Friend & Guardian

“Can we play tomorrow?” Russ asked. The red-headed boy asked Katie from the door to his room. He held a football in one hand and looked eager to leave.

“Tomorrow?” The blonde girl asked. She sat on his bed with a confused look. Russell never turned down a chance to play. The boy nodded with a sly smile.

“Yeah. The guys finally asked me to join their game! I’m kind of late already.” He turned to leave. “See you later, Katie!” he shouted behind him without fully turning around.  She sat on the bed and waited for several minutes for him to return. Then she began debating what to do next when she realized he was not going to. A sudden voice made her jump.

“Hi, Katie,” she recognized the voice and did not look up. She replied after the initial surprise wore off.

“Hey Ezey,” Katie replied out of habit. After a moment a realization struck and she looked at the calendar on Russel’s wall. After she confirmed the date she looked at the clean-shaven man in a dark suit. He leaned against Russel’s closet door eating a fried chicken leg. “Why are you here, check in isn’t for another week?” she asked.

“You’re done,” he smiled at her from behind the drumstick.

“Done? Done with what?” She scooted backward onto the middle of the bed and pulled her legs up to her chest.

“Done playing with Russel. It was a favor for the boss, remember?” Ezey asked. Katie shook her head.

“No! I remember! I asked if I could play with Russel and the man said as long as I wanted.” Ezey nodded. He slipped the gnawed chicken bone into the pocket of his suit coat and pulled out a handful of fries.

“You can keep playing with him if you want, but it’s a different game. He won’t be playing with you anymore,” he explained while finishing the fries in his hand.”

“Why not?” she asked. Ezey shook his head.

“C’mon Katie, the boss told me you’re a smart girl. You have to know what’s going on.” Katie rested her chin on her knees and stared at Russel’s NFL themed comforter.

“He outgrew me,” she whispered. She was glad to have Ezey there the first time she admitted it to herself. She ignored the signs for weeks but deep down she knew why the man was there. The boss checked in on Katie only a couple of times during the first year, then Ezey showed up. He said the boss made him Katie’s supervisor and he showed up every month to check on Katie for the next three years. She considered him a friend, however that works in the afterlife. “How can I keep playing with him?” she asked.

“The next game is called ‘Keep Russel Safe’. All you have to do is follow him around, invisibly,” he made a point to say. “…and make sure nothing squashes him. Can you do that?”

“You could tell me you want me to be his guardian angel. I’m smart, remember?” she asked with a sad, but playful smirk. Ezey smiled but shook his head.

“It’s not what I want, I’m just the middleman. Katie,” Ezey sat on the edge of the bed and looked into her light blue eyes. “Do YOU want to be Russel’s guardian angel?”

“What happens if I say no?” she asked.

“You get to move on.”

“Not me, dork. What happens to Russel?” Ezey chuckled.

“He needs a guardian angel, so he gets one. You get first pick, but if it’s not you then we’ll assign someone else.”

“What’s moving on? I get to go to Heaven?” Again, the dark-haired man shook his head.

“You’re not quite at that level yet. Moving on, for you, means you get to go around again.”

“I want to be his guardian angel,” she said. Ezey nodded and produced a clipboard from the inside of his coat. He handed it to her with a pen.

“New contract,” he smiled at her.

Wealth of Soul

“Welcome!” the thin man said from behind the counter. He smiled at the two women that walked in, a tall pale woman wearing a white skirt suit and a shorter woman in a matching black suit. The shorter one carried a small white leather briefcase. “I don’t remember seeing you two lovely ladies in here before, do you know how the shop works?” Mr. Natas asked. The woman in white nodded.

“Yes, we’ve heard. I came to see what kind of powers you’re offering for 10 souls.” The two women reached the counter and waited for his answer.

“Oh you know, the usual stuff. Super strength, flight, elemental control and so on.” Again, the woman in white nodded, then she followed up with another question.

“And how do you collect the souls? Would I need to bring all 10 humans here?” Mr. Natas gave the woman a curious look. Her light blue eyes stared at him with an objective coldness, as if she were appraising him somehow. He nodded while stroking his long dark goatee.

