“He’s going to let this continue?” Satan asked. The giant red-skinned man sat in his cavern office behind a large obsidian desk. In front of him sat a young woman with sea-green curls and olive skin. Isla nodded an answer to his question.
“He wants to see, ‘how it plays out’,” she said. Her exasperated eye roll gave away her true feelings on the subject. Satan sighed.
“I feel like he’s losing interest in the whole thing. Between this and letting Ballisea run wild,” Satan gestured at Isla with his hand. “He didn’t even come in person.”
“He has been doing it for a while,” Isla agreed. “Some of the Middlemen think he’s following your example. He might be considering a successor.” Satan’s eyes went wide in shock; but, he couldn’t say he was surprised.
“You can’t mean…,” Satan paused looking for the right words. “She’s a Zero! She was at least. now she’s -,” Isla interrupted him.
“Now she’s running her own afterlife. After being just you two for so long, the big guy thinks a third competitor could spice things up. He thinks she couldn’t possibly make any headway this late in the game,” Isla shook her head. “We’ve been trying to convince him he’s underestimating her.” Satan nodded vigorously.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” he chuckled. “Even if the bossman said, ‘I have no doubts Dana Sharp will win this round’; that would still be underestimating her. He sees everything, but he doesn’t notice everything.” Isla nodded.
“We know. The scarier part is; she’s found somewhere to hide.”
“What?!” Satan asked. “That’s… that’s impossible! Where?” Isla rolled her eyes again and giggled.
“If we knew that she wouldn’t be hidden.”
“And he’s still not going to step in and stop it? That’s cheating.”
“Big man says it’s not cheating if we can’t catch her doing it. Which, we can’t.”
Satan grumbled under his breath for a few moments, the finally shook his head.
“You know what I just realized? It’s not my problem anymore,” he said. “Julie’s almost done with her quest, then I’m out of here. If he’s not going to worry about it, I’m not going to either.”
“That’s what the Middlemen decided too,” Isla nodded. “It’s business as usual, just a bit slower,” Isla said. She stood from the chair. “Was there anything else you wanted to bring to his attention?” she asked; a black portal opened to her side. Satan shook his head.
“That was everything. Thank you, Isla,” he said. Isla nodded, waved, then stepped through the portal.
“Shouldn’t you be out reaping?” Isla asked Miller. The lean man with long stringy hair relaxed on a chaise looking out over the ocean. He was shirtless, showing off his silver scythe tattoo; it had the number 14 in red on the blade. He shrugged without looking up; his gaze was focused on his node.
“Dispatch says no jobs,” he said. “I thought you were nice enough to give me the day off.”
“Death doesn’t take days off,” Isla said. Miller looked up at her through mirrored sunglasses.
“It doesn’t?” he asked. “You might want to find out where all your clients are going then.” Isla shook her head and sighed. She let herself plop down on a lounger next to Miller’s.
“I know where they’re going. I just didn’t know it was this bad already,” she said. Isla wiggled her fingers and opened a small saucer-sized black portal in the air next to her. She reached in and pulled out a frosty beer. “Want one?” she asked Miller. He nodded.
“Where are they going?” Miller asked as he popped the top off his bottle.
“There’s a Zero named Dana Sharp,” Isla said. “Well, she was a Zero. Now she’s running her own afterlife, and it seems to be off to a good start.” Isla and Miller watched the waves and sinking sun for several minutes.
‘So…,” Miller broke the silence. “… the big guy’s okay with that?” Isla laughed.
“The big guy is bored. It’s why he lets Ballisea run amok, and I guess that wasn’t enough excitement. I guess I can’t blame him though, he’s seen and done it all already.”
“How old is he?” Miller asked. Isla shrugged.
“Older than we’ll ever know,” she said. “This isn’t his first multiverse.”
“What?” Miller sat up and turned around to face her. “You’re kidding, right?” Isla smiled but shook her head.
“We’re not even his first attempt at Uniques,” Isla leaned back on her lounger and relaxed. “The very first Unique Souls were conquerors; he called them the Conquistadors. A corona, sirena, corazon, diablito and calavera and they were all much stronger than the Conquerors we have now. They were so powerful the only thing he could do was seal them away.”
“So we’re going to just let Dana Sharp take all our souls?” Miller asked. Isla nodded.
