Grand Stomp

“She got a what?” Brad asked. The teenager’s eyes were wide as saucers.

“SShhhh,” his mother, Eileen, said with a glance over her shoulder. Her mother was coming in behind her. “Don’t be weird about it, it’s her decision,” Eileen whispered.

“She’s 90! Isn’t it dangerous?” Brad’s mother nodded in agreement, but she shrugged.

“So is being 90,” she replied. “It’s done already, and everything’s fine.”

“Everything is great!” Brad’s grandmother said as she walked into the kitchen behind Eileen with a big smile. The blue-haired, short woman headed straight for Brad. He sat at the breakfast bar with a half-eaten sandwich, but he stood up to give his grandmother a hug.

“Wanna see it?” she asked Brad with a grin after their greeting.

“Yeah,” he smiled. She rolled up the sleeve of her t-shirt to show Brad a fresh, plastic-covered tattoo. “Holy shit, grandma Lace! A skull!??”

“BRAD!” Eileen reprimanded his language, but his grandmother dismissed her with a wave, then turned her attention back to Brad.

“It makes me feel tough,” she giggled to her grandson. The tattoo was a small pink skull on her upper arm no bigger than a half-dollar, with the number 42 on its forehead.

“Why 42?” he asked her.

“It’s always been my favorite number,” she smiled.

“Oh. Careful mom,” Eileen placed a hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder and pointed down. “Brad, squish that please,” she said and pointed at the floor. A quarter-sized brown spider crawled across the floor, minding its own business.

“I’ll get it,” Lace said. Before Brad could react, the frail woman lifted a leg and stomped on the spider with all her might. Instead of the flat, quiet stomp they all expected, the white tiles of the kitchen floor shattered under her foot. Giant cracks spidered out from the impact in all directions and the Earth quaked.

The cracks widened into chasms so fast, the only thing they could do was rush out of the house in a panic. The trio managed to get outside; but, the Earth continued to tremble while their house fell into the growing canyon piece by piece.

Screaming neighbors ran out of their homes as the split continued to widen. It swallowed house after house while the ground rumbled.  Then, everything stopped. The rumbles quieted, and even Brad and Eileen seemed frozen still.

“Congratulations, you broke your Earth,” a woman said. Lace turned toward the voice and came face to face with a black cat. It sat on its haunches atop a car.

“I’m sorry? What?” Lace asked the cat. Despite hearing a voice, she did not see anyone else around.

“You broke your Earth in two, it’s falling apart,” the cat replied. “I’m here to rescue you.” The cat’s tail swished, and a black portal opened in the air beside Lace.

“It stopped rumbling though,” Lace said. The cat’s head moved left and right as if attempting to shake her head.

“It’s already destroyed, I just stopped time to get you out of here.”

“You can control time? Can you rewind it?” Lace asked with a hopeful voice. Again, the cat’s head swiveled left and right.

“I can rewind time. But, I can’t fix this because you caused it.”

“Why not? What’s special about me?” The cat narrowed her eyes at Lace.

“I’m not a Mundo, and I don’t like explaining things. If you want to live, leave through the portal. If not, I’ll be happy to leave without you.”

“Leave to where? What about my family?” The cat sighed audibly.

“Where? Safety. Bring them along if you want, but make it fast.” Lace turned to look at Eileen and Brad. They were both mid-stride with frightened looks on their faces.

“Can you unfreeze them too?”

“No, because they’re going to start asking questions too. Just carry them.”

“Carry them?” Lace laughed. “Do I look like a bodybuilder?”

“You look like you broke the Earth with a single step. Putting a 100 pounds on each shoulder should be easy for you. I’m leaving in 20 seconds with or without you.”

The time limit gave Lace the encouragement she needed to move quickly. She attempted to pick up Eileen first, and found it to be as easy as tossing a windbreaker over her shoulder. Then, she grabbed Brad with one hand and hefted him onto her other shoulder.

“Ready,” she said.

Sharp Program

“Huh,” Nelson made the first sound in his lab in over an hour. He sat  in his narrow white lab studying logs on his computer screen. The late 30s researcher preferred silence over music while working. “Hey, T.A.I.?” He called. An animated mannequin appeared on his screen.

