Alice Wanders

“I just want to say for the record, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alice said out loud. She was the only person in the corner of the park that morning. It was an early Thursday morning. After a few years of chasing leads, she finally found what everyone called the Rabbit Hole. The officer protested to herself as she stared at the dark hole in the ground. She knew she already decided on her course of action, but she gave her mind a way out, just in case.

The Rabbit Hole was first mentioned in a case 30 years ago. It was a case Alice’s father was working on, and the idea of an endless rabbit hole took root in Alice’s young mind. The case was quickly forgotten; it turned out to be a crazy homeless woman that swore up and down she’d seen another world.

Alice’s first case on the force, a decade ago, also introduced her to someone that entered and returned from the rabbit hole. It triggered a long search for Alice. There had been hundreds of cases that mention the rabbit hole, but they were low profile, non-violent cases. They were often missing persons that reported themselves missing after the fact. No one cared that one corner of the park seemed to consistently attract the mentally imbalanced.

Alice managed to get information out of a few of the victims; but, for the most part, they seemed wary of Alice mocking them. The handful of people she talked to all had similar stories; enough that Alice hoped she knew what to expect. She brought a hiking pack with some supplies including food, water, and a first-aid kit. She also brought along her gun, but left her badge behind. Alice wasn’t on a case. She was 10 years old again and ready to explore the Rabbit Hole.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Alice spoke and nodded to herself as she approached the dark pit; it was interesting that she could not see anything into it. It wasn’t shallow enough to see the bottom or even any of the sides. It was just a round black hole. “But it’ll be fun,” Alice closed her eyes and jumped in.

“Owwwwww,” She immediately landed off-balance with one foot in a pit and the other landed, and twisted, at the edge. She toppled backward. She opened her eyes as she fell back; she landed awkwardly on her backpack and heard the crunch of various supplies. Alice didn’t have time to care about that.

The azure sky she left behind was replaced with bright, violet clouds against a deep purple sky. Alice giggled and let herself relax completely. It was true.

The clouds and sky were exactly what she expected. Alice inhaled deeply and relished the moment until her backpack became too uncomfortable. Then, she sat up and looked around properly. Alice sat on a lush green hill overlooking a town. According to the victims she interviewed, Alice would not have much trouble finding a way back home in the town. She stood, turned around, and promptly started walking up the hill. Her ankle was tender, but she hobbled up the hillside with determination. She did not know where she was headed, but she was there to explore.

“Are you lost, little Corona?’ A woman’s voice suddenly echoed around Alice. She whirled around to find the source, but did not see anything. Movement in the sky caught her attention and she looked up to see a giant black hole in the sky. It looked as dark as the Rabbit’s hole but as large as the town below the hill. White skeletons began raining out of the hole on the town.

“This Earth is mine now..,” the voice said. This time, a tall, pale, horned woman appeared in front of Alice from out of nowhere. She wore a long flowing black dress, and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. “…but, I’ll place you on another one. Have you any preference?” she asked. She stared down at Alice with a patient, amused expression.

Up until the moment the horned woman referred to it as an Earth, Alice still had her doubts. Part of her wanted to believe it was an alternate Earth. In every interview, she heard the phrase “It’s a lot like Earth.” Not only was this woman claiming an Earth, she offered to send Alice to a different one. Alice now realized there were at least three universes and wanted to know more. Her years of learning about people told her she did not want to give away her home Earth to the stranger. Alice did not know why the woman took a special interest in her, but she knew she did not want to drag it out more than necessary.

Alice went down the Rabbit Hole planning to explore. She now knew there was much more to learn than she ever expected, and she knew this woman wasn’t one to ask. But, she did offer to send her somewhere. Anywhere.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about,” Alice said. Her experience told her this woman would respect sincerity, and she would be able to tell if Alice tried to lie. “I am lost, can you send me somewhere I can learn?” she asked. The woman gave Alice a curt nod.

“When you get there, tell them Ballisea sent you,” the woman said. Before Alice could thank her, the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She sunk straight down into the hole, then landed on a smooth white, tile floor. She noticed two women in front of her, but before Alice could gather herself she was on her knees. One of the two women, one in black, rushed Alice and pulled her up by her hair. The woman held a blue glowing hand in front of Alice’s face and she felt waves of heat coming from it.

“Who are you!?” the woman in black asked. Her tone was calm, but just barely. Alice shut her eyes in pain as the woman yanked her to her feet. Alice thought about fighting back, but she still did not fully understand the situation. Maybe they didn’t either.

