Stopping Point

“Nice to meet you, Mundo,” Perry shook Mundo’s hand. He distracted himself from the somber funeral march playing in his head by admiring her attractiveness. Over the years Perry learned to ignore music during the handshake, then reflect on it later.

“If she’s gonna be the death of me, what a way to go,” his mind rambled while he concentrated on her cute button nose. It sat perfectly between her two bright, sparkling yellow eyes and her soft, full lips.

“If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask,” he smiled.

“Thanks!” Mundo leaned closer to Perry and whispered. “Where’s the best place to hide a body?” Perry immediately gave a full, hearty laugh and patted Mundo on the shoulder. He was pleasantly surprised they had the same sense of humor.

“Thank god I finally got someone with a sense of humor,” he chuckled. “Everyone around here is so stiff.”

“So kind of like a morgue, but less fun?” she asked with a large smile. Perry shared another laugh with her, then cleared his throat.

“Alright, I should be a boss I guess. Get to work,” he said. Mundo nodded and returned to her cubicle. Perry finished the walk to his office and sat down.

“Funeral march, eh?” he wondered what it meant. He learned his ability wasn’t as straightforward as he would have liked. He heard wedding bells when he met Sarah, his ex-wife. Perry assumed they’d be married forever. It wasn’t until a year after the divorce that he realized all it meant is that he would marry her. The song hinted at the greatest impact that person would have on Perry’s life. While he tried to give it a meaning, a soft knock came from the door.

“Come in,” he shouted. The door popped open and Mundo poked her head in.

“I have a question, is this a bad time?” Perry shook his head and smiled. He realized he loved the way her eyes half-squinted when she wasn’t sure about something.

“Come on in,” he waved her forward. “I just met her, why do I like her so much?” he wondered. Mundo nodded and slipped in, then closed the door behind her.  She sat down on the chair in front of his desk.

“Do you know what you are?” Mundo asked. Perry started to laugh, but then he realized he did not get the joke.

“Your boss?” he asked. Mundo shook her head.

“Nope,” she smiled. “You’re #15, La Pera. You’re a Unique Soul that probably has some special powers.”

“How do you know?” Perry never mentioned his ability to anyone. He spent a few years trying to hint at it, but no one ever got the hints, so he guessed no one else could do it.

“I’m a Unique too, #37, El Mundo.”

“Not very Unique if there’s two of us in the same room,” Perry laughed.

“Actually, that’s the point. Uniques are drawn to each other.”

“What’s your ability?”Perry asked. Mundo shrugged.

“Knowledge. I don’t know what powers you have, but I have an idea about how most abilities work.”

“I hear music,” Perry said suddenly. “When I meet people for the first time, I hear music.”

“Music?” Mundo asked. Her eyes squinted while she thought. Perry’s heart fluttered. “There’s nothing about music for Pears, but you said it happens the first time you meet?” Perry nodded.

“Is it always the same kind of music, or does it change?”

“It changes.” Mundo nodded.

“Okay,” Mundo sat up straighter. “For you, the way your power works is tied to your emotions. If it happens when you meet someone new, it’s usually a good indicator of your mood while you know them. It’s not about the actual song so much as what feelings that song inspires in you. Concentrate on the emotions you feel when you hear the music.”

“Really? It can’t be that easy,” Perry said. He held his hands up to quiet Mundo and closed his eyes. In his mind, he replayed the wedding march. Now that he was paying attention he felt a definite sense of obligation form in his chest and weigh him down. He shook his head to get rid of the feeling and opened his eyes.

“Wow, things make more sense now,” he said.

“What is it?” Mundo asked with a curious smile.

“When I met my ex-wife, I heard wedding bells. I assumed she was meant to be forever. Now that I think about it I heard a lot of wedding bells growing up. My parents were wedding planners. As a kid, I attended a lot of weddings out of obligation. I did it for my family. When I met Sarah, she was the perfect kind of woman my family would have wanted me to marry. So I felt obligated too…” he said. “Wow. This changes everything.”

“What about me?” Mundo asked. A small flush or red grew on her pale cheeks. “What did you hear when you met me?”

“A funeral march.”

“Really?” Mundo shrank in her seat, and her sparkling eyes clouded over. “What do you think it means?”

Perry started thinking about that right after he realized what the wedding bells meant. He was now in his mid-30s and had never attended a funeral. The only real associations he had for death was the funerals he saw on TV and a song that his father listened to all the time. On TV every funeral looked so peaceful and calming. The song his father over-played buried itself in Perry’s subconscious over the years and gave his death a sense of purpose. Thinking about the song along with the new information about his powers made Perry grin at Mundo. He looked into her eyes and knew exactly what the funeral march meant.

“That’s easy,” he said. “I’ll love you ’til I die.”  

First Gear

“Huh.” Greg stared at the watch parts scattered on the concrete sidewalk. He looked at the stopped cars in the street; they were driving by at full-speed moments ago. Greg wanted to cross, but did not want to wait for the light. He reached into his pocket for the watch. He squeezed the button too hard and the small pocket watch flew out of his hand. After time stopped.

“Well, at least I have time to think,” he said aloud. The ominous silence of stopped time left always him uneasy. Greg shrugged to himself and crossed the street as he originally planned. He was on his lunch break and decided to eat while he figured out what to do next. As he approached the entrance of his favorite burger spot a tall black hold appeared in the air in front of the door. Greg stopped walking. A pale, tall young man wearing black jeans stepped out of the hole followed by a young woman.

