Zero Acting

“Not this time,” Taylor grumbled to herself as she climbed out of bed at six a.m. The sun wasn’t out yet. Her room was dark and best of all, quiet. For as long as she could remember in her young life, she woke up every morning at 6:15 a.m. to upbeat music that no one else heard. She had no idea where it came from, but she never woke up to an alarm.

She set her alarm for six a.m. the night before, but it didn’t go off this morning. Luckily, she did not count on it. She spent the entirety of the day before willing herself to wake up early. Taylor changed out of her pajamas and into a dog-themed onesie she used as a costume the previous month. She ignored the black jeans and yellow t-shirt that were laid out for her. She had no idea where they came from. Her mom insisted she never entered Taylor’s room; and, the school clothes were often outfits Taylor never saw before. She decided to make a point of rebelling that day.

Taylor walked out of her room at 6:10 a.m. and was surprised to find the house dark and quiet like her room. All the previous mornings she woke up to music, the smell of bacon hit her nostrils as soon as she was awake. Usually, she was downstairs by 6:45 in time to sit down to a large breakfast spread that included waffles, pancakes, and french toast. Along with the bacon, omelettes, and cereal, Taylor never had a problem with the same breakfast every morning. She wondered why her mom wasted so much food, but she didn’t complain about her options.

She expected her mother at least, to be awake and in the kitchen. It should have taken more than half an hour to cook up all that food. She padded through the quiet house, walked through the empty kitchen, and ended up in the living room. It was a spacious area with large bay windows that looked out into the dark world waiting for sunrise.

Taylor stared out the windows for a moment, but suddenly she heard the music start. She whirled around and her eyes landed on the VCR clock. It said 6:15 a.m in bright blue numbers.

“Where’s it coming from?” she wondered. Then, she noticed her own shadow on the hardwood floor. She turned around and noticed the kitchen light was on; the scent of bacon hit her nostrils.

“What’s going on?” she wondered. Taylor wandered into the kitchen to find her mother standing in front of the stove with all four burners going. Two boxes of sugary cereal, one with marshmallows, sat on the table with four places already set. Three glasses at each place filled with orange juice, milk, and water. Two of them also had cups for coffee. “I just walked through here!” Taylor knew it was impossible for everything to get done in the short time she spent in the living room.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Taylor asked. Her mother, a short woman with shoulder length brown hair turned around and smiled. But, her eyes seemed to focus on something behind Taylor.

She did not acknowledge Taylor at all. Then, bright yellow words appeared in front of her mom, just below her neck.

[Zero – NPC as June Seaver]

“What the Hell?” Taylor asked, but her mother simply stopped smiling and returned her attention to the stove. “MOM!” Taylor yelled to no avail.

“Morning mommy,” Taylor’s 8-year-old sister walked into the kitchen. She stopped at the entrance and grinned.

[Zero – NPC as Tammy Seaver] appeared in front of her in the same bold yellow lettering.

“CUUUT!” a man’s voice yelled. Taylor spun around to see a bald man walking in from the living room. She did not recognize him. She looked to her mother for help, but June remained frozen by the stove. She glanced at Tammy and saw the blonde girl still smiling at nothing. The bald man walked straight to Taylor and looked down at her with a sigh.

“You’re not in bed for your credit scene,” he said. His tone of voice was surprisingly warm. Taylor briefly registered that part of her morning routine was snoozing the alarm for five minutes and rolling over. She guessed that retreating under the covers caused her to miss her own yellow text. “So, I guess it’s safe to say you woke up,” he chuckled and smiled. “Good morning.”

“What’s going on? Who are you? What’s wrong with my family?”

“You can call me Bald Lenny,” he moved to the table and sat down at Tammy’s place; then, he gestured for Taylor to sit down too. “Your family isn’t real,” he gestured at the kitchen around them. “This is a TV show, except we use scripted NPCs instead of actors.”

“NPCs? Like in a video game?” Taylor asked though she remained standing. At her height, the only way she could meet Bald Lenny eye to eye was if she stood while he sat. Bald Lenny nodded.

“We’re in the AlterNet, a multi-universe sized game. 

“But,.. I’m real,” Taylor said. Bald Lenny shrugged.