“Nothing we could do anyway. It’s all up to the big guy. If he’s letting it happen, I’m okay with it too,” she said.
“I’m good with that too,” Miller nodded then settled back onto his seat. He watched the waves and took a sip of beer.
“Wait, so you want me to become the next Death?” Miller asked Isla with wide eyes. The two of them sat on a sunny beach; Isla’s sea-green curls moved with the gentle breeze.
“I want you to become Death for me,” Isla said. “There is no next Death. It’s a job like any other; there are far too many universes for it to be a one-person job. How do you think Death works?” Miller turned and pulled his legs off the wicker chaise to plant them in the sand facing Isla.
“When somebody dies, Death reaps their soul and delivers it to Heaven or Hell,” Miller replied.
“Not quite,” Isla half-nodded. “When someone dies, Death delivers the soul to their caseworker…,” Isla pressed her hand against her navy blue blazer. “…what I am. Due to the logistics involved, it’s encouraged for caseworkers to have their own Death on staff.”
“Why me?” Miller asked.
“I’m sure you can imagine there are specific requirements to fill the position. As a matter of fact, only Unique Soul #14, La Muerte is qualified,” she nodded at Miller. “You’re the first one I’ve met that I like.”
“Why?” Miller asked, then he quickly shook his head. “I mean, why only La Muerte? From what you told me about Unique Souls, they’re unbelievably powerful.” Isla nodded.
“They are. But, La Muerte is the only one that can control time. It’s funny, most people don’t realize how Death actually works. When someone dies, they’re trapped in the body until their soul is collected,” Isla smiled.
“They’re not alive exactly, but the soul can still control the body. Of course, without a living brain, a soul is limited to its primal instincts. And all souls want a brain to give it direction. This is where the idea of zombies comes from; it happens a lot. Sometimes weeks and months go by before they’re reaped. Death is woefully understaffed for infinite universes. But, when Death finally gets around to it; time is rewound for everyone back to the point of death. It seems instant, but almost never is.”
“Okay,” Miller nodded. He’d already decided to join, but still had another question. “You said something about a tattoo; that’ll make me Death for you?”
“The tattoo allows you to control your powers. It doesn’t make you Death exactly, but you can’t do the job if you can’t control your powers.”
“I’m guessing there’s not really any pay?” Miller asked. Isla shook her head.
“For what?” she asked. “Not only do you have access to food, water, and shelter; none of which you need really. But, you also get to explore the multiverse; any alternate reality you can think of is out there.” Miller nodded again.
Casey heard ringing before she opened her eyes. She was seated in front of a desk but the high-back leather chair behind it was empty. She looked around and took inventory of the office. She had no idea how she got there; but, she hoped that finding out where there was would give her some hints.
The phone that continued ringing in steady intervals was transparent and pink neon lights glowed from inside the clear case. The rotary on its inclined front glowed with a neon blue light highlighting the numbers. The phone sat on a small desk with a large, beige, CRT monitor taking up more than half of its surface. The walls consisted of wood panels decorated with dozens of posters. They advertised movies and bands that Casey had never heard of. She was somewhat amused by the fact that every person on every person wore sunglasses and a popped up collar. There wasn’t much else to the office except a closed door. As she thought about poking her head out the door opened.
A beautiful woman with aqua-blue curls strode in with an annoyed look on her face. She seemed surprised by Casey but she rolled her eyes and picked up the ringing phone.
“Ezey said no more phone interviews,” she said with a firm tone. “You have a client.” As Casey watched the exchanged she took in the woman’s appearance. She had olive skin with a star tattooed on her left cheek; the number 35 decorated the blue star. She wore a navy blue business coat that gave her a professional appearance from the waist up. A matching navy sarong was wrapped around her waist and showed plenty of leg when she walked. The woman hung up the phone, then smiled politely at Casey.
“Sorry about the wait, your caseworker will be right in,” she said. She turned to leave but Casey managed to find her voice.
“Where am I?” the confused woman asked. The woman continued to walk and smile; she did not slow at all.
“You’re dead,” she said as she walked through the door and closed it.
“I’m… dead?” Casey asked aloud to herself. She closed her eyes and furrowed her brow to think. “I’d been sick…” she remembered feeling hot and achy. She was soaking the sheets with sweat at night and waking up with chills. “I was going to go to the doctor today…,” she realized she had put off the doctor visit too long. The door opened again and a fat man walked in. He looked young. Casey guessed his age was somewhere around her own 28 years. His golden hair looked like a bird’s nest; stringy and disorganized. He had a skull tattooed on his forehead with the number 42 on its forehead in gold numbers.
