Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Pizza Guys. It is inspired by this prompt: https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/pizza-delivery-driver. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
The haze fades as my eyes blink themselves awake. It must have been a wild night. I’m sure I was at a party or something though I don’t even remember going to bed.
Wait a second, there wasn’t a party and this isn’t my bed. I’m sitting on a chair bolted to the floor. My ankles are attached to its legs with some sort of adhesive. I’m guessing duct tape. Both of my arms are behind me. I struggle frantically to move my limbs. No dice. It seems my hands are literally tied, again probably with duct tape but I’m not sure.
My head clears and I’m able to get a better look at my surroundings. It is a deplorable sight. The floors are covered by layers of dirt and grime. Once white walls are now mostly beige with dark black spots I assume is mold. A thin strip of light from what I assume is a nearby window is at my feet. It is the only illumination in an otherwise black room.
Cockroaches scurry under my feet. A couple crawls up my legs almost literally making my skin crawl. I panic but my restraints prevent me from really doing much and certainly do not allow me to escape their hairy appendages. They crawl down my pants legs before eventually leaving me alone.
The smell though, oh my God, the smell. Think of the foulest smelling things in the world. What’s in your head? Stagnant water? Fish cooked in the microwave? A locker room full of football players after a game in the mud? My Aunt Mabel’s underwear (don’t ask)? Well, multiply them all by a hundred and perhaps that’d be adequate to describe a tenth of the stench. I’d vomit but I don’t think I have anything in my stomach right now. It growls loudly as if to confirm these thoughts.
There is no furniture, furnishings, or decorations of any kind. I take a quick look slightly to my left and get a glimpse into a room. It contains a tiny bed stained almost black with thin strips of baby blue peeking through. On top of it rests a stained yellow pillow.
A quick peek to the right reveals a bathroom. Besides the deep brown stains and space where a window should be, the sink, toilet, and even the bathtub contain bile that I would rather not describe. The hunger I had but a moment ago instantly disappears and is replaced by nausea and a heightened desire to escape.
How did I get here? That’s right. My memory slowly returns as my head continues to clear. I was delivering a pizza. The dilapidated rooftop, rotted wooden fence with hardly a single fencepost remaining upright, the dirt yard, and decaying brick all signaled that I needed to turn around.
But my boss wasn’t happy with me. My last two deliveries were over an hour late. What can I say? Delivery times impeded with band practice and we have a pretty sweet gig this Saturday. We’re playing at the Kohn’s Bar Mitzvah. Granted, I guess that now assumes I get out of this alive.
The point is I already had two strikes on me and my boss made it clear that with the third strike, I’m out. Getting fired wasn’t and isn’t an option because I’m saving up for one fine Gibson that I’ve had my eye on for quite a while. Though by now my boss is probably pissed that I’m late coming back and I’m going to be fired anyway. Great.
I suddenly hear a grinding noise. What the hell could it be? My head veers to my direct left. There is a tiny room that I did not notice before whose contents are obscured by a thin wooden brown door. As if the room itself is answering I see sparks fly. I’m no expert but it seems as though someone is grinding something sharp like a knife or a sword.
A shiver goes down my spine. Goosebumps emerge. A cold sweat forms. My body trembles. My lips quake. It is as though my blood has been completely drained.
I struggle once more with greater intensity than before. My arms and legs flail. They don’t move very far but they move as rapidly as humanly possible within those restraints. It doesn’t do much. It’s completely ineffective. Fatigue sets in, both mental and physical, and I give up. No use trying the same thing over and over again if it’s not working. Maybe I should have taken weight training more seriously.
Fantastic. Rocco got to play Twister with a bunch of sorority girls during his last delivery. Marty got to spend some time with Mrs. Ambrose who found a very creative way to pay for her pizza. Me? I get tied to a chair probably to be skinned alive and eaten. My mentor tried to warn me. I was only half paying attention and my boss interrupted him before he could fully explain. I think he tried to tell me something like this might happen.
