Sharp Savior

“Congratulations!” the small crowd of construction workers cheered for Jerry. The middle-aged man in soiled denim overalls smiled at his crew.

“Thanks, guys!” Jerry climbed into the bed of his truck to address them all. “As the first member of Bad Mudders going in I promise we’ll have a rockin’, uh… dope? Slammin’? Whatever the lingo is, you Bad Mudders’ll have a kickass guild waiting for you on the other side!” Whoops and more cheers came from the gathered group.

“Boss! Hey Boss!” One of the workers, Dennis, shouted. Jerry looked down at the young apprentice. “What’re you gonna be?” the baby-faced worker asked.

“Hell, I don’t know,” Jerry shook his head. “I never thought I’d get in, never looked at the classes. You got any advice?” He asked Dennis. The truth was Jerry read every word of the class list and abilities and knew exactly what he would pick, even though he doubted he’d ever get in. But Jerry also liked to boost his crew any chance he got, it’s part of why they were so loyal to him. Jerry knew enough about Dennis to guess his recommendation.

“Well,” Dennis rubbed his chin and cocked his head to the side to think while the rest of crew quieted down to listen. “You’re not a Unique. You’ll get more out of a trading class. How ‘bout a merchant?” the young man asked. That was the class Jerry decided on for that exact reason, but he smiled at Dennis.

“Merchant huh?” Jerry pretended to take a moment to think. “Sounds like something I could do. I might give it a shot, thanks, D.” Dennis smiled broadly while the guys around him mussed his hair and patted him on the back. Jerry turned his wrist to check the time.

“I better get going. Thanks, guys!” He turned and jumped out of the bed of his truck. “Get to work you lazy asses!” he shouted with a smile, then climbed in the truck. Ten minutes later he pulled into his driveway. He left the key in the ignition, stepped out of the truck, then took one last look at his house from the outside. Jerry was one of the few that stayed in his home after the outbreak. He blocked off the stairs and stayed quiet on the second floor as much as possible. He was able to avoid the zombies long enough for help to arrive. He gave the house one last contented sigh then walked in and headed straight for the mudroom.

Jerry pulled a green, glowing node from his pocket and dropped it in the large soil pit in the center of the room. Almost immediately tiny green dots glowed throughout the moist, dark brown dirt.

“Okay,” he said aloud. He stared at the glowing specks in the soil and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he repeated but did not move. He shook his head and hands wildly to loosen up his nerves. Then he took one more deep breath. “Okay,” he nodded to himself and stepped into the soil pit. He knelt down in the dirt then rolled onto his back and wiggled himself into a comfortable position. Jerry felt a wave of sleepiness wash over him and he closed his eyes.

He opened them after a moment but found himself in a new place. He now stood in an endless amber wheat field under a deep purple sky instead of laying in a mudpit.

“Welcome to the AlterNet!” a woman said. Jerry turned toward the voice. It came from a solid black mannequin with a featureless face. Its head moved up and down as if it was appraising something about Jerry. “Immigration Services,” the mannequin said. Its form rippled. As the ripple moved down the body it changed into a tall, pale woman with dark hair. Jerry recognized her as the woman that saved the world from zombies, Dana Sharp.

“Welcome, worker!” Dana said. Jerry couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride at hearing the greeting come out of her mouth. He knew it wasn’t the real her, just a virtual representation; but, at the same time, she almost certainly had some input in the greeting. “You’ve done a great job helping to rebuild your Earth, but you did your share. Rebuilding a world is a long term project that no one generation can complete but you’ve earned a break.” Dana said. Jerry stood straight up and gave her all his attention despite already knowing what was going to happen.

“For all the hardships you’ve survived, and all the hard work you’ve put into rebuilding society I am honored to award you a new life free of charge,” she said. Dana waved her hand at the wheat field and a redwood sapling sprouted out of the ground. It continued to grow until Jerry could no longer find the top of the tree nor see around the trunk. “These trees live for thousands of years while a Zero’s body only lives for about a hundred. If you think about it…,” Dana pushed a finger against Jerry’s chest. “…your body is just a container for your soul.” She gestured at the giant tree as if she were a game-show hostess presenting a prize. “Wouldn’t you prefer to store your soul in a sturdier container?” She grinned. “I know I would,” she winked at Jerry.

“Of course no one wants to just be a tree all day, but that’s where the AlterNet comes in. All you have to do to start a new life is choose where and what you want to be, then live that life. As your consciousness carries on in another universe your body will die; but, your soul will live on inside the tree. As long as the tree lives, your consciousness will remain part of the AlterNet. Not only do you get rewarded by choosing any life you want, you also leave something behind to help future generations.” Dana smiled.

