Open House. Open Door.

Wilma stopped in the kitchen. An uneasy feeling tickled the back of her mind; but, she couldn’t identify the source. She glanced over the butcher block countertop and cabinets but nothing jumped out at her. Wilma turned to stare out the bay window by the empty breakfast nook. Nothing in the yard seemed out of the ordinary either. She stood still for a moment listening to the silence of the house, then a pressing thought formed. She suddenly had the feeling that she might have left some food in the pantry.

Wilma walked through the narrow galley kitchen toward the wooden pantry door, then stopped again. The light door that matched the countertops faced her; but, she became aware of another, darker door on the side of the wall. The darker door faced the barren living room and from what Wilma could see would have opened to shelves.

That’s new…,” Wilma mumbled while she wondered when the door showed up. She guessed the realtor had it installed while she was out of town; it was the only thing that made sense. But Wilma had no idea why. She had been in and out of the house over a dozen times while loading the boxes and hadn’t noticed the door until now.

The moment she decided to inspect it, the new door swung up toward her. On the other side, a young blonde woman in a baby blue polo shirt and black slacks walked out into the living room.

“Perfect!” the blonde woman said as she surveyed the sunny room. Any questions Wilma had about the door were superseded by the stranger.

“Hi, can I help you?” Wilma startled the blonde as she walked out of the kitchen. The woman whirled around and smiled at Wilma. She noticed the woman’s blue shirt sported a golden star on the left breast with the words “Star Academy” written around it.

“Hi, I’m Micha,” she said. “It’s for sale, right?” Wilma was surprised, but nodded.

“Would you like a tour?” she asked, then extended a hand. “My name is Wilma.”

“Nah, I’ll take it,” the woman grinned. “Are you the realtor?” Wilma gave her head a slight shake.

“Really? What if there’s something wrong with it?” Wilma asked. She didn’t quite believe that this strange woman was ready to buy a house at the drop of a hat..

“Is there?” Micha asked. Wilma shook her head. The hardwood floors were actually linoleum, but overall the house was in great repair.

“I can fix whatever comes up, the important thing is, I was able to connect,” Micha nodded at the open door she came through. 

Connect?” Wilma asked and faced the door. Despite the sunlight pouring in through the front windows, she could not see anything beyond the door’s threshold. It was just inky, empty darkness.

“Oh, wait. Do you guys know about the multiverse yet?” she asked. Wilma turned back toward Micha with wide eyes.

“Do you mean like…,” Wilma dropped her voice to a near whisper. “Alternate universes?” she asked. Micha nodded.

“The short version is: I’m from an alternate universe. It’s not easy to connect a doorway to a halfway decent house, much less one as beautiful as this.” Wilma wanted to ask for proof somehow, but she couldn’t explain how Micha walked in from out of nowhere.

“Umm… how does that work financially?” Wilma asked. She was curious about how Micha expected to pay if she was in fact from a different universe.

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Micha replied. She wiggled her left hand at her open right palm. A small black hole appeared above it and a few gold coins and diamonds rained out before the hole closed again. “We can trade for currency.”

“Wow,” Wilma had to admit it; Micha was almost definitely from a different universe. “You’re not kidding are you?” she asked. Micha shook her head with a grin. “What’s your universe like?”

“Kind of boring,” Micha replied. “Wanna take a look?” she nodded at the open door. Wilma nodded eagerly.


Zero Worth

“What do you mean we have to share it?” Maya asked with a hard edge. She shifted her weight to one leg and crossed her arms. She loved the house; it was practically a mansion for the price of a single-room shack. Julio, her husband, kept telling her there had to be a reason it was still on the market. However, Maya knew she could put up with any issue if she considered it worth the trouble. As far as she was concerned, the marble floors and six bedrooms were worth it.

“Told you there was something,” Julio whispered in her ear before the realtor answered. She jabbed him with a quick elbow. If that were his first remark it wouldn’t have merited the physical response. Even before they came to take a look he balked at the cheap price and pointed out that it had been on the market for months.

“It’s ugly, they just used an ideal picture,” he commented on the drive over. “Well, the outside looks nice, but it’s probably horrible inside,” he added once they pulled up. “Looks good, it’s probably haunted,” he suggested once they started going from beautiful room to beautiful room. It was a tad annoying, but Maya loved him enough to consider him worth the mild aggravation.

“Somehow, this house is on a strange plot of land…,” the realtor said. Her smile faded and her sparkling brown eyes dulled. A glum, almost hopeless look formed on her austere face as she started to explain.

haunted…,” Julio whispered. Maya ignored him to listen to the realtor.