“It’s criminal what they do to ye lads,” old Hoss Chavez said with his oddly Scottish accent. His large unlit stogie moved across his gritted teeth and thick lips as he scratched his full, black beard with his wizened, brown hand. “They fill your minds with propaganda. They tell ye how glamorous the pizza industry is from their advertisements for pizza parties to even Chuck E. Cheese. Not ta mention pretty much all of the porn industry. They don’t warn you of the dangers.”
“A conspiracy from Big Pizza, I suppose,” I snickered.
“Ye are laughing now but ye’ll soon learn what I mean.”
“Chavez!” our boss yelled when he overheard the conversation from the counter. “Don’t scare him like that! Odds are he’ll never have to face the same kind of trouble that we’ve had to encounter! Seriously, what are the odds?” He scratched his head. “Right now, you need to focus on the job. Show Jon how to make a pizza and nothing more! And take that cigar out of your mouth! This is a no-smoking facility!”
“Yeah, man, just show me how to make a pizza,” I said. His ensuing stare made me regret those words. I wanted to curl into the fetal position.
He turned his attention back toward our boss. “Aye, Mr. Callahan,” Hoss said with a mock salute. The old man proceeded to show me how to do the job without further commentary though I must add, he never removed the cigar.
I should have paid more heed to the old man. Now all I can do is await my fate.
I hear a knock at the door. It is the most angelic sound my ears have ever heard.
“I’m tied to a chair!” I scream. I turn as much as I can toward the burgundy front door. Only a part of it can be seen with my peripheral vision. “He’s going to kill me!” I have to yell especially loud to avoid being drowned by the grinding noises.
A rollercoaster of emotions overwhelms as I hear the tumblers move only to return to their original position followed by a series of expletives. It is followed by a sound similar to metallic snapping fills the air which also results in a great deal of cursing. After what seems to be hours but in actuality is probably only a minute or two, the door flings open and slams against the wall with a gigantic thud. Daylight floods the room and sears my eyes. A shadowy figure emerges. He stands at the door with his chest thrust forward, tools in hand, looking like a Norse hero.
“Hoss! It’s so good to see you!”
“Ye as well, Lad, but we have ta get ye outta here!” Hoss dashes to the chair. Each step is loud and heavy and makes the ground shake. He kneels next to me and proceeds to free me from my duct tape shackles.
“Not so sound ungrateful, but how did you get in here?”
“I picked the lock.”
“You picked the lock?”
“Aye, lad, when ye’ve been in this business as long I have, ye come prepared.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I gotta work and noticed ye weren’t there. I asked Callahan about it and he told me ye hadn’t returned from yer last delivery several hours ago. This got me very worried especially because of the nature of our business. Callahan wasn’t worried, though. After all, ‘you’ve pulled these stunts before’. He also said ‘this home wasn’t marked’ and assured me it was safe. Obviously, he was wrong about that one.”
“What? Because of the nature of our business? And this home wasn’t marked? What does all that mean?”
“There’s a lot we haven’t told you but I’m not sure if I can explain or whether it’d even be appropriate. We’re obtuse for a reason, lad. Anyway, I looked through the computer to see the address of your last delivery and since my next stop was nearby, I thought I’d swing by and make sure everything went all right. When I saw your car was still here, I knew something was wrong.”
Eventually, Hoss manages to remove the tape. I rub my wrist and ankles to return circulation. It takes a moment before I get used to my legs again. I slip a bit as I rise but I am able to catch myself on the chair that had been my confines before I fall. Hoss lifts helps me stand upright. I feel something hard against his waist.
“What’s that?” I ask pointing at it.
“A .45? Isn’t that a gun?”
“Last I checked.”
“Why are you carrying a gun?”
“After what happened to ya, do ye really need to ask?”
I pause for a moment. “Good point.”
