Ghost in the Darkness

“A word of advice, keep the light on in the attic,”

The old woman said. She paused on her way out the door to give the reminder. “The house is haunted, but the light helps…”

“We will,” Henry interrupted with a polite nod at the host while he tried to usher her out the door. “Thanks again Mrs. Garza. We’ll call you if there’s any issues.” Mrs. Garza smiled and walked out of the house. Henry closed the door, locked all the locks, then he rushed to the kitchen. His new wife, Samantha, stood at the stove working on dinner. He walked up behind her and moved her blonde hair aside to kiss her neck. He dropped his hands to her hips to feel her squirming.

“She said…,” he paused to kiss her neck. “…to keep the attic light on…,” another kiss. “…because the house is haunted.”

“No problem,” Samantha said. She turned, kissed Henry on the lips, then shooed him away. “Go unpack something, let me finish cooking.”

“Fine,” Henry grumbled with a smile and wandered to the bedroom. He unpacked his own suitcase easy enough, he emptied it into a drawer. He glanced at Samantha’s suitcase, but shook his head. The last time he tried to be thoughtful and unpack for her taught him that he shouldn’t do that. He glanced at his watch and realized he only killed about five minutes. He let himself fall to the bed and relax. The 12 hour drive left him more tired than he thought. He heard a faint creaking noise come from the attic as he drifted off to sleep.

“Dinner,” he heard Samantha’s voice pull him out of his dreamfog and he felt his body shaking. Henry opened his eyes to find his wife smiling down at him. “Food’s ready,” she leaned forward and kissed his forehead. He nodded and pulled himself up to a sitting position. He glanced upward.

“You know, I might’ve been dreaming,” he said. “But I think I heard creaking in the attic earlier.” Samantha stuck her tongue out at him.

“Now you’re just being mean,” she turned to leave the room.

“Sorry,” he called behind her. “I’m sure it was just a dream.” Henry realized the room was much darker than it was when he fell asleep. He glanced out the window and realized night had fallen. He checked the time on his phone. 8:40p.m. Henry moved to stand from the bed, but a glimmer caught his eye. He stopped moving and looked around. A thin beam of light reflected off the mirror and onto the pillows on his side of the bed. He looked around the room and found the source of the light, the outline of the attic door. “I’m not going to be able to sleep like that,” he decided.

“Are you coming?” Samantha yelled from the kitchen.

“One sec!” Henry called back. He took a minute to find the light switch for the attic and switch it off. Then he joined Samantha in the kitchen. She sat at the small, round dinner table loaded with meatloaf and plenty of sides. Henry’s stomach growled, he did not realize how hungry he was. He kissed his wife on the top of her head and sat down.

“Thanks, babe. This looks amazing!” he served himself large portions of everything. He was about to bite into his first fork full when a loud banging noise clamored from the attic, followed by a wailing moan. Samantha dropped everything and looked up at the ceiling.

“It IS haunted!” she smiled. “Best honeymoon ever!” She stood from her seat and hopped in Henry’s lap to attack his face with kisses. The voice from the attic continued to groan.

“Told you it was,” Henry replied. He tried to play it cool but the truth was he did not know for sure until that moment. The listing advertised as “haunted” but haunting scams were frequent. “Let’s eat, then we can try to talk to the ghost later,” Henry offered. Samantha nodded and slipped off his lap. Halfway into their meal the ghost’s noises showed no sign of quieting down. It had grown louder and more insistent.

“We should call Mrs. Garza,” Henry said. Samantha agreed. Five minutes later Henry opened the door to let Mrs. Garza in. She heard the horrible sound coming from the attic and punched Henry in the shoulder as hard as her aging body could manage.

“You turned off the light!” she said. “Go turn it on, he’s scared of the dark!”

Soul-sucking Work

Jane checked the top corner of her phone while she played a game on it. 10:43 a.m. She sat at her desk in the empty reception area and argued with herself about whether to quit or not. On the one hand, getting paid to play mobile games was fun. On the other hand, the lack of purpose made her want to pull her hair out. Throughout the past month, she came into work and clocked in. She tried anything to keep herself busy for eight hours, then she clocked out and headed home. The pay was higher than any job she’d ever held, but the boredom was almost unbearable.

The tinny sound of the bell over the door called Jane’s attention. She looked up from her phone in time to see someone approaching her. A young woman wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt reached Jane’s desk and smiled at her.

“Hi,” she said. Jane sat up straighter in her chair and made eye contact with the stranger.

