Grand Stomp

“She got a what?” Brad asked. The teenager’s eyes were wide as saucers.

“SShhhh,” his mother, Eileen, said with a glance over her shoulder. Her mother was coming in behind her. “Don’t be weird about it, it’s her decision,” Eileen whispered.

“She’s 90! Isn’t it dangerous?” Brad’s mother nodded in agreement, but she shrugged.

“So is being 90,” she replied. “It’s done already, and everything’s fine.”

“Everything is great!” Brad’s grandmother said as she walked into the kitchen behind Eileen with a big smile. The blue-haired, short woman headed straight for Brad. He sat at the breakfast bar with a half-eaten sandwich, but he stood up to give his grandmother a hug.

“Wanna see it?” she asked Brad with a grin after their greeting.

“Yeah,” he smiled. She rolled up the sleeve of her t-shirt to show Brad a fresh, plastic-covered tattoo. “Holy shit, grandma Lace! A skull!??”

“BRAD!” Eileen reprimanded his language, but his grandmother dismissed her with a wave, then turned her attention back to Brad.

“It makes me feel tough,” she giggled to her grandson. The tattoo was a small pink skull on her upper arm no bigger than a half-dollar, with the number 42 on its forehead.

“Why 42?” he asked her.

“It’s always been my favorite number,” she smiled.

“Oh. Careful mom,” Eileen placed a hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder and pointed down. “Brad, squish that please,” she said and pointed at the floor. A quarter-sized brown spider crawled across the floor, minding its own business.

“I’ll get it,” Lace said. Before Brad could react, the frail woman lifted a leg and stomped on the spider with all her might. Instead of the flat, quiet stomp they all expected, the white tiles of the kitchen floor shattered under her foot. Giant cracks spidered out from the impact in all directions and the Earth quaked.

The cracks widened into chasms so fast, the only thing they could do was rush out of the house in a panic. The trio managed to get outside; but, the Earth continued to tremble while their house fell into the growing canyon piece by piece.

Screaming neighbors ran out of their homes as the split continued to widen. It swallowed house after house while the ground rumbled.  Then, everything stopped. The rumbles quieted, and even Brad and Eileen seemed frozen still.

“Congratulations, you broke your Earth,” a woman said. Lace turned toward the voice and came face to face with a black cat. It sat on its haunches atop a car.

“I’m sorry? What?” Lace asked the cat. Despite hearing a voice, she did not see anyone else around.

“You broke your Earth in two, it’s falling apart,” the cat replied. “I’m here to rescue you.” The cat’s tail swished, and a black portal opened in the air beside Lace.

“It stopped rumbling though,” Lace said. The cat’s head moved left and right as if attempting to shake her head.

“It’s already destroyed, I just stopped time to get you out of here.”

“You can control time? Can you rewind it?” Lace asked with a hopeful voice. Again, the cat’s head swiveled left and right.

“I can rewind time. But, I can’t fix this because you caused it.”

“Why not? What’s special about me?” The cat narrowed her eyes at Lace.

“I’m not a Mundo, and I don’t like explaining things. If you want to live, leave through the portal. If not, I’ll be happy to leave without you.”

“Leave to where? What about my family?” The cat sighed audibly.

“Where? Safety. Bring them along if you want, but make it fast.” Lace turned to look at Eileen and Brad. They were both mid-stride with frightened looks on their faces.

“Can you unfreeze them too?”

“No, because they’re going to start asking questions too. Just carry them.”

“Carry them?” Lace laughed. “Do I look like a bodybuilder?”

“You look like you broke the Earth with a single step. Putting a 100 pounds on each shoulder should be easy for you. I’m leaving in 20 seconds with or without you.”

The time limit gave Lace the encouragement she needed to move quickly. She attempted to pick up Eileen first, and found it to be as easy as tossing a windbreaker over her shoulder. Then, she grabbed Brad with one hand and hefted him onto her other shoulder.

“Ready,” she said.

Safety First

“You can explain?” Bill sighed.

He stared through the broken glass,

the grown man almost cried.

“Look at this mess!”

“I’m sorry I lied,”

Jim apologized. “I’m sorry

I even tried.

But you braked in a hurry!”

“It happens sometimes

on the road,” Bill said.

