Pizzamancer Days 1-5

This is my National Novel Writing Month project for 2014. My story "Pizzamancer" is a young adult(ish) adventure comedy with a pinch of romance and lots of snark. Inspired by the book  Princess Nevermore by Dian Curtis Regan, the movie Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and some of the vocal traits of my Prince even stem from the Sleepy Hollow TV Series. Inspiration comes in all forms. Embrace it, then run like hell. I've dedicated my entire November to writing 50,000 words towards the first draft. Never heard of National Novel Writing Month? Read my blog post about it here!

The following 6,598 words were written between November 3rd and November 7th, and most likely I'll even write more this evening. I've always enjoyed s haring my writing; the good and the bad, to show everyone that it can be done. There is a quote, "First drafts are always @&%!." I disagree. I believe first drafts are the first layer of paint. The first initial sketch. The first time you look at someone you'll eventually love. You can't call something awful if you've written it. You can call it highly in need of editing, or that it has glaring plot holes, boring characters, stuff that makes no sense, but don't call it @%$!. Don't insult yourself or others. Just be sure to go back and fix it.

"The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write." ~ Anon

And with that, I give you: Pizzamancer, the first ~6,000 words.

#Pizzamancer

a story of epic portions

by Michelle Brumley

 

 

“Suzi, why don't you go outside and socialize, like a normal college girl? It's beautiful today.”

“Mom, I'm not a girl. I'm old enough to legally have se--”

Go outside.”

Suzi sighed and put down her video game controller. She was ahead of her entire team, they'd survive the round without her. She exited the game, flipped off the TV and uncurled herself from her blanket on the couch. It was nice outside—but that didn't matter to Suzi. If her mom hadn't noticed by now, Suzi was as pale as a sheet. She didn't like the outdoors, and the outdoors didn't like her.

Her mom was too busy putting on her last-minute lipstick and throwing her clothes in to a suitcase on the kitchen counter. She was “going out” this weekend and wouldn't be back until the break of dawn on Monday. If she came back this week at all. Suzi didn't ask, and she didn't really care what her mom was up to—so long as she came back eventually and there was food in the fridge.

“Remember that you're starting at the Frying J tonight. I already talked to Miranda, she knows who you are. I left the name and address on the fridge. Don't disappoint me.” And with that final, edged comment, she was out the door. The slamming sound nearly made Suzi jump out of her pajamas. She heard a belch from down the hall.

“Is she gone?” Her brother's voice called.

“Yeah...” Suzi said, and scrubbed a tear from her cheek before her brother walked in to the living room. He wore his pajama pants and his Sigma Alpha Llama fraternity jersey. She swore he never took the thing off; it certainly smelled that way. He always seemed to waft too much cologne and cheap beer.

Jared told Suzi that women loved the smell of a “traditional dude.” And, whatever he was doing, he was never short on lady friends. Women may love it; Suzi was no such woman. She disliked most cologne and wasn't a fan of beer—especially the cheap stuff her brother drank en masse at the S.A.L. Fraternity house. It didn't matter how much he drank, it all just seemed to go to his muscles instead of his belly. Jared kept insisting that if Suzi was a “normal” girl, she'd have no problems getting a boyfriend in college. Suzi ignored him, mostly. She didn't have a boyfriend because she didn't want one.

Jared and Suzi were as opposite as siblings could possibly be. They shared the same parents, but if asked, they'd both deny it.

There were few things her big brother Jared was afraid of: losing a football game, and their mother. Luckily for Jared, their mother never attended his games (or anything, for that matter). As big and bulky as Jared was, and even as handsome—he never wanted to feel the wrath of their mother. Suzi didn't particularly like it, either, but she was so jaded, it didn't bother her any more. It was Jared and Suzi's only common ground. And it was Suzi's only advantage over her brother, which she wielded like a sword.

Suzi kept him away from their mother's wrath; Jared did his part by scaring off any unwanted men. Which, as it turned out, were most men Suzi had met in her first year of college. Having a big, muscled ox for a brother had its advantages.

