Recording. Ruined.

“To second chances,” Dr. Clark raised her glass of champagne.

“To second chances,” the gathered scientists raised their own glasses to the toast.

“I hope we get one,” Dr. Clark added quietly to herself before she emptied the glass in one chug. Then, she put on a smile and nodded at the group. The brightest minds on Earth gathered in a cave seven miles below the surface. The most powerful weapons they could create, two solar cannons, were pointed at the center of the cave.

Their target was a bald, broad-shouldered pale man that sat on a stone throne. His eyes were open but he hadn’t moved or even breathed in the past month. A message carved into the side of the throne informed them of the exact time the figure would wake up, 12:00p.m. It also included some helpful advice. Most notably: “Don’t be on Earth when he wakes up.” The message also told the scientists that the hairless figure was a powerful creature of the night. With nothing else to work with, Dr. Clark decided he was a vampire based solely on the tattoo atop its head. It was a large bat skull with fangs and a blood-red number 42.

His discovery raised impossible questions. Where did he get such a professional tattoo a million years ago? How did they count to 42? Who sealed him for a million years? How did they know what calendar would be in use, to predict the exact date and time? But, Dr. Clark needed to prioritize survival above all else. She only had a month and called in every favor and contact she had.

Once the group was formed they tried everything from priests to garlic to end the threat. Nothing affected the figure. They couldn’t penetrate his skin with silver bullets, much less wood. Desperation forced the scientists to conceive a way to store and fire concentrated sunlight. Unfortunately, they only managed to complete them on the day of awakening. The cannons were untested and Dr. Clark decided not risk them misfiring and destroying themselves. She hoped she could somehow reason with the figure, using the cannons for intimidation.

“Lights on,” Dr. Clark said. Immediately the dozen industrial UV lights surrounding the cave flickered on. She hoped they weakened the figure, even if they couldn’t tell. She was also banking on him being weak after a million-year hibernation. “Close the doors,” she said.

“Why are you staying?,” her assistant, Mike, said. He tilted his head towards the exit where the rest of the scientists were filing out. “Why not try talking to him from the control room?” Dr. Clark shook her head with a faint, sad smile.

“I’m in charge, I get to be selfish,” she said. “I’m not convinced those doors will slow him down, much less stop him from getting to the control room. If I can’t reason with him…,” she shrugged. “…I won’t have to deal with even a second of guilt for failing you.” Dr. Clark gave Mike a gentle shove towards the half-closed doors. “Hurry up, they’re waiting for you,” she said. Mike gave her a hug, then dashed out the door.

Dr. Clark sighed to herself and sat on a chair between the solar cannons. 10 feet in front of the seated figure. She stared at her watch for two minutes while counting down. With ten seconds left she focused on him.

Despite feeling ready for anything, Dr. Clark jumped in her seat when the cave filled with the sudden sound of the figure inhaling deeply. He exhaled with force, then loudly filled his lungs again, then, he laughed.

“I’ll tell ya, doc,” he said. His eyes focused on Dr. Clark; his chest was heaving with deep breaths. “I didn’t need to breathe… but I missed the hell out of it,” he chuckled. He leaned back on his stone throne and smiled at her while still enjoying heavy use of his lungs.

Dr. Clark was shocked he spoke English, and seemed to know who she was.

“Who are you?” she asked. She practiced a series of questions in several languages; but, English made things easier.

“Name’s Ruin,” he said with a slight forward tilt of his head. “Pleased to meet you, Doc Clark.”

“How’d you know my name?” Dr. Clark was thankful for English; that wasn’t a question she prepared.

“I didn’t need to breathe because my body was time-locked,” Ruin said. “But, my eyes, ears, and mind still worked; she made sure I could reflect on my actions. You finding me was the first light I saw in a million years. And it’s been fun watching you all scurry around trying to kill me,” he chuckled.

“Who froze you in time? Why?”

“Vanilla,” a new voice startled Dr. Clark again. She suddenly realized a young man stood next to her. She glanced at the doors but they were still closed. The new stranger wore a white suit with an orange tie. He stared down at Dr. Clark through rounded spectacles. “Her name was Vanilla,” he said, then faced Ruin.

“Do I know you?” Ruin asked the man. He shook his head.