“Don’t blame me this time,

you almost lost your head.”

“You owe me a new windshield.

And don’t think I’m pitching in

to get you patched and healed.

“You’re the idiot android that didn’t buckle in.”

Quest for Knowledge

Grant opened his eyes at the hiss of escaping gasses. The translucent door slid open before him to reveal a darkened laboratory.

“Hello?” he said weakly; the word hurt coming out. The lab he remembered was bright and full of busy lab coats. The room appeared to be the same, but it was completely dark outside of his cryo-chamber.

The lean man took a slow step out of the chamber. The first time he tried to rest his weight on it for the next step; he felt it wobble under him. He paused to get his balance, then tried shifting his weight again. Once he was confident his leg would hold him, he took another step forward.

“Anyone?” he asked the darkness.

“Who are you?” a girl’s voice asked. Grant turned toward the voice but saw only black.

“Grant,” he said. “You?” he hoped he didn’t sound rude, but his throat burned like a flaming cactus.

“Molly,” the girl replied from the shadows. Her voice came from a different part of the lab; Grant did not bother turning to face the new direction; his legs still felt weak.

“Water?” Grant asked. After a silent moment, he added, “Please?” A blue glow appeared in his peripheral vision and he regretted not turning toward the voice. He shuffle-turned toward the light and found a young, pale girl. The light came from a blue ball in her hands. She stepped toward Grant and offered the glowing orb to him.

Grant decided to just accept it without wasting the energy to ask what it was. With some effort, he managed to raise his hand and hold his palm out. The glowing sphere looked large in her small hands, but in his palm, it was only about the size of a small cantaloupe. It felt cool and wobbled like a water balloon when she dropped it on his hand.

When she did not see Grant do anything with it, the girl produced another, smaller orb from the darkness. As soon as its light came into view, Grant managed to pick out some details.  She seemed to pull the orb from a bag hanging over her shoulder. She lifted the smaller ball to her face; it showed her pointy ears.

“It’s water. Drink it,” she said, then lifted her own orb to her lips. Grant watched the sphere get smaller in her hands until she pulled it away. The weakened man followed suit and touched it to his lips.

The water flowed into his mouth the moment his lips touched it, without having to suck it like a straw. The cool liquid washing down his throat felt heavenly.

“Thank you!” Grant said after a pleasant sigh. His throat felt good as new, and his arms and legs seemed to have found their strength again. “That was the best water ever!” Molly smiled.

“You’re welcome. Where did you come from?” she asked. He whirled around to point at the cryo-chamber. “I’ve been napping for…,” he paused. “…uh what year is it?”

“Two-hundred thirty-seven,” Molly replied.

“Awww, crap. Do you know anything about the calendar before this one?” Grant asked. He considered the possibility of a calendar change, but everyone was documenting every moment of their lives at the time he went under. He assumed the lab technicians would have all the relevant information for him when he woke. That plan was obviously out the window. He was supposed to be woken up after 500 years and he wondered how much time passed before the change, 237 years ago. Molly shook her head.

“I don’t, but the library in Sharp city might.”

“That’s great! Do you know someone that can take me there?” Grant hoped the library would have information about the old calendar and maybe medical information. “Do they have good doctors in Sharp city?” Molly nodded, then shook her head to answer his questions.

“I can take you, but I don’t know what a doctor is.”

“Uh, someone that takes care of sick people? A healer?” Grant elaborated, and Molly smiled broadly.

“Were you sick?” she asked.

“Very,” Grant sighed. “They put me to sleep and I was supposed to wake up when there was a cure. If there’s no cure yet, I’m dead in a couple of months. “

“Nu uh,” Molly’s eyes sparkled. “I’m a healer.” Grant smiled down at her.

“I’m sure you’re a great healer,” Grant did his best to not sound condescending. “But how far is Sharp city from here?” He changed the subject to avoid the topic of her healing skills. He did not know how much the world had changed, but he could not imagine someone so young being a doctor.

“100 miles,” she said. “I can take you tomorrow. Sorry, I don’t have time today.” Grant’s eyes adjusted to the darkness by this point; he saw and heard Molly search through her bag. The young girl pulled out a cloth-wrapped bundle and handed it to Grant.

