Waiting is the Worst Part

“That was the worst one yet,” Wilfred thought to himself. The old man straightened his back and sat up on the wooden park bench. The sun left a brilliant orange sky as it dipped behind the treetops. “Maybe I should get to the doctor.” The chest pains had been happening more frequently in the past month; and, Wilfred decided he put off the check-up long enough. He reached into the pocket of his coat to pull out another small bag of birdseed. He dropped the first one when the chest pain hit harder, and longer than ever before.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” A woman’s voice drew Wilfred’s attention. He looked to up see a young woman, he guessed in her early 20s, in a black dress suit. Wilfred nodded.

“It sure is,” he replied. He did not know the woman, but she seemed to take an interested in him. She eyed the bench next to Wilfred.

“Mind if I sit?” she asked.

“Not at all,” Wilfred shook his head and squeezed himself closer to the edge to make sure she had room. He waited patiently for birds to show up nearby while ignoring the stranger. After a few moments, she broke the silence.

“This is nice,” she said. She looked around the park, and then at Wilfred. “It’s nice to slow down and appreciate the simple things, don’t you think?” She asked. Wilfred nodded and gave her a large smile.

“I definitely agree! That’s how I’ve lived my life,” Wilfred said, then he shrugged. “The second half anyway,” he chuckled.

“That first half sounds interesting,” she said. Wilfred gave her a dismissive wave.

“Nah nothing interesting, just a young man’s regrets. What about you, what’s your story? Do you strike up a conversation with every stranger?” Wilfred asked her. She sighed.

“My story is I can’t do my job because corporate doesn’t know how to plan ahead,” the woman shrugged. “Technically you’re not a stranger, you’re a client. But because my bosses are idiots all I can do is have a chat.” Wilfred blinked and stared at her.

“I’m sorry, what? How am I a client?” Wilfred looked the woman up and down to try and guess when he might have hired her, but nothing came to mind. She handed him a black business card with silver lettering on it. “Leona – Grim Reaper” he read the card aloud then handed it back to the woman.

“That’s a fancy card, you don’t want to lose it,” he said. Leona looked at him without taking the card back.

“I’ve got plenty,” she said. “they come with the job.” Wilfred nodded automatically.

“Uhuh. So if you’re a grim reaper why are you sitting here chatting with me instead of reaping things grimly?” His voice carried an obvious patronizing tone.

“I told you, I can’t do my job,” she handed him a small white slip of paper.

“You said that, but I don’t get it. Why exactly can’t you do your job?”Wilfred asked her, then looked at the paper. It was a six-digit number: 714,522. “What’s this?”

“I can’t do my job because hell is full. If Hell is full I can’t send any more souls there, so I have to wait until they finish building an expansion. That’s your number.”

“My number for what?”

“To get into Hell,” she smiled. “Duh.” Wilfred crumpled the paper and tossed it on the ground.

“I can do without Hell, I think,” he said. Immediately he felt a burning pain on his arm. He looked in time to see the numbers 714,522 burn themselves onto his skin.

“Sorry, Wilfred. Once Hell opens again you’re in line,” Leona shrugged. “That first half of your life was a doozy.”

“I don’t want to go to Hell! I’m not even dead yet!” he said with a raised voice. She nodded.

“You’re dead,” she said simply. “You had a heart attack a few minutes ago, but since Hell’s full there’s not much we can do with you right now.” Leona stood from the bench to leave.

“Wait, so then what do I do?”

“Keep feeding the birds. Enjoy the simple things while you can.”

Teamwork (5-31-18)

[WP] Years ago a human promised you their firstborn as payment – However, as you arrive to collect your debt, you discover you’re not the only one they promised their child to. [Link to post.]

A tall, lean man wearing a heavy black trench coat knocked on the hospital door, then let himself into the room. Inside he found a scene he did not expect. The parents of his claim discussed something with two other people, but the mother noticed him stepping into the room. She turned to her husband in disdain, while pulling the sleeping infant closer to her, protectively. 

“Another one, Paul? Jesus how many more ‘favors’ did you cash in?” she hissed. Paul eyed the newcomer. 

“Dragon?” he asked. The tall man nodded. Paul turned back to his wife. “That’s the last one.” 

“Last one what?” the newcomer asked with a low, gravelly voice. 

“Vampire,” Paul pointed at another man wearing an elegant red business suit, with gold pinstripes and buttons. “Werewolf,” 
Paul gestured to a short, hairy man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. “And, Dragon,” he pointed to the tall man in black. “Each of you helped me in a time of need, and in return I promised you my firstborn child. But there’s three of you and only one child. So it looks like you’re going to have to fight over it. Survivor gets the baby,” Paul said with a laugh. 

The werewolf immediately turned to face the other two myths, then he began to change. Fur began to thicken on his arms as his snout stretched out. But, the dragon held up a gloved hand to calm him. The werewolf returned to his human form with a faint whimper. The dragon removed the glove and revealed black scaled hand.

