Sun. Drop.

“OW!” Tanner gave Anna a confused, hurt look. The lean, mid-50s man glanced down at his bare, bloodied chest then back up at his fiance. She was still holding the gun up and pointed at him. “You shot-,”

Anna’s eyes widened in surprise and slight panic. Most of her targets went down after the first shot or were at least worried by it. She immediately fired again and kept firing until the gun was empty. The silencer did its job and protected her ears; but, Tanner continued to stand upright. His wounds bled a surprisingly small amount. The bullet holes seemed to do no more damage than a nasty papercut.

“That figures,” Tanner mumbled to himself. “I finally let myself love someone and she’s a psycho.” His hurt expression somehow triggered emotions more real than any she’d lied about over the past year.

“I’m not a psycho!” Anna felt compelled to defend herself even as she reloaded the weapon. Tanner did not seem to be making any moves to fight back or call for help. They stood in his bedroom at the center of a six-acre estate. It was a Sunday morning and all his household staff had the day off. “I’m an assassin, it’s different.” Tanner gave a moping shrug.

“People don’t just fall into that line of work,” he said. “It takes certain proclivities.”

“It’s nothing personal,” she said. She was ready to pull the trigger again, but she noticed the first 10 bullet wounds were completely healed up. Despite the situation, Tanner gave a chuckle. Anna was a professional and managed to avoid developing feelings for Tanner; but, he didn’t make it easy. She had to admit it was refreshing how he could find humor in almost any situation.

“That doesn’t really help your case,” he said.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Anna asked. She was initially surprised he seemed so calm. But, after his wounds healed she realized he likely wasn’t worried about being shot. And, he still seemed like his usual, level-headed self. She felt confident she could get some answers out of him. Maybe she would learn something beyond her assignment that would earn her a promotion.

“Eehhh,” Tanner made the sound of a shrug. “I feel like I’ve got the upper hand here. Why do you want me dead?” he asked.

“I’m just doing my job. It took me a year to get the info and all I have to do is tie up a loose end,” Anna replied.

“Info? What info?” Tanner asked. He was tired of standing for the stand-off and wandered over to get back in bed. Whatever the information was, he had to have mentioned it the night before. The only things he’d said to her that morning were ‘good morning, babe’ and ‘where are you going?’ when he got out of bed to follow her. That was the moment she turned and fired before he realized she had a weapon. He happily chatted about his newest product the night before because it was finally ready for launch. However, he didn’t consider it to be a secret.

Anna’s arms grew tired of holding up the gun. Despite the fact that she shot him several times, she still felt completely safe in his presence. She lowered the weapon but did not put it away.

“The frequency to open a portal,” she said. “Once my bosses get it they’ll be able to access and control the multiverse.” Anna’s knees weakened slightly when Tanner burst into his familiar hearty, sincere laughter. Not falling in love had been the most difficult part of her assignment if she was honest with herself. It was nearly impossible. But, it helped that she felt he was laughing at her.

Control the multiverse?” he asked between chortles. “You don’t even know what’s out there.”

“And you do?” Anna asked. It was part reflexive childishness and part reconnaissance. Anna was determined to be on the winning side, whatever it was. If she could get her bosses more information, the more likely they were to be that winning side. Tanner’s chuckles slowed and faded, but he gestured at his muscular chest and six-pack abs. They were completely unmarred. Then, he held the back of his hand up to show her his tattoo; it was a small bright yellow sun with the number 46 on it.

“What? You got a magic tattoo that heals you from another universe?”

“Not exactly,” Tanner replied. “It’s more like the tattoo lets me access the healing powers I already had,” he said.

“Are you an alien?” Anna asked. Instead of stepping back in fear, she moved closer to the bed. Even if he was an alien, Anna knew he wouldn’t hurt her; he’d had plenty of opportunities up that point.

“No, but we’ll get back to that,” he said. “First, I want to tell you that you wasted a year, or took too long. Either way, your employers won’t be happy about that, and the fact I’m still alive,” he added with a chuckle.

“The information you were after is going to be public knowledge by next week. The nodes I’m putting out will have multiverse access built-in. What did you think I meant when I told you my nodes would change the world?” 

“I thought you were being hyperbolic,” Anna replied. Tanner seemed to always be right about everything in their year together; she felt that he was right about her bosses too. They wouldn’t be satisfied having only a week’s headstart over the rest of the world.

“Well, I wasn’t,” he said with a slight smirk. “But, just to give you an idea of what’s out there I want to tell you something. I didn’t invent nodes, I’m not even building them,” he said. “All this ‘development’ I’ve been doing over the past year has just been paperwork trying to get a distribution license. The multiverse is already controlled by a corporation called Sharp Development. Everything goes through them. Even if you got the information and killed me a year ago, it wouldn’t have mattered. The moment you opened a portal, Sharp Development would know.”

