Death’s Favor

Alliane woke with a start. Her eyes flew open and stared at the darkened ceiling while she tried to listen for what was bothering her. Silence. Her husband wasn’t snoring, and the clock wasn’t ticking. She turned and glanced out the second-story window and noticed the patio light was on. She always turned it off before going to bed, and she always went to bed after Jonah,

She turned on the bed and stood up, then walked into her closet to change into something more presentable for her guest. She made her way down the stairs and into the kitchen. She stopped for a moment when she saw someone wearing a white suit. She came downstairs thinking it was her friend, but he always wore a navy-blue pinstripe suit. Luckily he turned into the light and she recognized Billy. She relaxed and continued out onto the patio.

“Jonah’s starting to think you don’t like him,” she said as she sat down on a wicker chair at the patio table. Billy chuckled and sat down across from her.

“I’m still undecided,” Billy replied with a shrug.

“So, did you stop time just to show off your new wardrobe?” Alliane nodded at his bright orange tie. “Vanilla would be proud,” she smiled.

“It was a gift from her. She wanted me to wear it when…,” Billy went quiet for a moment. “…I inherited her power. I haven’t worn it for a while, but I think I’m ready.” Alliane stood from her seat and pulled it closer to him. She sat down again putting her hand on his shoulder.

“It looks good,” she said.

“Thank you, but that’s not why I’m here. Vanilla’s soul is in me and it’s telling me something major is happening soon.” Alliane sat up straighter and gave a curt nod of encouragement. She’d seen Billy sad before but never worried like he was now.

“Are you and Jonah still doing that scavenger hunt?” he asked. She replied with a half-shrug.

“He got bored with it after we got married. Why?”

“I need to ask you a favor, and it would be easier if you had some Unique friends to help. The other team I met seemed capable, and they had AlterNet characters.”

“Oh. We love the AlterNet, what’s the favor?” She asked.

“You mentioned wanting to join a roller derby team after the honeymoon. Now that your honeymoon’s over, how about it?”

You are starting a roller derby team?” Alliane was genuinely surprised. “I thought you said Vanilla advised against you making an AlterNet character?” Billy nodded.

“She did. I’m not. You,” he pointed at her. “are starting a roller derby team with your scavenger hunt friends. And you’re going to compete in Dana Sharp’s tournament.”

“The tournament that already started weeks ago?” she asked. Billy nodded.

“It’s not something she’s going to publicize, but she scrapped the matches that happened so far. She’s resetting the brackets and has room for one more team; your team.”

“She can do that? And the other teams agreed to it?” Billy nodded.

“They all agreed the Magi-knights would have won. She gave them the original reward and invited all the teams to try again in a month. The fact that it isn’t common knowledge means none of the teams feel like they lost.”

“How do you know this? How are you guaranteeing me a spot?”

“I have a reliable contact,” he smiled. “Are you in?” Alliane’s eyes opened wide.

“You have a spy in Sharp Development!??” Billy chuckled.

“I wish; the information would be much cheaper if I did. I found a leak. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all fed to me with Ms. Sharp’s knowledge, but the outcome is the same. I need a team in her tournament.”

“What about your clown team?” She asked. Billy shook his head.

“They’re Red’s team and he’s not known for being particularly reliable.”

“Okay, I’m in.” Alliane smiled. “I’ll put the team together for you.”  She stood from the chair and leaned over to hug his shoulders. “But can you give me a couple hours of sleep before you start time again, to make up for this little chat?”  Billy nodded.

“No problem. And, thank you.”

Vanilla Deterrent

Arnold blinked. He squeezed his thumb on the stopwatch the moment he opened his eyes. The strange man in a white suit and orange tie sat resting on the park bench as if he’d always been there. He stared off into the sky while relaxing with both his arms on the side of the park bench.

Arnold stared intently at the man, not daring to take his eyes off him until he blinked again. He stopped the watch when his eyes opened and looked down.

“59 seconds again,” he mumbled to himself, then added a tally mark to his notepad. He’d been keeping tabs on the stranger for almost 30 days; he didn’t count the dozen or so days before he started keeping track. He never saw the man arrive or leave; somehow, he always blinked at those crucial moments. The stranger was always there at 10:45; then, Arnold realized the stranger never made it to 10:46. It wasn’t until the last week that he thought of using a stopwatch to count the seconds.