“Ready to get started?” she asked.

“Okay,” Jerry grinned.

Healing Spider

Blake stared at the crying, blindfolded and bound young man seated in the middle of the dim room. The only light in the room was a pillar of white light that highlighted the prisoner; his hands were cuffed behind the rickety wooden chair. He was shirtless and looked like he worked out often. Blake doubted the wood-rotted chair would hold him if he really thought he could escape. Both Blake and the gagged man knew he couldn’t escape, they were not the only ones in the room.

“Flashy, huh?” Blake mumbled to himself while he walked a circle around the man. “Okay,” he grinned to himself and stopped behind the chair. He pushed the man’s head forward to expose the back of his neck and he felt no resistance. The prisoner had already given up. Blake wiggled his fingers and his hand began to glow with a soft green light.

“Stop!” a woman shouted from the darkness. “You’re a healer?” she asked. Blake looked around to try and pinpoint the direction of the speaker but gave up. He answered the darkness.

“Yeah,” Blake said, then he remembered who he was speaking to. He did not know how many others were in the shadows but he knew there was only one woman. “I mean, yes Ma’am, that’s technically my power.”

“We have enough healers, we don’t need more. Thank you for wasting our time,” she said.

“I’m not here to be a healer, I’m here to be a villain,” Blake said.

“It’s not a very threatening ability,” the mystery woman replied. Blake smiled.

“It depends on how you use it,” Blake said. He tilted his head down at the prisoner sitting in front of him. “If you let me show you..,”

“Very well,” she replied. Blake was glad for the interruption. In the back of his mind, he knew he had an audience. But she reminded him that he was auditioning. He needed showmanship if he wanted to join the League of Blood. They told him to be flashy, but he realized that meant his whole presentation not just the demonstration of his abilities.

“When most people think of healing…,” he addressed the darkness. “…they have a very broad view of it. A cut closes and a broken bone fuses itself back together and that’s it. But the secret is healing is a natural bodily function. And that means healers…,” Blake lifted his hand in the air and rekindled the forest-green glow. “can control it.”

In a single, swift move his hand dipped down to the man’s neck and came back up again. The man wiggled in the seat to try and get away, with screams of agony escaping from around his gag the whole time. His pained voice filled the room for several seconds before he went quiet. He still appeared to be yelling, but could no longer be heard. Blake now knew another villain, the Silent Knight, was in the room. The applicant lifted his hand higher to show everyone the spinal column looped in his hand. After he lifted it as high as his arm reached he began walking to a random dark spot in the room, pulling the spinal cord with him.

“It’s still attached at both ends. It still works,” Blake said. “He still feels pain.” He walked a circle around the man leaving lengths of the man’s bloody spine on the floor as he pulled on the loop making it longer and longer.

“How did you get it out?” A man’s voice asked.

“Good question!” Blake said. He was starting to feel more comfortable. He dropped the spine and walked to silent, sobbing man. He placed both hands on top of the man’s head. “The thing about controlling a biological process is with enough practice you can convince the body to think you’re part of it.” Blake leaned forward and sunk his into to the man’s head as easy as if he were dipping his hands in a sink full of water. “You can convince it that everything is a-okay.” He pulled upward and his hands came out covered in blood and holding the man’s brain, still attached to an elongated spine. The prisoner screamed silently.

“And if someone was good enough…,” Blake yanked the brain out further, grabbed the spine and began swinging the brain above his head like a flail. “They could heal damage in real time so that nothing comes apart.” He stopped spinning the brain and let it dangle. “Unless they want it to,” he said. The brain fell off the spine and plopped on the floor. The prisoner’s body went slack and he fell forward in the chair. His cuffed hands kept him from falling off all the way.

“Do you have a villain name?” the woman asked.

“Blake Brimba,” he told them his full name. “I want everyone to know who I am.”

A short, pudgy woman with royal blue hair stepped out of the light and Blake heard gasps of surprise all around him. He guessed that wasn’t something she normally did.

“What’s your favorite number?” she asked him.

“33,” Blake replied without hesitation, then chuckled. “Huh, I didn’t even know I had one,” he said. The woman nodded.

“I’m Mundo. Welcome to the League of Blood.”

Sharp Unemployment

Jana stared at the magnified picture on her phone with wide eyes.  On her way out of work she accidentally knocked over a box of sinister looking files. She caught glimpses of anatomy diagrams and a few different descriptions of abilities. Though she could not waste time reading them there, she thought fast enough to take pictures for later. Now she sat at her kitchen table trying to make sense of what she was reading. She noticed one phrase repeated often, “Unique Soul”.