“Of course. All transactions need to be voluntary. Can you find 10 people willing to sell their soul for you?” The shorter woman burst into laughter, but a stern look from the woman in white calmed her down.

“If it becomes necessary, that’s not a problem,” the tall woman replied. “And what do you do with the souls once they’re in your possession?” Mr. Natas’ eyes narrowed at her.

“Who are you?” The woman in white reached across the counter with an open hand.

“I apologize. I assumed a busy man like you would rather not waste time on pleasantries,” she said while they shook hands. “My name is Dana Sharp,” She gestured to the woman in black with her other hand. “This is my wife and business associate, Melody.” Melody gave him a small wave. “What do you do with the souls, Mr. Natas?”

“It’s private business,” he replied with a firm tone. Dana nodded.

“Very well, thank you for your time. Good luck.” She turned to move toward the door, but Mr. Natas stopped her.

“Wait! Don’t you want to sell me a soul or ten?” She stopped and turned to face him.

“Quite the opposite. I came to inspect your business,” she shrugged. “I was considering buying you out, but I can’t do that if I don’t know how you operate.” Mr. Natas doubled over with laughter.

“Buy me out?!!” He continued grinning at them. “I trade in souls, lady. What makes you think I’m interested in any amount of money?” Dana gave him a confused look and shrugged.

“Nothing. What makes you think I’m offering you money?” Mr. Natas stopped laughing.

“Alright, I’m curious enough. I send the souls to Hell,” he paused and looked at them for a reaction. They stared at him waiting for more. “If I send them enough souls, I get to quit and be my own demon.”

“What do they do with the souls?” Dana asked again. Mr. Natas shrugged.

“Different things. Some souls wander through hell for eternity, some get eaten, and some are recycled. I was lucky enough to get recycling duty. The quality of souls doesn’t matter all that much, so I opened this shop to help me get to the quota faster.” Dana smiled.

“That’s what I needed to know. If the quality doesn’t matter, I believe we can do business. How many more souls do you need to fill your quota?”

“A couple million,” he sighed.

“Okay. I’ll pay them out if you come work for me,” Dana replied with a straight face.

“Sure, that works. Come back in a few millennia when you’ve collected them all,” he waved at her dismissively.”

“Melody?” Dana called. The shorter woman placed the small white case on the counter and opened it for Mr. Natas. The interior was a red velvet surface with 10 nodes slotted into it vertically. Melody pulled out a playing-card-sized glass rectangle and handed it to Mr. Natas.

“Each of those contains 10 human souls. I have enough to make your payment, today if you agree to work for me.” Mr. Natas stared at the transparent rectangle. His fingertips glowed with red energy as he inspected it. He felt 10 distinct, whole human souls in it, and his eyes widened.

“What would I be doing for you?” He asked. He saw a way out of hell, but he wanted to make sure he wasn’t going into a different one.

“This, pretty much.” Dana gestured at the shop around them with wide arms. “I’ll need your help to recoup the souls I’m spending for you, but at the very least you won’t be an employee of Hell.”

Bon Voyage

“I DID IT!” Emma cheered for herself. She clapped happily bounced in place and pointed at the black hole hovering above the campfire. “I can go home now! Thank you, Mundo!” The short woman rushed to hug the even shorter man. The tattooed biker smiled but shook his head.

“I’d practice a little more,” Mundo said. He drew Emma’s attention to a snowflake that emerged from the hole in the sky. “If you try to go up, you’ll fall right back out. The portal should be vertical, and you know, at ground level.”  Emma signed and wiggled her hands at the black hole. It disappeared.

“Yeah you’d better practice more,” another male voice said. “I’m not going to ride with you if you can’t drive.” Emma’s eyes widened when she heard the voice. She turned and saw Thomas Moon walking into the light of the campfire. He set his grey backpack down and smiled at Emma and Mundo.

“YOU CAME!” Emma dashed to him, leaping over the campfire, and greeted him with a constricting hug. Thomas gently pushed her off him but nodded with a shrug.

“I thought about it. I don’t care about getting home. It’s already been so long, there’d be no point. But, I’ve already seen everything in this world. Might as well explore some new ones, right?”