After marking the man’s appearance, he checked his camera. Once again, the camera didn’t show anything different. One moment the bench was empty; the next moment, the stranger was there as if he just popped into existence. Arnold sighed.

I’ll sit there tomorrow,” he decided while collapsing his tripod.

The next day he returned to the park at his usual time and set up the camera. At 10:44 he walked to the bench and sat down with this thumb on the stopwatch. Arnold blinked again and started the watch. He was surprised that the white-suited man wasn’t standing in front of him. He swiveled his head left and right searching for the stranger; and, found him sitting on another bench. He sat further up the flowered park path relaxing against the bench with his eyes on the sky; Arnold felt slightly annoyed.

He hoped to interrupt the man’s pattern enough that they needed to interact. But, the stranger didn’t even seem to give Arnold a second thought. There was no sideways glance like he expected for having taken the man’s seat. After a couple of moments, Arnold decided to confront the man. He stood and walked toward him.

He almost reached the stranger before he blinked again; the man was gone. Luckily, habit prompted him to stop the watch. He looked down and saw it stuck at 59 seconds again.

“Damnit,” he grumbled then returned to collect his camera. “Trying again tomorrow.”

The next day, he decided not to sit in the stranger’s seat. Arnold stayed away with the camera focused on the park bench. AT 10:45 he blinked and started the watch, but the man wasn’t there. Arnold turned to check the new bench and saw the man sitting there again. 

Without wasting time like the previous day, Arnold took long steps toward the stranger.

“Hi!” Arnold said as he walked up to him. The man didn’t so much as acknowledge him. Then, Arnold blinked. He stopped the watch and checked it. “32 seconds?!” he looked around in confusion and found the stranger sitting on his original bench. He sprinted toward the man.

“Who are-” Arnold blinked. “-you?” The stranger was gone. “Fine,” he sighed and returned to his camera. The footage showed the man appear about halfway through, then disappear when Arnold ran into the frame. “Tomorrow,” he said again as he walked home.

Arnold spent the rest of the day wondering how to corner the stranger and find out what he was up to. He settled on a questionably legal plan as his only option: tranquilizer gun.

He arrived at the park on time, set his camera up pointing at the usual spot. Then, he took his tranquilizer gun and hid in the bushes behind the bench. He held the watch in his left hand, gun in the right. At 10:45 he blinked again. He squeezed the watch and noticed the man’s dark hair in front of him.

Arnold aimed at the back of the man’s neck then blinked. He stopped the watch while checking the other bench for the stranger. He was nowhere to be seen. Arnold looked down at the watch.

‘THREE HOURS!!???” he shouted. He ran back to his camera; it had three hours worth of video. He rewound it and watched the stranger appear, then he saw the top of his own head moving behind the man.

Then, a tall, pale woman walked in front of the camera. She had long white hair and a flowing orange dress.. The moment Arnold saw her, he knew she was associated with the stranger. She matched his white suit and orange tie perfectly. She walked toward the camera, grabbed it, turned it, then sat down in front of it.

“What’s your problem?” she asked. “My friend just wants to spend a moment alone in the park. He doesn’t need you harassing him.” The woman grabbed the camera and turned it back toward the bench. The man was sitting still, looking at the sky, and Arnold was standing behind him gun in hand.

“Say hi to the psycho, Billy,” the woman yelled behind the camera. As an answer he lifted his arm and flipped off the camera, then he lowered his arm to the bench again. She giggled and continued to show the rest of the park. Everyone was frozen still, joggers floated in the air mid-step.

“We control time,” she said as she carried the camera toward the park bench. “But sometimes it’s nice to feel the seconds go by.” She lifted the camera to her face and gave it a stern look. “Billy is mourning right now; he doesn’t need your petty, intrusive bullshit. He’s living his life, you live yours.”  She kept walking, then Arnold saw himself on camera.

“If you bother him again…,” the woman said. She juggled the camera for a moment then it was pointed at Arnold again. The woman stabbed him in the gut with a white knife; it came out covered in blood; then she did it again and again almost a dozen times. “I won’t heal you next time,” she said. Arnold dropped the camera and lifted his shirt; he realized it was riddled with holes.

His stomach was covered with tiny scars.

