Wednesday, August 1, 2018

SEVEN: PAIN

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OLIVER WOKE, BROKEN AND bleeding, lying amongst shattered glass and shards of wood. A deep pain beat at him as he sat up, and he fought with a clouded mind to identify his surroundings. What little he could make out swam in and out of focus like a cheap camera. He could see tables and chairs, booths, a counter, and no less than seven penguins. The Dude, he was in the Pizza Dude.

He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. The penguins disappeared, the Dude remained. Across from where he sat should be the Dude’s front window, but instead was only an open hole to the outside world. Oliver surmised that he had gone through it. That would account for the glass... and the penguins.

The General stepped through the opening that was once a window, his bucket-sized boots crushing the fallen glass beneath them. Oliver tried to move but nothing worked the way it should. Oliver tried to move, put some space between himself and the General, but all he could manage was to wet his pants.

“Look,” Oliver said, finding it a struggle to even form the words. “I can’t help you. I don’t know how this stupid ring works.”

“So weak you humans are,” the General said, moving ever closer. “So frail, so delicate. I often forget just what your kind is made up of.”

“Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails?” Oliver’s voice sounded distant and faint to his own ears. He hoped that the General had heard his comeback because he didn’t think he’d have the strength to repeat it.

“You attempt humor in the face of fear.”

“Do I?” Good, the General had heard him.

But before Oliver could say another word, before he could even think, the General moved, snatching him up by the neck, and slapped Oliver across the face with the back of his skillet of a hand. Oliver’s head rocked back violently, and he nearly blacked out.

“Your ring is capable of many great and powerful feats.” The General held his right hand up, showing off his own ring.

“Like mine,” the General continued, “it has the ability to give you considerable strength.”

A bright light enveloped Oliver. It wrapped around him and brought him warmth. Warmth and... comfort? But then his skin crawled. It squirmed like thousands of worms slithering along his body, and Oliver could feel his injuries—the broken bones, the split lip, the bruises—mending and healing. He could feel the strength returning to him.

“What did you do to me?”

“As I said,” the General smiled, “Our rings have many abilities. One is the ability to heal—yourself as well as others.”

“You healed me? Why?”

“I’ve given you back just enough to stay conscious.”

“How? I don’t understand,” Oliver struggled in the General’s grasp.

“The ring, human. The ring is an object of great power. Use it. Use the ring and show me your full potential.”

“Why!?” Oliver couldn’t take much more. He continued his struggles, throwing in a kick now and then. It was like kicking a boulder. “Why do you want me to use the ring!? What do you think is going to happen!?”

“Where did you get the ring?” the General shook him. “Who gave it to you?”

“Ronald Reagan!”

The General hit him again and Oliver felt his jaw shatter. A scream of pain cut short as he choked on his own teeth and blood.

“Is this what you want, human?” the General said. “To die here, like this? For what? A principle?”

No, that’s not at all what Oliver wanted. But he didn’t want to give in to this creature either. What if the General tracked the ring back to Mr. Pembleton? He was just a helpless old man. Oliver wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Besides, he’d passed two kidney stones in three years, next to that this pain was nothing.

“This will never end for you, human. I’ve lived for thousands of your Earth years and I will live for thousands more. I can take you onto my ship and we can continue this cycle for as long as it takes in the darkness of space.”

The General smiled as the healing light crept over Oliver, repairing his jaw, replacing his shattered teeth. Oliver spit and gasped for breath.

“How long will it take, human?” The General said. “How long to break you? A week? A month? A year? I have the patience. Do you?”

Oliver decided that no, he did not.

“Fine!” Oliver shouted. “You want to know where I got this damn ring!? I got it as a tip!”

“A tip?” the General pulled him in close. “I don’t understand.”

“I delivered a pizza to a guy tonight,” Oliver sighed. “He gave me the ring as a tip.”

“What is a tip?”

“A tip! You know, gratuity. Like a bonus or a reward for bringing the pizza all the way out to the house.”

The General furrowed his brow.

“So you conveyed sustenance to another human residence, and in return they present to you a ring of the Tal’Might as a token of gratitude?”

“Tall might?” Oliver said. “I don’t know what you mean by tall might, but yeah, I delivered the pizza and he gave me the ring.”

“You expect me to believe this, this... fabrication?” The General shook him again. “Do not lie to me, human filth!”

“I’m not lying!” Oliver screamed as the giant shook him. “I’m telling the truth! Honest!”

The General sighed, covered his face with a hand, and let Oliver drop to the ground.

“It matters not how you came to possess the ring,” the General turned and walked away.

“Then why—” Oliver fought for breath as he stood. “Why do you keep asking me about it?”

“It’s sad really,” the General said, his back to Oliver. He chuckled. “So sad that you have been given such power, yet you have no understanding of how to use it.”

Oliver grabbed at a shard of glass from the ground near him and threw it as hard as he could; ignoring the gash it left in the palm of his hand. It struck the General in the back of the head. But the shard bounced harmlessly away.

“What do you want from me!?” Oliver screamed, his tears making trails in the dust on his face.

“I want the ring,” the General said, his voice soft, almost pleading. “I... need, your ring.” The General paced. “I’ve been waiting all this time, waiting and watching, and now at last I have been given my chance. That ring will be mine.”

“Then take it!” Oliver stood. “It’s yours! Just leave me alone!”

The General laughed. “If only it were that simple.” He stopped pacing and stood once more with his back to Oliver, his head cocked to the sky, to the stars.

“It is. Just take it.”

“Your ring was not made for me, for my people. It cannot be given to me, it must be taken.”

“Then take it!”

The General spun to face him, anger and rage on his face. “I can’t! Not while you are like this! You must become that which the ring needs you to be!”

“I can’t,” Oliver wept. “I don’t know how.”

The General only stared at him, a thoughtful look upon his face. Then Oliver could hear the sound of sirens in the distance.

The police.

Oliver began to cry once again, but this time from relief. He was sure there was nothing the police would be able to do against this monster, but if they were on their way it could only mean that—but his thought was interrupted when a blast of energy slammed into the General.

Oliver nearly cheered as the blast sent the General sailing into wreckage that was the Pizza Dude.

“You okay, buddy?” He stood over Oliver, his savior. He was all crackling green energy that sizzled and popped beneath the man’s containment suit.

“Power Surge,” Oliver said, rising. “Thank God, that thing was going to kill me—” he was interrupted as a large chunk of masonry took Power Surge in the face, knocking the hero onto his back.

Oliver dropped once again to the rubble strewn ground as the General jumped between him and the man made of pure energy.

“Stay down, fool," the General said. “You can still walk away from this.”

Power Surge, Oliver could see, was not about to give up. The hero rose. But the General was quicker, and with three great strides was on top of him, hammering the Mighty back to the earth with a powerful fist.

Power Surge groaned and the General kicked him in the head, once, twice, until the hero went limp and silent.

Then, turning back to Oliver, the General closed the distance between them in a blink.

“We must go before another of your so-called heroes arrive,” the General said. “I have neither the time, nor the inclination for a drawn out battle.”

The General held something up to Oliver’s face. Before Oliver could see what it was an invisible needle of energy pierced his skull and, as he looked up into the General’s horrible face, everything went dark.





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