“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
He guides me toward the door. Before we can reach it, I feel a hot wind blowing against my neck. It moves some of my thick brown hair over my eyes. A hideous, inhuman shriek fills the air. I turn slowly and Hoss does the same.
Standing before us is an emaciated man with ribs poking through his pale skin. His eyes are sunk deep down into their sockets. There is not a single hair on his body. It looks as if he died of starvation and has risen after a week in the grave. He brandishes a large, glistening butcher’s knife In his right hand. His long gray tongue swings from his agape mouth with a viscous liquid dripping from it as it slowly swings from side to side.
“What the hell is that?” I ask emphasizing every syllable.
“A wendigo. I was hoping to get ya out of here before we’d have to confront it.”
“What the hell is a wendigo?”
“An evil spirit that turns men into cannibals. It’s funny. I’ve never seen one that seems concerned with food preparation. I suppose in that way yer lucky.”
“How the hell am I lucky?”
“Most of the time a Wendigo devours its victim like a feral beast. This one wanted to cut you into manageable sized pieces yet he apparently still wanted to eat a fresh meal. Because of this eccentricity, it allowed me a chance to come to yer rescue.”
“So what’s the plan?”
Without saying a word, Hoss drew his firearm, aimed it at the creature, and fired. The impact knocked it off its feet onto its back. His legs curled under him and his arms fell limply to his sides.
My eyes are like saucers and my jaw drops. “You killed him!”
“No, I didn’t. He’s unconscious. See, he’s still breathing.”
“No, he’s not, wait, oh my God, what’s happening?” Before my eyes, the gaunt wendigo transforms into a pudgy, middle-aged man with short black hair and thick eyebrows. His nude body twitches slightly but it appears more due to his apparent slumber than being in pain. All things considered, he seems happy.
“The bullet transformed him back to his original self,” Hoss explains.
I breathe a sigh of relief. “That’s good. I’m glad you didn’t kill him.”
“Trust me, lad, there is no need to worry. It is all part of the plan.”
I glower. “What plan? You just shot him!”
“What ye saw just now was the end product of many years of preparation. It’s like the old joke with the engineer where he marks an ‘X’ and charges a large amount of money because he knows where to put the thing. What yer seeing is the ‘X’, the result of years of hard work.”
“So it took you years to realize a .45 is a Wendigo’s weakness?”
“My bullets are enchanted. They’re able to harm the spirit while leaving the human host completely intact. It took many years of study to learn the spell to cast, to gather the ingredients, and to discover how long to marinate everything. Besides, the job is only half done.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve freed the body from the spirit but we haven’t destroyed it. That can only happen if I recite a very specific incantation from this book.”
Hoss reaches into his back pocket. His expression suddenly turns perplexed. He pats around but cannot find what he is looking for.
“Oh, shite. I must have dropped it outside.”
Before he can answer, sparks ignite above us and a haze begins to form. It is unbelievable. My eyes cannot believe what they are seeing. I’m in a fog while these surreal specters form in front of me. I am too shocked to shout and too awestruck to flee. My hands move to cover my eyes and my ears but that does little to hinder the audio and visual cacophony taking in place in front of us.
A vortex is formed. My hair rustles as a powerful and sudden swirling wind forms in the middle of the room just above us. Whistling and crackling noises similar to lightning and thunder echo loudly and the house shakes. Appearing before is a murky ashen and cobalt demon head within a pentagram that wears a broad, sinister smile. A red substance drips from its fangs.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Hoss shouts as he runs out the door. He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I follow close behind.
We return to the outside world but have no time to dally. Our pursuer is quickly gaining ground. We dash toward the driveway at our left. My car is closer to us than Hoss’s because I parked on the inside lane of the driveway though I admit that half of it is in the dirt yard while he is parked perfectly perpendicular. Since it is closer, that is where we head.
“Look!” I suddenly shout. Something caught the corner of my eye as we ran. I point to the object on the ground. Next to my car’s driver’s side tire is the book. It is partially obscured by my vehicle’s undercarriage but its red and blue cover clashes with the brown which made it possible to spot even while running.