Death’s Kindness

“Alright…,” Ruben said. He managed to get the words out between ragged breaths as he collapsed to his knees. Quick, repeated uses of the time travel bracelets took a heavy toll on his body trying to stay ahead of the unknown agent. No matter what period he traveled to, the bearded stranger in a navy blue suit was always there. His knees sunk slightly into the soft, Jurrasic soil. “I give up.” Ruben raised his arms and kept them apart to show off the metallic-purple bracelets on his wrists. The stranger walked forward through the immense foliage with a smirk.

“Hey, thanks for making it easy,” he said once he reached Ruben. The man offered a hand to help him up. “It’s my first mission, I hope they’re all this easy,” he chuckled. “Name’s, Miller,” he said when Ruben accepted his hand and stood from his knees.

“How was that easy?” Ruben asked. He was still breathing heavy trying to catch his breath. The stranger did not seem to be as strained. As he stood, he noticed Miller did not have a bracelet on his right wrist; the only way to time travel was with a pair of them.

“How are you following me?”

“Following you?” Miller chuckled. “I’d argue you’re following me, time travel’s fun that way,” he said. Thinking about it, Ruben found a grain of truth in that. From his perspective, Miller was already at every spot he stopped.

“What did you do to my family!?” he asked in a near-shout. His mind didn’t want to deal with the logistics of time-travel, he was on a mission. He swung at Miller as hard as he could; his fist halted less than in inch from the man’s face, touching his blond beard.

“First mission, remember?” Miller smiled. Ruben could not will his body to move. His eyes were stuck facing forward; he couldn’t look around with them either. “I haven’t done anything to anyone’s family. I’m going to unfreeze you and I recommend you don’t try to sucker-punch me again.” Miller stepped out of the way, then Ruben’s fist immediately jumped forward with no loss of momentum. 

“Your bosses had my family killed,” Ruben growled after finding his balance again.

“If you mean the Time Council, they’re not my bosses. I’m on a sort of agent-exchange. Though, I can guarantee they didn’t kill your family either.” Miller said. He made no moves to bind Ruben or rush him off to a cell; he stood there casually and willing to converse. In the back of his mind, Ruben tried to think up a way to trick Miller into visiting the moment his wife and children died.

“Yeah, easy to say when you don’t have to prove it. If they’re not hiding anything, why is time travel illegal?”

“Oh, you want proof? Is that why you’re time traveling?”

“What the hell did you think?!” Ruben yelled. Miller shrugged, unconcerned.

“Didn’t. First mission. They said, ‘go get this guy’ so here we are.” Ruben was about to belittle Miller’s intelligence, but Miller kept talking. “Proof is easy enough. What date?”

“Huh?” Ruben asked. Then, his brain kicked in and he realized his chance. “April 4, 2020. 10 a.m.”  Miller nodded; Ruben blinked. When he opened his eyes he was standing in a park, yards away from his wife and sons.

“June!” Ruben shouted and dashed forward; then, he blinked again.  He opened his eyes to find himself in the same spot he landed, but this time he couldn’t move.

“No interfering, we’re just here to watch,” Miller said. Ruben stared intently, watching his wife enjoy a picnic with their twins. He expected to see suited government agents walking up behind them; it never happened.

One moment, his wife was smiling and laughing. The next moment all three of them lay dead on the ground. Confusion and grief coursed through Ruben’s mind, but his body was frozen in time. He wanted to double over crying; but, couldn’t even shed a tear.

“Oh, that’s what happened,” Miller said. “Now you know why time travel is illegal.” Ruben blinked; water flowed out of his eyes as all his tears came out at once. The blurry world was no longer the park; they were on a beach near sunset. Ruben let himself sink to his knees.

“What the hell happened?” he asked.

“Time is more fixed than most people think,” Miller said. “Not many can change it; but, changes are permanent. Your family wasn’t supposed to die there. The Time Council can’t change time, so they didn’t do it.”

“If we can’t change time, why is it illegal to time travel?” Ruben asked.

“To keep people from learning what you just learned. The Time Council can’t change anything; they’re powerless. They don’t want that secret getting out,” Miller said.

“I’ll make sure it does,” Ruben growled. His hope was gone, the only thing he had left was his misplaced hatred for the Time Council. He was willing to nurture that hatred just to have a reason to life.

“Sorry, that’s not going to happen,” Miller said. “They’re not my bosses, but at the moment I’m working for them. I was told to bring you back in, or stop you by any means necessary.” Ruben felt a hand on his shoulder, then he blinked. He opened his eyes in a sunny park, yards away from his wife and children. He immediately closed his eyes again.