He wore the same navy blue coat the other woman wore, but with a much more casual attitude. After seeing both of them, Casey assumed the coat was part of a uniform. His coat rested on his shoulders like a cape, his arms were free of its sleeves. Under it, he wore a tight red t-shirt that matched one of the posters on the wall, sunglasses and all. He wore sagging blue jeans and black high-top sneakers to complete the outfit.
“Casey!” he said with a broad smile as he entered and waddled around her to sit behind the desk. “I’m glad we finally get to meet.”
“Finally?” she asked. The rotund man nodded and reached into one of his desk drawers. He pulled out a manila folder, opened it and set it on the desk to look over it.
“Yeah. Normally I do it over the phone,” he said. He kept talking to the file instead of looking up to meet Casey’s eyes.
“Am I dead?” Casey asked. The man chuckled.
“Women are just dying to meet me,” he said playfully, then closed the file and looked up at Casey.
“You’re dead. We’ve talked on the phone a few times,” he shrugged. “Well, every time you die.” He reached a plump hand out across the desk to her. “I’m your caseworker, Chase.” Casey gave him a confused look instead of shaking his hand. He nodded then lowered the hand. “You’ve only died a handful of times, it’ll take several more until you start remembering me.”
“More? I’m going to die more?” Casey asked.
“Sure, it’s how the thing works. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out eventually. Bye,” he said with a smile and waved at her.
“Wait. That’s it? Just hi and bye!?” Casey asked with a hard edge in her voice. “I want answers!” she shouted. Chase shrugged.
“They used to give answers. Way back when. But now, there’re more people dying and not enough staff to deal with them.” He sighed. “Any answers I give you, you plain won’t remember. This is just a check in to let you know things are still on track and put you at ease for your next life.” Casey crossed her arms in a huff as if refusing to leave. Chase glanced at his monitor. “Okay, you have time for one question. Make it fast,” he said.
Casey thought about her last memories of being sick. She remembered the spasms she felt while coughing and wheezing, then she looked at her hands. Sitting in the small office, she wiggled her fingers. Wherever she was now, it felt as real as when she was sick. She decided on a question, but she wanted to word it carefully.
“Wherever I was before this office, it feels the same as now. So my question is… how did I get from there to here? I mean, what happened to me that got me from there to here,” she asked. Chase smiled.
“You died,” he said. “See you next time,” he waved again and Casey’s vision went black. Then, she was born again.
Harry opened his eyes to brilliant sunlight. He heard the relaxing sound of waves lapping on the shore and felt a cool breeze glide across his face. He was laying down and sat up on a wicker chaise. He was still wearing a bloodied shirt with a bullet hole in it and a pair of blood-stained jeans. Another breeze whispered by and he let himself fall back on the creaking seat with a smile on his face.
“Thank God for heaven,” he said with a happy sigh. He closed his eyes again. Now that he knew where he was he felt like he could truly relax. “I wonder when I’ll get to meet him.. or her.“
“I’m going to start you guys at the beginning,” a woman’s voice said. At the same moment, a shadow blocked the light getting through Harry’s lids. “This is the first soul of a brand new batch,” the woman said. Harry opened his eyes again and found a group standing over him. Five people: two women and three men.
The woman that was speaking wore a navy blue business coat and a matching navy sarong wrapped around her waist. Her olive skin was accentuated by her sea-green hair. The large heavy curls looked like ocean waves. She sported a blue star tattoo on her left cheek. The other woman was the shortest of the crowd. She wore a bright yellow wet suit that looked like she just came out of the water. Her soaked, short, blonde hair pretty much confirmed it.
The three men also looked like they were swimming moments ago. All three were shirtless and in soaking trunks. All three had tattoos on their chests. The tallest, a broad-shouldered mountain of muscles, had a goldfish with the number 50 in blue ink. The second tallest, an athletic man with short dark hair, had a silver scythe inked on his chest. The silver blade showed the number 14 in red numbers. The third man did not seem to match the rest of the group. He was shirtless, bald, and flabby. The tattoo on his chest was a sagging blue musical note with the number 32. Harry sat up and turned to face the group. He dropped his legs off the chaise; the warm sand felt heavenly as he pushed his feet into it.