“Your plan might have worked if it was just those two,” the dragon pointed at the vampire and werewolf. “Have one kill the other, then finish off the weakened one.” He smiled, and gave a shrug. “It’s genius really, but you got greedy.” He moved, though only the vampire’s eyes were able to keep up with his movements. In an instant he held the sleeping child, the mother drowned her screams with a heaving sob. “Trying to outwit a dragon is going to take you a lot longer than 9 months,” he said while he rocked the baby. He looked at the other two, and moved toward the red suited vampire.

“What you never wondered about was, what each of us wants the child for.” The dragon handed the wrapped child to the vampire, then nodded. The vampire leaned in and sunk his fangs into the baby’s neck. At this point Paul realized the baby was already charmed, otherwise it would have woken up. 

“The vampire just wants a drink, and the werewolf wants to enjoy a tender meal.” The dragon said, and took the liberty of petting the short werewolf like a dog. He smiled in return. “There’s no reason why they can’t both get what they want.”

“What about you?” Paul asked. He made an effort to comfort his wife, but she continued to push him away while sobbing on the bed into her pillows. The dragon’s black scaled hand began to glow with red light; he touched the baby’s chest with his illuminated hand. Then, he lifted his hand, and seemed to pull wisps of golden smoke with it. The tendrils of smoke formed a golden ball in his hand, then he popped it into his mouth and swallowed it in one gulp. He smiled at Paul.

“Its soul,” he said. Without another word he turned around and walked out of the room. Behind him he heard the werewolf crunching on something. 

Startwatch (5-30-18)

[WP]”Tomorrow is a brand new day.” [Link to post.]

“Good morning, let’s get right to business,” Lawrence said. The greying commander spoke to his small team of physicists and other assorted scientists gathered in the briefing room. “Last night’s votes have been tallied, though I haven’t checked the results yet. Before I reveal the vote, I’d like to take a moment to say a few words.” Lawrence stood from his seat, then paced around the room. 

“The things we’ve accomplished in this room are nothing short of miraculous, and I could not imagine a better crew to work with every day. No matter what result the votes dictate, I cannot express how honored I am to have worked with you up until today. If tomorrow comes, and we’re still here, I could not think of a more fulfilling way to live my life,” he said. The team of lab coats applauded and cheered for him. He continued after they quieted.

“Of course that brings up the question of, what if we’re not here tomorrow?” Tension stiffened the air in the room. “There’s no way of knowing how things will turn out, but I know we’ll all be eager to keep in touch if we can.” A young man with pale skin and a red beard raised his hand. 

“What’s on your mind, Floyd?” Lawrence asked. 

“Assuming the vote goes a certain way,… uh *when*?” he asked.

“Today, as soon as possible; it’s why we started early this morning. We all agreed to go by the vote, and I don’t want a chance for anyone to develop misgivings. Of course, after the vote everyone has the day off today. Enjoy it with your friends and families.” Lawrence walked back to his seat, then reached into the pocket of his white lab coat before he sat down. 

“I have the results.” The older man pulled a small white envelope from his pocket. As he sat down he opened the envelope then grabbed the folded piece of paper within. He looked at the note first, a slight sigh escaped his mouth; then he handed the paper to the red headed man to his left. 

“5 to 2 in favor of. That settles it folks,” Lawrence said. He stood again, then walked to a small locker protected by several different biometric locks. After giving his voice, thumbprint, and retina scan the locker beeped. It opened, and he reached inside to pull out a small black box with a red button on it. He walked back to the table while cradling the black box. 

“Is everyone ready?” He asked. The six other scientists in the room each gave some form of silent affirmation. Lawrence inserted a key into one side of the box causing the red button to glow. 

“It is with great sadness, pleasure, and honor that I fulfill the solemn duty of a Clockwatcher. No one knows when the Loop began, but we do know the first Clockwatcher that invented the first time-shelter. His name was Jasper Freeman,” Lawrence said. “If he had not created the Clockwatchers, I would not be here today to end the Loop for good.” Lawrence looked around the table at the faces of his co-workers, and friends. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know one thing. Tomorrow is a brand new day for everyone in the world, not just us.” He pressed the button. 

Alien Sights (3-29-18)

[WP] Area 51 has just stared offering guided tours… [Link to post.]

“Folks, I hope you all are as excited as we are,” the tour guide in a bright yellow Polo shirt said. He greeted the gathered crowd in an open hangar bay. He smiled. “We’ve spent a lot of time and resources to put his tour together, but we think it’ll benefit everyone. My name is Tad, and if you’ve got any questions all you have to do is say, ‘Hey Tad, I’ve got a question.’ alright?” he gave a practiced laugh, though not a single one of the guests cracked a smile.