“Here’s some food for tonight,” she said. After Grant accepted the food, she held her palm out. Moisture from the air gathered in the center of her palm and began to glow with green light instead of blue. Within moments, she held another ball of water. “And some more water if you need it. If you stay here tonight, I can come back tomorrow to take you to Sharp city.

“Why’s this one green?” Grant asked as he accepted it.

“It’s a different spell. This is plain water, the blue one was to heal you.”

“What? Spell? As in magic?” Molly nodded and grinned.

“I told you I was a healer.”

“Magic is…real?” Grant said aloud; more to himself than to Molly. “What the hell did I miss?”

“Don’t know, I hope you find out tomorrow,” Molly said, then she gave Grant a half-wave. “I have to go. Goodnight, Grant.”

“Thank you, Molly, goodnight.” Grant expected her to turn around and walk away. Instead, she shook her head and muttered to herself with an amused smile.

“These NPCs are so real, this is gonna be a fun quest,” she said quietly, but Grant still heard. Before he could ask her about it, Molly’s features blurred and changed; a black, faceless mannequin was left in her place. After a second, the mannequin disintegrated and disappeared.

Lunar Request

“It can’t be…,” Marshall retreated into the shadows. He flattened himself against the brick wall; he wanted to remain out of sight until he got a better idea of the situation. “Did you see that? It was a girl!” the lean, athletic man asked Bandit. His faithful German Shepherd tilted his head and continued to pant happily.

“At least, I’m pretty sure it was a girl,” Marshall said. “What do we do?” Bandit barked, then bolted out of the shadows and around the corner. Marshall sighed and followed at a slower pace. By the time he turned the corner, Bandit was already enjoying the attention of a  smiling young girl. She looked up at the sound of Marshall’s heavy footsteps on the sidewalk. He noticed a reflection of golden sunlight flashed in her eyes then her smile grew broader. She stopped petting Bandit and stood.

“Hi! I’m Astrid, what’s your name?” The girl asked. She bounced on her heels excitedly but kept her hands behind her back.

“Hi, I’m Marshall,” he said. Marshall extended a hand in greeting. Astrid glanced at his hand but didn’t shake it. After an awkward moment, he lowered his hand.

“Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or maybe a restaurant or tattoo shop named, ‘Mundo’s?” Astrid asked. Marshall shook his head.

“There’s no one to know,…” he spread his arms to gesture at the empty city around them. “Bandit’s been my only friend for about three years now,” he said. Bandit barked at his name.

“Oooooooh,” Astrid’s eyes widened. “Last man on Earth, huh?” She asked with interest. Marshall tilted his head at her.

“Apparently not. Where’ve you been for three years? Are there others there?” Astrid shook her head and shrugged.

“Sorry, I just got here.”

“Just got here? The city?”

“This Earth.”  Marshall subconsciously took a step back.

“Earth..?” he asked, then made a point of glancing upward. Astrid giggled.

This Earth. Aliens aren’t real, but alternate universes are,” she replied.

“You came from another Earth?” Marshall chuckled. “Why?”

“Well,.. if there’s no Mundo. I’m here to meet you, I think.”

“Me? Is… is this a rescue?” He asked.

“I don’t think so,” Astrid replied with a shake of her head. “Do you want to be rescued?”

“Not so much,” Marshall replied. Marshall loved the solitary life he built over the past several years. He traveled from state to state doing as he pleased. Staying wherever he wanted whenever the mood struck. “So, why me?”

“Your favorite number is 34,” Astrid said. Marshall narrowed his eyes.

“How’d you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?”

“Uhh… it’s complicated. And if you’re staying on an empty Earth, it probably won’t matter too much. The short version is: you’re special. I’m special too. If I touch you, I can copy your ability.”

“Whoa, whoa…,” Marshall held his hands up to interrupt. “I think you got the wrong guy. I don’t have any abilities.”

“Your soul does. If you get a 34 scarred on your skin, your soul wakes up. But, I can copy you even if your soul is still slumbering.”

“Really?” Marshall asked. Astrid nodded. “What can I do?”

“Tattoos are the most common, but I’ve seen brandings and just plain scarification too. Anything that leaves a permanent mark under the skin permanently.”

“No, no,” Marshall chuckled. “I mean what abilities do I have that you want to copy?”