“Right!” Emma smiled. “Let’s go before you change your mind.” She wiggled her fingers at the air in front of her to open a black portal tall enough for them to walk through.

“Good luck!” Mundo waved at them from the other side of the fire.

“You should come too.” Emma invited him, but he shook his head.

“No, I can’t. I can’t leave this Earth, but if you need help find another Mundo. Most Earths have one.”

No Chance

“How long?” Agent Chance asked. He stared at the small, translucent-orange pill bottle.

“How long what?” Gus, the quartermaster, asked. Gus was in the middle of gearing Agent Chance for his mission when the tall, broad-shouldered man interrupted.

“How long after taking two pills do I have to wait before I can take one again?” Gus shook his head.

“Never. That’s it, two pills in your entire lifetime,” Gus pushed the pill bottle into the agent’s hand.

“And if I take the third one, what. It kills me?” Again, Gus shook his head.

“Probably not if you’re close to a hospital. But it breaks you, for lack of a better word.”

“Breaks me?” Agent chance lifted the bottle to eye level and peered at the tiny orange-tinted pink pills. “Bones heal, that doesn’t seem too bad.”

“No, it doesn’t break your bones, it breaks you, your ability to heal. All the damage it undid for the first two pills comes back. Not only that, it heals again after.”

“Okay so some extra pain doesn’t seem too b-“

“Then the wounds reappear again,” Gus interrupted. “Then,” he smiled. “They heal again.”

“Well that,..”

“Then they appear again,” Gus said.

“And then they heal again?” Agent Chance asked. Gus nodded.

“Now you’ve got it. C’mere and I’ll show you something.” He led the agent out of the small lab and into a walk-in freezer. “The cold slows the process enough to make it manageable,” Gus explained in the freezer. He pointed at a shoebox-sized transparent container. At the bottom of the container, the agent noticed a mouse laying in a pool of blood.

“We gave this mouse the equivalent of 3 pills while he suffered a fatal wound. We can kill him, he’s not immortal. But if we don’t,…” Gus shrugged. “He’s been bleeding for two months. His body won’t heal anymore. If we keep him cold, his body can produce blood as fast as it loses it. But that’s all he can do anymore.”

“This is too weird,” Agent Chance glanced at the pill bottle again. This time he tried to eyeball how many pills it contained. “I might regret asking, but what happens at four pills?”

“Nothing. We went up to 15 pills on some mice, but nothing happens after three. Once you’re broken, you’re broken.”

“Okay.” Agent Chance opened the bottle of pills and poured them all out into his hand. He separated two and put them back in the bottle, then gave the remaining handful to Gus.

“Here, I don’t need more than two out there. I don’t want any accidents if I get distracted.”

What a Wonderful World

“Well, at least it moved,” Julio shrugged at the tiny digital clock. The bright red ’22’ displayed on its face was different from yesterday’s 23. He grabbed his phone to check the time and realized he was running late for work. The panic pushed his nightmare to the back of his mind and it did not resurface until lunch time.

He sat in a quaint employee break-room with an action movie playing on the TV. Julio ignored the movie to focus on his meal: cold fried chicken with a side of potato salad. Gunfire erupted from the TV and Julio nearly jumped out of his seat at the sound. He managed to hope for a split second that nobody saw him; but, that hope was crushed by a familiar giggle behind him.

“It’s just a movie, Julio. It’s not real,” she said between the laughter. A short, plump woman with long neon red hair sat down at the table next to him with her own lunch bag.

“Hey, Mundo,” Julio smiled at the woman. “It wasn’t the TV,” he shrugged. “I remembered a hell of a dream from last night. Someone gunned me down and it felt way too real,” he explained. “I guess it stuck with me more than I knew.” Mundo listened while unpacking her sandwich with purple jelly dripping out the sides, and chips.

“Maybe it was,” she smiled at him then took a large bite.

“Nah. No way they’d let you into heaven,” he smiled at her. She shrugged as she swallowed the bite of food.

“Meh, it got boring so I left,” she said. Julio gave her a confused look, but she winked at him and continued. “But, what I meant was maybe it really did happen to a version of you. You know how alternate universes are a thing, right?” Julio leaned over and lowered his voice to a near whisper.