“I promise you folks are going to see some wild things, but safety first. This is still technically a ‘SECRET’ base,” Tad used air quotes. This time he heard a couple of chuckles in the crowd, and smiled to himself. “So on your way in we equipped each of you some safety equipment. Does anyone have any questions about how it works?” A dark skinned woman with golden eyes raised her hand. 

“I don’t think mine’s working right,” she said. She lifted her other wrist to show the small silver manacle-like bracelet they supplied to her. “Everyone else’s is invisible.” Tad nodded.

“Yeah, yeah. It should definitely be invisible, but it looks like it’s still working,” Tad said. “You can of course swap it out if you feel the need; but, because of the technology involved and how long it takes you’ll end up missing this tour. Unfortunately the next one is in three months.” Her golden eyes went wide, then she shook her head. 

“Hell no, I’ve waited eons to be here,” she said. “Not another minute. If you guys are fine with it, I’m fine with it. Let’s go,” she said. Her sentiments were echoed by the crowd.

“Yeah, let’s go already! We wanna see alien stuff!” a young pale kid with blond hair said. 

“Sorry buddy, still gotta go down the checklist. Next is food. As a reminder let me say, I hope you all packed meals. Remember we are not providing you with any food during the tour, we’re not going to even try and keep up with everyone’s possible allergies. And speaking of allergies, please don’t share food guys. The last thing anyone wants is to end the tour early, you dig?” Tad asked the crowd and they all mumbled a general agreement.

“Finally, souvenirs. I promise there will be gift opportunities along the way, but I have to remind you to keep your local ordinances in mind. Just because you can buy something here doesn’t mean you’re allowed to have it in your area. There will also be a security check at the end, and if we find anything known to be illegal in your area we reserve the right to confiscate it. You’ll have spent your money for nothing.” 

“Hey, Tad. I’ve got a question,” a tall, lean man asked. “I didn’t get any money,” he said.

“That’s not a question, man,” Tad laughed alone. “But no one has yet. We’ve got stipends to hand out once things start moving.” Tad checked his watch. “Which should be any minute now.” A high pitched hum began to fill the air after his words. “Ah, right on time.  Folks if you’ll follow me, let’s line up over here away from the hangar door.” Tad led the group to one side of the hangar while uniformed crew members opened the doors wide. The hum grew into a loud roar as gusts of winds kicked up dust off the hangar floor. 

“Whoooooaa!” the young blonde boy said as he saw the tall fin-like tail sliding backwards into the hangar. “Alien stuff… ” he whispered. Tad walked behind him and ruffled the boy’s shaggy hair. 

“You ain’t seen nothing yet. That’s just the plane that’s gonna carry us around the world in 80 days. Welcome to Earth, kid. You’re gonna love it.” 

Stranger and Stranger (5-28-18)

[WP]Everyone switches physical location with another random human every 24 hours. [Link to post.]

“Reminder: Global Swap in 30 minutes. Please make the necessary arrangements,” Rothe’s personal node, a thin, small, transparent rectangle of glass reminded him. He dismissed the on-screen notification with a swipe and sighed. 

Just enough time for a shower,” he decided. He forced himself to get out of bed, and took the time to make it up again for the next person. While he showered he tried to plan his day, a challenge in itself. No one knew when the Global Swap began, but Rothe knew the world adapted before he was born.  Rumors abounded about a time before the swap, but that world sounded horrible to him. He finished his shower, and left the bathroom as clean as he could, then dressed himself with enough time to leave something for the next person.  He sat down at the breakfast bar and began to record himself with the community node. 

“Good Morning, stranger! Because you’re in the Central Time Zone now. My name is Rothe Lewis, before me was Astrid Bale. No work to speak of,” Rothe smiled. “So enjoy your day off, stranger.” He glanced at the time: 6:29 a.m. “OH! I’m sorry I didn’t have time. There’s a cat here named Chairman Meow, feed him please.” He set the node down on the breakfast bar, then blinked. 

He opened his eyes seated in front of a small red table at an outdoor cafe. He looked around and smiled at everyone else getting their bearings. He grabbed the node sitting on the table in front of him and hit play. They smiled in return. 

“Afternoon, stranger,” An overweight, balding man said with a smile. “I’m Patrick Garza, before me was Jason Struthers. You’re on your lunch break now. Like always, the node will show you how to get back to the office, and to tonight’s bed after. Work is easy, it’s just data entry. Good luck out there stranger, don’t hesitate to call me or any of the others if you have a question.” Patrick waved and the recording ended. Rothe brought up the contacts menu to see if he recognized any names. He smiled when he saw Astrid Bale’s name at the top of the list.  He decided to call. 

“Hey, stranger,” she answered. “How can I help you?” 

“Hey, Astrid. It’s me, Rothe Lewis, I took your spot yesterday?”

“OH! Hey Rothe, I remember you. Where did you find yourself today?” he looked around and recognized the Eiffel Tower in the distance. 