I guess that’s what they call us,” she thought. Jana practiced forming a ball of fire in her hand. She concentrated and changed the shape of the flame to a long, thin dagger-like shape. “I like it.” She shook her head and sighed. “I guess I’m giving notice tomorrow,” she decided. Jana felt it would be more suspicious if she quit suddenly. Not only that, she actually enjoyed her job. It was the perfect amount of work to keep her busy without ever overwhelming her. After making the decision, Jana put it out of her mind and enjoyed the rest of her quiet evening alone. She had always been a decisive person, but often wondered where it came from. Both her parents died when she was a child and she could not remember them.

“Morning, Ralph,” Jana said. She walked past the security checkpoint the next morning.

“Morning, Jan,” Ralph completed their familiar exchange. Then he grabbed her arm before she went too far. “The boss lady is in,” he said. “Her assistant specifically asked about you.”

“Me?” her heart skipped a beat. “What about me?” Ralph shrugged.

“Seemed like a review, you know? ‘What kind of person is she? Have you noticed any suspicious behavior?’ That kind of thing.”

SHE KNOWS!” Jana panicked inside but managed to keep her exterior calm. “Thanks for the heads up,” she forced a smile then continued to her desk. Jana felt a heavy, uncomfortable feeling in her stomach when she noticed Melody, a short dark-haired woman, waiting by her desk. She almost turned away to the breakroom, but the woman noticed Jana before she could turn.

“Ms. Stevens, Ms. Sharp would like to see you. Right now,” Melody said curtly.

“Okay,” Jana said. She considered running away then and there, but she still hoped for a small chance that they did not know about her. She did not want to give away her secret if she didn’t have to. Jana followed Melody to the elevator, then stepped in with her. The boss’ office was on the third floor, but the short ride up seemed to take forever. Melody’s stern silence did not help. She felt a wave of relief wash over her when the elevator stopped and the door dinged. Then, Jana remembered where they were going and felt anxious again. Melody stepped out of the elevator and Jana followed.

Jana had never been to the third floor, but she’d heard about it from Ralph and some of the other guards. Despite all the stories about how spartan the boss’ office was she was still surprised. It seemed like the entire third floor was the office. The elevator opened to a spacious, white-tiled loft. Closed white curtains glowed with captured sunlight but nothing decorated the space. A woman sat behind a large wooden desk in the center of the room; she stared at Jana the moment she left the elevator.

“Jana Stevens,” Melody introduced Jana. She walked past her and around the desk to stand next to her boss.

“Ms. Stevens, I like to get to the point. We know about you,” Ms. Sharp said.  Jana felt panic bubbling up inside her. She glanced at the curtains and wondered how flammable they were. “Do you have anything to say in your defense?” Ms. sharp asked. Jana decided there was only one way out. She threw a flaming dagger at her boss’ head and bolted toward the closest window in the same motion. She made it three steps before Melody appeared in front of her with a blue glow emanating from her hands. She held a dagger-shaped flame up in front of Jana and raised an eyebrow as if asking her to explain.

“YOU’RE NOT GOING TO EXPERIMENT ON ME!” Jana yelled and brought her hands together to aim a jet of flames at Melody. The woman caught the flames with a single glowing hand gave Jana a confused look.

“What makes you think we want to experiment on you?” Jana let the flame died down.

“I have powers, I’m a Unique Soul,” she said, suddenly sounding unsure. Melody smirked.

“There’s nothing unique about you,” she said.

“But I’ve seen the files! You experiment on people with powers!” Jana said, wondering if they were trying to trick her. She focused on keeping her hands ‘warm’ in case she needed a quick blast.

“We experiment on voluntary Unique Souls only,” Ms. Sharp said. She stood from her seat and walked toward Jana. “All Unique Souls have powers, but not everyone that has powers,” Ms. Sharp placed a hand on Jana’s shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “is a Unique Soul.”

“Wait. If you’re not going to experiment on me… why am I here?” Jana asked.

“You’re fired,” Ms. Sharp said.

“NO! I thought you were trying to kill me, it was self-defense!” Jana pleaded. She loved her job and now that she knew they did not want to dissect her she wanted to stay. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“Entirely understandable, I’m not holding it against you,” she said. “However, the important question is where exactly did you learn about our classified experiments?”

“I-,” Jana started to explain, but she did not have an excuse ready to go.

“You took pictures of classified documents and uploaded them to your personal cloud.”

“Shit,” Jana grumbled. She forgot about the automatic upload setting on her phone.

“We see every bit of data that flows through this building. You’re fired.”

Expository Potty-break

Billy stared at the door and sighed quietly. He chose this Earth because it was empty, but somehow that didn’t stop random Uniques from showing up on his doorstep. Another sharp knock came from the door and he decided the visitors would be on their way faster if he answered the door and asked to be left alone. He opened it without checking the peephole and instantly recognized the man and woman on his front porch.

