to cross the desert alone. She knew it as confidently as she knew two plus two equals four. Of course, she didn’t expect to get lost and lose her supplies on the second day due to an unexpected sandstorm. She wandered for several hours in the direction she hoped the starting line was. Then, Heather spotted a medium-sized, white pyramid.

“Oh, what the hell?” Heather decided to check her phone on a whim. On the one hand, she didn’t expect to find a signal; but, on the other hand, she didn’t expect to find an air-conditioned room with a pitcher of cold water. Heather checked wifi and found a single unsecured access point labeled ‘neXus Assistance’. She touched the button to connect, then immediately dropped the phone. It vibrated in her hands and startled her. She laughed at herself as she picked up the ringing phone from the floor and answered.

“Heather here, what’s up?” she asked out of habit. Before she remembered her predicament and asked for help, a woman spoke up on the other end.

“Hello! My name is Kelly and I’m calling from the Club neXus Resort. Are you in need of assistance?”

“YES!” Heather blurted out. “Sorry. But, I got lost in the desert, I don’t know how to get back to safety.” 

“Not a problem, Heather,” Kelly replied. Her voice carried a practiced, professional cheer. “Okay, do you see a portal?” Kelly asked.

“Huh?” Heather stood from the couch and looked around the room; she spotted a black hole floating in the air behind the couch. “Is it black?” she asked.

“That’s the one. Step through that, and we’ll have you home in two shakes.”

“Thanks!” Heather walked around behind the portal and walked into it. She passed through it and ran into the back of the couch. “Hey, Kelly, that didn’t work,” Heather said as she rubbed the spot on her stomach that ran into the top of the sofa.

“Oh, nuts. I’m sorry. I should’ve asked first, what’s your favorite number?” Kelly asked.

“52,” Heather said. She paused for a moment in surprise; she didn’t know she had one. Then, she asked, “Why?”

“One second please, I need to put you on hold,” Kelly replied. Then, Heather heard soft, unfamiliar music. Heather wandered around the couch and sat down again to sip water while she waited. After about five full minutes, Kelly returned to the phone.

“Thank you for your patience,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, I am understaffed at the moment. I can’t spare a valet to guide you to safety. However, I’ve been authorized to distribute nodes as needed.”

“Awesome,” Heather replied. “What’s a node.”

“I’m sending it to your phone now. Hold on, please,” Kelly replied.  Heather’s phone started vibrating in her hand. She was ready for it this time and held on. She moved it away from her ear and watched it in her hand. The screen cracked and the vibrations intensified; it began to crumble in her hand. After a few seconds, it stopped. Her once top-of-the-line phone was now a pile of white dust.

“Hello?” Heather heard Kelly’s tiny voice coming from her hand. She squeezed and found a thin, glassy rectangle hiding under the white powder. She put the transparent card up to her ear and spoke into it like a phone.

“Is this a node?” Heather asked.

“It is. You can use that to call Club neXus any time; and, it’ll help you get home. Good luck, Heather,” Kelly said and disconnected.

“Huh,” Heather inspected the node. The transparent surface lit up to display an interface that looked almost like the one she had on her phone with a few extra icons. One icon was labeled, ‘Home’ and showed a red arrow. Heather clicked the arrow, but the display didn’t change at all. “Really?” Heather laughed and shook her head. Just when she thought things were going to get easy; they didn’t. Heather sighed and her eyes glanced upward. Something red in the air caught her attention. She walked toward the red arrow hovering in the air; it moved out the door as she got closer.

“That’s more like it,” she said with a smile.

Recess. Riot.

“You can’t be serious,” Commander Jennings said. He stared at the group of children in disbelief. It was a small class of around 15 six-year-olds; several of them had bright colored hair. In front of them stood a tall 14-year-old girl with spiky white hair and her arms crossed; bored.

“Mr. Jennings, you’re hardly in a position to complain. You requested help; Sharp Development is here to help,” Dana Sharp said. The pale woman in a white suit stood before the Commander with her assistant, Melody, standing next to her.

“But,.. they’re kids,” the Commander pointed out while shaking his head frantically. “I never expected our S.O.S. to reach an alternate universe. I don’t know how you do things over there, but we don’t sacrifice children on this Earth.”