“France it looks like,” he said. “Hey. I gotta get to work apparently, but I wanted to call you and say hi. Can I call later in the evening? I’d like to chat with you some more and get to know more about you.” 

“Sure! Though fair warning, I’ll be working by then,” she replied with a definite smile in her voice. “It might be kind of hard to talk, but we can text.” 

“Nice, it’s a plan,” Rothe stood from his table to make his way back to work. “I’ll talk to you later, Astrid.”

“Bye, Rothe,” she said. He smiled when she used his name. He hung up the call and used the node to navigate his way back to work, then check in with security.

“Hi stranger,” the guard said. “Node?” he asked for the community node left behind by Patrick. It identified Rothe as his replacement. Rothe handed the node over, and after a quick swipe through a machine the guard handed it back with a second one. “Glad to have you, stranger. Here’s your assignment.” Rothe accepted both nodes then walked to the elevator.  He found his desk, inserted the node into the computer and got right to work. He’d done a lot of data entry over the years, and knew exactly what he was doing. 

After his shift he made his way to his bed for the night. The node guided him to an apartment on the 40th floor, halfway up the tallest building he’d ever been in. He opened the door to find a lush living room with elegant marble floors, wide open spaces, and almost a jungle’s worth of houseplants. 

“It’s gonna be a great night,” Rothe smiled to himself then scouted the kitchen. The large stainless steel fridge was loaded, and all the expiration dates were still weeks away. He grabbed a soda then found the living room to relax. A faint noise from a different room caught his attention. 

Patrick didn’t mention roommates or pets,” he thought. Then he realized he almost forgot about Chairman Meow in the morning. He shrugged and stood to check the apartment for pets. He headed for what he thought might be the master bedroom. As he stepped through he noticed a beautiful woman sitting on the bed, as if waiting for him. He recognized her. 

“Astrid Bale, is that you? What are you doing here?” he asked. She looked up at him with watery eyes. 

“Working,” she said. She stood from the bed and closed the gap between them in two large steps. “We need your help, Rothe. We can stop the G.S,” she said. Rothe stepped back from her. He loved it. Everyone was so friendly, and so community minded, he considered it almost a Utopia.

“What? Why would anyone want to stop it, the G.S.? It’s wonderful,” he said. 

“It’s not REAL,” Astrid replied. 

Roaring Success (5-27-18)

“Look around your HUD. You’re a Beastmaster, so it should be easy to find,” Dread heard Dirge’s advice through her helmet. She skated as fast as she could to complete her lap and try and push Jelly_Jim across the starting line, even if she did not manage to knock him down.

“I have been,” she replied. “Hey, that’s new.”

“What? Did you find it??” Dirge asked eagerly.

“No, but some new abilities are available now that weren’t before,” Dread said. In the back of her mind she heard the constant announcements from the scoreboard.

“Sleepers.” Every time a zombie crossed the starting line Jelly_Jim earned more zombies.

“Oh yeah! Just like he gets a card every time he finishes a lap you get resources too. You probably didn’t notice it cause you fell over the line,” Dirge giggled.

“Cool. I need to slow these zombies down. I have an idea, but first I have to stop him from making more,” Dread said. She skated past an abandoned black mini-van, then stopped. She put both hands against the side of the van and leaned into it. It took more strength than it should have, but after a second the van leaned over. She heaved, grunted, and gave it a strong push toward the center of the track. It fell on its side kicking up a cloud of dust. Dread looked up and got a good look at the horde of zombies walking towards her. She had no idea how many Jelly_Jim was up to now, but she guessed there were already at least 100 zombies on the track behind her, with more crossing the line every second.

“Not gonna slow them down enough to be worth the effort,” Dread explained into her helmet, the she turned around to start skating again.

“I told you the AlterNet messes with your abilities,” Dirge reminded Dread.

“Yeah, yeah,” she replied.

Dread approached the second turn, and saw Jelly_Jim ahead of her with at least a dozen sleeping zombies in front of him. He noticed Dread approaching, then turned into a puddle of jelly and moved forward between their feet instead of waking the zombies.

“Hehe, he’s scared,” Dread said into her helmet.

“No you idiot, he’s just slowing you down while he draws another card.” Dread noticed Jelly_Jim cross the starting line as Dirge explained it.

“Oh,” she replied.

“Monster Upgrade: Feral,” the scoreboard announced as Dread approached the crowd of sleeping zombies. All at once they opened their eyes and screeched. They bolted at her.

“The ones behind you too,” Dirge gave Dread the heads up.

“Fun.” Dread gripped her black axe tighter, and was ready for the first group of zombies charging towards her. She cleaved one in half with a single swing, the let her momentum carry her axe forward through another zombie. Each one she killed disintegrated into the air. She swung frantically, trying to keep moving forward towards the starting line.

“You said the nanos block my abilities because they’re not recognized right?” Dread asked as she heaved and cleaved through the zombies. She nearly finished the first set in front of her and began to think about how she might handle the wave zombies running up behind her.