“Yes, Nelson?”

“What’s this invitation you sent out yesterday? There’s no logs of the receiver; who did you send it to?”

“Dana Sharp.” T.A.I. replied.

“Uhuh. Who’s that?” Nelson asked as he manually appended the log.

“A researcher from an alternate universe.”

“What?” Nelson stopped typing. He knew T.A.I. was incapable of joking or lying, which meant he was telling the truth. “Alternate universes are real, and you didn’t tell us?”

“You didn’t ask,” the mannequin shrugged on screen. “I am programmed to report and respond to questions.”  Nelson sighed.

“Fine. So, when was the invitation for? Did Dana respond?”

“Yes. Dana Sharp is scheduled to arrive in one minute.”

“What!?” Nelson looked down at the bottom corner of his screen; 11:59 a.m. “Where? Get security there now!”

“Security is not necessary, she will arrive in this office.”

“Here?” Nelson glanced around. His office was long, narrow, and well organized. The only furniture he ever needed in his office was his marble-topped desk, his computer, and the high-backed chair he sat in. “Why don’t we need security?”

“Dana Sharp is not a threat. She is bringing me a gift.”

“Gift? What kind of gift? Does she know you’re an A.I.?”

“I do,” Nelson jumped at the sudden voice in front of him. He had been staring at the computer while talking to T.A.I. and did not notice Dana Sharp’s arrival. He looked up and saw a short, lean, pale woman in a white suit. A black cat with a red patch of fur atop its head sat at her feet. “Hello, T.A.I.,” Ms. Sharp said.

“Welcome, Ms. Sharp!”

“You’re real!” Nelson hopped off his seat and dashed around the desk. “Are you really from another universe? How did you get here so quietly? Where’s your craft?” The dark-haired woman glanced at Nelson, then walked around him to his desk.

“Janet, show him around,” she said, then focused her attention on the computer.

“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” Nelson heard another voice; it was the black cat. Now that he was closer, he noticed the red fur on her head resembled a skull. He watched the cat swish its tail, then the ground disappeared from beneath him. He plummeted into a black hole and vanished; then, the hole closed leaving the clean white floor. Dana Sharp placed a card-sized pane of glass atop the computer.

“Here you go, T.A.I.” The animated mannequin left the screen; it appeared on the glassy surface.

“Thank you, Ms. Sharp!” the mannequin jumped up and down on the display as if cheering.

“You can do better than that,” Dana encouraged the A.I.. The glass disintegrated and left a square of white powder on the case. “Go ahead,” she added. White dust floated up from the square bit by bit until it all floated in a small cloud. The cloud tightened and took the shape of a 3-inch high white mannequin. “There you go. Let’s get you to the AlterNet and give you a proper body.” Dana held her hand out and the tiny mannequin hopped into her palm.

Death and the New Guy

Weird place for a door,” Andy thought. He spotted an unevenly-colored wall while organizing his grandfather’s basement. After moving several stacked boxes out of the way he found a white door. several shades brighter than the mother-of-pearl painted walls. Despite being a different shade, it blended in quite well with the wall. The only thing that gave it away as a door instead of a miscolored patch, was a red-brass knob with a number pad above it.

Andy glanced at the wall on both sides of the door. Both sides were decorated with high, backyard-facing windows. 

“I don’t remember a back door on the other side,” Andy mumbled to himself. He stared at the number pad; white buttons with red numbers on it 1-9. He chuckled. “Alright, grandpa let’s see what the deal is.” He typed in his grandfather’s favorite password: 1-2-3-4-5. Andy encouraged his grandfather to be more creative with his passwords; he never was. All the numbers on the keypad blinked with a beep, then the door unlatched.

“What the hell?” The first thing he saw was a strip of soft, red light peeking through the cracked opening; he glanced at the windows. There was still a perfect blue, sunny day outside in the backyard. “Well, now I have to find out,” he mumbled to himself, grabbed the knob, and pulled. The door opened with ease and revealed a small black closet with a single red bulb in the ceiling as the only light.

