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OLIVER LEFT THE PIZZA Dude and crossed the lot with an underwhelming sense of accomplishment. The pizza pans had been scrubbed clean and everyone had been allowed to leave. He stood next to his car and dialed his home number into his cell phone, watching the ungrateful teens laugh and scream and do all the annoying things teens do at night when their parents aren’t around to shut them up.
The phone rang in his ear, and Oliver thought of his own children. While these teenagers that worked nights with him at the Pizza Dude weren’t really bad kids, they tended to have very little respect for their elders, and Oliver vowed to stamp this defect out of his own children before it began to take root. First, he had banned all of those television shows that played on the network with the mouse. Most of them seemed to be about kids getting away with stuff and getting one over on their parents.
Not in the Jordan household.
His girls hadn’t put up a fuss. They had neither cable nor satellite, so they didn’t get that channel anyway.
He put a fist in the small of his back and stretched as the phone rang. He looked over at the teenagers again and realized that he might be more than a little cranky about things. Before he could follow the thread of that thought the call connected.
“Hello?” Elyse spoke through the phone.
“Hi, Hon. I’m on my way home.”
“Yay! I miss you so much. Hurry!”
“But be safe.”
“I will hurry safely.”
“That’s all a woman can ask for.”
“I love you,” Oliver Jordan said to his wife.
“I love you too,” Elyse Jordan said to her husband.
Oliver disconnected and climbed into the car. He fiddled with his MP3 player, queuing up the latest episode of the Comic Rock podcast as he waited for everyone else to leave. Oliver liked to make sure that no one was left behind.
His first night working at the Pizza Dude, Oliver had been in his car and racing for home before anyone else had even left the lot. Five minutes later he got a nagging feeling that ate at his gut.
What if one of those kids weren’t able to get their car started?
What if they were stranded and no one was around to help?
Sure, they all had their own phones nowadays, but what if the battery was empty due to the nonstop texting they did when they were supposed to be working?
So Oliver had turned around to check. The lot was empty, but he had felt better about the entire situation, and from then on did not leave until he was sure that everyone else was good to go.
Oliver continued to fiddle with his MP3 player as the rest of the crew drove away, and soon he was alone in the lot. He plugged the MP3 player into the car stereo and had clicked his seat belt on when a bright light enveloped him.
His mouth went dry and a solitary “Um”, was the only response he could come up with under the circumstances.
Out of nowhere, a figure appeared next to the car. It was thin, tall, and bald. In the light Oliver could see it didn’t look human. Its ears were pointy and its skin was grey and looked like the cracked granite counter tops his parent’s had just installed in their kitchen. It wore what looked to be a dark blue uni-tard with a big letter R on it.
Oliver reached over and locked his door.
“Step out of the car,” the creature said in perfect English.
“What?” Oliver said, pretending he couldn’t hear the thing through the closed window.
In high school, when faced with fear and the threat of violence, Oliver would often use humor as a deflection technique to avoid getting beat up. Most of his classmates took this not as a way to deal with a terrifying situation, but instead as nothing more than the mocking jibes of a jerk just itching for a pounding.
Oliver got beat up a lot in school.
“Step out of the car!”
“What?” Oliver repeated.
The creature looked annoyed. Oliver just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I don’t know.
The creature pointed a finger at Oliver, twirling it around in the universal sign for ‘roll down your window’.
Oliver opened the window about an inch, squeezed his face up to the crack so that it was level with his mouth, and spoke.
“Yes?” he said and then moved back to watch the creature through the glass.
“I am the General of Ru’In.”
“You will step out of the car now or I will burn it to the ground with you inside. If you dare defy me the last thing you will remember before you die will be the smell of your burning flesh!”
“Look, General,” Oliver said, trying his best to sound reasonable. “You seem like a rational, um, person. But here’s the thing. While I’m not too hip on the idea of burning to death in my car, I sort of feel that I’d meet a similar fate if I were to come out there. You know what I’m saying?”
“Do you have the ring?”
The General raised his right hand so that Oliver could see a ring, very similar to his own, on the General’s middle finger.
“The ring,” the General said. “Like this one.”
“Oh, that ring. Nope, sorry. No rings like that in here.”
“Yes there is,” the General scowled. “I can see it there on your hand.”
“What?” Oliver laughed uncomfortably and quickly put his hand in his pocket. “Sorry, no ring.”
“Do you even know how to use it?” The General began to shake slightly.
Oliver thought for a moment. Did he really know anything about the ring? Obviously there was something to it like Mr. Pembleton had said. He just had to figure out what it was, and he certainly wasn’t going to let this guy have it.
“Ring?” Oliver asked, continuing on his track with the humor.
“I grow weary of this,” the General said, taking a small step back from the car. As he did, the General changed. He grew. Before, he was tall and skinny; a few moments later, he was a hulking mass of muscle. He stood no less than seven feet tall with arms thicker than Oliver’s head, and with legs like the trunks of old oak trees.
Oliver’s fear screamed like a little girl.
“You!” Oliver said. “But...”
“Good, you recognize me,” the General said. “That will make things easier.”
“But, you were beaten?” Oliver said, his voice quavering. “You died… Captain Might…”
The General, ignoring Oliver, reached out with a hand the size of a dinner plate and ripped the driver’s side door off of Oliver’s car as if it was made of facial tissue. He laughed and tossed the door aside like the ad section of the Sunday newspaper.
Oliver scrambled backwards, trying to get into the passenger seat—or really anywhere that this guy couldn’t get him… maybe Texas—but he wasn’t quick enough. The General leaned in and snatched Oliver by the wrist and pulled him from the car like a child’s toy.
The General held Oliver off of the ground with one hand and brought him up to eye level. He took Oliver’s hand—the one with the ring—and forced it up between their faces.
“That ring,” the General growled. His voice was even deeper.
“Oh, okay,” Oliver laughed in that panicky and irrational way that panicky and irrational people do. “That ring. I see. I know what you’re talking about now.”
“Do you have any idea what this ring can do for you?”
“Um,” Oliver swallowed, his arm aching as he hung like a coat. “Not really, no.”
“Where did you get the ring?”
“I found it.”
“Um… yeah, in a Cracker Jack box. I was hoping for a compass, but you know, you get what you get. Acceptance is the key.”
“You are a foolish, stupid little man.”
“The thought has crossed the minds of more than one from time to time,” Oliver smiled the smile of the insane. He was going to die. No way around it. He thought of Elyse and his little girls.
“I want you to use your ring,” the General shook him. “Transform as I have.”
What? Oliver thought.
“I, uh. I don’t know how,” Oliver said.
“Someone gave you that ring. Surely they told you how to use it.”
“Yeah,” Oliver laughed. “You’d think so.”
“I have no qualms against hurting you, forcing a transformation if necessary.” The General shook him again.
“Information noted,” Oliver groaned. “But as much as I love pain, and believe me, I do love it; I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“So be it,” the General said and casually tossed Oliver over his shoulder.
Oliver went weightless. He was flying and for a moment marveled at the experience. Then he slammed into something and his brief joy fled as his spine impacted. The barrier he’d come against shattered and then something tore at his clothing, his skin, and he felt more pain than he’d ever known.
It didn’t last however as everything went dark.
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