“I want regeneration, but you also have boosted strength, agility, and reflexes. You’re basically the ultimate soldier.”

“Whoa…,” Marshall grinned.

“So…, do you mind if I touch you?” Astrid asked.

“Just a copy, right? You don’t steal my powers or anything?” Astrid nodded. “You would’ve copied it if you shook my hand, right?” She nodded again. “Does it hurt or anything?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you,” Marshall replied, then extended his hand. “Thanks for asking first.” Astrid shook his hand with enthusiasm.

“You’re welcome,” she replied, then Astrid let go of his hand and stepped back. “Well, thanks. Enjoy your Earth.”

“Leaving already?” Marshall asked.

“I’m about to find out,” she said with crossed fingers. “Ballisea?” Astrid asked timidly.

“Who’s Balli-“

“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice filled the air around them. Bandit stood on all fours; his ears perked up and he started to growl.

“Um. I’m ready?” Astrid said. Ballisea’s laughter filled the air.

“I knew you’d be entertaining,” Ballisea said. “Off you go.” A black hole opened under Astrid’s feet and swallowed her whole.

Sunny Disposition

“Hey! I love your horns!” Suzy yelled at the tall pale woman strolling through the park. The woman wore a flowing black dress and had a pair of bone-white horns growing out of her midnight-black hair. She paused and looked at the approaching teenagers. Suzy and her two friends, Blake and Phil walked up to the stranger with friendly smiles.

“Thank you,” the woman replied. She glanced at them long enough to acknowledge, then she continued walking. Suzy moved quick to step in front of the woman, but she held her palms out to show she meant no harm.

“You look like you can handle yourself pretty well,” she said. “We’re on our way to take down the Dark Lord, I’m betting we could use your help. What do you say? Want to help save the world?” Suzy grinned. The stranger sighed and looked down her nose at the trio.

“You don’t know who I am?” she asked. All three teens shook their heads.

“Should we?” Blake asked. The woman gave a curt, firm nod.

“You should. Tell me, do you happen to have anything that belongs to this Dark Lord of yours?”

“I took a drop of blood,” Phil stepped forward holding a small glass vial. “I’m going back for the rest,” he puffed out his chest.

“Why should we know who you are?” Suzy asked. The woman smiled at her and took the vial of blood.

“Because my name is Ballisea,” she said. A horizontal black portal opened in the air next to her, and a heavily armored figure fell out of it and onto the ground.

“Who dares- ” The man in black armor bellowed as he pushed himself up. His rage was interrupted by a small black hole that enveloped his head. The hole closed around his neck, then his headless torso collapsed on the ground.

“That.. that was the Dark Lord!” Suzy exclaimed.

“It was,” Ballisea smiled.

“How can we ever thank you!” Suzy asked with an awed look.

“What’s my name?” Ballisea asked.

“Ballisea!” all three teens yelled.

“Good. If you want to repay me, I want you to tell everyone you meet what I look like. Tell them my name.”

“We will!” Suzy cheered. She motioned at Blake and Phil, then fell to her knees, the two boys followed suit. “We’ll spread the tale of Ballisea the Benevolent far and wide!” Ballisea shook her head with a sharp smile.

“No,” she said and pointed up to the sky. The three teens looked up at a swiss cheese sky. Dozens of wide black portals filled the sky. “On the next Earth you land on, tell them to run.”

“What do you mean the next Ear-” Suzy’s question was interrupted; a portal appeared under each of them. They fell in and disappeared.

Heroic Motivation

“I found your costume,” she said

as soon as he walked in.

“The one with gold and red.

It belongs to a villain, The Caped D’jinn.”

“I can explain!” he begged.

“It’s not what you think!”

She shook her head.

“I thought I had you pegged.

You know what I think?

You can help me get ahead.”

“How?” he asked,

with interest and delight.

“Just name the task

and I’ll do it right.”

“You’re the worst villain

the city has ever seen.

I need you to do more.”

“More? Start villainy again?

I quit. It wasn’t my scene.

“But,” he sighed. “If you want more…”

“I do,” she nodded.

“But, can you maybe

try harder?” she prodded.

“To be better at villainy?”

“A villain with no clue

will never grow my fandom.

I know just what to do.