“Yeah, they’re not programmed into the game,” Dirge replied.

“I’m gonna try something.” Dread reached the starting line but did not cross it. She turned to face the feral zombies. She threw her axe behind her and it became a thin stream of black nanos. They flowed through the air to form an axe again, attached to her back. She planted both feet firmly in the ground, then her helmet melted away revealing her pale face and bone-white spiky hair.

“They’re still game characters! Your sonic scream isn’t going to work!” Dirge yelled from the outskirts of the track. Dread waited as long as she dared. When the first zombies were about 20 feet away she made her move.

“Hyper.” The scoreboard announced as Dread activated her power-up. “Tiger’s Roar.” The scoreboard added when she chose what ability to use it on. Dread took in a deep breath, then yelled. She channeled as much of her sonic scream as she could through the powered-up Tiger’s Roar ability.

The first zombie’s fingers were inches from Dread’s face when she yelled. It immediately disintegrated due to the force of the sound. Cracks spidered along the blacktop in front of Dread while she screamed. The horde of mindless, feral zombies ran directly into the solid wall of sound and disappeared into nothing. The girl held the scream long enough to dispatch every last one, then she gasped in as much air as she could.

“YEEEEEAAAHHH!” Dirge cheered from the sidelines. Dread’s helmet formed around her head again, and Dirge did not waste any time complimenting her.

“THAT WAS SO AWESOME! I never thought about using my abilities like that,” she said. “I can’t wait to try it. Hey, where’s Jelly_Jim?” She asked. Dread scouted the track ahead as she crossed the starting line. She did not see him anywhere.

“I don’t knoooooOOWWW!” Dread yelped as she felt her foot fly out from under her. She landed on her back and looked up at Jelly_Jim.

“Point: Jelly_Jim,” the scoreboard announced. Dread realized he waited in puddle form for her at the starting line.

“Two for me,” he said. He waved then skated off again.

Previous Dirge & Dread chapter: Dread vs. Jelly_Jim
Next Dirge & Dread chapter: Hitting a Wall

Imagine That (5-26-18)

[WP] You’ve had an imaginary friend ever since you were a small child. You still see and interact with them even as a teenager even if no one else can. They are your oldest friend and closest confidant. Starting today, everyone can see them too. [Link to post.]

“I think Karen saw you,” Maria spoke to the bathroom mirror. A freckled girl with coppery red hair stood behind her own dark haired reflection, but she knew the girl did not have a physical presence. The red-head shook her head.

“Nah, you’re the only one that can see me,” Amber, the freckled girl said. Maria knew Amber was right, she invented the pale girl to be her friend when no one else would. It surprised her that Amber stuck around until high-school, but after learning how to communicate with her in public without making a fool of herself she enjoyed having Amber’s company at school. “Hey, let’s get back to class,” she added. It amused Maria that her imaginary friend was the responsible one of them. 

Maria agreed and the two girls made their way back to class. As she found her seat Maria noticed Karen staring at her, but not quite staring at her. As if the head cheerleader looked past her, but not in the usual condescending way. Throughout the rest of the Spanish class Maria noticed Karen looking around the room, but her gaze always stopped for a minute when Amber entered her line of sight. The bell to start lunch rang and Maria stood in a hurry from her seat, then bolted out the door. 

“She definitely sees you!” Maria hissed toward Amber as she navigated the flow of students. 

“Yeah, you’re right. I noticed it too.” Amber agreed, but offered no helpful suggestions otherwise. 

“I have a plan, and I’m sorry. If it comes down to it though, I have to pretend you’re not there,” Maria apologized. She ran through several scenarios instead of paying attention during Spanish class. Each one involved Karen trying to goad Maria into embarrassing herself by harassing her invisible friend. Then, she felt Amber’s hand on her shoulder. The imaginary girl’s touch felt strange whenever they made contact. It felt as if her mind knew there should be something touching her, but did not know what. So she felt all kinds of weird pressure at once. Not painful, but definitely unique and unsettling at first. She grew accustomed to it over the years. 

“It’s okay, she’s been on your case since Elementary school. Do what you gotta do, we’ll always be friends,” Amber said. Maria felt a stronger pressure on her shoulder and interpreted it as Amber squeezing her shoulder in support. 

“Thank you,” Maria said. She made her way through the lunch lay to grab a tray of food with Amber sticking close behind her the whole time. Once she found a seat it did not take long for Karen and her entourage to appear across the table from her. They stood directly behind Amber. 

“Hey, Scary Mary. Who’s your friend?” Karen asked. Maria ignored her and ate her tater tots.

“Beat it Karen, I’m eating,” Maria said. The two girls flanking Karen let out immediate “ooooooooooooh”s. 

“I said, who’s your friend?” Karen raised a hand and tried to place it on Amber’s shoulder. However, the imaginary girl tended to remain intangible unless she had something specific she wanted to do. Karen’s hand fell straight through the empty air, the momentum caused her to bang her head on the lunch table. 

