When Jake Norris was seventeen, he had it all: a college acceptance letter, a beautiful girlfriend, and the highest grade point average in John Quincy Adams High’s history. Valedictorian, MVP of the football team, Mr Popular! Then by nineteen he had nothing left because he lost the most important game of the season, his girlfriend left him, and he had to drop out of college. Jake Norris, the total loser of Centerville, USA.
“Good evening, Mr Tate,” said Jake to his boss, the midnight shift manager of the local Com’on In, a twenty four hour convenience store where you can buy a thirty two ounce slushee for two fifty, plus tax. Mr Tate had no respect for Jake; hardly anyone did. That’s why he merely nodded when Jake greeted him.
Jake sighed as he put on his apron for work. Eleven o’clock in the evening; the store was empty save for Jake and Mr Tate. The slushee machine whirled with a quiet hum, the blue and pink slush kept in two separate containers. The hot dogs spun around quietly, their reddish complexion shining under the searing bulb that kept them hot. The alternating green and yellow tiles on the floor were spotless, a testament to the standards of Com’on In.
“Evenin’,” Jake greeted the first customer of his shift. His face immediately fell, however, as he recognized who it was. “How may I help you?”
“Nachos, small,” said the customer with the smuggest grin anyone could ever lay eyes on. “Gia’s kinda hungry.”
“Alright,” Jake said, defeat evident in his voice. He scooped up the nachos and put them in the small paper bowl. “Would you like cheese or chili?”
“Extra cheese,” the customer replied. “And Jake? Try to smile, buddy; I AM a customer, after all!”
“Anything else, sir?” Jake said with the biggest smile he could force.
“Yeah, a pack of gum and a coke,” said the customer, his eyes watching Jake like a hawk watches a mouse.
“That’ll be three seventy five,” said Jake as he tallied the total.
“Here’s two bucks,” the customer said as he tossed a pair of bills at Jake’s face. “Why don’t you make up the difference with your salary?”
“Sir, you can’t do that,” said Jake as he tried to keep his composure. “If you can’t pay, I cannot give you the items you ordered.”
“Hey!” The customer called out to Mr Tate. “Hey dad, Jake won’t let me have the stuff I’m paying for!”
“Goddammit Norris, stop being so useless and let the customers have what they pay for!” Mr Tate screamed from the backroom.
“But he doesn’t have enough money!” Jake protested.
“Mike, that true?” Asked Mr Tate as he approached the customer.
“Nuh uh, pop!” Said Mike as he took out a five dollar bill. “Jake’s just trying to start something; he’s always had it for me since Gia left him!”
“Mike, listen, why don’t you take your stuff? On the house, alright?” Mr Tate smiled to his son. “Let ME take care of this moron; you go on and enjoy your date with your lovely girlfriend!”
As Mike Tate left, Mr Tate turned to Jake, pure hatred in his eyes. “Now listen here, you little PUNK! If it weren’t for your dad and that one favor I owed him, I would NEVER have hired you! You’re a waste of space, a terrible employee, and a pathetic loser who PEAKED in high school! Why not do us all a favor and skip town?”
“I can’t,” Jake replied. “I-”
“Your mom, right?” Mr Tate sneered. “Once she goes, how about you go keep her company? Make yourself useful for once in your life?”
To that, Jake said nothing. What else could even be said?
“Go check on stock; tomorrow’s payday,” said Mr Tate. “Make sure your dad swings on by to collect your paycheck.”
And so Jake went to the backroom to check on stock. The stockroom was rather dusty, but it was filled with crates full of snacks, tubs of slushee syrup, blank CD cases, and cans of cheese. Jake checked inventory twice over; when he finished and returned to the register, he found that his boss had left.
“Dang,” he muttered to himself as he checked the register. “Good, nothing stolen. Must have left not that long ago.”
He checked the clock; nearly one in the morning. At this time of the night customers are rare; mostly either out-of-towners looking for a quick bite, or people in dire need of a midnight snack with no nutritional value. Jake sighed and took out his wallet, staring at the picture inside.
