Sharp Teambuilding

“Melody?” Ms. Sharp asked her assistant for confirmation. The short, pale, dark-haired woman scanned the living room with brilliant golden stars in her eyes. After a moment, the glow faded and she nodded.

“He’s there,” she said and pointed at the old couch in the center of the room.

“Of course he’s there! We wouldn’t make up something like that,” Mrs. Taylor said. Ms. Sharp nodded at her.

“I wouldn’t have assumed it from you. However, there is always the possibility of being wrong about something. No matter how sure you are,” she said. Then she sat on the edge of a recliner across from the seemingly empty couch. “Go ahead,” she said to the couch as Mrs. Taylor handed her a cellphone. After a moment, a cell phone on the coffee table lit up with Siri in listening mode. Then, it replied.

“Calling: Mom,” the digital assistant said. The phone in Ms. Sharp’s hand vibrated and its screen lit up. It showed a picture of a tan teenager with light brown hair that seemed to have a lot of effort put into its “messy” style. The name said, “Dean”.

“Hello, Dean,” Ms. Sharp answered with the speakerphone.

“Ms. Sharp!” Dean’s voice sounded relieved and grateful. “Thank you for coming, I knew you could help!” His words caused a trace of guilt to sink Mrs. Taylor’s stomach. The two weeks since that first call Dean made were an emotional rollercoaster for her. He suggested he call Ms. Sharp on the first day; but, she refused to bother a multi-billionaire and a stranger on top of that. She almost started to believe she was going mad over his loss until her husband talked to Dean too.

The two of them finally convinced her to call Ms. Sharp. She had no idea what she planned to say to avoid sounding crazy, but she was amazed when they took her seriously. Within a day Ms. Sharp herself was in her living room talking to her ghost son. As much as she loved her son, she knew he meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. And certainly nothing to the most powerful woman in the world. However, it blew her mind how compassionate she must be to show up herself to a stranger’s house with nothing more than a good faith ghost story. She heard someone needed help, and she came to help. No matter what happened, Mrs. Taylor would spend the rest of her days espousing Ms. Sharp’s humanity.   

“You were right, and I’m more than happy to help,” Ms. Sharp replied. She nodded at Melody. The woman in a black suit stepped closer and placed a small white cube, about the size of an egg, on the coffee table. “I brought you a new body,” she said.

“Whoooa! THANKS!” Dean shouted into the phone. He stopped talking but made several non-intentional ‘thinking’ sounds; Ms. Sharp guessed he was trying to figure it out.

“Uh, how does it work?” he asked.

“This technology has some strict rules. Nothing that can’t be worked around though. For you to receive this body, we need to be on the same team so to speak,” Ms. Sharp said.”

“Huh?” Dean asked. His parents also gave Ms. Sharp a questioning look.

“It’ll help you understand if I explain how you became a ghost in the first place,” she said. “You,” she pointed at the empty couch. “Are something known as a Unique Soul,” Mrs. Taylor found herself standing up straighter with a grin; she always knew her son was special. It seemed God thought so too.

“There are different types with different abilities. In your case, you’re a “Plant Soul”.  You’re supposed to be ‘rooted’ to this Earth. Ideally, the roots die when you do, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes accidents happen so fast that the person doesn’t realize they’re dead.

“Yeah,…” Dean sighed through the phone; that was his situation exactly.

“Your soul and body are supposed to be two halves of the whole that make you up. That version of you is like a team; two halves working together to make the whole better. But also, competing against every other team.”

“You make life sound like… a game,” Dean’s father said. Mrs. Taylor was quick to silence him with an elbow in the ribs. However, Ms. Sharp still looked up at him and smiled.

“It’s all about perspective, Mr. Taylor. If you don’t treat life like a game, where’s the fun in that?”

The richest woman in the world knows what she’s talking about,” Mrs. Taylor said to him under her breath. Ms. Sharp turned her attention back to the phone in her hand.

“Of course teams can group together to help each other, but there needs to be a formal agreement. A sort of contract, if you will. The universe is quite fond of written agreements,” she said.

“The universe? What, like God?” Mr. Taylor asked with a chuckle. “Oww,” he said when he got a second, more vicious elbow in his ribs.

“Let her help our son!”  Ms. Sharp smiled at both of them. 

“I don’t claim to know how it works,” she said. “However, I have grown my business with the philosophy of ‘words’ and ‘intent’ holding a great deal of power in the universe. Imagined or not, there’s something special, magical even, about two parties making a deliberate agreement. Each person has a strong intent to fulfill their end and they agree to help each other as much as they can. Whatever entities run the universe; they seem to like that sort of thing.”

“So what does this have to do with teams?” Dean asked.