“They can move?” Greg stayed still. “They don’t know I can move,” he planned to stay still and see what happened. The pair seemed to notice time was not moving. They looked at the stopped cars, and peeked inside the restaurant, then they talked to each other. The woman seemed excited, then the pale man turned and looked at Greg. “Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move,” he reminded himself. “It’s just coincidence.” The couple began walking towards Greg. He fought to keep still. Once they were close enough the woman locked eyes with Greg.

“You’re right! I can see the difference!” She said with a large smile, then she waved at Greg. “Hi. Did you stop time?” Greg stared at an imaginary dot behind the red-headed woman. He did not so much as blink. The woman turned her attention to the pale young man.

“Well he doesn’t want to fix it,” she shrugged. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything else to do here, let’s move on.”

“You can fix it!?” Greg grabbed the woman’s hand.

“Maybe. It depends on a few things. First I have to know, did you do it?” She slid her hand out of Greg’s grip. He nodded.

“Yes. It was an accident!” She gave Greg an appraising look, then she looked back to her pale friend.

“He’s a Zero.. right?”  He nodded and she turned back to Greg.

“How did you stop time?”

“Uh, I had a watch,” Greg turned to point at the sidewalk across the street. “It stops time when I press the button, but I dropped it.”

“A watch?” She asked her friend. He nodded and started crossing the street. The woman followed him, and Greg followed her.

“Some Uniques can imbue items with their magic,” the man explained to his partner, and Greg also heard. Though he did not understand the explanation beyond “magic”. The trio reached the clockwork mess and the strange man knelt to poke at the bits and pieces. “Ha!” He grabbed a piece off the concrete then stood and smiled at the woman. He held out his palm to show her a small golden gear that glowed with faint golden light. “Definitely a Muerte. Take it, it’ll make your magic stronger.”

The woman touched the gear then she immediately began to glow with golden light. The gear dimmed until its light disappeared completely. After several seconds the glow around the woman dimmed and she smiled.

“That was awesome! There was tons of magic in there,” she rubbed her hands together. “I feel great!”

“Cool,” the pale man nodded. “Ready then?” He waved a hand at the air and another black portal opened up.

“Wait!” Greg spoke up. “You said you were gonna fix it.”  He asked the woman. The tall man stepped into the black portal and disappeared, but the woman nodded and smiled.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” she snapped her fingers as she stepped into the hole in the air. Time roared to life before she disappeared.

Planned Promotion

Albert stretched a hand out from under the covers. He grabbed his node from the nightstand, then yanked his hand back to the warmth under the comforter. Winter so far was the second coldest on record and well on its way to being the first. He flicked and swiped at the screen until he found the Magic Calendar app. Then, he launched the app by tapping on the icon.

“I should update my profile soon,” Albert thought to himself. The app opened to his profile and personal calendar for the day. He smiled when he saw the first couple of entries on the screen.

[7:00a.m. Read through schedule.
[7:02a.m. Get confused. Check tomorrow’s calendar]
[7:04a.m. Shrug and start your day.]
[7:05a.m. Update your profile picture.]

Albert glanced to the top right corner of the node to check the time.  6:59.a.m.

“Amazing.” He’d only been using the app for a week, and the novelty had not worn off yet. Somehow it always knew what time he would wake up. Somehow, he always had enough time to read the rest of the calendar before he did anything.

[7:15a.m. Start breakfast consisting of honey-sprinkled oatmeal, bread, and orange juice]
[7:30a.m. Brush teeth for exactly four minutes.]
[7:33a.m. Feel guilty for not following exact schedule.]
[7:34a.m. Don’t enjoy this extra minute.]
[7:44a.m. Leave house and walk to train station.]
[7:52a.m. Arrive one minute before train departs]
[7:54a.m. Get anxious because train hasn’t left yet.]  
[7:55a.m. Train leaves. Be annoyed because train left the station too late. Browse phone. Be annoyed at slow internet in train.]
[7:56a.m. Magic Calendar reminds you the rest of your day takes the train’s late start into consideration. You are on time.]
[8:17a.m. Train arrives at destination. Two minutes too late. Miss your tram because of that.]
[8:25a.m. Hop on one tram too late.]
[8:34.a.m. Arrive four minutes late at office job. Get sent to Boss’ office. Asks you if you have problems at home. “One more time and I’m gonna have to let you go.”]
[9:31a.m. 20min coffee break, already 1 minute late. Swallow sadness.]
[9:45a.m. Leave break room early because you don’t want to be late again. Get weird looks from coworkers. Send some faxes.]
[12:00p.m. Lunch break. Call a sex line.]
[12:28p.m. Lunch break over. Already sitting at your desk two minutes early. Cry Deeply]
[5:00p.m. End of workday. Catch tram to train station. Tram breaks down half way. Demand a refund.]
[5:06p.m. Walk to bakery. Eat a bagel.]
[5:07p.m. Ogle cashier. Harassment lawsuit.]
[5:08p.m. Node rings. No promotion.]
[5:09p.m. Walk to liquor store. Fifth of vodka.]
[5:10p.m. Tainted bagel. Soil pants.]
[5:33p.m. All cleaned up. Buy a gun.]
[5:34p.m. Null]
[00:00.  Null]

“Never seen that before.” Albert thought to himself. He swiped left to see the next day, and did not understand the message. Normally, the next day would have some predictions even if the finer points could not be planned a day ahead. Instead the next showed a text message.