“We don’t know what causes it. Every now and then and NPC gains consciousness,” he nodded at her. “They wake up.”

“What happens now?” she asked.

“Well, you’re a person now. I don’t think we could force you back onto the show if we tried. You can do anything you want; I have access to resources to put you on any type of Earth you want to live out the rest of your life.”

“What about my family? They’ll miss me,” she said. Bald Lenny shook his head.

“They’re not real. It’s easy enough to cast another NPC that looks just like you for the show.”

“I’ll miss them…,” Taylor admitted.

“No one’s saying you have to leave,” Baldy Lenny grinned. “Have you ever wanted to try acting?”

AlterNet Entertainment

“You know, it’s funny…,” Jack smiled weakly at the camera. He sat on the balcony of his favorite hotel suite in Las Vegas. The sun was setting behind him making the scene perfect. “It only took everyone disappearing from Earth to make me a YouTube star,” he grinned. “I couldn’t ask for a more loyal and loving fanbase. You bots are the best. Don’t forget we’re going out to Toiyabe tomorrow to do some forest exploring. Thanks for tuning in, this is Solo_Wanderer signing out.”

Before everyone disappeared four years ago, Jack would have never guessed he’d get so much comfort from anonymous internet bots. Months after the incident he was surprised to still find regular running water and electricity everywhere. He surfed the internet to fight boredom and one day had the urge to upload something himself.

He was surprised to find comments and likes on it the next day, until he noticed all the comments were similar. He assumed they were bots, but he didn’t try to ignore them. Each video he uploaded earned more likes and comments than the previous; and, he enjoyed feeling famous without all problems of being famous. He was currently approaching two million subscribers and it amazed him there were that many bots.

The next morning, Jack was at the edge of the forest by dawn. He wandered in and explored freely. He recorded several clips to edit together throughout the morning. Then, about the time his stomach started grumbling for lunch, he spotted a clearing.

Jack caught sight of a brilliant shimmer between the trees as he approached the clearing. He realized it was probably a stream or a lake and hit the record button on his camera.

“Holy macaroni!” Jack whispered aloud the second he stepped into the clearing. It was a crystal clear lake perfectly reflecting the azure sky. A unicorn at the far edge of the lake looked up from where it was drinking. It saw Jack, then turned around and dashed away. Jack grabbed the camera and pointed it at himself.

“DID YOU SEE THAT!? A real freakin’ UNICORN!” He grinned wildly at the camera. “I think magic is coming back! How awesome is that!?” Jack decided to walk around the lake and try and find where the unicorn went. As he searched, somewhere else, a conversation was taking place.

“A Unicorn? You’re kidding me,” Sheryl said with heavy annoyance. Lenny, her co-creator shook his bald head and smiled.

“It’s no joke. We’ve already had four seasons of him living up to his name. Viewership is dipping, no one cares about a solo wanderer anymore. Next season, instead of adding more humans, The Last Man on Earth learns to become a wizard!” Lenny wiggled his fingers in Sheryl’s direction. “We brought in unicorns and faeries from another Earth. We also added an AlterNet layer so he can learn ‘magic’.”

“Wow,” Sheryl sighed. “I”m not even sure this still qualifies as ‘Reality TV’ anymore. It’s one thing to clear the planet to make someone think he’s the last man on Earth. But now we’re adding magic?” Lenny smiled and shrugged.”So don’t call The Last Man on Earth ‘Reality TV’ anymore. Personally, I like the term, ‘AlterNet Entertainment’.”

Bald Lie

“Please wait with the others,” the civilian aide said. She ushered Claude into a small, darkened room. The far wall in the room was a clear glass pane that Claude imagined is where the line-ups took place. In the room were nine other versions of him. His gathered doppelgangers were all varying ages; it made him feel like he was looking at his past and future all at once. The youngest looked like 18-year-old Claude with a fresh face and bright green eyes. His chestnut brown hair was cut short and he was all muscle. Claude wanted to be an athlete for most of highschool; he never made it but it looked like at least one of him did.

The oldest was a grizzled, wrinkled man with silver wispy hair pulled back in a ponytail. The rest of them, including Claude, were somewhere in between the two extremes. He never gave much thought to meeting his other-verse selves, but now he grew curious.