“BALLISEA SENT ME!!!?” Alice blurted out. Alice felt the woman’s grip loosen on her hair, but did not release her. The blue light surrounding her hand dimmed.

“Why?” The woman in black asked.

“To learn!” Alice said. “Ballisea showed up to conquer an Earth, but said I was free to go. I couldn’t think of anything and said I wanted to go somewhere to learn.”

“Melody,” the second woman, she wore a crisp white suit, spoke up. Melody, immediately released Alice’s hair, then helped her up to her feet. After Alice was up, Melody looked at the woman in white and nodded.

“47,” Melody said. Then, the woman in white nodded and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

Bored. Which?

At 3:51 A.M. Thomas’s mood crystallized into one clear, succinct thought.

This isn’t worth it,” he realized. Mary, his wife of three years, sat bawling to herself on one end of the couch while he sat quietly fuming on the other. He pretended to care about her for three years, and it was getting harder. They were arguing more often; tonight’s argument was the worst so far; and, it was trivial as far as Thomas was concerned.

A witch’s corpse was profitable and worth a few years invested in building trust, but Thomas always knew when to cut his losses. The moment he decided something wasn’t worth the effort, he had no trouble abandoning any progress he’d made. It also helped that he was only 90% sure of her witchiness. He trusted his intuition but had not been able to confirm it in three years. Giving up was an easy choice.

“I think it’s time we-,” Thomas was interrupted by Mary; she shook her head and scooted closer to him. But, she still did not touch him.

“Wait,” she said quickly. Almost as if sensing the end of their relationship. “I haven’t been completely honest about.. some things,” she said quietly. Thomas immediately reconsidered his breakup. At least until she confessed whatever it was. If she did turn out to be a witch, the past three years were still worth it. Mary stared at her hands in her lap for several quiet moments, then shook her head again.

“That’s wrong,” she added. “I lied to you from the beginning. Intentionally.

“About what?” Thomas asked. He took the initiative and scooted closer to her. Part of him wondered if he should make an excuse to grab his weapon; but, he decided against it. She hadn’t confessed anything yet. If she wasn’t a witch, he would break up with her that morning. If she was, he would apologize profusely until she relaxed; then, kill her around lunchtime, and be rich by dinner. Either way, he decided he did not need to be armed.

“My family mostly,” she replied. Thomas nodded. He knew very little about her family, because she always avoided the conversation. It was one of her more suspicious quirks. They had a quiet wedding; it was his suggestion, but she seemed eager to keep the marriage hidden from her family. Thomas had yet to meet any of her siblings or parents, but it made his goal easier. Killing a witch tended to attract the notice of her family.

“First, you have to understand I’m not like them,” she said. Her focus remained fixed on her hands in her lap. “I’m like the black sheep. We’re technically related, but that doesn’t mean anything,” she continued setting up her innocence. Thomas nodded thoughtfully and put his arm around her. He reassured her while he planned his evening in his mind. What she was saying wouldn’t matter one bit if she was a witch.

“Before I met you, my family disowned me because I didn’t want to follow in the family business,” she continued. “Then my sister died and according to my family, it was all my fault somehow,” she sighed. Thomas sighed too; he was bored. It was looking more and more like she wasn’t a witch and he was anxious to be out of there.

“Well,…” Thomas squeezed her. “We can talk more about it in the morning,” he offered with the full knowledge that he would not be there when she woke up. Mary shook her head.

“No… I brought it up,” she said. “I think I’m ready to see my family again.”

“That’s great!” Thomas lied. Then, he was struck by a genuine curiosity. “Why?” he asked.

“Because of you,” she smiled, then leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

“Me?” he wondered out loud. “We’ve been arguing all night, what did I do?’

“You…,” Mary smiled and rotated herself to straddle his lap. “…you handsome…,” she kissed his lips, “… stupid man.” It wasn’t the first time she insulted his intelligence, but deep inside, Thomas knew it would be the last. “You gave up, so you lost the game,” she said. Mary then sat back on her haunches, still on his lap.

“Game?” Thomas asked. He tried to sit up but his body was not following any of his commands. Mary nodded.

“You know. I’m pretending not to be a witch while you try to figure out if I am.” Mary shook her head playfully. “It’s kind of cheating when I can read your mind, but I had fun annoying you for three years.” Mary giggled when Thomas gave her a confused look.

“Come on, you’re a professional and after three years you still can’t tell if I’m one or not?” she said. “It almost feels…. intentional,” she giggled.