“We can’t tell you. See for yourself.” Albert chuckled when he realized he was confused. He glanced at the clock. 7:02a.m. “Damn thing is genius.” He felt obligated to stare at the text for two minutes to try and make sense of it. At 7:04a.m. he shrugged. “Guess I should start my day.”

At 7:55a.m. Albert browsed his phone to kill time. `It took him most of the minute to find an article that interested him enough to read it. He liked to keep tabs on the local “People’s Liberation” group. More out of amusement than any real concern. He assumed the radical group was a publicity stunt. Before he read too far in the article a message took over his screen.

“You are on time! Magic Calendar reminds you that we take any and all delays into account. Thank you for your patronage. Please enjoy free music for the duration of your train ride.” Albert sighed and put the node away. While he appreciated free music, it soft-locked his device. It was a known glitch.

Albert felt at ease as he walked into the Boss’ office at 8:34a.m.  He knew what to expect, and his boss was equally calm. Magic Calendar informed Albert’s boss, Terrie, of the expected delay.

“Right then,” Terrie glanced at the Magic Calendar on her own node. “Any problems at home, Albert?” Albert shook his head, but they both already knew the answer. “Well, one more time and I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Okay,” Albert smiled and stood from his seat.

“One moment,” The blonde woman stood from her seat and walked around the desk to walk Albert out. “I’ve got some things on my calendar that you probably don’t. I’m supposed to give you a list of some of the things I do daily,” Terrie smiled. She paused at the door, but did not open it yet. “I think you’re up for a promotion soon,” She held her node up to show Albert.

[8:36a.m. Give Albert list. Help him act like a boss.”] Then she handed him a piece of paper.

“Good luck,” she waved and returned to her desk.

Albert returned to his desk and looked the list over. Some of his day made a lot more sense.

At 5:33p.m. Albert stood in a gun store paying an elderly gentleman for a weapon. The man handed Albert the gun, then he excused himself to search for something in the backroom.

At 5:35p.m. the old man returned to the front to find Albert still standing there staring at his node.

“Something else I can help you with, Mr. Albertson?” Albert looked up from the node.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you want to do?” The old man leaned against the glass counter and smiled. Albert stared at the man as if he had lobsters crawling out of his ears. The question made him realize how easily he forgot about his own wants for the past week.

“I don’t want to be holding a gun,” Albert said and dropped the weapon.

“I knew you were right for the job,” Terrie said. Albert turned toward the voice and he saw Terrie walking out of the back room.

“You did every embarrassing thing on your list without thinking,” she applauded sarcastically. “So we made you think about it.”

“You?” Albert’s node chimed to let him know his schedule updated. He checked the new entry.

[5:39p.m. Join the People’s Liberation. Promote synergy like a boss.]

Whispers of Earth

“I never told anyone the voice was female…,” Jeff said. He glanced at the doctor with wary eyes and stepped back. Dr. Tate smiled broadly, then chuckle.

How much does it really matter whether I’m male or female?”  the voice asked. Jeff ignored it and focused on the doctor.

“What?” The older man asked. “What do you mean?” Jeff’s eyes narrowed, then he looked toward the door; he half expected a burly orderly to step in and glare at him.  

See? He doesn’t care,” the woman whispered in his mind. Jeff clenched his fists in annoyance but kept his attention on the doctor.

“I never mentioned the voice was female. How did you know?” Dr. Tate’s grey eyes darkened with confusion.

“Why are you acting like it’s a secret?” he asked Jeff.

I never asked you to keep me a secret.”

“It’s in my head!” Jeff said in a near-shout, the frustration threatened to burst out. Dr. Tate took his own step backward. He inched toward a red button on the wall that would summon security. “How do you know she’s female?” Jeff hopped off the examination table and moved toward the door, ready to bolt.

“Oh,” Dr. Tate sighed. Jeff noticed the doctor visibly relaxed. The older man sat down on his rolling stool and smiled at Jeff. “You don’t know what you are, do you?”

Maybe if you didn’t try to ignore me all the time you’d have learned something,” the woman said. Jeff felt a certain smugness with the thought.

“What I am?” Jeff lifted his hands and held them out to the doctor with his fingers splayed. “I’m human.” A burr of doubt irritated the back of his mind. Most humans probably did not have multiple voices in their head. “Right?”

HAHAHAHAHAHA!” Laughter erupted in Jeff’s brain loud enough to make him flinch. Luckily, the doctor nodded in agreement allowing Jeff to stay calm.

“The short answer is, ‘yes, you’re human’. But you have abilities.”

“Like hearing voices in my head?”

“Like receiving thoughts telepathically.”

“Thoughts? You mean she’s real?” Dr. Tate nodded.

“Real. Documented, and annoying,” the greying man smiled.

Heeeeey. I heard that.” Dr. Tate nodded at Jeff’s right hand.

“Those pills are pretty popular.”

“Popular? How many people have abilities like me?” Dr. Tate shrugged.

“Not too many on this Earth. However, we get a lot of traffic from other universes and usually they can hear her.”

“Hang on. There are other universes? Doc, C’mon what’s going on?” Jeff looked around the room suspiciously. “This is a prank, right? Are you even a real doctor?” Dr. Tate nodded.