“I’m here in Vanilla’s place; and, I’m impressed she’s…,” the suited stranger gestured at Dr. Clark. “…still alive. You’ve been free for a whole minute.” Ruin shrugged.

“You’ll have to thank Vanilla for me. I really appreciate getting the time to think.” The stranger nodded.

“That’s enough for probation at least. Though, I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Where to?” he asked. Ruin stood from his throne and walked towards them. Dr. Clark tensed, but she tried to keep her wits about her. It sounded like he had plenty of time to kill her already if he wanted to.

“I want a nice vacation. In the woods, I miss nature,” he said. The stranger raised his hand and a pitch-black portal appeared between Ruin and Dr. Clark.

“Good luck, doc,” Ruin said. He nodded at her, then disappeared into the portal. The darkness swallowed him, then disappeared.

“Who are you?” Dr. Clark asked. “Where’d he go?”

“I’m Billy,” he added a curt bow to his introduction. “He went to another Earth.” Billy smiled, then another black portal opened next to him.

“Wait!” Dr. Clark jumped to her feet. “What’s going on? Who’s Vanilla?” Billy gave her a smile.

“She was the best,” he said. Then, Dr. Clark blinked. When she opened her eyes she was alone in the cave.

“Whoa! Where’d he go? Did we fail?” Mike’s voice over the speakers startled Dr. Clark. Once she got her bearings she started walking towards the exit hoping it would be open soon.

“I don’t know, we’ll have to check the video frame by frame.”

“What video?” Mike asked as she heard movement on the other side of the doors.


“Record what?” Mike asked. “He disappeared at 12 instead of waking up.”

“What?” Dr. Clark glanced at her watch. 12:00:31 p.m.

Lonely Sun

Billy relaxed after stepping through the portal and onto solid ground. Ballisea’s invitations tended to catch him by surprise; it was rare he greeted her on his feet. He stepped into a world he’d never been to but knew in his soul. Billy stood atop a violet mountain looking out over a white forest. At first glance, it appeared to be a snow-covered forest. Then he noticed black dots drifting down the crimson sky. He held his hand up and to catch an obsidian snowflake.

“How do you make it black?” Billy asked aloud to no one in particular. A soft giggle echoed in his ears.

“She didn’t figure it out this time either?” Ballisea replied. She sounded as if she stood next to him, but he spotted her sitting further up the mountain. He sighed and started up to join her.

“She was too busy doing you a favor,” Billy replied with a smirk. He didn’t have to speak very loud; she could hear him from a different universe. Normally he was too intimidated to talk back to her, but something about this occasion felt different to him. He felt an inner-playfulness flutter inside as soon as Ballisea’s portal opened for him.

“Poorly,” Ballisea’s laugh carried around his ears. “Vanilla’s gone and she didn’t even find Blueberry before she died. This is the worst one so far,” Ballisea said. The black snow grew deeper as Billy climbed to the top. His feet sank ankle-deep in black, inky slush. He reached the summit and stood behind her. A layer of black snow covered the white forest.

“I could restart it now if you want,” Billy offered. He knew she’d decline, but he knew Vanilla would have offered. He also knew Vanilla kept secrets from Ballisea. “If this one’s already off the rails we can start again. Cherry made her pick already and Peppermint has it narrowed down to a few.”

“Not without Blueberry,” Ballisea replied. The moment she said that Billy realized why Vanilla kept Blueberry hidden. It was the only way to keep Ballisea’s interest.

“So, why am I here?” Billy asked.

“You… Vanilla was the only one I could talk to. Cherry likes to stay young and Peppermint always has things to do in Hell,” Ballisea explained while they watched the dark snow together. “We used to watch the snow together.

“I think I remember,” Billy said. It explained the anticipation he felt when the portal appeared.

“I don’t expect you to be like her,” Ballisea said. “But, I hope you’ll still be there for me… next time.” Billy smiled and nodded at the black and white forest.

“Every time. On one condition,” he added playfully. He was glad to hear her laugh in return.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“No more flavors. Next time we pick a better theme, okay?”

Death’s Favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It looks good,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem. And, thank you.”

Vanilla Deterrent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His stomach was covered with tiny scars.

Lunar Origin

Astrid looked the frail, short man up and down. Astrid’s mother, Tana, stood 5’6″, but the bag of bones next to her was noticeably shorter. His skin color matched Astrid’s, both were several shades darker than Tana’s dark brown. There was no doubt he was Astrid’s father.