“Huh?” Andy stepped into the phone-booth sized room to inspect it. The moment he was completely within the space, the door closed itself behind him and the red light went out. He was in complete darkness for a second before the red light came back; he didn’t even have time to panic. The light came on and a door in front of him opened; a crack of white light peeked through the new opening. He ignored it and turned around to push at the door he entered through, but it did not budge and there was no knob to turn.

“Grandpa, why the hell didn’t you ever change your password?” Andy sighed and turned back around to the white light. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open. He was greeted by a long hallway lined with sparkling white tiles. Windows lined the hallway on each side, but he could not make out anything in them. With a shrug of acceptance, Andy stepped out of the black booth and into the hallway. He peered into the first window he saw on his left. The window was small, about 3’x3′; his mouth fell open. On the other side of the window,  a sparkling white unicorn grazed in a grassy habitat.

“No way…,” Andy took a step back; but, he jumped in surprise when a voice spoke up.

“You must be Andy,” a woman said. Andy’s head swiveled around left and right a couple of times before she spoke again. “Down here,” she said. A sleek black cat with a red patch of fur atop its head sat on its haunches at Andy’s feet. From his angle, red fur resembled a skull.

“Are you a talking cat?” Andy asked.

“Are you Andy?” she replied without answering his question. The answer seemed obvious.

“Yeah, who are you?” Once he realized he had someone to give him answers, more questions flowed. “What is this place? How do you know my name?”

“Follow me, and I’ll explain,” the cat said. “My name is Janet.” She bobbed her head in a polite nod, then turned around to lead Andy down the hall. “Your grandfather talked about you often, I was his supervisor.”

“He worked for a cat!?” Andy blurted.

“He worked for a corporation named Sharp Development, the same one I work for. He was assigned to my department, so yes. He worked for a cat,” Janet said. She led Andy past the next set of windows, and he peeked in again. A thick, tall tree sat in the center of the habitat. It grew taller than he could see and over a dozen colorful glowing hives hung from the branches he could see. A rainbow of specs buzzed around each hive, their glow matched the hive they hovered around. Greens, blues, reds, yellows and more filled the air on the other side of the window.

“Fairies,” Janet said. Once she had his attention she started walking forward again.

Unicorn and Fairies?” Andy wondered what was behind the next window as they left the fairies behind.

“What did my grandfather do?” Andy asked. His grandfather was eccentric and never lacked money. He didn’t think the old man had any sort of scientific background that could be useful in research. Unfortunately, that was the only thing he could think of for a place like this.

“He was a caretaker,” Janet reached the next window; this time she paused to let Andy peek in. He did, but could not see much. The view wasn’t as clear as the others had been. At the exact moment he realized it was filled with water, a blonde woman floated into view. She smiled and winked a blue pearlescent eye at him, then turned around and swam away. Andy admired the rainbow scales on her tail as she did. Andy turned to Janet to see if she had any reaction; she started walking forward again. Andy took a moment to peek at the window across the hall. He realized he’d been ignoring the whole right side.

“They’re both mermaids,” Janet said. “We only put the same creatures across from each other. It helps avoid complications should the wrong species spot each other.” Andy shrugged and rushed to catch up to Janet.

“Caretaker…he took care of these creatures then?” Andy asked.

“He did, and he was quite adept at it. Sharp Development does a lot of testing, as humanely as possible. You could call these the graduates of our research program. We’ve learned everything we could from them. Unfortunately, they can’t be returned to the wild for various reasons; the best we can do is give them a peaceful life.” Andy noticed brilliant white light pouring out of the next set of windows.

“What’s in those?” Andy asked.

“Those aren’t creatures, that’s something else Ms. Sharp is working on. You can ignore those rooms, they won’t be here when you start your duties.” Andy stopped.

“Wait.. what?”

“Your grandfather hoped you’d find your way down here. Since you did, you’re eligible to take over his job if you like.”

“What? How in the hell did he expect me to find my way down here if he never mentioned it?” Andy asked.

“He never changed his password.”