“As real as the voice in your head. I have other patients to attend to,” Dr. Tate shrugged and stood from the stool. “Take the pills, don’t take the pills. I don’t care. Come back if you have an allergic reaction.”

“Wait!” Jeff blocked the door. “What about my abilities?”

“Sorry I don’t have time to get into that any deeper.” Dr. Tate placed a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “If you really want to know you’ve got a few options. Make a new appointment with me, try to find a traveler from a different universe, or try talking to the voice.”

“The voice?” Jeff asked. The doctor’s response satisfied him enough to move out of the way. Dr. Tate nodded while he walked out of the exam room.

“She’s a Mundo. It’s her job to explain it.”

It’s not my job! It’s my career of choice!” Mundo retorted in Jeff’s mind.

“What’s a Mundo?” Jeff asked himself aloud. He stayed behind in the exam room after the doctor left.

Well look who wants to chat all of a sudden,” Mundo replied. “I’m #37, El Mundo. You’re #11, El Melón. That’s all you get for now until you help me.”  

“Help you what?” Jeff asked the empty room.


Point Man

Flash Fiction Challenge! – Location: Paradise | Object: Headphones.

“Not what I expected,” Serena took in the sights around her and her best friend, Llina. The pair of young women stood on the tallest tower of a sprawling, neon cityscape at night. Llina shrugged.

“There’s an Earth out there named, ‘Pineapple’,” she giggled. “I don’t think the name ‘Paradise’ means anything.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Serena looked over the edge to the street below. Hundreds of zombies marched through the streets. They flowed around the building like a river of corpses. “Still, I’m pretty disappointed. Hey, wasn’t zombies on the list?” She looked up at her friend.

“Oh yeah!” Llina reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a wrinkled and worn sheet of paper. “Yep. Picture with zombies,” she read from the list. “We’ll get it before we leave.”

“Nice! That’s already a second point for the scavenger hunt through Fizzle. We should stick with him,” Serena said.

“Oh good, here he comes,” Llina said. She directed Serena’s attention to a black swarm coalescing into a dark featureless mannequin. In an instant, the mannequin became their new friend Fizzle: a pale, lean young man with silver and gold guns holstered at each hip. Llina slid her grey backpack down then began to dig through it.

“Hey guys,” Fizzle smiled. “How’d ya like Paradise?” Llina finished her search and pulled a set of dark purple headphones out of her bag and handed them to Fizzle.

“It’s another point for us!” Serena said.

“Nice! And, thanks for the delivery,” Fizzle smiled and slipped the headphones on.

“No problem,” she waved as Serena walked to the edge of the building and jumped off. “We’re gonna go get pictures.” Llina walked to the edge then followed her friend down.

Unknown Comforts

“Cora?” A disenchanted barista called the name while holding up a cup.

“Right here,” Cora replied with a half-raised hand. The young woman stepped forward with a smile. The barista, “Frankie”, looked at Cora with suspicion, even though he was the one that took her order. She was used to it and handed him the receipt in exchange for the coffee. Confusion clouded his eyes when he noticed his name on the receipt, then he turned around. Cora left the coffee shop then around the corner to another shop in the strip mall.

“Good morning, can I help you?” an older woman with long salt and pepper hair smiled at Cora from behind the glass counter. Handmade jewelry and other knickknacks decorated the interior of the display case. Cora shook her head.

“Sorry, this might sound odd… Do you want this coffee?” Cora placed the cup on the counter. “I got an extra one for free but one’s my limit. If I don’t give it away it’s going to go to waste. Honestly, you’re my last chance to keep it out of the trash,” she gave a practiced shrug. “No one seems to like it black with a shot of peppermint.”

“Oh my goodness, are you sure? I adore black with peppermint,” the woman replied. Her hand inched toward the cup on the counter.  “And I haven’t had my morning cup yet.”

“Then it’s yours!” Cora smiled at the woman and pushed the cup closer to her hand. “Thanks for taking it off my hands.”

“Cora? That’s a beautiful name, “the older woman said as she eyed the cup. Then, she picked it up off the counter. “You know, it’s always nice to meet another peppermint fan.” Cora smiled as she moved toward the exit.

“Yeah, it is. My mother taught me how delicious it was, especially in coffee.” She stepped through the door and gave her mother a melancholy wave as she left. Cora walked to her car, got in, then wondered what to do next.

Normally she dropped off an “extra” breakfast plate for her dad, but he was out of town for a conference. She did not have a job, but she never wanted for money. She had a regular, rotating set of victims that she mugged every week to get by whenever she needed cash.

“Breakfast it is,” she decided to get something for herself. She reached for her phone and dialed her favorite restaurant. She learned long ago that trying to eat in a restaurant resulted in her never even getting to order. She placed her order, left her name, then took the scenic route to the restaurant. Cora left her car and walked to the entrance, but she was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

“Cora? It IS you.” A woman with a high-pitched voice hugged Cora and kissed her cheek. “How’re you doing?” Cora fought the urge to shove the woman off her to avoid appearing rude, but she took a step back. The woman let her arms fall away and gave Cora a curious look. “You don’t remember me?” She sounded offended, but then she slapped her own forehead. “Of course you don’t remember me. You were so young, and you’ve grown a lot since then.”