“What do you want?” he asked the pair. They seemed surprised to see him too. He saw the woman, Alliane, slit her eyes at him.

“Hi,” Jonah said. “Can we use your restroom?” he asked casually as if they’d been acquaintances for years, though they only met briefly a few days ago. Billy made a point of stepping out of the house and looking past them at the barren, dry landscape.

“There’s a whole empty Earth,” he said. Then he wiggled his hand in the air and opened a small dinner-plate sized black portal. “And infinite other Earths. Why mine?” Alliane shrugged.

“You know how Traversing works. This is where we landed. I’m not going to use a bush when you have working plumbing.” She wiggled in place. “If I go through another portal I’ll come out the other side with wet pants. Can I please use your restroom?” Billy sighed but stepped back into the house and opened the door wider as an invitation. “Upstairs. First door on the left.”

“Thank you!” Alliane blurted then dashed into the house and up the stairs. Jonah stayed on the porch ready to wait.

“Never let it be said that I am a poor host,” Billy said. “You’re welcome to wait inside.” Jonah looked the lanky, suited man up and down then shrugged.

“Okay, thanks.” He accepted the invitation and walked in. Billy closed the door then looked at his guest blankly. He did not want to start a conversation because he did not want to risk prolonging their visit, but he also hated standing around in silence. Luckily Jonah decided for him.

“How does Traversing work?” he asked.

“What? What do you mean?” Billy asked. “You’ve gone through more than a few portals I’m sure.” Jonah nodded.

“I have, but Alliane said, ‘you know how Traversing works’. What does that mean?”

“Oh. I thought your girlfriend would have explained it by now,” Billy replied. Jonah shrugged.

“She would if I asked her. I didn’t know it was a thing until she mentioned it just now. And she’s not my girlfriend, we’re engaged.” Billy realized he had two options to fill the uncomfortable silence. Either answer Jonah’s question or start a conversation about their relationship. He lifted a hand and made a gesture in the air.

“When I open a portal it’s not about going to a certain place.” A hole opened in the air. “There’s too many Earths to pick a specific one. I’ve missed a few times even when I have a target frequency. So the way it works is, I feel where I want to go. I trust that I’ll find what I need on the other side, one way or another.”

“So we ended up here…?” Jonah asked hoping that Billy could fill in the blank.

“Alliane…,” he skipped referring to her as Jonah’s fiancé to avoid the topic of their relationship. “…probably wanted to go somewhere secluded but still comfortable. Since we’ve already met, my home became an option apparently.” The men both heard footsteps at the same time and looked up the stairs. Alliane smiled at Billy on her way down.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “I appreciate it enough to forgive you for stealing our canoe,” she reached the bottom of the steps and wrapped her arm around Jonah’s.

“You mean for getting to the abandoned canoe that anyone could take, first?” Billy asked with a smug smile. “Thanks for dropping in, don’t make it a habit. Please leave,” he asked. Alliane was already waving her hand in the air. She opened a black portal next to Jonah.

“See ya around, Billy,” Alliane waved then stepped into the portal. Jonah followed her; then, the black portal disappeared.

Blooming Angel

[OT] Smash ‘Em Up Sundays!

“Which one d’ya think he’ll like more?” Emma asked. She held up a pair of very different piggy banks, one in each hand, for Thomas to compare. The pair stood in the back corner of a thrift shop trying to avoid being seen by the clerk.

“It doesn’t matter,” Thomas whined while peeking around the shelf of piggy banks.

“It totally matters,” Emma said. She tapped his chest with a blue ceramic pig to get his attention. “C’mon. Which one would you have picked when you were his age?” Thomas sighed and looked Emma in the eyes.

“I can’t remember a thing from when I was your age, much less his.” Thomas regretted it almost instantly when her eyes softened and she looked at a very interesting spec on the floor.

“Sorry,” he grabbed both of her hands and pushed them up in front of his face to take a good look at the banks. The blue ceramic pig in her left hand resembled a basic cartoon pig with over-sized eyes and a perfect circle for a snout. The bank in her right was made out of shiny brass. It was an abstract pig with tiny brass pegs sticking out of its barrel-shaped body for legs. The face consisted of indentions in the metal where the eyes belonged and a snout that looked like it was hammered from the inside.

“Who’s back there?” the clerk shouted from the front. Thomas tapped the brass pig in her right hand.

“This one. Let’s go.”

“Why?” She asked as she returned the ceramic pig to its shelf.

“What? I picked one! Let’s go!” Emma shook her head.