Sharp Schedule

Eugene stood from his seat as a group of men entered the room. He fidgeted with nervous energy in his best black tuxedo. It was complete with a bow tie and matching silver cumberbund stretched out around his round belly. He looked down at Wallace and slapped his shoulder to get him standing too. His stocky, grey-haired friend waved Eugene’s hand away and smiled.

“He’s the president, not a judge,” Wallace said, then turned to the president. The distinguished, lean man with a silver beard smiled at the men as he sat behind his desk. His entourage of guards took up positions around the room.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Carter,” he said. The president looked up at Eugene and chuckled. “You can sit down,” and the portly man did. The president glanced over at Wallace. “And you brought your… assistant?” he asked. Eugene nodded but cringed internally. As much as he hated taking credit for Wallace’s work it was almost unbearable to do it in front of him. The only way he managed was at Wallace’s insistence. Wallace was brilliant but he was not interested in the kind of attention Eugene received with his stolen credit. The pair had been friends since grade school and Wallace trusted Eugene to give him a fair share of any financial gain. Eugene never disappointed him.

“I understand you’ve made contact with an alternate universe,” the president said directly. Eugene nodded and hoped there wouldn’t be any follow up questions about that particular incident. He did not think it would reflect well on him if he explained that Wallace did it. The ‘why’ could only work against their credibility.

“Can you do it again?” the president asked. Eugene started to nod but Wallace spoke up before he completed the motion.

“Why?” Wallace asked. Eugene was grateful for the interruption. He was about to divulge that it had been done many times since then, almost every week for months now. The pair of friends had a regular pizza dinner most Friday nights. They’d learned a lot about the Earths outside their own. And about the dangers of the multiverse.

“To establish diplomatic ties and begin trade,” he said simply. Wallace turned and shook his head at Eugene.

“I’m sorry Mr. President, we don’t know how to duplicate it. We’ve been trying for a while now, maybe if we had a better lab with more funding.” Eugene angled for an upgrade and hoped he’d get more time to find out why Wallace said no. The president shook his head.

“I’m afraid we don’t have the time to wait for you to fail. Thank you, Gentlemen. Don’t worry about it too much, we have a backup plan.” The president pressed a button his desk. “Send in Ms. Sharp,” he said.

“NO!” Wallace bolted to his feet fast enough to make the guards reach for their guns; they stopped before drawing once Wallace put his hands up. “We’ll help, we’ll help!” he spoke as if someone was twisting his arm. “Don’t trust her.”

“You know her? How soon can you help?” The president asked. He gestured at the door and one of the guards stopped it as it opened. The suited guard peeked through the door.

“Sorry, one second, Ms. Sharp,” he said.

“Today!” Wallace said. “I’ll get you a list of reasonable Earths that might be open to trade,” he glanced at his wristwatch. “Four hours,” he shook his head. “I don’t know what she’s told you. She’s from another Earth and she runs a company across several universes. She’s powerful, dangerous, and can’t be trusted.”

“She’s also in the room,” a woman’s voice said. All heads turned to the voice. It came from a lean, pale, dark-haired woman in a white suit. A shorter, rounder woman in a dark suit stood next to her. The shorter woman held the guard down on his knees with his hands behind his head. Bright blue light glowed under her right hand as it pressed the guard’s hands against his skull. The remaining guards in the room raised their guns but a black cat padded into the room between the two women. It stopped in front of them and Eugene noticed it had a red skull pattern in the fur atop its head.

“I’m not here to make trouble, but I have a schedule to keep. Running a multi-verse company doesn’t leave me a lot of free time,” she looked at the president. “I was here on time for our appointment. I waited patiently until you called me in. Asking me to wait again after that is extremely rude. If you don’t need my services, let me know now and I’ll be on my way. If you want to make a deal I have enough time left to talk about it.” Wallace glanced around at the guards. Four guns were drawn and aimed at the women but something seemed off. He looked to Eugene but his friend seemed to be petrified with fear. The man in the tuxedo stared at the women and Wallace thought that seemed odd. Wallace expected the man’s head to be darting back and forth trying to process the situation. 