“Hi,” Astrid said, then she turned to the young man who delivered her father home. His dark suit made him look like a government agent. “Are you really a Muerte?” She asked with wide eyes. He nodded.

“Yep. I found your dad time-locked; when I freed him he wanted to come straight home to you,” he smiled at her and offered his hand. “I’m Billy.”

“Astrid,” she smiled. She glanced at his hand long enough to acknowledge it, but she did not dare touch him.

“Time-locked?” Tana asked. She turned to her husband for an explanation. He shrugged.

“I blinked and it was 14 years later. Whoever it was had to be pretty strong to stop me.” After answering his wife he turned his attention to the young girl.

“Where are all your friends?” he asked. “I just found out it was your birthday today,…” the lean man looked around the living room of off-white walls and hardwood floors. There were no hints that a party was about to happen.

“I don’t have any friends,” she said with the same tone one might use when stating that the sky was blue. It was a fact plain and simple. “Hey, can you give me a ride?” she looked at Billy.

“Astrid! Don’t be rude,” Tana tried to reprimand her daughter. “At least talk to your father. It’s not his fault he was gone for so long.”

“Why don’t you have any friends?” her father asked.

“I’m a Luna, dad,” she immediately felt bad. She meant to give the endearment a bit of snark, but it came out sounding much meaner. She sighed and relaxed a bit. “I don’t know if you remember; everyone here is a Super. I’m a Luna. Anytime I touch them, I copy their powers, and they don’t like that.”

“Oh,” he said. “I thought Lunas had a limit to how many abilities they could copy?” Astrid nodded.

“I do, but that only applies to Uniques. Supers are just higher-end Zeros; there’s no limit for their powers.”

“Well…,” the frail man started rolling up the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “…did your mom tell you what I am?” he asked. Astrid shook her head and watched as her father’s forearm came into view.

“I thought you were gone,” Tana answered.

“REALLY!!???” Astrid screeched as the sleeve revealed her father’s tattoo. The tattoo was a thick slice of cake with a sugar skull decoration sitting on it. The number ’42’ was printed on the skull’s dome. Astrid wasted no time in reaching out to grab her father’s hand. The moment they touched Astrid felt her strength grow.

“Yeah,” her father chuckled. “My name kind of gives it away, but yeah. I’m a Calavera.”

“Oh,” Astrid said. “What’s your-” her question was interrupted by Tana patting her husband’s shoulder.

“Heavy, dear, why don’t you go wash up and change. You’ve been wearing the same clothes for fourteen years.”

“Your name is HEAVY!?” Astrid giggled. Heavy’s eyes shifted to Tana; she shrugged.

“You were gone,” she said.  Heavy sighed.

“I was only gone for a few minutes,” he whined. Tana kissed his cheek.

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“So can I go!?” Astrid asked her parents. “Pleeeeeeeeasssse?” she clasped her hands.

“Go where?” Heavy asked.

“Out there,” Astrid pointed at Billy. “Somewhere I can make friends maybe. I want to travel and see new things.”

“It’s dangerous, and that’s not even counting the one in a billion chance of meeting Ballisea,” Heavy said. Astrid shrugged.

“Mundo gave me a ton of information, I can handle it.”

“Oh, you know a Mundo?” he asked. Astrid nodded.

“He dated mom for a few years. They broke up last week.”

Stone-cold Nerves

The view could be worse,” Elijah thought again. Every time his mind wandered he kept himself sane by focusing on the bright side. He may have been time-locked, but he was sitting outside on a beautiful orange and purple evening. There was no breeze but the weather was almost cool. He found a pleasant spot by a fountain decorated with angels to enjoy a smoke. Before he pulled out a cigarette his eyes wandered to a lovely woman in short shorts that was bending over for something. Then, time stopped.

Elijah did not know how long he was frozen, the sun never set to start a new day. It felt like weeks, maybe months. He could not move his eyes or change his focus from the moment time stopped. He spent hours, days or weeks staring at a woman he considered very attractive. His mind worked though. He filled his time replaying his favorite movies and songs in his head. Then, something changed.