It wasn't easy being twenty and living at home. She was a first year college student, her brother was in his second, and she couldn't afford to get an apartment. Jared roomed with a few of his Fraternity brothers at the Sigma Alpha Llama house downtown, but was home often enough that made Suzi wonder if he still lived there.

Their mother made out like a bandit in her divorce. Enough that she didn't have to work (at least, Suzi never saw her work), and let the Suzi stay rent-free while she were in school. Suzi didn't mind it unless Jared brought a girl—or two—home. He liked to impress the girls by bringing them back to “his” house. When that happened, Suzi got a text message warning from her brother—and she'd sleep in her car. By the look of him today, he was hung over and Final's Week was starting, so it was safe to say the house would be empty over the weekend.

Suzi sighed, locked the front door, and gave up her spot on the couch. Jared plopped down and started playing a Football game, and she lost all interest.

“Did she say she got you a job?” Jared asked as he played. Suzi had tried to sneak back to her bedroom before Jared started asking—but she wasn't fast enough. She turned slowly in the hallway.

“Yeah, one of her pretty friends is a manager at the Frying J. Miranda, I think her name is--”

“Miranda? Yeah, Miranda's hot.”

“Yes, I'm sure her overwhelming abundance of beauty increases her ability to count money and cook food.”

Jared raised an eyebrow and blinked.

“You've obviously never met Miranda before. She's hot, of course she can count. And cook.”

“Whatever, Romeo. I've got to get ready for work.”

Jared shrugged and kept playing his game. Right as Suzi got to her doorway, she heard him call over his shoulder.

“Sunami, do you need a ride to work? I've got practice and I pass by the Frying J on my way. Last I heard, you were outta gas.”

She really hated when Jared was right. Her wallet was as empty as her gas tank and stomach. She peeked at the clock in her bedroom.

“You're never this nice. What's the deal?” Suzi asked.

“I want to see your hot boss. Maybe--” Jared stood up and flexed. He looked ridiculous in his pajamas, but somehow still charming. “Show her what she's missing out on.”

“Ugh, whatever. I'll be ready in 10 minutes.”

#

“Are you sure this is the place?” Suzi asked as she peered out the window of her brother's SUV. The directions were correct, and they'd visited the Frying J once when they were kids. Suzi remembered it because her dad had met them for lunch, and it was one of her few memories where her parents didn't end up fighting.

“That's what the GPS says. I don't remember it looking like such a dive, though.”

“I can't believe mom would even know anyone here.”

“Let me go in and help you find Miranda. Wouldn't want my baby sister getting lost on her first day at work.” Jared winked and hopped out of his vehicle.

“And I'm certain your sudden dedication to your baby sister has nothing to do with the 'hottie'” Suzi made quotation marks in the air, “that's supposed to be here today.”

“Might have something to do with it. Also, I want some chicken wings before practice. Spicy.”

“Chicken wings. Of course. How could I forget.” Suzi rolled her eyes and let her brother lead the way. The Frying J truck stop was dirtier and darker than she remembered. Her childhood memories had a lot more color and a lot less overflowing trash cans. She smoothed down the black material of her blouse and managed to trip in the process. Jared reached out and steadied her with a roll of his eyes.

“Woah there, Sunami. Let's not tear this place up just yet, you klutz. I can't believe you wore that jacket. It makes you look like a dude.”

“What? This jacket?” Suzi looked down at her black blazer and black skinny jeans. It was true, her hair was shorter than most. Dishwater blonde and curled close to her head, and her thick rimmed black glasses weren't especially feminine. She supposed she did have rather thin lips, and she'd never considered herself anything more than “pretty,” but to look like a boy?

“So what if I look like a boy? I think I'd make a charming boy--” Whatever she was about to say was cut off as a door swung open and hit her in the face. Jared was too busy laughing, Suzi stumbled backwards and clutched her nose in her hand. And old man in a pair of denim coveralls stood in the doorway holding a broom in one hand and a pair of jumper cables in the other. When he realized he'd nearly knocked Suzi over with the door, he stepped backwards and let the door close between them. The old man didn't say anything; apparently, he decided it was better to take another exit than to deal with the woman he had just hit in the face.