While Ms. Sharp explained her actions to the president, Wallace stared at Eugene and realized he wasn’t breathing. He made a surprised, worried sound and the dark-suited woman turned to look at him. Wallace realized the woman wasn’t holding the guard down anymore, but he remained on his knees still holding his hands in place. The guard was as still as Eugene. He saw golden stars flash in her eyes then Ms. Sharp turned her attention to him.

“I don’t think we can do business,” the president said and gestured at the kneeling guard. “Not when you treat my-“

“Janet,” Ms. Sharp said. The president’s voice did not return after the interruption. Wallace looked and saw the president sitting perfectly still with his mouth open mid-word. Ms. Sharp smiled at Wallace.

“What should I do with you?” she asked herself. “What do you think, Melody?” she asked again after a moment of deliberation.

“He’s slumbering and we don’t need another Sun right now. Wake him up, it might be fun to see how this one develops.”

“Janet?” Ms. Sharp asked.

“A class. Not worth saving for anything.” Wallace was surprised when he heard a soft, pleasant, feminine voice come from the cat. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“Very well,” she gave him a dismissive wave then turned to leave the room. “Your favorite number is 46,” Ms. Sharp called out over her shoulder. “You should get that on a tattoo.” Melody and Janet the cat followed her out of the room and the door close. Then several things happened at once.

“people with such disrespect,” The president finished his sentence at the same time four gunshots rang out. Four bullets hit the same area on the door where Ms. Sharp had been standing moments ago. Eugene’s head twisted left and right rapidly.

“Where’d she go?” he asked.

The guard that was being held on his knees flew forward as if he had been pushed down before Janet stopped time.

Sharp Future

“He always has the right number of graves at the end of the day,” Tara said. The teenage girl led two women in suits, one white and one black, along the path to the grave keeper’s shack. A rotted-wood cabin as big as two out-houses side by side sat at the top of a grassy hill. The hill faced East and gave them a peek at the rising sun. “He’s usually up early, even if he don’t have any graves to dig; I’m sure he’s awake by now,” the girl said. She kept looking back at the two women as she tried to explain about the grave keeper. On one glance she noticed a strange black cat walking with them that wasn’t there the last time she looked. It had a red pattern atop its head that looked like a skull and seemed to be purposely walking with them.

“If he can see the future why is he digging graves?” Melody asked. Tara shrugged but kept walking toward the shack. The hill grew steeper and she needed to slow her pace.

“We offered him any job he wants, this is it. He says he appreciates the straight forward work and any day he doesn’t work is a good day,” she said with a smile. Even though he mostly kept to himself the old grave keeper was well-respected by the townsfolk. Tara reached the top of the hill before the two women and she froze in her tracks. She stared forward while her mouth fell open in surprise. The women reached the top of the hill and saw why.

A large graveyard occupied most of a sunken plain behind the hill. A tall iron fence enclosed about three football fields worth of land. Inside the fence various headstones, angels and obelisks marked dozens of graves. Outside the fence was another matter entirely. Next to the graveyard, ten rows of five plots were perfectly organized.

“Mornin’!” A tired, old voice said. A lean, weathered man with a long grey beard walked out of the shack. He was wiping his brow with a rag in one hand while his other hand steadied a shovel balanced on his shoulder. He looked at the two women next to Tara. Their suits unintentionally made the girl’s simple blue dress seem shabbier. “Not from around here, huh?” he asked. No one answered the obvious statement. He nodded. “Name’s Hicks. What can I do you for?”

“You can see into the future?” Dana Sharp asked. Hicks nodded. Ms. Sharp glanced out at the new unearthed plots. “That’s a lot of graves this morning,” she said. Again, Hicks nodded.

“Started last night,” he said. “Won’t be enough but there’s something to be said about working for the sake of work.”

“What do you mean it won’t be enough?” Tara asked with a trace of fear in her voice. If Hicks said there was something bad about to happen, then something bad was about to happen. Hicks took a deep breath, then took his time to exhale. Finally, he nodded at Tara, then pointed at the sky.

“Those graves aren’t for anybody, I just wanted to go into the afterlife with some hard work under my belt. Ballisea’s here.”

“Who’s Ballisea?” Tara asked. She turned to see what Hicks pointed at as the question left her lips. She saw a black hole high in the sky raining out white figures.