“You know about the multiverse, right? By now most people do,” the realtor seemed to change topics. Maya nodded.

“This house, specifically the living room, somehow intersects with a neighboring universe. In that universe, there’s a college dorm that connects to this house. We’ve spoken to them of course, and it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, I have to admit it won’t be as uncommon as you’d hope to find a drunken, high, or lost student.” Maya and Julio both had wide eyes, but neither said anything; the realtor continued.

“I’d recommend you install cameras in your living room. If there is any property damage the school will take care of it, of course, they need the proof first.”

“So, you’re saying that random strangers can walk into this house at any time, and there’s nothing we can do about it? Forget property damage, what if they’re dangerous,” he asked Maya. Maya had already given that some thought and decided it could be worked around for such a beautiful house.

“It’s just the living room, right?” she asked the realtor and was answered with a nod.

“No problem. We’ll just baby gate the whole thing and keep our bedrooms locked at night,” Maya dropped her voice and whispered to Julio. “I want this house.”

There is an additional caveat,” the realtor said. “The major reason this house is so cheap is that the school has agreed to pitch in on the mortgage. Granted, you don’t have to accept their help, but you’d be paying full price on your own.”

“What do they get out of it?” Julio asked. The realtor nodded, completely expecting the question.

“Twice a year they have a family event at the campus and don’t always have enough room for the visitors. They’re paying for three of your rooms to help with the spillover.”

“No way!” Julio said, but Maya ignored him and asked a question.

“How long would they be staying?”

“It’s a three-day event, so two nights and maybe most of the third day, depending on the guests. The college makes an effort to vet good guests for you, but no one’s perfect.”

“I need to take another walk-through,” Maya said. She walked past the realtor and out of the enormous master bedroom; Julio jogged a few steps to catch up to her.

“You’re still thinking about it?” he asked in a hushed tone, not quite a whisper. Maya nodded as she looked into each bedroom they passed. “What about the guests?” Maya shrugged.

“It amounts to less than a week out of 52, I think that’s fair,” she replied. They reached the elegant winding staircase and she headed down. Julio followed with the realtor behind him far enough to give them a sense of privacy.

“Not the scheduled ones, what about the random college students?” Julio grumbled. The last thing he wanted was to have to clean up some drunk, punk kid’s puke first thing in the morning. Maya actually giggled at his question.

“It might be fun to have a bit of controlled-unexpectedness. We’re young enough that we might even hit it off with some of them. You’ve been wanting to start a game night; we could have a whole dorm to game with.”

“I’m not cleaning up any puke,” Julio said. “You want this house, you take care of any extra trouble they add.” Maya eagerly nodded as they reached the bottom step.

“You got it,” she said. They walked into the living room and came to a sudden stop.

“So, what do we think?” The realtor caught up to them. She looked past and noticed why they froze. A young woman in a sheer nightie and nothing else was laying face down on their couch. Her blond hair was a frazzled mess and a chunky, beige mixture pooled on part of the couch and the white marble floor. “Oh, well there’s one of the girls from the dorm already. Oh, I should mention their universe is in a different time zone. It’s..,” she glanced at her watch. “…3 a.m. there.” 

“Do you have any paper towels so I can clean that up?” Julio turned to ask the realtor.

“Don’t bother,” Maya said, grabbing his hand. She turned to the realtor and smiled, but shook her head. “I think we’re going to pass. It’s not worth it.”

Zero Result

“That’s ridiculous,” Bea said. The mid-40s woman sat in her living room opposite two men in dark suits. She narrowed her green eyes at them. “You’re actors. This has to be someone’s prank; who is it?”

“Ms. Acosta, I assure you this is not a joke,” the shorter man said. Over the years Bea learned to trust her instincts and they were always accurate. Something inside her told Bea these men weren’t a danger; it was the only reason she let them in her house without getting their names. They flashed an official-looking I.D. that Bea didn’t recognize; but, her instincts still let them in.

“Let’s pretend I believe you; now what? Should I expect more agents crashing through my windows?” she asked with a chuckle. “Because it’s going to take more than you two to bring me in.” Both agents shook their heads; but, only the shorter one spoke. Bea realized the taller one hadn’t said a word since she answered the door. Both were lean, fair-skinned, nondescript agents. Bea was glad they at least removed their sunglasses once inside.

“Now, nothing. You wanted to know about your ancestry; the only thing we can tell you is you won’t find it here,” the shorter one stood from the sofa with an eye on the door.

“So, you’re just messengers?” Bea asked in surprise. “This whole act seems a bit much for something an e-mail could have done.” The shorter one grinned at that.