Jared finally stopped laughing long enough to catch his breath. Suzi tapped her nose to make sure it wasn't bleeding.

“Can you believe that guy? He didn't even say he was sorry--!” Suzi watched as the maintenance man slipped across the store front and took a door in the back. She rolled her eyes and touched her nose again.

“I'm lucky he didn't break my nose,” Suzi said. Jared shook his head and opened the door for her.

A skinny black cat darted from the store and between Suzi's feet. She jumped and nearly tripped over her brother in the process.

“Come on Sunami, give me a break, you're ruining my chances with your hot boss--” Jared shoved his sister through the door and let it close behind them. The cat yowled in protest and slunk behind a smelly garbage can. Yellow eyes stared back from behind the diesel pumps.

The inside of the store was dimly lit with rows of merchandise between the door and the cash register. The building was run down with stained linoleum floors, a line of coolers along one wall—one had spider-webbed glass that looked recently broken—and a deli hot case up near the counter. It was full of food, including the chicken wings Jared was searching for. A set of swinging doors behind the counter led to the kitchen. Beside it stood the newest item in the entire store: a pizza case, with four pizzas waiting, hot and fresh. The smell made Suzi remember she had forgotten to eat breakfast. And lunch.

Jared had lost all interest in the pizza and the chicken wings when he laid eyes on the woman behind the counter. Miranda was easily their mother's age but she had the same, calculating beauty about her. Sharp cheek bones with bright blush, eyes with dark eyeliner, a low-plunging shirt that Suzi was certain was missing a button, and layers and layers of curled blonde hair. Her thin wrists were covered in designer bracelets, her manicured nails were probably changed twice a week. There was no denying that Miranda was beautiful and a friend of their mother's.

Jared was in love. At least, for the time being. Suzi gave it a week before he was in love with someone else, but for the moment—yes, she'd have a hard time getting him to leave the store tonight. Her brother was stubborn like that.

Miranda saved them both the trouble.

“You must be Suzanne,” Miranda checked the gold watch at her wrist, “and you're late. And so am I. Your mother filled out all your employment paperwork. Sign it and leave it under my office door. I'm afraid I have to leave the store to you for the weekend. I've left detailed instructions—you'll be fine. You know how to cook a pizza, right?” Miranda laughed; it sounded just as fake and hollow as their mother's, but seemed to convince Miranda. The sound made Suzi to walk in the other direction.

“I've cooked frozen pizzas before--” Suzi began.

“I'm training to be a professional chef at the Lakewood Community College,” Jared interrupted and leaned on the counter. “I can find my way around any kitchen. Or anyone.”

“Jared, what the hell, you can't even cook instant mashed potatoes--”

Miranda didn't even notice. She stepped out from behind the counter, looked Suzi over and clicked her tongue.

“That hair. I expected better, knowing your mother. Why she let you cut it so short... And, those clothes. Here, put these one. You'll ruin your jacket with grease.” Miranda walked past Suzi and handed her a bundle of aprons and grease-smelling shirts. Then she headed towards the door. “If you have questions, ask Baldwin. I believe you've met.” Miranda carried a suitcase just as full as their mother's. It looked impossibly heavy but the woman didn't seem to notice. She paused at the doorway.

“Everything you need is in the kitchen. Do not go in to my office for any reason.” Miranda raced out the front door, and walked carefully across the parking lot. The asphalt was not kind to her high heels.

“Did my boss just ditch me?” Suzi asked, with her arms full of clothes. She heard a jingling noise and discovered a set of keys hidden in the mix. The keys were color-coded and labeled clearly, from “freezer” to “office.” She noticed the “office” key was labeled in red.

“I could watch that woman walk away all day...” Jared sighed. “She's a bit odd, though, I'm pretty sure she just ditched you. So I guess that means you're going to get me those chicken wings.” Out of the corner of her eye, Suzi saw the old maintenance man Baldwin was sweeping the front parking lot. The empty front parking lot. She really hoped she didn't have to encounter the creepy, socially impaired man. Seriously, who smacks someone in the face and then just walks away...

“Chicken wings. Right. Let me just go wash my hands.”