“You’re obviously drunk or high. Leave me alone or I’ll grab the nearest teacher and tell them that,” Maria said. “Unless the two idiots next to you also see my imaginary friend,” Maria used air quotes to make them feel stupider. Both girls shook their heads.

“Just an empty seat,” one of them said. The three girls walked away with Karen still rubbing her forehead. 

“Sorry,” Maria apologized again to Amber. “I hate pretending you’re not real,” she shrugged. “But, you’re not.” 

“Hey, I’m gonna go take a walk. I’ll see you in Algebra,” Amber said referring to Maria’s next class after lunch. 

“Ugh, another class with that bitch,” Maria complained. “Maybe you should skip it?” 

“Nah, it’ll be fine.” Amber waved, then walked away. It was one of the quirks Maria got used to over the years. She did not know much about other imaginary friends, but she knew hers seemed to have an excellent sense of autonomy. One time Amber disappeared for a whole month, then returned to tell Maria about all the wonderful sights she saw around the world. 

After lunch Maria found her seat in Algebra, then waited for Amber to walk in. Her smile brightened when the red-head stepped through the threshold. Maria’s best and only friend walked to Maria with her own broad smile.

“It worked!” Amber said in a loud whisper to avoid drawing attention from the rest of the students. 

“What worked?” Maria asked. 

“I’ll explain later, but whatever happens in class go with it, okay? Best friends?” Amber held out her pinky and Maria did not hesitate. She pulled back from the contact as if she touched a hot stove. She felt Amber’s pinky around hers. The sensation was not some unnamed, unformed sense of pressure. She felt Amber’s actual pinky entangle hers. Amber’s smile grew broader. Before Maria could ask anything Karen ran into the room screaming. 

“YOU FREAK! WHAT DID YOU DO????” She yelled, but her scream was drowned out by the bell signaling the start of class. Maria’s head turned towards the outburst, but in her peripheral she noticed no one else turned towards Karen. 

“Karen, I need you to sit down so we can start class,” Mr. Flores, the Algebra teacher asked. 

“BUT SHE DID SOMETHING TO ME!!!!!” Karen yelled back at the teacher. Mr. Flores walked towards the commotion unfazed until he stood in front of Amber. He tapped the red-headed girl on the shoulder.

“Let’s start class today, okay Karen.” 

Due Time (5-25-18)

[WP] You have a small keyring with a button on it. When you press it, everyone except you freezes in time until you press it again. You’ve frozen everyone in time, but you drop it and break it. [Link to post.]

Denny Blake chuckled to himself as he pulled into an empty parking spot in front of his boss’ car about to claim the spot. He got out of the car and headed towards the office before he started time again, just to see his boss’ face. His hand snaked into his pocket to press the button to get time moving again. Denny waved at the angry man cursing inside his car and hitting his steering wheel as he walked by.

Denny opened and closed the small device in his pocket as he walked to his cubicle. He did not know when or how it landed in his possession, but he knew he’d been using it for at least a year. The smooth, cool metal case resembled a Zippo lighter; but, instead of a flint wheel and eyelet for the flame the gadget sported a single red button. He reached his desk, then felt a familiar pressure on his bladder. He glanced at his watch and noticed he needed to be logged into the system within the next five minutes. 

“Eh, I’m not gonna risk it,” he decided. He reached into his pocket, flipped the lid open on the time-stopper, and pressed the button. After that he took a leisurely stroll towards the restroom. He vaguely remembered a time when he needed to find a clock to tell whether the gizmo worked or not, but now he could tell just by feel. Pressing the button caused all air around him to stop moving, it disconcerted him at first, but now he enjoyed the feeling of stillness. Anytime he stopped moving, it felt like he was in a void.

Denny unzipped at the urinal, then relaxed. As a habit he began to fidget with the lighter-like device. He liked to use it to practice lighter tricks, not that he owned a lighter. During one miscalculated toss he lost control; the only thing he could do was watch it fall. It slid between his fingers, through the still air, and landed bottom first directly on the edge of the shiny white urinal. Denny saw red button pop out of the top, followed by a small spray of blue sparks. The red button landed in Denny’s puddle in the urinal, the rest of the gadget hit the floor and slid under the stall to his left. 

“SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!” Denny cursed to himself, gritted his teeth, then tried to rush the rest of his stream out. After he emptied enough of his bladder he zipped up, then reached into the yellow liquid to pull out the red button, then he went to the stall to find the rest. He went to the sink, rinsed the red button and dried it with a paper towel. Then he spent the next ten minutes trying to get the button back into its slot, but no matter what it would not stay in. He knew time was still stopped, the air felt still in the room. 