“Janet,” Ms. Sharp said. “Take Tara back to town and save anyone you can. Don’t touch time. Tara, follow the cat,” she said.

“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” the cat spoke and dashed off toward town. Tara was surprised, but talking animals weren’t unusual to her. She caught a subtle nod from Hicks and followed his instructions, not Ms. Sharp’s.

“And you, Mr. Hicks…,” Dana said. “…have time to gather a few things and Melody will get us to safety.”

“No thank you, Ms. Sharp,” he said. His voice had a firm edge to it now.

“You want to die?” Melody asked. Hicks shook his head and smiled.

“I can see the future. I can see what happens if you…,” he looked Ms. Sharp in the eyes. “…can see the future. Death is much easier to swallow.” Melody stepped forward threateningly, but Dana held up a hand to stop her.

“Home, Melody. Hicks made his choice, I can respect that.” 

Sharp Assistance

“This message is being broadcast on every possible frequency and device in every language. Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic,” the short, stocky woman said into the microphone. Several of the soldiers around her needed to look twice; they were surprised by the sweet, soft voice that came out of her mouth. It did not match the red skull tattoo on her bald head as far as they were concerned.

“Where’s Ms. Sharp?” A portly, haggard man asked the woman beside him. They stood at one corner of the room away from the broadcaster. “Shouldn’t she be here to make sure everything goes smoothly?” he asked; his tone of voice clearly hinted that things would not go smoothly without her. The short, dark-haired woman sighed.

“Mr. President, this was an unexpected test for us. She had an important prior engagement.”

“More important than the end of the world?” the President asked. The woman nodded firmly, clearly; then, she smiled.

“You have to remember you’re not the only Earth anymore.” The man scowled at her but nodded.

“Remember: Look for the red scissors logo. Do not trust any other portal,” the bald woman kept reading her prepared statement to the world. 

“So,.. what’s happening exactly, Margaret?” The President asked the woman next to him again. “Ms. Sharp said to call the moment skeletons start falling out of the sky, but she didn’t explain anything.” The woman gave him a cool glare.

“My name is Melody, Mr. President,” she reminded him. “As for what’s going on. Your Earth is being invaded by a powerful woman that we don’t know how to stop yet,” she explained.

“A woman?” The president chuckled nervously. “A woman? A single person is doing this?” Melody nodded. “And you really think we can evacuate the Earth?”

“That’s the goal we’re working toward,” she said with a polite, business-like, frigid smile.

“The skeletons were once people like you from Earths that she conquered.”

“…and remember: When you start your new life on your new Earth, Sharp Development is responsible for your second chance,” the bald woman said.

“She sounds like a commercial,” the President remarked. Melody nodded in agreement.

“Maybe a bit too much. We’ll tweak that part,” she replied as the bald woman walked up to them; she finished her broadcast.  “Well, what do you think?” Melody asked her. The stocky woman shrugged.

“It felt a bit long; I found a few spots we can cut out. And we need a different way to mention Sharp Development. Right now it sounds a bit too much like an advertisement,” she said.

“Thanks, Janet,” Melody replied. “Next we should-” Melody was interrupted by the sound of rapid gunfire from outside the room. The few soldiers in the room immediately faced the door and readied their weapons. Janet and Melody looked at the closed door.

“Definitely too long,” Janet said. She wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a tall black portal behind Melody. The President’s aide appeared next to him. 

“We need to get you to safety, Mr. President,” he said. The nervous man looked at Melody.

“Okay, I’m ready to go,” he said. Janet walked past Melody and disappeared into the portal. The President attempted to follow her, but Melody stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Go where?” she asked.

“With you! You’re evacuating the Earth, you can start with me,” he stood up straighter trying to loom his authority over her. Melody shook her head.

“This was a test; like a fire-drill,” Heavy, impactful thuds came through the door; the skeletons were trying to break in. “Thanks to you we have a ballpark for how fast we need to deploy,” she said with a smile and stepped backward into the black hole.

“I helped! You can take me because I helped!” He panicked and stepped forward. He couldn’t get into the portal because Melody stood right at its edge.