First, go kill at random.”

Stellar Father

“Rigel! Rolls are ready!” Mundo yelled at the kitchen’s exit. She set a sheet of glazed cinnamon rolls on the table in front of Esther and Allen. Rigel, a blonde 8-year-old walked into the kitchen with eager eyes focused on the melted white icing. “Near and far, please,” Mundo said to her son, and handed him a small plate. Rigel nodded, then casually waved at the wall; two round portals appeared on it.

One portal was so clear that it looked like a hole in the wall, except that it looked outside on a dark night. The actual windows in the kitchen showed a bright, blue, beautiful day outside. The second portal appeared to be an actual black hole. It was pitch dark and seemed to be completely flat; no light reflected off of it. Mundo walked to the clear portal first.

“Think of the multiverse like a spectrum. Each Earth you visit is like a radio station; it has a certain frequency on that spectrum. You guys have radio, right?” She asked. Esther and Allen nodded, but neither of them spoke. They were mouth-deep in pastry. She pointed at the clear one.

This portal leads to an Earth that’s closer to where we are now than the other portal,” Mundo pointed at the black one. “Earths that are close to each other tend to be similar. It can be difficult to find any differences between them,” she turned to the exit. “Thank you, honey!” Mundo yelled, then the portals disappeared. The young mother removed her apron, then hung it over the back of a chair.

“I know I told you Mundos and plants couldn’t leave their Earth, but that was just to give you the general info,” Mundo said. She pointed at a sprig of mint pinned to her light-green blouse. “Now that you’ve learned the basics, you need to learn how to take care of yourselves out there.” Mundo turned to point at the wall again. This time, a green-tinted portal appeared; its surface rippled like emerald water.

“If you ever meet a Mundo or plant soul wearing a sprig of peppermint, you should assume they can traverse. Keep your guard up,” she said. “This sprig helps me, and any Mundo, create our own portals or ride through yours. But unfortunately, I can only traverse to certain Earths. They have to have been visited by Peppermint.” Esther tilted her head in curiosity.

“Visited by… is Peppermint a name?” Mundo nodded with a broad smile. She waved a hand at the wall to dismiss the green portal.

“Do you remember what I told you about Ballisea?” Mundo asked. Both guests nodded quickly.

“Run,” they said simultaneously. Mundo giggled.

‘That too, but the point is she’s really strong, right? Well, Peppermint is the Mundo version of her. He’s easier to run from, but he’s just as dangerous as Ballisea.”

“Wait. Did you get that from Peppermint? You met him?” Esther asked. Mundo nodded.

“Well of course,” Mundo said. “He’s a wonderful father; he likes checking in on Rigel.”

Damned Roommate

“Thank you,” Murphy said.

“For your patience and understanding.”

He smiled and nodded his head.

“I know I’ve been annoying,

maybe even embarrassing.”

“This is too much money!

Where’d you get it all?”

Hank asked with worry.

“Should I expect the law

again like last Fall?” 

Murphy shook his head.

“That’s just a small dole,

I felt I owed you some bread.

I’ve got a bigger bankroll,

and it only cost my soul.”

Ladies’ Lunch

“A barbecue?” Shirley asked. She glared at Damian with weary, worried eyes. “D, are you on something? You couldn’t sober up for a couple of hours to have lunch with me?” Damian shook his head and smiled.

“I’m clean, Sis,” Damian was quick to protest, then gave a half shrug. “I sobered up for lunch at least. Damned if I know how, but it works. Exactly like I told you. I’m telling you, I’ll get the check this time.”

“I don’t believe you,” Shirley said and Damian nodded.

“Of course not, it’s ridiculous. That’s why we’re here,” he gestured at the diner around them. The lunch crowd filled the tables around them with suits and conversations.

“You mean in a restaurant? Like we meet every other week?” Shirley asked; her tone loaded with snark. She flashed him a grin.

“But this is our first time at this one. Trust me, you’ll get to see it for yourself. Okay, shh. Here she comes.” Damian pretended to stare at the menu for a few seconds; then he looked up when the waitress arrived to take their order.

“Hi, I’m-“

“Carla,” Damian interrupted after glancing at her nametag. “May I speak with the manager please?” The young, brunette waitress faltered for a moment, then recovered her smile.