“So…,” Nine versions of himself looked at him expectantly; he found it a bit unsettling. He got the impression they were waiting for him to say something. “… one of us is a really good at crime I guess,” he said. He was pleased to see they all shared a sense of humor when the room erupted in laughter. More than seemed appropriate for the off-hand comment.

“Nine in a row!” the youngest one shouted while laughing. The oldest one was doubled over while holding his stomach trying to contain his wheezing laughter. Teenage Claude hopped to his feet and approached Claude with a smile. “I was the first one here. I had that same thought. Then these guys walk in,” he gestured at the group of Claudes. “They all said it and now you did too.” He lightly punched Claude in the shoulder. “You’re definitely one of us!”

“I’m Claude. Are we all Claude?”

“Claude.” six of them, including the youngest and oldest, raised their hands.

“Claudio,” one said. He had a dark brown pencil-thin mustache and wore a black and white leisure suit.

“Cloud,” a meek version with thick glasses said. He looked to be about the same age as Claude. Cloud wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt.

“Clark,” the last one introduced himself with a raised hand. He seemed more reserved than the rest and sat somewhat distant from the group. He wore an elegant black tuxedo. Moments after Clark’s introduction the door opened again and a heavyset bald man in a red suit walked in.

“Gentlemen, thank you for coming. You can call me Bald Lenny,” he smiled at the group. “Some of you have been waiting for a bit so I’ll get right to the point. We lied to get you here.” The room was filled with groans and complaints from the gathered Claudes. Bald Lenny held his hands up silently to wait for their outrage to die down. “There is no criminal mastermind, but we do want you to stop a version of yourselves.”

“Stop him from what?” Cloud asked. Bald Lenny smiled and shook his head.

“I run a multi-verse reality show-,” Grumbles filled the room as the group moved toward the door. Bald Lenny was not deterred. “The grand prize is becoming a Unique Soul!” he said. Clark, Claudio, Cloud, and the youngest Claude all stayed behind while the rest filed out through the door. Bald Lenny faced the remaining four. “You guys know what a Unique Soul is?” he asked. They all nodded.

“Perfect. The person in the lead is a version of you that I don’t trust with that kind of power. I want to bring you…,” he looked at all of them. “…into the show for a surprise twist to give you a chance at the prize.” The four of them looked at each other and passed nods between them.

“We’re in,” Claude said. “We’ll take him down.”

Her,” Bald Lenny corrected. “I’m going to need you to work together to take down Claudia.”

Unique Attempt

“I’m kind of using them,” Albert chuckled at the wild, wide-eyed, man. The stranger looked over his shoulder at something, then faced Albert again. He grabbed Albert’s shirt and shook him while looking into his eyes.

“THIS ISN’T A JOKE! I need your pants right now,” his head spun around to look behind him again, then back to Albert.

“Hey! Back off, man!” Albert shoved the wiry man away. The action caught the attention of passersby.

“I NEED them!” the stranger shouted and lunged for Albert again. He shoved Albert to the ground and reached for his belt while fighting off Albert’s kicking legs. Two men paused when they noticed the commotion stepped in and pulled the old stranger off of Albert.

“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!” he shouted as he wriggled against the two men. “THE WORLD IS GOING TO END!”

“Wait a second,” Albert said as he stood from the sidewalk. “My pants can stop the end of the world?”

“YES!” the man shouted and looked over his shoulder again. This time Albert looked to try and see what the was checking. He counted three people running towards them. “HURRY!” the stranger shouted again. Albert chuckled and shook his head.

“I suppose they want my pants too?” The stranger nodded. His breathing was ragged; he wore himself out struggling against the two good samaritans. He fell limp and lowered his voice.

“If they get here before I have your pants, it’s over.”

“What’s so special about my pants?” Albert asked.

“They’re YOUR pants,” the stranger shook his head. “I can’t tell you any more than that.” Laughter ran through the growing crowd.

“Sure you can. Didn’t you say that this world is gonna end if you don’t have my pants?” He made a point of looking past the stranger. “They’re almost here.” the man sighed.