“As it stands now, you don’t believe us; would you believe an e-mail?” Bea nodded.

“Yeah, good point. So, how’re you going to prove it to me?” she gave them a confident, ‘gotcha’ smile.

“We can’t, exactly…,” the short agent admitted. “You were raised here, all your memories are from here.”

“I knew it,” Bea said. Though, even as she claimed victory over the jokers, an instinctual doubt formed in the back of her mind.

“What we can do though, is this,” the short one said. A pitch black hole suddenly appeared above Bea’s coffee table. It was almost as wide as the table and tall enough for a person, like the one that walked out of it.

“Bea looked up at a younger version of herself with vibrant blue hair instead of the salt and pepper brunette of her current color.

“Unfortunately, we can’t prove to you that you’re from an alternate Earth, but we can prove they exist. Say hi to one of yourselves,” the short agent said. The tabletop version of Bea smiled, then turned around to look at the agents.

“Hey, handsome, I’m glad I get to see you again,” she stepped off the table on their side. The taller agent stood and Bea couldn’t help but notice a slight blush on his cheeks.

“Hi, Cee,” he said, then nodded at Bea behind her. “Work stuff now, I’ll call you later,” he said. Cee shook her head with a smile.

“Please don’t, just send me a text when you want to meet,” she reached out and playfully patted his head. “You’re fun, but god, you never shut up,” she giggled.

Destination: Hell

“You think this is the gateway?” Carl asked. The small team of four stood in a warehouse-sized lab. It took a few hours to get the power running; when the lights came on a low, heavy hum filled the room. Then, the team noticed a black hole hovering vertically in the center. It was surrounded by an array of 6-foot tall rumbling speakers, assorted electronics, and several computers. As Carl asked his question Commander Johnson and the team’s tech, Lucy, approached the computers that came on with the power.

“Why don’t you go ask someone?” Micky, a portly soldier, chuckled behind him. Micky kept his eyes on the doors, he and Carl were the only actual soldiers on the team that entered the warehouse. The city and most of Ireland seemed to be abandoned and no one knew where everyone disappeared to. Before Carl could think up an equally smart-ass response, Lucy spoke up.

“Commander, there’s a video on the desktop labeled, ‘Watch This’.

“Then let’s watch it,” Commander Johnson said. The rugged man in his 60s was technically no longer a soldier, but a long military career earned him enough respect to be called in. Lucy nodded and double-clicked the video. All screens were immediately filled with a frazzled looking old man with white hair; Commander Johnson recognized him. He sent the message claiming they discovered a gateway to Hell.

“If anyone is watching this, you’ve probably come looking for us,” the man said. Behind him, workmen could be seen carrying boxes and equipment into the black hole. “We’re all fine, you can stop. Moving to Hell is in fact better than staying here,” the man said with an odd grin. “You’ll find a list of everyone that moved with us to account for the missing people. Thank you for coming. Goodbye,” he said. Then, the video ended.

“Moving to Hell?” Lucy asked no one. “Sounds like a demon talking.” Commander Johnson nodded. He suspected the same thing. He’d seen the horrors of war, and it dinged his faith in humanity. But he couldn’t imagine any scenario in which Hell was preferable.

“Let’s go take a look,” he said.

“But, we’re waiting for the other teams, right?” Carl asked. Commander Johnson’s team headed straight to the lab, but he also assigned teams to explore the rest of the nearby towns.

“Carl,” Commander Johnson said. “This is an order. Go to Hell,” he smiled at the joke, but Carl understood he meant it.

“Yes, Sir,” Carl nodded with a glum look.

“I’ll take point,” Micky said. “You stay at the back and keep an eye on Lucy.”

“Okay!” Carl was quick to accept the plan. The four gathered in a loose single-file in front of the black hole, then Micky walked forward with his rifle ready.

After Lucy walked through, Carl stepped up to the portal, took a deep breath, then stepped through. He expected to feel a tingle at the very least, as he walked into the inky darkness; instead, he felt nothing. One short step through the portal and he was in another world; it was as uneventful as walking into another room in the same house.

He noticed the orange-red sky first, but after that he became aware of an overpowering odor. It wasn’t unpleasant in itself, but it was strong enough to to be uncomfortable. Carl surveyed the area. The team stood in the center of a wide, green peppermint field; the source of the all-encompassing scent.

“This can’t be Hell,” Carl said.

“This way,” Commander Johnson said; then, he started walking. Carl turned and looked ahead. He spotted houses, seemingly a subdivision, at the edge of the green field.

“I’ve never seen so much peppermint,” Lucy said as they walked. They moved gingerly around the plants; the peppermint wasn’t growing in rows like on a farm. The plants grew wild and disorganized.