“Are you high right now?”

“Oh shit, is it obvious?” Mundo opened her pink eyes wide, then squeezed them shut several times. “Are my eyes red? I used eye drops and everything.” Julio burst into laughter.

“Hah! I knew it,” he shook his head. “Well, if the only side effect is you making up some pretty crazy things, it’s not a big deal,” he smiled at her.

“Oh, no. Everything I said was real, I just happen to also be high right now,” she shrugged. “They’re unrelated.”

“Right,” Julio nodded. “See ya Monday, Mundo.” He waved at her, then made his way back to work. The rest of the day passed uneventfully and Julio glanced at the red ’22’ as he climbed in bed. That night he dreamed of his death again. This time he was decapitated instead of shot. He sat up in bed and realized he woke himself up with his own screaming. He glanced at the nightstand as his breathing recovered. A bright red ’21’ glowed in the dark.

“Goddamnit,” Julio rolled his eyes and sighed. He reached for his phone and glanced at the time while he searched through his contacts. 2:04 a.m. He found Mundo’s number and dialed.

“If this is a booty call I expect breakfast in the morning,” she answered on the first ring. “A good breakfast, not just a biscuit sandwich.”

“It’s not. Wait, are you awake?” Julio asked.

“Yeah, I don’t need much sleep. What’s up?” she asked.

“I had the dream again,” he said. He felt silly calling her with only that in mind, but she was one of his closer acquaintances from the office. Somehow the dream felt more real this time. He subconsciously rubbed his neck while he talked.

“Oh? Good, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Assuming it was an alternate you getting killed, there’d be differences, no matter how minor. If you dreamed the same thing twice, then it’s just a dream.”

“About that. When I said, ‘I had the dream again,’ I meant I had another dream where I died. But, this time I got decapitated, not shot.”

“Uh oh.”

“Uh oh, what?”

“Nothing. I’ll be over in a bit. In the meantime here are some questions I want you to answer for me when I get there. When did the dreams start, and does that coincide with anything else changing in your life? Bye,” she hung up. Julio set the phone down and stared at the red ’21’.

“Well, that was easy,” he chuckled to himself, then went to get dressed. 15 minutes later he let Mundo in. She’d been there a handful of times before and made herself at home on his couch.

“So? Any ideas about what’s different?” Julio nodded.

“Yeah I bought a clock at a pawn shop a couple of days ago, that first night is when the dreams started.” She looked around the living room.

“Where?” Julio tilted his head toward the bedroom.

“And you couldn’t have brought it out here?” She sighed as she stood from the couch. Julio shrugged.

“Didn’t think about it.” He followed Mundo into the bedroom, but she stopped at the threshold. He bumped into her from behind. She backed out into him and closed the bedroom door.

“Yeah, that’s your problem. We need to get rid of it. Did I see a 21 on it?” Julio nodded.

“Yeah, it had a 23 when I bought it. After the first dream, it changed to 22, then tonight to 21.” Mundo walked to the kitchen and pulled a bottle out of Julio’s freezer.

“I hope you appreciate what I’m about to do for you,” she said, then took a deep swig from the bottle.

“Sure, I guess finishing my vodka is kind of a favor.” She smiled.

“No, idiot. I’m about to call in a favor I never planned to cash in,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a shiny, black business card.

“Wait. Do you know what’s going on?” Mundo nodded.

“Yeah. Short version, that thing’s kind of like a lure. Once you have it, it sends out a signal to let you know you found it. Not you you, an alternate you.” Mundo threw the black card against a wall in Julio’s kitchen. It grew into a tall, oval-shaped pitch black portal. “ANGEL!” She yelled into the hole, then she looked at Julio. “Seriously. You owe me big time.”

“Man, I always knew I had crappy luck…” Julio complained. Mundo shook her head.

“No, that was meant for you specifically.”

“C’mon. There’s no way to guarantee I’d buy it.” Mundo turned to the hole and yelled again.

“ANGEL!” This time a deep male voice replied from the abyss on the wall.

“WAIT A SECOND!” Mundo rolled her eyes, then looked at Julio.