Jared wasn't listening, he was still watching as Miranda shoved her suitcase in to the back seat of her sports car.

#

“Worst. Day. Ever.” Suzi said as she opened the front door. Jared was sitting on the couch with his headset on, yelling at other players on the TV. He held up a hand to make sure she wasn't too loud. Suzi ignored him, dropped her keys in a dish on the kitchen table, and marched down the hall to her bedroom. She could feel the grime of the kitchen in every pore; grease found its way to her neck, her jawline, all the way up her arms. She smelled like a boat of fresh potato wedges, and felt like one too.

She stripped off her grease-soaked shirt and skinny jeans and tossed them in to her clothes basket. She shut her bedroom door to drown out the sound of her brother's video games.

“I need a shower, but I'm so tired and sore.” She whined to her empty room. At least her blankets were soft and clean. She climbed in to bed on her belly and buried her face in her pillows. Then she remembered that she had no idea what time her classes were tomorrow. She lifted her head up and reached under her pillow where her two most prized possessions hid: her Monthly Planner for Lakewood Community College, and the newest issue of whatever comic book she was reading at the time, protected by a plastic sheet and cardboard backing.

She quickly flipped through her Monthly Planner and found tomorrow's date: a morning class for English 101, a lunch date with her dad, a phone call to the pharmacy, an afternoon class for Math—she crossed it out, she was skipping that class—then she'd start her job at the Frying J in the afternoon. She'd make a point to go in early, to justify skipping her Math class. She felt tired already. She put the planner back under her pillow and her fingers brushed the cover of her comic book.

There was never such a thing as “too tired for a comic book,” she reminded herself, and slipped off the plastic cover. This one she had picked up last paycheck and hadn't had a chance to read it. It came recommended by her favorite comic book employee—a mousy woman named Emily—and she'd never been let down before. A new story of adventure, romance, a dashing Knight, and a strange new terror in the Kingdom.

Suzi was asleep before page 5.

Jared knocked on the door and woke her up. She snorted and sat up, knocking her comic book to the floor and losing her place. She reached to her bedside table and put her glasses back on.

“What is it? Is the house on fire?” Suzi asked, her heart suddenly beating in her chest.

“No, the house isn't on fire, you nerd. I just realized you were home—and I didn't pick you up. How'd you get here?”

Suzi yawned and took off her glasses.

“I walked. You didn't answer your text.”

“I didn't get any—oh.” Jared scratched his head. “It got buried. Sorry sis.”

Suzi rolled over in her bed and pulled the blankets over her head. “Can you go away now? I can't sleep with you trying to talk to me.”

“No way, I came to tell you the good news: the Sigma Alpha Llama is throwing a party.”

“Just what you need, another excuse to drink like a fish and puke all over the car.”

“Hey, we don't talk about that one time, remember? No, no, listen. This is a costume party. Not just togas and jerseys. The guys were talking and we think if we can get some rich kids and some of those socialite types, we could raise some real money for the Fraternity House. We want to make it legit, costumes, food, a 'couples only' thing, so no creepers. A real, legitimate party, like High School Prom but with booze.”

Suzi cracked an eye open.

“Our high school Prom had booze, if I remember correctly.” Suzi sighed. “A costume party. Let me guess.”

Jared leaned in the doorway. “I know what you're going to say Sunami, but we really need good costumes. This will land us a ton of money for the House!”

“You want me to ask dad if he'll let us uses costumes from his shop. You want me to ask. Am I right?”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”

“I'm not so sure you could,” Suzi said and threw her spare pillow at him. Jared caught it and threw it back at her.

“I'll ask dad, but I can't make any promises. You know how little business his shop gets anyways. I'm sure the last thing he wants is to get his costumes all—smelly.”

“I'll make it worth the trouble,” Jared said as he walked through her doorway. “I know you've been wanting that graphic novel collection, the one you've been drooling over at the--”

“Dragons and Demons, the complete collection.” Suzi corrected him. “It's very expensive.”

“If we get the money from the costume party, that collection is yours. I already put down a deposit--”

“I'll make sure dad gets you those costumes.”

“And the best part is, little sister, the House wants to work with the Alpha Beta Cougar's to sponsor student housing. I could get us out of here.”