“I must have dropped when I looked inside yer car to make sure ya hadn’t fallen asleep again,” Hoss remarks snidely. He shuffles past me and reaches down to pick it up.
Just as he does this, the wendigo spirit rushes past me. “Look out!” I scream. It’s too late.
“Aaarrggh!” Hoss’s anguished shrieks fill the air as he’s filled with the spirit. It enters his body with extreme force, throwing him against the car. He and my vehicle soar several feet above the ground and through the air. The car lands with a piercing crash. All of its glass shatters and shards fly everywhere. I cover my eyes and face and narrowly avoid being hit.
Things settle down a bit but that is not to say I’m still worried about what happened to Hoss. I uncover my eyes slowly and through the cracks of my fingers, I look over to him and hope beyond hope that he has not been reduced to a mangled corpse.
I see he is no longer see the man I knew. He is replaced with a creature whose body is bony and skeletal and does not contain a single hair. The expression on his face is vacuous. His agape mouth reveals a long, floppy tongue. Large claw-like nails emerge from his fingertips. His skin is ashen.
He rises to his feet. His pants and underwear fall from his thin frame. The creature rips his shirt and throws it aside like a feral beast. His shoes and socks are kicked off his feet. He pounds his chest and screeches toward the heavens. Then he looks directly into my eyes.
A primordial pressure forms in my breast. My body shivers. A cold sweat forms on my back, stomach, and chest. For a moment I feel like I’m about to lose control of my bowels and bladder.
I back away as he approaches and I am so frantic to escape that I throw caution to the wind. It is as if I am using my feet for the first time in my life. The slightest thing could trip me and does as the first time my right foot feels a solid object I fall and hit the ground with a huge thud.
My vision blurs as the creature gradually approaches. It is as though I am being stalked by hazy gray mass. I shuffle across the ground on my elbows and the back of my feet. My feet thrash about sending dirt and dust wildly into the air. One of my feet hits something small. I kick the object and it skirts along the ground and stops near my right hand. I glance over. It’s Hoss’s book.
I have an epiphany. Hoss said or at least implied something in this book could help us. Perhaps it contains something that could destroy the spirit. I know what must be done.
The creature hovers over me. It raises its hand and his nails glisten in the sun. He strikes the ground and causes shockwaves which means he is quite strong despite his thin frame.
I am able to roll out of the way in the nick of time and as I do, I pick up the book in one hand and crawl along the ground toward my companion’s dropped pants. My hands and knees are getting cut up in the process but I’m hardly concerned with that at the moment. Hoss, or at least the creature who was once Hoss, is still in pursuit but he is not quite as agile as I am so it is a bit of a string for him to turn around. It allows me to get a little bit ahead.
I clutch the belt and move my fingers across the edge until I find it. With the holster unhooked, I draw the firearm as the creature leaps several feet in the air with both hands raised high above his head. I aim and fire.
The weapon sails out of my grip which cuts up my hands in the process. I’ve never fired a gun before and even though I knew they can have quite a kick, I still wasn’t expecting that kind of force. With adrenaline flowing through my veins and beside myself with fear, I pat both hands on the ground in a desperate search for the weapon. Then I realize, suddenly, that I no longer hear the creature’s sordid grunts.
He is a crumpled mass. I rub my neck with the unblistered part of my palm and laugh. Talk about an unbelievably lucky shot. Suddenly, the monster transforms before my eyes. In place of the wendigo is the familiar muscular frame and bearded head of Hoss Chavez lying unconscious on the ground.
“I’m only halfway done,” I mutter to myself. I open the book. Every single page is blank.
I didn’t quite know what to expect but this defied all expectations. I stare in consternation. Why is this book so important if there’s nothing in it? What kind of game is Hoss playing? I flip through the manuscript rapidly as I am incredulous there is nothing in this book that can help. With each turn, I become increasingly desperate. I almost want to cry. The sky begins to change. A familiar wind blows. Sparks once again ignite and once again a vortex is formed. I stand dejected and reticent, resigned to the inevitable. I give up. It’s too late. There is nothing left to do.