Cora looked the stranger over. She was a tall, wispy woman with short red hair. She was dressed in a black tank top and a long, green flowing skirt. Cora did not think she recognized the woman, but a name popped in her head as soon as she saw the thin lady.

“Mundo?” The woman smiled and nodded.

“You do remember!” Mundo grabbed Cora’s arm and pulled her into the restaurant. “I hope you’re not in a hurry, we’ve got some catching up to do.”

“Wait!” Cora planted her feet and pulled her arm out of Mundo’s hands. “You remember me?” she asked. Mundo gave her a curious look.

“Of course, dear. You used to come over and play with my nieces every day after school. Then one day you stopped coming but no one would tell me why.” Mundo shrugged with sad eyes. “Any time I asked about you, the girls ignored the question.” Cora nodded. She forgot most of her school days. The only vivid memory she had was the first day everyone forgot her. Her friends wanted to play hide and seek on the way home, but no one ever looked for her.

“How do you remember me though?” Cora asked. “No one remembers me.” Mundo laughed in disbelief at first, but then she caught herself.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Cora nodded.

“Oh dear,” Mundo stepped forward and hugged Cora again. This time the hug seemed more consoling. Cora did not mind it as much. “I’m so sorry, Cora. I should have talked to you a long time ago.”

“You know what I can do?” Cora asked with wide eyes. Mundo nodded, but then she paused and shook her head.

“It’s complicated. I don’t know what you can do exactly, but I knew you were special,” Mundo looked Cora over as if she was looking for something.  “You don’t have a tattoo, do you?”

“No, why?”

“The short version is, if you get a tattoo with the number 27 on it, people should start remembering you again,” Mundo said. Then, she tilted her head toward the restaurant’s interior. “Let’s go sit down and I’ll explain everything.” Cora nodded and took a step forward, but then she paused again.

“But,… I don’t have to, right? I mean, I don’t have to get the tattoo?”

“Well, no. I suppose you don’t have to. You want to keep living with no one remembering you?” Cora shrugged but nodded.

“Maybe? It’s not so bad once you get the hang of it.”

“What about your family?”

“I think after 15 years, the guilt might be too much for them. And I still remember them even if they don’t remember me. They’re happy and I have a good life. Why disturb it?”

Glorious Revelation

“I’m taking a pizza!” Gloria yelled over her shoulder. She paused at the door to make sure her manager replied.

“Did you pay or is it coming out of your check?” The short, bald man peeked out of his office to ask.

“Take it out of my check,” she replied with a smile.

“I’ll take care of it,” the manager nodded and disappeared into his office again. They both knew he would conveniently forget. The manager volunteering to ‘take care of it’ was his way of taking responsibility.

“Thanks, Gary. See ya tomorrow,” Gloria waved and walked out through the back door. The evening air felt cool against her skin and she smiled to herself. She looked forward to the short walk through the park.

Gloria lived within walking distance of work, and she was a fan of simple pleasures. The cool weather was perfect for sitting in the park and enjoying a pizza. She reached her favorite spot, near a giant fountain, and sat to watch the sky. She loved watching the colors change while the sunset.

After admiring the purple sky for several seconds she turned her attention to the pizza in front of her. As her eyes moved from the sky to the table she noticed a bright blue glow in her peripheral vision. She turned to find the source of the glow, but it was gone. A young woman with short, black, spiky hair sat by the fountain, in the general area Gloria thought she saw the glow. The stranger wore a long light blue trench coat and white fingerless gloves.

“Huh.” Gloria did a mental double-take. When she sat down there was no one else near the fountain. She sat close enough that she would have heard approaching footsteps. But she had no idea where this woman came from. She shrugged to herself and grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza.

“You sure?” the young woman asked. She seemed to be talking to the fountain; Gloria did not see anyone else around nor a phone in her hand. The woman must have realized she spoke loudly because she looked up from the fountain to scan the park. Her eyes landed on Gloria, the only person that might have heard her, and the stranger smiled. “We’re gonna do it. Get set up,” the woman said to the fountain, then she stood and walked to Gloria’s table.

“Hi, I’m Jenny,” she said. Gloria smiled.

“Hi, Jenny. I’m Gloria, want a slice?” Gloria pushed the pizza box toward Jenny.

“Really? If you’re offering, I won’t say no,” Jenny warned that she would happily accept the gift. Gloria nodded.

“I’m offering,” she confirmed.

“Yeah!” Jenny sat down and grabbed a slice for herself. “Thank you!”

“Were you making a wish?” Gloria asked between bites. She tilted her head toward the fountain. “I heard you talking,” she felt the need to explain the question. Jenny shook her head.

“Nah, talking to a friend of mine,” Jenny said.

“In the fountain?”

“Yep,” Jenny nodded. “What’s your full name?” she asked suddenly.

“Gloria Islas,” she answered without thinking. Jenny chuckled to herself while nodding.

“I knew it.”

“You know me?” Gloria asked. She’d never seen this woman before. Jenny shook her head.

“No, sorry. that was vague. I just meant every Gloria I’ve met was a very kind person. And you offered a complete stranger some of your pizza,” she shrugged. “You’re continuing the trend.”

“Thanks,” Gloria smiled. She did not think anything of sharing food, but she felt glad that “Glorias” had a good reputation. Jenny finished her first slice but did not reach for another. Instead, she sat up straighter and her eyes turned serious.