“Hi.” Jane felt nerves flutter in her stomach. She had no idea what this woman might ask for.

“I’m Anna, I have an appointment with Mrs. Sharp at 11:00.” Jane nodded then pretended to search the desk for something while her brain tried to think up an excuse. She heard a door open behind her. Jane turned to see a short woman with dark hair wearing a black suit step out of the office she knew was empty. The woman walked to Jane and handed her a clipboard.

“Sorry for getting this to you so late, Jane,” she apologized as Jane accepted the clipboard. “Those are today’s appointments, just have them sign in as they arrive.” She turned to face the young woman.

“Anna, good to see you. Head on to the office, I’ll be there in a sec.” Anna nodded and retreated to the office. The woman looked at Jane.

“I apologize for the disorganized start,” she shrugged. “But we’re open now so there’ll be more people coming through here. We can talk more at the end of the day,” the woman moved towards her office. She paused and turned to Jane, “Did you have any important questions?” Jane pointed at the office without taking her eyes off Mrs. Sharp.

“The office was empty when I got here….” she knew it wasn’t a question, but her mind was still trying to catch up. The woman nodded.

“I needed to deal with something before I got here,” she shrugged. Janet shook her head.

“But where’d you come from?” Janet turned and pointed at the front door. A mother and daughter pair were stepping through it. “That’s the only way in.” Mrs. Sharp shook her head and smiled.

“Not for me.” She lifted a hand in the air and made a gesture. A small, football-sized black hole appeared next to her hand. She reached into the hole and pulled out an apple, then waggled her fingers at the hole to make it disappear. Jane stared at Mrs. Sharp with disbelief. In her peripheral vision, she noticed the mother and daughter reached her desk. She handed them the clipboard.

“Sign in, please,” she said. Mrs. Sharp smiled and walked toward her office.

“Congratulations, Jane. You’re full-time now. We’ll talk later,” she said, then closed the door behind her.

“I don’t even know what we do,” Jane mumbled to herself under her breath. The mother wandered to the row of plastic chairs to sit down while the daughter lingered. She heard Jane’s complaint.

“You buy souls here, right? That’s what my mom said. She came to sell her soul,” the girl said.

Poor Deer

Jane looked out a window on the side of the house and saw the sun shining over her neighborhood. She looked at the utility hallway in front of her door where the suited man had stopped part way to wait for her.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “How’d you do this?” she gestured at the hallway connected to her front door. The stranger leaned down and lifted the leg of his black slacks. He exposed his ankle and lowered his black sock to show Jane his tattoo: a well-dressed skeleton with the number 14 on its skull.

“You can do some weird things and you’ve got a tattoo with a number on it, right? 45?” Jane nodded, though she did not know him well enough to show him the tattoo of a doe on her back with the number 45. The man nodded, then continued to walk down the corridor. Jane shrugged to herself and followed, though she stopped to lock the front door on her way out. Then she jogged a bit to catch up to the stranger.

“I’m guessing you know my name since you came to me,” he nodded. “Who are you? How did you do that thing at my door? Where are we going?” Jane looked ahead, but the narrow hallway extended as far as she could see. A straight shot without any turn offs.

“Elias. I opened a portal to a parallel universe right at your door,” he stopped and turned around. Jane looked behind her and panicked slightly. She should still have been able to see her door, but she only saw more hallway with no sign of her house.

“Where’d it go!?” she asked. Elias made a gesture in the air with his right hand and the air rippled like water. A clear, circular portal appeared next to them with Jane’s door on the other side.

“It didn’t go anywhere, you’re in a different universe.” He dropped his hand and the portal disappeared leaving only the dim hallway. “I can get you home any time.” Jane nodded.

“Okay. Let’s keep going,” she stepped forward to show Elias she was willing to continue. “So where are we going?”

“Have you met a Mundo yet?” he asked.

“No, I’ve never heard that name,” Jane replied. “Is that where we’re going?” Elias shook his head.

“No, just wondering how much I have to explain. If you had met one, you’d know most of what I have to say,” he shrugged. “Oh well. I can cover the basics while we get there.” Jane glanced forward again, but she saw no end to the hall.

“You are something called a Unique Soul. Specifically #45 El Venado, the deer. I’m one too, #14 La Muerte, the Death.” Jane stopped walking.

“You’re death? Am I dead?” she pinched herself then grimaced when it hurt. Elias chuckled and stopped walking.

