Alice Wanders

“I just want to say for the record, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alice said out loud. She was the only person in the corner of the park that morning. It was an early Thursday morning. After a few years of chasing leads, she finally found what everyone called the Rabbit Hole. The officer protested to herself as she stared at the dark hole in the ground. She knew she already decided on her course of action, but she gave her mind a way out, just in case.

The Rabbit Hole was first mentioned in a case 30 years ago. It was a case Alice’s father was working on, and the idea of an endless rabbit hole took root in Alice’s young mind. The case was quickly forgotten; it turned out to be a crazy homeless woman that swore up and down she’d seen another world.

Alice’s first case on the force, a decade ago, also introduced her to someone that entered and returned from the rabbit hole. It triggered a long search for Alice. There had been hundreds of cases that mention the rabbit hole, but they were low profile, non-violent cases. They were often missing persons that reported themselves missing after the fact. No one cared that one corner of the park seemed to consistently attract the mentally imbalanced.

Alice managed to get information out of a few of the victims; but, for the most part, they seemed wary of Alice mocking them. The handful of people she talked to all had similar stories; enough that Alice hoped she knew what to expect. She brought a hiking pack with some supplies including food, water, and a first-aid kit. She also brought along her gun, but left her badge behind. Alice wasn’t on a case. She was 10 years old again and ready to explore the Rabbit Hole.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Alice spoke and nodded to herself as she approached the dark pit; it was interesting that she could not see anything into it. It wasn’t shallow enough to see the bottom or even any of the sides. It was just a round black hole. “But it’ll be fun,” Alice closed her eyes and jumped in.

“Owwwwww,” She immediately landed off-balance with one foot in a pit and the other landed, and twisted, at the edge. She toppled backward. She opened her eyes as she fell back; she landed awkwardly on her backpack and heard the crunch of various supplies. Alice didn’t have time to care about that.

The azure sky she left behind was replaced with bright, violet clouds against a deep purple sky. Alice giggled and let herself relax completely. It was true.

The clouds and sky were exactly what she expected. Alice inhaled deeply and relished the moment until her backpack became too uncomfortable. Then, she sat up and looked around properly. Alice sat on a lush green hill overlooking a town. According to the victims she interviewed, Alice would not have much trouble finding a way back home in the town. She stood, turned around, and promptly started walking up the hill. Her ankle was tender, but she hobbled up the hillside with determination. She did not know where she was headed, but she was there to explore.

“Are you lost, little Corona?’ A woman’s voice suddenly echoed around Alice. She whirled around to find the source, but did not see anything. Movement in the sky caught her attention and she looked up to see a giant black hole in the sky. It looked as dark as the Rabbit’s hole but as large as the town below the hill. White skeletons began raining out of the hole on the town.

“This Earth is mine now..,” the voice said. This time, a tall, pale, horned woman appeared in front of Alice from out of nowhere. She wore a long flowing black dress, and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. “…but, I’ll place you on another one. Have you any preference?” she asked. She stared down at Alice with a patient, amused expression.

Up until the moment the horned woman referred to it as an Earth, Alice still had her doubts. Part of her wanted to believe it was an alternate Earth. In every interview, she heard the phrase “It’s a lot like Earth.” Not only was this woman claiming an Earth, she offered to send Alice to a different one. Alice now realized there were at least three universes and wanted to know more. Her years of learning about people told her she did not want to give away her home Earth to the stranger. Alice did not know why the woman took a special interest in her, but she knew she did not want to drag it out more than necessary.

Alice went down the Rabbit Hole planning to explore. She now knew there was much more to learn than she ever expected, and she knew this woman wasn’t one to ask. But, she did offer to send her somewhere. Anywhere.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about,” Alice said. Her experience told her this woman would respect sincerity, and she would be able to tell if Alice tried to lie. “I am lost, can you send me somewhere I can learn?” she asked. The woman gave Alice a curt nod.

“When you get there, tell them Ballisea sent you,” the woman said. Before Alice could thank her, the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She sunk straight down into the hole, then landed on a smooth white, tile floor. She noticed two women in front of her, but before Alice could gather herself she was on her knees. One of the two women, one in black, rushed Alice and pulled her up by her hair. The woman held a blue glowing hand in front of Alice’s face and she felt waves of heat coming from it.

“Who are you!?” the woman in black asked. Her tone was calm, but just barely. Alice shut her eyes in pain as the woman yanked her to her feet. Alice thought about fighting back, but she still did not fully understand the situation. Maybe they didn’t either.

“BALLISEA SENT ME!!!?” Alice blurted out. Alice felt the woman’s grip loosen on her hair, but did not release her. The blue light surrounding her hand dimmed.

“Why?” The woman in black asked.

“To learn!” Alice said. “Ballisea showed up to conquer an Earth, but said I was free to go. I couldn’t think of anything and said I wanted to go somewhere to learn.”