“Simple. To access your new body, I need you to join my team first.”

“Great! Let’s do it, how?” Dean asked. At his question Melody walked over to Dean’s parents and handed them a clipboard with several papers on it.

“Your parents need to sign your soul over to me. Then, you’ll need to add your signature too if you want to keep the body for longer than a day.”

“His soul!?” Mr. Taylor asked with an almost offended look on his face.

“It’s the only part of him left,” Ms. Sharp said. “And he can’t use my equipment if he’s not on my team.” By the time Ms. Sharp finished her answer, Mrs. Taylor was handing her husband the clipboard with her signature already on it.

“She knows what she’s talking about,” she said, then stared at him and lowered her voice to a begging whisper. “I want Dean back.

Decisive Sun

Reed stared at the bright violet sky with awe. The mid-20s man was jogging through the park that morning when a purple flash blipped in the distance. That alone wasn’t enough to attract Reed’s attention, but it was quickly followed by several more. Blip after blip shot into the bright blue sky and lingered for a moment. He fell to a park bench as the violet glow overtook the endless azure.

“What’s happening?” Reed mumbled to himself. He looked down at the ground and saw the same similar purple glow growing on the other side of the Earth. A sudden hollow crash happened next to him; he jumped off the bench frightened and looked toward the sound. A white skeleton rose from a pile of bones. It became whole and took a step toward Reed as several more bone piles crashed down behind it. 

Reed took a moment to glance upward as he spun around to run the opposite direction. He noted several large black holes floating in the light purple sky. He caught sight of white bone piles raining out of the hole before he picked up speed. He only managed a few steps before several more bone piles landed in front of him; skeletons popped up. Reed did not slow down in time and crashed into the group of skeletons. They fell apart like cheap toys as Reed’s momentum carried him through them. They reformed once Reed landed on the ground. The group of bonemen turned to look at Reed, then they walked off in different directions. 

He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized they weren’t going to kill him and took his time in standing up. 

“Hola Palma,” a woman said from behind Reed once he was on his feet. He was startled again and spun around. A tall, pale woman with bone white horns spiraling out of her raven hair stared at Reed. She wore a long flowing black dress with slits on both sides. “You have two choices.”

“What are they?” Reed asked. It was obvious this woman was related to the skeletons somehow. She was likely the reason for the amethyst sky.

“Everyone else on this Earth is going to die. But I’m giving you a choice. Do you want to live alone on an empty Earth or die with everyone else.”

“Why me? Why do I get a choice?” Reed asked. He immediately started wondering how many of his friends he could save. If he could learn why he was special, maybe they would be too.

“Sorry,” the woman smiled. Two skeletons spilled from the sky to land next to her, one on each side. They immediately marched toward Reed. “Asking me a question wasn’t one of your choices. So, I’ve decided for you. Bye, now,” she winked as a black hole rose from the ground to swallow her into nothing. The last thing Reed saw was an endless, inky black abyss in the skeleton’s eye sockets.

Freshly Minted

“Well? What’s wrong?” Corina asked her husband. She rocked her swaddled, new daughter in her arms. She kissed the baby’s wispy strands of purple hair. Her husband gawked at the child with wide, nervous eyes. “You weren’t expecting anything other than ‘1’, were you?” she asked.

“One thousand and three,” he said. His normally smooth voice sounded dry and raspy.

“One thousand and three what?” she asked. She knew the answer; it would explain the cracks in his voice. Justin’s mouth always went dry when he was nervous. She held out hope that he was not freaking out about their daughter’s power level.

When Justin first explained his power he told Corina ‘6’ was the highest number he’d seen. It was the world heavyweight boxing champion in his prime. Corina did not believe him at first but he convinced her over time. It wasn’t something that he got to use often, but it had come in handy on a few occasions.

“Majesty,” he said their daughter’s name. Somehow that small, deliberate action helped Corina relax slightly. “Her level is 1003.” A sudden knock at the door interrupted their thoughts. They turned to see a greying nurse walk in without waiting for a response. She wore dark green scrubs with a white apron; a sprig of mint leaves was pinned to the apron. The woman smiled at them with sparkling eyes.

“Hello! I’m Nurse Mundo. I came to see if there was anything you needed or maybe answer any questions you might have?”

“No!” Corina and Justin both answered her at the same time. “I mean, we’re fine,” Justin added. Nurse Mundo raised her left eyebrow.

“Is that so?” she asked. Both parents nodded vigorously. “So you know why your daughter is strong enough to break the Earth and all that? Good, good,” she said.

“You can the number?!” Justin asked. “What does it mean?”