“Yeah, good point. Short version: I’m in a game show. Other stuff happened, but for now, they picked a random stranger…,” he pointed at Albert. “whose pants we have to get.”

“What does that have to do with the end of the world?” Albert asked.

“I’m from this Earth. If I’m out of the game we’re all out of the game.”

This Earth?” The man on the stranger’s right side asked. The old man nodded his head.

“Hey handsome,” a woman’s voice said. A statuesque woman with bright blue hair approached Albert. “Is there anything I can do to talk you out of your pants?” she asked, then brushed her lips against his. Albert began unbuckling his pants after the brief contact. As much as he was attracted to the woman, Albert specifically didn’t want the man to win whatever he thought he might. He doubted the whole thing and saw no harm in playing along with the woman just to spite the tactless stranger.

“No, I can still win!” the man shouted. Albert shook his head as he handed the wad of denim to the strange woman.

“WE HAVE A WINNER!” A deep male voice shouted. The gathered crowd turned toward the voice and saw a smiling bald man in a suit standing next to a tall, black portal.  “Claudia goes on to the next round!” The woman tossed Albert’s jeans back to him then walked into the portal. “Everyone else…,” the bald man shrugged. “Goodnight!” He retreated back into the portal then a chubby teenager stepped out. He wore a light blue faded, tight-fitting vintage t-shirt stretched over his stomach and loose, sagging blue jeans. His hair consisted of a rainbow crew cut. He gave the crowd a half-hearted wave and a polite smile.

“Hi. Uh, sorry about this. But on the plus side…,” an ivory horn drilled out of the top of his forehead. His crew cut grew into a mane of long, wild, rainbow hair.  His hands began to glow with intense white light. “You all get to see a unicorn before you die.”

Zero Showmanship

[OT] Friday Free-Form: Let’s Get Down to Business!

“I don’t like your show, Mr. Sero,” Dana Sharp said. She talked to the bald, suited man sitting on the other side of her desk. He smiled broadly.

“Please, call me Bald Lenny. I hope you didn’t drag me across dimensions just to insult my program,” Bald Lenny said.

“No,” Ms. Sharp said. “No, I did not invite you here to insult your show. No, I will not call you by that ridiculous stage name.” Bald Lenny shuffled uncomfortably in his seat but remained quiet. “I don’t like your show in its current format; I find the unnecessary bullying of Zeros mean-spirited and childish. However, you’ve already established quite a large audience in a relatively short time.” Bald Lenny nodded with pride. He was the most watched show in 30 of the 50 universes his broadcasts reached. “From a business perspective I can’t ignore your show, but I want nothing to do with it as it is. To that end, I have an offer for you.” Ms. Sharp paused to ensure she had his full attention. The bald man sat on the edge of his seat staring at her intently.

“Change your program from hidden camera pranks to a reality show contest for Zeros. I’ll sponsor your show and increase your reach.”

“A reality show? I’m assuming you’ll bankroll the prizes too?” Bald Lenny asked. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“There’s only one prize. The winning competitor gets to become a Unique.”

Become a Unique? Bald Lenny’s eyes widened. “You can do that??”

“I can,” Ms. Sharp replied.

“That’s amazing! Which one did you become?” Bald Lenny asked.

“We’re not talking about me. Do you accept the sponsorship.”

“Well, hang on a minute,” Bald Lenny found enough courage to voice a concern. “I gotta say, you dodging the question like that is a tad suspicious. Now, personally, I don’t care what you picked but I cannot promise my contestants something if I can’t guarantee it’ll work. Let me rephrase it. Instead of, ‘which did you become?’ I should have said, ‘I need proof this works.'” Ms. Sharp nodded.

“That’s easy enough to arrange. We could do a live demonstration during your next episode if you’re willing to volunteer.”

“Me? I get to be a Unique??” Ms. Sharp nodded.

“What better way to foster goodwill from your audience than by going through the procedure yourself?”

“You’re right!” Bald Lenny grinned and nodded, but then his face turned serious. “Wait. Does it hurt?”


“What, like a lot or a little?”  Doubts formed in the back of Bald Lenny’s mind.

“My favorite description I’ve heard is: ‘It feels like flaming fire ants are trying to eat their way out from inside you.’ ” She replied with a smile.