“Melody,” the second woman, she wore a crisp white suit, spoke up. Melody, immediately released Alice’s hair, then helped her up to her feet. After Alice was up, Melody looked at the woman in white and nodded.

“47,” Melody said. Then, the woman in white nodded and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

Dungeons & Exposition

“A whole month? With you?” Dread asked Jenny. She sounded eager for a moment, then corrected her statement. “..and Astrid?” she glanced at the short girl next to them. The three girls stood on an endless amber plain underneath a dim purple sky.

“The window’s open for 30 days,” Jenny shook her head. The stiff black peaks that made up her hair wobbled with the motion. “But, we don’t need to stay for the whole month. Ms. Sharp wants to add dungeon matches to the tournament since she’s restarting it anyway. The dungeon server opening up has some good starter ruins to get used to the differences.”

“What kind of differences?” Astrid asked. Then, she let out a small giggle and shrugged. “Though, I haven’t played a real derby match yet either. It’s all new to me,” she shrugged. Jenny nodded.

“In a derby match, relative power levels stay consistent for the players and any monsters on the track. In a dungeon Match, every time you level up, it’s like descending a dungeon. Random monsters will start spawning instead of only player summoned ones. Then, the monsters start getting tougher as you get deeper. But they also start dropping better gear that makes the players stronger too.”

“So we get stronger too?” Dread asked. “Won’t that cancel out the stronger monsters?” Jenny shook her head.

“The other team gets stronger too, right?” Astrid asked.

“The big rule for derby is: ‘It isn’t a race.’,” Jenny replied. “Dungeon matches kind of are. If one team levels up faster they make stronger monsters and have better gear. The other team will have trouble keeping up with everything against them; we don’t want to be that team.”

“Should I have picked a faster class?” Astrid asked.

“Nah,” Jenny shook her head with a giggle. “Stop asking, you already picked Swordmage. You can’t change your class, so for the last time,” she said with mild exasperation. “It’s not about what role you fill, it’s about having fun.”

Astrid nodded, her tight black curls bounced. She caught Jenny’s mild annoyance. It bruised her feelings a bit, but Astrid knew her new friend meant well. And, she knew that she’d probably asked Jenny what class would best help the team one too many times during character creation.

“I can’t wait,” Dread said. “We going now?”

“What about the rest of the team?” Astrid asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Bailey has a ton of dungeon matches under her belt already; she doesn’t need the practice. Britt’s always working, but Dirge can probably use some dungeon time.”

“Oh, no. She’s busy,” Dread said quickly. “Uhh.. I think she wants to hang out with Vegas more. I think we should go just you and me. And Astrid,” Dread added.

“Actually, Astrid reminded me of something,” Jenny said. “It’s best to take a full team so we can talk about synergies too. We’ve got 30 days, and I’ve already reached out to some of the other guilds about practicing at the Schoolyard. We’ll try to plan it for a day when we get at least one full team together, two would be great.”

“Oh. So, what now?” Astrid asked.

“We can still do some training,” Dread said. “I mean, I have time. If you want to?” She looked at Jenny first, then she turned to Astrid. “Unless you have to leave?”

“I apologize girls,” a woman’s ethereal voice echoed around them. “Playtime’s over, this one has chores,”

“Chores?” Astrid looked up at the purple sky in confusion. Then, she sank into a black portal that appeared underneath her feet. It disappeared after swallowing her. Jenny shook her head in awe.

“You know…,” Jenny said. “I understand Ballisea can do that anytime from anywhere. But seeing it happen is going to take some getting used to. Can she hear us too?”

“Yeah,” Dread nodded with a more serious expression than she wore moments before. The truth was, she didn’t know if Ballisea could hear them across universes until the moment Astrid disappeared. But, Ballisea spoke something to her only. A faint whisper emanating from within her ear canal; a microscopic black portal that carried Ballisea’s voice.

“Little Calavera,” Ballisea giggled in Dread’s ear. “You would do well to heed my advice. If you wish to spend time alone with that one, ask her. For now, I will grant you this trivial favor of removing Astrid.”

Challege: Void

The apartment door slammed open and startled Kate. She got over it quick enough to assess the situation. A man in a black suit with a black cape stumbled into her apartment and tumbled onto the floor leaking black blood. She recognized him and bolted to help him up.

“Voidguy!!” she turned him over and gave his tan, rugged face several light slaps. His eyes fluttered under his costume.

“…didn’t know …where to go…,” he mumbled, then passed out. She checked for his wound, then gasped. He had a hole in his left arm about the size of a golf ball ; it went clean through both sides and leaked out perpetual black ichor.