“I don’t either,” Ms. Sharp replied. “Nor do I limit their development with my beliefs. This is a Unique group of children, each one of them is stronger than any of the monsters attacking your cities. Your infestation is honestly a bit of a reward for their hard work; a play date you could say.” Commander Jennings glanced at the children again; they remained quiet while he talked to Dana. He was surprised at how well behaved they were and decided he didn’t know everything about the universe they came from.

“Alright, let’s see some proof first. Before I give the order to throw a handful of first graders at the rampaging monsters,” Commander Jennings said. He motioned for the group to follow him and led them out of his office and toward the motorpool. He reached the decommissioned Sherman on display and pointed at it; it may have been too much but he had other things to deal with. If they weren’t going to be able to help he needed to keep searching.

“Let’s see one of your kiddies move that,” he said.

“Dread,” Ms. Sharp nodded at the tall girl with white hair; the girl spoke up.

“Riot, you’re up,” she said. The group of children whined as one while a small orange-haired girl walked toward the tank with a nervous smile. The tiny girl reached the tank’s tread and squatted; she stuck her hands under the tread and pulled upward. She made a grunting sound as she shoved it up. She lifted the tank surprisingly easily, but she froze once she locked her arms and legs under it. She held it up and strained while she pondered her next move. Commander Jenning’s eyes went wide in surprise. They were stronger than any human on his own Earth, but, the monsters were far more heavy-duty than the tank. If that was as much as they could do, they were still too weak to help. Before he gave his decision to Ms. Sharp, the group of children began chanting and cheering.

“RIOT! RIOT! RIOT!” He looked back to the girl lifting the tank and noticed a faint orange aura collecting around her as the kids cheered.

“YeeeeeAAAAAGH!!!” Riot yelled and heaved the tank using the strength her friends gave her. The tank launched upward; it arced up and landed upside down over 100 yards away; luckily not on any buildings.

“….They’re… all that strong?” Commander Jennings asked.

“At least,” Ms. Sharp replied. “Riot is both the weakest and strongest student we have; you haven’t seen her real strength yet.”

“I believe you,” Commander Jennings nodded. “Alright. The United States formally requests assistance from Sharp Development in dealing with our monster infestation.” Ms. Sharp smiled and nodded; the group of children cheered.

“Wonderful,” Ms. Sharp said. Melody gave Commander Jennings a clipboard loaded with several forms that she wasn’t holding seconds before. He had no idea where she pulled it from. “I just need a few signatures from you first.”

God. Damn.

“I am,” Dillon smiled. He leaned on the counter and smiled at the young woman that asked him if he was God. She introduced herself as Penny the moment she walked in. She was there to see him specifically; she’d been chasing a rumor that God worked at the gas station.

“You have proof, right?” Penny asked. “Unless the whole town’s in on it.” Penny questioned over two-dozen townsfolk that witnessed Dillon’s divinity. Their descriptions of the events made perfect sense to Penny; but, she needed to see for herself to be sure.

“Oh, sure,” Dillon nodded. “I can prove it. The question is, what’s in it for me if I do?”

“I’m sorry?” Penny tilted her head and laughed at the suggestion. “You want, what, a fee to prove you’re God. That already proves you’re not.” Dillon shrugged.

“You came up to me wanting to see proof. Believe me or not, I don’t care what a stranger thinks. The town believes in me; that’s good enough,” he said. Penny sighed because he was right. And if she didn’t see what he was claiming as proof she wasted the entire trip.

“Alright, how much?” Penny asked. Dillon shook his head.

“No money,” Dillon winked at Penny. “Let me take you out for a night you’ll never forget, the way only a god can.”

“Whoa there, Jr.; I’m not interested in cradle robbing.”

“My body’s 19, but my mind is older than you can imagine,” Dillon said. “I’ve got eons of experience with the ladies.”

“Is that right?” Penny asked. She didn’t believe him for a second, but she did find an opportunity to make some headway. Dillon nodded with a smug look on his fresh, young face. “Okay,” Penny leaned closer with her face inches from Dillon’s.

IF you can prove you’re God, I’ll give you one date. One chance to impress me with those sexy eons of yours.”