As my knees hit the ground, the book falls from my hand. I pick it up again. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to take one more look. It’s better than thinking about how many ways the evil spirit could mutilate me. It’s still empty. I’m not sure what I expected. I let out a heavy sigh. A single manly tear falls down my cheek and lands against the page.
A miracle happens. Words emerge out of nowhere and fill the page with a language I had never seen yet could somehow understand. I stare completely perplexed but as the demonic visage forms in the mist, I decide this is not the time to think. It is time to take action.
I recite the incantation. Each syllable is spoken fluently as if it were my native language. With each phrase, with each sound I utter, the demon’s inhumane screams reverberate against my skull. Yet I remain resolute and continue reading. My voice grows with every phrase until it is a shout that resonates throughout the neighborhood, nay, throughout the land.
A large flash fills the heavens and the apparition fizzles into a miasma of rage. It lets out a monstrous, earth-shaking scream as it stretches apart. The sky collapses to a single circular point and the world turns black. It is darker than it is at night. Not only is it silent it is as if sound itself doesn’t exist.
An explosion knocks me to my feet. My vision is once again fuzzy, for what, the third time? When it once again clears, I look up. The azure sky is filled with fluffy white clouds. Birds chirp pleasantly indicating that noise has returned. It is as if the last few hours of my life have all been a figment of my imagination. For a moment I think this is true until I see that my car remains toppled.
I look over toward my fallen companion. He looks around seemingly bewildered as he rubs the side of his head. I ask if he is okay. Outside of a slight headache, he is fine.
Not wanting to see my friend nude any longer than I have to, I gather his pants and underwear, his socks and shoes, and even his shirt that he turned to rags albeit he wasn’t exactly thinking clearly at the time. I hand them to my companion along with the book, “Here you go, but don’t blame me for the ripped shirt. You did that yourself.”
“Thanks, lad,” he says as he puts on his clothes except for the remnants of his shirt which he tosses aside. He places the book in his back pocket and makes sure that it is tucked in firmly this time around. He then scans the yard. “What happened here?”
I explain what happened the best I can.
“Are you telling me that you were actually able to read the words in the book?”
“Yes, I mean, eventually. The pages were blank but then I started crying, I mean, my eyes filled with dust and I shed a tear and all of a sudden, words appeared out of nowhere.”
“Impossible. Nobody should be able to read from the Muzayaf Kitab unless-” Hoss’s voice trails.
He grabs both of my shoulders. “Unless you too have ‘the gift’!”
I shove his hands aside. “What gift? What the hell are you talking about?”
Instead of answering, his head darts around and his attention turns elsewhere. “I’d love to talk to ye about this, lad, but I don’t think this is the best place to be telling secrets right now.”
I look around the neighborhood. It seems that the commotion has gathered quite the crowd. As I was oblivious to everything but the wendigo, I cannot say how long they’ve been out here but I would not be surprised if they saw everything as their faces display an expression that one could describe as beyond bewildered. Mystified is a word that is often abused but I think it only adequately describes their visages at the moment. Most stand with their jaws metaphorically hitting the floor but a couple. have cell phones in their hands. I imagine they recorded everything.
An unfamiliar voice emerges from the door of the wendigo’s former home. Hoss and I look in that direction. He is the wendigo’s former victim, the pudgy nude man. “Where the hell am I? And how the hell did I get here?”
He sees the crowd and notices his nudity for the first time which causes him to panic. He runs down the streets of the neighborhood though in some ways despite the grotesque nature of the scene Hoss and I are fortunate as it diverts the attention of the crowd.
“Just what we need to escape,” Hoss remarks. “We can use my car. Let’s get out of here.”
I take one last forlorn glance at my vehicle before sitting in the passenger seat. I let out a heavy sigh. “I only had two payments left.”