Suzi pretended she was asleep already, but Jared saw her smile. The graphic novels would be payment enough—but a way out of her mother's claws? She'd get those damn costumes, no matter what. And then she'd get everyone to attend. A dance, a real dance. Just like in her comic books...

Suzi fell asleep dreaming of a great masquerade ball in the crowded halls of the Sigma Alpha Llama house, except in her dream, it was a castle shaped like a Llama and everyone dancing was wearing llama costumes...

#

Her day at Lakewood Community College flew by; a text from her father canceled their lunch date, but Suzi wasn't surprised. Her dad was sometimes harder to keep in one place than her mother. She remembered Jared's promise of comic books and an apartment, however, and noted a second attempt in her Monthly Planner. She still decided to skip her Math class, and so she was able to return to the Frying J early after bumming a ride from Jared.

Jared hung his head out of his SUV, trying to peer in to the dirty windows of the Frying J.

“She's not here, you idiot. Didn't you listen to anything she said yesterday?” Suzi asked as she slammed the vehicle door shut. Even her shower in the morning hadn't managed to remove all the grease from her skin. She still felt dirty.

“Her mouth was moving but I wasn't listening. How could I focus around such beauty?”

“And what did you mean, telling her you were in school to be a professional chef? Will you tell a girl anything—even a woman old enough to be your mother—to get them to go out with you?”

Jared shrugged, a motion that seemed to dismiss him of any actual guilt. He did it often; and it often worked.

“It wasn't entirely a lie. I mean, I haven't actually decided what I'm going to school for. Maybe it will be for Chef-stuff. Cheffery. A cook.”

“That... it doesn't... oh, never mind.”

“Besides, it wouldn't kill you to go on a date sometime, you know. Try lying, tell them something you're not, maybe some dude will find you interesting.” Jared smiled and started to pull away.

“That's real encouraging. Don't tell them I like video games, and comic books, by all means.”

“That's not what real girls do. Seriously, you tell them that, boys are going to laugh at you. Have a good day at work—in the kitchen. Where you belong.”

“Another stereotype. Just what my brother needs.” Suzi spoke to Jared's departing vehicle. Once he was convinced Miranda wasn't going to fall in to his lap, he lost all interest—even in his favorite chicken wings. Suzi just hoped he wouldn't forget to pick her up after work. She wasn't sure when she'd get paid from this place—or even if. She had signed the paperwork that Miranda had left for her, but unless the creepy maintenance man did something with it, it was still sitting there beneath the office door.

She walked through the front doors of the store and found Baldwin asleep behind the register. His dusty cowboy hat was pulled low over his eyes and his snoring was less than subtle. Suzi let the door slam shut behind her and found more than a little joy in seeing the old man startled awake. He nearly fell out of his chair. He knocked over his coffee in his panic. He looked slowly from his coffee, to Suzi, then grumbled something and pulled a towel from his back pocket to clean up the mess.

As Suzi approached the counter, Baldwin pointed back towards the kitchen but didn't say anything to her. She shrugged and left the old man to his own mess.

“How did my mother even find this place...”

The kitchen was in the same condition she had left it in: confused and like a bomb went off. The frozen chicken wing she had dropped and accidentally kicked under the table was still there. Suzi hadn't felt especially proud of how she left the kitchen, but she wasn't sure when she should leave or where things were. She tore half the kitchen apart looking for the plan-o-gram of how the hot case and pizza case were supposed to be set up. Baldwin had been no help at all, and Suzi had to learn how to use the cash register and deep fryer all by herself.

Luckily the store had been slow, and the front door was loud enough that if anyone did enter the building, she could hear it from back in the kitchen.

A note was waiting for her that she hadn't noticed before. She judged by the frilly handwriting—also just like her mother's—that it was from Miranda.

This wasn't here yesterday. Suzi thought as she picked up the note.

Suzi,

There is an important to-go order I need you to complete by 8pm.3 I had to leave early and forgot about it. You'll find what you need in the kitchen. Do not go in to my office. See you Monday.

