Vanilla Snack

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” A voice filled the air moments after Albert stopped time. The mid-20s man froze time so that he wouldn’t be late to a movie. It was the first time he ever heard anyone else during his extended moments. He whirled around to find the mysterious speaker. A woman in a flowing orange dress glowered at him through crystalline orange eyes.

“Who are you? How can you move?” Albert asked her. As much as it surprised him to see anyone moving around; the fact was that he could control time. No one else on Earth could match that.

“My name’s Vanilla,” she said. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Vanilla repeated her question.

“What? You mean stopping time?”Albert asked smugly. “Or.. rewinding?” The time-stopped pedestrians around them took several steps backward then froze in place again.

“All of it! Every time you touch the timeline, don’t you know what happens?” Vanilla asked.

“No,” Albert replied. At his question, time resumed around them for a moment. “What?” he gave her a self-satisfied smile as the pedestrians froze again.

“Well, what happens is…,” Vanilla smiled at Albert and leaned in closer as if she intended to whisper a secret. “…it lets me know that you have the power to control time.”

“What?” Albert asked, he tilted his head at Vanilla in confusion. “So?”

“So then, I come and eat your soul,” Vanilla replied with a smile.

New Earth

“That’s impossible,” Quinn glared at the guard that interrupted his paperwork. The young man trembled at the door to Quinn’s office and nodded.

“Yes, sir. But it happened; that’s why they need you.” The aged, greying doctor narrowed his eyes at the guard. 

“If you’ve been roped into playing a trick on me…,” Quinn sighed and stood from his desk. “…I hope you choose better friends at your next job.” The guard shook his head and led the way to the lab. Dr. Quinn knew the way of course, but the new guard followed his task to the letter.

After a quiet walk with several turns, they entered the university’s A.I. lab. A flock of white labcoats surrounded Dr. Quinn while squawking off questions. The lean, grumpy man held a hand up, and the crowd began to quiet.

“One at a time,” he said. He pointed at a student he recognized as being the most senior of the group. 

“It’s amazing! This way, sir!”  He encouraged Dr. Quinn to follow him to a wide, chest-high table. The table was covered by a glass case. A half-foot mound of black powder rested in the center of the table, under the glass.

“Yes,” Quinn said. “Amazing that you used a year’s allotment of nanos in just a day,” he grumbled while giving the student a stern look. The student shook his head, and even cracked a smile.

“We were trying to connect them to the Solar System Network,” the student’s eyes sparkled. “And we found something else.”

“I was told you discovered an alien life form,” Dr. Quinn turned to glare at the security guard. “Please stop wasting my time with dramatic tension and either show me proof or play your prank.” 

“Connect it,” the student sighed and glanced at his coworkers. 

“Connecting in 3…,” one of them began a count down. “2…,” Despite himself, Dr. Quinn leaned closer to the table and watched with interest. “1. Connected.” 

As soon as the connection was established, the mound of black powder moved. It ejected a small plume upward; when the black cloud cleared, it revealed a small black mannequin. The two-foot-tall toy hovered between the tabletop and the glass case.

“Welcome to the AlterNet!” a small, feminine voice came from the mannequin.

“What’s the AlterNet?” Dr. Quinn asked the student; his only reply was a broad smile. 

“The AlterNet is a network of Alternate Earths connected through nano-technology. Your Earth has been added to the AlterNet.”

“Wait, wait. What does that mean exactly? Does that benefit us in any way?” 

“Confirmed. There are many organizations that offer new Earths assistance in acclimating to the multiverse.” 

“Wait a minute…,” Dr. Quinn’s knees weakened under him, the aged doctor pulled a chair closer to the table and sat down. His eyes remained on the mannequin through the glass, and a smile grew at the edges of his wrinkled mouth. “It’s real, isn’t it?” he asked aloud. It was mostly a rhetorical question, but the mannequin answered.

“Confirmed. The multiverse exists.” Dr. Quinn’s smile grew wider.

“There are other Earths!” he exclaimed and turned to look at the students. “Do you know what this means!? Maybe not on our Earth, but somewhere out there, one of them has to have met aliens!”

“Incorrect assumption,” the mannequin said. “Alien life has not been confirmed on any AlterNet Earth.”

Holey Soul

“Tell me what you see,” Melody said. The pale, dark-haired woman invited herself into Ned’s booth and introduced herself as Melody. Then, she pointed to the empty space above her head. “I know you see something.” 

Ned had many questions, but he hoped she would give him answers in exchange for his. He never told anyone about his ability because he assumed no one would believe him. Melody not only believed him, she knew something about it. He glanced at the red-glowing, cartoon heart above her head. It confused him, but somehow that only added to her credibility.