“Callahan and I are part of a secret cabal that fights supernatural creatures that most people believe are mythical,” Hoss explains as he drives us back to the pizza parlor. “These beings often use delivery services to attract young prey such as yerself. It’s why Callahan and I decided to buy the local branch of a popular pizza chain. Of course, we’d draw suspicion if we only had us two as employees and didn’t open things up to the public. We had to act, for the most part, like a regular pizzeria, which is why we have so many what I like to call ‘civilian drivers’. Callahan calls you guys ‘necessary evils’”.
“Wait!” I yell. “This whole thing is a front so you guys can fight monsters? What about us, the drivers? We’re the backbone of your company? Aren’t you worried that we’ll be killed? You’re sending us out there to die defenseless? That’s barbaric!”
Hoss rubs his eyes with a free hand. “Look, we don’t send you guys to places we know are dangerous. We thought we had marked where all the potential monsters lived. Even if there was a hint of suspicion, we marked it down. We missed this one and made a huge mistake. We apologize for that. I apologize for that, okay?”
“So you know supernatural creatures are running around in the wild yet Callahan didn’t want to send a rescue team to come and save me?”
“First, that’s Mr. Callahan to ye and second, ye did that to yerself. Ye have a bad habit of disappearing whenever you feel like practicing with your band.”
I lean my head against the window. “Still, I think you should have been more proactive, all things considered.”
Hoss pats me on the shoulder. “Yer right, lad, yer right, and I apologize. Still, I almost hate to say it, but everything worked out for the better.”
My head perks. “It did?”
“Yes, indeed. I think this calls for a celebration.”
He motions for me to move slightly as he opens his glove box. A sea of cigars flows out. He grabs one and places it in his mouth. His hand reaches for the cigarette lighter fuse and lights the stogie. I think he’s the only one left in existence that uses it for that purpose.
“Ye can grab one too if ye like,” Hoss says as he opens the windows and lets out a puff of smoke.
“No, thanks, and how did everything work out? What exactly are we celebrating?”
He looks at me and grins widely. “We discovered that ye have ‘the gift’.”
“Right, you said that before. What exactly does it mean?”
“Ye were able to read from the Muzayaf Kitab. Nobody can do that unless they have ‘the gift’”.
“All right, but what’s ‘the gift’?”
“It’s the ability to perform magic and cast spells. I’m able to do it. Callahan can do it. And now it appears that ye can do it too.”
“I’m a little confused, though. I mean, the pages were blank at first.”
“As they are for all of us until our latent abilities manifest. Don’t worry, lad, I’ll train ye. We’ll start immediately. I’ll teach ye everything you’ll need to know.”
“I’m not sure I want to be part of this, though.”
He stares for a moment and lets out a large puff of smoke, neglecting to blow it out the window this time. I wave my hand across my face and cough.
“Look,” Hoss says, “I understand. Ye’ve been through a lot and I’m sure that this job was only supposed to be something to get ye through the summer.”
“I only wanted to earn enough money to buy a Gibson.”
“A really good guitar.”
“Oh. Anyway, lad, very few people have this ability. I know it’s not what ye wanted. Very few of us want this but since it was thrust upon us, we must fulfill this obligation.” He pauses once again. “Do you like superheroes?”
“I mean, I guess. I only really liked Spiderman.”
“Perfect! That’s great! And what is his famous catchphrase?”
I look at my feet and sulk and debate whether I should answer. “With great power comes great responsibility,” I finally mutter.
“With great power comes great responsibility!” I shout.
“Exactly! Yer power is ‘the gift’. Yer responsibility is to protect the world from the evil supernatural entities that plague it. It’s in yer blood. It is yer destiny.”
I look out the window and stare at the peaceful blue sky. It should ease my apprehension but somehow only fills my heart with dread. I let out an exasperated sigh. “I guess I’m going to miss the Kohn’s Bar Mitzvah after all.”
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