“Actually, yeah. That’s how it works, you’re compelled to buy it.” Mundo reached into her pocket again and pulled out a stick of gum.  She unwrapped the flat strip, threw the gum in the trash, and held out the wrapper to Julio. “Wanna buy this for a dollar?” she asked. Julio scoffed.

“No. I’d rather keep the dollar, thanks.” Mundo nodded.

“But you’d rather have a broken ‘clock’…,” she used air quotes. “…that only shows one number, than whatever you spent on it, right?” Julio’s eyes narrowed.

“Point taken.” Mundo turned to hole in the wall.

“Damnit, he’s already making me regret this. ANGEL! GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE!” A pitch black card flew out of the hole and landed in front of Mundo.

“Tomorrow, probably.” The disembodied voice said, then the black portal disappeared.

“Well shit,” Mundo chuckled. “It’s a good thing you’ve got 21 days left. This might take a few.”

Quality Quarantine

“Good morning, Doctor,” a woman said. Dr. Jones heard her voice the moment he stirred, before he managed to open his eyes. He realized he was laying down and decided to sit up while looking in the direction of the woman’s voice. An easily recognizable government agent in a black suit nodded at him and smiled. “Sorry for the sudden invitation, but we have something of an emergency,” the woman said. She walked to him with an outstretched hand. “I’m Agent Mundo.” Dr. Jones accepted the greeting while looking around. He sat on a padded examination table in a small medical room.

“Please, call me Michael. I think we’re close enough considering you kidnapped me.”

“Right. Here’s the situation. We have an alien child in our care and his heart is failing. We’ve done all we can with the staff we have, but when it comes to the surgery itself you have the best chance of success.”

“Are kidding! I get to operate on an alien?” Michael jumped off the exam table and walked toward the door. “I’m in.” He felt a firm grip around his arm.

“It’s not quite that simple,” Mundo said. “Unfortunately for you, specifically, it’s a one way trip.” Michael pulled away from Mundo and glared at her with suspicion.

“How so?” He asked with an eye on the door.

“You’re not in any danger. However, if you touch the child you’ll have to be quarantined for the rest of your life.”

“Huh,” Michael took a moment think. “That’s not necessarily a deal breaker. How many other medics am I quarantined with?” Mundo shook her head.

“Just you. On the plus side you’d have an alien friend for company.”

“Wait a sec, just me? You said your staff already did all they could?”

“Yes. As I said, this is a problem for you, specifically,” she shrugged. “Me too, but I have no reason to interact with the child.”

“Alright then, what’s so special about me and you?”

“That takes more time to explain than we have right now. Your patient is waiting. I need a decision first. If you’re not going to operate we need to send someone else in there.

“But the quarantine will be more like house arrest than a prison cell, right?”

“Oh yes, absolutely. You’ll be perfectly comfortable and looked after.”

“Okay, I’m in. Let’s go.” Michael moved toward the door again, and Mundo followed. He stepped out into the bright hallway then waited for her to take the lead.

“Thank you for this. I’ll fill you in with what I can while we walk,” she said as she turned a corner.

“You and I are what’s known as Unique Souls. The short version is there are alternate universes,” she said.

“Are you serious? Aliens and alternate universes??” Michael asked.

“Yes. Don’t interrupt if you want answers. We’re almost there.”

“Sorry. Tell me more, please.”

“Most people, like all the medics here, for example, have doppelgangers in other universes. You and I don’t, we’re the only ones like us in any universe,” she explained. Mundo led him out through a set of double doors into the sun. They walked through an outdoor walkway toward a tall white building.

“The trouble is the way Uniques work. Everyone, everywhere, vibrates at a certain frequency. Uniques are built for multiverse travel, so their frequencies are able to fluctuate as needed.” They walked into the white building and headed straight to the elevator. Michael sighed when she pressed the button for the second floor.

“Can you skip to the part about why I can’t go home?”

“Pretend you have a magic address book that automatically fills in the details of anyone you meet. Not only that but if you meet anyone else with the same magic address book the information is shared with them too. Once you touch the child you’ll have his frequency. And you’ll give it to every Unique you touch after that.” The elevator dinged and the doors slid open.

“And that’s bad?”