Somehow, Anna knew he wasn’t lying. He’d been nothing but honest with her for a year, even if she wasn’t. Her bosses wouldn’t be happy with her. And with everyone getting access to the multiverse the world was about to change in a huge way. Not only did she probably not have a job anymore; she didn’t need to stay even if she did. She could run away and live a happy life with someone that she wanted to love.

“So, what about you? What are you?” she asked. Tanner chuckled again and gave her a slight smirk. This time, Anna let the butterflies in her stomach flutter away without suppression.

“Well, my fiance totally just tried to kill me and has been lying to me for a year,” he said with a heavy sigh. Anna did not have time to react when the bed disappeared from under her. As she fell through a black hole, the last thing she ever heard was his voice one last time. “So, I guess I’m single again.”

Inviting Sun

Minerva’s heart sank with the gavel bang. The court ruled her a witch and in an instant, the gathered townsfolk rushed at her like a rabid mob.

“BURN THE WITCH!” Minerva’s own mother yelled. The young woman couldn’t blame her though; she saw the pain in her mother’s eyes. She knew she was only doing it to take the blame off herself for birthing a witch at all. Not that Minerva was actually a witch. The accusation only came because she proved herself to be stronger than any man in the village.

It was a festive day full of friendly competitions; Minerva won them all easily. The mayor’s ego was particularly bruised when Minerva bested his son in a wrestling competition.

“She has unnatural strength! It’s magic!” he shouted. That was all it took to get her on trial. A trial presided over by the Mayor himself; she never stood a chance. Then, almost as quickly as it began, the ruckus died down. A brilliant, almost warm glow entered the room. Everyone, now quiet, sat down again and turned to face the newcomer. Minerva noted the crowd seemed relaxed and guessed they felt like she did; ready to nap on a beach on a warm sunny day.

“This woman is no witch,” the stranger said. She was tall, lean, and ghostly pale.  Her hair shimmered like polished metal as did her eyes.

“And you are, Ms.?” The mayor asked. His question came in a far more polite tone than Minerva had ever heard from him in her 20 years. It only made it stranger that he was addressing a woman. The rest of the townsfolk seemed content to sit quietly and bask in her warm glow.

“You may call me Chroma,” the woman replied. She continued walking towards the witness stand at an easy pace.

“And how are you sure that she’s not a witch?” the mayor asked. Chroma smiled at him, she was now directly in front of Minerva.

“Because I am,” she replied. Minerva’s eyes went in fear for the woman. She expected the crowd to rush Chroma just as ferociously as they did her; but, no one moved. The mayor only nodded his head.

“I see,” he replied. “Though, that doesn’t necessarily exclude her from being one. Witches belong to covens. How do you explain her magical strength?” Minerva was amazed that the mayor’s argument came out so peacefully. She knew it was due to Chromas glow, and she did not doubt for a minute that the woman was definitely a witch.

“What’s to explain?” Chroma shrugged. “Your boys are just weak; they should get more exercise.”

“Hmmm,” the mayor nodded again. “I suppose they have been getting lazy.”

“It’s a beautiful day outside, why is everyone in here?” Chroma asked. Minerva felt the sudden urge to run outside, but Chroma placed a hand on her shoulder to keep her steady. Another bang of the gavel drew everyone’s attention.

“Not a witch. Case closed. Let’s get back to the festival,” the mayor said. The townsfolk all stood calmly, then filed out of the courtroom. The moment Chroma and Minerva were alone, Chroma’s golden, sunny glow dimmed and Minerva’s head felt clearer.

“Are you okay?” Chroma asked her. Minerva nodded.

“Yes, thank you. Who are you? Why is a witch helping me?” 

“I’m not a witch exactly. I do use magic, but it’s not witchcraft,” Chroma replied with a smile. Minerva couldn’t help but stare into her mirror-like eyes. They were polished enough that Minerva was looking into her own green eyes.

“I helped you with the hope of convincing you to help me,” Chroma replied. Minerva nodded immediately; she was beyond grateful at this point.

“Whatever it is, if I can help you, I will,” Minerva replied. Chroma smiled. A tall black portal opened next to Minerva and Chroma nodded at it.

“Welcome to the Chrome Court. You’re going to help me save the multiverse,” Chroma then stepped into the void and disappeared. Minerva heard her voice from the other side. “Come along, Calavera.”

Stone Flushed

“Gaia, I come in peace…,” Firebolt held his hands up when Gale Stone opened the door. She sighed, then stood aside to let him in.