“Is it a 42?” the nurse asked and offered her hand to the father. He was unsure but accepted the hand and shook it; a faint green glow passed between their hands. It happened so fast Justin was not sure it happened at all.

“It’s 1003,” he said. She nodded.

“This means you don’t know what you are either, right?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You and your daughter…,” she paused and looked at Corina, then she turned back to Justin. “…not your wife, are what’s known as Unique Souls. You’re #51, La Palma, and your daughter is #42, La Calavera. You can see some aspect of a person represented as a statistic and your daughter will be strong enough to crack the Earth in two.” Corina and Justin looked at their sleeping child, then at each other. Nurse Mundo had watched that silent conversation happen dozens of times between parents, not all of them Unique children. They were ready to welcome a child to their home, not a walking atom bomb. Neither of them wanted to admit that neither of them felt comfortable. The nurse let the parents stay silent until she felt one of them was close to saying something.

“I do know someone,” she said quickly. The statement was vague enough that Corina and Justin each thought she was answering their unasked question. “As parents, you have to make hard decisions. Do you raise the child as best you can knowing it’s not good enough, or do have someone that knows what they’re doing give her a safer life than you ever could? Your daughter can literally, accidentally destroy the Earth. A Calavera’s terrible-twos are quite apocalyptic.” 

“What? Are we just supposed to give her over to you?” Corina asked; her decision already made. Nurse Mundo shook her head then pointed at the far corner of the hospital room.  A tall, lean man with neatly parted white hair and a full, groomed white beard smiled at Corina and Justin. He held a black briefcase in one hand and a bundle of blankets was cradled in the other. The new stranger wore an elegant forest-green suit with a white vest and white bow-tie. A ’37’ was tattooed on his cheek directly under his right eye. Instead of an eyeball, he had a glass eye painted like the Earth. It spun slowly in its socket. Neither of the parents had an idea where he came from. There were no doors near that corner.

“Of course not,” the stranger said and stepped forward. “It’s a trade. Majesty for a more manageable baby girl and a briefcase full of cash. Deal?”

Open Palm

Pam sighed when she caught her own eye. She sat an outside cafe on a sunny day watching strangers walk by. An errant sun glare forced her to turn her head toward the cafe’s windows. She shook her head in disappointment and let her eyes roam upward. The large golden “1” that floated above her head changed shape and darkened. It became a black 0.

Crap,” she thought while staring at herself. She felt the need to hold her reflection as long as she could. Pam wiggled her seat around without losing sight of herself until she found a comfortable position. She watched the stream of pedestrians pass while keeping herself in her peripheral vision. They all had black “0”s floating above their head too. Pam found it interesting that theirs turned black too. Normally their numbers glowed with a bright purple color; she assumed her number was gold because she was special. She always kept an eye out for other golden numbers but she never saw any.

Until a flash of gold caught her eye from the crowd. It floated low enough that she imagined it belonged to a child. She almost stood up and turned around, but her reflection stopped her. She sighed and relaxed back in her seat. Pam focused on the crowd behind her reflection. As she tried to see any sign of gold something else caught her eye. The crowd was not moving. They looked like they should have been moving; many of their mouths hung open as if in the middle of speaking. They seemed to be frozen in time.

What’s going on?” Pam wondered. She sat still watching herself and the frozen world around her. Gold twinkled in the corner of her eye again. This time it hopped out of the crowd and land on the chair next to her. “WHAT’S GOING ON!?” she shouted when she saw what it was. She was fairly confident she’d lost her mind already.

A sleek black cat sat in the chair next to her. It watched the window meeting Pam’s eyes. She saw a red patch of fur atop its head that looked like a skull. Most important of all, a golden number 14 hovered above its head. Pam was not surprised when the cat replied in English.

“Okay, I’ll keep it short.” the cat said with a soft, feminine voice. She sounded offended. “I’m here to make you a job offer.”

“WhaAAT?” Pam laughed in surprise. Pam was starting to think that she might have died already. Somehow while she was looking at herself. In the last couple of minutes, she saw herself for the last time, kept moving while time was stopped, met a talking cat and will see the cat 14 more times. She shrugged. “Alright, why not? I’m dead or will be soon anyway. What’s the job?”

“Live the life of your dreams,” the cat said.

“You’re going to pay me to live my ideal life?” Pam shook her head. “I’m not quite that gullible, sorry.”

“Of course we wouldn’t pay you, don’t be greedy. The arrangement works like this: You get to live the life of your dreams. We get to study you while you do it.”

“So… what? I have to come in for check-ups and things?” The cat shook her head.

“You seem interested so I’ll give you the full details. First, I didn’t say your ideal life. I said your dream life. That body,” the cat nodded at Pam’s reflection. “is safely stored in our lab while your consciousness gets put in any body you want. Human, elf, gnome, anything you want.”