After a deceptively long walk they reached the edge of the subdivsion. The neighborhood looked surprisingly normal. A variety of one and two story houses lined paved streets. Picket fences separated each vibrant green yard, and a car was parked in every driveway.

“This can’t be Hell,” Micky said. “Where are we?”

“Let’s ask him,” Lucy pointed out a lean white-haired man watering his lawn; the scientist from the video.

“Morning!” he waved at the team as they reached his fence. “Welcome to Hell,” he smiled.

“Hello, Dr. White,” Commander Johnson replied. Dr. White’s smile disappeared. He dropped the hose and ran to the fence.

“You’re from my Earth?!” he asked nervously. “How many more of you are there!?”

“Just us for now,” Commander Johnson answered. Dr. White sighed in relief. “What’s the situation?”

“No situation. We’re fine. Go home and destroy the portal on your way out.”

“We’re here to rescue you!” Carl added; it sounded better in his head. Dr. White sighed.

“We don’t need rescuing. We left Earth because it’s better here. There are fewer people and more resources. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell the whole world about this place and ruin that.”

“I’m confused,” Carl said. The rest of his team chuckled at that but he kept speaking. “Is this Hell or not?”

“It is,” Dr. White said.

“So where are all the demons and brimstone?”

“At work, probably,” Dr. White shrugged. “Hell” he used air quotes. “Is just the name of an Earth, several actually, but you get the idea. It’s a generalized term, not an all-encompassing truth. Are there demons in Hell? Yes,” Dr. White noded. “But there are also country clubs, neighborhoods and an amazing shopping district. All the stories you’ve heard about Hell are just religious embellishments to scare you into behaving.”

“Hey doc, came to check on you,” a woman’s voice made Carl jump; he was the only one startled. The team turned around to see a short red-skinned woman in a black suit with tall, angled, obsidian horns.

“Oh, and Satan’s real too,” Dr. White added.

Sharp Scout

Adam froze in place as he walked into the kitchen. He was so shocked at the pink-haired woman eating at his table that he dropped his empty mug. The shattering glass drew the woman’s attention and her eyes sparkled as soon as she saw him. She was an adult version of the young girl he remembered from his childhood. Pink ponytail and clear, sea-blue eyes. Though, this adult version of her had a small, red star tattooed on her cheek with the number 35 in its center.

“ADAM!” She hopped up from her seat, but Adam was shaking his head before she moved very far.

“NO!” he shouted with both his hands out in front of himself. He turned away from her and walked toward the pantry.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?” The woman pouted slightly but sat down at his table again. She resumed eating the bowl of cereal in front of her. Adam opened the pantry door with a heavy sigh. His broom and dustpan set hung on the door; he pulled them down and walked back to the broken mug. He started sweeping it up with his back to her.

For several minutes the only sounds in the kitchen were the sweeping of glass on tile and the woman’s crunching as she ate. He disposed of the glass, returned the broom and dustpan to their hook. He grabbed his box of plain cornflakes from the pantry before closing the door. He grabbed a bowl from the cabinets, spoon from the drawer, and milk from the fridge; but, he kept his back to her as much as possible.

He could not keep his back to her when he sat down at the table, but he poured his cereal and milk without saying a word or making eye contact.

“Cereal first? You’re doing it wrong,” the woman giggled. When she spoke, Adam couldn’t help but glance in her direction. He wanted to avoid acknowledging her but he noticed her bowl was full of a colorful, sugary cereal. Part of him felt better about that; it wasn’t a cereal he had in his house which meant she brought it from somewhere. It seemed ridiculous that someone would carry a box of cereal around with them so Adam took comfort knowing she was indeed still imaginary.

“Some of us aren’t children,” he replied. Adam decided there was no harm in some creative fantasizing as long as he kept himself grounded. She wasn’t real.

“And some of us know what life’s about,” she replied. Adam finally looked up at her properly; she grinned at him while taking another heaping spoon full of rainbow sugar in her mouth.

“So, tell me, Lyra. Why are you showing up again after 20some years?” Adam asked before taking a bite of cereal. Lyra swallowed, then sighed.

“It’s kind of embarrassing, but I want your help,” she said. Her clear eyes clouded over with slight guilt. “I  know it’s horrible to show up again after so long just to ask for a favor; but, I also thought it’d be a good excuse to reconnect.” 

“Reconnect?” Adam chuckled. “You’re not real; we were never connected.” Despite years of reminding himself that she never existed, Adam wasn’t ready for the very real hurt look she gave him.