~ Miranda

When someone says 'don't go in my office,' I automatically want to go in there. Suzi shrugged and found the to-go order details sitting next to Miranda's note. She checked the clock: she only had a half hour before the pizza was supposed to be picked up.

Suzi read over the details of the to-go order; none of the ingredients made any sense. The handwriting was from Baldwin, as it had all the grace of a toad. She scratched her head and realized she just got vegetable oil in her hair. She crumpled the list in frustration but had to flatten it back out again to read it.

Caseum, caseum, caseum! (cheese)

Unum x Offendas et salis (salt)

Duobus x Red piperis duo pocula

“Hey, that says red peppers—“ Suzi remembered where that was, at least. She had found a glass jar labeled “Red piperis” before. She wondered if Baldwin had labeled everything in the kitchen to be spelled wrong. She kept reading:

Is vultus sicut Stella (shaped like a star)

“At least someone came back and gave me the cliff notes. Shaped like a star, what, the red peppers?” Suzi gave it her best shot. She flattened out the pizza dough as best she could, and dumped two plastic scoops of cheese on. She pushed it out to the edges like her plan-o-gram showed, and then sprinkled the dried red peppers in the shape of a star.

Doua cesti de ceapa (onions, two cups only)

Viginti x Fungorum

She placed her finger on the line that red 'fungorum,' and noticed a number written in red. The roman numeral for 12 / XII. She quietly thanked her video game knowledge for being able to read Roman Numerals.

“Fungorum, I bet that's mushrooms. This order makes no sense at all... but it looks pretty good.”

Suzi returned to the over-sized fridge and found a sealed container marked 'fungorum.' She popped the top and nearly gagged at the smell. She carefully counted out twelve mushrooms and placed them at the edges of the star shape. Something about it felt right.

“Almost done,” she wasn't sure who she was talking to, until she realized the black cat from the day before was sitting on the counter, staring at her. The cat's yellow eyes blinked lazily.

Suzi looked down and saw that her oily gloves had smeared the last ingredient.

“Oh, no. Now what am I supposed to use. I don't want to mess up my first order.”

The black cat stood up and walked along the table, deftly avoiding knocking over any ingredients or getting oil on its paws. It jumped from the prep table to the counter, and slunk over to nuzzle the door of the fridge. Suzi was certain that the cat's presence violated every single Health Department Law in existence, but she was also certain that the cat belonged to Miranda. The cat meowed and pawed at the door.

“I suppose you make the pizzas here, hmm? Might be something in there that looks—pizzaish.” Suzi pet the cat on her way over and reminded herself to change her gloves. She opened the door. The fridge was empty except for two mason jars full of something gray and pink. One label was too faded to read, the other read 'porcorum.' Suzi picked the labeled jar that seemed less likely to be expired. The cat meowed and batted at her hand as she pulled the jar from the fridge.

She tossed a few of the unsightly gray-pink bits on the pizza, then moved it over to the oven.

“I can't have a pizza without oregano,” Suzi said as she balanced the pizza beside the oven. “There's got to be some around here somewhere.” Suzi wasn't sure if it was because she actually wanted oregano on her pizza, or if she wanted to go in to Miranda's office more. But something told her she'd find it there. She peeked out the windows of the kitchen doors to make sure no one was standing in front of the register, then snuck out of the kitchen and down the hall. The black cat followed close behind.

Before she placed her hand on the doorknob, the door creaked open. Suzi glanced at the black cat for answers. The office was dark and smelled like cinnamon. Suzi stepped over the paperwork she had slid under the door yesterday. The cramped office had bookshelves covered in strange books, a deer skull resting atop a Ouija board, and candles lined the small, yellow-glass window. Her desk was empty except for a map that fell over the sides. The black cat jumped on to the desk and walked across the map—tracking marinara sauce along it. Suzi squeaked and raced over to try and scrub off the sauce before it ruined the map.

She noticed it was a map of Lakewood and the surrounding countryside. A red sharpie circled a campsite near the Lakewood Resort. Suzi went to study the map—but the cat hissed at her from the doorway, and she lost interest. She looked down at the desk and noticed one drawer was was slightly ajar. She pulled the drawer open, slowly. She expected to find a gun, or a murder note; something that would make her bosses' office and live instantly more interesting.