“So you wanted to rub it in first?” he asked.

“It took a bit of searching, but I found exactly what I need to stop you,” Miller said; he patted Ruben on the back. Ruben peeked an eye open when he realized he wasn’t dead. His wife and kids were still playing yards away. He realized one of his sons was a daughter.

“What do you mean? What’s going on?” he asked.”On this Earth, you disappeared about a week ago. You’re dead, they’ll never find your body. Your wife, May, won’t find out for a few years. If you choose to stay here, out of the Time Council’s hair,  she’ll never know he’s dead. It’s as close as I can get you.”

Hellish Bouquet

“I’m in Hell,” Grover said when his eyes opened again. His voice was weak and frail, but that was okay; there was no one in the hospital room to hear him. Despite using his ability to respawn all his life, he hoped there would be a final rest if he died naturally. He was surprised the first time it happened and concerned the second.

He debated calling a nurse in so that he wouldn’t die alone, but there was no point. Each time he breathed his last, he woke up again three hours earlier; it was 1 a.m. again. Grover sighed and watched the second hand move on the clock. There was nothing else to do. He’d already watched all the shows on every channel at least twice. He was too weak to support his phone and try and surf the web. This was the longest three hours of his life, and if this kept up these three hours would last longer than his life so far.

He jumped slightly, as much as his frail frame could move, when his door suddenly opened without a knock. The nurses always knocked. Grover was surprised to see a well-dressed man enter his room. He appeared to be an older gentleman, though not as old as Grover, wearing a green suit. He sported with a neatly trimmed white beard and neatly parted white hair.

As he neared the bed, Grover noticed the sudden scent of peppermint fill the room. The man smiled and Grover caught sight of a tattoo his right cheek; the number 37.

“Who… are…,” Grover tried to ask, but the man reached his bed before he could finish his question.

“Shhhh, I’ll tell you who I am and why I’m here. Don’t strain yourself,” he said calmly. Not having much choice, and enjoying the pleasant minty scent in the air, Grover gave the man a weak nod.

“First, some credibility,” the man winked his right eye; Grover realized it wasn’t normal. It appeared to be a glass eye painted to look like the Earth, but somehow it was spinning slowly. “I know you haven’t been able to die. Anytime you do, you wake up again sometime earlier,” he gave a slight shrug. “Maybe minutes, maybe days.” Grover’s eyes opened wide. No one ever knew what made him a great hero, but this stranger explained it perfectly.

“Now that I have your attention,” The man grabbed the chair and sat in it facing Grover. “My name is Peppermint,” he said.

Of course it is,” Grover thought. He nodded at the man to conserve his strength.

“As much as I enjoy giving, ‘the talk‘,” he said with a chuckle. “I do have other appointments. So, I’ll be brief and you can learn the details later. You have the ability to control time itself. Unfortunately, you don’t have control of that ability yet. As a result, you’ve been subconsciously creating ‘save points’ at various intervals. When you die, you revert to your latest one. Makes sense so far?” Peppermint asked.

Grover nodded. Over the years he occasionally wondered how much control he had over his ability to respawn. Peppermint’s explanation answered a lot of those questions.

“I can teach you how to control it; in exchange, I’d like you to come work for me.”

Grover used all his saved strength to chuckle. He laughed with a wheezing, ragged sound that barely reached Peppermint’s ears.

“You’re wondering what kind of job an old man like you can do, right?” Peppermint asked. Grover nodded. “Think about it. You can control time, you don’t have to stay old if you don’t want to. You can make yourself as young as you like.”

Grover’s mind raced. He was ready to take Peppermint’s offer then and there. However, being a hero taught him to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true; it took him several deaths to finally learn that lesson.

“..Where..,” Grover managed to whisper. “…What?”

“Good man,” Peppermint smiled. “Those are important questions. I’ll answer the ‘What’ first, if you don’t mind. I want to create a new, peaceful society. Somewhere we can be ourselves and help each other. A society with a focus on the well-being of the community as a whole. You’ll have all your basic necessities tended to. Shelter, food and water, and I don’t mean a shack with food bowls. You’ll have a proper home in a proper city with grocers and convenience stores and coffee shops. Though, don’t expect the coffee to be free,” Peppermint smiled.