“I’m sorry, is there something I can-” Damian interrupted her again.

“What am I supposed to do?” Have a barbecue?” he asked. Carla’s mood transitioned instantly. She went from shy and worried to eager to please with a smile.

“I’ll get the manager right away!” she chirped, then bounced away.

“Well?” Damian grinned at his sister; she shook her head.

“You obviously confused that poor girl. Probably confused and scared,” Shirley said. Then a manager in a black blazer arrived at their table. A golden nametag pinned to his coat identified him as Mundo.

“How’s everything this evening?” Mundo asked.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Damian said. “What am I supposed to do? Have a barbecue?”  Mundo chuckled briefly, then rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Oh, alright. I’ll give you this one on the house. But you should know your trick won’t work on me; and, I’d appreciate it if you did not use it on my staff anymore.” The siblings’ jaws dropped open. Mundo reached into his blazer and pulled out a forest-green business card. “There’s a lot more you should know about yourself,” he handed the card to Damian. “Make an appointment and I’ll explain the whole thing.”

“What whole thing?” Damian asked. Mundo smiled.

“Your favorite number is three, right? You probably have it tattooed somewhere?” Damian nodded but stayed quiet. “I wouldn’t use your phrase again until I explain more about it. It’s easy to get around, and you don’t want to accidentally use it on the wrong person.”

Death on the Case

“You wanted to see me, Chief?” Detective Miller peeked into the Chief’s spacious office.

“Yeah, yeah. Close the door and have a seat, Larry.” The balding, wrinkled chief of police nodded at the pair of office chairs in front of his desk. Larry Miller nodded and took a seat. “You’re a good man, Larry, and a hell of a detective. You’re the only one I trust around here.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Larry nodded.

“Not so fast. You’re not gonna thank me after this: I’m assigning you a new partner,” the chief said.

“What? Come on now!” Larry protested. “I work best alone.” The chief nodded.

“You do, but it’s because I trust you. This isn’t a normal partner,” the chief pressed the intercom button. “Send her in,” he asked his secretary. Moments later the office door opened and Larry turned to see who his new partner was. Out of every type of partner he considered; a 10-year-old girl was not one of them. The waifish girl walked in with a broad smile on her face. She was dressed in what looked like a Halloween costume of a police uniform. Larry turned back to the chief.

“This is a joke, right?” The chief shook his head.

“No joke. Tell me, what’s your take on the Franklin case?” he asked Larry.

“Wife and boyfriend took out the husband. I’m pretty sure of it, but still trying to prove it. Why?” Larry asked, and the chief pointed at the young girl; she was seated by then.

“Show ’em, Cathy.” At the chief’s encouragement, the girl pulled her cellphone out of her navy-blue hip pack. She handed it to Larry with a video ready to play. He started the video and his mouth dropped open.

“! We have the murder on video!”

“Sorry,” The chief shook his head. “We can’t use that in court, but you can use it to build a case.”

“Why can’t we use it?”

“Because then we’d have to explain how we got it.” The chief replied. Larry took a moment to think, but then finally asked.

“How did you get it?”

“Time travel,” the chief grinned.

“You’re kidding me?” Larry asked.

“I don’t understand it myself,” the chief shrugged. “It seems Cathy here has the ability to time travel. She can go back in time and record incidents as they happen.”

“Wait. Pretending this is true for a second, why is she recording them and not just stopping them?”

“It can’t be stopped,” Cathy said. “I’ve tried. No matter how many times I save a person they always die when they’re supposed to.”

“The only thing we can do is make sure they face justice for what they’ve done,” the chief said.

“I need more proof. Video of Mrs. Franklin offing her husband is one thing, but.. time travel? That’s a lot to believe.”

“I thought you’d need more proof,” the chief said, then nodded again at Cathy. “Show him the other one.” Cathy tapped and swiped at the phone to prepare a new clip for Larry; then, she handed him the phone again.

Larry tapped the screen and the video came to life. A young brown-haired boy appeared on screen; he was running along the beach. He watched for a minute, then tapped the screen again to stop it.

“Fine, I believe you. I’ll take her on as a partner, on one condition,” Larry paused and looked both Cathy and the chief in the eyes. “I don’t want you to visit my past ever again.”