Over the years he’d learned the basics about his ability. If someone’s connection was close by, Ned could identify their relationship. But, their icon defaulted to their strongest relationship if they did not feel connected to anyone nearby.

“I see a heart,” Ned replied.

“A heart?” Melody asked; a ghost of a smile tugged at the corners of her lips. Ned nodded.

“Yeah, it’s weird though. A heart means your strongest connection with someone is romantic. Usually, there’s an arrow through the heart pointing in the direction of the lover.”

“Usually?” Melody asked. 

“Yeah. Every other heart I’ve seen had the arrow; yours doesn’t.” 

“Interesting. Would it make sense if I explained my wife was not currently on this Earth?” she asked with a straight face.  Ned chuckled.

“Yeah, as far as the heart goes… but, not in any other way. What do you mean she’s not on this Earth?” As Ned finished his question a tall black portal opened next to Melody; a tall, pale woman in a white suit stepped out and smiled at Melody.

“Well, she wasn’t,” Melody smiled.

“What… the … hell??” Ned whispered, his eyes danced back and forth between the space above Melody’s head, and the woman in white. 

“What do you see?” the new woman asked. 

“Your heart…,” Ned pointed at Melody. “…there’s a hole in it.” Instead of an arrow pointing at the woman he assumed was Melody’s wife, a black hole filled in the center of the heart. It left only a sliver of red glow around the edges. 

“And you…,”

“Dana Sharp,” Melody’s wife introduced herself, but Ned did not meet her eyes. He couldn’t take his eyes off the empty, black space above her head. There was no other way for him to make sense of it, except to call it ’empty’. It was a hole in time and space, an absent existence. 

“…you don’t have any connections!” His eyes widened as he realized the only thing that made sense. “You don’t have a soul!” he hissed. 

“Mr. Nettles,” Dana sighed. “I don’t know if Melody made it clear to you, but this is a job interview. It would impress me significantly more if you told me things that I didn’t already know.” 

Cookie Hole

“Fudge, Mint, and Golden,

Birthday cake, cinnamon, mystery.”

Dan pulled them out one by one.

“I’m telling you! Any variety!”

“Red velvet?” Gill hoped and guessed.

Dan nodded and reached in Gill’s pocket.

“It doesn’t even have to be my own socket.”

He gave Gill the cookie as requested.

“Lemon, coconut, we’ve seen them all.”

Dan sighed. “I want something new, something… I dunno,”

He reached into his pocket, his eyes grew tall

“This is it! I’ve never felt this one before.”

He placed the cookie on the table

It was orange and dusty and speckled.

Gill leaned close, “uh, cheese? No.”

“Cheese?” Dan smiled. “No.”

“This Oreo’s flavor is Dorito.”

Countdown to Love

“It’s your birthday!” Martin smiled at Carly as he poured her a glass of wine. “We’re celebrating it, even if it’s only for ten minutes.”

“But, what if it is for only ten minutes?” Carly swirled the red liquid for a moment, then placed the glass down on the coffee table without a sip. The mid 20s man shrugged at her question.

“I doubt the world’s ending,” he replied. “A 24-hour countdown seems kind of generous for that. If it is? Well, that’s why we’re celebrating right now instead of tomorrow.” He raised his glass at her.

“You’re right.” Carly relaxed on the couch, then she reached for the wine. “So?” she raised an eyebrow at Martin. “What’d you get me?”

“Wait here,” Martin laughed and went into his bedroom. He returned carrying a small red box; it was slightly larger than a credit card.

“You got me a gift card!” Carly laughed. “I hope I get to spend it.” Martin shook his head. He knelt on the floor next to the couch instead of sitting next to her.

“For 18 of my 26 years, you’ve been my best friend,” Martin glanced at the clock; 5 minutes left. “You’ve always given me what seems like unlimited support and encouragement.

“YES!” Carly shouted. “If you’re asking me to marry you, yes! Why’d you wait so long, idiot!” She tried to scramble off the couch to give Martin a hug, but he held her in place and shook his head.

“Let me finish,” he said.

“You’re…not asking me to marry you?” Carly asked.

“Let me finish,” Martin repeated. “Along the way, somewhere in those 18 years, I fell in love with you.”

“Me too,” she whispered. Her eyes remained glued on the red box.

“But, you know me. Before I could tell you, I needed a way to prove it first.” Carly shook her head but did not interrupt. She knew he needed to prove it as much as he knew she didn’t need him to. “Ideally, I wanted to be able to give you the world. To be in a position to give you absolutely anything you ask for.” Carly giggled and glanced at the clock.