“Here you are,” a woman voice distracted Kate from Voidguy. “You can’t hide from,-” Kate saw the air in her livingroom darken and become pitch black; it reminded her of Voidguy’s powers. A tall, pale woman in a flowing black dress appeared while the darkness flowed around her. A pair of bone-white twisting horns grew out of her head. “Oh. You’ve already lost,” the woman said to Voidguy’s body with a small giggle.

“Who are you?” Kate asked. She lowered Voiduy’s head gently then stood to face the intruder. Ballisea tilted her head at Kate, then smirked.

“What is that one to you?” she asked.

“He’s a friend,” Kate replied. While she kept her eyes on the tall woman, she used her cybernetics to control all the weapon turrets around her apartment for just such an occasion. Kate was her civilian name; K-T was a cyborg super hero.

“A friend?” Ballisea giggled. “Do you really think so?” Kate stood her ground. She could fire her weapons at a moment’s notice, and she’d even had enough time to seal herself in her apartment with a forcefield. The rest of her neighbors wouldn’t be bothered. K-T’s next step was to try and lock the intruder in a forcefield, but she wanted to safeguard the building first. Her ability to get things done covertly using any technology in the area was part of the reason K-T was one of the best heroes in the city. “Do friends lie?” Ballisea asked. A brief flash of doubt filled K-T’s mind. Her eyes could see biometric data; she could tell when anyone lied to her. But, something in her believed Ballisea.

“About what?” K-T asked. She tried to scan Ballisea, but the horned woman was invisible to all her sensors.

“About what’s real,” Ballisea said. K-T stepped back when the horned  woman took a step forward out of her swirling darkness. The moment her pale, bare foot touched the floor of K-T’s apartment, it disintegrated into a white powder. The white, powdery hole in her grey carpet spread out from around Ballisea’s foot like wildfire.  She watched the walls disintegrate into white powder leaving nothing behind. Voidguy’s black costume disintegrated off his body and transforming it completely. His lean, muscled superhero body was replaced with an older, middle-aged man with a bald spot and beer gut. He wore only white swim trunks and the hole in arm was clogged with chunky dark red blood.

A stranger lay there, on a smooth, glowing white floor. K-T’s apartment was on the fourth floor, but she now stood on solid, barren ground. The white floor extended as far as K-T could see but there was no one else, nothing else around. She triggered her weapons; nothing happened.

“What’s going on? Where are we?” Kate asked.

“We haven’t moved an inch, this is your reality. That one doesn’t belong here,” she said.

“He knows about this?” K-T asked. She was trying to wrap her head around everything. She still didn’t quite know where ‘here’ was. Ballisea nodded.

“Why did you hurt him?”

“He challenged me to a game; he lost,” Ballisea smiled. “Now, he dies.”

“Wait!” K-T held her hands out. She knew she probably didn’t stand a chance; but, she was a hero. She protected those that can’t protect themselves. “I want to challenge you to a game!” She had no idea about what the game might be or the rules involved.  Ballisea smiled and shook her head.

“I knew you wouldn’t understand even when I revealed the truth,” Ballisea gestured at the white plain around them.

“Yeah, I get it. My reality isn’t real; whatever. I challenge you to a game for his life.” K-T didn’t quite understand where the world went, but she knew there were more than a few villains with illusion based powers. Ballisea shook her head again.

“You don’t,” she said. “You can’t. I only have to accept challenges from other players; you don’t qualify,” she said. “Stupid, silly little Zeros. If your reality isn’t real, what makes you think you are?”

K-T tilted her head at Ballisea, then felt a burning itch on her fingertips. She simultaneously looked down at her hands and brought her left hand over to scratch her right fingers. Her digits were gone and her palms were disintegrating into white powder. She looked around frantically for help. She glanced down hoping Voidguy was awake; she saw a black portal swallow his body. She looked back at Ballisea while the itching, burning sensation made its way up her arms and legs.

“I don’t want to die!” K-T shouted in a pic. Ballisea smiled as a black portal appeared at her feet and rose upward.

“Calm yourself, little one. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You were never alive anyway.”

Sun Downer

“Wait! I love her!” Duke blurted out the only phrase that would work. Duke Fisher had the ability to see five minutes into the future. It happened constantly like watching two TVs at the same time. He’d had several years of practice with his ability, but it wasn’t always so easy to manage. What made it even more difficult was that the future was usually unwritten.

His vision of the future was usually a muddled mess of events until one future became more and more likely. It became clearer as the future came into focus and became the present. That all changed the moment he saw skeletons rain from the sky five minutes into the future. As soon as the first skeleton landed, he only had one clear future. It was either that, or no future. The words didn’t make sense, he’d only met Amber that day and not that long ago. He couldn’t possibly love her, and he didn’t. But saying it was enough to get the intruder’s attention.

“You love her?” Ballisea asked. The tall, pale woman was made taller by bone-white horns curling out of the top of her head. She appeared moments after a skeleton fell through the skylight in Duke’s office. “A Corona in love with a Zero?”