“As for the, ‘Where’…,” He thought for a moment. “I’d like to make a deal with you. You can accept my offer on a trial basis, if you want out, you’re free to go. However, I mentioned that I’d only teach you how to control your abilities if you worked for me. So, if you choose not to work for me your ‘out’ is right back here. On this bed. Living the last day of your life every day.”

Grover didn’t like that he sidestepped the question, but it still seemed he had absolutely nothing to lose. In the worst-case scenario, he’d continue living his life three hours at a time.

“..Why?”  Grover asked. Peppermint smiled and stood from the chair; Grover guessed the meeting was almost over one way or another.

“Let’s just say my base of operations has a certain… stigma to it. I would hate for you to miss out on this opportunity just because of ridiculous social conventions. If you agree, we’ll go and have a look around. You can return to your deathbed any time you like.” Peppermint held out a hand to Grover.

Gover did not debate anymore; he managed to raise his hand and drop it on Peppermint’s open palm. The moment their hands touched, Grover felt a sharp pain on his palm.

He used all his strength to pull away from it. Grover had more strength and moved faster than he had in decades, he whacked himself in the face.

“DAMNIT THAT HURT!” he yelled. Peppermint smiled and Grover realized his throat didn’t hurt. He looked down at his hands and saw young, taught, tan skin; he wiggled his fingers, then threw the covers off. His legs looked like they did in his 20s; he jumped off the bed and raced to the mirror. A young, dark-haired man with bright, coffee-brown eyes stared back at him. His palm still itched slightly, he looked down and saw the number 14 scarred into his hand. Grover was ready to do anything Peppermint asked, he strode out of the bathroom as proud and confident as he was in his hero days.  “I’m ready,” he said.

“Wonderful,” Peppermint said. He nodded at the air next to him, and a shimmering, watery, green portal opened. Grover didn’t waste any time and walked toward it. As he stepped through, Peppermint patted him on the back and followed. “You’re going to love it in Hell.”

A Dirge for Chocolate

“Green light!” Threnody giggled and dashed forward as soon as she heard the words. Vegas stood at the other end of the living room with a giant grin and a chocolate bar. He watched Threnody take a few steps, then stopped her the moment she came within reach. “Red light!” he said.

Threnody froze mid-step. One little leg was lifted in the air while she wobbled unsteadily on the other. Her bright orange eyes never left the chocolate bar while her hands froze inches from it.

“GRE-” Vegas shouted the first part of the word, the stopped himself. Threnody was ready to move as soon as she heard the word; she toppled over trying to break her own momentum when Vegas didn’t finish the word. She landed face-first on the carpet then rolled over giggling. “Gotcha,” Vegas said with a laugh. He dropped the chocolate bar on her stomach. “What’s next?”

“MY TURN!” Threnody yelled. She grabbed the chocolate bar, stood up and ran to the other side of the living room. She set the candy down on the floor then stood in front of it waving her hands at Vegas.

“Alright, I’m ready,” Vegas said as he took a couple of steps back. He wasn’t a tall man, despite his blue mohawk, but his steps were still longer than hers.

“Green light!” Threnody yelled. Vegas managed to lift his leg before she shouted again. “Red light!” She wanted to catch him on one foot too. Vegas froze with one leg in the air for a moment, then he put it down.

“Whoa,” he said. His grin wasn’t as broad as it was moments ago, and he looked around the room as if checking it for something.

“Vegas!” Threnody whined.

“Shhh, hold on. Was that you?” he asked. Then, he turned around and headed toward the front door. “C’mon, shortcake!” he said. Threnody whirled around to grab her candy bar then ran after him through the open door.

Outside, the sun was disappearing below the house across the street; several shades of purple and orange painted the sky.

“See that?” Vegas pointed at a car that wasn’t moving, despite being in a traffic lane.

“Uhuh,” Threnody said.

“Say, green light,” Vegas suggested.

“Green light,” Threnody said softly. The car moved again instantly.

“Your first time stop!” Vegas crouched to pick up the girl then spun her around a few times in celebration. He set her down and winked at her. “Now try rewinding it,” he said.

“Okay!” she clapped excitedly. Then she looked at Vegas. “What light rewinds time?”  Vegas let out a loud guffaw and shook his head.

“That’s not how it works,” he said. “You can try rewinding later, let’s go back inside and talk.” They walked in and sat at the round kitchen table. Now that she was seated, Threnody took the opportunity to open the chocolate bar.