“I know; call me Gale,” she replied. Gaia was the most powerful supervillain in the world, with hair and clothes made up of tangled roots. Gale was the brown-haired soccer-mom that opened the door. Firebolt relaxed his hands and walked into her house.

“Thank you,” he said. She closed the door behind him, then turned around.

“What do you want?” she asked. Firebolt tilted his head in confusion.

“You said you already knew?” he asked. Gale rolled her eyes.

“I said I knew you were here in peace. Just because I can know everything doesn’t mean I bother checking up on any of you idiots,” she said. “But, when you’re standing on my doorstep mumbling, ‘I hope she doesn’t kill me, I hope she doesn’t kill me,’ it’s kind of a different situation,” she smiled. Firebolt nodded.

“Spex said you might be able to help us with a problem the league is having.” Gaia’s smile disappeared as soon as she heard the name. Firebolt was surprised when he identified her new expression as concern.

“Is he okay?” she asked. “Why didn’t he come himself?” Firebolt shrugged.

“Just because he’s your son-in-law doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t kill him; that was his excuse anyway.” Gale’s concern disappeared and she giggled.

“I do have quite the reputation don’t I,” she asked. “Well, get on with it. Why are you here?”

“I, and several other league members, are being blackmailed with our secret identities,” Firebolt said. “This new villain, The Stalker, follows us around; he’s invisible, intangible, and can teleport. The only way we’ve been able to spot him is with the psychics in the league. But we can’t contain him.”

“Well the only way to capture someone like that…,” Gale began. She took a deliberate, slow look around her living room. “…is to catch them by SURPRISE!” When she said ‘surprise’ a thick green vine sprouted out of the hardwood floor. It speared forward and impaled itself in the drywall.

A lean, pale, frightened man appeared for just a moment before he flashed out of existence again.

“You missed?” Firebolt asked, and shook his head. “He was here in your living room and you missed?”

“Next time the league wants to ask me for a favor, don’t hold a meeting about it. I’m sure this idiot stalker thought he’d try and blackmail me for my secret identity too.”

“How’d you know about the meeting?” Firebolt asked. Gale rolled her eyes. “I told you, I can know everything; if I’m curious enough.”

“Then,… how’d you miss?” FIrebolt chuckled. He felt a bit braver knowing Gaia was a terrible shot. Gale smiled and opened the door for him again.

“You’re asking the wrong question. It’s now about how I missed, it’s about why,” she said. “I read his mind, he can only use one of his powers at a time. And he’s only a short-range teleporter.” Gale nodded out the door. The same lean man stood on her front lawn with golden vines pierced through his arms and legs, and one wrapped around his mouth. He wriggled in pain as blood leaked out of his wounds. “He can’t use his powers as long as those are in him; I just didn’t want a bloody mess in my house.”

Super Logic

“It’s about time,” Karen said as she walked into Satan’s office. She sat in the black leather chair in front of his obsidian desk and waited with crossed arms.

“What can I do for you, Karen?” he asked as politely as he could.  The blonde scoffed.

“Aren’t you supposed to know everything?” she asked. Satan shook his head and sighed.

“I can know anything I want; but, I make it a habit not to pry into the personal lives of family,”  he explained. “So, what brings you to Hell?” Karen’s eyes softened slightly at that; but, just for a moment. She was there on a mission and intended to see it through.

“It’s about the boys,” she said. Satan guessed that much. Karen was his son’s mother-in-law. It was the only reason Satan tolerated her.

“What about them?’ Satan asked.

“I’m getting old,” Karen said. “I’m not going to be around forever.” Satan nodded and let a smirk tug at the corner of his lips.

“I know,” he said. “What does this have to do with Arthur and Eric?” Satan secretly hoped she was going to try and get immortality out of him just so he could deny it.

“I want a grandchild,” Karen replied. Satan tilted his head at that.

“The boys have been discussing adoption, but they haven’t decided anything yet.” Karen shook her head.

“Not adoption. I want my grandchild to be born into the family naturally,” she said. Satan chuckled.

“You do understand biology, don’t you, Karen?” Satan couldn’t help but stress her name with a patronizing tone. “Just to remind you; Arthur and Eric are both males. Neither of them can get pregnant.”

“Aren’t you the omni-potent dark master of the universe?” Karen replied with her own patronizing tone.

“Huh,” Satan had to admit she had a point. He nodded his head. “I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll have to talk it over with them, but thank you for bringing it up. But…,” he continued. “That doesn’t really qualify as ‘natural’ anymore if they did want to go that route.” Satan was compelled to point out the disconnect of involving magic.

“Nonsense,” Karen replied curtly. She stood now that her business was completed. “It’s only fitting that my super wonderful grandchild has a supernatural birth.”