“Am I in heaven?” he asked. “I’m pretty sure I died,” The group chuckled politely, but Harry couldn’t help but feel he was the butt of an inside joke.
“It’s your first time,” the half-suited woman said with a smile. “It’s far too early to be thinking about heaven or hell.” She turned and address the group. “A newbie gets more time and the chance to ask questions. For the most part, they won’t remember anything, but it only makes our jobs easier if they do.” Harry did not enjoy the feeling of being talked about as if he wasn’t there. But, it did sound like he could ask questions.
“You mean I’m going to have another life?” The woman turned to him and nodded.
“Quite a few, depending on how far you want to go,” she replied.
“I want to go to heaven!” Harry said quickly. The woman smiled but shook her head.
“I’m sure once you start learning how things work you’ll set your sights a bit higher.”
“Higher than heaven?” Harry asked. “One of the other religions? Which one is right?”
“What’s your favorite color?” she asked suddenly.
“I like blue. Which one of us is right?” Harry narrowed his eyes and took a moment to process the lesson. Finally, he nodded and decided to approach it from a different angle.
“So what’s better than heaven?” he asked. She smiled.
“That’s what you get to decide. There is no one answer. Each life you go through is a step forward. After you take enough steps you can start thinking about where you’re going,” She turned to address the group. They listened intently and Harry imagined them to be trainees of some sort. “Each life gets them points, hell keeps track of those. They’re like experience points they can spend on different perks,” she glanced at Harry. “Sorry, you’re done now. I’ll see you next time. My name is Isla by the way, try to start remembering it,” she smiled. “Anyway,” she continued addressing the other four. “It’s supposed to be longer, but since we’re in training I can bend the rules a bit. They can use those points to build their afterlife if they don’t want to go the Unique route…”
Harry tried to interrupt but the world went black. Then, he was born again.
Servers paused mid-step while delivering food, patrons stopped eating, chatting and typing. The mental message stopped everyone in their tracks. Seconds after the voice finished speaking Charlie typed in the address one letter at a time. His clacking on the keyboard broke the silence in the small cafe. Immediately everyone else with a laptop or phone out began typing.
The website was a simple white page with a search bar and no other text. [Charles Smith] Charlie typed his name in the bar. He was surprised when his picture came up a long with a wall of text.
“Oh god, it’s real,” his nerves began to flutter. Despite the invasive thought from “God”, Charlie had his doubts. Those doubts disappeared when somehow the site showed him the right him. Charlie hated his common name. He was never, ever the only”Charlie Smith” at school, at work, even in his own family. Technically he was a “Jr.” but he assumed he could trip up the website. Instead, he found the picture of a middle-aged bald man with tired brown eyes. Strangers began to sob all around him as he began to read his stats.
[Charlie Smith – Age: 38. Currently single but still in love with Marissa Saenz.] Charlie stopped reading long enough to sigh at the truth, then continued. The rest of the summary was dead-on accurate and increasingly depressing. It briefly went over his childhood and college years and continued into his working life. It was peppered with random observations. [He won’t realize she was flirting until 8-27-19] was written under a mention of a girl he crushed on in college. He realized the coffee shop was silent again and looked up. Everyone, including the staff, was gone. He caught sight of a weeping worker walking out the door. The street outside was filled with people. A steady stream of pedestrians walked toward downtown. The bright sunlight revealed that most of them were crying.
“What does yours say?” a woman’s voice asked. Charlie jumped; he tilted the tall seat as a result. He was about to topple over when delicate, olive-skinned hands caught him and his chair. He looked and saw a woman with long sea-green curls flowing down her head and shoulders. A bright blue star with the number 35 was tattooed on her left cheek. She was dressed oddly; a navy blue business coat and a matching navy sarong wrapped around her waist.
“Thanks, sorry. I thought I was alone.” Charlie said as he straightened himself out. The woman nodded and smiled.
“You were. What’s it say?” she eyed the laptop. Charlie shrugged, he didn’t feel comfortable giving a stranger his life story; it was too disappointing.
“You know, the usual stuff. Childhood, school crushes and so on.” Isla smiled again but shook her head.
“Are you going to Hell?” she asked.