Denny collected the pieces, then moped back to his desk. He held a small hope that time continued to move, but as he passed everyone’s silent and still bodies in the hall that hope died. He tossed the bigger piece of the time-stopper on his desk once he reached it, then slumped in his seat. He spun around, unsure of his next move.  During one spin he caught sight of numbers engraved on the bottom of the gadget. He grabbed it up and saw the phone number for a helpline etched into the metal. He reached for the phone, told himself it was a stupid idea, then grabbed the phone.

“Time’s stopped, you idiot,” he berated himself as he dialed. To his surprise the other end began to ring. To even greater surprise, someone answered it before it completed the first ring.

“Temporal help desk, this is Sarah. How can we help you?” Sarah asked with a bright voice. 

“Uh hello? Where am I calling?” Denny asked while still trying to process that someone answerd the phone.

“Temporal help desk. Are you currently having any problems with your time stream?” Sarah asked. Though she could not see him, Denny nodded sullenly as he held the phone to his ear.

“Uh yeah. It’s not moving.”

“I see, and for how long has time not been moving for you?” She asked.

“Uhh. I don’t know,” Denny checked his watch, but realized it would only mark the time that it stopped at. Sarah laughed. 

“Sorry, just a bit of job humor. Do you have the time-stopper?” 

“Yeah, uh. You see, it kind of broke when I kind of dropped it,” Denny explained. 

“Can you read me the last four numbers on the bottom?” 

“You mean the last four of your phone number?” 

“Yes. That’s not actually a phone number,” Sarah chuckled. “I mean, who would you call if time’s stopped?” she asked.

“I’m talking to you?”

“It’s the serial number, formatted like a phone number to encourage people to pick up a phone. When time is stopped all phones switch over to the help desk,” Sarah said.

“Oh, okay. Last four: 9380,” Denny said.

“Okay, close your eyes.” Sarah said into the phone.

“What?” Denny asked, but he did not close his eyes. A bright light appeared in front of him to force his eyes closed. After a second he felt he could open his eyes and found a beautiful, short haired woman standing in front of him. The white name tag on her blue polo shirt said, “Sarah”.

“I said to close your eyes!” she smiled. “Can I see the device?” Denny handed her both pieces, and decided not to mention where the red button had been. She pulled out a small black leather case from her back pocket, unzipped it, then tossed in both parts of the time-stopper. After she zipped it up again she pulled a futuristic cell phone from her pocket and began swiping at it.

“Denny Blake, right?” She asked. Denny nodded his head.

“Yeah, that’s me. That thing has my info?” Sarah nodded.

“Oh yeah these things are closely monitored,” she said. Her phone beeped. “Oh, wow. As a matter of fact, I’m sorry.” Denny felt nerves in his chest as soon as he heard the beep. He thought she might tell him his debit card was declined.

“That was your last one,” she said.

“What? Last one, that’s my only one!”Denny yelled, louder than he meant to. Sarah stepped back slightly, but Denny put his hands up to apologize when he noticed. “Sorry,” he stepped back to show her he meant no harm. “Sorry for yelling, but that’s still my only one.” Sarah shook her head.

According to our records this is the seventh one you’ve broken, not to mention the two you lost that we still haven’t found. You’re cut off from any more. I’ll let you make a choice though. You can spend the rest of your days like this, with time completely stopped for you. Or I can start it up again and you can live the rest of your life at the same time as everyone else.

“But stopping time is so handy! Isn’t there anything I can to do get another one?” Denny looked Sarah up and down, trying to figure her out. She shook her head as an answer. Denny grumbled to himself.

“I guess I’ll just have figure out how to make a deal with the devil,” he said under his breath. Sarah giggled.

“How do you think you got the nine time-stoppers? The deal was only good for seven, but he took pity on you.”

Unexpected Choice (5-24-18)

[WP] You are a low-class citizen, struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. Luckily or unluckily for you, a new market emerges from the birth of a new invention: a machine that can transfer lifespan from one person to another. [Link to post.]

“Don’t worry about a thing, Mr. Fuller,” the young dark haired nurse said as she affixed the straps around Sean Fuller’s arms. He rested in the metal chair and stared at the bright orchid arrangement resting on a nearby desk. The faint scent of vanilla around the nurse helped put him at ease while she worked. “This is just a quick test to see if you’re compatible with the process. Every person has reported some sort of discomfort, however never anything more than a stinging sensation. If you become too uncomfortable please let me know and I’ll stop the machine, okay?” she asked. Sean nodded.

“What happens if I’m not compatible? Do I still get paid?” Sean asked. A million dollars for one year of his life was an amazing deal, he would have done it for a hundred dollars a year. Sean’s plan was to die rich and soon. Homeless at age 74, with no friends or family members he’d had enough of life.

“That depends. The process is still new, and we’re still finding out what makes people incompatible. If we think we can learn something from you, you’ll definitely be rewarded.” The nurse finished attaching Sean to the table, then stepped away. “Okay, you’re all set up. I’m gonna try this out, you let me know the moment it gets uncomfortable, okay?” She flipped a switch and a large red light on her control panel lit up. Sean held his breath expecting discomfort, but none came. He relaxed and breathed normally when he realized he felt no pain. The nurse kept pushing switches on the control panel, then made a ‘huh’ noise.