Wishing to Connect

“I wish for the world to reach Utopian status within the next century and maintain it until the sun burns out naturally,” Peter said. After he made his wish, he laid down on the couch to wait for three minutes.

“Wait, that’s your wish?” The genie asked. She walked to the couch and looked down on Peter through narrow eyes. “That doesn’t count yet, unless you’re sure,” she added.

“I’m sure,” Peter replied. The genie shook her head, her gold dangling earrings jingled with the motion.

“No, no. Hold on. You haven’t even given it any thought,’ she said. “I didn’t even tell you when you had to use it. Why don’t you hold on to it for a while, maybe you can think of a way out.” Peter remained on his back, but he gave her a curious look.

“You said I can’t wish for anything that will save me,” he said. “There’s no way out.”

“You didn’t even try,” she said. She had an edge of annoyance in her voice. Peter shrugged.

“I’m going to die one day anyway, right? At least this way, my death means something for everyone else.”

“They’ll never know it was you,” she said. Peter laughed.

“I’m going to be dead, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.

“No, c’mon. You’re supposed to try and outwit me. I’m a genie, there’s gotta be a loophole, right?” She grabbed his hand to try and pull I’m off the couch; she only managed to get him sitting upright again. “I said you can’t wish for anything that’ll save you, but maybe you can come up with a wish that ends up saving you as a side effect? You can take your time, there’s no rush. I’ll just hang around until you use it up.” Peter tilted his head at the genie.

“What’s life like inside the lamp?” he asked. She hadn’t accepted his wish, so he felt comfortable starting a conversation.

“It’s not bad,” she said. “It’s actually a pocket universe, so I’m not cramped or anything. It’s a lot like being the last person on Earth, I have an entire planet to myself.”

“Do you have to grant wishes?” he asked. The genie nodded and shrugged simultaneously.

“What’s the point of a genie that doesn’t grant wishes?” she said.

“Why just one wish? And why does it kill me?” Peter asked. The genie shrugged again. She sensed it was going to turn into a conversation and sat down on the couch next to him.

“Genies get to make up their own rules. The three wish limit is commonly accepted, so most genies will use that as a standard. I’ve tried several different rulesets; and, I’ve found that making a client think long and hard about one wish earns me a lot of free time on the outside world. Most people…,” the genie reached out and gave Peter a playful shove. “…think about their wish for more than a few minutes.” Peter smiled as he gave her situation some more thought.

“I think you’re right, maybe I rushed it,” he smirked at her. “Give me a few years and I’m pretty sure I can outsmart you,” he said.

“Really?” she asked, her eyes brightened. Peter nodded.

“But, until then, do genies eat? It’s getting close to dinner time and since I’m going to be alive, I need to eat. You should join me,” he said. The genie grinned.

“That’s a wish I’ll grant for free.”

Name Recognition

Johnathon picked up the bright red bucket hat out of curiosity. The color drew his attention as he watched a surprisingly spry old man dash into the alley. Red stood out from the blacks and browns of most of the other pedestrians wandering around downtown. Johnathon’s curiosity led him to follow the old man into the alley; but, he was surprised to find it empty except for the red hat.

Johnathon checked the inside of the hat and was surprised to see his own name written inside the brim with a black marker. He turned it around to look over the outside and noted the number 13 embroidered in small gold numbers on the top of it. He spun around in the alley again to double-check for a sign of anyone, but he was alone. The hat looked like it would fit him comfortably and he tried it on. The moment it sat on his head something felt different; but, he wasn’t sure what. A tingling sensation ran down from his head to envelope his whole body. It surprised him and he pulled the hat off, the sensation instantly disappeared. He looked down at his hands but did not see anything that might have caused the tingling sensation. He shrugged and donned the hat again.

The tingling sensation returned but he was expecting it this time. He checked his hands but they were missing. He wiggled his fingers frantically, still feeling the sensations but he could not see his hands. or arms. He looked down further and realized his body invisible, clothes and all. Johnathon kept his focus on his torso and reached up to lift the hat off his head. His body reappeared as soon as the tingling sensation ended.

“Nice…,” Johnathon grinned to himself. He put the hat on and walked out of the alley. He worked extra hard to dodge pedestrians that couldn’t see him, but the strangers ignored him even more than usual. Johnathon made his way home as he planned the best way to make use of his new ability.

At 21, he was just starting his life and he knew he could use the hat to make a great life for himself. But, he wanted to avoid drawing too much attention. He used it for occasional minor thievery to help him stay current with his bills, but more often than that he used it to spy on others. Over the years his business grew successful because he somehow always knew exactly what others would accept to make any deal work.