“Gloria, what would you say if I told you that the world you’re in is a simulation?” she asked.

“There’s no shortage of conspiracy theories. Simulation, flat Earth, lizard people…,” Gloria shrugged. “None of it affects me, so I don’t care all that much. Sorry.”

“What if I prove it to you?” Jenny asked.

“Okay. Convince me,” Gloria said. She doubted the woman would prove anything, but she knew there was entertainment value in watching her try.

“No problem, how ’bout a dupe glitch?” Jenny placed both hands flat on the picnic table. The black spikes on her head began to glow with bright blue light. The same blue glow flowed out from under her hands like water. The blue light spread across the surface of the table and enveloped it completely. When she was satisfied, Jenny stood up and pulled her hands upward. A blue glowing outline in the shape of the table remained stuck to the bottom of her hands. She stepped away from the table, turned, and placed the new table on the ground next to it. She wiggled her fingers as if typing something, then she lifted her hands from the blue outline. It remained in place and filled in as a perfect copy of the table where Gloria sat.

“Uhhhhh….” Gloria looked at the new table, then to Jenny, then back to the new table again. “Crap, you actually convinced me,” she sighed. “Now what?”

“Now you get to have fun,” Jenny smiled. She reached into the interior of her trench coat and pulled out a box of playing cards. She opened it and pulled out a single thing, transparent, glassy rectangle. Gloria noticed the box was full of them. “This is a node. It’ll let you interface with the simulation.” As Jenny explained a large white and orange butterfly landed on the sleeve of her coat.  “Done already? You’re getting faster,” Jenny nodded at the butterfly.

“Gloria this is Flynn. Flynn, say hi to Gloria.” The butterfly flapped its wings, then it sank into Jenny’s sleeve. The light blue color of her coat began to ripple and shimmer like water. Flynn flattened himself to become a design on her jacket, then he changed shape. Gloria watched the butterfly morph into a white koi fish with an orange dot on its head, then the fish swam up Jenny’s sleeve as it would in any body of water. The fish disappeared behind her back. Jenny shrugged.

“Sorry, he’s shy. Anyway, I guess we’re done here.” Jenny gave Gloria the node, then she emptied out several more into her hand and placed them on the table. “Use that one first. After you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can hand these out to some of your friends.”

“Done here? Done doing what? Where are you going?”

“Finn was reprogramming the simulation to give,” Jenny pointed at the node in Gloria’s hand. “the nodes access. I’m just passing through, this isn’t my Earth.”

“I thought his name was Flynn?” Gloria asked. Her mind was searching for any cracks in the woman’s story so that she could deny living in a simulation. She focused so much on the name her mind glossed over the mention of another Earth.

“He’s shy and fussy,” Jenny chuckled. “He likes the name Flynn when he’s a butterfly, but he likes the name Finn when he’s a fish. Anyway, I better get moving. Just a heads up. I have a friend that’s going to want to meet you, so she’ll probably show up one day. Her name’s Dirge. She’s easy to recognize, she’s got orange eyes.” Jenny started walking away.

“Why me?”

“Long story. She’ll explain it to you I’m sure. Have fun!” Jenny raised her hand part way and wiggled her fingers at the air. A tall black portal opened silently, then she jumped in.

Real Question

Owen sat down on a park bench to enjoy his lunch. He watched strangers walking by while the woman’s rant replayed in his mind.

“To break out of the simulation, a sacrifice must be made,” she said to him, only him. The frantic woman grabbed him by the lapels and stared into his eyes when she spoke, then vanished into the crowd. Owen spent his lunch hour analyzing every detail of as many strangers as he could. He searched for any hints that the woman might be right, but found none. He decided the woman was probably crazy and went back to work. Throughout the rest of the day, and even once he got home, the thought gnawed at the back of his mind. It only stopped when he managed to fall asleep.

He forgot about it by the morning and went about his normal routine. For his lunch hour, he headed for another hot dog. As he approached the vendor the same dark-haired woman stepped out of the crowd, grabbed his lapels and stared into his eyes.

“To break out of the simulation, a sacrifice must be made,” she repeated, then released him. Owen tried to keep his eye on her, but she vanished into the crowd again. No one else seemed to have heard the woman’s strange advice. Owen looked at his phone to check the date. It was definitely the next day.

“Twice just for me, huh?”  Owen chuckled to himself. “Well, this is interesting,” Owen shrugged and continued his trek for a hotdog. He sat on the same bench and watched the flow of strangers again. This time he noticed it immediately. Though he regularly sat in the park for lunch, he rarely paid attention to what was going on around him. Today he realized all the strangers were the same as the day before. He noticed the same child with the same yellow balloon lose his grip on it again. He noticed the same woman slapping the same creep that grabbed her again like the day before. “Neat.” He smiled.

After lunch, he began paying attention at work. Owen worked as a bank teller but hardly ever saw the same person. His transactions for his first hour back at work were all from strangers he’d never seen before. He began to doubt the simulation idea until he noticed an elderly woman being helped by one of his coworkers. Owen did not know the old woman’s name, but he knew she visited the bank frequently. Thinking back on it, Owen realized he had seen her every day. He looked around the rest of the bank and recognized several faces that he never paid attention to.