“Deal,” Dillon grinned. “So, what kind of proof do you want?” Penny briefly considered dragging out the encounter to make him sweat; but, she had other things to do. She decided to get to his proof as quick as possible.

“I’m big into technology. If you’re God and you know the future then you can show me what future cell phones look like, right?”  Penny asked.

“That’s it?!” Dillon asked. “People have asked me to control the weather, or rewind time; I even had one little girl ask me for a unicorn.  But you just want to see a phone from the future?”

“A super-advanced one!” Penny chimed in.

“Well, there is no, ‘super-advanced’ phone,” Dillon said as he reached into his pocket. “Past a certain point, nanomachines enable mind to mind communication. But…,” he pulled his hand out of his pocket holding a small glass rectangle; then, placed it on the counter.  “…this is that point. It’s called a node.”

“It’s just a piece of glass,” Penny said as she reached for it. Dillon tensed up briefly. He almost stopped her, but he decided there was no harm in letting her look at it. She didn’t know what it was.

“Oooh,” She added. As soon as she collected it, the node lit up to display the time.

“So, I’m off work in an hour,” Dillon said. “Where do I pick you up?”

“For what?” Penny asked. Dillon chuckled.

“Your date with a god,” he said.

“Oh. No, that’s not happening,” Penny replied. She set her purse on the counter and began to dig through it.

“You’re welching on God?” he asked. Penny shook her head and found what she was searching for in her purse.

“Please,” she said with sudden condescension in her voice. “All you are is a wannabe that got lucky and found a node,” Penny said. She placed his node down on her side of the counter.  “Worse is, you haven’t even used it for anything more than what are essentially parlor tricks.” Dillon shrunk inside himself as Penny called him out. In the back of his mind, he always knew there’d be others that knew what nodes were and what they were capable of. But, he hoped there would be more warning when he met someone else.

Penny raised her hand up for momentum, then brought it down on Dillon’s node. He caught a glimpse of a node in her hand as she did. He was too surprised with the fact that she had one too that he didn’t have time to try and stop her action. She slammed her node face down against his. The glass flashed with a red light at the moment of impact, and the node retained the red glow. After a moment, Penny collected the red glowing node. She tapped one corner on the table and the red light flaked off like old paint; the particles disintegrated before they landed on the counter. After several taps the node was once again clear.

“Thanks, Jr.” Penny said. She slid his node back to him across the table.

“What’d you do?” Dillon asked.

“I revoked your permissions,” Penny said. “You’re no longer the god you pretended to be.”

“What?!?” Dillon grabbed the node and started swiping and tapping at it frantically; none of his commands were happening. “Why!?” Penny smiled as she hoisted her purse to leave.”Well, we can’t both be in charge.”

Travel Advice

“Whoa,” Terri wasn’t prepared for the sudden darkness. The train had just pulled away from the station before it suddenly entered a tunnel. She didn’t see anything that looked like a tunnel as she boarded. Terri was very aware of her shortcomings; paying attention to her surroundings was not one of her strengths.

She felt a slight concern flutter in her stomach when no lights came on in the cabin once they entered the tunnel. She sat still in pitch black, unable to see her hand in front of her face. Terri managed to keep her calm by trusting the other passengers around her; they weren’t panicking so she wouldn’t either. Then, sunlight filled the train again. Terri faced out the window to watch the landscape roll by. In the back of her mind, she wondered if the sun was a little bit lower in the sky than when she boarded at 10 in the morning. She spotted something white in her peripheral vision before she spent too much time thinking about the sun. She faced forward and gave a sharp, surprised inhale.

A mountain of white fur was seated in front of her; she glanced up and recognized the polar bear’s head from behind. Terri swiveled her gaze and checked the strangers seated across the aisle. None of them seemed the slightest bit concerned about a bear among them.

Terri noticed the woman one seat ahead of her, across the aisle, turned and faced the polar bear directly.

“Could I trouble you?” the woman asked the bear while she pointed at it. Terri watched the towering animal shake his head; she heard a low, gravelly voice.

“No trouble at all,” the bear said. It stretched out its paw across the aisle holding a newspaper.

“Thank you,” the woman smiled and took the paper from the bear. Terri considered herself to have a very level mind; she felt that staying calm was her best strength. She wanted to imagine that she wouldn’t have sat down behind a polar bear if she had noticed him.