“No, you’re alive at the moment. La Muerte is the type of Unique I am. There’s different types…,” he gestured at Jane, “…like the deer. I’m not Death anymore than you’re a deer.” Jane accepted the explanation and started walking forward again. Elias followed.

“So where are we going?” she asked. “And why can’t you portal us there?”

“Portals are only good for going between universes. I can’t open a portal within the same universe. And I was getting to that. So there’s different types of Unique souls, right?” Jane nodded.

“If you say so,” she said.

“My boss studies Uniques to learn more about them,” Elias said. Jane recognized an open door in the distance. She felt glad their walk was almost over. She had more questions than she started out with, but hoped to get answers soon.

“Whoa,” Jane had a realization and turned to grab Elias’ arm. “Am I getting a job offer? What’s your boss like? Is she gonna be my boss?” she asked with an eager smile. She got laid off the day before but had been too afraid to tell her husband and kids. If she had a job line up already it would be much easier. Elias shook his head and resumed walking towards the open door.

“No job offer, sorry,” he said. “Honestly, you don’t want to work for her anyway. Trust me.” They reached the door and he stopped to let her go through first. Jane crossed the threshold into a small room with a single desk and a chair on each side of it.

“How come you work for her?” Jane asked. She sat down on one side of the desk, Elias closed the door and walked around to the other side of the desk and sat down. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a clipboard with forms on it.

“I have to,” Elias shrugged. “It’s the only way to save my Earth.” He handed the clipboard to Jane with a pen. “Oh, forgot something.” He stood and gestured in the air to open a portal. Jane began filling in the form, but she looked up.

“I don’t know your other responsibilities,” Jane smiled. “But if it’s just bringing in folks to fill in a questionnaire, it doesn’t seem like too bad a way to save your Earth.” Elias chuckled as he stepped through his portal.

“Yeah, if that was it the job wouldn’t be so bad,” the portal began shrinking with Elias on the other side of it. “But the form is just a distraction.  I’m sorry.” His portal disappeared leaving Jane alone in the room.

Sharp Employee

A bright blue, shimmering portal opened above the sand. Elias stepped out of the portal onto the beach and took in his surroundings. The wiry 20-year-old felt relieved to see the orange rising from the water to its place in the purple sky. After taking a few minutes to appreciate the rare sight he turned to look up and down the rest of the beach. It surprised him to see beach-goers sitting around him ignoring the fact that he appeared out of thin air.

He found a picnic area with benches and sat down to plan his next move. This Earth did not seem to be as bad off as the other ones he visited and he decided to stay as long as he could manage. After an hour he decided to see about getting some money. As he stood from his bench he noticed a tall woman in a white suite walking toward him. Her dark eyes locked with his and left little doubt that she intended to talk with him. Elias checked his sides to look for a different way to leave. He found one other exit from the picnic area, but a burly well-dressed man blocked it. Elias sighed and raised his hand in the air to leave the Earth, but the woman spoke up to stop him.

“Hello!” she stopped several feet away and smiled. “I’d like to talk to you if you’re not in a hurry to leave,” she said.

“About what?” Elias asked. He kept his hand in the air, ready to open a portal if needed.

“A job opportunity,” she replied. Elias dropped his hand, and the woman closed the distance between them. Once she stood in front of Elias she extended her hand. “Dana Sharp, and you are..?”

“Elias Montenegro.” He shook her hand, and sat down on the bench again. “You came straight to me with a job offer…” He looked up at the dark-haired woman. “You know what I can do?” Dana nodded. “How?”

“You’re far from the only one,” she replied. “But you are rare enough that I want you on my team.”

“What would I do on your team?” Elias asked.

“That’s for you to decide. Thanks to your ability, I have dozens of opportunities you can choose from. Whether you accept or not, you’re welcome to stay in company housing. I’m assuming you don’t have anywhere else to stay on this Earth yet, right?” Elias nodded.

“I”d appreciate that, thanks.” Dana turned around to walk away, but she gestured with her hand for Elias to follow her. She led him to a white limousine. Once they were both in Elias realized the large man that blocked his exit earlier was her driver.

“Mundo’s,” Dana told the driver. He nodded in the rear-view mirror and started the limo. “Before you decide there’s a lot you need to learn about yourself, and I don’t have the time to explain. Mundo can fill in all the blanks for you.

“Here.” The driver called back.

“Really?” Elias looked at Dana. “I didn’t even feel the car move.” He saw a dark sky outside the windows, though the sun was still out when he got into the car.