Amber wanted to protest the statement too, but her throat was being gripped by bony skeleton fingers. She did appreciate that its grip loosened slightly when Duke confessed his sudden love.

“I don’t know what that means,” Duke said. “But if you’re going to let me go,…” he paused for effect and gave a heavy shrug. “There’s no point without her.”

“You’d die for her?” Ballisea asked.

“I’d die without her,” Duke nodded. He was following his vision to the letter, not even questioning the words. The skeleton holding Amber released her; she fell to her knees gasping for air.

“You don’t know who I am,” Ballisea said to Duke. “You don’t know what you are.” Duke helped Amber get to her feet and wrapped his arm around her for show. He shook his head at Ballisea.

“I don’t,” he said. “But, I know you know what love is. You don’t have to hurt anyone.” Ballisea grinned.

“Oh, I know I don’t have to hurt anyone. But, I do,” she sighed. “because I know what love is. You think you love her? Would you give anything to protect her? You’re ready to die for her, could you defy death for her? Would you destroy universes to save her?”

“I would!” Duke said with full confidence in his lies.

“Then who are you to tell me I can’t do the same?” Ballisea asked. Duke tilted his head.

“What?” he asked. That was a question he did not see in his future. He pulled Amber closer to him and put himself between her and the skeletons. For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what was coming next.

“You’re trying to convince me I don’t have to hurt anyone, but it’s somehow okay for you to rampage for love?” Ballisea shook her head.

“I’m never going to get my husband back if I keep letting Zeros escape,” she said. Her voice had a sudden cold edge that wasn’t there before. “Don’t worry, you won’t see a thing,” It happened so fast, Duke didn’t realize Amber was gone until after it happened. She slipped through his arms and sunk into a hole in the ground faster than she could scream.

“Thank you for reminding me of what I should be doing. Now, go, and be with your loved one forever,” Ballisea said. It was the last thing Duke heard.

Short Notice

“You really can!” Amber smiled in awe. The 24-year-old journalist sat in the office of the richest man in the world. Though, almost no one knew it. Duke Fisher liked to keep low profile. Despite what he could afford, his office was a simple one-room affair. Rented in a rundown, mostly empty strip mall. A single, grimy skylight filled the office with dirty yellow-brown sunlight

During the interview, he explained he didn’t even need the office. Most of his work was done over the phone but he liked to have a ‘professional space’ to put himself in the right mindset. Constantly keeping an eye on the future wasn’t easy.

“And it’s only five minutes at a time?” Amber asked. Rumors about his ability started her on the story. She thought it would take considerable prodding; but, Duke was happy to prove his ability as soon as the question came up.

“It’s constant. It’s happening right now. I see now and five minutes from now at the same time. Five minutes ago I watched myself tell you this,” he said with a slight smirk.

“Oh wow,” Amber said. “What does it look like? How do you know which is the present and which is the future?”

“Well, usually whichever one happened first is the present,” Duke chuckled. Then, his expression changed slightly. Amber only had a couple of years of professional experience under her belt. She noticed the change even if she couldn’t identify it. His smile remained, but it seemed emptier somehow. Amber started wondering if her question offended him somehow. “But, that’s enough about me for now. I’m curious about you. Tell me about your family. About you; are you seeing anyone?”

Amber’s awe wore off in an instant and she sat back in her seat to put more distance between them.

“Mr. Fisher, I appreciate you’re wealthy, and undeniably handsome…,” her admission surprised her, but she continued her protest. “… But I’m here to interview you for work. Nothing else. My personal life has no place in this conversation.” Duke bowed his head and nodded.

“I apologize,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to pry, I just thought it’d be a good time for you to give someone a call.”

“What?” Amber asked. She scooted forward on her seat again. He sounded sincere, and the fact that he could see into the future was not lost on her. “Why?” she asked.  Duke chuckled and shook his head with a broad grin.

“You know, I always wondered. If something big.. really big were to happen. Would five minutes be enough time to do anything about it?”

Amber jumped out of her seat with a screech when the sound of breaking glass surprised her. A pile of bones crashed through the skylight and landed next to Duke.

“Turns out, the answer is no,” he said.

Heart & Sun

“God damn Corazónes,” Ballisea grumbled to herself. She glared down at the curly-haired teenage girl. “Fine,” she added. The tall, horned woman made a gesture with her hand, and the skeletons surrounding the girl sunk into black holes. The portals raining bone soldiers from the sky also closed.

“Forever,” the girl reminded Ballisea about their agreement.

“For now,” Ballisea said. She smirked at the girl.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Libi,” the girl replied with full confidence. She saved her Earth from certain destruction using only her words and determination. She wasn’t afraid of the pale woman with bone-white horns.