“Something wrong?” Sean asked. The nurse flipped a switch on and off, causing the red light to flicker on and off.

“It’s not working. It says it’s working, but it doesn’t recognize you as a donor.” 

“Does that mean I’m not compatible?” Sean asked, then complained to himself. “Figures I can’t even die happy,” he grumbled. However the nurse shook her head.

“No, it’d tell us if you weren’t compatible. Something else isn’t working. Hold on, I’ll be right back.” The nurse left the room and Sean’s thoughts wandered. It could still go either way. If he was compatible he’d buy himself a proper meal and nice hotel room for the night. If he wasn’t compatible, he had a plan for that too. Either way he planned to sleep very well that night. The nurse walked back into the room while unwrapping a long piece of clear tubing. “Gonna try a part swap,” she said. While she installed the new tube Sean’s eyes wandered around the plain white room. There was not much for him to see other than the orchids on the desk. They appeared to be drooping, their bright color muted a bit. Sean thought they looked brighter the first time he noticed them.

“Okay, let’s try again. This will feel uncomfortable,” the nurse said. Sean nodded, then she flipped the switch. Sean felt nothing. “Is it even working?” the nurse asked. She reached for the tube not connected to Sean and grabbed it. The moment she touched it, the nurse opened her mouth to yell. But no sound came out. Her eyes shot wide as if she was in pain, and her mouth hung open with a silent scream.

Sean watched her grow old before his eyes. Her cute dark hair grew long and white, then fell off her skull. Her skin wrinkled and became dry and leathery. After a few seconds she released the tube then fell over dead. Her body made a muffled thud as it fell to the white tile floor. Sean did not know what happened, but he knew he did not want to be found in a room with a dead body. He disconnected all his electrodes then hopped off the reclined examination chair. He inadvertently stepped closer to the orchids, and movement caught his eye. He turned to see the orchids darkening and shedding flowers.

“Is that me?” He asked. He reached out to touch an orchid, and it disintegrated under his touch. He shook his head deciding he needed to leave fast. As he walked out of the room he caught sight of himself. Instead of the homeless 74 year old grey bearded man, his image was a young, handsome man with a bright blond beard, and flowing blond hair atop his head.

Taking a Seat (5-23-18)

[WP] For centuries werewolves, vampires and zombies have hunted together, and werewolves get the flesh, vampires the bones and zombies the brain, and this system works perfectly until [Link to post.]

“They expect us to just roll over and give them a cut?” Adam Fenwick voiced his concern to the other two council members gathered at the small, elegant, round wooden table. They sat in a shadowed, private room at the back of a restaurant. “Our partnership has been very lucrative over the past few centuries for our peoples. How does adding a fourth seat to our table help us?” He asked, then sat back and made a show of fidgeting with the golden moon pin he wore on the lapel of his dark suit.

“I agree with the wolves,” the zombie representative spoke with a smooth, electronic male voice. He remained in the shadows, but a faint blue glow emanated from his left eye. 

“You take our gifts, but refuse us your support?” Dralio the vampire asked the zombie. The rotting corpse lifted a robotic hand in front of himself.

“Not refusing. However, I feel the wolves have a valid point. What do we earn in exchange?” the cybernetic zombie asked. Dralio shrugged. An elder female’s voice came from the shadows. 

“In exchange for your cooperation, you earn the right to keep cooperating,” the woman said. An elderly Asian woman stepped into the light. “You misunderstand the purpose of this meeting. It is not a discussion for you to offer your opinions.” Her eyes shined with a bright golden glow; she looked directly at Adam, the werewolf representative. “This meeting is informational. To let you know you are working for us now.”

“WE DECIDE WHO WE WORK FOR!” Adam yelled as he stood up. He slammed his hand on the wooden table. Fur grew out of the back of his hand and head. The front of his face elongated into a snout as he bared his teeth at the strange woman. She turned toward Dralio.

“You didn’t tell him who I represent, did you?” She asked him. The vampire gave a half smirk followed by a shrug.

“It must have slipped my mind,” he said, then laughed. The old woman laughed too, then stepped closer to the vampire. She leaned forward, and brought a single hand up to her mouth, as if she were going to relay a secret to him. He leaned his pale, pointy ear closer.

She whispered something in a language neither of them understood, then the vampire’s head burst into flames. It burned down faster than he could scream leaving orange embers at his neck. The body fell over then disintegrated into ash.

“I apologize for the miscommunication.” The woman stepped over the vampire’s ash pile, then sat in his seat. “My name is Donna Chang and I represent the Dragon clans.” Adam reverted to his human form, and sat down.

“The werewolves will hunt for you,” he said.

“The zombies await your command,” the electronic voice said.