What?” she whispered; her eyes lost all clarity as they watered. “What do you mean I’m not real?” she asked. “You were my best friend!”

“You were my only friend…,” Adam said. “and no one ever met you.”

“I was shy.” Lyra defended herself.

“And that explains how you disappeared every time my parents wanted to meet you? How you always managed to get in my house without my parents answering the door. How you got in my house now, for that matter,” he said. Lyra’s mood flipped as quick as a light switch; she giggled and nodded.

“Kind of, yeah,” she said. “Looking at it that way,.. I’m sorry I was away for so long. There’s just so much out there! I wanted you to come explore with me, but I was too shy to talk to your parents. By the time I got over it I found a job and I didn’t have much time to reminisce anymore.”

“Okay. So explain it then,” Adam asked. He had no idea where “out there” was but he still assumed she was imaginary. He was curious enough to see how inventive his mind could be. “How does being shy make you disappear?”  He took another bite of cereal. They seemed to be taking turns eating and talking.

“I didn’t know it then, but I can travel to alternate universes; I’m not even from yours. When we were younger I was only doing it subconsciously. Whenever your parents wanted to meet me I freaked out and went home.”

“Uhuh. So, pretending I believe alternate universes exist. You’re telling me you could travel between them at eight years old. Without any kind of machine or insane power draw?” Lyra nodded as she finished chewing her last bite of cereal. Neon pink milk was all that remained.

“Yep,” she reached over to grab the milk and added more to her bowl. “Pretty much like this,” Lyra wiggled her fingers at the air above it. A small, pancake-sized black hole opened and colored cereal rained out to fill her bowl; after she was satisfied, the hole disappeared. “Obviously, I can make portals big enough to walk through too.” Adam stared slack jawed for a moment. He had no idea what to make of what just happened, but he couldn’t deny it happened. His belief that Lyra was imaginary was based solely on those disappearing instances. If she had an explanation for them, that changed everything. He wasn’t ready to admit it yet and decided to change the subject to learn more information.

“And you need my help with what?” Lyra shook her head with a smile.

“I don’t need your help, but I do want it. Like I said, to reconnect. The company I work for, Sharp Development, is a multiversal corporation. My job is to visit Earths and get a feel for how ready they are for our products…,” Adam interrupted here.

“Those products being… cereal?” he asked in a playful tone. Lyra giggled and nodded.

“Those products being everything, including cereal. Basically, I’m supposed to make a recommendation whether an Earth can handle knowing about the rest of the multiverse. It’s insane how backwards some Earths can be about other cultures on their own planet, their heads would explode if they learned about everything.”

“And where do I come in?’

“I usually get a local to show me around,” Lyra said with a grin.

Apocalyptic Misunderstanding

“I couldn’t have known,” he said.

“She seemed so nice and warm.

Who could’ve guessed she’d

be an apocalypse in human form?”

The future stranger grumbled with a sneer.

“I warned you! I left a note!”

“‘DO NOT GO ON THE DATE!’ It was clear!

“You say that, but you could have done better.

Why include a date if that’s not the one to ignore?”

“2025 is years away and July a little bit more.”

Life of Dreams

“You look familiar…,” David’s new boss somehow read his mind. He was thinking the same thing as the portly, balding redhead shook his hand. “Have we met? Name’s Benny in case we haven’t,” he added with a smile and loosened his grip on David’s hand.

“You too, but I’m afraid I can’t place it,” David said.                                               “I’m going to say we’ve seen each other somewhere, but never actually met; until I remember otherwise.” Benny chuckled and nodded.

“Fair enough, well let’s get started,” Benny cocked his head toward the door to get David to follow him, then he walked out of the small, cluttered office. David followed while searching his mind for a memory of meeting the rotund man. Benny headed straight for the back area of the refrigerated section. Several loaded pallets, bordering on a dozen, were stacked neatly in the center near the refrigerators. Milk, juices, teas, lemonades were piled on and wrapped in plastic.

“Since you finished the training video & quiz early, you get to unload today.” Benny pointed at several colorful posters above each door of the fridge case. “There’s the layout, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Unpack and stock. But…,” Benny chuckled. “If there’s anything running this place has taught me, self-explanatory isn’t always obvious to everyone. There are no stupid questions. I want you to do the job right, if you’re unsure about something, ask. I’d rather you did something right instead of wrong. But, I’d also rather you do something wrong instead of nothing at all. As long as I see you trying, we’re good.”

As Benny explained, he couldn’t help but notice that David was half-chuckling under his breath. It almost rubbed him the wrong way until he caught David’s eyes kept flicking to the pallet of milk. It made him curious instead of mad.