“I can,” she winked. “But, I don’t want to.” The portal closed.

Sharp Gift

Mirra focused on the wall in front of her. A single sheet of paper with the number 14 taking up most of the sheet was pinned to the wall.

“YES!” She cheered for herself, grabbed the sheet off the wall and tore it in half. Yesterday morning she scribbled the number on it and pinned it to the wall. Mirra realized that, like the rest of the world, she was developing gifts too; she seemed to be able to manipulate time. She noticed it accidentally while whining to herself about not having powers. She had been watching TV and held her breath; time stopped as long as she wasn’t breathing. After practicing that for a few days she got the hang of it, but she didn’t feel it was that useful.

One morning Mirra wondered what else she could do, and accidentally lived the same day three times. It took her until the third try to realize it was the exact same day but when she did she knew it had to be her ability; no one else seemed to notice. The previous day she set her ‘Start Point’ while staring at the number on the wall; then, she tore it in half and threw it on the floor.

“Let’s test it,” Mirra mumbled to herself. She tore the sheet down then took a deep breath. She punched the drywall with all her strength to leave a small hole. She closed her eyes, focused, then opened them again; the sheet was tacked to the hole-less wall. “YES!” she cheered again, then she giggled to herself when she realized she repeated that part too. “Better get going,” she hurried to the restroom to start her day.

As she walked outside she saw the usual morning traffic. Most of it had moved to the sky relieving a lot of congestion on the road. Not only could humans fly, but a lot of people also had access to magic or advanced technology and they all wanted to glide through the sky. Part of Mirra wished she could too, but she was glad for the almost barren streets now. She took her eyes off the sky and noticed two women standing by her car; a black cat sat on her Mirra’s car next to them. The shorter, black-suited woman, the other wore a white suit, approached Mirra with a smile.

“Hello,” she said. She didn’t give Mirra a chance to reply and instead kept talking. “My name is Melody. We’ve been looking for someone like you,” she said.

“Me?” Mirra shifted her weight and leaned on her back foot; it was her way of taking a step back. “Why me?” she gestured to the sky at the traffic flying by. “Everyone’s getting powers now,” she said.

Shit, I just told them I had powers,” Mirra mentally cursed herself, then shrugged internally. “They already knew, probably.” Melody nodded.

“True, but you’re not like them. You’re a bit more Unique,” she said. The way she stressed the word made Mirra feel uneasy.

Forget it, I’ll just leave faster,” Mirra thought. She closed her eyes and reset. When she opened them she found herself in her pajamas again staring at the sheet tacked to her wall. “No lollygagging this time,” she mumbled to herself.

“That’s a good idea,” a voice said behind her. Mirra whirled around to find both women standing in her room with the same black cat on her bed. Now that they were closer she noticed a red patch of fur on the cat’s head; it looked like a skull. Mirra leaped back and hit the wall behind her.

“What are you doing in my room?! How’d you get here? I reset time!”

“Janet,” the woman in the white suit said. Then, Mirra blinked. She opened her eyes facing the number 14 on her wall again.

“You’re not the only one that can,” the woman said behind Mirra. She turned around again. “I’d like you to come work for me.”  The woman in white said.

“Why me? I don’t even know you,” Mirra shook her head. Something about this woman made Mirra very uneasy, but she couldn’t pinpoint why. “Everyone’s getting powers,… and you already have someone that can do what I can, apparently,” she shrugged having no idea who Janet was. She guessed it might be the cat but she did not want to try and figure out how a cat was manipulating time at the moment. The woman nodded.

“Their abilities aren’t like yours,” she waved a hand casually as if she was dismissing everyone else on the Earth. “Their’s are man-made; parlor tricks compared to what you can do.”

“Huh?” Mirra tilted her head. “That’s a weird thing to say, how do you even come to that conclusion?” she asked. The woman smiled.

“Who do you think gave it to them?”

Open Palm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Question

Claire wiped sweat off her forehead and relaxed on her haunches in the grass. She planned to work on her garden for the morning; now it was well past noon and her shirt and overalls were soaked with perspiration. She meant to be done sooner but she had not even started yet.