40 years later a very wealthy Johnathon happened to be passing the very same alley where he discovered the hat. He’d been hit by a wave of nostalgia and flew back to his hometown. He smiled when he recognized the alley and turned into it. He was surprised to see an old man looking around and grumbling to himself.

“Where the hell is it?” Johnathon heard the old man ask. An old memory crossed Johnathon’s mind as he wondered what the old man was looking for. It was the same man that wore the red hat when he ran into the alley, then vanished. 40 years ago Johnathon’s curiosity led him into the alley and now his curiosity again pushed him to approach the old man.

“Everything okay, sir?” Johnathon asked. The old man looked up and nodded.

“Fine, but have you any chance seen a red hat anywhere around here? I’m pretty sure this is where I lost it.” Johnathon had the hat in his coat pocket; but, he wasn’t ready to return it just yet. There were still several unanswered questions. As his memory clarified, Johnathon realized the old man looked the same age he did when he first saw him. He didn’t look like he had another 40 years in him then and now. He wanted to see if he could get any more information out of the man and decided to try and be helpful.

“When did you lose it?” Johnathon asked while giving a cursory look around the alley for effect. The old man answered with a laugh.

“If I knew that, it’d be easier to find,” he said. “Instead I’ve got to retrace my steps through all the years I’ve been here.” Johnathon didn’t quite understand what the man meant, but he chalked it up to the stranger just being old. But, the fact that he mentioned a timeframe gave Johnathon an idea. He snapped his fingers, which drew the man’s attention.

“I knew you looked familiar,” Johnathon said with wide eyes as if he’d just had an epiphany. “Is it a red bucket hat?” he asked. The old man stepped forward and nodded. “Yeah…,” Johnathon nodded as well as if he were jogging his own memory. “.. well I don’t it’s going to help you any. But I think I remember seeing you around here wearing a red bucket hat 40 years ago.” 

“40?” the old man asked. Johnathon nodded. The old man smiled, and seemed relieved. “Thank you,” he said. Then, Johnathon blinked.

40 years earlier, a 21-year-old Johnathon stood in an alleyway holding a red hat. He checked the inside of the hat and was surprised to see his own name written inside the brim with a black marker. He turned it around to look over the outside and noted the number 13 embroidered in small gold numbers on the top of it. He spun around in the alley again to double-check for a sign of anyone,  and was surprised to see the old man there; seemingly appeared out of thin air. He stared at Johnathon and narrowed his eyes.

“My hat, please,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” Johnathon returned the hat with a smile. “It has my name in it; I was a bit surprised,” he added as the old man accepted it. “I thought maybe it was meant for me or something.” The old man laughed and shook his head.

“Thanks for helping me find it,” he said. He extended his hand in greeting and Johnathon noticed the number 14 tattooed on his hand. “Name’s Johnathon,” he said as they shook hands. “I’d say it was a funny coincidence, but we both know how common our name is.”

Conspiracy. Teamwork.

“You’re asking me to move?” Blake asked. The visit from Theodore was unexpected, and the reason even more. He’d only moved into the neighborhood a month ago and now the head of the Homeowner’s Association seemed to be kicking him out. Theodore shook his head.

“Not me, the neighborhood,” he replied. He held up a list of signatures to Blake for effect.

“You can’t make me move,” Blake said. He clenched his fists to keep his growing anger in check. Theodore nodded.

“Of course not, but we can still ask. At least this way, you know where you stand with everyone; we don’t like you.” Blake was genuinely surprised. Everyone he’d talked to in the neighborhood seemed pleasant and chipper every time he talked to them. Occasionally, he thought them too chipper, and suspiciously pleasant.

Ever since Blake arrived, he noticed every aspect of the neighborhood appeared to be perfect. However, it wasn’t long until he started noticing small things that bothered him and no one else. At 45, Blake had lived in a lot of places, but none were as flawless as this neighborhood. The roads were pot-hole free and every yard was perfectly maintained. Even his own, that he never put any effort into; his neighbor happily volunteered to mow Blake’s lawn.

Prices at the local grocery store were the cheapest he’d seen, and even then paying seemed to be optional. He’d witnessed several of his neighbors load up their carts and walk right out the door; he even managed to do it himself a couple of times. Blake knew a town this perfect couldn’t exist and he began investigating.

Blake did not want to draw attention to himself and kept his snooping around to the late-night hours. He went through trash cans around the neighborhood and only grew more suspicious. All recyclables at every house he checked were perfectly cleaned and sorted, and the trash bin was usually only full about halfway. Not a single house put out as much waste as a normal family.

Somehow, despite Blake’s best efforts at stealth, they were on to him. He realized that the only reason they would ask him to leave was if he was close to uncovering something. Still, he wanted to at least try and put Theodore on the spot.

“Why not?” Blake asked. “What’d I do that half the neighborhood hates me?” he asked.

