Vanilla Treats

“Better hurry,” Leo checked his watch. “10 seconds. She’s really punctual.” He stood with his friend in a small, dim back room. Leo’s friend, Steven, was hunched over a counter scrambling a pen across an official-looking form.

“Not helping,” Steven grumbled while he tried to initial every checkbox on the form. Finally, he dropped the pen and pushed the form to the young woman behind the safety glass.

“Four,” Leo began the countdown.

“Hand, please,” she said. Steven placed his hand on the counter palm up; then, pushed it through the small arched opening he sent the paper through.

“Three.”

“This is going to hurt,” the woman said. She grabbed something that looked like a single-handed stapler and pressed it against Steven’s wrist.

“Two,” Leo’s grin grew larger with every count.

“Yeah! I’m READY!” Steven used his other hand to slap the counter from the excitement.

“One.” She pulled the trigger. Leo heard the familiar crunch as the device shoved a metal rod through Steven’s wrist. He screamed and yanked his hand out of the window to rub it. He saw no blood, just a small orange dot, like the one on Leo’s wrist. The pain dissipated quickly as he rubbed the dot.

“Did it work?”  Leo smiled and pointed at the clerk on the other side of the counter. She remained still; and, still held the mechanical device inches off the counter as if Leo’s wrist were present.

“The clerks don’t get the treatment. It’s a precaution against having people join after the 8th day starts.” Steven stared at the woman through the glass hoping to catch her breathing, or see her blink, or some other proof it wasn’t real. She was perfectly frozen.

“Man, how long have you known about this?” Steven asked his friend. The tall, lean man shrugged.

“‘Bout two months I guess.” Steven was surprised and almost took it personally.

“What? And you waited this long to tell me?” he whined only half-joking. Leo stepped forward and put his arm around Steven him to guide him out of the dim room. The room was at the back of an ice cream shop. As they stepped out Leo gestured at the room full of time-stopped patrons and employees.  Only one person, the manager, was capable of movement. He sat in the corner flipping through a magazine.

“It’s a 24-hour period that most people in the world don’t know about; they don’t even realize it happens,” Leo explained. He tapped  Steven’s forehead with a finger. “Don’t you think there’d be rules to something like that?”

“Oh,” Leo had not considered that. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. So, what are the rules?” he asked as they left the 24-hour ice cream shop, ‘Vanilla Treats’, and strolled along the empty strip mall.

“Rule number one:  Vanilla doesn’t like trouble-makers. No stealing, killing, looting, and so on.”

“How’s she gonna know?” Steven asked. He did not plan on being a trouble-maker, but he was curious. Leo stopped walking and turned to face Steven. He raised his arm and pointed at the orange dot.

“These track us,” he said, then grinned. “and she can stop time across the world. I don’t think you want to get on the wrong side of that.” Steven nodded.

“Good point. What else?”

“What else what?” Leo asked; he resumed walking.

“You said, ‘rule number one’ like there were more.”

“No, that’s it. She doesn’t like trouble-makers.”

“Where did Vanilla come from? Why’s she doing this,” Leo shook his head. “for free?”

“Rumors say she’s from an Alternate Universe. She wanted to do something nice for this Earth and I guess she doesn’t need money. Or maybe just not our money,” Leo shrugged. “I don’t think anyone knows for sure.”

“I do,” a woman said behind them. The two men whirled around, surprised, and saw a tall white-haired woman wearing a flowing orange dress.

“Vanilla!?” Leo asked, astonished. He recognized her from pictures, but Steven had never seen her.

“Hello, Steven. I’m glad you signed up,” she ignored Leo completely.

“What do you me-,” Steven began to ask but he never finished his question. Leo blinked.

When he opened his eyes Steven and Vanilla were gone, then he heard cars drive by. Time started again for everyone.

Vanilla Bean

“I did it!” Billy shouted. The teenager danced around an orange rock stuck in the air. It hovered several feet off the ground and glowed brightly with heat. “Vanilla! I DID IT!” He yelled at the white-haired woman resting atop a T-rex’s tail. The giant dinosaur was stuck in time like the hot rock. Vanilla hopped off the tail and walked to Billy. She glanced at the rock; then nodded at Billy.