“Oh yeah!” His own photo surprised enough to put it out of his mind temporarily. Then, as he read his life he grew determined to change it. His mind ran off on self-improvement tangents. Now that she reminded him of the site’s purpose he started scanning through the text. At the bottom, he found what he was looking for.
[Afterlife Assignment: Hell*] followed by fine print. [*If you are not satisfied with your current assignment you have options to appeal your case. Visit our embassy downtown in your city for more information.]
“I’m going to Hell,” he whispered. “I gotta go appeal it!” he hopped off the tall seat but the woman stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Wait, it’s not real,” she said. Charlie shook his head as he collected his laptop.
“There’s no way it’s not. There’re too many things there that no one else should know.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, the information is real. But the website wasn’t made by God,” she said. Charlie tilted his head at her with a confused look.
“What? Then how did they know all that? How did they talk into everyone’s head?” He paused to wait for an answer, but he had another realization. “Does that mean I’m not going to hell?”
“You’re not going to Hell,” she answered his last question first. “How they talked into everyone’s head..” she shrugged. “There are half a dozen ways it could have been done; it’s not proof of anything. Knowing everything about you is as easy as going through your file. It’s Hell’s job to keep records and they’re really good at it.”
“So…,” Charlie stared at her trying to put everything together. “Someone that’s not God set up this website to tell people they’re going to Hell. To do it they looked at my personal file created in Hell?” The woman nodded, her aqua curls bobbed with the motion. “Why?” She shrugged.
“Hard to say. Whatever the reason, they need a lot of people,” she nodded at the flow of depressed pedestrians outside.
“Who are you? Why should I believe you over a voice in my head?” The woman laughed.
“You should never trust the voice in your head. Go to the site again and I’ll show you,” she said. Charlie gave a slight eye roll but lifted the lid of the laptop again. He woke it from sleep and found the website again. “Type my name in: Isla.” Charlie did and the woman’s picture appeared. She did not have a wall of depressing text as Charlie did. There were just two lines.
Charlie stared at the relatively empty sheet for a moment then turned to Isla.
“Caseworker?” he asked. She replied with a nod.
“I help people stay on track between lives.”
“And I’m not going to Hell?” he asked for confirmation again. She shook her head. “And all of them?” he waved his hand at the moving crowd outside. She shrugged.
“Odds are some of them are going, but not all of them.” Charlie sighed and sat down on a tall chair facing Isla. She waved a hand at the air and a tall, black portal opened next to her. It looked like a hole in reality. Charlie’s eyes widened. He was more or less out of “surprise” after all the unbelievable things that happened in the last 20 minutes. But the portal gave the woman another bit of credibility. Obviously, she knew how to do things Charlie could not explain.
“I believe you. I don’t know why, but I do. At least I’m going to heaven,” he said.
“Oh?” Isla asked with a curious smile.
“Well.. if I’m not going to Hell then it has to be Heaven.”
“Or…,” she smiled at him and stepped closer to the portal. “You can come with me,” she said and disappeared into the blackness.
Johnny felt warmth spreading across his skin. His eyes were closed but the darkness behind them began to brighten; then, he heard the soothing sounds of crashing waves. A gentle breeze kissed the top of his bald head and convinced him to open his eyes.
He found he was laying down and sat up to look around. He was in a wicker chaise sitting on a bright sandy beach; but, if he didn’t know better he would swear he was upside down. The sky was a beautiful clear, sea-green color while the ocean looked like a glassy blue sky beneath it. The smell of cooking meat filled the air, then he heard voices. Johnny looked behind him and saw hut style bar about 50 feet away. There were four people, two women, and two men, that seemed to be having a good time. One of the men, the one that looked like a mountain, was tending a grill.
Curiosity and surprisingly, hunger got the best of Johnny and he decided to wander closer. The last thing he remembered holding his wife’s hand in bed. He was glad he got to say goodbye. He did not doubt for a second he was dead. He hoped heaven would be an island paradise but he expected more of a welcome.
“Hey! Who’re you!?” The shorter, blonde woman shouted when she noticed Johnny. He froze and the other three turned around to see what the woman was pointing at.