A hollow, breaking sound filled his ears at the same moment a pile of bones fell from somewhere above his line of sight. Elijah was glad he couldn’t jump. Hearing such a ruckus after an eternity of silence would have sent him three feet off the ground. The white fragments pulled themselves together to form a standing skeleton as more piles started hitting the ground. Elijah heard the crashing sounds coming from everywhere around him. The skeleton that landed in front of Elijah walked toward the time-stuck man.

Well, SOMETHING’s going to happen,” Elijah chuckled in his mind. He was likely about to die, but any change right now was a good one. “Bring it on, bonehead,” Elijah was content with being brave in his own mind for his last minute. The skeleton stopped in front of him and stared. He crouched slightly to look into Elijah’s eyes; the man wished he could look away. The eye sockets were black but somehow, not empty. Elijah saw swirls in the black; it moved, flowed like the blackest, darkest tar that he’d ever seen. Then, the skeleton fell apart before him; its bones and skull hitting hollow on the cement sidewalk. With the skeleton out of the way, Elijah noticed someone else that was new.

A pale woman in a long black dress with two white horns growing out of her black hair. She was looking around the park with what Elijah guessed was annoyance. She reminded Elijah of an annoyed and entitled customer waiting for the chance to speak her mind to someone about the current situation. She seemed to notice Elijah staring at her, not that he had a choice, and walked toward him. The moment she stopped in front of Elijah a young man fell to the ground next to her; Elijah had no idea where he came from.

“Owwww,” the young man whined as he stood from the cement rubbing his left elbow. “Can I get a heads-up first?” he asked.

“I’m sorry to inconvenience you, Billy,” the woman said. “But I’ve got a time problem. Usually Vanilla helps me with these but…,” she shrugged. “… since you killed her that means you’re helping me now. Just him for now,” she pointed at Elijah.  The young man sighed and touched Elijah’s shoulder. Elijah’s body suddenly remembered how to breathe; he filled his lungs enjoying the taste of oxygen again.

“What happened here?” the woman asked.

“Who are you?” Elijah countered. “How’d you do that?”

“Billy,” she said. Elijah stopped exhaling with still half a lung full. He was familiar enough with the sensation by now that he realized Billy stopped him in time again. 

“What. Happened. Here?” she asked again to make her point. Elijah started breathing again and he got the hint.

“Some guy got the power to stop time. He got killed while time was stopped,” he summed it up as quick as he could. The woman nodded and Elijah felt time stop for him again. He tried speaking to double-check, but no words came.

“It wasn’t a Muerte,” Billy said. “Might have been a Super with time abilities.”

“A Super?” the woman giggled like a schoolgirl. “How adorable. Do you think there are any more?” Billy shrugged.

“Earths either create supers or they don’t; this one does. If there isn’t one now there probably will be.”

“This’ll be fun,” she said, then she looked at Elijah.

“What’s your name?” she asked. Elijah felt time release him.

“Elijah,” he said quickly expecting to get time-locked again. He wasn’t. The woman reached out and offered Elijah a solid black business card.

“If you hear about a Super on this Earth use this to call me. Don’t use it for any other reason, you won’t like my mood.” Elijah took the card and looked it over. It was so dark it looked like a rectangular hole no matter how he held it.


“You’ll figure it out if you need to; I’d suggest not trying until you do,” she said then turned her attention to Billy.

“Start it up again then you can go,” she said. As soon as she finished speaking a black hole appeared at her feet and rose upward to swallow her.

“You just got luckier than you’ll ever know,” Billy said. He waved good-bye and stepped into his own black hole; it was hovering in the air next to him. As he disappeared car horns began blaring, and Elijah heard several dozen car accidents at once. He looked up to see the attractive stranger running away, presumably to home.

“Luckier than you’ll ever know too,” he whispered to himself and clenched his fists, thankful he was able to keep a calm head. His fist became solid stone for a moment, then back to tan flesh.

Vanilla Secret

“You think that’s all?” Billy asked Cherry as he lowered his arms. He raised them to protect his head from an onslaught of stones that came flying out of small black holes; they seemed to stop coming.

“For now, probably,” Cherry said. “But, I think you can count on Ballisea terrorizing you for a while.”

“It was Vanilla’s decision,…” Billy grumbled. He relaxed and appraised Cherry again. She arrived only moments before the stoning began. The girl’s white hair matched Vanilla’s; she wore a blood-red hoodie and held a small potted plant.