“Nope. You need a reason for picking this one. You can’t just pick whatever one because you don’t want to get caught stealing.”

“I picked it because it’ll sound better when it’s got change inside,” he whispered. “Can we leave?” Emma seemed satisfied with the answer and lifted her hand to make a gesture in the air. A tall black portal appeared and Thomas dashed through without waiting for Emma. He stepped out into a bustling city plaza on a sunny day and heard Emma giggling behind him.

“It’s not like they can hold us,” she said, then patted Thomas on the back. He shook his head.

“That’s not the point. You can never tell how things will go and I’d rather not have to kill anyone,” Thomas explained. He looked around the plaza. ‘Anyway, do you see him?” he changed the subject.

“Hey!” She started running and Thomas followed automatically without knowing why. He looked ahead of her and spotted the familiar young, black-haired cherub talking a lanky, pale man in a navy-blue suit. Thomas recognized a pink pig in the stranger’s hand and picked up speed.

“You promised it to us first!” Emma said when she reached them. The pale man turned to look at Emma, then he glanced at Thomas and grinned.

“This quest is open to anyone, right?” he asked the boy. The winged child replied with a nod, and the stranger shrugged at Emma. “First come, first serve.”

“Wait!” Thomas shouted, then paused to catch a breath before he addressed the cherub.

“You’re not an NPC,” he said. “You can choose which one you like better.” He held out the brass pig and flashed a hopeful smile.

“A piggy bank is a piggy bank,” the stranger said.

“That’s not true and I’ll prove it,” Emma said. She reached into her pocket then gave the boy a quarter. “Put it in,” she said. The boy smiled and slipped the quarter into the slot on the pink pig’s back. Thomas realized the pink pig was made out of plastic when the quarter landed inside it with an empty thud. Emma handed another quarter to Thomas and smiled. “I told you it was important,” she winked.

Thomas pushed the quarter into the brass pig. It made several small, loud bangs as the quarter settled in its belly. Thomas held the pig by its feet and shook it to get more noise out of the quarter. The cherub decided he wanted to play too and shook the pink pig, but he frowned at the several hollow thuds the quarter made.

“I like that one better,” he said and pushed the pink pig into the tall man’s hands. The stranger let the pig fall to the ground, sighed, then made a gesture in the air to open a black portal.

“Consider yourselves lucky that I don’t have an AlterNet character,” he said then stepped through the hole.

“Now I got two!” the boy said as he crouched down to pick up the pink pig. “Thank you,” he said. Then he reached a hand out to Emma. “I’ll show you where my Earth is.” She took his hand and a pulse of purple light flowed from him to her through their joined hands. “You’ll find El Cantarito next to me,” he said. Emma nodded.

“Thank you,” she did not waste any time in opening a black portal. The boy smiled at her then walked away. Thomas went through the portal first, then Emma followed.

They stepped out into a dim, grimy, rundown house. A large soil pit sat in the center of the room they landed in. Thomas spotted the pitcher first. The bright red ceramic pitcher rested against a boy’s body. Emma gasped involuntarily when she spotted a tall sapling with red leaves was growing out of the boy’s chest.

“Ohhh. So that’s what ‘Blooming’ is,” Thomas said. He walked to the pitcher and pulled it from the corpse’s stiff arm. “Man,” he shook his head. “He permanently lives in the AlterNet now. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it.”

“I don’t want to think about it. Let’s go,” Emma opened a portal. “Please.” She stepped through first then Thomas followed.

A Bird in the Hand

Sam felt ready for anything. He sat at a small round table with Herbie next to him on one side and Lira on his other side. A tall, well-dressed gentleman sat across from them and eyed the trio. Shadows covered most of the room. The only light in the room came from a small lamp sitting in the middle of the table. The three of them had been training under the gentleman for almost a year already but not once did he give his name. Anytime any of them asked he tended to change the subject in order to avoid the question.

“Ready?” the gentleman asked the group. All three heads nodded. “Fastest hand wins. Nonstop,” he said. The gentleman cast a stern glance at Herbie. Sam hoped he didn’t raise a fuss again like he did the last time they played. The rotund man tended to be a sore loser; and, a poor winner the few times he did win. “No arguments,” he said plainly and looked Herbie in the eyes. Sam saw Herbie give a slight nod.  “We’re starting now,” the gentleman said clearly.

“Cup.” The man said. Immediately all three competitors dipped their hands into the shadows under the table. Sam heard a hollow, plastic-y sound from Lira first. She placed a red plastic cup on the table in front of her. While Herbie looked disappointed Sam kept feeling around in the darkness until he felt something. He grabbed it and pulled it out. Sam placed a frosted, translucent tumbler on the table in front of him in time to hear the next item. “Three quarters and a dime,” the gentleman said. Lira and Sam reached back into the darkness as Herbie placed a blue ceramic coffee cup on the table in front of him. He rushed to reach under the table again. Sam slammed his hand on the table and pulled it away to reveal three quarters and a dime.

