Forever Red

“Hi, I’m Polly,” The young woman introduced herself to the teenage girl with a smile. The girl looked up at Polly and pulled her red hood down for politeness. She returned Polly’s smile and extended her hand.

“Cherry,” she said. “What can I do for you, Polly?” They were in the middle of a crowded mall bustling with the murmur of holiday shoppers. Cherry sat on the edge of a wishing pond sipping a drink when Polly noticed her. Specifically, she noticed the symbol floating above Cherry’s head. It wasn’t a number like all the others.

When Polly turned 18 she treated herself to a tattoo. The day after that, she started seeing numbers above everyone’s head. It did not take her long to realize it was counting up every second. A quick walk through the nursery ward at the hospital confirmed that she was watching people’s lives tick up second by second.

Not having any practical use for the information, she learned to ignore it over the next couple of years. Until she saw Cherry. Cherry did not have a number counting up; a red infinity symbol pulsed with a faint glow above her.

Polly knew she needed to talk to the girl. It wasn’t until Cherry’s question that she realized she did not have a plan. Her eyes widened in panic.

“Ummm,” Polly suddenly realized she would sound crazy if she tried to explain her ability. Her mouth popped out the first question that came to mind. “How old are you?” Polly asked. Cherry immediately gave a small chuckle and her smile grew broader.

“I’ll make it easy for you,” Cherry said. She raised her hand and pointed at the red infinity sign. “What do you see?” she asked. Polly let out a sigh of relief. She was glad she wasn’t going to be judged as insane.

“An infinity sign,” Polly said. Cherry’s smile dimmed slightly.

“Oh, sorry. That doesn’t help me,” she said. “What about everyone else? Do you see anything on them?” Cherry gestured at the flow of consumers around them.

“It’s how many seconds they’ve been alive,” she said.

“So you already know what it means?” Cherry asked. Polly nodded. “I’m sorry, what did you want to ask me? Usually, I get asked what the stats mean.”

“Usually?” Polly asked. That was not what she wanted to know, but it sounded like there were more people like her out there.

“Yeah, if they haven’t met Mundo. Oh, have you met Mundo?” Cherry asked.

“No,” Polly shook her head. She decided to ask the question directly. “But, does that mean there are more like me out there?” 

“Plant Souls are the easiest for an Earth to produce, so there’s usually at least one on each Earth. Aside from Mundo,” Cherry said.

“Wait,” Polly shook her head and held her palms out to slow Cherry down. “Can I sit down?” she asked.

“Sure,” Cherry nodded. Polly sat next to the girl and faced her.

“I don’t know what anything you just said means. All I know is I see numbers over everyone else’s heads. Yours isn’t a number and I wanted to find out why.”  Cherry giggled, then apologized again.

“I’m sorry, I thought you knew you were a Unique Soul, and about the multiverse. But, I’ll answer your question first, then we can talk about the other stuff.”

Multiverse?” Polly thought to herself. “She did say ‘each Earth’,” she almost wanted to interrupt Cherry to get to that. She was glad Cherry promised to touch on it again.

“You can see people’s ages,” Cherry shrugged and pointed at the spot above her head again. “That’s my age.”

“How? Infinity isn’t a number, it’s a concept.”

“So is time,” Cherry said. “I was around before it started, and will be after it ends. Infinity from the perspective of the multiverse.”

“Whoa…,” Polly exhaled. Her day was now officially more complicated than she ever expected. Mostly, because she believed everything Cherry said. She felt a truth resonate somewhere deep in her soul.

“And you spend eternity in a mall people watching?” Polly asked. It was part curiosity, part light-hearted jab. Cherry nodded.

“Sometimes,” Cherry said. “This or roller derby.”

Fresh Recruits

“You don’t have to apologize every time,” Rose giggled. “That’s why we’re practicing; try it again.” The pair of new friends sat in a diner for a Saturday brunch. They met on a crowded subway when Rose read his mind and gave him her number. When he finally called, Rose suggested the diner; she explained the mid-morning rush would help Ruben hone his control. Ruben never heard of Mundo’s, but he had to admit the food was great. Ruben closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his thoughts to himself. The meal was still fresh in his mind.