“I ask for the world not to end in two minutes. Hurry up,” she said.

“I love you more than anything in the world,” Martin tapped the red box. “And I feel like I can prove it with what’s in this box.” He held it out to her, but he grabbed her hands when she reached for it. He held her hands and stared into her eyes for more than a minute before he let her hands go.

“10” a voice filled the air to countdown the last remaining seconds.

“If the world ends before I see my gift, I’m going to be so mad at you,” she said, then leaned forward and kissed Martin’s forehead.

“9”. Carly lifted the red lid.


“What’s this?” She reached in.

“7”. Carly pulled out a card-sized, transparent pane of glass.

“6”. She lifted it and looked through it at Martin, then she flipped it over and tried looking through the other side.


“Well?” she asked.


“Well, what?” Martin replied.


“Well, what is it?”


“It’s your gift. It’s me telling you that I love you.”


“Alright. What can I do with your love, then?” Carly asked.


“Anything you want,” Martin smiled.

“Reset complete. New Administrator identified. Welcome to the AlterNet! Please take a moment to study the tutorial before you save any changes to your Earth.”

Hellish Wait

“Am I really in Hell?”

John asked the red demon.

“What’s that smell?”

“It’s peppermint,” the demon replied

“If you want to get home,

I’ll dressed and give you a ride.”

“You’re a demon, how do I trust you?”

John asked the robed demon.

It shrugged. “I could ask the same of you.

You’re the one intruding in my home.”

“Don’t worry, it happens all the time.

I’ll take you to an exit gate.

But just so you know, you have to wait.”He grinned, “and it’s a hell of a line.”

Death’s Welcome

“What movie did you pick?” Anna asked Maxwell. She had changed out of her pajamas and filled a backpack with some snacks by the time they were ready to enter the portal. The pair of teens stared at the black hole floating in Anna’s bedroom.

“I was thinking of a Christmas movie, not any specific one,” he replied. “Ready?” Anna nodded. Maxwell stepped forward into the black; he felt Anna grab his hand as he walked through.

The hole exited in a bright, busy, loud airport. It took Maxwell a few moments to get his bearings as he searched his new surroundings. He caught sight of snow, and a parked airplane through the windows. Hundreds of travelers occupied every seat, and still more were left standing. Bright multi-color light-strings decorated the pillars and walls. A young woman in an elf costume wandered from passenger to passenger handing out candy canes.

“It’s… Christmas,” Anna said; her voice carried a fair amount of surprise and disbelief. She stood next to Maxwell and squeezed his hand. “It’s April, but it’s Christmas.”

“It may have been April where you came from,” a woman said. Anna and Maxwell turned toward the new voice. “But it’s December here,” An elf with a basket of candy canes smiled at them. Maxwell glanced back at the other one to confirm it was a different elf; it was. The elf presented two candy canes, then pointed at the nametag on her pointy cap.

“My name’s Mundo. You guys are joining me for Christmas dinner!”  the young woman grinned.

“We are?” Maxwell asked. Mundo nodded.

“Of course! It takes some time to explain everything. You’re going to need the info if you want to keep hopping between universes like you are. And both of you need tattoos.”

Changing Times

“You…you…rewound time?” Anna asked. The 18-year-old sat under the covers in her bedroom while a mysterious student sat on her computer desk. Maxwell chuckled at her question.

“Hah, yeah. Actually that’s exactly the way I think of it. I picture a VCR in my mind and imagine pressing the Rewind button. But,” he looked at Anna. “I’ve never met anyone that remembers like you.”

Maxwell hopped off the desk and knelt next to Anna’s bed; he begged with clasped hands.

“Now you have to be in my movie! Please! With me rewinding time, you can have as many takes as you want! It’ll be so much easier with you knowing what’s going on.”

“What else can you do?” Anna asked. The thought of being an actress was something she often daydreamed about. She was ready to agree but did not want to appear too eager.

“You mean with time?” Maxwell asked. Anna nodded.

“If you think about it like a VCR, you’ve tried all the buttons right? You can pause and fast forward too?”

“Yeah,” he grinned. “And I can record.” Anna’s eyes widened.

“Record!?? What does that do?!” 

“It makes a time loop. This morning is the starting point for my new project, that’s why you wake up here again when I reset it.”

“Whoooaa,” Anna stared at him in awe. “So what does eject do?”

“Eject?” Maxwell asked, and gave a half shrug. “I never thought of it.”