“Good job, now you’re ready to learn something more complicated.” Vanilla reached for the tennis ball-sized rock. Its glow dissipated by the time she wrapped her hand around it; Billy assumed she sped up time to cool it down. She held the stone up with her left hand in front of Billy. “Right now the stone is here,” Vanilla declared. Then she moved it through the air to a spot on her right, Billy’s left. “Now, in the rock’s future, it’s over here. You’ve got a pretty good handle on that since you’ve been looping it through time. The next step is to try and to loop only half of it,” she smiled; her sparkling orange eyes distracted Billy. Then he heard a soft thud on the ground to his right. He looked down at it and saw half the stone.

“Whooaaa,” Billy’s eyes went wide. He looked at Vanilla’s hand and found the other half of the rock still in her grasp. “How’d you get so strong?” Vanilla held up the whole rock in one piece and winked at Billy.

“I had someone teach me like I’m teaching you.” Vanilla lightly tossed the rock at Billy’s head.

“Ow,” the rock bounced off his forehead then stopped in time. He did not react quick enough to stop it before it bumped him. Billy plucked it out of the air. “His lessons were harsher,” Vanilla added and looked into Billy’s eyes. Their bright orange-crystalline color seemed to cloud over. “But he didn’t have as smart a student as I do.” Billy grinned as his cheeks flushed red.

“Thanks! What’s he like? Can I meet him?” Vanilla shook her head.

“That’s enough questions for now,” she pointed at the rock in his hand. “Get to work.” Billy blinked. Vanilla was gone when he opened his eyes.

Ticket to Exposit

“What I wouldn’t give to go back in time,” Percy crumpled the useless lottery ticket in his hand and shook his head. He tossed the tiny paper ball into the nearest garbage can and continued his way through the park.

“What for?” a woman asked. Percy turned toward the voice. A woman with long white hair in a flowing orange dress stood next to a young man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit. They looked more out of place in the park than Percy did in his mechanic’s overalls. The over-dressed pair seemed nice enough that Percy decided to answer.

“T’ win that billion dollar jackpot,” he chuckled. “The things I’d do what that money, boy I tell you.”

“But you wouldn’t win anyway,” the young man said. Then he turned to the woman for confirmation. “Right, Vanilla?” She nodded.

“Right, Billy,” She shrugged and turned to walk away. The boy’s answer irked Percy enough that he felt he had to defend himself.

“O’ course I’d win, that’s how time travel works. If I know the winning numbers I get the money,” he grumbled at their backs then turned away.

“That’s not true,” Billy said. Percy turned around. “Can I prove it to him? Pleeeeease?” he asked Vanilla. The woman rolled her eyes and sighed.

“Alright, but make it quick.” He ran to Percy. “What are the winning numbers?”

“6-17-18-42-58. Why?” Percy blinked. The moment he opened his eyes Billy showed him a lottery ticket. Percy recognized the numbers and yanked the ticket out of his hand. It had the previous day’s date; the day of the drawing. Before Percy got too excited Billy gave him a newspaper with the winning numbers shown. The new winning numbers that did not match his ticket.

It’s About Time

“Hey, Vanilla?” Billy asked the white-haired woman walking next to him. The pair navigated their way through a bustling outdoor market on a cool, sunny morning. They walked and talked while avoiding the other patrons walking and talking in reverse. Vanilla walked around a mother forcefully shoving a serrated hunting knife into her child’s hand.

“Yes, Billy?”

“How does time work?” The world stopped moving backward; it stopped entirely. The market-goers all stood still.

“What do you mean?” she asked him.

“Stopping and restarting time I kind of get. It should just pick up where it left off. But we can rewind and even fast-forward time. We can make time loops,” he shrugged. “I don’t really get it.” Vanilla nodded.

“That’s a good question. You should know how it works so you can make the most of your abilities.” She raised her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black portal opened before her. “This Earth,” she gestured at the open-air market around them. “Is probably somewhere in its mid 20th century. Come,” she walked through the portal. Billy followed. He emerged on another Earth into a vast green plain of swaying grass. The first thing Billy realized was that he was covered in shadow. He looked up and saw a time-stopped T-rex mid-step.

“This Earth is obviously much earlier in its cycle,” Vanilla said. “Each Earth has its own independent flow of time; but, it is a cycle. Rewinding or speeding up time moves it along its set course. Creating a time loop is as simple as choosing two points and replaying the section between them,” Vanilla faced Billy and grinned. “And that’s just the beginning.”