“She knows,” Cherry smiled and knelt to the ground. They were atop a small hill surrounded by white and orange flowers. It was where Billy buried Vanilla. “That’s why you’re not dead.” She dug a hole in the ground with her hands. When she was satisfied she turned her attention to the potted plant and began to pull it out for transplant. Initially, Billy thought Cherry brought a flower for Vanilla. As she placed it in its new home he realized it looked more like an herb. Billy recognized it somehow. He did not know how but assumed it was due to the knowledge he gained from Vanilla’s soul.

“Is that Peppermint?” Billy asked. Cherry nodded and rose to her feet. “Can you give him a boost?” she asked while clapping the grass and dirt off the knees of her black jeans. “It needs to take root.” Billy nodded and knelt by the peppermint plant.

“Is he mad at me too?” Billy asked. He touched one of the rounded leaves and accelerated time for the plant to speed its growth.

“Nah,” Cherry dismissed his concerns with a hand-wave. “Holding grudges is how Ballisea has fun,” she said. Billy felt like he’d done enough for the plant and stood back to see what would happen next. He bumped into someone behind him.

“I did my part,” Cherry said. She sank into a black hole that appeared at her feet. “See ya’ around, Billy.”

“Peppermint?” Billy asked and turned around to see who he bumped in to. A tall, lean man with a neatly parted white hair and a full, groomed white beard bowed as an introduction to Billy.  He wore an elegant forest-green suit with a white vest and white bow-tie. After the bow he stood up straighter; he had a ’37’ tattooed on his cheek directly under his right eye. Instead of an eyeball, he had what looked like a glass eye painted like the Earth; the ball was turning slowly in its socket. His left eye was a normal green eye.

“Ah, you’re the new one. Hello, Billy. I don’t actually walk out of the plant, you know,” a green portal appeared behind him. Instead of the flat black portals Billy was used to, this one shimmered like the surface of a pool. The black portals looked empty to Billy, like they led to nowhere. This portal looked more like a proper wormhole to a distant destination. Green light washed across its surface in pulsing waves. He could almost see another Earth on the other side.

“Thanks for coming,” Billy said. He offered Peppermint a handshake. “I know Vanilla wanted me to meet all of you, thanks for making it easy.” Peppermint nodded and shook Billy’s hand. “So how about the Luna?” Peppermint shrugged.

“No one’s seen him or her. We’re not sure there’s one out there.” Billy shook his head. He knew something. In the back of his mind, Billy felt certainty. Vanilla’s certainty.

“Vanilla was sure. I think she met…,” Billy paused and listened to his mind. “…him. I feel like Vanilla met him already,” he said.

“Wonderful,” Peppermint said dryly. “I’m sure she has her reasons for not telling the rest of us; but, if she didn’t tell them to you either that might be a problem.”

“We’ve got some time,” Billy said. “We’ll figure it out by then,”

“I hope so,” Peppermint said. “This experiment of hers is starting to get old.”

Vanilla Burial

Billy placed Vanilla’s body in the shallow hole gently. He lowered her legs first, being extra careful not to dirty her bright orange dress more than he needed to. Then, he guided her head to rest on a green, leathery pillow that Billy made himself. The leather belonged to a T-rex that Vanilla kept time-locked for most of their time together. Somehow it made him feel better knowing she would always be resting on it. He sat back on the earthen edge of the grave and looked around at his chosen spot.

Billy was on a short hill surrounded by a lush, colorful garden. White flowers circled the hill with a band of orange flowers beyond that one. Vanilla introduced him to the spot as one of her favorite places. He knew it meant a lot to her considering she could go anywhere.

“She picked you?” A girl’s voice said from behind him. Billy wasn’t startled; he was expecting a visit from someone. He turned to face the voice and saw a young girl with long white hair that mirrored Vanilla’s; except, the girl’s was tied in a ponytail. She wore a blood-red hoodie and held a small potted plant.

“You must be Cherry,” Billy said. The girl nodded. “Yes,” he said. “She picked me.” A baseball-sized black hole appeared in front of Billy’s face; a stone flew out of the hole and hit his forehead. “Ow, hey.” Cherry giggled. “Fine…,” Billy rubbed the sore spot on his forehead.  “Did you get it out of your system?” he asked. Cherry shook her head and immediately five black holes appeared in the air around Billy’s head. Rocks came flying out of them. Billy raised his arms to shield himself. “Can you stop?” he asked. Cherry grinned.