“But it’s on there, right? Every time you picture the VCR in your head, there’s an eject button on it, isn’t there?” Maxwell took a moment to close his eyes, then nodded.

“Yeah, it’s there,” he said without opening his eyes.

“Push it,” Anna whispered. “Pretend you’re going to change the movie.” Maxwell nodded, then took a deep breath.

“Here goes,” he said. “I’m hitting eject… now.”

“Oh. My. God.” Anna whispered.

“What?!” Maxwell opened his eyes; Anna was staring and pointing at something behind him, so he turned around. A black hole hovered in the air in Anna’s bedroom. It reminded Maxwell of the “portable holes” he’d seen in cartoons; but, it was tall enough for him to walk through. He stood from Anna’s bedside and took a step toward it.

“Wait!” Anna yelped, then she scrambled off the bed. “I’m going with you.”

Directing Death

“LAST CALL!” Anna’s mother yelled through the door and gave it three solid knocks. “Birthday or not, you’d better not miss your first day!” She pounded the door once more, then her footsteps traveled down the hall away from Anna’s door.

Normally, the now 18-year-old woman would have been out of the bed by the third knock. However, this morning she remained buried under the covers and stared up at the ceiling. Her mind seemed stuck on something, but she was not sure what yet. After several silent minutes, she took in a deep breath, then relaxed on the exhale.

“It must’ve been a dream,” she said to herself, then sat up. “All… five…. or six times.” She gave her head a shake to refocus, then got out of bed to start her day. Several hours later, she sat in her highschool’s courtyard with her friends.

“Who’s that?” Charlie asked; he pointed at a male student dressed in black aiming a video camera at them. Two of Anna’s friends shrugged, but the birthday girl blurted out a name.

“Maxwell,” she said.

“Is there a reason your good friend Maxwell is filming us?” Susan asked. Anna shook her head.

“We’re not friends. I don’t even how I knew his name,” she said. Her friends laughed, but fortunately, the bell rang before they could give her too much of a hard time over it.

During Anna’s walk home after school, the black-clad student approached her. He held the camera up, a bright red light on the front of it informed her he was already filming.

“Hi, I’m Maxwell,” he said from behind the camera. Anna ignored the camera and kept her attention facing forward.

“Why are you filming me, Maxwell,” Anna asked. She felt like she should introduce herself too; but, for some reason, she actively decided against it this time. “This time?” her decision sparked a stray thought; Maxwell’s introduction felt as familiar as her mother’s wakeup call from that morning.

“I’m making a movie about a beautiful woman. It could be you,” he replied. The corners of his mouth stretched out from behind the camera as he grinned. “What’s your name?” he asked.

I knew his name already. He has to know mine,” Anna’s realization made her uneasy. “So you’re saying I could be beautiful?” Anna asked with a cold tone. “Thanks so much for the generous compliment.”

“No no no!” Maxwell was quick to correct her. “You are beautiful! I just meant it might be you in my movie. What’s your name?” he asked again. Anna sped up her pace slightly.

“It seems like I already am in your movie,” She turned and glared at the camera. “Without my permission,” she said, then looked forward again.

“What? This?” Maxwell gestured at the camera with his free hand but continued to record. “This is just b-roll to practice editing. The movie’s a tragic highschool romance. Hot girl, you, and awkward loner, me, have a flash love affair over 5 days. Then it ends with a fatal car accident,” he said. Anna’s steps faltered, and she almost tripped. She stumbled for a couple of paces before she found her balance again, then she stopped walking and looked at Maxwell.

“What did you say?’ she asked. “How does it end?” His grin grew wider.

“I have this awesome car crash planned with a semi and everything. It’ll be hard to pull off, but we’ll just keep trying until we get it right. It’s gonna be super cinematic. What’s your name?”

“Elma,” she lied.

“Did you say Anna?” he asked and tilted his ear toward her as if he hadn’t heard her right. She stopped walking and turned to face him.

“I KNEW it!!” she said. “You already know my name because I already knew yours!  What the hell is going on? I died in a car accident last night, and today it’s five days ago!” the words flowed out with her confusion and anger. The more she screamed at him, the more Maxwell lowered the camera; by the end of her rant, the camera was by his side pointing at the sidewalk.

“You… you remembered?”

“YES!” she shouted “WHAT THE FU-” Anna blinked.

“LAST CALL!” Anna’s mother yelled through the door and gave it three solid knocks. “Birthday or not, you’d better not miss your first day!” She pounded the door once more, then her footsteps traveled down the hall away from Anna’s door. 

Anna stared at the ceiling; her mind was foggy. She felt off, but did not know what was wrong.