“But I thought time-loops was an S-rank skill?” Billy asked with a tilted head and confusion in his eyes. “Is there more?” Vanilla shook her head.

“It’s not about what you can do; it’s about how creative you are doing it,” she said.

“Huh?” Vanilla crouched to grab a large baseball-sized stone from the ground. She tossed the grey, jagged sphere into the air and it got caught in stopped time.

“Time-stop, right?” She asked. Billy nodded. She started time again and the stone fell into her hand. She whirled around and launched the stone upward toward the frozen T-rex. Billy watched the stone fly toward the giant beast as if traveling through a vat of molasses. It traveled no more than an inch a second, but it was on a direct path to hit the dinosaur’s knee.

“You can slow down time too?” Billy asked in awe. Vanilla shook her head.

“No, but I can stop it and start it again. Really fast.” She pointed at the stone. “Watch.” Billy looked and saw the stone stuck in the air again. “If you’re clever, you can control the local time of an object.” She held her hand out and the stone flew back to her hand. “And if you’re really inventive you can put it all together.” She threw the stone back at the dinosaur’s knee with all her might.

Billy stared wide-eyed as the stone flew through the air almost too fast to see. It stopped within an inch of the animal’s skin then reappeared in front of Vanilla and flew toward the giant lizard again. Each time it seemed to be getting faster and faster. He noticed it began to glow bright orange. After half a dozen high-speed loops he looked at Vanilla.

“What are you doing?”

“I trapped the stone in a time loop between my hand and the dinosaur. I’m speeding up the stone, but not the air around it. The friction heats up the stone and it remembers everything from the previous loops.”

“It remembers?”

“If it was a person, they would remember everything. They would realize they’re in a time loop and be conscious of the passing time. This can only remember its speed. Every time it flies through the loop it picks up more speed.” The glowing hot rock appeared in front of Vanilla again, but this time she stopped it from flying off. She looked down at the ground and crouched to retrieve a second rock. She tossed it to Billy then pointed at the floating orange stone.

“If you can make it glow like mine I’ll show something even better.”

Classified Death

Daniel started time again as he stepped out of the public restroom and back into the crowded mall.

“Hey, you’re right! I did feel it!” He heard someone say.  The voice sounded so enthused that it piqued his curiosity. He searched for the voice’s owner and found a young man talking to an older woman. The stranger in a navy-blue pinstripe suit appeared to be around 18 or so;  a couple of years younger than Daniel. He was smiling at a white-haired woman wearing a flowing orange dress.

Daniel did not see anything worth getting excited about and guessed he’d never learn what they were discussing. He shrugged and continued on his way.  After several steps, he realized no one else was moving. He stopped in his tracks and whirled in place looking at everyone. Time was still frozen. He closed his eyes and concentrated on starting its flow again but nothing happened. He tried stopping it again but there was no change.

Uh oh,” he felt panic start to rise in his stomach until he heard footsteps. The hollow click of heels accompanied a set of heavier footsteps. He looked up and noticed the pair walking away while giggles passed between them. “HEY!” he shouted at them and jogged to catch up. The pair stopped and turned to face him wearing broad smiles.

“Yes?” the woman asked. Daniel was surprised to see she had bright, crystal-orange eyes. He shook off the momentary distraction with a visible shake of his head.

“Uh.. how are you guys moving?” Daniel pointed at a nearby toddler floating in mid-air. The red-faced child’s eyes were forced shut and her mouth was wide open. “Everyone’s frozen.”

“Are they?” She asked with a raised white eye-brow. “You don’t seem to be.”

“Yeah,” Daniel shrugged. “I’m the one that did it.” The odd woman reached up and patted Daniel’s shoulder.

“Do you have a tattoo with the number 14 on it?” She asked.

“H-how’d you know?” Only a select few knew about the grim reaper tattooed on his butt-cheek. Daniel chose his favorite number, 14, to put on Death’s scythe. The woman turned to her friend.

“See? Even low-rank Muertes can do it properly once they’re awakened.” She turned her attention back to Daniel, her hand still rested on his shoulder.

“Can you fast-forward or rewind time? ” She asked him. Daniel shook his head.