That was the best steak and eggs I”ve ever had,” Ruben thought.

“YOU can come back any time, Melón!” A bald man with a forest green beard called out from the kitchen. Rose giggled again and shook her head.

“You’re trying too hard,” she said. Ruben leaned closer to the center of the table and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Did he call me a melon?” Ruben asked. Rose laughed again, but this time she nodded; her pink bangs bobbed with the motion.

“One thing at a time. Get your thoughts under control, then we’ll explain the rest to you.”

“Or you can just get a tattoo,” Mundo said. The stocky bald man appeared next to their table and gave Ruben a slice of pie. “On the house for my new favorite customer,” he grinned.

“Oooh yeah, I didn’t think about that,” Rose said.

“Tattoo?” Ruben asked. He was trying to follow the conversation as best he could. He knew Rose and apparently, a notable portion of the population could hear his thoughts as if he were broadcasting them.  She seemed to know how and why it was happening, and it looked like Mundo did too. Though, he had no idea what a tattoo had to do with anything. While thinking about it; he noticed that Mundo had an Earth tattooed on his right hand with the number 37 above it. He also knew Rose had a rose tattooed on the back of her neck with the number 41 on its petals.

“You want me to take care of the kitchen so you can do the honors?” Rose asked Mundo with a friendly smile. Ruben got the impression the two were old friends.

“Rosita, I would love that,” Mundo sighed. “But, it would be selfish. I have standards to maintain. Not just anyone can cook the world’s best steak and eggs,” he patted Ruben on the shoulder and chuckled.

“You go ahead, but stick around until things calm down. We’ll get a tattoo on him.” Mundo waved and returned to the kitchen.

“Tattoo?” Ruben asked again.

“You are what’s known as a Unique Soul; Mundo and I are too. Right now, your soul is in what’s called, ‘Slumbering’ mode,” Rose added air quotes around slumbering. “Your abilities are kind of leaking out. But if we Awaken your soul, you’ll have control over them. To Awaken your soul you need to get your number on your skin; you’re number 11. El melón. I’m number 41, La Rosa, and Mundo is number 37. El Mundo.”

“Is that why I can’t read your thoughts? Because I’m not Awakened yet?” Rose shook her head.

“El melón can broadcast and read the minds of other melons, but it’s not full telepathy. You’ll also be able to thicken your skin somewhat; kind of like I can do this,” Rose said. She held up her arm and Ruben watched thick, spiky thorns sprout out of her skin.

“Whoa…,” Ruben was impressed and excited that he was special like her. The thorns receded and Rose lowered her arm.

“So… I need to get a melon tattooed on me?” Ruben said with slight concern. Rose giggled.

“You only need the number 11, but I like roses, so I added a rose to mine.”

“So there are other melons and roses and mundos out there?”

“It depends on what you mean by, ‘out there’,” Rose said. “On this Earth, no. That’s why we’re called Unique Souls, only one of us per Earth, not that every Earth gets every Unique.”

“Hold on. Other Earths?” The thing that surprised Ruben most was that he immediately accepted it as true. The moment she mentioned it, deep inside it felt like something he’d always known. “That sounds amazing! Why didn’t you mention that sooner?” Rose shrugged.

“It doesn’t mean much for you and me; we can’t leave this Earth.”

“So we know there are other Earths out there, but there’s no way to get to them?” Ruben asked. Rose shook her head.

“Getting to them is easy for Uniques that aren’t rooted to their Earth. We literally can’t leave this one, even with a portal right in front of us.” Ruben suddenly became aware of a tall old man that approached their table. He wore a forest green suit with a gold vest. His right eye drew Ruben’s attention immediately. It seemed to be a glass eye painted to look like a globe; and it rotated slowly in its socket. The number 37 was tattooed directly under it.

“That’s not strictly true,” the man interrupted their conversation with a smile. “A standard rule of life is: it all depends on who you know.”