“Plunger. Clean, please.” the gentleman said. Lira dropped her change on the table and reached back into the darkness. Herbie threw two quarters on the table then reached back in for more coins.

“An onion,” the gentleman said when Lira and Sam showed him their plungers, then tossed them on the floor. Herbie placed the rest of the coins on the table and showed his plunger off. He tossed it away when the man nodded.

“A single slice of pizza,” the man said when three different onions rolled onto the table. Lira pulled her slice out first. She had enough time to take a bite before Herbie and Sam pulled out their slices. The gentleman smiled. Sam wasn’t sure if he was the only one that saw the smile, but he felt confident he was the only one of them that knew what it meant. The tests were about to get harder.

“The rest of that same pizza,” the gentleman said. Sam moved the fastest; he expected something tricky and was ready for it. He placed a pizza box on the table and opened it to show where his slice fit.

“I guess they just finished it,” Herbie said as he placed a box on the table. He opened it to reveal a single slice and placed his stolen slice next to it. The gentleman nodded then looked at Lira’s pizza and nodded at her.

“Two hands,” the man added the new rule. “Fire extinguisher.” Sam reached into the darkness with both hands and produced a small fire extinguisher first. Lira placed hers next and the gentleman looked at Herbie. “You’re out.” Herbie shrugged and reached for Sam’s full pizza box. “Tiebreaker,” he added while looking at Sam and Lira.

“Duck!” The gentleman shouted. Sam reached both hands under the table. He felt feathers brush his fingertips and grabbed what he could to pull. He heard a squeaking sound next to him and saw Lira squeezing a rubber duck in her right hand. He almost let go of the animal in his hands, but he realized he could still win. He yanked a flapping, angry duck out of the darkness with both hands then threw it towards the couch.

“Sam wins,” the gentleman said.

“Why?!” Lira shouted. She slammed her hand on the table in anger. “You didn’t say it had to be alive!” The gentleman nodded.

“You’re right, I didn’t. But I did say to use two hands.”

Sneaker Set

[OT] Friday Free-Form: They Are What They Believe They Are

“I feel great!” Greg smiled at his youthful, brown-haired reflection in the mirror. An hour ago he was offered a new job in the middle of a fatal car crash. Minutes ago he was a balding, grey-haired old man. Now he stood in a new apartment three times as large as his old one and he couldn’t stop smiling at his smooth, handsome face.  Greg turned toward Janet, his new boss; the being responsible for his life and youth. “So how does this job work?” He asked a black cat with a red, skull-shaped patch of fur on its head that was sitting on his dresser.

“I collect magical artifacts. Whenever I get a lead on one I’ll send you out to get it.” Greg looked around the clean, modern apartment and smiled at the cat.

“I guess they’ll be in different universes too?” he asked. He was still getting used to the idea of alternate universes, but she did promise Greg would see visit places he never imagined. The cat dipped her head slightly to nod, then she flicked her tail at the empty air next to Greg. A tall, pitch black portal opened.

“Now that you’re settled you need gear,” she said. The cat jumped off the dresser and walked into the portal. Greg followed her. On the other side of the portal, Greg walked into a large room that reminded him of a bank vault. The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with small square-shaped doors that he assumed were safety deposit boxes. Golden numbers decorated most of the doors. The cat padded to one wall and sat on its haunches. “Open the one that says 13,” she said. Greg walked to the wall and found the door with the number 13 on it. He opened it and found a pink bonnet inside. It seemed to be made of silk and he noticed the number 13 stitched on the inside of the headband.

“I don’t think this is my style,” Greg joked.

“Put it on,” Janet said. “It goes with anything.”

“Is this one of those magical artifacts you collect?” he asked as she fit the bonnet onto his head. He felt a faint tingling sensation run down his spine when he tied the ribbon and looked at the cat to wait for an answer.

“Get number five and 22 also,” she said. Greg found the other two doors on the same wall and reached for the closest one, number 5. He extended his hand but couldn’t see it.

“Wait, is that supposed to happen?” he asked. He brought his hands up in front of his face but could not see them. he waved them around and clapped to make sure they were still part of him.

“The bonnet makes you invisible,” she replied.

“Awesome,” Greg grinned and reached for the number five door. He opened it and reached inside. He pulled out a clear plastic umbrella.

“The umbrella protects you with a bubble shield.”