All she found was an old fountain pen—which was, she admitted—pretty cool, and a half-full bottle of something that looked like it could be oregano. Convinced she'd find no more dirty little secrets, she took the bottle and closed the desk drawer. Then re-opened it like it was before. She couldn't fix the cat prints on the map, however...

Suzi closed the office door and went back to the kitchen. She was out of time; her pizza customer would be here any minute to pick up her weird pizza. She pushed it in to the oven and waited. As ugly as it turned out—it was the most amazing smelling pizza she had ever smelled. Except, it didn't smell like pizza. It was a mix of lavender and cinnamon, with hints of maple sausage. The pizza cooked fast and she burned herself taking it out of the oven. She moved it over the to prep-counter, pushed the cat out of her way, cut it in to eight slices and closed the to-go box.

As she carried it towards the kitchen doors—the box began to shake and fell to the floor. At first, Sunami just assumed it was her clumsiness that had made the pizza fall. She reached down to recover the box—and noticed that the pizza was leaking out the sides. And smoking. Smoking like crazy. The room filled with a rolling, lavender smoke. All she could smell was maple syrup.

When the smoke cleared, a man stood on the floor where the pizza had fallen. His boots had trampled the pizza box and tracked marinara and cheese all over the floor. He stood a little taller than Suzi—with a tall, black-feathered plume giving him another foot that plunged from his metal helmet. A long, royal purple cloak fell down his shoulders and nearly touched the ground. A heavy-looking sword hung from an ornate leather belt as his hip. Jewels glittered at the sword hilt.

He looked like a storybook Knight, straight out of the pages of a comic book.

“Who are you? Where did you even come from..?” Suzi asked as she leaned back against the kitchen counter.

The man in dented, marinara covered armor shifted his head to the side and tried to study her through the narrow visor in his helmet. He took a clanging step forward. Over the front of his armor he wore a heavy black cloth coat sewn with the symbol of an hour glass. The sand inside was purple; the hourglass was white. He looked around before speaking.

“I am the Prince of Anywhen. I was hunting a fearful beast, preparing myself for a quest. A quest, I'm afraid, that has started early.”

The Prince of Anywhen bowed deeply.

“So you... didn't plan to be here, then?” Suzi asked. The prince looked up from his bow. He looked around the kitchen.

“No, my quest did not lead me to a—kitchen.”

“Are you sure you didn't just get drunk and wander off from a costume party--” Suzi let her voice fade away when the pizza box beneath the Prince began to jump again. The prince noticed, too, and took a step backwards. He drew his heavy sword and banged his elbow on the table.

“This is no place for me to fight a pizza.”

“Definitely drunk. OK, prince, let's get you home--”

The pizza box caught on fire, then the floor surrounding it, until smoke filled the kitchen as it had before.

“Get behind me, fair lady.” The prince said as he tightened his grip on his sword. Suzi put her hands on her hips and waved away the smoke from her face.

“Get behind you? What, do you think because I'm a woman, I can't protect myself? You'd better be drunk, because this is going to hurt otherwise.” Suzi grabbed a pizza pan beside the sink, intent on knocking the idiot out so she could call the police. She stepped forward—and something leapt from the flames. The air smelled like burning cheese.

And then the dragon appeared.

The dragon's scales were dull yellow, with light brown at the edges, like burnt cheese. Black, white and green flecks covered his back and sides like olives, onions and green peppers. His wings were long and red, with spirals of pink like pepperoni. A splash of red across his chest looked like marinara sauce.

“You said you were fighting a pizza. That's a dragon. Not a pizza.”

The Prince slammed his sword down on a yellow-scaled tail. The dragon whipped around, exhaled a puff of cheese-smelling smoke, and charged. At the last minute, the Prince whipped open the freezer door and the dragon raced in to it. He slammed the door closed behind him, right on the dragon's tail.

“That's a dragon!” Suzi said as she pointed at the freezer.

“That's a pizza!”

Suzi blinked and arched a skeptical eyebrow. It wasn't that skeptical, the dragon was sitting right there in the freezer with his tail stuck in the door. But still.