“You killed my sister,” Mary said while staring into Thomas’ eyes. “I let that slide because I didn’t like her much anyway. That prissy little witch was always the family favorite. But you’ve lost interest, so now I have too.” Mary tapped her knuckle against his forehead. He heard her voice one more time as he blacked out. “Game over, Thomas.”

Jail. Ruined.

“First or last?” The overweight guard smirked at Ruin through the bars. He was starting to be hopeful that this stranger would cause some trouble; he definitely seemed to be a smartass.

“That’s it. My name is, ‘Ruin’.” he replied with his own smirk. Unlike the over-eager guard, Ruin knew he could walk out of the station at any time. He was enjoying the novel experience of being arrested.

“You some kind of devil worshipper?” The guard asked, his eyes flitted to the skull tattoo atop Ruin’s bald head. The skull had long fangs with the number 42 in red in the center of it. Ruin shook his head.

“The list of people I worship is very small,” he said. “Satan didn’t make the cut. So, what am I in for? Having an awesome tattoo?” he asked. He grew his smile broader once he realized his good mood seemed to put the guard in a worse one.

“Nothing personal,” the guard replied. “Every stranger coming through gets a mandatory stay,” the guard rapped on one of the iron bars with his knuckle. “We’re just being hospitable.” Ruin nodded.

“So it’s not just me, you treat everyone like a criminal? That’s mighty short-sighted,” he added.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep our town safe!” the guard was quick to defend the town’s methods. Ruin shook his head; his smile remained.

“I didn’t say it was wrong. I said, short-sighted. Aren’t you afraid of rubbing the wrong person the wrong way?” The guard burst into forced, obnoxious laughter.

“Not if they’re in jail,” he said. His voice carried too much smugness for Ruin to deal with anymore. He stood from the bench. Despite being outside the cell, the guard took a cautious step back.

“Well, this town isn’t for me then. I’ll just head out of here altogether,” he took a step toward the cell door. The guard shook his head frantically.

“You’re not going anywhere until we learn some more about you,” he said. He deliberately moved his hand down and made a point of unsnapping his holster. Ruin sighed.

“Look. I don’t want to hurt anyone or destroy any property. I’m just passing through, and I don’t even have to do that. I’ll just leave the way I came and go around your town altogether.”

“Well you-,” The guard began to speak, but Ruin shook his head and interrupted.

“I’m leaving. Whether you open the door or not,” Ruin replied. The guard chuckled and drew his gun.

“Let’s see you try.”

Ruin sighed once more, then turned his back to the guard.

“That’s what I thought,” the guard laughed. Ruin took two steps back toward the bench, then continued walking. He pushed through the bench and wall as if he was moving through water. The thick stone wall crumbled out of his way as he walked. The guard managed to act and fired three shots at Ruin. He hit the escapee’s broad form all three times in the back; Ruin stopped walking.

Ruin suddenly dispersed into mist while the Guard watched. As he tried to comprehend the disappearance, Ruin suddenly appeared next to him. He yanked the guard’s gun out of his hand and threw it into the empty cell.

“I said I don’t want any trouble,” Ruin said. He grabbed the guard’s uniform and lifted him off the ground. Ruin’s eyes glowed red, and he bared his fangs at the guard. “But you’re so eager, you’ve talked me into it.”

Stellar Dis-curse

“Oooooh,” Victoria nodded in understanding. “Do you think something in the water changed you, or have you always been this selfish?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“WHAT!?” The old man bellowed the question in surprise. He sat on the ornate marble edge of the fountain to tell his tale; but, jumped to his feet at Victoria’s question. “I’m saving innocents from a curse!” Victoria shrugged, but shook her head. Her violet ponytail swished behind her with the motion.

“Just because you think it’s a curse, doesn’t mean it is. Not everyone is going to have your perspective.”

“I’ve lost everyone I love,” the old man replied. His anger was gone, his tone was weary. Victoria nodded.

“People die. You’re lucky to have loved them.”

“I’ve lived over 2000 years, and I thank God I’m nowhere near as callous as you,” he said. Victoria shrugged again.

“Like I said, different perspectives. Wait until you reach my age,” she added a wink, then continued. “Either way, this Earth is about to belong to Sharp Development. A working Fountain of Youth is surprisingly rare; it’ll be great for tourism.”

“Belong?” the elder asked. He tilted his head in confusion. “No one can own the Earth,” he said.

“Dana Sharp can do anything, and she already owns several thousand Earths. This is just one more.”

Who are you? Where did you come from? I’ve searched this Earth for millennia and never found anyone.”

“So… who are you protecting the fountain from?” Victoria asked with a giggle. He narrowed his eyes at her with a stern expression.