“Catastrophic, but we can talk more after the surgery.”

El Pescado Called Wanda

“No. You approved my vacation months ago. I’m already here and I’m not giving it up.” Wanda paced in her small boat while she talked to her boss. She planned the trip for almost a year and began hinting at her boss to soften him up before she officially requested the time off. Now he had the nerve to try and call her in while her boat floated in the middle of the lake on a beautiful, cool, sunny day. “I’m hanging up, Martin. I’ll talk to you in two weeks. Not a day before.” The orange-haired woman tossed the node onto one of the seats and stared out at the calm water. She sighed with contentment, took a deep breath, then jumped over the side without hesitation.

Wanda imagined the water rinsing off her cares as she broke through the surface. She felt renewed as she entered the water as she descended deeper into the lake. She reached the lake floor and began looking for the perfect spot to relax, but something caught her eye. She looked to see a man wriggling violently from side to side looking directly at her.

The underwater stranger appeared to be standing in a block of concrete that reached up to his knees. His hands were cuffed in front of him, fortunately, and shackled to the same concrete block. He was otherwise completely naked. His long brown hair floated around his head, and a beard long enough to reach his belly button grew out of his chin. He smiled like a madman at Wanda.

Wanda waved at the stranger, and he wriggled his cuffed hands at her in return. She swam to him then around to his back. She grabbed the man under his armpits and tried to swim upward with him. He moved, but not very far. The failure prompted Wanda to wonder how she could get him in the boat if she did get him to the surface. Wanda swam around in front of him and put her hands up in front of him to give the universal gesture for ‘wait here’. The stranger smiled and shrugged.

“Of course he’s going to wait here,” Wanda realized. She felt a bit embarrassed as she swam up toward the surface. “He seems pretty calm,” she noted while she climbed into her boat. “I wonder if he’s like me.” She went through her duffel bag and pulled out two silver collars. She latched one around her neck, then jumped back into the water with the other. She latched the second collar around the man’s neck once she reached the bottom, then smiled.

“Hi.” She said. The man’s eyes widened.

“HI!!! We can talk!!” Wanda nodded and touched the silver collar.

“Uhuh. These things are ancient, but they’re still useful. Uh. So… Who are you?”

“I’m Ray, and you?” Wanda grabbed his cuffed hand and shook it gently.

“Wanda. What’re you doing in the lake, Ray?” He shrugged.

“Poor planning. I kept some money I shouldn’t have, thinking there was nothing they could do to me, on account of I’m immortal. A few years later, here I am. Actually, what year is it? These collars are amazing, but I’ve never seen them before.”

“The collars are about 100 years old, we’re in 2358,” Wanda replied. The whole time she swam in place with outstretched arms helping her resist the current.

“Oh,” Ray said. “That long, huh?”

“How long?” Wanda asked.

“300 years.” Ray looked down. “I guess that explains where my suit went. How about you? Can everyone in the future swim under water without any breathing equipment? Or is it just so small I can’t see it?”

“I’m kind of unique,” Wanda said. “But we can talk about that later. I’m sure you want out of here after 300 years.” Wanda swam down and around the concrete block to inspect it.

“Any ideas?” Ray asked.

“One.” Wanda nodded. “Sorry, but you’re going to have to be patient some more. I don’t have any equipment with me that can take care of that. I need to go all the way back home, in another state, then come back. So.. a few days maybe?” Wanda asked. Ray shrugged.

“After 300 years, what’s a few more days?”

“I’ll be back. I promise!” Wanda smiled and swam toward the surface.

Wingin’ It

“Thank you, miss,” Thomas Moon smiled at the friendly bartender that delivered a plate of buffalo wings to the table. Thomas lifted his mostly empty glass of beer to signal her for a refill. “If you don’t mind, please.” The waitress nodded, took the glass, and disappeared to the kitchen. A jingling bell signaled another patron walking in, but Thomas was too distracted with his wings to look up.

“Hey, remember me?” a woman said. Thomas felt the voice directed at him and looked up as the bartender returned with his drink. His lips, chin, and fingers were covered with red sauce. “Britain, 1800’s?” She set his drink down and gave them both a confused look. Thomas shrugged.