“Who calls a dragon a pizza? We eat pizzas.”

“You eat those things? You must be a land of brave heroes, indeed.”

“No, we don't eat... dragons. We eat pizzas. That--” Suzi pointed to the freezer door, which was now starting to shake as the dragon tried to remove his tail. “is a dragon.”

“There are no such things as dragons.”

It was that exact moment that Baldwin decided to come and check on the smoke and terrible sounds coming from the kitchen. He stepped inside the doorway, looked from Suzi to the prince, to the freezer door, and dropped his coffee cup. He turned around and wandered back to the cash register.

“Are all the people in your kingdom so strange?” The prince asked.

“Are all the people in your kingdom used to falling in to other worlds so nonchalantly?”

The prince held up a finger, then reached to a leather pocket on his sword-hilt. He removed a book bound in purple leather and flipped through a few pages. His finger rested on a word.

“Nonchalant...” The prince nodded. “Yes. This isn't my first time visiting other—Kingdoms. I am the Prince of Anywhen, after all. I've seen many a Whens and Wheres.”

“And what do you do when the people you fall on, have no idea what to do with you?”

“Well, you summoned me. A bit early, in fact. I was expecting there to be an experienced witch waiting for me. You, my lady, are no such witch.” The prince smiled.

“Yeah. You're right. I'm a cook at a gas station, and a piss-poor one at that. I can't even make a pizza, but I can whip up a batch of snarky Princes real quick. I'm a regular Pizzamancer.”

“A pizzamancer? How absurd. Perhaps you use a different word in this kingdom for witch. Do you often use pizzas to summon princes to your kitchen?”

Before Sunami could hit him with her baking sheet—the door to the freezer flew off the hinges and across the kitchen. It narrowly missed both Suzi and the prince. The dragon snarled and leaped through the air. The prince swung his sword and cut through the dragon like a pizza cutter. Two halves melted in to a puddle of cheese and marinara sauce, all over the kitchen floor. There was no trace of a “dragon,” it just looked like someone had murdered a pizza all over the room.

Suzi leaned out and nudged the pile of cheese with her shoe.

“I could see where there could be confusion, calling a dragon a pizza, when it looks and smells like that. I would eat him, if he tastes anything like he smells now.”

The prince's face drained of color. Suzi's eyebrows rose.

“It was a joke, do you know what that is?”

The prince slowly checked his book, the nodded. Then laughed.

“So our language is the same, but the words are different. And you seem to have some kind of... guide.” Suzi pointed at his purple book. “Can you tell me why you're here? And why a dragon chased you and then why you killed it all over my kitchen floor?”

“I was preparing for a quest, to travel to another kingdom, in search of a hero. The spell was supposed to be cast by a witch, to bring me here—but something went wrong.”

“Yeah, I tried to make a pizza. The witch you're looking for is in another castle...”

“What?”

Suzi shook her head. She was certain the prince didn't have video games where he came from.

“I mean—the witch who was supposed to summon you, I think she left you to me. So I may have summoned you early. Does that matter?”

“Yes. I only have a limited time to find a hero that can save our kingdom, and bring them back with me.” The prince reached again in to the pouch on his belt and pulled out a silver necklace. An hourglass full of purple sand was there. He held it up. The hourglass stayed upright no matter how he turned it, and the sand drifted down like falling leaves.

“The spell wasn't cast perfectly. The pizza shouldn't have followed me. It's likely other creatures will follow too—“

“Please tell me I'm not going to have to fight off a taco, or Stromboli.”

The prince paused. “A Stromboli would kill us both.”

Suzi shook her head.

“So... a quest. Alright then, I'll accept. How long until your spell wears off? And then what happens?”

The prince stared at the hourglass and attached the necklace around his neck.

“I'm not certain, yet, how much time I'll have. But I have a map of your kingdom, and places I'm supposed to search for my hero. I'll have to convince them to return, or my kingdom will be lost.”

“I get the feeling, I'm not going to ask my brother for a ride home tonight.”

#

“Wait, wait. My bitch of a boss, is actually a witch of a boss?”