Her name was Gia Holling, his former girlfriend. The girl he swore two years ago he’d marry. The girl who made his high school years the best of his life...
Ding dong! A customer. Jake looked up from his photograph to greet the customer, but his jaw dropped. A young boy no older than ten, drenched in sweat and panting heavily, fear and panic written all over his face.
“Kid, what happened!?” Jake cried out, running towards the boy.
“He’s after me, help!” The boy yelled out. “He’s going to hurt me!”
“OK, get in the backroom,” said Jake. “I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out.”
As the boy ran to the backroom, Jake went up to the counter and pressed the emergency red button to summon the police. He then reached for the hidden emergency gun; his instincts told him he’d need it. His eyes were like a wolf’s, staring down the predator threatening his cubs. He gripped that gun hard, his trigger finger at the ready for whomever would dare come through that door.
There was no way Jake could ever expect what happened next; a strange type of cyclopsian being entered the store. It had one large, yellow eye, a black head, long arms, no nose or ears, long legs, a slender body, and jagged teeth. It stood seven feet tall, with its arms ending in three-fingered claws.
“The boy,” said the creature. “Give him to me.”
“Leave,” Jake commanded, his voice and hands shaking uncontrollably, but his steely gaze fixated on the creature. “I’m armed, and the police are on their way.”
“Are they now?” The creature chuckled, snapping its fingers. Four strange shadows appeared around it, rising from the ground and taking the shape of humanoid beings, wearing fedoras and trench coats. “Goons, make sure nobody interrupts us.”
The four ‘Goons’, as the creature called them, stepped outside the store. The creature inched closer and closer to Jake, a wicked grin on its face. “So, human, how’re we gonna do this? The easy way, or the hard way?”
He didn’t hesitate; he took out that gun and fired no less than five rounds straight at the monster’s head. But just as suddenly, the bullets stopped mere inches away from the monster’s face, just as it grinned.
“My, my. How primitive,” the creature grinned. “A projectile weapon? This planet really is the boonies!”
The bullets harmlessly dropped to the ground; the creature kept inching closer and closer to Jake. He threw a punch at the monster, only to stop just inches away from its eyeball. Jake’s body began to shake; he could not move a muscle, hard as he tried. He began to levitate off the ground.
“You’re outnumbered and outclassed, boy,” said the monster. “But you’ve got guts. Tell you what; you let me into that back room of yours, and I’ll put in a good word for you to my Boss. He’s always on the lookout for hired muscle.”
What Jake responded is best left unsaid, but it started with the letter F. The monster let out a hearty laugh, grabbed Jake by the neck, and tossed him to the wall. The creature fixated its eye on the back room, where the boy had been hiding the whole time. He forced the door open, and then...
“Here!” The boy called out, a CD in his hands. “The schematics for the Super Solenoid Engine are right here! Just leave us alone, alright!?”
“My, my. Finally thinking logically, aren’t we, J?” The creature chuckled, taking the CD. “Ugh, what an archaic form of data storage. Honestly, this planet is just too much. What’s next; fossil fuels?”
It walked towards Jake, who was starting to get up, his eyes as cold and sharp as a steel blade. The monster took a slushee cup, poured himself a slushee, and smiled. “No more need to fight, boy; I’ve got what I need. How much for this drink? I am deathly curious about it.”
Jake was incredulous as he watched the creature leave three bits of paper on the counter, which suddenly turned into dollar bills. He observed the creature leave the store with no fuss, happily slurping his pink slushee.
“Thank you,” said the boy as he rushed to hug Jake. “If not for you...”
“You OK, kid?” Asked Jake. “Who... WHAT was that!?”
“He’s trouble,” replied the boy. “By the way, I’m J, and you?”
“We need to get out of here,” said J. “As soon as Occulus finds out I gave him a blank CD, he’ll come back.”