“Awesome!” He repeated with more excitement then took two steps to his right to open the number 22 door. He found a single black leather boot inside.

“The boot will silence your footsteps,” Janet explained. Greg chuckled.

“I’m silent and invisible. So I’m stealing these magical artifacts?” he asked. Janet nodded.

“Do you have a problem with that?” she asked.

“Not one bit,” Greg replied.

New Lease on Life

Greg shut his eyes when he heard the brakes screeching. He felt a light impact on the door next to him and heard the crack of shattering glass. Then nothing; the world went silent. He waited for a moment for something, anything, to happen.

“Am I dead?” he asked aloud. He heard his own voice and reasoned that he likely wasn’t dead. He was about to open his eyes when another voice spoke unexpectedly.

“What would you sacrifice in order to live?” A woman’s voice asked.

“What?” Greg opened his eyes. His door bowed inward with a giant semi-trailer grill pushing it in from the outside waiting to demolish his car. Shattered glass hovered stuck in the air next to him. He looked around the intersection but the other cars and pedestrians remained halted in place. “What the hell?” he asked no one in particular.

“Do you want to live or not?” the woman’s voice asked. Greg heard a bit of impatience in her voice.

“YES!” He answered reflexively.

“What’s in it for me?” the unseen woman asked. Greg ran down a list in his mind to look for something he could offer in exchange for his life. At 55 he lived alone in an efficiency with no family or even a significant other to speak of. He got laid off a month ago and had been struggling to get himself back into the workforce. In another month he would be unable to afford his apartment. Greg began to question doubt that he wanted to live at all with the majority of his life behind him already.

“Nothing,” Greg chuckled at the realization. “I’m better off dead,” he replied.

“Nothing to live for, huh?” the mysterious voice asked with obvious amusement.

“Nothing comes to mind,” Greg replied.

“Work?” she asked. Greg gave a hard belly laugh.

“Even if I were employed, I can’t imagine anyone thinking a 40 hour week is worth living for.”

“Depends on the job. I love my job,” she said. “Maybe you would too.” Greg shook his head, though he wasn’t sure if the voice’s owner could see him.

“I’m an old dog now, too late to learn any new tricks,” he said.

“What if you weren’t?” she asked.

“Weren’t what?”


“And I suppose that’s something you can do?” he asked.

“I did stop time.”

“I guess you did,” Greg smiled to himself. He did not understand the situation but the fact that death was waiting to get in let him accept everything that was happening. He firmly believed that the unknown woman could save him and make him young again; but, he still had nothing to trade. “I appreciate the offer but I don’t have anything worth sacrificing.”

“How about some time? Work for me for a few years then we’ll be even.”

“How many is a few?”

“You’ve got a good 50 years left in you,” she said. “And I’ve got to collect interest somehow so we’ll call it 75 years.”

“I don’t have that many left.”

“I can make you, and keep you, young while you work for me. After 75 years I’ll make you as young as you want to be and you can go on your way.”

“What does this job entail?” Greg asked.

“Does it matter? You won’t die.”

“It matters,” Greg shrugged. “There’s no point in taking a job if I’m going to wish I was dead instead.”

“I’m in a hurry so I’ll keep it short. You’ll get to visit places and see things you’ve never imagined. I often need things picked up so that’s what you’ll do. You’ll be like an executive go’fer. I won’t pay you but the job comes with a place to live, food and entertainment. I need an answer within the next minute or the truck keeps driving through your car,” she said.

Greg decided the moment she said he’d get to visit new places. The moment he realized he was on the verge of death regrets began to fill the back of his mind. The biggest one was not seeing more of the world. The free room and board were icing on the cake.

“I’m in,” he said. “Where do I sign?”

“It’s good enough that you agreed. I’m coming in the car, don’t freak out,” she said.

“You stopped time,” he smiled. “There’s not much more that can freak-” Greg stopped talking when a black cat hopped through the open passenger-side window. It landed in the seat and looked up at Greg. He noticed a red patch of fur on its head that resembled a skull.

“You’re a talking cat that can stop time?” Greg asked. The cat’s head swiveled left to right as if she shook her head.

“My name’s Janet. I’m your boss now,” the cat said.

Crystal Castle

Grace drummed her fingers on the counter-top while she waited. The Mason’s clerk had been looking for her order for almost five minutes and she was beginning to lose patience.

“Found it!” the young man called out from the forest of shelves. Grace heard hurried footsteps on the stone floor as he rushed to the counter. He placed a faded, frail sheet of paper on the counter. The heading on top of the worn note said, ‘Deed of Ownership’ in large letters with several paragraphs of fine print under it. “Anything else I can help you with?” he asked.