“You’ll see.” Dana nodded towards the door and Elias took the hint that he should step out. The moment he stepped out of the car his skin tingled. It felt like when he entered a new universe the first time, and he understood it immediately.

“Your car travels through universes too?” Elias asked. He stepped back to give Dana room to get out, but she only scooted far enough to grab the door.

“No, the driver does. Whenever you’re done here Mundo will let us know and someone will come take you to your new home,” Dana said. She closed the car door without waiting for a response. Elias watched a black hole appear at the front of the limo large enough for it to fit through. The whole moved along the car’s body, swallowing it until the car, then the hole disappeared.

Hellish Turnover

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” the well-dressed demon said. A look of concern replaced his salesman’s smile and the red glow in his eyes dimmed. Ruben smiled at the horned man in the wine-red suit.

“A HA! You said anything.” Ruben crossed his arms and indulged in a self-satisfying grin. In his mind, he saw himself sitting on Hell’s throne. The demon nodded.

“I did say anything, but that trade comes with some bureaucratic caveats,” the demon said. He snapped his fingers and produced a flash of fire in his hand. After the fire disappeared he held an obsidian clipboard with several forms on it.

“What? That’s bull! You said ANYTHING.” Ruben raised his voice.  The demon nodded again then presented the black clipboard to Ruben.

“I did. I’m not telling you no, but I’m supposed to give you extra information if you make that wish,” he said. The demon studied Ruben as he simmered in frustration for a second. “You’re not the first, which you should be thankful that we have procedures in place for it now.” Ruben refused to accept the clipboard. He chose to glare at the demon instead.

“Quit stalling and give me your soul,” Ruben said. The demon sighed.

“Fine.” He flipped through the papers on the clipboard and pulled one out, then put it on top. He offered it to Ruben. “Initial here if you want to skip the orientation info I’m supposed to give you,” he pointed at one line. Then he pointed at another line at the bottom. “Sign there and you’ll trade your soul for mine. But I have to tell you that it’s a bad idea on your part.” Ruben scoffed as he hurriedly initialed and signed.

“Of course you’d say that. Done!” Ruben looked up the moment he said done and saw his body holding the clipboard in front of him. His bearded face smiled at him. He looked at his hands up and recognized the dark maroon cuffs at his wrists. His hands flew up to his head and he felt rigid horns atop his head.

“What’s going on?!” He panicked. The demon in his old body shrugged.

“You’ll have another chance to learn about the job when you go back,” he offered the clipboard to Ruben.

“Go back?” Ruben felt stunned. He grabbed the clipboard without thinking. “To where? I want my body!” His old room and his old body disappeared the moment he touched the clipboard. He heard his name before he realized he was in a different place.

“Ruben Alaniz?” Ruben turned around to find a woman with long, fiery-orange hair sitting at a black stone desk. She smiled at him and pointed to a door on her left. “The boss’ll see you now.” Ruben nodded, still dazed, and walked towards the door. He crossed the threshold and nearly fainted. He saw a giant red man, easily twice his size sitting at an obsidian desk. A silver nameplate on his desk read “Satan”. He paused to lean against the door, then walked, weak-kneed, to a black stone chair in front of Satan’s desk.

“Mr. Alaniz, I’m sure you have a million questions,” Satan chuckled with a deep voice. “Most of them because you didn’t sit through the orientation. Ask away.” Ruben did not seem to be in immediate danger. He took a moment to close his eyes and breath. He considered his situation. He hoped that man with large, curling, black horns would not be there when he opened his eyes. Ruben opened his eyes. Satan smiled.

“Can I change my mind?” Ruben asked. He’d accepted the fact that he was stuck in a demon’s body, and hoped to find a way out of it. Satan shook his head.

“That’s why we have the orientation. You’re informed of your duties and the consequences before you agree. You skipped it, so here you are.” Ruben nodded. If nothing else he’d always been quick to accept his own mistakes.

“What’s my job, and for how long?” Satan nodded with a grin.

“Good man, straight to business. Brokering deals, like the one that got you here. For eternity.”

“So if someone wants my soul… I can get out?”

“If you do everything right, yes. You can’t offer it out of the blue, they have to ask. You have to advise against it and offer the orientation. But if all that works out and they agree then their soul is put in…,” Satan pointed at Ruben. “…that body. Then your soul gets their body.”

“What? That’s stupid. No one’s going to want this job after I tell them how horrible it is.” Satan laughed.

“You’re here.”

Selling Her Sole

“What?” Donna answered the phone with a harsh whisper. She sat in a dark, bathroom-sized storage space with her back against the closed, locked door. The only light in the room came from her phone’s flashlight. When she answered the phone she illuminated the wooden wall to her right.