“Oh man, I totally forgot!” The taller woman yelled. She rushed across the sand toward Johnny; he noticed her sea-green curls matched the sky. Her outfit was as disjointed as the horizon. She wore a navy blue business jacket that looked completely professional from the waist up. Around her waist, she wore a navy blue sarong and she had bright golden flip-flops strapped to her feet. “Johnny, I need to apologize for forgetting our appointment,” she said as soon as she reached him. She hooked an arm into his and led him back to the group. “I’ll give you an extra perk on your next life to make up for it.”
“My n.. next life?” Johnny asked. He got the question out just as they reached the group.
“His NEXT life?” the blonde woman asked. “Do we get a next life too?”
“Johnny, my name is Isla,” the blue-haired woman said. She smiled and shook his hand. “I’m your caseworker for the afterlife. We’ve met several times already but it takes quite a few before you start remembering me.” Isla gestured at the shorter woman. “This is Lisa, ” the blonde crossed her arms and glared at Johnny. “…and that’s her brother Lionel,” Isla pointed at the burly man at the grill. He lifted his hand and waved backward at Johnny without turning around. “The shirtless gentleman with the fresh ink is Miller.” Miller was a lean man with six-pack abs and sheet of plastic glued to his chest. It was protecting a tattoo of a silver scythe. A 14 was inked in red numbers on the blade.
“So… am I in heaven?” Johnny asked.
“Oh god, no. Why? Did you want to go to heaven already?” Isla asked with wide eyes. Then she gave her head a firm shake. “You wouldn’t remember. Hold on.” She lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black hole opened next to her. Before Johnny could grasp what was going on she rushed into the hole. He turned to see everyone else’s reaction but none of them seemed impressed. Within a few seconds, Isla walked out of the hole again holding a manila folder. The portal closed behind her.
“Phew,” Isla smiled. “All good, you’re on the right path.”
“What’s going on?” Lisa asked. “If he’s dead, are we? He’s on the right path, but not to Heaven? What other paths are there?”
“I’m not in heaven… but I am dead, right? Where am I?” Johnny added more questions. Isla sighed.
“I don’t have time to answer all that,” she pointed at Johnny. “Your window here is limited, and it’s almost up. Everyone listen, no interruptions.”
“But-” Lisa’s interruption was halted by her brother’s giant hand covering her mouth; and, almost her entire face.
“Thank you,” Isla said. “Now, most of what you…, “she pointed at Lisa. “… and you…,” she turned to point at Johnny. “…think you know about life is wrong.” Lionel cleared his throat politely. “oh right, and you too I guess or whatever,” Isla added. “The truth is-“
“Isla?” A deep voice sounded from behind her; everyone turned. A tall man with a golden mane of curls flowing down his shoulders and a matching golden beard was striding across the sand toward them. “My name is Regal…,” is the last thing Johnny heard. His vision went black and the world fell silent. Then he was born again.
Miller strolled through the sunny park with a smile on his face. Despite the weather always being bright and clear, Miller’s moods changed from day to day. Something was in the air that day and he decided he didn’t want to spend any of it in a jail cell. Not that he had any problems being put in jail. He’d been in every available cell in the city several times. Often enough, in fact, that he could predict his cell by when and where he committed crimes.
“‘Morning,” he smiled at a jogger and she returned the smile as she passed. She was a shapely middle-aged brunette woman that Miller had killed once; only once. On his first attempt, he discovered she was a skilled martial artist. After that, it became a matter of pride to him. Several painful attempts, including some of his own deaths, later he finally managed to catch her by surprise. He decided not to bother her again. As Miller continued to walk through the park a flash of blue-green appeared in his peripheral vision. It felt odd to him and he looked toward the color. He saw three new people standing by one of the concrete picnic tables nearby.
“What are they doing there?” he wondered. “And who are they?” Not only had he never seen them in the park before, but he’d also never laid eyes on any of them anywhere in the city. It was two women and a man. The taller of the two women wore a navy blue suit coat with a matching navy sarong around her waist. She had bright sea-green hair; the same color that drew Miller’s attention. The burly man towered above both women. Miller changed course to meander in their direction. He approached from behind the shorter, blonde woman; she was talking to the other woman.
“So you brought us to the park?” Miller heard the blonde say; she sounded like she was patronizing the green-haired woman about something. The taller woman shook her head.
“I’ve brought you to a park in another universe,” she stressed the important part. Miller instantly believed the strange woman, it was the only explanation he could think of for them being there. He slowed his pace to catch more of their conversation. He was surprised when the blonde suddenly turned around and looked at him.