“No thank you,” Grace shook her head. She touched the yellowing paper then it disappeared into her inventory. “Just came for this,” she smiled and turned to leave.

“Thank you!” Grace heard him call out as she stepped out of the Mason’s guild. The city square was bustling with activity and she had no trouble arranging a ride to the Quarts Plains.

“You sure this is your stop?” the wagon master asked as Grace stepped out of the carriage. He gestured at the purple, crystalline plain that ran to the horizon. “There’s no one around.” Grace nodded.

“There will be,” she said. “Thanks but I’ll be fine.” She had been working toward this day for almost three years. Grace walked on the glassy, violet surface opposite of the wagon.  Once it was out of sight she smiled and held her hand out to make the worn note appear in her grasp.

“I did it,” she sighed and tossed the sheet into the air. A transparent menu slate appeared in front of her.

“Guild Name?” the slate asked.

“Magi-Knights,” Grace answered. The slate disintegrated; then, in an instant, a giant purple, crystalline castle burst upward out of the plain.

Zero Story

“Tomorrow?” Margaret asked. She shot her husband a concerned look. “7 doesn’t even have his class picked out yet.” It was a flimsy excuse that she hoped would slow the boy’s excitement, but Frederick nodded his head.

“Well that’s a good starting point, don’t you think?” He asked with a grin. “Are you done eating, 7?” he asked. The brown-haired boy nodded eagerly. Frederick pulled a node from his pocket and handed it to the boy. “Go make sure you know what class you want to be.”

“Really??” 7 swiped the node from his father and ran to his room before Frederick could change his mind.

“We can’t afford-” Margaret voiced her concern but Frederick interrupted her.

“We can,” he smiled and reached across the table for her hand. “I know things have been tight, but that’s only because I was saving up…,” he gestured at the hallway where 7’s room was. “…for him. I have enough to buy him a blank node tomorrow, and we can loosen our finances up a bit to boot,” he smiled.

“Can’t he wait another year?” Margaret asked with a hesitant voice. “We could use that money to get ahead for once.”  Frederick squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes.

“We can’t call him 7 forever, most kids his age already have names.”

Most,” Margaret tried stressing the point but Frederick shook his head.

“Sure. Only most 10-year-olds have a name. But if he waits another year he’ll be the last one of his friends to get one,” Frederick shook his head. “My parent’s couldn’t afford my name until I was 16.  I don’t want him suffering the same kind of ridicule I did. Even after I got my name it was too late. Heck even now,” he shrugged. “I’m 43 already, but anytime I go back home it’s: ‘How ya doing 12?’  and ‘Great to see you 12!’ I just don’t want our son to be called by a number his whole life, you know how sensitive he is.”

“I know what I want to be!” 7 ran back into the dining room with a big grin. “I wanna be a samurai!”

“Is that right?” Margaret turned her attention to her son. She squeezed her husband’s hand to communicate that she was okay with his plan. “Are you very sure?”  she asked. Her son nodded. “Well if you’re that sure, I don’t think we need to wait ’till tomorrow do we?” She looked up at her husband. “Right?” Frederick shook his head.

“Right. Go get ready!” he encouraged his son and the boy ran out of the room. He ran down a different hallway that led to the mudroom instead of his room. Frederick and Margaret walked, hand in hand, down the same hallway. They’d only made it halfway to the mudroom before 7 yelled at them.

“READY!!!” The shared a laugh and walked into the room. Their son lay in a large pit of soil in the ground. He turned towards his parents when they walked in. “I already told my friends, they’re meeting me in the newbie zone,” he said loudly, almost shouting.

“Remember to stay away from the Schoolyard,” Frederick reminded his son. The man walked around to the top of the soil pit by his son’s head and knelt down.

“I will!” he promised. Frederick held his node out and swiped through it until he found what he was looking for. He clicked the “new account” button and authorized the charges, then he pushed the node into the soil.

“And stay away from Uniques!” Margaret added. The boy did not stir again; he was already logged in. “Do you think he heard me?” she asked her husband. Frederick shook his head.

“I doubt it, but he knows.” He looked at his son laying in the dirt, then he looked up at his wife. “He’s gonna be in there for a while,” he winked. He stood and walked around to hug Margaret.

“Well,” she made a show of hesitating. “Character creation doesn’t take as long as it used too…” she said as Frederick led her out of the room.

“I GOT MY NAME!” their son shouted the moment they stepped out of the room.

“See?” Margaret giggled. They walked back into the mudroom to see the boy sitting up with a giant grin on his face.

“I’m gonna go meet my friends but I wanted to tell you my name first.”

“What’s your name, son?” Frederick asked.

“I picked my favorite name,” the boy said with his smile growing larger somehow. “Seven!”