“Hey. Are you okay?” her friend, Edgar, asked through the phone. Donna replied, still whispering, through gritted teeth.

“If I was fine I wouldn’t have texted you for help,” she hissed. “Why are you calling and not helping me?”

“I’m on my way, but I need to hear you say it. You need to hear what you texted me out loud.”

“I’m wearing a magic boot that lets me levitate!”  Is this new situation really that much more fantastical?” Donna asked, then she heard Edgar’s hearty chuckle on the other end.

“Yes,” he replied. Donna sighed and rolled her eyes.

“I’m stuck in the storage attic because there’s a teleporting, talking cat chasing me. It’s on the other side of the door and I don’t have anywhere else to go. There, how close are you?” Donna pulled the phone away from her ear to avoid Edgar’s heavy laughter.

“I got your text right when I pulled up,” Edgar continued laughing. “I just wanted to make you say it because you never freak out.”

“It’s a talking cat! Would you get in here and help me!” she yelled, dropping the whisper altogether.

“I’m already in the store, hold on a second. Hanging up.” After the call ended Donna stood up and backed away from the door. Within a minute she heard a muffled conversation on the other side of the door. After several more seconds, someone knocked on the door.

“It’s okay to come out,” Edgar said. “She’s not trying to hurt you.”

“Then why is she chasing me?” Donna replied without moving toward the door.

“She likes your boots,” Edgar laughed.

“What the hell?” Donna threw the door open. Edgar stood on steps next to a black cat with a red skull-shaped pattern in the fur atop its head. “Why didn’t you just tell me you liked my shoes?” Donna asked the cat.

“You ran when I said, ‘hi,’ ” the cat replied with a soft, feminine voice. Edgar immediately doubled over with more laughter.

“See?” he said between laughs. “Told you a talking cat was more fantastical than a magic boot.” Donna took a moment to glare at Edgar through slitted eyes. His laughter disappeared with a sudden throat clear. Then, she looked back at the cat.

“You chased me to compliment my foot-wear?”

“No,” the cat said. It looked to Edgar for a second, then back to Donna. “What I told your friend is that I’m here for your boot.” Donna stepped backward and closed the door partway.

“Or what?” She asked, afraid of the answer. The cat disappeared. Then Donna heard the female voice in the room behind her.

“I’m willing to barter before resorting to threats,” the cat said.

“I told you she teleported!” Donna yelled at Edgar. He only saw humor in the situation and chuckled.

“I’m going downstairs, you don’t need me to work it out,” he gave a dismissive wave and retreated down the steps. Donna turned to face the cat, thankful that the open door let light in.

“Barter huh? Okay, how much are you offering?”

“Not money. Let’s say a wish. If you could wish for anything, other than money, what would it be?” Donna did not hesitate, she’d always had her ‘one wish’ planned out.

“I’d kill to be young again,” she smiled. Though she was only 34, she wanted to be young again with everything she knew up to that point. The cat’s head dipped slightly as if it nodded.

“No time travel, you’d be you now. Just younger,” the cat explained.

“You can do it!?” Donna dropped to the floor and started working her right boot off.

“If you agree to the deal. I’ll grant your wish if you give me the boot.” Donna managed to pull the right boot off, and the boot on her left foot disappeared.

“YES!” Donna yelled. She put the boot down in front of the cat.  The cat bumped it over with its head and looked at the sole. Then it nodded.

“Okay, it’s good,” the cat said, then swished its tail. A small black circle appeared on the ground, swallowed the boot, then disappeared again.

“Oh yeah, did that number mean something? 22?” She asked. The cat’s tail flicked again. A football-sized black portal hovered several inches off the ground, and two items dropped out of it. A black business card and a small vial of red liquid.

“Yes, but I don’t feel like explaining it. Drink the liquid, hold on to the card. If you come across any other magical items with a number between 5 and 53 on them, use the card.” Donna collected both items and stood up. She uncapped the liquid but paused to ask a question.

“How do I use it?” She asked and swallowed the single gulp. The cat had opened her own portal while Donna drank, and was half-way through it when she responded.

“Just touch the magic item. You’ll earn another wish.” It turned to walk away again, but Donna yelled.

“HEY! I’M STILL OLD!” The cat disappeared into the hole, but Donna heard an answer before the hole vanished into thin air.

“You haven’t killed anyone yet.”