“It’s not me.”

Vanilla Life

Billy followed Vanilla into a black stone castle and through the wide open hallways. She led him to an indoor swimming pool filled with crystal clear water. A tall pale woman floated on her back in the center of the pool with her eyes closed; strands of her vibrant red hair floated around her.

Her?” Billy asked. Vanilla nodded.

“She’s half fairy…,” the white-haired woman said. “…and a Calavera.” Vanilla shrugged. “If it weren’t for her bond with Ballisea, Flutter wouldn’t be as strong as she is.”

“She’s got great hearing though,” Flutter said from the center of the pool. She opened her eyes but continued to float and stare upward. “Hey, Vanilla. What’s the occasion?” she asked. Vanilla stepped into the pool room and walked along the outer edge to get closer; Billy followed.

“This is Billy. The strongest Muerte I could find,” Vanilla said. Flutter straightened herself in the pool and stood up. She focused her attention on Billy and climbed out of the pool. Billy waved at her awkwardly.

“Can he do it?” Flutter asked Vanilla. Billy looked at the white-haired woman too; to see her reaction. She half-nodded.

“With more training. That’s why I brought him to meet you.”

“Do what?” Billy asked.

“I told you,” Vanilla said. She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently. “If you can stop Flutter, you can stop Ballisea.” As soon as Vanilla said Ballisea’s name a tall black portal appeared next to Flutter. The giant woman sighed.

“She’s calling me,” Flutter said. She looked down at Billy and nodded at him with a smile. She extended her hand. “Find me anytime you want to test yourself.” Billy shook her hand and noted her frequency so he could find her again; it seemed like that’s why she offered him a handshake.

“Thanks,” Billy said. He did not know what else to say, or what was happening exactly, but he trusted Vanilla to explain it.

“So, he’s your pick?” Flutter turned her attention back to Vanilla. Vanilla nodded. Billy was surprised when Flutter stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Vanilla; the lean woman returned the hug.

“Goodbye, Vanilla.” Flutter said, then she disappeared into the portal without another word.

“I thought I was going to try and stop her?” Billy asked. Vanilla shook her head.

“You’re not ready yet, but I wanted you to meet her now. You asked about time feeling like sandpaper?”

“Yeah..?” Billy nodded but he was confused. He did not know what his question had to do with meeting Flutter. Vanilla lifted her orange dress slightly and stepped out of her white high heels. She walked to the edge of the pool and sat down with her feet in the water. She patted the stone floor next to her and looked up at Billy. He sat down, in jeans, cross-legged.

“I think of time like a river,” she said while staring at the water. “When you freeze time; the river stops flowing.” Vanilla leaned forward and scooped up a handful of pool water. “Hold your hand out.” Billy did; Vanilla turned and dropped a ball of water in his hand. It did not wobble or come apart.

“I’m going to let go; hold it,” she said. Billy nodded and concentrated on the ball of water.

“Ready…3…2…now.” When she said, “now” most of the water rolled off Billy’s hand; he was left with a round drop floating in the center of his hand. He immediately looked at Vanilla.

“What happened?” he asked. Vanilla smiled and scooped up another handful of water. She held the solid-liquid ball between her thumb and forefinger as if she were inspecting a large jewel.

“You’re good at moving around large chunks of time like rocks or people, but…,” She smiled and held the ball of water in front of him with one hand. With her other hand, she grabbed part of it and pulled them apart like an orange. She tossed one half back into the water, then grabbed the other part and broke it in half again. “…you need to remember that all the big pieces are made from smaller pieces.”

“Huh?” Billy asked. He kind of understood how to shape the water now, but didn’t see how it tied to his question.

“When you took in Steven’s soul, your ability grew stronger. You’re more sensitive to the smaller pieces of time.”

“So.. the sandpaper feeling is time?” he asked Vanilla giggled.

“No dummy,” she said playfully, then sighed. “Absorbing a Muerte soul like you did boosts your power. You can feel air molecules now because you’re powerful enough to control them,” she grabbed his shoulder again and squeezed. “You’re powerful enough to kill-,”

“Ballisea,” Billy said. Vanilla shook her head.