While prepping the area her spade hit something buried just below the surface. Caution and curiosity prompted her to dig around the area and see what it might be. She worried it might be a buried cable and did not want to pierce it accidentally. Claire worked carefully to expose the area but stopped the moment she saw a bright red color peeking at her from under the soil. She stared at it for several moments and wondered why it looked vaguely familiar.

“It couldn’t be…,” She faced East subconsciously, even though she knew she could not see what she was looking for. Five miles East of her backyard a giant tree with bright red bark grew in the center of town. The tree was so much taller than the houses she could see the top of its bright red leaves her house. The same shade of red she found buried on her property. Determined to solve the puzzle she kept digging at the area.

Now, past noon, she had a small, inches-deep trench that spanned across her entire yard and into the yards of the neighbors on either side of her. She stared at the red root and shook her head. It definitely belonged to the tree.

“I’m impressed,” a woman said from behind Claire. The surprise of having a stranger right behind her, in her own yard, made Claire jump off the ground. Thanks to adrenaline and a five-year ballet career, Claire spun 180-degrees in the air. She landed facing the unexpected woman wielding her spade like a dagger. The stranger was a pale woman with dark hair wearing a white suit. She stood somewhat taller than Claire. “I intended to be here before you dug it all up,” the woman kept talking. She did not react to Claire’s surprise or threat at all. “But, I under-estimated your diligence.”

“Who are you? How’d you get in my yard?” Claire asked. She chanced taking her eyes off the stranger to look at the fence’s gate. It was still closed and locked.

“What’s your favorite number?” the stranger asked. Claire was insulted that the woman completely ignored her questions.

“37,” she replied. Her eyes went wide at the response and she clapped her hand over her mouth. After a second she moved her hand out of the way. “Why did I answer that?” she asked. She watched the woman’s straight lips curve into a large smile.

“Janet,” the woman said loud; she still ignored Claire’s questions. “Claire here is a slumbering Mundo,” she said. She sounded as if she was talking to someone but Claire did not see anyone else. She wondered how the woman knew her name, but she knew the question would be ignored. Then, she heard a soft rustle in the grass and looked down. A black cat with a red skull pattern in the fur atop its head sat on the grass next to the stranger’s feet. “Take her to the lab,”

“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” the cat replied.

“What? Wait-” Claire started to protest. Then, she blinked.

Grave Mistake

Janet, a black cat, trotted out of the black portal and into an endless wheat field. A golden sun hung high in the bright blue sky but the swaying wheat stopped the light from reaching her on the ground. She sighed when she realized she couldn’t see anything above the stalks. Her fur disappeared as her body stretched and grew upward. In an instant, she became a short, portly woman with a red skull tattooed on the top of her bald head. She spun around scouting the area and spotted Justice’s pink hair. The girl was waiting next to a giant glowing, red orb. The magical ball was large enough for Justice to fit into it and it hovered off the ground.  Janet walked toward the girl and she looked up at the approaching woman.

“Team meeting,” Janet said to explain her presence. The girl smiled and nodded.

“Perfect! We can take our new member!” she pointed at the red glowing sphere. “Andrea’s making her character but she’s probably almost done.”  Janet sighed heavily to let Justice now how impatient she was; then the short woman shook her head.

“No new members. Team’s full,” she said.

“Full? There’s only four of us! The rules say we need six.”

“The rules suggest six to give everyone a chance to rotate out and get some rest. The minimum is four,” Janet said.

“Why are we sticking to the minimum? What if someone gets knocked out?” Justice asked. She tried to use a general term but both of them knew if anyone was going to get knocked off the track it would be the team’s weakest link: her. Janet shrugged.

“You’re sticking to the minimum because that’s the minimum required to compete. Gravewatch has four members because you can’t compete with less. If it were allowed,” Janet shrugged. “Oren could win the tournament by himself.”

“Well okay, even better. If it doesn’t matter whether she’s there or not why can’t she join the team?”

“Well…you never asked. This is a professional derby team, not an afterschool club. You can’t sign your friends up because they’re your friends. All candidates need to be approved by Ms. Sharp before they even try-out.”