“I don’t know yet,” he replied. Victoria took the hint.

“My name’s Victoria,” she extended her hand in greeting. “I’m a scout for Sharp Development and your Earth is of particular interest. Sharp Development is a multiversal corporation with a presence on thousands of alternate Earths.”

“Gabriel,” the elder gave his name as he shook her hand. “There are… other Earths?”

“An infinite number,” she replied. “You’re whining about there being nothing left to see here; but, there are other Earths to see. There are things that exist beyond anything you could imagine.”

“How?” Gabriel asked. Victoria raised her hand and pointed at something next to him. The old man turned and was startled to find a black portal hovering in the air.

“Just walk in; someone will get you sorted on the other side.”  Gabriel hesitated a moment. He did not know what to expect but decided he had nothing to lose. With a stiff nod to himself, Gabriel made up his mind and walked into the portal. It closed behind him. Victoria pulled a node out of her pocket once she was alone.

“This abandoned Earth is now the property of Sharp Development,” she spoke to the transparent rectangle. The display flashed white, then the node disintegrated in her hand. The white powder dispersed into the wind; white nanos began to duplicate themselves in order to saturate the Earth.

Zero Tenacity

“Thanks again for the flowers, Mick. I’ll see you Tuesday,” The warden replied with a smile. The diamondback naga escorted his close friend to the employee gate to let him out. Before the fairy could properly say his goodbye, a blaring alarm interrupted their conversation. The warden stiffened and lifted himself slightly using his bottom half.

“Ah, Hell,” the warden mumbled. The large rattle at the end of his tail began buzzing. “Wait here, don’t let anyone through! I’ll be back in a sec.”  The Naga bolted off toward the main building.

Micky hovered by the unlocked gate for a few minutes to wait. The siren continued to blare and he heard a ton of commotion from inside the courtyard walls. He decided it was best to leave right then. He pushed the gate open slightly, then paused. When nothing happened Micky got bolder and fluttered through.

The moment he hovered through over the threshold into the sunny parking lot the sun, sky, and parking lot vanished. He whirled around to find himself standing on his own two human-sized legs. The fairy form was nowhere to be seen and he could not feel his wings anymore. The only other thing in what appeared to be an endless white void was a woman. She was tall and pale and wore a crisp white suit.

“Congratulations, you’ve escaped,” she said. “Now what?”

By his own count, Michael spent 26,500 days in prison. He had a lot of time to think. A lot of that time was spent wondering what he would do when he escaped, or even if he could. He was aware of his virtual prison and guessed it wouldn’t be as simple as walking out of the gate. In the end, he decided it wasn’t going to be up to him. He did not know what to expect; but, he hoped it would be something like this strange woman appearing after everything else disappeared.

“What are my options?” he replied quickly. “Something that doesn’t involve me going back.” The woman gave a curt nod.

“Unfortunately, returning to your body is not one,” she said. Mick nodded, he didn’t expect to.

“Yeah. After 70-plus years, I’m sure I’m a tree by now,” he said glumly.

“I admire your tenacity in gifting the warden a flower every day for 72 and a half years,” she said. “The exploit you discovered was an intentional oversight; a test of sorts. You were creative enough to befriend the guard and request the small favor of letting you step out for a few days. The test was intended to be a qualification too for employment at Sharp Development. However, my company is doing quite well at the moment. I don’t necessarily need any more employees. Your choices are to either come work for me, or don’t.”

“And if I don’t?” Michael asked. The woman shrugged and gestured at the air with her hand. A black portal opened.

“You’ve escaped, you’re no longer categorized as a prisoner. The AlterNet, and its thousands of servers, is now your home. My name is Dana Sharp, come find me if you change your mind.”  After her words, Dana disintegrated into white powder that disappeared before it landed. The black portal remained open and Michael dashed through it.

Hand-mouth Coordination

“…he feinted!” Emily burst into giggles at her own punchline. Kirk narrowed his eyes and tilted his head slightly.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “That can happen if you’re light-headed.” Emily rolled her eyes and shook her head; her long silver hair shimmered like a curtain with the motion.

“Light-headed monk?” she asked. “Monks don’t faint, they feint.”

“Oh,” Kirk nodded. “Okay, I get it. It just isn’t funny,” he said.

“Oh, what do you know?” Emily playfully shoved Kirk over. They both sat alone in the school gym. Faint red-orange light came in through the window as the sun was close to setting.

“Well, I heard your whole act…,” he shrugged. “…and that one? It was the worst part.” He glanced out the window.