“Wait a second,” Pam’s eyes narrowed. “You’re recruiting me for a virtual reality MMO?” Even as she asked the question she realized she would be okay with that. She followed it up with another question. “How realistic is it?”

“As real as you feel the world right now.”  Pam’s eyes widened.

“I accept!” she said. Pam smiled at her reflection. She knew it would be the last time she saw that body.

Shopping. Maul.

Palmer watched the young woman with curiosity. He sat at a small table in the mall’s food court. Holiday shoppers flowed around him like slow-moving traffic going this way and that. The murmur of the patrons sounded like a dull roar to his ears.

He stared at the brown-haired woman sitting down at the edge of the food court near the main hallway. Every few minutes she stood from the table and walked into the crowd. No matter how he moved in his seat, Palmer could not see what she did in the crowd. Whatever she did; she always returned to her seat with her eyes closed. And she always pulled a wallet out of the pocket of her purple coat, kept the cash, closed her eyes, and tossed the emptied wallet back out into the crowd. Then she would open her eyes and wait some more. Palmer had no idea how much she’d stolen but he watched her do the routine at least five times since he sat down with a slice of pizza. At first, he thought she was a run-of-the-mill pickpocket, but the closed eyes kept him interested.

After several minutes she moved again and Palmer decided he wanted to be closer to the action. He and left his table and immersed himself in the crowd trying to keep the brown-haired girl in his sight. Her bright purple made it easier because everyone else was wearing reds, greens, and gold. The strange woman approached a tall man whose attention was on a short woman next to him. Palmer had a direct view of the woman as she walked toward the tall man. She walked right into him, but Palmer noticed she closed her eyes a split second before the impact. The tall man stopped and looked around with a confused look, then shrugged and continued walking along with his lady friend. The woman in red slowly, and deliberately walked back to her seat at the edge of the food court, as if she were counting steps. Several people bumped her on the way, but she moved forward without acknowledging them. They all stopped for a second and looked confused before moving on again, even though the woman was right in front of them.

Palmer waited by the pillar for her next move. After a few minutes, she stood again and walked into the stream of people. She approached the male half of another distracted couple. Palmer left his spot but walked at a slow pace. He did not care enough about her theft to interrupt, but he was curious. He waited until after she lifted the wallet. As she walked back to her seat with closed eyes he tapped her on the shoulder. She froze but did not turn around. Palmer tapped her shoulder again, but this time he talked to her.

“Why is everybody acting like they can’t see you?” he asked. She turned around, with her eyes still closed, and faced his general direction.

“You can?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Why are your eyes closed?” The woman sighed but did not open her eyes. She turned around.

“C’mon,” she said. She returned to her seat, one step at a time, but was surprised when she opened her eyes and saw Palmer sitting down across from her already. He leaned over the table so she could hear him over the crowd’s non-stop chattering.

“So what’s the deal?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “When I block off my senses other people ignore that aspect of me.” Palmer nodded intently.

“Okay. That sounds neat, but what does it mean?” The woman rolled her eyes, but a faint chuckle escaped her mouth.

“If I close my eyes other people can’t see me. If I put in earplugs they can’t hear me, stuff like that.”

“Awesome! So if you plug your nose they can’t smell you?” The woman nodded, then paused.

“Are you saying I smell bad?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Palmer laughed but put his hands up to protest.

“Not at all. I’m just trying to figure out how it works. So what happens if you cover your mouth? They can’t taste you?” They both laughed, but the woman shook her head.

“I’m Deborah, by the way. You can call me Debbie. No, I don’t think anything happens if I cover my mouth. I’ve tried it a few times, but never noticed anything.”

“Hi Debbie, I’m Palmer,” he smiled. “Why not try it now? If covering your mouth never did anything before maybe it’ll affect me differently.”

“Sure, okay.” Debbie shrugged. She took a deep breath and placed both hands over her mouth. Something changed the second she did, but Palmer did not put his finger on it right away. They both looked around to check for any magical effects and noticed the river of customers stopped flowing. Everyone in the area looked confused as they tried to yell at each other but no sound came out of their moving mouths. That’s when Palmer realized the background din of the shoppers was gone. He panicked.

“Stop it!” he yelled at Debbie.  His voice carried around the silent food court causing all eyes to fall on him. One man pointed at Palmer and started yelling silently. His face turned red with anger, spittle flew out of his mouth as he tried to make some sound.

“……GET HIM!” his voice finally returned. Palmer looked at Debbie. She took her hands off her mouth to apologize.

“I’m sorry!” she said, then closed her eyes as the crowd closed in on Palmer.