“How would you like to travel and see other universes? This Earth is one out of an infinity of alternate universes. With your abilities, you could save quite a few of them.” Libi narrowed her eyes at Ballisea. She’d always had a good intuition about people lying to her, and she could tell that the offer was genuine. Even if the timing was suspect.

“You’re just trying to get me to leave,” Libi said.

“I’m giving you a chance that you would never have had, nor will again. You probably didn’t know that there are others like you,” Ballisea said. Libi flashed back to moments ago, Ballisea said something that made her think.

“A…corazón?” she asked. Ballisea nodded. “I’m a heart?”

“You’re Unique,” Ballisea said.

“Then how can there be others?” Ballisea sighed and shook her head.

“You’re unique because of who you are, not what you are. Why is that so hard for people to understand? You are Unique Soul #27, El  Corazón. That soul in…,” Ballisea gestured at the teenager. “… in that body make a Unique you that isn’t found in any other universe. So, would you like to see the multiverse and meet others like you, or do you want to stay in the small pond of your home Earth?”

“I…,” Libi paused for a moment, then nodded to herself. “… I want to travel,” she said. The moment the words left her lips, the ground disappeared under her; and, she was swallowed by a black hole. Ballisea sighed in relief.

“Finally,” she said. She immediately reopened black portals in the sky to start raining skeletons again. But, after a moment faint guilt began to burn in the back of her mind. She sighed again. “That’s going to keep bothering me,” she grumbled at the gnawing sensation. “Better deal with it now.”

The bones raining from the sky never reached the ground, they were swallowed by black holes once she realized she needed a different tactic.

A black hole appeared in the air next to her; a mountain of a woman fell out and landed on one knee. She stood, taller than Ballisea.

“Shatter it,” Ballisea said. The red-haired giant raised her fist for momentum and brought her fist down fast. The instant before she made contact, a black hole opened under her fist to absorb the blow. Ballisea sighed.

“Nevermind,” she said and dismissed the giant with a wave of her hand; she sunk into a black hole. It happened slower and more controlled than Libi’s exit. Then, Ballisea sunk into her own exit, mumbling on the way out. “God damn Corazónes.”

Sun’s Shade

Claire was never like the other girls. Dolls and dresses didn’t interest  her at all while growing up. She was too busy hunting and fishing with her six older brothers. Her mother died while giving birth to the red-headed girl; her father and six brothers did their best to raise her.

Her teenage years were a bit rough. Looking back on them, her fondest memory was her father and six burly brothers taking her to the hospital only to learn that bleeding was normal. She never felt more loved or protected than that moment. That feeling might have been hard for any suitors to live up to over the years, but Claire didn’t have time for men.

Claire’s father passed away during her junior year in high school. It was a devastating blow, but she made it through knowing her brothers were looking out for her. It was a difficult time for her, but that was when she decided she didn’t want to rely on her brothers for protection for the rest of her life. After her high school graduation, her oldest brother took her aside and revealed her family’s secrets.

“What do you mean, ‘Dad was a necromancer?'” she asked with wide eyes. Jim nodded at her.

“He got into it after mom died; but, by the time he learned anything useful, it was too late. He started teaching me, but he made me promise I wouldn’t raise him,” Jim smiled. “He deserves to be with mom.”

“So, why are you telling me?” Claire asked. She didn’t doubt him for a second. As the oldest, Jim shouldered all the responsibilities once their mother died. Back then, she thought her dad was too busy mourning to deal with the day to day things; now she knew he was spending all his time studying. Although Claire knew better, an average person would assume Jim just didn’t have a sense of humor. He never made jokes or played pranks.

“Dad always wanted to teach you, but you needed to graduate high school first,” he gave a light sigh. “The only reason he taught me was to teach you. John, Jake, James, Jack, and Jasper have no idea about this. This is between you and me.”

11 years later, Claire was the most beautiful mortician in the continental united states, and still single. She did have time to date now, but never found anyone who could compare to her brothers. Despite the countless men that tried. Her years of martial arts training since high school, along with continued outdoor excursions with her brothers, kept her body lean and limber.

Then, love struck when she least expected it.

Claire was relaxing at home when it happened. Even with her millions of dollars, she preferred to stick close to the farm she grew up on. Plus the extra privacy helped with her necromancy.  She was re-reading ‘The Art of War’, like she did every year when a sudden, panicked pounding came from the front door.

The sudden noise startled her, but she was on her feet quickly. The pounding continued as she edged toward the door. She debated calling her brothers, but she didn’t want to bother them if it was something she could handle. She glanced through a curtain and saw a portly man with sagging pants on her porch. He continued banging on the door while looking at something in the distance.

I can handle him,” Claire thought. She opened the door and a heavy, sweaty fist banged against her left 40DD breast. The stranger immediately knew something was different and yanked his hand away. He turned to face Claire. The mid-30’s man was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. His loose, faded t-shirt had sweat stains around the pits and on his doughy chest. It was love at first sight for Claire.