“Something funny?” Benny asked. David’s laughter stopped immediately and his face blanched while he shook his head rapidly.

“Sorry!” he apologized. “It’s just I hadn’t seen that brand before,” he pointed at the top layer of milk jugs on the pallet. The label on the opaque green jug said, “Herdland Meadow”; it was a generic picture of a grassy plain with a golden sun and blue sky. The Herdlands was a country of Minotaurs in David’s dream kingdom. It seemed extra funny, and slightly disturbing to imagine the jugs filled with minotaur’s milk.

“I know, right!?” Benny broke out into laughter, which gave David permission to laugh harder. “I mean, good luck getting one of them to sit quietly for more than two minutes!” David laughed harder and patted Benny on the shoulder.

“That reminds me,” David said between guffaws. “Did you hear the one about the Minotaur in the china shop?”  Benny’s laughter slowly became a wheeze and his face reddened with strain; but, he nodded.

“It was a very No-Bull thing you did!” Benny blurted out the punchline and both fell against each other in hysterics. After a few moments, both of them stopped laughing abruptly. They stepped apart and tilted their head at each other in confusion.

“King Benning?” David asked. No one on his Earth would have understood the Herdland Meadow joke, much less the joke about a minotaur with self-discipline. His boss’ familiar appearance suddenly clicked with the new information; it seemed to for Benny also. He nodded, but asked David his own question.

“King Davidson?” Benny asked.

“Holy crap…,” both of them said at the same time.

“What are you doing here!?” Benny asked. It was a silly question, but his mind was still trying to make sense of the situation. Up until that moment, he thought he was the only one that knew about the AlterNet. It wasn’t public knowledge on his Earth yet, but he hadn’t found any hints or mentions online either.

David lived a double life. During the day he lived in the real world and now worked in a grocery store. At night he slept in a soil bed and his consciousness was sent to an alternate Earth while his body rested. The world he chose to spend his dreamlife in was a fantasy medieval setting where running a kingdom was the name of the game. King Benning was always on the leaderboard above David, and he was getting tired of it.

“I’m… playing a game,” Benny said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m working,” David said, though he didn’t mean it as a smart ass remark. “I don’t play in your Earth until I go to sleep…”

“Ohhhhhhhh fudge,” Benny said. His laughter and smile were gone; replaced by a blank face with trembling lips. He locked his watery eyes with David’s coffe-brown eyes. “I’m asleep right now. Playing a management game…,” David watched Benny’s eyes grow red and puffy as tears started to stream down his cheeks. David felt his stomach knot in despair as he grasped what Benny said.

“Which one is real?” Benny whispered the question. David didn’t know the answer.

Withdrawal? Withdraw.

At three in the morning, a loud retching sound filled the quiet, dark apartment.

“Oh god, that’s disgusting!”  Max gagged again; his lean form was illuminated by the refrigerator. He turned around and spat into the sink. Something resembling red cottage cheese landed in the sink; it was full of chunky clots.  Max shuddered and turned on the faucet to cup water into his mouth. It would take too many precious seconds to get a glass. He reached over to turn the light on and get a better look, but the light came on before his hand reached the switch. He turned and found his roommate, Drake, standing just inside the kitchen with a concerned look on his almost emaciated, pale face. His sunken eyes only made the bags under them darker and more pronounced.

“What the hell is that?” Max asked, then rinsed his mouth with one final handful of water before closing the faucet. He spit into the sink then turned completely to give Drake his full attention.

“Cow blood…,” Drake said quietly; his eyes focused on nothing on the yellowing-white linoleum floor.

“Gross, why?” Max asked. Drake sighed, and seemed to be debating something before he answered. He continued to stare at the floor so Max moved to the fridge and pulled out his own thermos. It was a short white thermos, almost identical to Drake’s; except Max’s had a red scissor logo on the front. In his half-awake state, Max didn’t notice the missing logo until the disgusting blood in his mouth woke him completely. Max had time to open his own thermos, take a sip, then sigh contentedly before Drake answered.

“I’m…,” Drake looked up from the floor and met Max’s eyes. “…I’m a vampire.” His eyes filled with a dull, dark red glow, and a pair of small fangs appeared under his top lip.

“But why cow blood?” Max asked. He took another sip from his thermos. Drake’s head tilted. The glow dissipated as he narrowed his eyes at Max.

“I’m a vampire! You know, I drink blood…why aren’t you more concerned?” Max shrugged.

“A good roommate is a good roommate,” he chuckled. “I get you drink blood. But why cow blood?”