Inn Trouble

“Mr. Elwood?” A soft voice asked the burly man sitting at the bar. He turned and discovered the voice came from a pale, silver-haired woman in a dark cloak.

“Who’s askin’?” he replied with a gravelly voice.

“Someone that wishes to discuss a business venture with you,” the woman smiled. The man’s bushy, brown eyebrows dipped when he narrowed his eyes at the woman. He stroked his beard in thought for a second, then shrugged and nodded.

“I’m listenin’,” he replied. The woman smiled and cocked her head towards a dark corner.

“Someplace less open, if you please.” Without waiting for a response she walked to a candlelit table in the darkest corner of the tavern. Elwood took his filled stein with him and wobbled his way to the table. He had been drinking in the tavern for several hours already, after visiting every bank in the city. He reached the table and let himself fall into the wooden chair.

“It has come to my benefactor’s attention that you’re in search of a business loan. Is that correct?” Elwood chuckled.

“Aye. Can’t get it though,” he said, then raised his voice to a mocking pitch. “Too many inns already,” he mimicked the sentiment echoed by every bank. The woman nodded.

“There are a lot of Inns, but you know that obviously. So what would make yours different?” she asked. A broad smile grew on Elwood’s face.

“Thank you!” he exclaimed. “Of course I know the market, and I know I have to be different. No one ever asked, or let me explain my idea.” His eyes sparkled. “Even if you don’t lend me the money, thanks for listening. My idea is…,” he looked from side to side to check for accidental eavesdroppers, then leaned in over the table. “…topless women,” he said with a smile.

“Topless women? Is that your biggest draw? How so?” the woman asked with more than a little bit of confusion on her delicate face.

“The servers, the maids. All the female staff will be topless.”

“And that’s it?” Elwood nodded, but the woman shook her head.

“Personally, I don’t think that will be enough of a draw,” she said. Elwood felt the emptiness of disappointment in his gut, but he nodded his head.

“I understand. Thanks for listening.”

“Wait. There is a different way we can help you, if you’re willing,” she spoke quickly to keep him from leaving the table. He turned his attention to her again, and she kept talking. “We will extend the loan, with payments you can manage, if you’re willing to accept some,” the woman paused to find the right word. “Unsavory chores every now and again.”

“I’m listenin’,” Elwood nodded.

“Once your Inn is successful, there’ll be a regular stream of adventurers seeking to defeat the local dragon. Your task,-“

“We have a dragon?” Elwood asked. “Since when?” The woman smiled.

“Since about the time your Inn opens up. Now, your task will be to feed them false information,” she said.

“You mean I’m gonna get them killed?” This time she shook her head.

“Not at all. More like, starting them off with a disadvantage. Nothing they can’t overcome if they’re good enough. Of course, many of them won’t be good enough,” her face softened. “But that’s not your fault.” Elwood lifted his stein and downed the bottom half of his drink. He placed it down and looked at the woman.

“So far, I’m not against it. But, what’s gonna happen to me if my Inn isn’t successful?” The woman chuckled.

“As the only Inn in the area, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Elwood looked at the empty stein, then back to the strange woman.

“Lady, we just said there’s a whole mess of Inns here.” She nodded.

“There won’t be when you open,” she smiled. Her pupils narrowed to vertical slits. “Don’t forget, there’s a dragon moving into the area.”

Running Time

“Go ahead,” Marie said. She handed a silver, remote-style, device to her best friend, Felipe. “Just press,” Marie pointed to a small green button on the top middle of the gadget. “that button.” Felipe nodded. He pointed the remote at a white wall and pushed the green button.

Immediately the device began to vibrate in his hand nonstop. Despite the vibrations numbing his hand slightly, he felt the device getting warm in his hand. Red light escaped from under the various other buttons on the device. He looked around for Marie and found her on the other side of the room. She stared at a monitor with a hand covering her mouth as if she was trying to stifle a laugh.

“Hey-Uh- Is it supposed to be doing that?” Frank spoke in a loud voice to draw her attention. He knew in a few seconds the heat would become unbearable. Marie walked over and looked at the device. Her eyes widened.

“NO!” she shouted. “Toss it!” Frank tossed the remote on the floor. It bounced and rolled until it came to a stop against the wall, then it exploded in a small fireball that scorched the floor and wall.

“Jesus that could’ve been my hand!” Frank said. He turned to yell at Marie, but she stared at him with sparkling blue eyes and a large smile. Before Frank could say anything else Marie reached up and punched his shoulder.