“Just me?” he wondered. All of his clients were new faces, but it seemed his coworkers all helped the same people. He glanced at Susan, the teller helping the old woman. She was wearing her favorite yellow dress. The same one she wore every other Thursday. The dress looked so beautiful on her that Owen noted the first time she wore it and kept an eye out for it again. After a couple of months of paying attention to her wardrobe, he was able to know what day it was by her outfit. He did not think much of it until he looked at it with the simulation idea in mind.

“AHEM,” a stern voice said in front of him. “Can you help me?” Owen realized he spaced out and faced his new customer, a balding, middle-aged man that Owen had never seen before.

“Sorry, Sir.” Owen apologized and dismissed the simulation idea for the moment to slip back into work mode. That night he fell asleep wondering about the limits of the simulation. In the morning he called in sick to work, then he dressed and drove to the bank. Instead of going in he stayed in his car and watched the doors. No one approached the bank all morning.

“So it’s for me… but it’s not aware of me?” Owen wondered. He knew if he were working there would be people in the bank. But he also assumed if the simulation kept track of him, it would know he was staring at the bank. At noon he felt a familiar hunger pang. He stepped out of his car to walk to the nearby hot dog stand but decided to try something different instead. He got back into his car and drove to a pizzeria on the other side of town. After parking, he stepped out of his car. The second he closed the door the same woman from the previous two days rushed up to him and grabbed his shirt.

“To break out of the simulation,-” Owen grabbed her hands off his shirt.

“Not interested, lady,” he said and shoved her hands aside. He kept walking toward the restaurant, but she ran in front of him again.

“You know?” She asked. Owen silently walked around her. She reached out and grabbed his shoulder. “There’s a way out!” she said. Owen shrugged. He reached the entrance to the restaurant and walked in. He was surprised when he heard the woman enter the building behind him. He sat down at a booth and the stranger sat in front of him.

“I can help you escape,” she said. Owen stared at her.

“And then what?” he asked

“What?” she gave him a confused look. “What do you mean, ‘and then what?’   You’ll be OUT.” Owen nodded.

“Uhuh. And then what? I have to find another job? Are there even jobs out there? I’m already comfortable here.”

“But it’s not real,” she stressed. Owen shrugged again but added a smirk.

“What’s ‘real’ anyway? Everything is electrical signals interpreted by the brain. Who’s to say you’re not still in a simulation out there?” he asked. “Besides…,” his smirk grew into a broad smile. “…now that I know what I know, I get to find out how everything works. I can set myself up pretty nicely here.”

Helping Hand

Hey, did you drop this?” the gentleman asked. He held up a frayed, threadbare purple sock. Sam recognized the rag as one of his socks. Specifically the sock from his right foot. The sock on his left foot was a red and green with fewer holes that the purple one in the stranger’s hand. Fear outweighed Sam’s curiosity and he bolted through the crowded plaza.

Sam only stole what he needed when he needed to; and, only from those he deemed “well-to-do”. This was the first time someone caught him throughout four years of living on the street, off the pocket change of the rich. As he ran through the crowd he realized no one seemed to care. There were no shouts of “Thief!” chasing him. He kept running, regardless, until he reached his dumping spot under a short bridge. He quickly went through the other three wallets he grabbed that day. Each of the three wallets contained several hundred dollar bills as well as an assortment of smaller bills. Sam pulled 10s and 20s from each of the three and tossed the wallets on the ground. Then he pulled the fourth wallet out, the one from the gentleman that stole his sock. Curiosity made Sam pull up his right pant leg to check. Sure enough, his right ankle was bare. Sam turned the black leather wallet over in his hand several times. Part of him was scared to open it. Sam debated dumping it without digging through it, but he had always been a curious man.

Sam opened the tri-fold wallet with shaking hands. There was no ID in the plastic window and no visible credit cards. He recognized it as a decoy wallet and chuckled to himself as he opened the bill slot expecting a $5 or $10. He found a frayed red and green sock inside.

Couldn’t be…,” Sam reached down and pulled up his left pant leg.  His left ankle was also bare. “What the hell?!” He yanked the red and green sock out then noticed a black business card fluttering down toward the ground. He moved quick enough to pluck the card out of the air and looked it over. On one side elegant gold lettering showed an address and the text, “Invitation for Samuel Hanson”.

Well, if they’re inviting me..,” Sam shrugged and started the walk into town, to the address on the card. Being homeless afforded Sam plenty of quiet time alone. He knew himself very well and did not bother trying to deny his curious streak anymore. In the past, he would waste several hours trying to fight his inner self, but he always gave in.

On the way, he imagined what might be waiting for him. The gentleman he lifted the wallet from appeared to be drowning in money. Sam expected the stranger to live in a mansion. After a twenty minute walk through town, Sam stood outside the address on the card.

It was not a mansion. It was not even a house. If not for the same well-dressed gentleman sitting on a stack of milk crates in the empty lot Sam would have doubted he had the right address. The stranger stood and waved.

“Glad you made it!” he shouted as he walked up to Sam.

“What’s going on?” The gentleman smiled and held his hand up. He showed off the black wallet that Sam found the card in. Sam’s hand flew to his pocket to double check, but it was gone. “How’d you do that?!” The stood a yard away, he did not bump our touch Sam in any way. The stranger shrugged.

“Too complicated to explain here,” he spread his arms to indicate the empty lot. “The real question is, do you want to learn how?”

“I can learn that?” The man nodded, but paused.

“I’m pretty sure. First I need to know something. What’s your favorite number?”