“You! Are you from another universe?” she asked him. Miller thought about it for a second; his eyes flitted to the green-haired woman, then black to the blonde. He shook his head.
“No, you are,” he smiled.
“Ohh, I like you,” the green-haired woman said. “Come closer,” she waved him to join their group. “That’s Lisa,” she pointed at the blonde. “Her brother Lionel,” she pointed at the tall, burly man in a tight t-shirt. “And my name is Isla,” She extended her hand.
“Miller,” Miller shook her hand and introduced himself. He noticed her eyes flash with golden stars for a split second, then her smile grew wider.
“Do you know what you can do?” Isla asked him. He started to panic.
“Oh no, does she know what I’ve done? No, she couldn’t. I haven’t killed anyone today. Then what?” he wondered. He tilted his head at her while his mind struggled to determine what she meant. “Does she mean the time loop? How does she know about that? Wait she said…” Miller’s eyes went wide.
“You mean I’m controlling it?!!” he asked, then realized there was still room for vagueness. “I’ve been stuck in a time loop …are you saying I can control it?” Isla nodded.
“If you’d like to learn how to use your power I can show you.” Miller nodded.
“I want to learn.”
“Great,” Isla smiled then wiggled her hand at the air. She opened a tall black portal beside them. “First thing to do is get you a tattoo.”
“500 dollars!?” Lisa grabbed Lionel’s wrist as he reached into his jeans. “Bro, no way you’re dishing out 500 bucks so she can tell you the sky is blue.” She pointed at the menu board that only had one entry.
“Small sacrifice: $500.”
“I don’t even want to know what the higher tiers cost,” she said. “This whole thing screams scam,” Lisa let his wrist go but continued to state her case. She spread her arms to gesture at the quaint shop around them. They stood on one side of a large straw hut. A waist-high wicker countertop sat in the middle of the room. The floor consisted of wooden planks that wiggled at every footfall. A tall black curtain shielded the rest of the shop behind the counter from them. “Just because this place popped up overnight doesn’t mean it should look like it.” A jingling bell drew their attention to the back curtains.
An olive-skinned woman with long sea-green curls washing down her shoulders appeared. She stepped up to the counter and smiled at Lisa and Lionel. She had a bright blue star tattooed on her left cheek with a 35 in its center in golden numbers. Her outfit concerned Lisa in several new ways. The stranger wore a navy blue business jacket; but, instead of the matching pants or skirt, she wore a navy blue sarong around her waist.
“Welcome! Can I interest you in some secrets?” She asked.
“No,” Lisa replied. She grabbed her brother’s hand and tried to lead him out the door. “Keep your cash, Lionel,” she added.
“Oh!” The woman behind the counter gasped. “Did you say Lionel? I’ve been expecting you!” she said.
“So now you’re a psychic too?” Lisa said. She gave on trying to move her brother; he hadn’t moved an inch despite her pulling. She settled for crossing her arms and standing between her brother and woman he wanted to let scam him.
“My name is Isla,” she said and extended a hand over the frayed wicker counter. “Mundo said you wanted to speak to a Middleman?” Lisa glared at Isla’s hand until she pulled it back.
“We have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re leaving,” Lisa said, but she didn’t move. She knew she couldn’t leave until Lionel made the first move.
“Sorry, Miss Isla,” Lionel shook his head. “I don’t know any of those people.” Isla’s crystal-blue eyes flashed with golden stars for a moment, then cleared again. She knocked on her forehead with her knuckle twice.
“Oh no, I’m sorry,” she shook her head. “I couldn’t remember his name, I was told he would remind me of a lion. I assumed it was you,” she shrugged. “I could’ve checked in the same time it took me to assume.” Isla walked around the counter to join them. “To apologize for the confusion I’ll give you a free small secret.” Lisa sidestepped to remain between Isla and her brother as she walked around the counter.
“Alternate universes are real,” Isla said with a smile.
“YOU SEE!” Lisa whirled around and looked up at her brother. “You give her 500 dollars and she’ll say anything that she doesn’t have to prove.”
“Who said I wasn’t going to prove it?” Isla said.
“What?!” Lisa turned back around after watching Lionel’s eyes grow as big as saucers. Isla stood next to a black hole that hovered in the air.
“Of course I’m going to prove it. Want to take a look?” She gestured at the portal.