“And, now I know why you didn’t answer when I said, “Sure, I have time. How long would it last?” he chuckled. “Trust me, you can cut that one easily, and a few other ones. But, all you did was tell me jokes for an hour. Aren’t you doing a magic show?””Yeah, but that’s easy,” Emily said. She reached behind her back while keeping her eyes locked on Kirk’s. When she brought her hand forward again she held several small toy sheep. “I’ve got a flock of tricks up my sleeve.”

No more Carnivores

Sean grumbled thoughtfully.

He let Susan’s words marinate.

“I had no idea.” He said. “Now it’s straight.”

“Cannibals don’t eat so healthy.”

Susan nodded with a smile.

It wasn’t the takeaway she hoped for;

but, it was still worthwhile.

He held her hand, “So you’re not a carnivore?

Cannibals are tough and hard to meet.”

“You feel tender. I think I’ll like Vegan meat.”

Sharp Control

“YOU DID WHAT!??” Kate bellowed at Daniel. The lead scientist stood tall and accepted responsibility for his actions; a faint hint of pride glowed in the back of his mind.

“The public deserves to know,” he replied with a calm voice. Kate gave a borderline maniacal giggle and shook her head; she was having difficulty controlling her emotions. Daniel was the lead scientist, but Kate was the project manager. She set very specific rules about what they were allowed to reveal. She paced a line back and forth in front of Daniel while he tried to explain himself.

“Who the hell are you to decide what the public deserves to know?” she asked. She paused in front of him and the question came out through clenched teeth.

“I’m the public!” he said proudly. Susan let out a high-pitched, sarcastic laugh. Then, after a deep breath, she seemed to calm down.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “We discovered a pizza box, with some slices still inside, on Mars. From a restaurant that has never, nor does not currently exist anywhere on Earth. I then lay down ground rules that it’s in the public’s best interest to not reveal this information, and you broke those rules. Is that how you see it?”

“Yes, but -,” Daniel’s interruption was cut off by Kate shaking her head.

“Well,” she said with a heavy shrug. “Nothing to be done I guess. Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment?” Kate nodded at the door behind Daniel.

“That’s it?” he asked. He was genuinely surprised at the lack of consequences. He was ready to be fired on principle and was almost looking forward to it.

“That’s it,” Kate nodded. “You’re going to be punished enough without my help.” She gave him a soft smile and shooed him out the door. She closed the door behind him, which struck Daniel as odd; she prided herself on having a literal open-door policy. What she said also bothered him on top of that. He took four steps, then turned around and walked back into her office.

“What did you mea-,” he asked as he walked into the room. But, he stopped when he realized she wasn’t there. “Kate?”  he crouched to check under the desk. It was the only possible place she could be hiding. Her office had no windows and no other doors. She wasn’t there. The only thing different than when he left moments ago was that a white box sat open on her desk. The interior was lined with soft red velvet and it seemed to be designed to hold a card of some sort.

“System Message:” Daniel heard a woman’s voice in his mind. At the same moment, the television that sat in the corner unplugged turned itself on to show the same words. Daniel felt his phone vibrate and he pulled it out while he wondered what was happening. It also showed the same text.

[Due to mishandling of information, Sharp Development has decided to shut down this server permanently. Players, please traverse to a new server. Zeros, be sure to curse Mr. Daniel Johnson with your last breath for making this necessary. This Earth will be destroyed in five minutes.] Under the message, a timer appeared and began counting down.

Daniel’s phone vibrated as texts began pouring in.

Satisfaction Guarantee

“That’s odd,” the demon said.

“It didn’t take. It seems averse.”

Guy smirked to himself. Then added,

“I guess we’ll skip the curse.”

“Oh well,” he shrugged. “Too bad.”

“No no. The customer comes first.

But, that was one you already had.”

“I guess there’s nothing to be done.”

Guy said. “Since I’m already cursed.”

“It’s okay,” the demon said. “I know a different one.”

Helpful Friend

The familiar voice startled Jim;

He wasn’t expecting anyone.

However, the voice belonged to him.

Jim’s immortal; This man – the reason.

“Started off great…,” Jim sighed.

He greeted his friend with a handshake.

They sat with drinks and began to partake.

“After 5000 years, I’ve seen everything.

By now…,” he shrugged. “…life is boring.”

“I could not find you. I tried.”

His friend, Jerry, smiled and nodded.

“You’ve only seen all of one Earth.

There are tons; the multiverse is crowded.

You trusted me this far, let’s set a new goal.

Remember; I said you won’t regret selling your soul.”