“Looks like she’s a few ahead of me, huh?” He smiled, then shrugged at the bartender. “I might need more napkins, please.”  She giggled and returned to the bar. The stranger, wearing blue jeans and a simple black t-shirt, strode to Thomas’ small table and sat down across from him.

“I’m not drunk,” she explained. Thomas nodded.

“I know,” he replied. Then he went to work on another chicken wing. The woman’s yellow eyes sparkled to life and a smile overtook her face.

“You DO remember!” she said, bouncing a little too much in her seat. Thomas shook his head, then swallowed.

“Nope,” he took another bite.

“You have to remember me, we make a great team! We hunted down that pack of werewolves together, took down every last one of them!” The stranger suddenly became aware that they weren’t alone.

“Here are your napkins, dear. Anything else?’ Thomas swallowed to answer.

“Yeah, don’t serve her any drinks,” he laughed and the bartender joined in. The woman’s cheeks almost glowed bright red as the bartender walked away.

“I told you, I’m not drunk! I’m not making it up!”  She placed a hand firmly on the table as if fighting the urge to slam her hand down in frustration. Thomas nodded.

“I know.”

“Then why do you keep suggesting I’m drunk?”

“Because she doesn’t know,” Thomas nodded toward the bar. “She doesn’t know about immortals, fae, or the underworld,” Thomas said, then he pointed a bare bone at her. “YOU keep trying to shed light on it but it’s rude. Don’t do it.”  The woman hung her head slightly and nodded.

“I’m sorry. I was just so excited to see you again!” She looked up at him. “So you do remember? You were just trying to keep me quiet?” Thomas shook his head.

“Sorry, miss. I don’t remember you.” He shrugged. “I spent some time in Britain during the 1800s, and werewolves sound familiar, but that’s all I’ve got.”

“You forgot me?”

“It’s nothing personal,” he shrugged. “When you’re my age-”

“I AM your age,” she interrupted. Thomas chuckled.

“Not likely. It’s only been about 200 years since Britain. How much longer before that?” he asked.

“That’s when I realized I wasn’t aging,” she replied.

“As I was saying, when you’re my age you don’t worry about remembering things as much. All you can do is take each day as it comes.” Thomas reached for another wing.

“How old are you?” she asked him. He shrugged with the wing inches from his mouth.

“No idea, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say at least a couple thousand years,” he took a bite.

“Whooaa,” the woman replied with an awed whisper. “I never even considered living that long. What’s it like?” she asked. The woman waited patiently for Thomas to finish chewing. The bell over the door jingled again when Thomas swallowed.

“Wow, for mid-afternoon this place is surprisingly busy,” he glanced up to see a short biker covered in tattoos and leather walking to the bar. Then, he focused on the woman across from him again. “It’s like I said. You let yourself forget a lot of details and live day by day. And you learn to keep to yourself,” he added, in a disappointed tone. He saw the bartender talking to the biker and pointing at his table. The woman across from him noticed his gaze was locked on something behind her. She turned around in time to see the biker approaching the table. She turned around.

“Leave,” she stressed. “This is my fault, I’m sorry!” Before either of them could get up the biker reached their table and nodded at them with a friendly smile.

“Hi folks,” he held up both hands with the palms outward. “I’m sure you’re probably nervous, but I’m not here to start anything.”

“So what can we do for you?” Thomas asked.

“Well, it turns out that I’m here to help you,” he said. He used his thumb to point at the bar behind him. “Sue overheard that you folks are extra old, and she called me over.”

“Why? Are you an immortal too?” the woman asked.

“Nope, but I can tell you a lot about yourselves. My name’s Mundo,” he offered his hand to the woman first, then Thomas. Both shook his hand. “The short version is, you guys don’t belong here,” he pointed at Thomas. “You, I don’t know how you got here.” Then, he turned and pointed at the woman. “I have a pretty good idea about you.”

“It’s a public space,” the woman responded to defend Thomas. Mundo nodded.

“The bar? Sure. Sorry, I guess it was unclear. You guys don’t belong here,” he stopped a heavy boot on the wooden floor. “On this Earth. You’re from different universes.”