“You can control time, okay? Time is like a videotape and you can pause, rewind, fast-forward, and even set playback loops.” Threnody nodded while chewing. You don’t need to say red light or green light or anything. That’s just how your powers decided to show themselves,” Vegas chuckled. “You really wanted to stop me. But, you need to learn what you can and can’t control.”

“I control time,” Threnody said matter-of-factly, then took another chunk out of the candy. Vegas nodded.

“So if time is like a videotape, every Earth and all its Zeros are all one tape. Unique Souls are each their own tape; does that make sense?” Threnody shook her head slowly.

“Uh.. okay,” Vegas said. He thought for a moment, then tried again. “Every Earth is like a TV show and all the Zeros are actors. Everything is scripted out from the moment an Earth is created. Which Zeros are going to be born, when, what they’re going to do, how the world is going to end; the whole show is planned out. You with me?” he asked. Threnody nodded and kept munching away.

“The Zeros are acting the show out in realtime, but you and other Muertes can look at the whole thing. You can focus on any moment you want, past, present or future. Now, this is where it gets tricky; Uniques aren’t part of the script. We’re like random people wandering in off the street and messing with the actors. Anything you do to mess up the script is permanent.” Threnody’s eyes widened and she stopped chewing.

“I can’t fix it?” Vegas nodded.

“That’s the sticking point. You’re the only one that can. Pretend you draw a big picture of a pretty unicorn…,” Threnody’s eyes sparkled again and she resumed chewing. “…on the side of a building, then leave that Earth. Then, another Muerte comes along and sees the picture. They like it so much they decide to rewind time to see who drew it. They’ll never find out; as they rewind it’ll be there one second, then gone the next. If they try to fast forward it’ll reappear, but they’ll never see you doing it. If you hurt someone, you’re the only one that can rewind time to before they were hurt and not hurt them.”

“But why can’t other Muertes rewind time before they were hurt?” Threnody asked. A touch of sadness showed in her eyes, but Vegas guessed it was because she finished the candy.

“They can. But they can’t stop the injury from happening again when time returns to normal. Even if you’re not there, the injury is part of the script from that moment on. Like the Earth is a show, you are your own show, each Unique Soul is. Ours isn’t planned out though, we get to make up our own script. And you’re the only one that can change your script. Does that make sense? Did you learn something?” Vegas asked.

Threnody’s eyes narrowed for a moment while she processed the information, then they opened wide with realization.

“YES!” she squealed. Vegas felt the tingle of time moving around him; rewinding he guessed. He glanced around the kitchen to check for differences, then he saw Threnody with a freshly unwrapped chocolate bar in her hands. “I learned I can EAT THIS AGAIN!”

Island of Death

“Wait, so you want me to become the next Death?” Miller asked Isla with wide eyes. The two of them sat on a sunny beach; Isla’s sea-green curls moved with the gentle breeze.

“I want you to become Death for me,” Isla said. “There is no next Death. It’s a job like any other; there are far too many universes for it to be a one-person job. How do you think Death works?” Miller turned and pulled his legs off the wicker chaise to plant them in the sand facing Isla.

“When somebody dies, Death reaps their soul and delivers it to Heaven or Hell,” Miller replied.

“Not quite,” Isla half-nodded. “When someone dies, Death delivers the soul to their caseworker…,” Isla pressed her hand against her navy blue blazer.  “…what I am. Due to the logistics involved, it’s encouraged for caseworkers to have their own Death on staff.”

“Why me?” Miller asked.

“I’m sure you can imagine there are specific requirements to fill the position. As a matter of fact, only Unique Soul #14, La Muerte is qualified,” she nodded at Miller. “You’re the first one I’ve met that I like.”

“Why?” Miller asked, then he quickly shook his head. “I mean, why only La Muerte? From what you told me about Unique Souls, they’re unbelievably powerful.” Isla nodded.

“They are. But, La Muerte is the only one that can control time. It’s funny, most people don’t realize how Death actually works. When someone dies, they’re trapped in the body until their soul is collected,” Isla smiled.

“They’re not alive exactly, but the soul can still control the body. Of course, without a living brain, a soul is limited to its primal instincts. And all souls want a brain to give it direction. This is where the idea of zombies comes from; it happens a lot. Sometimes weeks and months go by before they’re reaped. Death is woefully understaffed for infinite universes. But, when Death finally gets around to it; time is rewound for everyone back to the point of death. It seems instant, but almost never is.”