“That’s for the cling wrap on the toilet, jerk.” Laughter welled up in Frank’s gut and he let out a full, hearty laugh when he remembered the prank.

“OH MY GOD! That was a decade ago, at least!” Marie shrugged and smiled.

“I’ve been busy, but it was on the list. Anyway, check out the real one,” Marie held out another silver remote with a green button. Frank grabbed it and looked it over.

“It looks like the other one. How do you tell them apart?” Marie grabbed the remote from his hand and flipped it over. It had an “R” etched into the silvery metal. She pulled out another one from her pocket and showed the back to Frank. That one had no “R”.

“Aside from the ‘R’,” Marie pulled out a black keyfob from her pocket. “The real one doesn’t explode when I press the button.”

“You made remote explosives?” Frank asked. Marie giggled.

“It’s funny how things work out. It wasn’t until after I finished the prototype,” she pointed at scorch marks in another corner. “.., that I realized it. But it’s handy. C’mon, try it!” she put the real remote in Frank’s hand. He pointed at the wall and pressed the green button. It buzzed to life in his hand again.

“Is it supposed to be doing that?” he asked.

“Yes. It’s finding the right frequency,” Marie said.

“Frequency? You told me you were looking for alternate universes, not radio stations,” Frank said. He felt glad to notice that the device was not warming up in his hand.

“Yeah, but universes are like radio stations. They each have their own vibration frequency. “Got one!” she said and pointed at the wall. Frank looked to her when she explained until she aimed his attention back at the wall.

The white wall appeared to have a hole large enough to walk through in it, darker than anything Frank had ever seen.

“Whoa… is that it?” Frank asked. Marie nodded.

“You ready?” she asked.

“What, right now? Just like that? You’re not gonna send a drone through first or something?”

“That’s no fun! I promised you an adventure.”

“Yeah, but I thought you meant camping or something.” Marie shrugged.

“Camping in another universe is still camping. C’mon!” she grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the black hole. Frank anchored his feet and tried to stay in place, but Marie pulled him forward an inch at a time. A sudden sound called their attention. They faced the wall in time to see a young girl stumble out of the hole and fall to the ground. Long blond strands of hair covered her while she scrambled up from the floor and looked around the room. Marie stepped forward.

“Are you oka-” the strange girl looked at Marie through frantic, brown eyes.

“Where’s the exit!” she asked in a hurry. Marie pointed at the door at the top of the steps. The girl bolted. As she was halfway up the stairs she stopped and looked at Frank and Marie.

“RUN!” she yelled and kept running up the stairs.  A flat, hollow sound came from behind Marie and she turned to face the portal. A white skeleton stepped out of the portal. Then more followed.

Grandma’s Boys

“Bye grandma, I love you!” 15-year-old Matthew hugged his grandmother one last time before she got in the car.

“Bye dear. Thank you for coming to watch Pepper,” his grandmother said. She kissed him on the forehead and pulled away. “See you in a week.” She ducked into the car and closed the door while still waving at him. Matthew waved at her car was out of sight, then he walked back into the spacious country home that was his for a week. He couldn’t believe his luck when his grandma asked him to dogsit for a week so she could go out of town.

As he walked toward the kitchen to fill Pepper’s bowl, the hall door caught his eye. A simple wooden door with a “Keep Out” sign on it. He smiled to himself.

I’ll get to you in a second,” he thought. He grabbed the sack of dog food and poured it into Pepper’s dish. The coppery schnauzer ran into the kitchen and attacked the filled bowl. With that chore out of the way, Matthew walked back to the front room again. He looked out the window, afraid his grandmother might have forgotten something. He felt glad to see no sign of her. He walked back through the kitchen, grabbing a chair on his way, and walked to the door at the end of the hall. He placed the chair in front of it and sat facing the door.

If it’s so important, she’d have a lock on it, right?” He rationalized it to himself dozens of times when he found out he’d be alone with the door. Something inside urged him to do it again. He stared at the door while he pondered the rule. “I”m the only one,” he complained in his mind. He’d never seen anyone else open the door, but he also never heard his grandma warn anyone else not to open it. Everyone knew that he wasn’t allowed to open the door, but he didn’t know if that applied to anyone else. Matthew tried asking his mom about it once but her only response was “Don’t you ever open that door,”

There’s nothing in there,” Matthew stood from his seat. “It’s all just a big joke on me.” He took a step toward the door. “I’m gonna open it and see an empty room. I’ll close it, no one will ever know, and things will stay normal.” Matthew reached for the handle but hesitated. An overwhelming sense of dread welled up inside him and kept his hand from touching the knob.