“Is that right?” Thomas asked. “Thank you for your input,” he smiled at Mundo and then looked at the plate of wings to choose his next victim.

“I can prove it. You have a tattoo with the number 23 on it somewhere on you, right?” Mundo asked Thomas, then he turned to the woman. “And you have a tattoo with the number 35 somewhere on you, right?” The woman nodded shyly, and Thomas did too.

“Aside from the fact that there’s no way you could have known that, it doesn’t prove anything about other universes,” Thomas said.

“The reason you’re not aging is that this isn’t your universe. I don’t know how you got here, but I do know how to get you home,”

“I’m comfortable here,” Thomas said. “Thank you though.” Thomas nodded at Mundo to communicate the end of the conversation, then he bit into his chosen wing.

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.”

Card Tricked

The sound of applause caught the old wizard’s attention. He stopped walking and looked at the end of the block. A small group of people dispersed from around a young girl, each going their own way with a smile on their face. The young girl bowed several times toward the parting crowd; her long silver hair caressed the dirt. After the crowd dissipated she bent down to pick up the bag she left out for donations. She interested the wizard enough that he changed direction to walk toward her.

“Excuse me,” the wizard caught up to her as she started to walk away. “That must have quite a show. They all seemed entertained enough,” he nodded at the small bag of coins. The old man reached into his robe and pulled out a handful of golden coins. “Can you entertain me?” he asked her with a mischievous smirk. The young girl smiled and dropped her bag.

“I can try,” the girl slid the sleeves of her shirt up. The wizard closed his hands around the coins.

“No. This isn’t a donation, I’m paying for entertainment,” he shrugged. “That being said, I won’t pay you if I’m not entertained.” The girl nodded.

“That won’t be a problem for…,” she straightened her back and dropped her hands to her hips. She held her elbows out and stood heroically. “…Emily the Entertainer!” A silky black cap popped out of the back of her shirt and flapped in the air. The wizard locked eyes with Emily and picked a single golden coin out of the pile in his hand and dropped it into his pocket. She smiled and shook her hands rapidly in the air.

“Alright, I’m still warmed up from the last show, I’ll skip to the best one.” Emily stepped closer to the wizard and held her hands flat, palms up.

“As you can see,…” she flipped them over to show him both sides. “… there’s nothing in my hands,…” she continued to flip her hands. Palms up again, then the back of her hand again. “Except this,…” she flipped her hands palms up again, but this time she held a box of playing cards. “…deck of cards.” She noticed a faint smile tug at the corners of the old man’s lips. He did not take a coin away. Emily opened the box and pulled out the cards. She fanned them all out with the elaborate red design on the backs face up for him.

“Pick a card, but don’t show it to me,” she asked him. The wizard stared at the red designs then he picked a card out from the middle.  He looked at the 3 of clubs, then dropped his hand to return the card to Emily. As he neared the fan of cards in her hand he realized the card backs all changed colors. The red design was now blue on all the cards in her hand.

“Hey, they’re different. Is that part of the trick?” he asked Emily. She smiled.

“Oh yeah! Sorry I forgot to mention it,” she grinned. “You should check your card again to make sure you remember it.” He glanced at the card in his hand, it also had a blue back now.

“What?” He brought it up and looked at the three of clubs again. “She’s good, let’s see how good.” The wizard left a magic mark on the card. Something only he could see and find anywhere. “I’ll remember it,” the wizard said. He tried to put the card into an a green backed deck splayed in her hands. He glanced at the card in his hand, it also had a green back now. The wizard brought the card closer to look for his mark, but it was nowhere on the three of clubs.

“Wow, how’d you do that!” the wizard asked. “This card has changed twice.

“Thrice,” Emily corrected him. The wizard’s eyes rolled upward as he tried to think it through. He shook his head.

“No, it started red, then it went to blue, then it went to green. That’s two chang,”

“Then purple after green,” Emily smiled.

“I don’t remember pur-..” The wizard stopped and looked at the purple design on the back of the card in his hand. “How!?” he asked. Emily shrugged and smiled.
“Magic. Kindof like this magic here,” she held up a 3 of clubs with the wizard’s glowing mark on it. “But way better.”