“I’m trying to live a normal life here, I can’t go killing people every time I get the munchies. You’d have been dead long ago..,” Drake felt more relaxed now that Max knew and didn’t seem to care. He tried to make a light joke and was glad when Max chuckled. “I have a hookup at the slaughterhouse, it’s kept me alive so far,” Drake shrugged.

“Pfft, barely,” Max made a wide gesture to indicate Drake’s pasty, gaunt appearance. “I had no idea you were a vampire; but, on the plus side, this is awesome,” he grinned.  “I don’t have to hide it from you either.” Max’s eyes glowed with brilliant red light, and a pair of large fangs protruded from under his lip. “Here,” Max handed his white and red thermos to Drake.

He accepted it with wide eyes and peeked down inside. It was filled with a rich red liquid that shined under the fluorescent kitchen lights. Drake quickly brought the liquid to his lips and took a big gulp before Max changed his mind. Drake shut his eyes in bliss as he took a second swallow. He didn’t want to be rude and drink it all, but even cold it was miles better than what he was drinking before.

He could feel his insides coming to life as strength filled his arms and legs. Drake managed to pull away from the half-emptied thermos and offer it back to Max. He shook his head.

“It’s yours man, you need it. I’ve gotta resupply tomorrow morning anyway.”                                                                                        

“Resupply?” Drake asked. He peeked back into the thermos in his hands. “It’s… human, right?” Drake didn’t want to kill anyone. He wouldn’t turn Max in, but he didn’t want to encourage more bloodshed. The blood in the thermos was already his. He promised himself no more deaths on his behalf as he lifted it and took another sip. Max’s eyes widened and he smiled.

“Oh wow!” Max smacked his own forehead. “Of course you don’t know, you’ve been drinking cow blood. Man, you lucked out having me as a roommate!” Max said. “You’re coming with me tomorrow.”

“I’m not killing anyone,” Drake said firmly. Max chuckled and shook his head.

“Me neither,” he said. “We’re going to the blood bank.”

Super Entertainment

“What do you mean, ‘I’m a bad guy now’?” Captain Strong gave Waxwork a confused grumble. They stood to one side of a narrow hallway; she pulled him aside as he headed to the league’s semi-annual party. It was his first one and he was excited to get to know some of the more attractive heroes.

“Remember when I said, ‘we’re basically a club that hangs out and sometimes has brawls with another club’?” Waxwork asked. Captain Strong nodded, but the confused expression remained.

“Timesweeper’s thing in the park?” he asked. “What does that do with you deciding to go Villain?” Waxwork rolled her firm, dull, waxen eyes.           

“The real secret is, it’s the same club; and, Timesweeper runs both the hero and villain leagues. I didn’t decide to go rogue. Timesweeper gave me a promotion,” she smiled.                             

“How is being evil a promotion?” Captain Strong asked. Waxwork giggled and shook her head.

I’m not evil!” She said. “They aren’t either. We’re mostly just having fun and entertaining everyone with some superhero action. It gives the average person someone to cheer for. Timesweeper runs both sides, which means investors on both sides. He makes sure to pay anyone on the Villain team extra to make up for the major decline in public perception. Twice a year we get together and talk about shuffling the teams around to keep things interesting. Heroes get to go rogue, Villains turn good, all that dramatic stuff like in wrestling.

“Oh,” Captain Strong nodded. He didn’t quite grasp the details, but he trusted Waxwork more than anyone else in the league. In his short time as part of the team he was impressed by how often she took an extra moment with him if it looked like he needed it. He assumed he would miss her; but, didn’t want to say it. If the villains and heroes were that friendly he’d probably still have opportunities to chat with her. “Well, good luck,” he said.

“There’s more,” Waxwork grinned. “Since I was second in command here, Timesweeper plans to set me up as the head villain. That means my heel turn has to be extra bad.”

“Okay…,” Captain Strong nodded but continued to listen.

“I have to…,” Waxwork gestured air quotes “…kill a hero.”

“Uhh.. but it’s all fake, right?”

“Technically… not exactly,” she said. And she continued when Captain Strong’s eyes went wide. “It needs to be real to look real, but Timesweeper can undo anything that gets done. So, you’ll be fine,” she patted him on the shoulder.

ME!?” Captain Strong took a step back. “Why me?!?” he whined.

“I talked Timesweeper into letting me bring a sidekick. Or I guess Henchman,” she chuckled. “I kill Captain Strong and go rogue. And once I’m head of the villains, I hire a brand new super-strong villain with what I hope is an awesome name.”

“I can change my name!?” Captain Strong asked. “Let’s go!” He was so excited he hooked his arm around Waxwork’s and started walking toward the party again. She let him lead her along but continued the conversation.