“The whole neighborhood,” Theodore corrected him. Blake only meant it as a turn of phrase, but Theodore’s comment punched him in the gut.

“We’ve seen your kind before,” Theodore said. “This time we’re getting ahead of it.”

“My kind?” Blake asked. “What does that mean?” He immediately tossed out any racial discrimination. Another suspicious thing about the neighborhood was that it was perfectly diverse.

“Cynics,” Theodore replied.

“What?” Blake asked. “So what if I’m a little cynical? Everyone is.” Theodore shook his head.

“Not here,” he said. “It always starts the same. We welcome newcomers to our neighborhood because we were all new at one point. But, occasionally a person refuses to accept how smoothly everything functions here. So, they start digging, confident they’ll find a reasonable explanation. As if a giant conspiracy was somehow more reasonable than a group of people organizing together to make their lives better. We all pitch in and work towards improving things for everyone here.”

“I haven-,” Blake began to protest, but Theodore shook his head.

“You’ve already begun digging,” he said. “This is a very safe neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use security cameras. If you’re suffering financially, we’d be happy to donate food. But, going through your neighbor’s garbage is a fairly decent invasion of privacy.”

“My finances are fine,” Blake grumbled. He felt rejected and attacked; his pride insisted he not let him think he was poor on top of all that.

“Wonderful,” Theodore said. “Then, if you’re not going to move, the least you could do is settle your tab at the grocer’s.”

“Tab?” Blake asked. He gave Theodore a slightly confused look, which Theodore mirrored.

“You didn’t know?” he asked. “So… you were just stealing groceries?”

“No no, I-” Blake protested. But, Theodore shook his head and interrupted him.

“It doesn’t matter. Please settle that account by Friday, no questions asked. Stop going through everyone’s garbage, and for god’s sake, man, mow your own lawn. Samuel offered to do it for you one time while you got settled, but you’re really abusing his kindness.”

Sharp Bookkeeping

Leonard woke in a white room. He sat up to get his bearings and noticed the walls glowed with a soft white light. He found himself on an obsidian slab and swung his legs over the edge; the floor also emitted the same dim white light. He knew he was dead.

“Mr. Parsons, I hope you enjoyed your life,” a voice said behind him. The startled man swiveled his head toward the speaker. His stomach dropped as soon as he recognized the rotund blonde man dressed in a white suit.

“Welcome to Hell,” Lucifer smiled. Leonard was sure he woke up alone. He quickly spun his head around expecting the rest of the buyers to appear. “Something wrong?” Lucifer asked.

“Why am I here?” Leonard asked.  Lucifer giggled with high-pitched squeaks that sounded odd coming from his round frame.

“I know you got a bit delirious at the end there, but you sold your soul to me, remember?” Lucifer asked. Leonard couldn’t help but nod.

“Yeah, but..,” Leonard continued looking around the plain white room hoping to see anyone else show up.

“But what?” Lucifer asked. “You seem to be waiting for someone,” he added after a few moments of Leonard not answering. That caught Leonard’s full attention. He turned to Lucifer and nodded. He hoped being honest would start the show. Hell had rules to follow and if his soul was promised to others, they couldn’t do anything to him.

“I am,” Leonard admitted. “My soul has other buyers.” Lucifer chuckled.

“That’s not possible.” Leonard also laughed but shook his head.

“It is because I did it. I sold my soul to the fairies to guarantee financial security for my descendants. The witches guaranteed health and longevity for my soul. The vampires promised protection. And obviously, you were there for our deal.” Lucifer tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes.

“Were you trying to cheat Hell?” he asked. Leonard laughed again; more obnoxiously this time.

“OF COURSE!” he said. “You’re Hell.

“Oh. Well, this is a problem. Just to avoid any misunderstandings, I need to get this straight. You knowingly sold your soul to multiple parties, is that right?” Leonard nodded enthusiastically. The fact that Lucifer said it was a problem seemed promising. Lucifer chuckled; his laugh was deeper, and more intimidating than his giggles earlier.

“Mr. Parsons,” Lucifer smiled. “How disorganized do you think we are in Hell?” he asked. “Do you think we lack simple bookkeeping skills?”

“What?” Leonard asked. A tight knot began to form in his stomach. “What do you mean?”

“The moment you agreed to our deal, your soul was marked as Hell’s property. No one else could possibly claim it.”

“But…the fairies…,” Leonard said. “.. witches… everyone accepted my deal.”

“Accepted?” Lucifer asked. “Or… amended?” he said with a grin.