“No. Can you?”

“Yes,” she replied curtly, then turned her attention back to the man in the suit. “What does that make him?” She asked in a tone that made Daniel feel like he was being used as an example for something.

“D-rank.” The woman nodded.

“And if he could rewind?” she asked.

“C-rank. B-rank if he could fast forward and so on. S-rank means…,” he paused and pointed at the woman. “You,” then he touched his own chest. “…and I can control time loops.”

“Good, you got it.” The woman raised her hand chest-high and wiggled her fingers at the air. A tall black portal opened next to the suited man. “Let’s find a higher ranked one so you can see what that feels like.” They stepped toward the hole that hung in the air and Daniel realized they were about to leave.

“HEY!” he shouted.

“Oh right, sorry,” the woman apologized insincerely. “Let him have it back, Billy.” She continued walking into the black hole and disappeared. Billy nodded at Daniel.

“Sorry,” he said. “She’s showing me how to over-ride other Muertes. You can start time again,” he nodded. “Give it a try.”  Daniel concentrated and the world roared back to life as the flow of time started again.

“Hey, ” he turned toward the man. “What’s a Mu-” Daniel blinked. When he opened his eyes the man and the portal were gone.

Lessons in Traversing

Billy stepped out of the tall black portal and looked around to get his bearings. The crowded shopping mall he left behind was a stark contrast to this new setting. He, and the white-haired stranger he followed, were now in a high-class living room like those he’d seen on TV. Giant windows gave him a scenic view of distant mountains under a purple sky.

“Tell me about yourself. What’s your name?” the unknown woman asked. She swept her orange dress under her and sat on a black leather couch, then patted the seat next to her. Billy walked toward the couch but his head swiveled back and forth as he admired the giant living room. He realized it was bigger than his entire house.

“My name is Billy,” he said while still distracted. Then, he turned to the stranger. “Wow, this place is beautiful! You live here?” the high school senior asked as he sat next to her. She shook her head.

“No. I wanted somewhere comfortable where we can sit and talk.” Billy nodded, accepting the explanation.

“When I was 15, I found out I had superpowers,” he began to explain. “Stopping time is handy but it was starting to get boring until you showed up. Where did you come from? How did we get here? Can I do it too?” He fired off several questions, then added in one more as she started to answer. “And what’s your name?”

“You may call me Vanilla,” she said. “I came from an alternate universe. Actually, you’re in a different universe right now than you were at the mall.” Vanilla lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A small black hole opened. “This is how we…,” she winked at Billy. “…you’ll learn too, traverse to different universes.” She dismissed the portal with a wave of her hand. “No matter where you travel you’ll always be able to pop back into your home universe if you like, easy as that.”

“Whoaa.. so what universe is this?” Billy asked. Vanilla shrugged.

“No idea, I don’t think I’ve been here before.”

“HEY! WHO THE HELL-” a large, rotund man in a silk robe yelled at Vanilla and Billy, but froze midway through his tirade. He stood stopped in time with his mouth wide open and an expression of pure anger on his red face.

“You don’t know where we are?” Billy asked.

“It doesn’t particularly matter,” Vanilla shrugged. “We can talk comfortably here.”

“How did you teleport somewhere you’ve never been?”

“I didn’t. I traversed. Both you and I came from different universes and this is a third one. How many do you think there are?”

“Uh.. hundreds? No, thousands!”

“Infinity,” Vanilla smiled. “There is an infinite number of universes out there. Every day thousands of them are created, and thousands of them die. You could go from the distant future in one universe to a prehistoric one filled with dinosaurs.” Vanilla wiggled her hand and opened another dinner-plate sized black hole. “You can try to target a specific place with these portals if you’ve got a frequency. Or you can let it decide where it wants to take you.” Vanilla gestured at the time-stopped stranger silently yelling.

“A frequency?”

“Universes are identified by their vibrations. But, when we came here I wanted a comfortable place to chat. There are so many universes that even if you have a frequency, you might miss.”

“How’d you end up at the mall? Billy asked.

“I wanted to find a strong Unique that could help me gather a few things,”  Vanilla smiled. “What do you say, Billy? Want to come work with me and see things you never imagined?”

“And I can still go home, right?”  The woman nodded.

“As long as it’s still there,” she said.