“21,” Sam replied without thinking. It surprised him that he had an answer, he never gave his favorite number much thought. The man’s smile grew larger.

“Yes,” he nodded. “You can learn. Not here though.” The gentleman threw a black business card at the ground. When it landed it opened a black hole on the ground large enough to jump into.

“What’s that?” Sam asked. He took several steps away from the black hole.

“Portal to the next Earth. I’ve got a few more like you to recruit.”

“Recruit for what?”

“Don’t know yet,” the gentleman replied with a smirk. “I was told to recruit, so I’m recruiting. You’re invited, but there’s no obligation.” The stranger stepped closer to the black hole and nodded at it. “I’m jumping in. Stay if you want. Come if you’re curious.” He waved then jumped in feet first.

Sam sighed, then jumped into the hole.


What’s wrong?” Milo thought the question. He sat on the sun-faded green leather seat of his school bus. The teenager noticed an uneasy feeling in the back of his mind as soon as he woke; and, it grew more uncomfortable as the morning wore on. By the time he climbed on the bus to school, he realized the anxiousness wasn’t coming from him. Though he considered the voice in his head a friend, he rarely initiated contact. He never needed to, she often chatted up a storm. She told him stories about her day or things that happened at school. Secretly Milo felt proud of his imagination for coming up with such a rich backstory.

How’d you know?” the thought formed in his mind with a girl’s voice. “Duh, nevermind. Sorry, nervous.”

It’ll be alright,” he thought as the bus reached the school. He did not know what would be alright, but it was the only thing he could think to say. The broad platitude served him well over the years when dealing with the voice. He grew up with the voice in his mind. He distinctly remembered the voice talking before he could. It was ever-present and he accepted it as a natural part of life.

Milo walked straight to his first class after disembarking the bus. He did not have any friends to stop and visit with. He was friendly enough to everyone, but never pursued any friendships. The voice in his head ensured he never felt lonely. He was the first student to Biology and sat at the tall, black, two-person lab table. Milo doodled while he waited for class to start. Then other students began filing in. He kept drawing, but as more students found their seats he felt panic growing in his gut.

I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” the thought repeated in his mind. The Biology teacher walked in and closed the door behind himself as the bell rang. The high pitched beep was drowned out. “I’M SO LATE!” she yelled in his mind. Like the silence throughout most of the morning, the stress he felt flowing through him was also new. Before he could try and console her with another blanket statement, a girl shoved the door open and rushed to step inside the classroom. The purple-haired girl in jeans and a rock band’s t-shirt stopped when she realized all eyes were on her.

“Sandra Mata?” The teacher asked. The girl nodded slightly.

“Okay, find a seat anywhere,” he told her, then he looked up at the rest of the class. “Today we have a new student. I expect all of you to do your best and be welcoming to her. Now, let’s get started.” The teacher pulled down the projection screen then dimmed the lights. Sandra found the only empty seat, next to Milo, and directed her attention to the video starting.

PHEW! I made it,” the thought came to Milo. “Sorry, there was a lot going on this morning. But now I’m in class, and we’re watching a stupid movie.”

No problem, I’m glad you made it,” Milo thought his reply. He did not bother mentioning the movie. He knew the voice wouldn’t have mentioned the movie if he wasn’t watching one too. After several spooky coincidences over the years, Milo realized that his imagination knew everything he knew.

But I am sitting next to a cute boy,” her thoughts said. Milo chuckled, amused with himself. Obviously, his imagination realized he found the new girl attractive and built a story out of that. It interested Milo enough to find out what he really thought about the girl.

Oh yeah? Tell me about him,” he replied.

What? You never ask me anything,” his mind replied. He felt a smug satisfaction growing in his chest. “You’re jealous!”

No, I’m not jealous, just bored. Tell me about him. Entertain me!” he joked. Milo hoped his mind was in an entertaining mood.

He’s kind of scrawny, but in a cute way,” she replied. Milo cast a side glance at Sandra to double check, but she was definitely not scrawny when she rushed into the classroom. Maybe his mind picked up more detail than he did. “He’s got bright blue glasses and dark brown hair.” Milo definitely did not see any glasses on her, and her hair was a beautiful shade of violet. He began to wonder what his mind was describing when Sandra nudged his elbow with hers.

“Hi, I’m Sandra,” she whispered. Milo barely heard her, but he nodded and smiled.

“I’m Milo,” he said.

And his name’s Milo,” the voice in his mind said. Milo froze. He felt thankful for the movie playing on the screen and the dim lighting in the classroom. As far as anyone knew he was watching the movie, but his mind was racing.

Hey, why were you so nervous this morning anyway?” Milo asked in his head.

I told you like a dozen times. New city, new school. I don’t know anyone here, and I was almost late today. I was late, but not enough that anyone cared,” she explained.

What’s your name?” Milo asked for the first time. He was not sure if he wanted to hear a name or not.

Are you serious right now?” she asked.

About what?”

It took you 14 years to ask for my name!” A happy flutter vibrated in Milo’s stomach. “It’s Sandra. What’s yours?”  she asked. Milo turned to Sandra and said it a bit louder.

“Hi, I’m Milo,” he introduced himself again. “I’m scrawny, but in a cute way,” he smiled.

NO WAY!” she screamed in his mind while her eyes grew in surprise. Milo gave an exaggerated shrug.

I guess, yes way,” he thought.