“Okay,” Miller nodded. He’d already decided to join, but still had another question. “You said something about a tattoo; that’ll make me Death for you?”

“The tattoo allows you to control your powers. It doesn’t make you Death exactly, but you can’t do the job if you can’t control your powers.”

“I’m guessing there’s not really any pay?” Miller asked. Isla shook her head.

“For what?” she asked. “Not only do you have access to food, water, and shelter; none of which you need really.  But, you also get to explore the multiverse; any alternate reality you can think of is out there.” Miller nodded again.

“Okay, I’m in. I’ll reap for you.”

Memory of Death

“My goodness! Let me help you up!,” Quinten said. He reached down to offer Jake a hand. Jake was in his early 20s and confused about how he got on the floor and why his shirt felt wet. He touched the moistness and looked down; his hands were coated with sticky dark red. His best white business shirt was stained red around the collar and down to his chest. He was about to panic when the stranger showed him a flourish of 100 dollar bills.

“I’m so sorry about your shirt, I didn’t see you there,” he held up a mostly empty bottle with traces of dark red inside it. “Spilled my ink all over you, this should replace the shirt, I hope?”

“Yeah,.. yeah. No sweat,” Jake accepted the cash and looked around the diner. It was surprisingly quiet for being so full of customers. Several families filled the tables and several singles lined the counter to eat in solitude with others. All eyes were on Quinten and Jake; as Jake looked around every gaze he met turned away in surprise and confusion. Almost as if they couldn’t remember what they had been staring at. The only reason Jake understood that was because he felt the same way when Quinten flashed the bills.

As Jake sat down to let his mind catch up, two police officers walked into the diner. Their ragged breathing hinted that they were on a chase; their quick scans around the diner made it more obvious.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” A waifish woman with bright green hair stepped out from behind the counter. Her name tag said, “Manager: Mundo”

“Uh,.. no.” One of the officers said, though he didn’t sound entirely positive; he continued glancing around the restaurant.

“No, we’re good,” the other one said with the same amount of minimal confidence. “Just checking if everything’s okay. And it looks like everything is okay!” Mundo laughed.

“Well have a seat, let me know when you’re ready to order.” After that, she walked to Quinten to take his order.

“That was quick thinking,” she winked when she reached the table.

“I’m sorry?” He asked; his voice crackled with nerves.

“The red ink you used to mask that guy’s bloodstains,” she giggled. “I didn’t know what to think when I saw you slice his throat open.”

“You remember that?!” Quinten asked. He sat up straighter on his seat and glanced at the cops in their booth. Mundo nodded.

“And I saw you bring him back to life too. But I can’t figure out why? Why kill him if you were going to bring him back to life?” Quinten nodded at the officers.

“I needed a quick getaway. Whenever I bring someone back to life, everyone forgets about me,” he shrugged. “It comes in handy sometimes.” Quinten tilted his head at Mundo. “How did you remember?”

“I’m like you in a lot of ways,” Mundo said. “Stick around, have some breakfast and I’ll explain it to you.

Party Invitation

“Yes?” Turner asked the stranger at his door. When he opened the door, his first thought wondered if it was Halloween. A tall, lean figure wearing a black cloak and hood stood on his doorstep. He spotted a pale, delicate chin under the hood before the stranger pulled it back. She was a pallid woman with sunken eyes and long forest-green hair flowing down her back. The woman looked Turner up and down, then sighed heavily.

“You don’t have a tattoo, do you?” she asked with a voice full of disappointment. The question confused Turner enough that he couldn’t answer with more than a shake of his head. What kind of person knocks on people’s doors to ask them about tattoos? “Damnit!” she hissed in a near-whisper. “You had to be slumbering.”

“Well, thanks for checking in…,” Turner wanted to shoo this person off his doorstep and started closing the door. She stopped him by blocking the door with her foot.

“I came here to warn you off my turf…,” she pushed her way into Turner’s house while grumbling annoyance. “…but you’re not even doing it intentionally.”

“Get out of my house, please,” Turner said, but the woman shook her head.

“I know you can stop time,” she said with a sly smile. Turner’s eyes went wide. “And, I need you to stop saving people. It puts me off schedule and makes more work for me. Turner tilted his head as he processed the new information.

“D..Death?” he asked. The woman smiled.

“My name is Eden,” then she nodded. “Being Death is my career and your attempt at good deeds is interrupting my workflow.”