‘Yes?” Claire asked. She straightened her back to jut her chest a bit further out.  A small part of her died when she realized she was wearing ‘around the house’ clothes. Just a tank top and her tightest pair of jeans; something about the confinement made her feel comfortable. She took small comfort that at least she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“They’re coming!” he said. He glanced back over his shoulder again, then looked back at Claire. “Call the police! Do you have guns!?” he asked with a forced calm in his voice. He seemed to want to enter her house but did not want to force his way in. As much as she wanted to invite him inside, she still didn’t know anything about him.

“Who’s coming?” she asked. The man turned and pointed at the edge of Claire’s property.

“Skeletons! They’re falling from the sky!” he said. Claire immediately noticed a handful of skeletons shambling toward them. Her first thought was that her brothers were playing a prank; but, none of the skeletons looked familiar to her. Instead of inviting him in, Claire stepped out.

“Don’t worry, I’ll call my brothers,” she said. She walked to the edge of the porch, cupped her hands around her mouth, and yelled. “JIIIIIIIIIIM!” she shouted.

A skeletal hand shot out of the ground between Claire and the oncoming skeletons. As a skeleton began to dig its way out of Claire’s property, she yelled again.


“What the hell?” the stranger asked as five more skeletons started to rise out of the land. Claire turned to the stranger.

“I’ll explain it later, but I’m on your side. I’ll keep you safe.” The sound of bones splintering against bones drew her attention away from him. Her brothers started to brawl with the invading skeletons, but the ones that weren’t fighting continued toward the main house. There were more than her brothers could handle, and even more seemed to be coming out of the field. Claire started to consider her options.

“You have talent,” a woman’s voice said next to them. She was tall, and a pair of twisting bone-white horns gave her extra height. She wore a flowing black dress and stared at Claire with an amused look.  “It’s not easy to impress me; and, you haven’t. But, unlike most people I kill, you do have talent.”

“Yeah, I’m not like most girls,” Claire said. She had been preparing spells expecting to have to fight herself. She was able to quickly raise her hand and blow a small cloud of poison at the woman. The sickly green cloud hovered around her face, but the horned-woman was unaffected.

“Maybe, maybe not. But, I’m going to kill you like one anyway. Bye now.”

Sun Shattered

“GET TO THE SCHOOL!” Cora yelled backward over her shoulder. She strained with all her effort to keep the small crowd of skeletons at bay while the civilians fled. The skeletons struggled to get by Cora without acknowledging her as a threat. It seemed they considered her little more than a tree or fence to go around. Cora guessed her ability was to thank for whatever camouflage made her invisible to them.

Over the years she learned a good amount about her abilities. It worried her that the best power she could manifest in the situation was invisibility. Cora’s power gave her the ability to survive any situation. Her first thought was to try and master the individual skills that manifested; but, that proved impossible. Eventually, she learned to focus on the core ability. She learned to manifest offensive survival skills.

She tried to activate an offensive power to fight the skeletons that began raining on the city, but she only succeeded in hiding from them. As one was about to strike her down it paused in confusion. Then, it refocused its attention elsewhere and moved on. Now she was trying to corral a small group of them.

“Well that explains it,” Cora heard a woman’s voice at the same time she noticed the skeletons weren’t wriggling to get past her anymore.  She glanced up and noticed all skulls had their eye sockets trained on her. Cora jumped back from them, then whirled around to see where the voice came from.

A tall pale woman, made taller by a pair of bone-white horns, stood in front of Cora and stared. She was flanked by skeletons on both sides; all of them stared at Cora. She was positive her ability to be invisible to them was still active.

“Who are you?” Cora asked. “Why are you attacking the city?” She felt a tingling in her chest; now her temporary ability was gone. Cora immediately filled her mind with hopeful, violent thoughts. “She’s in charge, or close to it. I can beat her. I have to beat her to survive,” She expected the woman to threaten her life very soon and wanted to be ready. The woman smiled and laughed at Cora.

“City? My name is Ballisea, little Corazón. This entire Earth is mine now. But, you may leave; what kind of Earth would you like to flee to?”

“I’m not fleeing,” Cora said. She balled her fists tight. “I’m surviving!” It was a dangerous gamble; Cora hoped her powers would activate when Ballisea tried to defend herself. Ballisea didn’t so much as flinch at Cora’s tackle; no powers were activated. Cora flew through Ballisea as if the woman wasn’t even there. She landed on the blacktop road behind Ballisea and got some scrapes for her troubles. Cora’s ability was useless for minor injuries.

“You obviously haven’t heard my name before,” Ballisea sighed as she looked down on Cora. “The only way to survive me is to run,” Ballisea grinned. “Or, if I let you go. I’ve changed my mind about that, by the way,” she said. Cora successfully picked herself up from the floor and stood ready to face Ballisea. If nothing else, she finally threatened Cora properly. “Goodbye, Corazón,” Ballisea said. A black dot appeared on Cora’s neck; then, it instantly spread into a horizontal, dinner-plate sized portal that radiated from Cora’s neck.