“Mr. Parsons, you’re not the first to think himself clever by selling to multiple parties. If you were, you might have gotten away with it. As it stands, Hell now has procedures in place for this kind of thing. Once your soul is ours, it’s off-limits to anyone else. It leaves a mark on you visible to any parties that trade in souls. They’re not allowed to actually purchase it, but they can promise you anything you like. When that happens it simply amends your original deal with me.” Lucifer said. 

“Well…,” Leonard sighed. He was starting to realize he was about to spend an eternity in Hell. “… at least I got more out of you,” he chuckled. Lucifer shrugged.

“You could have done that in our meeting,” Lucifer said with a smile. “You sold your eternal soul, you had all the negotiating power.” 

“Oh,” Leonard felt foolish, but still content. He would endure torment for eternity so long as his family was taken care of.

“It’s a shame you tried to cheat Hell, though,” Lucifer added with a gentle shake of his head.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there are a few different outcomes from this scenario,” Lucifer said. “Sometimes people don’t realize what they’re doing is considered cheating, or at least don’t admit it. In those cases, the amended deal is still in effect. Hell is, at its core, a customer service industry after all. The customer is often, always right.

“That’s what I-,” Leonard began to protest, but Lucifer shook his head.

“On the other hand,” he spoke over Leonard. “Some people try to cheat Hell. Then, they’re stupid enough to admit it when they get here. That voids all amendments.” Lucifer smiled. “Your descendants get nothing for your time here.”

“But….. but…,” Leonard sputtered trying to find a way out. Lucifer shrugged.

“You were gifted the ability to see and interact with Fae in exchange for your soul,” Lucifer said. “That deal was completed, so, let’s get started on that eternity of torture.”

Sharp in Deed

Justin sat in his small, tidy kitchen across from Dana Sharp, a woman he’d never heard of before she showed up at his door. Her crisp white suit, and the black suit of her assistant, somehow made his kitchen seem drab and messy in comparison. Aside from their impeccable appearance and business-like demeanor, they seemed positively insane.

“Not only are you saying I somehow own this Earth, but you also want to buy it from me?” Justin asked. Dana Sharp nodded. “But, if I already own everything on Earth, what do I need  your money for?” It was a valid question. Justin woke up that Saturday morning like any other. He had no idea he was entitled to the deed of Earth until Ms. Sharp told him. Then, she promptly offered to buy it.

“This claim began at the dawn of human civilization on this Earth,” Dana replied. “The universe recognizes your ownership; but, I doubt you’ll find anyone else willing to listen. At best, you’d be ignored.”

“And why would they listen to you?” Justin asked. Dana smiled.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “You’ve lived 30 years without the knowledge that the Earth was owned by a single person. That doesn’t need to change for everyone out there.” Justin tilted his head. It didn’t make sense to him that she wanted to buy the planet but didn’t seem concerned about the people on it.

“Then, why? What’s in it for you?”

“Mr. Cardenas, I think we may have different ideas about what I’m offering,” Ms. Sharp said. “I’m here to help you; I’m not asking for anything in return.”

“Yeah…,” Justin chuckled. “…nothing but the planet.”

“The universe places great importance on rules and contracts,” Ms. Sharp said.  “You may have lost yourself in thought when I explained my offer the first time. I understand; it’s a lot to take in. I am offering you a trade. You grant me ownership of this Earth and I give you the means to run it as you see fit; a way to enforce your claim as it were.”

“If you just want to help, why not give me that without claiming the Earth?”

“I’m sure a smart man like yourself already realized I’m from an alternate universe. This universe knows that I came from a different universe as well,” Ms. Sharp explained. “Anything I do to help you would be seen as a threat on this universe; it would not end well for anyone.”

“But if you’re the proper owner…,” Justin nodded in understanding.

“The act of you signing the universe over to me allows me to help you. My name on the deed no one knew existed instead of yours; that’s all that’s in it for me. Nothing changes unless you want it to; and, you’ll have the capability to generate those changes. On top of that, you’ll have access to the multiverse, if you choose. Your citizens can see other universes as well as welcome alternate tourists.”

Justin sat quietly for a moment and Ms. Sharp did not rush him. No matter how he looked at it, he only saw positives. On the far end, she really was insane and lying about everything. If that were the case, his signature wouldn’t mean anything to anyone. And, he would find out sooner by signing. If she were telling the truth about any of it, his life would improve. He started to imagine himself being praised for being a wise ruler and opening the multiverse to the citizens of his Earth. Dana Sharp’s name may be on the deed, but he would be managing the Earth and recognized as its ruler. Finally, he looked at Ms. Sharp and nodded.

“Where do I sign?”

Sharp Tower

“Hello, neighbor,” Betty turned to see a young man in jeans and a t-shirt approaching her with a big grin on his face. He extended his hand once he was close enough. “Name’s Jorge, I just moved in next door.” Betty left her key on the door long enough to shake his hand.