It’s just an empty closet you chicken!” Matthew won out over his fear. He grabbed the handle, turned, and swung the door open. The first thing he saw was his reflection. “Weird place to keep a mirror,” he thought. After a moment his amusement turned to terror when he realized the ‘reflection’ smiled. It kept smiling while Matthew began to scream. He saw his duplicate step forward out of the small room, but Matthew blacked out after that.

He woke up on his grandma’s couch. He looked around the living room and saw the other him petting Pepper. The stranger noticed Matthew was awake and stood from his seat to walk to the couch.

“Who are you?” Matthew collected himself on the couch, he pulled his knees up to his chest. “Why do you look like me?” He asked.

“I’m you, obviously,” he shrugged and gave a half smirk.

“What? How, like a clone? The stranger chuckled.

“Kind of. Although, if you want to get technical, YOU are the clone. I’m the original,” he smiled.

“I’m not a clone! I have memories. This is MY grandma’s house!” Matthew tried not to yell, but he could not keep his voice from raising. The other one shook his head and shrugged.

“Like it or not, you’re a clone,” he reached into his pocket. “And, you’ve already served your purpose. I don’t need you anymore,” he pulled a gun out and aimed it at Matthew. “If you want I’ll take a moment to explain what your purpose was, but if not I’ll just shoot you now.”

Matthew’s head spun and he felt faint again, but he knew one of the options would give him more time.

“I want to know.”

“You opened the door,” the armed one said. Matthew stared at his doppelganger and waited for more.

“That’s it? I’m a clone that’s supposed to open doors?” Matthew asked.

“No, actually the other way. You’re not supposed to open doors,” he used the gun to point at the hallway door. “specifically that one.”

“I don’t follow,” Matthew said with a confused look. “And how are you making clones if we’re only 15?”

“The short version is I’m trying to explore genetic memory. Every time you open the door, you die. Then we clone you from that clone and try all over again. To see if eventually you can remember to not open the door,” he readied the gun.

“Wait! what about you? How are you 15?”

“That’s a different experiment,” he smiled and pulled the trigger.

Starlit

[Theme Thursday] – Perseverance

“You were the only one,” Dana Sharp whispered to her assistant, her wife. Melody lay on an examination table in one of Dana’s secret labs. Metal restraints kept her in place, though she would not try to escape. She wanted this more than anything. “Everyone else thought it was impossible.” Dana kissed Melody’s forehead. “But, you believed I could do it. I was afraid that getting married would distract me…”

Dana walked to a command console and pressed a green button. A monitor above Melody came to life. “…that I couldn’t do what I needed to.” Melody saw herself on the screen. The view only showed her about a dozen, but she knew there were more. Hundreds, if not thousands of her alternate universe doppelgangers.

“But, it only made me love you more and I realized how invaluable YOU are to me. You kept the company running while I buried myself in research and now it’s time for your reward.” Dana pressed the green button again and the screen went off. “You don’t want to see that. Over a million, by the way. I know you’re wondering.” Dana winked at Melody. A warm blush filled Melody’s cheeks. She smiled to herself content with the knowledge her duplicates would understand. She was doing it for Ms. Sharp.

“We’ve come a long way from meeting Mr. Spinne,” Dana said. She walked to the examination table and grabbed Melody’s hand.

“300 years,” Melody said. “So far,” she added and squeezed Ms. Sharp’s hand.

“A drop in the bucket. Once you’re La Estrella, we’ll have much more time together. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Ms. Sharp.” Dana pulled a small, glassy rectangle from the pocket of her lab coat. She inserted it into a slot in the exam table above Melody’s head. An electric hum filled the room. Dana walked to the control panel and pressed a red button.

On the table, Melody began to emit a wispy, violet aura. The node docked above her head glowed with the same purple light.

“This will probably hurt,” Dana warned Melody, then pressed a gold button. The node’s purple glow grew brighter and changed to a sparkling gold light. The transparent tubing along Melody’s restraints filled with golden light. The node dimmed as the light flowed from it into Melody.  She balled her fists and clamped her jaw shut to keep from making a sound. She felt something sear her soul and a golden plume of light flashed in her aura. A grunt of discomfort escaped her mouth even though she tried to stay quiet. She thought she could take a moment to catch her breath, but then she screamed. The moment Melody lowered her guard it happened too fast to contain. The first flash ignited her soul. Golden sparkles floated around her and consumed her purple aura.