Attempt? I save their lives!” Turner blurted his defense. Eden shrugged.

“Then what?” she asked. Turner narrowed his eyes.

“Then what, what?” he asked for clarification.

“Did you really save their lives? They’re still going to die.”

“One day, probably. But not while I can stop it.”

“Why not?” Eden asked and let herself fall to his bright red couch.

“Because! They’re people, they deserve to live.” Turner sat in a matching red recliner next to the sofa.

“They deserve to live?” Eden giggled for a moment, then sat up straighter to talk to Turner. “Pretend you’re in charge of keeping someone from a surprise party until it’s time. Then, you get so focused that you forget your job. All you know is if you take them to the house, your time with them is over. You’re so worried about that time coming to an end you take every opportunity to stay away. You convince yourself that they deserve to spend time with you, despite the plan that was already in place.”

“You’re saying Heaven’s a party?” Turner asked. 

“I’m saying you’re messing up the plan and I’m here to put a stop to it,” Eden stood gracefully, but quick enough to cause Turner to step back. “You have two options. Join up, or move on to the party. Either way, you won’t interrupt my work again.”

“Join? You mean, become Death?” 

“You already are in some ways. But you have the option of formalizing your relationship with the universe.” 

“Huh? How am I Death?” Eden rolled her eyes, then she bent her left knee and lifted it. She pulled the black gown upward to reveal a tattoo on her calf; a silver scythe with a clock on the blade and the number 14 on the handle. 

“Your favorite number is 14. You can stop time. You’re a Unique Soul known as a Muerte,” Eden lowered her leg and pointed at herself. “We Muertes are the ones that keep things running. So. Do you want a job, or do you want to go to the party?” 

Vanilla Snack

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” A voice filled the air moments after Albert stopped time. The mid-20s man froze time so that he wouldn’t be late to a movie. It was the first time he ever heard anyone else during his extended moments. He whirled around to find the mysterious speaker. A woman in a flowing orange dress glowered at him through crystalline orange eyes.

“Who are you? How can you move?” Albert asked her. As much as it surprised him to see anyone moving around; the fact was that he could control time. No one else on Earth could match that.

“My name’s Vanilla,” she said. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Vanilla repeated her question.

“What? You mean stopping time?”Albert asked smugly. “Or.. rewinding?” The time-stopped pedestrians around them took several steps backward then froze in place again.

“All of it! Every time you touch the timeline, don’t you know what happens?” Vanilla asked.

“No,” Albert replied. At his question, time resumed around them for a moment. “What?” he gave her a self-satisfied smile as the pedestrians froze again.

“Well, what happens is…,” Vanilla smiled at Albert and leaned in closer as if she intended to whisper a secret. “…it lets me know that you have the power to control time.”

“What?” Albert asked, he tilted his head at Vanilla in confusion. “So?”

“So then, I come and eat your soul,” Vanilla replied with a smile.

Death’s Welcome

“What movie did you pick?” Anna asked Maxwell. She had changed out of her pajamas and filled a backpack with some snacks by the time they were ready to enter the portal. The pair of teens stared at the black hole floating in Anna’s bedroom.

“I was thinking of a Christmas movie, not any specific one,” he replied. “Ready?” Anna nodded. Maxwell stepped forward into the black; he felt Anna grab his hand as he walked through.

The hole exited in a bright, busy, loud airport. It took Maxwell a few moments to get his bearings as he searched his new surroundings. He caught sight of snow, and a parked airplane through the windows. Hundreds of travelers occupied every seat, and still more were left standing. Bright multi-color light-strings decorated the pillars and walls. A young woman in an elf costume wandered from passenger to passenger handing out candy canes.

“It’s… Christmas,” Anna said; her voice carried a fair amount of surprise and disbelief. She stood next to Maxwell and squeezed his hand. “It’s April, but it’s Christmas.”

“It may have been April where you came from,” a woman said. Anna and Maxwell turned toward the new voice. “But it’s December here,” An elf with a basket of candy canes smiled at them. Maxwell glanced back at the other one to confirm it was a different elf; it was. The elf presented two candy canes, then pointed at the nametag on her pointy cap.

“My name’s Mundo. You guys are joining me for Christmas dinner!”  the young woman grinned.

“We are?” Maxwell asked. Mundo nodded.

“Of course! It takes some time to explain everything. You’re going to need the info if you want to keep hopping between universes like you are. And both of you need tattoos.”