If he wasn’t a polar bear when she sat down; and, no one else seemed concerned. Maybe he wasn’t one at all. Terri sighed and dug her node out from her travel bag.

[Hey, so. I’m pretty sure I’m insane now. -Trri] She sent a Whisper to her friend. Terri wanted to ensure Katie would be prepared for her oncoming irrationality.

[LOL. What’s going on? – KT] [I get on the train to come see you. No bear. – Trri] [We went through a tunnel, now there’s a bear. – Trri] 

[No one else can see it. Only one explanation. -Trri] [My brain broke. – Trri] [LOLOL! You’re not crazy! -KT] [Explain the polar bear.  -Trri] [You’ve never ridden Sharp Railroads? – KT] [No. Why?” -Trri] [You’re safe and not crazy. -KT] [Enjoy the ride. See you soon. -KT] [K. – Trri] She felt relieved for a moment before she was swallowed by darkness again. The tunnel did not feel as long as the first one; though, Terri chalked that up to her knowing what to expect. Instead of light filling the train; it simply became less dark suddenly. Terri could see. She glanced out the window and spotted a full moon in the dark sky.

“Huh,” she said to herself. Terri looked forward. The mountain of white fur was replaced by a balding, tan head that looked vaguely familiar to her. She remembered sitting down behind a bald man.

“Thank you,” the woman that borrowed the newspaper said suddenly. Terri looked and saw a black-furred cat-person returning the paper to the man that was a polar bear moments before.  Unsure how to deal with it, Terri turned her attention back out the window. Movement caught her attention; several somethings ran alongside the train.

“I’m not crazy,” Terri smiled to herself with a slight chuckle. She trusted Katie, but she wished her friend gave her more information.  She stared and made a mental note to ask Katie about it later. With that decision made, she let herself relax and watched the herd of unicorns racing the train by moonlight.

Sharp Curse

Jimmy stared out the window as the world rolled by. His head was pressed against the glass. He gazed at nothing in particular while he wrestled with the ‘realness’ of what he learned that day.

“Not a bad ceremony, all things considered,” Jimmy’s dad, James, said from the driver’s seat. The car rolled to a stop at an intersection; Jimmy kept his eyes on the pedestrians crossing the street and holding hands. “If I were gonna go; there are worse ways,” he said with a light chuckle.

“I’m sorry about Daryl, honey,” Jimmy’s mom, Gina, chimed in; after she elbowed James in the ribs. His parents were dressed as formally as him for the occasion. Jimmy refocused his attention out the window. The day wasn’t a surprise, he’d known about it for a while. But, he wasn’t prepared for how heavy everything felt when he woke that morning. Even the simple act of getting dressed was slowed by the enormous weight of his black blazer. His tie began strangling him as soon as he spotted the priest; he yanked it off as soon as they got back in the car for the ride home.

“I don’t get why it has to happen,” Jimmy sighed; his breath fogged up the glass.

“It’s not for us to know, honey,” Gina said. “God has her ways; she has a reason for the curse. You know, at least we can’t say she didn’t tell us about it.”

“Not that,” Jimmy replied with a subtle whine.

“Oh,” Gina replied. Now that she knew what he meant; she didn’t have an answer for him.

“That’s not for us to know either,” James said as the car accelerated again. “You’ll never know what goes on in someone else’s mind. It’s more peaceful not to try; you’ll end up adding your own insecurities into whatever you imagine.”

“It’s just selfish,” Jimmy complained.

“It is a selfish act,” James said. “But, we’ll never know what mental gymnastics they did to get there. They probably don’t either. All we can do is focus on our family and hope for the best; and, show them support when we can. It’s their decision to make.”

“But what about Daryl!?” Jimmy leaned forward on his seat and stuck his head between the two front seats to look at his dad; James kept his eyes on the road.

“The older you get, the more you recognize how little of your life you actually control,” James said; the car slowed as they turned right. “So, the best thing you can do is learn what you can control, and do that really well.”

“God’s Curse aside, you never know when a plane is going to fall on you. Your death,” James turned and faced Jimmy. “Daryl’s…. they can happen at any time. Enjoy what you can while you can. Worrying about why other people are doing something stupid isn’t enjoyable.” The car slowed to a stop. “Alright, hurry up,” he smiled at his son. Jimmy nodded then exited the car.