“You remembered…,” A male voice said from beside her. Anna yelped and whirled her head around. She saw a strangely familiar stranger sitting on her computer chair. He wore all black clothes and had a video camera resting on his lap.

“M..Maxwell?” she asked.

“…we need to talk.”

Home for the Holidays

Fred yawned as he padded into the living room of his one-bedroom apartment. He admired the colorful 5-foot tree with a sad smile.

“Merry Christmas, mom,” he whispered to himself. After a moment, he decided it was time to get something in his stomach. Before he turned toward the kitchen, a rustling noise broke the silence. “Damnit, it better not be rats again,” he mumbled to himself and looked for the origin of the sound. He heard it again coming from behind the tree.

“What the hell?” Fred walked around to get a better look and found a single red-wrapped gift under his tree. A bright green bow sat on the bread-loaf shaped box. He immediately glanced at the door. The deadbolt was still turned the right way and his chain was still on the door. His living room only had one small window and the tree sat directly in front of it.

“How the hell did you-” Fred knelt to inspect the gift; but, it moved. “WHOA!” he immediately jumped back when the box inched toward him.

“Damnit,” a disappointed voice said next to him. Fred, already plenty confused, turned toward the voice; his jaw dropped. “I was hoping you hadn’t seen it yet,” a white-bearded round man in a red suit said.

“S..SANTA!??” Fred screamed. On any other Christmas morning, he would have been concerned about having a stranger in his house; even one dressed as Santa Claus. But, there was an unexpected gift under his tree. The doors and windows were still locked, and most of all the gift moved. Either Santa was actually in his apartment, or he was dreaming. Either way, Fred believed the stranger was Father Christmas. Santa nodded.

“Sure. Let me just grab that, and I’ll be out of your way.” The fat man shoved past Fred to grab the gift; it growled at him.

“Isn’t it for me?” Fred asked. He wasn’t the type to be greedy; but, everyone knew Santa delivered gifts. The familiar stranger shook his head as he turned around; the red gift wriggled and growled in his hands like a chihuahua headed for a bath.

“Wrong you. Sorry.” Santa said. He managed to shove the wild into a purse-sized red velvet bag. Then, he pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Fred.

“Keep this mistake between us, and this is yours. Deal?” he asked. Fred inspected the card-sized rectangle of glass; it was almost as thin as a sheet of paper.

“What is it? And, what mistake did you make exactly?”

“It’s a node. Uh, it’s like a cell phone, but better. You’ll figure it out,” he said; then sighed. “I found out the guy that was supposed to get this gift died, that’s what threw me off. Anyway…,” Santa tipped his white-trimmed cap. “See you next year maybe.”

“Whoa, wait!” Fred was quick to stop Santa. “Did you say, ‘wrong you‘? Is there another me?” Santa sighed, and his head dipped low.

“There are millions of other you‘s in millions of different universes. The version of you that was supposed to get this baby mimic died,” Santa shrugged. “It’s my first day and mistakes were made. Sorry. I still have some gifts to go, so…” Santa waved a mitted-hand at the air and a black portal opened in Fred’s living room.

“HOLD ON!” Fred yelled. He dashed between Santa and the portal.

“You gave me way more questions than answers. Alternate universes are real? That’s a real baby mimic? What are you going to do with it?  How is it your first day? Santa’s been around forever.” Santa sighed.

“Look pal, we’re both adults. Santa Claus isn’t real.” Fred was quick to gesture at the fat bearded man as if to say, ‘You’re right there!’ Santa shook his head.

“Corporate Santa,” he said and patted his chest. “It’s a job like any other. I, and hundreds of other guys, got hired to play Santa. Yes,” Santa nodded. “Alternate universes are real.”

“This,” he shook the red bag and shrugged. “I’m delivering to the right house,” he paused for effect. “in another universe. I think the kid’s mom would appreciate it for her son.”

“Mom?” Fred asked. “The other me’s mom is.. alive?” Santa nodded.

“Wh…” Fred began to ask but hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. After a moment, Santa stepped forward and Fred decided. “What’s her name!?”

‘Uh..,” Santa raised his mitt to his face; Fred noticed he held another node. “Carolyn Embers” Fred rushed two steps forward and pushed the gifted node against the fat man’s chest.

“Take this back. Take me to meet her, and I won’t say a word about your mistake to anyone.” Fred spoke quickly, his voice cracked and tears began to pool in his eyes. “Please,” he begged.

“Yeah, alright,” Santa said. He stepped forward and shoved Fred backward through the portal. Fred lost his balance and stumbled backward. “Merry Christmas and whatever.”