Cora felt a tingling sensation around her neck, then, nothing. She lost all awareness of her neck; the hole moved upward intent on swallowing Cora’s head. Ballisea’s grin disappeared when the hole disappeared but Cora’s head still remained attached. Cora suddenly became aware of her neck again.

“God damn Corazónes,” Ballisea grumbled to herself. “Just leave,” Ballisea said. A black hole opened under Cora’s feet, but she remained standing, still seemingly on firm ground. Ballisea closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. She exhaled slowly, then opened her eyes.

“I don’t even want this Earth anymore,” Ballisea said. Cora noticed the skeletons behind her walking into black portals and disappearing. She risked a glance upward and confirmed the portals were gone from the sky.

“But, I do have a reputation to maintain,” Ballisea said. A wide, horizontal portal appeared next to her; a towering, pale woman with bright red hair fell out of the portal. She landed on her feet and stood taller than Ballisea’s horns. “I can’t let it be known that I was annoyed into giving up on an Earth,” she shrugged. “Shatter it,” Ballisea said. The redhead nodded then raised her fist into the air.

Before Cora could think about acting, the woman brought her fist down on street hard. The ground started shaking immediately and Cora no longer wondered what Ballisea wanted shattered. She watched Ballisea and the tall woman disappear into portals as the earth shook and cracked around her. Cora started to wonder if she’s survive without an Earth.

Zero Escape

In the blink of an eye, Fred’s world lost all its color. The mid-30s man was headed to the parking lot. He stepped outside just in time to see all the cars shift colors to shades of grey. The steady trickle of shoppers traveling to and from the parking lot all lost their color; Fred froze in his tracks.

Fred learned about his gift at a young age. A bright orange tabby named Mr. Carrot taught him everything he needed to know. One morning Fred found Mr. Carrot sleeping in a sunbeam that should have given his fur a fire-like appearance. Instead, Mr. Carrot resembled a black cat that got into a tub of flour; he was covered with whites, blacks, and greys. Fred was worried but Mr. Carrot seemed fine, he was happy and playful as always. Until later that evening when Mr. Carrot got out and wandered onto a busy road.

Fred quickly learned the pattern after that. Anyone he saw devoid of color was doomed, and not strictly because of health reasons. Right now that applied to everyone he laid eyes on. He glanced up into the sky and noticed it was grey too except for giant black holes floating high above the city. It was hard to tell against the grey sky, but the holes appeared to be raining white objects onto the city.

Suddenly, Fred caught a flash of color in the corner of his eye. A woman in a vibrant red skirt with a pink blouse walked past him and into the mall. No one else seemed to notice the holes in the sky and Fred shrugged. It wouldn’t be the first time he noticed something others could not. He decided to follow the woman that still had color.

He lost sight of the woman for a moment as she turned the corner. When Fred followed her he was surprised to see her talking to another woman who also seemed to still be in color. It was harder to tell with the new woman; she had smooth alabaster skin and wore a long flowing black dress. Her straight, long hair was bright white and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. Unlike the holes in the sky; the other shoppers definitely noticed the horned woman. Black and white strangers widened their path to avoid getting too close to her. Fred got close enough to eavesdrop and pretended to admire a mannequin wearing a tracksuit.

“Are you serious?” the woman in red asked. The horned woman nodded.

“It doesn’t matter to me, but I’m in a good enough mood to give you the courtesy. What’s your answer?” A woman shrieked in the distance and Fred thought he heard the sound of shattering glass. He immediately dismissed it as an accident to keep his attention on the pair of women. He noticed the woman in red looked up toward the scream, but the pale woman didn’t move.

“Yes please,” the woman in red said. “I’ll take the escape route you offered.”

Escape?” Fred wondered. He turned his head slightly and managed to catch a glimpse of the woman in red sinking into a hole in the ground. Once she disappeared the hole closed as if it were never there and the woman in black started to wander off.

More screams drew Fred’s attention. He whirled around to see half a dozen colorless shoppers running from several bone-white skeletons. The word ‘escape’ suddenly crystallized Fred’s mind. He turned back around and was glad to see the woman walking at a leisurely pace admiring the clothing shops.

“Nothing to lose,” Fred mumbled to himself and approached the woman. Once he was close enough to touch, he was surprised at how tall she was. Even without counting the horns she was taller than Fred. “Excuse me,” he said with all his courage. He reached up to tap her shoulder but his hand passed through her like a ghost.

“What?” She said as she turned around.

“Um. I don’t know what’s going on,” Fred used his thumb to gesture at the crowd running the opposite way down the hall. “But, I saw you help a woman escape a bit ago. Can you help me escape too? Please?”