“I can’t believe they did it, even after all the proof. I mean, GOD! Ms. Sharp herself came down from the heavens to tell us about this curse…,” she shook her head. “And people still go through with it.” Gina glanced out the window and saw Jimmy leaving a brown two-story house carrying a backpack. His best friend Daryl walked next to him carrying a small suitcase and the boys were talking animatedly.

“Yeah,” James nodded. “Although, as far as events go; it wasn’t a bad wedding. I hope their honeymoon is nice enough to keep them married.”

Sharp Sandbag

Ned sighed as he wiped his sweaty brow and stared down at the black trap door. His crew cleared away the debris to reveal a 10′ x 15′ high metal door that was darker than any black he’d ever seen. The crew milled around the exposed door and mumbled to themselves. Even with the hot sun directly overhead, the spot they cleared up looked like a bottomless hole in the ground. The only thing that hinted at it being an opening was a crease that ran 15 feet directly down the middle. It could be felt and divided the door into two even sections, but not seen. After everyone had a chance to play with the mysterious door, Ned finally nodded at his assistant.

“Tell Ms. Sharp we found it.”

Two days later, Ned couldn’t believe his luck. Ms. Sharp allowed him to enter the door with her and her assistant. The pair of women arrived the day before with a larger crew and immediately took over Ned’s dig. He tried not to be resentful about it; it was what he signed up for. However, it irked him when her crew blocked off access. He had no idea how they breached the door even as he was lowered into the cavern below it.

It was deeper than Ned expected. He reached a point where the sunlight from the opening no longer reached him; he could not see   anything around him. He managed to keep himself calm with the knowledge that Ms. Sharp and her assistant Melody were already on the ground.

Finally, light began growing from below him. Melody held her hand raised in the air with some sort of handheld flashlight in her hand. As he got closer to the floor, her brilliant bluish-white light grew brighter. Ned landed and looked around. Despite the flood of light from Melody’s hand, anything beyond the light was impossible to see.

“This way,” Melody said. She walked past Ned and he glimpsed golden stars in her eyes. Ms. Sharp followed Melody and Ned followed Ms. Sharp. They didn’t walk very long; if Ned had to guess he’d put it at walking from one side of a house to another. As they walked, Ned spotted a faint light growing in the distance. It grew brighter as they approached, but Ned could not identify a shape.

Finally, after what felt like a mile, Ned stood by Ms. Sharp and Melody in front of a seated giant. Ned’s eyes roamed up the man’s bulging, muscular body. The white glow Ned spotted came from several white bands keeping the man in place. His wrists, ankles, chest, and legs were all locked down by glowing white bands. He was bare-chested; Ned was shocked to see his chest slowly breathing regularly.

Ned looked to the man’s face; his mouth and eyes were also covered by white bands. Ned had questions, but he did not want to be the first one to speak and accidentally wake their host.

“Tell me about it,” Ms. Sharp asked in her normal tone.

“Calavera,” Melody replied, also in her regular volume. Luckily the sleeping giant did not seem to notice them.

“And the door?” Ms. Sharp asked.

“45 billion years old,” Melody replied.

“WHAT!?” Ned yelled out. As far as he knew, even the oldest universes he’d visited were only about 15 billion years old. Anything older than that shouldn’t have been possible. He clapped his hands to his mouth, but the sharp slapping sound only added to his ruckus.

It wasn’t long before a different sound drew all their attention; the faint sound of a large chain being jingled echoed around them. The giant stirred. However, another faint sound shook Ned more than the fear filling his body. Dana Sharp sighed at him.

“Mr. Lozano, I trust it’s crystal clear why I’m firing you,” she said. “Melody, send Mr. Lozano back to camp while I take the Calavera’s soul,” Dana Sharp said. She stepped forward and pulled out an electric-blue node. It was a node unlike any Ned had ever seen before, and he’d never see it again. He wanted to protest but didn’t have a case.

“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” Melody replied. Ned nodded in acceptance as the floor disappeared from beneath him. He was immediately blinded by the sun as he felt himself crumple on soft, hot sand.