“Don’t forget, you’re a villain now. I expect an appropriately fear-inducing name before I let you join.”

“You got it, Boss,” Captain Strong chuckled.

Sharp Supply

“…and this is the break room,” Ms. Hope said. The pale, frail woman gestured at the two-bedroom sized area with a large stainless steel fridge. Three smallish round tables were set up around the room with four chairs at each. She pointed to the industrial-sized refrigerator. It seemed almost out of place surrounded by chipped, pea-green Formica counter. Six high-end microwaves, three on each side of the fridge, somehow made the old counters look worse. “Make sure you label your lunch clearly. This clan’s good about respecting ownership, but anything not labeled is considered free for all. Any questions before I hand you off to a trainer?” Ms. Hope asked.

“Um..,” Ambrosia gave a puzzled look at the empty break room, then back at Ms. Hope. “This is the end of the tour? Where do we take donations? I didn’t see anything that looked like a lobby.” Throughout the tour Ambrosia clenched her fists and gritted her teeth each time they entered a new room. She wanted to be ready to fight her urges if she needed to. She had no trouble handling blood in general. Bags of it were no more appetizing than a pound of raw meat to a normal person. It’s delicious eventually, but there are a few steps to go through, such as warming it up, to make it enjoyable. However, watching it be harvested hot and fresh from the source was definitely trouble waiting to happen. Ambrosia hoped she could avoid the donation area enough to do her job.

“Oh, we don’t do that here,” Ms. Hope said. Ambrosia felt a wave of relief and she sighed. “Your trainer will have an information packet for you, but I’ll give you some background. This is mostly a logistics office for our parent company, Sharp Medical Services. You’ll be directing, blood flow…,” Ms. Hope giggled “… for donors and buyers but you’ll have very little interaction with the blood itself. Which is probably a good thing,” Ms. Hope gave Ambrosia a friendly smile.  “I doubt this crowd would get any work done with a donation station on the premises, right?” she laughed.

Ambrosia didn’t quite get the joke, but she laughed anyway. She assumed it had something to do with them being squeamish, but it made her laugh to think about the difficulty she would have working there.                        

“Anything else?” Ms. Hope asked.

“Kind of…,” Ambrosia said as she swung her leather bag around to the front and reached in. “I’m ready to meet the trainer, but first.. do you have a pen and a sticky note?” She asked as she retrieved a tin lunchbox from her bag. It was black and red decorated with cartoon vampires on it.

“Oh that’s adorable!” Ms. Hope said. What’s in it?” Ambrosia tilted her head and gave Ms. Hope a confused look. Though, in the back of her mind panic began to flutter. Had she managed to “pack a lunch” wrong somehow? She thought most people would assume a lunchbox contains food. Though, she prayed no one would want a drink from her thermos.

“My lunch?’ she said. It was hard not to sound like a smart ass but Ambrosia hoped she managed it. Instead of taking offense or laughing, Ms. Hope returned the confused look to Ambrosia.

“Really?” she asked. Ms. Hope handed her a pen and sticky pad from a nearby desk. Ambrosia wrote her name on the pad, tore off the top note and stuck it to her lunchbox. Ms. Hope giggled softly when Ambrosia returned the notepad.

You didn’t read the posting all the way, did you?” Ms. Hope asked, though her confusion transitioned to a friendly smile.

“No, no, of course I did,” Ambrosia lied. The truth was she didn’t even remember applying for the job. She vaguely remembered surfing the web drunk one night and ready for a change. She was surprised the next morning to discover she applied for half a dozen jobs, and further shocked when she landed one with a great salary. Her reasoning was they hired her. She was going to do her best to do the job right, but ultimately if she wasn’t right for the job, that was the employer’s problem. Ms. Hope’s smile grew into a wide ear to ear grin.

“I don’t believe you for a second, but that’s okay,” she said. “This’ll be fun. Go put your lunch away then I’ll introduce you to your trainer.”

“Okay,” Ambrosia nodded. She didn’t know what to make of Ms. Hope, but so far she seemed to be a lenient, chill boss. Ambrosia walked toward the refrigerator. When she got there, she noticed Ms. Hope was sticking close behind her. Ambrosia opened the fridge and her mouth dropped open.         

“If you think about it…,” Ms. Hope said behind her. Ambrosia turned away from the fridge full of glass jars, each labeled with a yellow sticky note, and looked at Ms. Hope. Ms. Hope’s fangs were out and her eyes glowed the same dark red as the liquid in the jars. “…who’s going to keep track of every drop of blood better than vampires?”