“Betty,” she said. “Welcome to the building.”

“Thanks,” Jorge said. He noticed her white uniform with the name ‘Sharp Scoops’ embroidered in red on her sleeve. “So,.. uh.. what’s the scoop on the community here?” he grinned at his own joke. Betty smiled politely at the attempt; it wasn’t the worst one she’d heard.

“They’re friendly enough,” Betty said. “But most keep to themselves. It feels like a lot of time they only use this exit to go to work.” Jorge didn’t know what she meant, but he quickly realized she was coming home from work and probably tired.

“Oh man, I’m sorry. You’re probably dying to get in, and here I am chatting away,” Jorge chuckled to himself; he took a step back to hint that he was leaving. Before he could say anything else, Betty nodded.

“I’m pretty beat. If you’re not doing anything later come over around seven. You can meet my roommate and we’ll have some pizza and tell you more about the building,” she said.

“Yeah, that sounds awesome, thanks!’ Jorge nodded, then turned around to return to his apartment. Betty walked through the door and made a beeline to the couch to relax for a few hours.

At 7 p.m. on the dot, Jorge knocked on Betty’s door. She opened the door still wearing the same white uniform but looking much more chipper.

“Right on time, pizza just got here,” she said. She opened the door wider to invite Jorge in; the moment he stepped into her bright apartment, something felt off. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was at first. He noticed two pizza boxes stacked neatly on the counter by the kitchen; but, it was a restaurant he didn’t recognize. He’d never heard of Mundo’s pizza despite living in the area all his life.

“Thanks,” Jorge handed her a bottle of red wine once she closed the door.

“I forgot it was my roommate’s game night, so it’s just us,” Betty said. “But she’s looking forward to meeting you next time.” 

“Me too,” Jorge said. Betty pointed him at the small round table and encouraged him to take a seat while she grabbed the pizza box and a couple of wine glasses. As she moved to the table, a stray sunbeam caught the light and flashed in Jorge’s eye. he blinked for a moment until it passed. He looked toward the balcony and noticed a golden sun hanging in a deep blue sky.

“What the hell?” he said aloud. Betty was about to sit down but stopped; hovering her bottom above the seat.

“What the hell what?” she asked. Instead of answering, Jorge stood up and walked to the glass door to peer outside. Betty stood and followed him.

“It’s 7 p.m. When I left my apartment, the sun was down.” Betty giggled.

“Well, that was in your apartment,” she said. “Out there it’s…,” Betty pulled out a small transparent rectangle and tapped the screen. “…3 p.m.”

“What? That’s not possible,” he said. Betty’s smile dimmed slightly.

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

“What?” Jorge took his eyes off the blue sky to give her a confused look. “How is the sun out?”

“Huh.” Betty replied. “Well…,” Betty spun around to return to the table, but kept talking along the way. “…I’m not sure how you made it into the building, but you’ve got a lot to learn.” She sat at the table and gestured for Jorge to join her. After a moment, Jorge walked over and sat also.

“So, the short version is, each apartment is in a different universe,” Betty said as she grabbed a couple of slices from the box. Jorge did as well.

“How?” Jorge asked. He did not immediately believe her, despite the evidence. But, if she had a reasonable explanation, it would go a long way to convincing him. Betty shrugged.

“I couldn’t tell you, that’s all Sharp Development at work,” she said. “But, uh, I can prove alternate universes exist, if that helps?”

“It would,” Jorge nodded.

“Great,” Betty stood from her seat. “Let’s go back to your place.”

“Okay…,” Jorge was confused but he stood and followed her out of the apartment. He noticed for the first time that there were no windows in the hallway. She reached his door first, but he was right behind her with the key ready. He let her into his darkened apartment then turned on the lights. He glanced at the balcony and saw a full moon high in the sky. He felt a minor embarrassment at his mess of unpacked boxes, but there were other things going on.

Betty walked straight to the balcony and opened the sliding door to step out.

“Come on,” she said. “Pizza’s getting cold.” Jorge walked onto the balcony into the cool night air. Betty held up a pitch-black card.

“This is a traverse card,” she said then slid the glass door closed. She threw the card against the glass and it opened a tall black hole. “This is a portal,” Betty said. She walked through it without another word.

Jorge entered the portal and found a sunny day on the other side. As he got his bearings, Betty opened a glass sliding door. Once she went in, he realized they were now on her balcony and he followed her back to the table and to their slices of pizza.

“Whoa…,” Jorge said. He was trying to process everything. “I’ve been to another universe!” he said.

“Two,” Betty corrected him.

“Two?” he asked. She nodded.

“The hallway is on one Earth, and every apartment is in a different universe.”