“NED!” he recognized a familiar voice as he heard footsteps gather around him. His crew rushed to help him off the ground. “What happened!?” someone asked. Ned kept his eyes closed as he faced down to avoid the sun burning through his eyelids. Ned chuckled to himself as he realized the literal interpretation. He smiled and leaned on his friends as they guided him back to camp.

“I was let go.”

Short Notice

July 19, 2019

“Ready for the final touch?” Mundo asked. The surly, heavy-set woman held the tattoo machine inches off Maxwell’s forearm. His tanned skin was covered with a freshly-inked potted ivy. Long green strands crept their way down his arm; there was an empty spot on its red pot. She released the foot pedal and leaned back in her seat when the pale college student took too long to answer. Instead, he swallowed hard.

“How’s this going to happen again?” he asked. Mundo sighed and set the machine down carefully. She was annoyed but patient; Maxwell wasn’t the first unsure Unique she woke. She offered him a cold water bottle. She felt like he was more nervous about the needle than anything else. He knew the answer but he needed a break. Mundo gave him a friendly smile and an exaggerated shrug.

“It’s impossible to say how exactly. For you it’ll probably be stats floating over the heads of Zeros,” she said. The broad woman looked out through the shop window at the bustling city street outside. “I can see most of them,” she turned back to him. “Once it happens, tell me what you see and I’ll tell you what stat it is.” Maxwell set the water down and presented his arm to Mundo again.

“Ready,” he said. Mundo nodded and grabbed his arm. She leaned on the foot pedal to start the machine’s high-pitched buzz. Mundo touched the tip to the red pot. With a slow, experienced motion she inked in the number 52 onto the pot. Again, she released the pedal to quiet the machine then sat back.

“All done.” She began prepping the plastic to protect it but Maxwell focused his attention at the stream of passersby.

“I don’t see anything,” he said. His eyes danced from head to head: blonde, bald, mohawk. All he saw was hairstyles the same as always.

“Sometimes it’s instant. Sometimes it’s not,” Mundo shrugged. “Give it time.” She wrapped his forearm. She had just finished when he yanked his hand away and jumped out of the chair.

“I SEE IT!” he shouted while pointing out the window. His head swiveled from side to side like a garden sprinkler as he eyed the new numbers floating above everyone’s heads.

“Alright. What do you see?” Mundo said. She stood from her stool and stretched as tall as she could. It wasn’t much; she was taller sitting on the stool. After the stretch, she took several steps to stand next to him and stare out the window.

“A date…,” Maxwell’s gaze hopped from head to head, then he nodded. “They’re all dates,” he pointed at a hurried man in a dark suit. He rushed past carrying a briefcase. “That one has today’s date,” he said.

“Yep,” Mundo nodded. “He’s dying today, you see their death date.”  He faced her with a concerned look.

“Can’t we do something for him?” She met his eyes; hers were narrowed with slight confusion.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because he’s going to die?” Maxwell said. Mundo nodded.

“That’s right. No matter what you do, he’s still going to die. Probably still today, but maybe you can keep him safe until tomorrow or the next day.” She shrugged then she wandered to the customer service counter. “Are you signing up to be a permanent guardian angel?” she asked him. Maxwell sighed and shook his head. Mundo pulled her own bottle of water out from under the counter and took a big gulp. She sighed after she swallowed and sat down on the tall stool she kept there. “Besides…,” she pointed out the window again. “…things change all the time.” Maxwell looked out at the crowd and picked a random, attractive stranger to check her date: it was today’s date also. He started looking at as many as he could. All the dates had changed to today’s date.  Maxwell turned to Mundo.

“What.. what’s going on? Is that supposed to happen?” He asked. Mundo was in the process of lighting a cigarette.  After she exhaled the first puff she smiled at him.

“It looks like everyone out there is going to die today,” she said flatly. Maxwell looked at her; his eyes flitted above her head; she shook it.

“It only works on Zeros, but don’t worry,” she took a long drag from the cigarette and took her time exhaling. The persistent stream of pedestrians stopped. They all stared upward. “… we’re going to die today too.” The still crowd suddenly dispersed in all directions. They ran away screaming in fear. A single white skeleton landed in front of Mundo’s tattoo shop. “Ballisea’s here.”