Vanilla Visit

“Whoa…,” Billy sighed when Vanilla finished her tale. He looked out giant bay windows in the living room at the never-ending ocean. Glacier-like chunks of ice dotted the horizon. There was no trace of the mountaintop Vanilla claimed they were on, but he trusted her implicitly. “This is that Earth? Those are all your tears?” Vanilla nodded.

“What happened to them?” Billy stood from the couch and wandered to the window.


“Your dad, everyone on the Earth.”

“Nothing,” Vanilla shrugged and stood from her seat to join Billy by the window. “They’re still down there stopped in time from the moment first moment I stopped it.” Billy noticed her shake her head slightly. “I can’t undo it. Whatever I did, it completely derailed time. Besides…,” Vanilla wrapped an arm around Billy and gave him a gentle hug. “…at least this way he won’t ever die.” Vanilla’s long white hair tickled Billy’s neck and it reminded him of a different sensation.

“Hey!” he said and looked up at her. “Time’s stopped here, right?” he asked; she nodded. “Why can’t I feel it?”

“I just told you I broke time,” she said with a smirk. Billy shook his head.

“Right. Sorry, what I meant was at the lake after I took that guy’s soul, -“

“Steven,” Vanilla reminded him.

“Yeah, Steven. After that, I could feel time. It feels like there’s sand everywhere. And when it’s stopped it feels like walking through a sandpaper hallway. THAT was new to me. But I didn’t remember until I couldn’t feel it here.”

“Great question, C’mon.” Vanilla wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a tall black portal. “We’re going to visit a dragon,” she added as she stepped into the portal and disappeared. Billy followed. He found himself drenched in sweat the moment he exited the portal on the other side. He stood at the shore of a giant molten lake. Its bright orange glow was almost blinding if he tried to look directly into the lava. He looked around.

Dozens of figures lined the beach. They were gathered in groups and it wasn’t until a red-skinned young girl in a one-piece bathing suit ran up to Vanilla that he realized where he was. The girl’s long orange hair flowed through the air like fire as she ran; her red, scaled skin shimmered in the sunlight. The bright golden light reflected off her in a way that reminded Billy of a ruby; the girl’s skin was almost crystalline. The girl was a dragon enjoying a day at the beach with her dragon family. Several of the group she came from waved in their direction.

“VANILLA!!” the girl screeched as she dashed across the dark black sand. The girl leaped off the sand at Vanilla but the air caught her. The red girl hovered in the air; stuck inches in front of the tall white-haired woman. Vanilla reached up and grabbed the girl’s tiny hand. She pulled the girl along the shore like a balloon until she was at the lava’s edge. She stayed out of the way and started time again. Billy watched the girl’s momentum carry her into the lava.

The girl surfaced spluttering molten rock and giggling. She wiped the liquid fire from her eyes and looked up at Vanilla.

“Who’s he?” she asked and gestured at Billy by rolling her eyes in his direction while treading lava.

“He needs to talk to Flutter,” Vanilla replied.

“And?” the girl shrugged, then she swam forward and walked out of the orange lake.

“And it won’t be the last time,” Vanilla said. “Billy, this is Ruby,” she finally gave a proper introduction, then looked at Billy. “If you ever want to know anything about a dragon, Ruby’s family is who you ask.” She produced a small white silk pouch and opened it. “Information is expensive but…,” Vanilla pulled several golden coins and a couple of large sapphires from the pouch. “Ruby charges significantly less than her older family members.” Vanilla dropped the coins and gems into the girl’s small, outstretched hand.  “Where can we find Flutter?” Vanilla crossed her arms and asked formally.

“Inside!” The girl screeched then immediately popped the loot in her mouth and jumped back into the lava.

“That little sneak!” Vanilla cursed with a chuckle.

“Who’s Flutter?” Billy asked.

“According to Ruby’s family, and they know everything about dragons, Flutter is the strongest dragon they’ve ever seen.” Billy tilted his head at Vanilla and narrowed his eyes with a confused look.

“That sounds like someone we want to stay away from,” Billy said.

“We can’t, you need to talk to her,” Vanilla started walking up the beach.

“Me? Why?”

“To use her as a benchmark. If you can stop her in time, you can stop Ballisea,” Vanilla said.