The woman smiled and Fred instantly felt at ease; it was as if she exuded an aura of warmth around her. A vague nostalgia filled Fred. It reminded him of a childhood spent at the park playing in the warm sun. He was convinced a smile like that meant only one thing. Fred started to look forward to going to the park again the next chance he got wherever she sent him to.

“Help you?” she asked with a giggle. “There’s Zero chance of that happening.”  The woman maintained her warm smile but Fred felt a bony hand touch his shoulder.

A Mother’s Wish

At the age of 114 Winston reset his life; it was the only escape from the invading horrors. 114 years old was the longest he’d ever lived and for the first time in 999 resets, he had a goal. He woke up and hopped out of his childhood bed with a burning motivation.

“100 years until they attack,” he mumbled to himself as he tried to come up with a plan. He knew he could work himself into any number of high-level government positions; he’d done it plenty of times in past lives.

“WINSTON!!!” he heard his mother’s voice call out.

“I’M AWAKE!” he replied with a yell through the door. He had been so distracted with his thoughts that it took him a moment to realize something was off. The youth of his past lives tended to blur together. His mom often woke him up by yelling but in 998 lives she never yelled to wake him up on the first day of school. It was meant to be a special day and every other time she walked into his room to wake him gently.

“WINSTON!!!!!!” she called again and this time he heard a frightened edge in her voice; then, he heard a crash and the sound of shattering glass. Winston dashed out of his room and flew down the stairs. He heard a commotion in the kitchen and rushed in to find his mother frantically beating a pile of bones with a kitchen mallet.

“Noo…,” he whispered as he spotted several animated skeletons through the window; they were headed toward his house. “Mom! We gotta go!” he stopped her hand mid-swing and pulled her out of the kitchen. The pile of bones she was attacking began pulling itself back together the moment she stopped hitting it.

“Wintson, what’s happening!?” his mother asked as he led her out of the house. Dozens of walking skeletons wandered through the neighborhood crashing into houses.

“I don’t know,…” he admitted. He had no idea how the skeletons were there now; they weren’t supposed to attack for a hundred years yet. He glanced up at the sky as they ran. A black hole rained skeletons over the city and Winston realized they were definitely the same force he tried to escape from in the future.

“Winston!” his mom jerked back on his hand hard to get him to stop. He was so distracted by the hole in the sky that he didn’t notice the tall white-horned woman that appeared in front of them. She was deathly pale and wore a long black dress. A pair of bone-white horns protruded out of her black hair.

“Hola, Muerte,” the woman smiled at Winston. As he looked her up and down he noticed they were surrounded by skeletons; but, they weren’t being attacked. He assumed she was the one responsible for them and a faint hope fluttered in his gut; maybe he could talk her out of it.

“Hello,” he replied as he stepped between the woman and his mother. “Are they yours?” he gestured to the skeletons now standing at attention around them.

“They are,” she nodded.

“Why are you doing this?” Winston asked. “We haven’t done anything to you; I don’t even know who you are.” The horned woman sighed.

“Obviously,” she mumbled to herself. Then, she spoke up. “My name is Ballisea, and, I don’t need a reason.”

“How did you follow me?” Winston asked. His only plan at the moment was to keep her talking; he hoped a better plan formed soon.

“Follow you?” she asked. Winston nodded.

“From the future. You attacked 100 years in the future, so I came back to this time. How are you here?” She replied with soft, amused laughter. Winston’s mother whispered a question in his ear, but he couldn’t take the time to explain what he meant. He squeezed her hand to reassure her, then Ballisea spoke.

“I didn’t follow you, silly. Time flows around me. Even if you rewound time to the age of dinosaurs, I’d still be here.”

“I can do that?!” Winston asked in surprise. Ballisea nodded.

“Not slumbering as you are now, but an awakened Muerte can manipulate time quite easily. Lucky for you, I’m in a pleasant mood today,” Ballisea said. A black portal opened next to Winston.

“This Earth is mine now, but you may go,” she said. Winston knew better than to question his good fortune. He quickly stepped toward  the portal, but his mom’s hand stopped him.

“Winston!” She shrieked again; he turned to see her being held back by skeletons.

“The Zero stays,” Ballisea said.

“I’m not leaving my mom!” Winston replied.

“Oh wow…,” Ballisea said with a slightly awed tone. “You really love her, don’t you?” Winston’s hopeful flutters grew in intensity as he nodded at Ballisea.

“More than anyone in the world,” he replied.

“You know, I have a son too,” she said. “I wish he loved me half as much as you love your mom. She must be a wonderful woman,” Ballisea smiled warmly at Winston. His hopes evaporated when the black portal disappeared and the skeletons advanced on him. As he felt bony hands grasp him, the last thing he heard was Ballisea muttering.

“If only I could get my son to roll over and die for me too.”